Throwing spaghetti at the wall: building quick 6-week prototypes to find a product that sticks with Robin Warren from Corrello & Blue Cat Reports

Product Stories
Throwing spaghetti at the wall: building quick 6-week prototypes to find a product that sticks with Robin Warren from Corrello & Blue Cat Reports
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Summary

How to validate SaaS ideas without access to any specific market? By iterating fast and finding an audience through first prototypes. Robin Warren is running a successful suite of Trello integrations for teams and shares his story of gaining early traction without having an audience or market insights.

Episode

Victor 00:04

Welcome to Product Stories where we explore how founders build successful software products. This is a podcast about product management, development, remote work, and anything else non-technical as well as technical founders need to know to launch and scale software products. Today’s guest is Robin Warren, who’s the founder of Corrello and Blue Cat Reports, both SaaS products are based around Trello. We’ll talk about how he got started by building quick 6 week prototypes to find a product that sticks in how he scaled from there. Robin, welcome to the show.

Robin 00:40

Hey, thanks for having us on.

Victor 00:42

Oh, yeah. My pleasure. I’ve been wanting to this for a long time, because you have some really interesting insights to share. But firstly, let us know what your background is. How did you get into wanting to build a SaaS into entrepreneurship? What did you do before?

Robin 00:59

Yeah, sure. So I was a software developer for a long time, and then ended up managing a small team. So I started a small company, I always seem to be employing them seven, every company I joined for some reason, I’m not sure. But then yeah, I stayed at one and ended up sort of managing the team there. I think that experience of working at a small company was growing got me a bit more excited about startups and wanting to get involved in that kind of thing. And then I’m not sure when I saw a member seeing like Patrick McKenzie, building the bingo card creator and stuff like that. And then sort of finding Rob Walling and people like this, and get included in the idea that you could actually just do it yourself, you didn’t need to do it as part of a company, you know, you didn’t need to raise funds, you could just go out and build something and sell it. And that was fitted in with what I like doing, which is building things.

So I spent a long time building things and not actually releasing them or getting close to making any money. And then gradually started actually releasing some things, but not making any money. And then yeah, from there sort of jumped into I guess the story we’ll get into later. But yeah, fairly typical developer discovered that you could in theory, just sit in a darkened room programming and somebody who puts money into the door, and be like, yeah, that sounds nice. I’ll try and do that for a business for life.

Victor 02:22

To including myself, as a developer who’s always wanted to build a SaaS and then you’re like, but what should I actually build should be the easiest part, shouldn’t. So, as I know, you, at some point said, okay, no, I’m actually going to jump into that. What did you?

Robin 02:44

Yeah, so I was working at a company, I’ve been working out for about 11 years. And the opportunity for redundancy came up with I mean, basically, it got to this place it needed to get to, I think, and then they just needed to cut back in and try and sell the business. So it’s quite a senior person, they were fairly happy to get rid of me because I was expensive. And that was great. So I took a fairly decent written redundancy payment from there not amazing, but it was like a decent chunk of cash. And I had some money saved up. That was the same month my first daughter was born; my first kid was born, I left there.

So I had about a month off paternity leave, and then got down to work trying to build something, it was unusual, I guess, a lot of people would recommend you don’t go full time until you’ve built something on the side and started getting some momentum. But for me, I’ve been doing it evenings and weekends. And I’ve sort of burned myself out on that really of like I was working on a commute to work on a train, I was working in the evening, sort of a few evenings a week I was working weekend. Whilst my wife was hanging out with our friends and stuff like this. And I was like, hey, I’ve had enough of that, and having to really rush everything and sort of not building a lot of technical debt rather than sort of building sort of decent quality code, and not really having time for conversations with customers as much as I’d want. And also with like a kid on the way I was like, Well, my evenings are going to be shots. And my weekends need to be for the family, not for building stuff. You know, I can’t just take 12 hours on a Saturday now.

So I decided to go full time without any clue of what I was going to build. At that point, I had a couple projects, which were out and had some users but which weren’t making a lot of money, or making nothing, no money, one of them may have may have made a little bit a lot of the time then somebody offered me $30 or something, but that’d be the only person who did and I’d be like, well, I don’t want to take your money because then they have to work out how to deal with having earned some money outside of my job.

