Microconf 2014 Europe Recap
Microconf Europe is an awesome event held in Prague by Rob Walling and Mike Taber from singlefounder.com and the “Startups for the rest of us” podcast. The conference is mainly for self-founded software start-ups. This means that the majority of the crowd was full of amazing developers, programmers, designers and other people from that kind of crowd. A marketing “wizard” (Which I got called several times for some reason) as myself was quite a rare thing in the crowd. In spite of talking to over 30 different people out of the 100+ that were there, I only met 2-3 other marketers.
In this post I’m going to sum up the event to the best of my knowledge and add in my thoughts, lessons learned and observations. For every speaker you will also find their slides for better comprehension.
Keep in mind however, reading something like this and looking at the speakers notes is not a substitute for attending amazing events like Microconf is. In fact, what the speakers say is perhaps 20% of the value from events like this (and the speakers provide A LOT of value). I highly encourage anyone who is serious about their business to attend at least a few conferences in their industry – it’s an irreplaceable experience.
Rachel Andrew – Keynote Speaker
Rachel was the keynote speaker and talked about “How Customers Hold the Secret to Your Success”.
You can find her slides for this speech here: http://www.slideshare.net/rachelandrew/how-customers-hold-the-secret-to-your-success
She’s the founder of edgeofmyseat.com and runs Perch – a self-hosted CMS (content management system) for developers and designers. Some of it’s key benefits are the ability to manage content in an extremely simple way, super fast websites, super fast setup, amazing support and much more.
She started it out of the need to make smaller jobs profitable. Jobs that weren’t worth the time invested in them, neither for Rachel, or her customers. It started off as a tool for themselves and was eventually turned into a product available for anyone interested and it took off immediately.
She officially shared 10 lessons she has learned along the way, but there were a ton of micro-lessons hidden in the presetation itself, that I’d like to add. I’m going to cover all of them.
Lesson 1 – The “missing features” at launch don’t matter to anyone but you.
Developers seem to be obsessed with features, improving their product or service all the time, and answering to every single feature request that comes their way. Although this can be a good thing as well, it becomes a problem when those “missing features” are stopping you from launching your product or moving forward.
The goal is to solve an actual, complete problem in as small a way as possible and then selling your basic solution to actual customers. This is the lean startup model – create a MVP (Minimum viable product), get it to your customers and improve later.
Developers tend to be stubborn in that way, they want everything to be perfect at their launch. They’re afraid of getting bad feedback because of a lack of features, they’re afraid of losing customers..
Rachel is completely right when she said that you’re the only one who cares about those features. Once you manage to solve the users problem and give it to them, everything else is a BONUS.
The greatest part about this mindset is that users LOVE updates after they have paid, because it feels like free stuff. Look back on some of the software and products you’ve bought. When you buy a lifetime license, knowing what you’re going to get and six months in they’ve already added a dozen other super useful features – you’re going to value the product so much more, use it more and recommend it more.
Another pretty critical point of this approach is that once you’ve launched with your MVP, you have the opportunity to work with actual customers to see which features they actually need and want. You don’t have to base it on a gut-feeling, guessing what they want. You’ll have precise data and requests.
Lesson 2 – Scratch your own itch but be aware that you are not your ideal customer
What you as a developer want for your product and what the end-user wants are almost never the same thing. You could sell a tool for one thing and find out that the majority of your users use it for a completely different thing.
The first version of Perch was what Rachel wanted and needed. Her customers were people like herself and wanted the same things. But the “second wave”, the bigger audience had way different requirements, needs and requests. It was what “real customers” wanted.
If you take the approach stated in “Lesson 1” and launch when you’ve solved the basic problem, you’re not going to spend as much time developing features only you need. You get actual customer feedback and are able to develop those features requested by “real customers” – the target audience.
Lesson 3 – The happy majority are often silent
The more people can do with your product, the more they want to do.
From June to October 2014:
- 38% of Perch’s customers in that period also opened a thread in their forum
- Of that number 16% of the people only contacted them once
- Not all of it is support (lots of tutorials, built sites etc)
- Have heard from 8.5% of entire customer base since June
Your best customers may never speak to you, hence the “happy majority”.
What you need to do is find those best, happy customers and simply get in touch with them. Find out what they like about it, what they want, why they want it, see if they have any other problems that the product could solve etc.
A simple survey might be a great way to get this type of feedback – you’ll learn more about using surveys from another talk.
You can also get this happy majority to speak up by announcing a potential change. Pick a feature and say that you’re getting rid of it, changing it or improving it. Tell them by a blog post, email, pop-up or how ever you can reach the most customers efficiently. If the happy majority needs this feature, doesn’t want it to change for some reason or anything else upsetting – they’re going to speak up!
“Everyone is requesting X feature”
It’s easy to jump to a conclusion that “everyone” wants a certain feature when you see it popping up in the forums, your emails and whatnot, several times. However, you should verify that it is in fact everyone, often times it may only seem like it due to a few very “noisy” people.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t ignore the minority altogether, but you should always see how many people actually want it and also get in touch with the majority to make sure it won’t interfere with their usage, plans etc.
