TechZing 56 – Rob Walling & The Micropreneur Academy

Justin and Jason speak with Rob Walling, founder of the Micropreneur Academy, author of Start Small, Stay Small and co-host of the podcast Startups for the Rest of Us, about how to dramatically increase your odds of success when bootstrapping a microISV. Some of the topics discussed include the love of making things and the drive to create, how to pick a product niche and why not to create a horizontal offering, why the freemium model doesn’t work for bootstrapping startups and whether Justin should discontinue free accounts for Pluggio, the difficulty of competing against venture backed startups, how to create a landing page and build an email list, possible marketing and pricing strategies for AppIgnite, Google’s SEO guidelines, why software as a service is a better business than software as a product, how to buy websites and build a portfolio of web investments, outliers and why it’s better not to try to emulate them, the time, effort and talent required to create a personal platform (ala 37 signals and Joel Spolsky) and why email lists are so valuable.

25 Comments
  1. devster says:

    Wow! Two of my favorit podcasts, which are TechZing & “Startups for the Rest of Us” mixed in one epsiode. You guys rocks! And btw. before I’ve discovered TechZing, something like 2 weeks ago, SfRoU was the best one for me regarding startups matter. Sorry Rob! The funny thing is that almost all the time listening TechZing podcast I was using productivity advice from one of the SfRoU previous episodes about higher speed podcasts listening. Justin & Jason dabates sounds then really funny & awesome.

    Btw. In less than one month I will be launching prediction markets startup. You know Jason … hopefully in the convergence to the world of Max’s Casino Gulag there will be some market for social betting. Hehe! If not I’ve still big chunks of code to try other ideas.

    The best part is that in your tech disscusions you are bringing also other subjects, like math, science, economics & even alternative theories! Keep up the good work!

  2. Justin says:

    @devster Jason! He’s listening to us sound like chimp-monks!

  3. Jason says:

    @devster I’m glad you’re enjoying the show, but it’s shocking to think anyone would want to speed up my rate of speech. As it is it’s already pretty much unintelligible. ;)

    Rob was an awesome guest and I’m glad to have discovered his show, which I agree they do a good job with.

    That’s funny about the casino gulag and you just reminded me that I think it’s time to get caught up with Max Keiser.

    Let us know when you’re ready to launch your startup and we’ll promote it on the show.

  4. devster says:

    It’s not shocking … It’s a geekery ;)

    Taking into account that I’ve listen all of your shows, which all together gives pretty hell of the time, listening it with speed 1.4 of the normal one was really nice time reduction tip, which I’ve learned, as I said before from the SftRoU guys. The podcasts still sounds very reasonable and your arguments exchanges during discussions are even more dynamic than normally.

    Ok. I will definitely let you know when I launch the website. Right now we are having only, coming soon page, but we are making final improvements, internal testing, optimization of the speed of page loading and so on. Unfortunately this is made for the local market so it’s not in English. But at least you can check & get feeling about general design & idea behind it. You should find the link to it’s twitter page in my profile.

    Ok good luck with your show! I think that you have total chance to make it THE BEST startup podcast in the web. Forget about Mixergy and so on. The fact that you are talking about this subject from the coder-founders perspective for me is huge! And btw. I’m also big Appcelerator fan that I have discovered something like 2 months ago. Your show only confirmed that Appcelerator is the real deal and it’s worth to strongly dive in to it.

  5. soitgoes says:

    What an extremely useful and interesting podcast. Thanks guys! I hadn’t heard of Rob before; his podcast and book look like great resources for one man startups. He said a lot of things that got me thinking. The piece about making a steady income from a portfolio of websites was very interesting. Think I’ll go and look for some bargains at flippa.com :-)

  6. Jim robert says:

    Jason, maybe traffic would be a good metric for charging for appignite.

  7. Bopinder Abu Morpalinder Singh says:

    Good podcast, especially list building while developing.

  8. Julian says:

    Hi guys,

    In case you missed it, this HN thread http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1565140 is relevant to tech podcasts.

    Cheers,
    Julian

  9. Ericzoo says:

    I think the difference with vertical vs. horizontal or niche vs. broad is the risk profile. niche products tend to be easier but with smaller potential market. broad products are more costly to market but have more channels to market to. The importance would be clarity of the message or identity of the product.

  10. Jason says:

    @Julian Cool! Thanks for pointing it out. To anyone reading this, we could really use some votes on our entry the HN thread, or better yet, a comment of your own in support of the show would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for any help you guys can give us.

  11. Jason says:

    @Bopinder Abu Morpalinder Singh Glad you liked the show. I agree about the list building and have decided that’s something I need to focus on.

  12. Robin says:

    Another great show! And another link to a very relative podcast.
    Thanks guys.

  13. Emrah says:

    Very nice show. It’s nice for once to hear the down-to-earth, “for the rest of us” angle of things.

  14. @devster

    “Forget about Mixergy”? You can’t really mean that. ;-)

  15. Jason says:

    @Andrew Warner Mixergy is one of my favorite podcasts. I’ve listened to more episodes than I can count. Keep up the great work!