So I just give it stuff to them for free. You know, unless you’re going to get 10 people it’s sort of not interesting. So I tried a few sort of revs of different ideas there. I tried to do jobs board. Back in the day, I had a jobs board. I looked at contractors I didn’t consider remote and I wish I had because obviously this would be a different conversation. I’ll be in my like solid gold palace right now right with my Remote Jobs for dad automated. So tried a few revs on that and then there’s sort of a chance conversation, a friend, good friend in Bristol wanted some tech advice. He was looking to hire someone, maybe for his business, which is a content marketing agency. So I said, well, you don’t want to hire me, because I’ll be quite expensive. And I want to do my own thing. But I’ll come over for a day and look at all the things you’re thinking of building. And we can sort of have a look okay, which of them could be solved by tech? which one should you just buy, and which ones — you need to get a human and to do that, because it’s not really solvable.

So he could look at like, Okay, if there’s products that he could be producing, I could help him with that, and then maybe a bit of like scoping. So we could go and hire someone. And one of the issues he had was around Trello. And getting reporting out of that, then he was telling me that him or his colleague was spending maybe four hours a week, just getting data out of Trello. So I sat there, then I went back home, and then I carried on digging into all the ideas. I was trying to look into for another 24 hours, then suddenly, I thought, hang on, one has got a problem. It’s got a problem with Trello. And then I went into a prototype something on that. So, a couple days later, I took a prototype to him and was like, Okay, this is what I could do for you. Would you pay money for this and got into that more traditional customer interviews, and mom test kind of validation conversations at that point.

Victor 06:16

To build for him at that point.

Robin 06:17

So I built something that worked just on my machine, it was a single web page, it opened up. So he was having issues, as an agency had a Trello board for multiple for each customer he worked with. And then he had a lot of freelancers who were doing the work. And what he was doing every week or his colleague was doing every week we’re going in. And just working out has a freelancer somewhere missed a deadline missed updating something. So they were going through maybe 30 boards, looking at all these cards that were active and trying to work out if something could be missed. So I built something that just showed across your 30 boards, here are all the ones which all the cards should overdue, all the ones which are due in the next week. And gave like at some big numbers, and a list of cards, but that was literally all they needed really. There’s a couple tweaks on top of that, but yeah.

Victor 07:07

Cool. So that was your initial prototype. He was happy with that. And I guess now we were like, okay, more customers. How did you go about that?

Robin 07:17

Yeah, what? So first off, I had to get a version of the work off of my computer, because I would literally just have worked on my machine. So I had to deploy that live and get it working for someone else. So that I mean, that probably took a few more days at least to get something that they could actually use. And then yes, so I was like, a weekend at that point. So I mean, started looking for other customers. But also, I think it’s worth mentioning, like the emotional state I was in, I guess, you know, I had a load of money, I had enough money potentially for being a family to go for a year on this, but I didn’t want to spend all of the money on that.

So in my head, I was like, we need to, like, get some progress. After six months, I think, if you’d asked me, then I would have said, in 6 months’ time, I’m going to be making a living off of this, we might just be scraping a living, but it will be enough to live on. Which doesn’t give you a lot of time to invest. And my attitude has always been try something, try it fast, fail, and then try the next thing, which so I was going to startup events then and sort of, you know, sort of trying to meet people who are using Trello. Again, introductions and see if anybody was interested in trying this stuff out. It’s a lot of big sort of creative scene in Bristol. So if you go to startup events as a reasonable chance, you’ll meet some of the marketing or design agencies who might be using Trello. So that was my idea. But I turn off and sort of say like, Oh, this is a current thing I’m working on until I until it fails, and then I’ll work on something else. And people will chastise me saying I should be more confident and how it’s going to change your world. And you got to go around, you know, which is 100% not my attitude.

So I was like, let’s work as fast as we can. So I got something working for my friend Tom, I got something working then that could work for multiple people so they could create different accounts and that sort of thing. I got an introduction through him to someone he knew who might be interested, I started contacting people I knew who were using Trello. But that was sort of a fairly thin number of people basically.

