WELCOME TO ENTREPRENEUR INTERVIEWS - SERIES 2...
It's been a few months since I interviewed any entrepreneurs, and I’ve really been looking forward to talking to some techpreneurs for Series 2 of Entrepreneur Interviews, which features interviews with techpreneurs.
I've spent over 10 years making the journey from initial idea to finished software product with clients, and I love to talk shop!
You may have come across information on how to avoid the risks and pitfalls of creating software in my "how to" book for tech startups, Don't Hire a Software Developer Until You Read this Book.
Now, you'll find out more about what it's really like to be a tech entrepreneur - the triumphs, frustrations, challenges, and learning curves experienced by people who make a living from their own software products.
Series 2 begins with Kyle Richey, the CEO of Strides, an iOS and web app with rave reviews in Apple's App Store.
There's some great advice in this post - I hope you enjoy it, and series 2 as a whole!
Welcome Kyle. Thanks for joining me on the Purposeful Products Blog!
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
I started my first business in July of 2006.
What’s your background?
I was getting a Bachelor's degree in Systems Engineering, set to graduate in 2008 at the bottom of the recession. Since I had been making some money from my online business (very little, but enough to pay some bills), I decided to double down and focus on building my business full-time, rather than attempt to get a job. Now it's been over 11 years and I'm proud to say that I've never had a job or even filled out a resume. :)
Wow! Straight out of college and a business owner already. That’s an interesting path and I wonder whether it will become the norm in years to come...
Tell us about your app, Strides.
Something as important as building good habits and tracking important goals is much more difficult than it needs to be. So, in 2012 I started building this ambitious service to make it all simpler... while maintaining an insane level of flexibility. It's come a long way since then, but I'm excited about everything we have on the roadmap to keep making it better for everyone.
The app motivates and encourages by keeping track of users’ current and best ever streaks of success in changing a habit, or working towards a goal.
It also shows how close you are to completing your goal.
Take a look at Kyle's screenshots of his app - you'll need to pick some attractive screenshots to showcase your own app, along with a pitch / bullet pointed summary, and description of your product's benefits that you can use for App Store Optimisation (ASO), and to include on your website.
Did you have any experience of building apps before you built Strides?
Yeah, I designed and helped build a few simple apps in the first few years after the App Store launched, but none of them went anywhere because they weren't set up for success:
Those are really critical items.
Because it's so important, a business plan is highly recommended.
The key reason? In order to create a plan you'll need to think carefully about many aspects of your business.
This time for reflection almost always surfaces important points you might otherwise have missed!
Here’s a business model template you can use to make sure that your bases are covered.
The modern style of "lean" business plan is short, sweet and to the point.
Say goodbye to the traditional 30+ page tomes (they're probably the reason why a shockingly small percentage of people create a business plan):
How did you first come to recognise that there was a problem that you could solve with your app?
I kept hearing people complaining about New Year's Resolutions not working, and it felt so sad. Why is it so difficult for us to set a reasonable goal for the year and actually achieve it? Isn't that what life is all about, making meaningful progress on the things we care about, growing?
For sure!… And what made you think - “Whoop! This could be something!”?
When I created the first version it got a decent amount of traction early on, and even though v1.0 was awful...seriously - it really resonated with people. I remember getting an email from someone saying it helped them break a bad habit they had for years, and I knew it was worth pressing on.
That is powerful feedback! So, what was involved in doing this?
Phew! I've been working an average of 20+ hours per week on Strides for over 6 years, so that's at least 6,000 hours of work from me, and I don't even do the development for iOS, Web or Android. I've invested over $300,000 in the development so far. It has literally been the hardest thing I've ever done - even harder than having two toddlers, ha-ha - but I love it.
It’s so great that you shared that dollar amount for readers. Thank you.
It’s important to set a proportion of your profits aside as your business grows so you can continue to maintain and develop your product.
In Don’t Hire a Software Developer Until You Read this Book, I recommend that readers ringfence funds for infrastructure – servers/ database storage, etc. and application monitoring, automated testing, and source code / release management software. You can’t just spend 100% of your money on features. The foundations of the house need investment too, not just the parts you can see, but the underlying parts too.