Lesson 4 – Your customers can show you how to sell your product
Here are a few features Rachel and her team find important:
- Storing structured data
- Templates defining a schema
- Speed and efficiency of the template engine
As explained in lesson two, what Rachel likes might be completely irrelevant for the “real customers”. And that’s how it is with Perch.
Here’s what the “real customers” love and care about:
- Not having to know PHP
- That the CMS doesn’t mess with their markup
- That the end client doesn’t need any handholding to edit the site
- That they can use any bootstrap template or jQuery plugin
Great code is not a selling point and neither are the things Rachel loves about.
Your headlines and selling propositions should be what your customers love, or at least what they tell you they love. Perch’s website is a perfect example for all of this.
Lesson 5 – We’re not looking for features, we’re solving their problems
“Can you add a setting for this?”
What problem are you trying to solve should be your question, to answer that question, how ever rude it may seem.
As the product owner or developer you should be trying to solve the problems of all users, not just one. If you find out the root cause for that setting request, you might end up finding out that many other users have the same problem. You might also figure out a way better, easier, quicker, more efficient way to solve that problem – being a highly intelligent founder or developer 😉
This is what was asked from Perch:
- “I want a select list of already uploaded images.”
- “I want to browse the images already uploaded.”
- “I want to find out if an image is used anywhere on the site and delete the unused ones.”
Rachel could’ve solved the problem of the first two people with a setting, but thanks to proper research she found out that other people have requests for image related stuff as well. That meant that she could add a whole new feature/tool for images rather than only making one update. The odds are high that the bigger update was way more helpful, for more people and made the product better overall.
You can collect cases like this from support tickets, feature requests and most importantly – from the way you see your customers using your product.
Lesson 6 – Features never move the needle on sales
As learnt from lesson 1 – existing customers love getting new features and it makes them happy.
And that’s precisely what new features do. They keep your existing customers happy, they will stick with your service or product as long as their needs are met and they see that you still care about them.
Expecting new features to cause more sales as well is a mistake.
I certainly don’t think this is something that applies to all cases or products, as with anything else, so this is a lesson that should be taken with a grain of salt in my opinion. It’s quite possibly because I’m a huge SEO nerd and am a shop-o-holic when it comes to SEO tools and services. There have been countless of examples of tools that have seemed quite useless at first but with one nice feature added, changed my whole SEO game and got me as a paying customer.
Lesson 7 – You can learn a lot from the “misuse” of your features
Perch had a feature to also create a blog, but that was not what the users were doing with it. They used it as galleries, portfolios and whatnot. It turned out, they used it only because it had categories. That was a clear sign to Perch that they needed proper taxonomies, categories and all that.
Quoting the intercom.io blog:
“Customers will always surprise you with the creative ways to use your products. It’s not deliberate on their behalf though. They’re just adapting your product to their needs.”
You never know in which way you might be able to, or even need to pivot with your product. Putting out your product “the way it is” and not defining a certain way to use it is one of the best ways to see what people love about it, and thus find out how to sell it to new customers in a better way.
“Pave the cowpaths”
See what people are already doing, don’t punish them for making that choice and then find ways to help them do the same thing, in a better way.
This goes back to the previous point: Perch saw that people found a way to categorize stuff and then created a proper system for doing so, making their customers lives easier and their own product more rich.
Lesson 8 – Great support can be your best feature and your most effective marketing
Help people do things that they couldn’t do before or without using your product – become a necessity.
Great support isn’t something you have to spend months and months developing (although a FAQ, standard operating procedure and knowledge base or blog may often help), the only thing you really have to do is commit to being great.
“One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising” – Jim Rohn
With self-hosted software, support is often your first run experience.
You will also see why this is so important when getting into Rob’s talk – lifetime value is a big part of it.
Lesson 9 – The influencers are fickle
The perfect customer for Perch is one who:
- Is building lots of sites for clients
- Knows that time is money
- Prefers a stable, solid business
- Does websites for a fixed price
However, the influencers:
- Are well known in the web-industry
- Charge a premium for their work
- Treat each customer in an unique way
- Have time in higher budgets to try new things
- Constantly learn new things
You probably see the problem with it already.
They are pretty much opposites and that’s why Perch doesn’t spend their time or other resources desperately chasing after influencers. That doesn’t mean that they don’t get any attention from influencers at all, they simply treat it as a bonus.
Lesson 10 – You are never done
The Perch team considers themselves LUCKY and TIRED. They’ve gone from 10 clients a year to thousands of customers and offer support every day of the year for five years so far.
Unless you have an exit plan (more about that from Thomas’s talk), you’re never done, just like Perch. That’s why you should dedicate a big part of your resources on doing things the absolute best way they can be done – be remarkable.
Bonus lessons from the Q&A
- Building a business with your spouse can be stressful at times and it makes it harder to turn off “business mode” in your head.
- It’s easier to get to profit by keeping your costs low
- Hosting is probably not the business you want to get into
- Managing people is difficult and often unnecessary (Recurring theme during the conference)
- Speaking at conferences is a great way to sell your product, especially if you have something meaningful (or 10 meaningful things) to say.