So then it was down to looking on Twitter. Is there anyone I know in Bristol, who fits sort of the similar profile or emailing groups there’s like an email list for creative types in Bristol I was on so I emailed that and got a couple introductions. You know, putting tweets asking people to retweet it but also just, you know, just pinging people just go in and I mentioned and being like, Hey, you know, I met your assertion search. Do you use Trello? Do you know anyone uses that I’m building a product and trying to sort of get some validation? I got some calm conversations out of that. I didn’t get much in the way of interest. I got to say, I got after time. I got one other person that he introduced me to using it, but they were pretty lukewarm on it. I would say I emailed my old mailing list for the other products. I’d done. just decided to kill us all emailed me said, Hey, by the way, thanks for coming along for this, I’m not working on this tool anymore, but I am working on this other one over here, if you or anyone, you know uses Trello come and check it out, I got one person who signed up who was keen on it and use their but never convert to being a paying customer. And I, I have to admit, I really struggled at this stage of like, going and finding people and validating it. And I don’t know if it’s all over one of like ice look at that maybe it’s hard to do that when you’re looking for Trello users who have a specific reporting requirements, because it’s a Venn diagram with that is a bit hard to track down.

So I was going along to sort of marketing events with 100 people out, and you go around and do your best of talking to everyone, and you meet three people are using Trello. And I was like I thought everyone in here would be using Trello. But it just wasn’t the case. And those three people then, you need to convert a very high number of them to get to get one of them onto a trial and convinced that they actually want to buy it. You know what I mean? I think that is a part of the journey that I went through, and I can’t say I really nailed at the time. And I think I would struggle again if I went through it. Because it’s really hard to try to sell a product that doesn’t exist yet that you don’t know what it’s meant to be to a group of people that you don’t necessarily know how to find.

Victor 11:23

Yeah, it’s totally shooting in the dark. So I’m not surprised. I’ve tried that a few times myself back then. And I didn’t put that much effort in as you did, which is probably why that never went anywhere. Because the beginning looks exactly like it. And I guess what it took us to mainly does validate that idea, but then get one clue into the right direction, and talk to as many people as you could, whatever way possible to get that clue.

Robin 11:56

I think the thing I had all the way through that period was like, okay, this one person really loves that. And there’s a lot of people using Trello. And this seems like a fairly obvious problem, they can’t be the only one is just I’m not finding a sort of scalable way of getting people are not even escape. I’m just not finding people who feel it to the same degree. But I’ve set myself a limit on that. So I said, Look, 6 weeks, and I was doing a mix of building and outreach and trying to sort of get conversations with people. And towards the end of that 6 weeks, it was pretty obvious, I was not really finding people through this in the trenches of one on one approach of finding people.

So I’d met somebody at one of these meetups, oh, who was a freelance journalist and worked for the next web. And he was interested in doing a write up of it when I was ready to launch, so that was great. So I got that article written. And I went on Product Hunt. And luckily, Product Hunt. At least then it’s not always working out like that, for me, but at least then was a good place for launching things that work with Trello. There’s quite a lot of Trello people in there. And there’s a lot of people, obviously, everyone is keen on trying something new out. So I managed to end up in like the sort of top five or six, I think, and I was I was doing quite well throughout the day. And then San Francisco wakes up and somebody with some stupid t-shirt jokes, like takes the top spot or whatever. But I got a couple 1000 trials in the space of a few days from those two efforts, basically, I think I probably did a show HSN [phonetic 13:25] as well, which is probably on the front page for a little bit.

So I got a bunch of people in and it was like, Okay, this is the opportunity. If these people don’t convert, then this isn’t an idea that I can really run with, I need to go and try something else. And it’s not to say it’s like, a bad idea, it wouldn’t work. It’s just like, I don’t know how to make it work. So I need to go and try another idea which maybe I can make work. And that was when I almost completely killed everything, basically, because I got 2000 people sign up and I got one customer, which was disappointing, because I’d already picked out the color of the second and the third Tesla at that point. But yeah, I can talk a bit about what went on, because that was a critical two weeks really was like after that launch and what happened in the next two weeks. And that was not necessarily going to happen if I hadn’t had a couple conversations basically over those couple of weeks.

Victor 14:20

You at that point, basically, you really understood that this is not something that will get you to making enough money to cover your living cost by six months. And how did you move away from this? What happened to steer you in the right direction or did you just completely abandon it and try something else?

Robin 14:42

Yeah, so I was getting a lot of people signing up and I followed a lot of the rules I’d set myself in the previous years of sort of failed bootstrapping. So, there was a minimum price point of like, $30, $40, something like that, it was something that wasn’t what didn’t require other people, one person could sign up and get value straight away. And they didn’t have to be like some other side of the marketplace as of help more and all that. But the thing I was still trying to avoid, I think was actually talking to people and I was doing a bit of it, but I think I’d assumed as well that, I’d built something. So therefore that was going to be the product, rather than that was kind of pointing away to a product and pointing away to a little bit of interest, basically.