  16. Bopinder Abu Morpalinder Singh says:

    Jason :
    @Andrew Warner Mixergy is one of my favorite podcasts. I’ve listened to more episodes than I can count. Keep up the great work!

    +1. One of the best.

  17. Bill.D says:

    You’ve mentioned the resurgence of email marketing on a couple of shows recently. Anyone interested might want to check out the “Marketing Over Coffee” podcast (on iTunes) as they do a great job discussing many aspects of SEO and marketing. One of the hosts (Christopher Penn) is employed by an email marketing company – Blue Sky Factory, I think – so that comes up a lot.

    He might be a good future guest on email and/or SEO as the Pluggio, Swarm and AppIgnite projects move forward. Plus he talks fast (not as fast as Jason, of course)!!

  18. James says:

    Just a slight criticism guys… I thought it was a little “unfair” on the guest to ask his advice on appignite so early on into the interview. Maybe let the guests talk about themselves until you have exhausted all your questions and then fall back into specifics about advice you are personally seeking?

    Just an idea I had while listening, feel free to ignore me ;)

    Good show, thanks!

  19. Jason says:

    @James That’s a very valid criticism. I still have a lot to learn as an interviewer and that probably wasn’t fair to just throw that at him. Luckily, Rob was able to just roll with it and provided some great insight and advice. In fact, he completely altered my perspective of how the product should work. Thank you, Rob! ;)

  20. Hi Guys,

    Just catching up on the last couple of TechZings so I’m a week or so behind. I tend to listen on my way to work, so I haven’t finished this episode yet, but I wamted to offer some thoughts before I forget….

    On the power of list building… I’ve listened to TechZing since episode 1, I found out about it because some time ago I’d used Justin’s ezSql library and I’m guessing he leveraged that user list to email everyone when the podcast got going. Incidentally, ezsql@jimohalloran.com is one of the more spammed email addresses I have after it appeared on Juston’s web site :) .

    On AppIgnite, I’ve worked as a developer for small designer shops in a previous job. In my experience small design shops (the sorts of plces without developers) tend not to have their own web hosting (beyond whatever hosts their company web site). They’ll often just use whatever their client is already using or yours if you recommend it. For AppIgnite what that may mean if you go down the exporting the app strategy, you might be pitching a product to designers and saying “you must run the app on your own hosting”. Which creates a barrier if the designer doesn’t have hosting already. They they’ve got to satisfy themselves AppIgnite actually works (remember, they’ve never tried it and might be skeptical as to whether they really can do their own apps without a developer), AND they’ve then got to worry about hosting it.

    From a pure technical point of view, exporting the app also opens up quite a can of worms too. Because it’s PHP, will you need to consider whether register_globals is on or off, short_open_tags is on or off, higher/lower memory limits, mod_rewrite, php extensions, etc. Lots of variables on different hosts, vs running it on your own machine and controlling the environment. Your framework might already take care of a lot of that, but otherwise if you try and engineer around every possible permutation of PHP config which might affect you, you’ll probably spend a lot of time on development. If you try and shortcut that and publish a “Your host must do XYZ” you create uncertainty about whether their AppIgnite app will work on their host (which might be a disinventive to try AppIgnite to begin with).

    Finally, I fully understand the rationale for not wanting to support hosting and do consulting at the same time (I had the same drama when I worked for a WebDev company supporting their hosting and doing their client work). Have you thought about partnering with a hosting provider and offering hosting from a 3rd party as part of the subscription for AppIgnite? The customer can contact your partner for support, and you only work with a single hosting provider which give you a nice controlled environment. Ideally your hosting provider would have a web service you can use to create new hosting accounts and you integrate signing up for hosting into the AppIgnite signup.

    Keep up the good work guys.

    Jim.

    PS: Hopefully it won’t be another 56 shows before I get around to leaving a comment :)

  21. Corey says:

    Jason, I would say your vertical for AppIgnite is entrepreneurs who are not developers. It seems wide, but in my world, it’s a perfect fit.

    I’m very active in the “Ultralight Startups” scene here, which is a big “micropreneur” meet-up. As a developer, I’m talking to a lot of these folks about building their ideas into actual web apps. A lot of people have an idea for a money making website and don’t know how to develop it. AppIgnite could be the way forward.

    As a sometimes designer, and web dev who still deals with designers, they’re a picky lot, and I would say you’d have your work cut out for you trying to break into that space.

  22. Jason says:

    @Jim O’Halloran You really make some great points and I think your suggestion of partnering with a hosting provider makes a lot of sense. I still have a little time before I have to make a decision on this issue, but my guess is that (or something very similar) will be the most likely solution.

    Anyway, thanks so much for helpful insight and yeah, please don’t wait another year before your next comment. ;)

  23. Jason says:

    @Corey So, you think that non-technical web entrepreneurs will make for an easier market than designers. That’s a very interesting point and it may very well be the case because I’ve just been speculating about the market and have thus far done exactly zero customer development. ;) I guess I’ll just have to experiment with the marketing to see which group or groups appear to be the most open to the service.

    Anyway, at the very least, the “Ultralight Startups” scene sounds like a great place to look for some earlier adopters.

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