Last week, I attended Microconf in Barcelona - the best conference I have ever been to. Microconf bills itself as “the conference for self-funded startups”. This means that it is designed for people who have built, or are building, small bootstrapped technical product businesses (SaaS, consulting, info products and productised consulting businesses).
Beforehand, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Microconf. It is a conference I have wanted to attend for years, but had waited until I was ready and my business was at a suitable stage.
I was nervous that everyone I met would be building, or have built, a software as a service (SaaS) business, and here I was trying to build an information/education product business. And I was nervous about meeting the heroes of the bootstrapping world.
My nerves soon evaporated after the first talk by Justin Jackson. The content was amazing and Justin was awesome. I felt like the talk was aimed directly at me, but of course it was aimed at everyone in the room. And this meant that everyone in the room was like me. This was a room of people who are daring to be different in a world of conformity. The energy in the conference room, the hallway and the outdoor space was amazing. A large group of people building interesting and different businesses, sharing ideas, encouraging each other, helping each other. There were no egos. There was no holding back. There was no judgement. Just a community of people who were there for each other and genuinely trying to pull each other up.
There is one word to describe the talks - incredible. From the first talk, How to Acquire Your First 100 Customers by Justin Jackson to the last talk, Patrick McKenzie’s Leveling Up. The speakers were up there sharing their hard won battles, real data and terrific advice. Some of these speakers have podcasts that I have been listening to for years - Patrick McKenzie, Justin Jackson, Brian Casel, Rob Walling, Mike Taber. You’d think I have heard everything they have to say about growing a bootstrapped product business, but no! I came away with a journal full of notes and a plateful of actions. The talks left me inspired and raring to get to the next level.
People mentioned beforehand that the hallway track is just as important as the talks. I knew this would be the case because it has been this way at every conference I have attended. But in all honesty, this was something else. The openness, the friendliness and the sense of community far exceeds anything I have seen at a conference before. I met some truly amazing and inspiring people and hope to stay in touch with many!
We were tasked to leave the conference with three takeaways that we would implement in our businesses. On the final night at dinner, four of us went round the table with our three takeaways. Mine were:
- Try the x1, x2, x5 pricing patterns for my book.
- Blog everything
- Stop client work as my main goal, which means switching to a 100% product company
They are fine enough takeaways but in the week since the conference, I have changed my takeaways to the ones that I think will have the biggest impact on my business and life.
Rob Walling talked about relentless execution in his talk. The single biggest problem I have in my business right now is that I am not executing fast enough or often enough. I have all the excuses: I get stuck in periods of complete indecision, I question everything I’m doing, client work takes over, I’m focusing on finding clients rather than pushing through with the product business, I have kids and life gets busy. Some of these things aren’t going to go away, but I know I need to push through and execute. It is now or never.
“The only thing that matters is the work” - Justin Jackson.
“Turn up and do the work!” - Amy Hoy.
Both Justin and Amy are referring to the fact that when you have the tools, enough knowledge, chosen an audience - well then do the work! The work is not playing on Twitter, setting up email addresses and other trivial things. The work is building the product, marketing and researching your audience. I have done all these things - but I have had times when I’m just not doing them because I’m focused on the wrong areas.
If people say you are good at something - double down on that
Patrick McKenzie talked about this in his excellent talk on leveling up.
People have said that I am good at writing technical content with real clarity and they really understand concepts after reading it. People have said that my book has helped them finally learn Drupal development like nothing else has before. But for some reason, I haven’t doubled down on this. I have allowed myself to get distracted and confused about the direction I am heading in.
So expect more educational content from me. I’ll be doing more Drupal content for sure, but will also be covering other related topics.
Define a vision for the company and life
Rachel Andrews mentioned this in her talk on building a business with no exit plan. Once you have defined the vision for your company and life, what is the next concrete step towards that vision?
This is something I have tried to do but often it gets lost in the fog of every day work. The whole point of a bootstrapped product business is that it can be shaped around the needs of one's family and life. And my family are what I live for.
I honestly have so many takeaways that it is impossible to list them all. But here is a list of some standout ones:
- You don’t need a product to sell. You just need people to believe in what you are doing (John Ndege)
- Email courses are not just blog posts. Focus on solving one narrowly defined problem really well and make the reader a better person. (Jacob Funnell)
- Be personable, confident and supportive in email marketing (Jacob Funnell)
- The key difference between freelancing and productised consulting is focus. You need to focus on one problem, one solution for one type of customer (Brian Casel)
- Write interesting, surprising and unique articles (Justin Jackson)
- Develop a super power in the one thing that you are better at than anyone else (Patrick McKenzie)
- Always be marketing including in unusual places like 404 pages (Alex Yumashev)
- Log all marketing so you have a record of what you have done. This will make it easier to pinpoint causes if metrics go up or down. (Alex Yumashev)
- Clarity beats clever. Know your why and make sure your website communicates this. (Dave Collins)
- Inventing a new category takes too long and you need to educate your customers on what the category means. Competing on features is the path to being a commodity. Be different to your competition by taking a position within an existing category. (Rob Walling)
- Join a mastermind group (pretty much everyone said this!)
- Be unique by either baking uniqueness into the product, using your own personality or creating unique branding (Justin Jackson)
- Understand your past and how it effects your present. Be on the lookout so problems don’t repeat themselves. Face your shadows. (Sherry Walling)
- You can start from nothing and grow. Build your first product/business and use experience and skills you pick up to build your second, and leverage those skills for your third product/business and so on. (Patrick McKenzie)
- Continue to serve the same audience and avoid building new products for different audiences. (Patrick McKenzie)
- Do something you love. Solve problems you care about for people you care about solving problems for. (Patrick McKenzie)
Be careful of inspiration
There is a trap in going to conferences like this, which I’m conscious of not falling into. Getting inspired, talking about your business and ideas and engaging with others is a great release. You let off a lot of built up steam. But that release can lead to inaction afterwards, almost like you need to keep the steam inside you to keep yourself moving.
But it is possible to turn that on its head. I want to go to Microconf again next year. But I don’t want to go if my product business is in the exact same state that it is now. So I’m determined to turn up next time with confidence and vigour. And hopefully I’ll be able to help more people in the process.
And to get there - I’m going to do the work with relentless execution!
Do or do not
I’m going to wrap up this post with a quote from the very wise Yoda :
“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” - Yoda (Star Wars)