So I got these 2000 people signed up. Realistically, that’s 2000 people who are interested enough in something that sounded like what I was doing that they would give me an email address. And we all know that no one reads anything on the internet, they just see reports to Trello. They’re like, Oh, that sounds like exactly what it wants. Then they go in, and they’re like, no, this is not exactly what I want. I’m not going to leave. I was sending out an email from there. And it was that forgotten the guy’s name, but it’s the product-market fit survey that people recommend, you know, like, how disappointed would you be if you couldn’t use this product anymore, and blah, blah, blah, these sort of questions. People should look it up if they don’t know it is an interesting one. But I was sending that out way too early, because they’re sending it out for a product that wasn’t like with 100%. Not there. But I was sending that out. I think I was using intercom.

So that was all automated sending that out to everyone at that point. And getting a load of responses that weren’t really telling me anything useful. But I was looking at the people who were logging in, and I saw like a few email addresses, I knew I saw Josh Pig ford from bare metrics. So I pinged him an email, and was like, oh, celebrity sign up. And he as always was really, really generous and kind and hopped on a call with me, in theory, so that we could see if we could get the tool working for him when he could sign up as a customer. But pretty much immediately, he’s like, I think I just signed up for this replay, it doesn’t really work for me. And then just gave me 30 minutes of business advice. And the main thing I remember coming away from that, which was I just needed to talk to everyone and not email, it needed to be Skype face to face if possible.

So, I set out a new email to everyone who was in there and just said, Look – and I think I used the approach from the mum test book, you know, kind of, we’re trying to really improve reporting for teams using Trello. But I need people like you to tell me what that needs to be put them on a pedestal thing. Would you have 15 to 20 minutes to spare to tell me what it is you need, so I can understand what needs to be evolved that approach, sent that out. And then just had lots and lots of conversations for about two, three weeks, some in-person went down and met people in Bristol, who was sort of showing me what they’re working on there. And that was a turning point. And a really important learning for me there was that when you like initially build and launch something like that, without I guess a lot of the customer development and upfront work that people often do to prove, okay, this is definitely a product people want when you just build and launch. If you get interest, that interest is probably not in what you’ve built. But it is in something tangential to what you’ve built. And you need to go and have conversations with those people and be like, okay, you thought I’d built something here, hadn’t you? What was it you thought I’d built or was it you hoping that I built? And if you get enough people telling you the same thing, and they’re willing to pay for it, then you can go and go and build that thing. And I think that was the critical learning for me there is like, yes, build and launch. But then you need to follow up with the customers and talk to them and be like, are not customers or people who are interesting to people who will give you 30 minutes of their time. I mean, that’s a decent barrier to sort of, you know, them shown some serious interest.

So, what I learned from that there were two groups. So as marketers who are really interested in everything, and they just definitely wanted everything, and they wanted to try everything. And they were going to prove to be the worst customers ever because they didn’t really want to use any of the charts, they were just interested in new shit, basically. And software development teams are great because I came from that background. And that revelation there was, you’ve got a head of development, or a product manager, who really wants all these metrics out of the software development team. But the software development team really likes using Trello.

So they’ve got two options. Either they have to do it manually out of Trello, or just give up on getting these metrics and charts, or they have to tell the software development team, you’re not allowed to use the tool you want to use, you got to use this other tool that you hate so that I the boss can get some numbers out of it. And those people have got money to spend, they’re very happy to spend 30, 80 dollars a month if it allows their team to be happy and allows them to get the data they want. And it was a group of people I knew how to talk to and how to find, I guess as well importantly, and then I was sort of heads down, building, building, building because at that point it was a fairly obvious large product roadmap that I needed to get through and there were people I was fairly convinced would pay money for it.

Victor 19:57

Super, super interesting because it shows that even though you didn’t succeed with the first product, what it got you is access to people and access to the market and at least validated, there is something there. And from there, you could take down the route as if you have had a previous business as if you had a previous email list is if you had previous access to somebody and do the good old customer development. But the key learning here is probably you got to find an audience somehow.