Once you launch customers will make demands. They’ll have ideas, requests, bugbears… You’ll need to listen and respond to their needs, and have some budget set aside for new features. It will be important to analyse feedback, user trends and data about your customers, so you can work out the best and most profitable actions to take to maintain your existing customer base, and win new customers.
How did you identify the correct target market to suit your product?
This one's tricky. I definitely wouldn't recommend building something for "everyone" like we did. Find your niche for sure.
The purpose of Strides is to make it flexible enough to track absolutely any goal or habit, so I knew going into it that we couldn't possibly have one specific target market, so instead we're targeting a mindset: people that want to track things to improve them and appreciate the progress they've made. I guess the quickest way to sum it up would be to say this was a "scratch your own itch" business that has naturally evolved over time.
Was there a transition to making sure you were marketing your “solution” to the right audience?
Not really. Since I was building it for myself originally, I just kept getting more requests from people wanting more flexibility, and did my best to filter things out and focus on the most impactful additions.
Were you able to get product feedback before launching?
No, but I really wish I did. I didn't even show people a prototype before development.
Big mistake that wasted tons of time.
Thanks for sharing that. It’s so important that people new to developing commercial software understand why early feedback is so important.
Did you do a Beta launch? How did it go, what did you learn, and what was involved?
No, not for v1.0. We do Beta testing with new features now though, and I highly recommend it.
What are the most important lessons, or realisations you've had about life as a tech entrepreneur?
Firstly, working from home is amazing. If you have kids at home, and/or get distracted, my favorite tip is to listen to instrumental music with headphones. It helps so much. Aside from that, I'd say the biggest thing I've learned is that you have to be in it for the long haul.
Focus on adding as much value as possible, and as long as you align your incentives with the people that are paying you, you'll do great.
Love that tip! I use music to induce a state of focus quite a lot.
I talk about some great tools related to productivity and focus in my latest book Entrepreneurial Espresso. You can get a free chapter on productive work cycles and focus music here:
Where did you experience the steepest learning curve?
Not prototyping and testing before building.
I figured I could just make judgment calls, but it was so costly. Sketch out your ideas and show them to anyone who will give you honest feedback. Do that for a few rounds and if you're feeling a sense of progress each time, design it in more detail and do it again, then start building. It'll save you 10x as much time as it takes, I promise.
And 10x the money too! One of the biggest rookie mistakes is hiring a developer too soon, based on wireframes and user journeys that are still too sketchy to translate into working software, or spending time building the wrong things… then having to waste more time and money to make adjustments.
What weren’t you prepared for, or expecting?
How much time it takes to grow monthly revenue, depending on the business model.
I've had businesses that never turned a profit, others that took years to have their first profitable month, which ended up getting acquired because I stuck with them until they were making a solid monthly profit, and others that were profitable from day one.
Think long and hard about your business model.
If you need cashflow early on, consider keeping your job, taking out a loan, getting funding, or doing consulting/services to pay the bills so you have time to grow the business.
What have been the highs and lows of your experience as a tech entrepreneur?
The highs are the flexibility, schedule, working from home, the residual income, asset ownership, and mostly the ability to work on something you care deeply about.
The lows are the days when nothing seems to be going well, and you feel like giving up. Read The Dip, by Seth Godin and decide if it's time to quit or stick. It'll only take an afternoon to read it, but it'll help you press on when it's worth it, or quit confidently if it's not.
Thanks for the recommendation, I’ve heard of the book but must confess I haven’t read it.
You’ve just reminded me of an interview I read with Nathan Barry who runs the email marketing SaaS company, Convertkit, https://convertkit.com.
He asked himself:
‘Do I still want this as much today as the day I started, and do I still want to be the CEO of a SaaS company?’ Because if the answer is no, then I should shut it down and move on.
Then he asks: ‘Have I really given ConvertKit every possible chance to succeed?’ Because if the answer is yes, then something was wrong. Maybe the timing is wrong, or the product is wrong, or the market is wrong, or I’m the wrong person to do this.
As another tip before giving up, Jay Abraham's book, Getting Everything You Can Out of all You've Got is worth a read. Some approaches are a little old-school, but makes you realise that no matter what you've tried so far, there are literally hundreds of other options for marketing and building your biz. I got to see him at a conference a few years ago and he was brilliant!
What’s your top cashflow/money management tip for tech entrepreneurs?