Robin 20:33

Yes, that is absolutely true and get in. I think we’ve things like Product Hunt is – I mean, it can be quite hit and miss. Still, I think maybe I was quite lucky in the first few things I put on there. So I would go around I just telling everyone, oh, I’ll just stick it on product content, you’ll get like a load of stuff. But then I’ve subsequently had ones on their languish at 30 all day long. And you’re like, Okay, not so exciting. But you can put stuff out there. And yeah, you get that audience. But then yeah, it’s definitely that thing that you need to treat that as an audience to do some development work rather than just, like immediately sell to, you need to go and understand what it is that they’re after. And if you were a bit more of a builder and launch it quick, which I still like, and I know, a lot of people smarter than me don’t like it. And I say you should do a lot of customer development and questions up front. And you should never even write any code until what you’re building. But I think if you can build a prototype in 24 hours and you can get something releasable. I’d like shareable within a weak and releasable to the World Within four to six weeks. It’s kind of like why not go that route? If that will then allow you to collect this audience like you say that you can then go and do the work with.

Victor 21:47

Was the product growing? Did you have customers signing up? Can we say that by 6 months, you were fairly confident that this is the product you want to be building?

Robin 21:57

By six months, I was confident it was a product I wanted to rebuild, I was also confident that I was going to spend pretty much all of the money that I had getting it right and this was again, I mean, the emotional state of that first year was very strange, because you just every single month you spend money. And also not earning the money that I could be earning. It’s like, CTOs somewhere like this. So it’s part of you, what the hell am I doing? And part of us like, this is all I’ve ever wanted, this is great. And it feels this is going to work. I’m getting the typical feedback, I might get then I really loved was somebody be like, I can’t believe you’re trying to charge $30 for this, it doesn’t even have a cumulative flow diagram, and you’re like, so if I had a cumulate flow diagram, and you pay $30, like, yeah, and like, Great, that’s what I’m going to build next week. And then you’d release that and they would become a customer.

So I was getting, it’s that real thing people talk about where the markets are, pulls the product out of you, once I changed the landing page and changed how we talked about it and I put the first thing in was just a burndown chart, which is a common chart used by agile development teams. And then I would it would go out there people would sign up and they’d be like, Oh, well, all this does is burn down charts, I really need cycle time, somebody would get on with me, but people had a real problem, they’d be really happy to get on a call with me and be like, Look, Robin, I like what you’re doing. It’s a nice product but I really need a CFD and a cycle time chart for my team. I’ve got a team of 70 engineers, I would quite happily pay $160 a month for this. But unless it’s got those in, I’m not going to pay because it doesn’t give me what I need. But I really want you to do it. Because I don’t want to have to tell my team that they have to move to JIRA [phonetic 23:39], which they all hate.

So people be very happy to get on a call. And I think there’s an element – you made the marketing very clear in the product of what you’re trying to do. So they’re like, this is meant to be for me, it’s just not doing it. And then emailing out every week, probably as launching new stuff. So you email out to the list and say, Hey, we just released this, we just released this. And I think there’s probably an email went out on day one or day two of their trial saying, automated but from me, plain text email being like, Hey, how are you finding it? Is there any feedback? Is there anything you want? I’m working as fast as I can to build this thing. So people would get in touch.

So, it’s really clear, there were people who really wanted this, were very willing to pay a sensible amount of money for us, which is not always guaranteed. And it was a case of filling in the product gaps. And I could see it, maybe like a couple of weeks work on one feature launch it, I would get Yeah, a couple of customers off of that launch, who had been waiting for it. And then you would see like the next week instead of probably one customer a week, suddenly, it’s two customers a week you’re signing up, you know, it’s three every two weeks now rather than two or three. And you’d see each feature was genuinely building up. So it took me the rest of that year to get product-market fit probably in terms of just the raw functionality that was in there. And during that time, I think I made a grand total of about $1,000. Which was not a lot.

So, at the end of that year, we were three months away from running out of — Maybe it might have only been two months away from completely running out of cash on something where the MRR [phonetic 25:21] was not really that close to covering expenses. Yeah, but that was the story through to the end of the year, basically.

Victor 25:33

So you essentially see this light at the end of the tunnel, especially when it comes to to higher paying customers. You’re like, okay, they will sign up, they will give me 160, whatever, 100, $200 a month.

Robin 25:48

Yeah,

Victor 25:49

I need this entire list of features. Is this the point where you decide, okay, I need some help? We can get there. But I need some help.

Robin 25:59

That was a lot later. Yeah, at that point, it was just me. And there was no money coming out of the business, basically, when I was still just living off of savings. So it was another year before I got anyone else in. And there wasn’t the month-to-month revenue to cover their costs. But there was a bit of cash in the bank. And I was confident that with them on board, I would grow the revenue and cover their costs basically. Yeah, but at this point, it was still just me building features out as fast as I could basically.

Victor 26:39

So during that year, even though you probably weren’t able to cover them fully. That must have still been quite some rapid growth. If your MRR was below 1000 before and then it started picking up.

Robin 26:54

Yeah, so what happened? I’ve been struggling with building, building, building, and I had an obviously doing some marketing as well. Most of the marketing was around content and SEO really. So I was doing probably my best blog post. I did back then was a tutorial on how to build your own dashboard using the Trello API. And then I could then take to a comment what it was, but there was some big code website where I did a write-up of that for them as a tutorial and link back to my site.

So, I’d get a lot of people landing on that. And it was obviously some developers on – they’ve got a free day at work. And our bosses said, Oh, we need some charts out of Trello, can you go and have a look, they Google it, I come up, they go to my site. They see how they can build it, but it takes them all afternoon to get started. And then I go, Well, we could just buy the software instead. So, it was bits and bobs like that. But it was very, very slow and very slow growth. Trello, at the time, had no directory, they had a Trello board, obviously, of integrations, which was just this like, I don’t know, this graveyard of abandoned projects, developer side projects or stuff. Somebody had worked a weekend on and then forgotten about three years ago. So I was listed on that. And towards the end of the year, it was becoming apparent, I got the product I think I needed. But the efforts I was putting in on to marketing were stumbling, basically, I was getting some kind of trickle of traffic and but as it always is, like the sort of slow SAS ramp of death, they call it, isn’t it just getting those things moving at any kind of pace takes a long time. But then Trello came to me and said, oh, we’re launching third-party power-ups that had power-ups. I think that calendar and custom fields. And if you like this, so we’re going to open it up. Would you like to be in a first batch and gave me maybe three weeks notice on that?

So I quickly sort of hack something together. So I could have the power of notionally working and they put the launch out in January? I think it was Dropbox, a bunch of other companies you’ve heard of me. And that was in the first batch. And that got me really good exposure then and obviously, because Trello would launch this thing, there was a lot of promotion around Hey, go and check out this. I was managing to get a few more blog posts with the Trello team then who were very kind and supporting me in my efforts to get things moving a little bit. But mostly, all of the traffic came from being in the directory at that point. And that was where everything turned around. And I think I met you that year — Was that in Barcelona? Yeah, that’s right. So at the start of that year, I was 6 weeks away from having to get a job. And then the revenue started coming in a bit faster. And basically the runway was six weeks, then the next month, it was still 6 weeks, then it was 7 weeks. Then it just the runway started stretching out a little bit with the cash. And then MicroConf came up and I was like, well I can afford to go to MicroConf this year.

So I’ve told myself, I wouldn’t go until I had a business that was making money. So yeah, I turned up to Microconf with a business that was paying me two and a half grand, I needed a month for me my family to live on. And yeah, was the happiest I’d been ever, probably, professionally at least. And now that was it. And at that point, I’ve got to admit, I took my foot off the pedal on marketing, I’ve subsequently come back to it and try to work out how to get some other things going. But just being in the directory was all you needed to do. And obviously, there’s only like, seven power-ups in the directory or something. So you’ve been massively discoverable. And that was good growth.

Victor 30:43

So how did you scale from there, you found a growth channel, which is mostly the thing that it takes. You don’t necessarily especially the beginning need 20 of those. You’ve found your growth channel, at least for now. And you wanted to put the focus back on the product, how did that go from there?

Robin 31:05

And I’m trying to dredge my memory up of what happened during that year. So there was still a lot of building and technical debt and scaling issues, things like this. So I think I was going through a lot of that year. And it must be towards the end of that year, I managed to build up a bit of cash in the bank. And this is when I started thinking about getting another developer involved. So like a lot of entrepreneurs, I guess, is sort of a generalist, and enjoy being a generalist and learning new stuff. But I have to 100% admit like I’m not a front-end developer. So I taught myself react and a bit of JavaScript to build that products, but I was like, this is not a great job that’s been done here. And it looked for a way, it looked awful in a lot of places. And I was like, this is where I’m weakest. And I don’t have time now to learn how to do this and get good at it.