Partner with someone with complementary skills and sign a concise agreement based on profit share. If I had done this sooner, I could have saved $150,000+ on development for this one app. The crazy part? When I worked with agencies, the quality of the work was lower than it is with co-founders (not because they're worse developers, because they don't have a vested interest in the business) and it cost way more. This isn't easy, but do your best to build a solid team or partnership because it'll help keep you motivated while saving everyone money. Also, use Stripe to collect payments, https://stripe.com.
Yup, lack of skin in the game. It’s just not their baby!
Stripe is great and so easy to set up (and as a fintech startup themselves, they are killing it!)
What’s a typical day like for you now? Are you a full-timer, or side-hustler?
Full-timer since November 2008 when I graduated.
I wake up at 6:00am, work out, get ready, have breakfast with my family, and work on my top priorities from 8:30am until 12:00pm. Then, we eat lunch together, and I play with my kids for a while before I get back to work until 5:00pm. Sometimes I work at night or on the weekends if it makes sense, but I try to take Friday afternoons off.
That sounds like a pretty awesome routine! I’m jealous! Maybe it’s time to develop some new habits. (I know just the app, ha-ha!)
One of our clients said she wished she had a time machine after consulting with us - what would you do differently if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice now you’re “older and wiser”?
Great question! It'd definitely be to focus on building one or two things that have long-term potential to become businesses big enough to pay each co-founders' bills. I wasted SO much time working on little apps that never had much potential, but they were almost the same amount of work.
Focus on as few projects as you can, and do your best to make sure each one could meet your goals five years from now (based on business model, market size, problem, expansion, growth, trends, etc.).
That’s great advice! What’s your number 1 biggest tip / piece of advice to aspiring techpreneurs?
Don't think of your app users or website visitors as numbers in your analytics.
Always ask "what's in it for me?" from their perspective with everything you design, develop, write, etc. If you do this throughout your entire business, it'll be a lot easier to at least succeed in adding real value for real people, and that's the foundation of every successful business.
Amen to that! Thanks so much for speaking to me! What’s next for you and your app?
Absolutely! We're working on sharing progress with family, friends and teams for Strides, along with an Android app coming out later this year.
We're also launching a new app called Summit Day Planner that covers the Tasks, Calendar Events & Notes side of your daily routine. Lots of people requested these features for Strides, but we decided to put them in their own app to keep Strides from becoming an even bigger app. :)
Uh-huh, the power of public declarations! People are more likely to follow through if they’ve already openly shared their intentions.
It’s pretty powerful stuff – so if you haven’t told anyone you’re going to build an app, tell a few supportive people and “put it out there!”
Good luck with the new app. Exciting times!
Before we wrap up the interview, can we cover a few quick-fire questions - just for fun?
Let’s do it. Here they come!
I’ve got to ask you more about your last response! Almost everyone we work with wants to know which platform to start with… I'm sure they'd like to hear you weigh in on the topic.
Well, since 2008, the general trend has been toward mobile, and if you're building a software business it's most likely going to need a mobile component, maybe mobile-first or even mobile-only. Running the numbers, there are more people worldwide using Android, but most of the money is spent on iOS, especially when you consider non-game apps, so in my opinion it makes more financial sense to start on iOS, unless you're targeting a specific use case only possible on Android (e.g. Launchers) or your target market tends to use Android more than iOS. If you use something like Firebase, or build your own server on AWS, etc. then you can be prepared to scale to the other mobile platform if things go well enough, and to web/desktop if your users are asking for it.
In my book, Don’t Hire..., I describe that exact situation as "Cash in the app store, people in the play store" as a very simple reminder - you might not be able to charge up-front so easily on Android, but there are a huge number of users, whilst Apple users are more "conditioned" towards paying for apps up front. Via Android you might look towards in-app purchases, without charging up-front for the app, or consider other ways to monetise larger volumes of customers - advertising etc, as long as you choose your ad types carefully and don't drive your customers crazy with it! (You might also charge a fee to have advertising removed.)
I love that! It's easy to remember and makes sense. Great point about charging too. I've heard that free with ads and/or IAPs works best on Android. I'm looking forward to testing it out with the Strides Android app.
Where can people find out more about your app?
My portfolio is a great place to start: ConquerApathy.com.
There are some really great nuggets of information here. Thanks so much, Kyle!
Strides is available online and in the App Store:
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