So I wanted somebody who could take on the front end. In the end, I managed to find a really good, full stack developer who’s excellent on the front end, and also all of my back end technologies. So he started taking a lot of work there. And the two of us were working in parallel, building out and I got to say, I’m trying to remember what we were even building out then because it feels like it should have been done. But it was obviously a bunch of improvements. I think it was basically — there’s a question if you’ve got this chart or that chart that would get people to sign up. But then when people get in, they’re like, Oh, I needed to do this, I needed to do that. And I think there’s a lot of those niceties and improvements around that kind of stuff. And a bunch of scaling issues. I mean, throughout both of those years. But when I initially launched and had over 2000 people sign up, the scaling issue then was calculated. I did all the report calculations in one go. And it would have taken two weeks to recalculate everyone’s reports for them on the Monday.

So I think like quickly change all that worked on the weekend. And that’s going to be in the tail all the way through it. So it’s always been built to the level of scale that was operating at that point. And then three months later, we’ll be like, okay, now we need to go and fix this. fix that. And we started building out some other power-ups as well, like, Yeah, but mostly, we just built one that was a free one, which Trello got in touch and said, Hey, everyone wants story points, maybe you could build that. So we built that as like a freebie kind of a lead magnet for our main product.

Victor 33:28

We’re talking about how you got started and you didn’t have an audience, you you weren’t able to do customer development before building something. Now you do now we have an audience now we have lots of people signing up coming your way you have your marketing channel. How did you identify your next product opportunity?

Robin 33:51

Yeah, so, the next big one was blue cat reports, which we launched a year ago now, I guess and started work on about two years ago. And it comes naturally from chatting to people. So you get in on doing demo calls for people who ask for them or make it fairly easy for people to sign up for a call with me if they wanted it. And I would offer them all the time with anyone who got in touch with any questions. And you’re just not going through your product with people and you realize, you’re a really terrible fit for my products. You do not want my product, but you think you do. And you’ve got some problems which are kind of close to my product. And again, it’s that sort of thing. These people are signing up because they think it does something else or they hope it does something else. And it’s something tangential to what you do. And you could make your product do that. But I was looking at mine and with Corrello, I was very much – This is for Scrum and Kanban teams who are serious about how they do Scrum and Kanban and we do everything by the book. And there was a bunch of people signing up because it was kind of the only reporting solution in town for Trello and desperately to make it work for themselves. But just, you get on and you’d have to explain what all these charts did. And most of the time, it wasn’t what they wanted.

So it’s fairly obvious there was a need for like some general-purpose reporting for Trello, which Trello have also realized and launched just in the last couple of months, which is really great timing after I launched mine. For there you go. So it is that kind of thing. And again, it’s sort of the product, the market pulling it out of you, I guess, a little bit and just constant exposure to people using your product and realizing, yes, I mean, maybe that is not the case for everyone. But because I was in this nation Trello, where, at the time, there were a lot less solutions in Trello. People would get in touch and be like, hey, you’re the only person who seems to be doing anything close to what we want, you know, can we talk about what I need.

So it was became fairly obvious there was opportunity, there were people who had time to invest, and you’ve got to assume would convert, if you had the product, they wondered, basically. There’s a bunch of other free ones, mostly lead magnet thing. So last year, we finally something I’ve wanted to do since the start this Trello annual report. So it kind of like the Spotify wrapped kind of idea. So you connect it to your Trello board. And then it gives you a load of like stats.

So if you get the Usain Bolt award for like, the fastest card completion, you get gold, silver, bronze, and you get some numbers like, Oh, your team completed. 700 cards last year, 200 of them, we’ll complete it in under 24 hours. Nothing you’re going to take to a board meeting, but like a bit of fun to sort of share around and some like some good news stories.

So there are bits and bobs like that. And then obviously, what happens in there is there’s a little advert for like, hey, do you want good reporting, check out Blue Cat reports. And so and we launched another one last year called Burn Downs, which is another paid one that was sort of an experiment in, we’ve built this kind of now that I’ve got developers working on stuff full time, rather than me just hacking stuff together, we’ve actually built some infrastructure to make it easy to roll out new power-ups. So BurnDowns is an experiment in whatever, we just took this one feature of Corrello, and just did it as a standalone, but better than anyone has done a burned down implementation for Trello yet and see what happens with that. And allows us to experiment with pricing and some other things that we wanted to try there. But Corrello and BlueCat reports are the biggies and are all the main focus for us.

Victor 37:29

So you just mentioned, it’s more than, you know, obviously, what is your team setup currently?

Robin 37:35

So, got it one full time, full-stack developer, three days a week-ish, although it’s up to him, front end developer and designer. And just as of a month ago, 6 weeks ago, hired customer support person who works around two hours a day, two to four hours a day, as required, basically, and she’s excellent, she picks up calls during the day between other jobs that she’s on. So as far as the customers are concerned, it looks like we get eight hours of customer support. But actually, I pay for about two hours of it across the time. And that has been an absolute life saver recently, because I just moved house recently. So I was just AFK for maybe a week. And I would pop in occasionally in the evenings. But there’ll be a good two days at a time, three days at a time when nobody was here for me. And she was handling the vast majority of stuff. And then there’ll be a couple of calls now to get in.

So I’d get back in. And I’d get completely up to speed and I could get on with my work again by lunchtime. Whereas normally if that had happened, I would have a week of sorting through — Yeah, customer support and everything else that had built up basically. So, that’s the sort of core team, then there are freelancers doing server maintenance and stuff like this for us. So, with a pandemic, that was zero impacts. Everyone was already working at home anyway. Zero impact in that way. I was in an office in Bristol, which I stopped going into. But yeah, distributed around the world a little bit.

Victor 39:22

Yeah, what geographic areas?

Robin 39:24

So I’ve got one guy who’s actually not that far from me now that I’ve moved to probably a couple 100 miles from here in the UK, one developer in Poland and then went for Canada for customer support, specifically for that. So I basically so I can ignore customer support requests when they come in in the evening and just know that someone’s going to look at them. But yeah, that [crosstalk 39:40] yes. Yeah, exactly.

Victor 39:51

That helps.

Robin 39:52

Yeah, we did that. So we can have a bit of crossover at sensible times for both of us, which as important in the early days, that was an interesting experience for me hiring her. So I went through we work remotely for that. And I put a very vague job post in there just like, Hey, you can be anywhere, any kind of North American time zone. And yeah, blah, blah, blah, and then just got absolutely floored with applications. Because I guess my background is hiring software developers in the UK when I had a job. That was what I was trying to do. And it was just impossible to find get more than three or four people to come in for an interview basically. So yeah, I had a lot of applications from that and then started being like, Okay, if you’re not East Coast, then your applications going in the bin, etc. Yeah.

Victor 40:44

Interesting. So thank you so much for sharing these insights. What is next for you in a short midterm basis? What are you working on? What’s exciting ahead?

Robin 40:56

Yes, so we are continuing to push on BlueCat reports. So there are still some feature gaps there. But we were largely where we wanted to be in terms of product-market fit at launch, I would say last year, which is a difference. With Carrillo we did it, we spent a lot longer building it rather than just pushing it straight out there. But what we’re really trying to focus on there now is the conversion rates, that whack-a-mole game on all of the funnel metrics, basically. So trying to really, really ramp that up this year, and get some better numbers there. And more focus on marketing. Like I say, we relied quite heavily on being in a marketplace and do a pretty good job of marketing within the marketplace. But I want to really start digging into some other marketing channels that we’ve investigated and played with in the past. But I think because I’ve been doing all the customer support, and I’ve been involved in Dev and everything like this, and I’m pulling myself out of that now. I’m like, okay, I can either focus on marketing or not. If not, then I can hire someone to do it, maybe is the way to go. But yeah, it’s all Blue Cat. I’m really optimizing that this year. And I’m excited to see how much we can grow that.

Victor 42:07

Awesome. So where can people find you and your products? Where should they go?

Robin 42:11

Yeah, I’m at Robin Warren on Twitter, that’s easiest place to find me there. And the products are all in the Trello power-up directory. If you search reporting, you’ll find Blue Cat, and Corrello, and probably all the others as well. If you want to go to cherrywoodsoftware.com they can see the really, really terrible logo that I designed for the company, which my designers upset about. But no one sees it really because we don’t use it anywhere. But people can check out my artistic skills there if they want.

Victor 42:44

Thank you so much. This has been really helpful. And yeah, thanks for being on the show.

Robin 42:53

Cool. Thanks for coming on. Really interesting chatting with you.

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