Arvid Kahl 0:00
Welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder. Today, I’m talking to Evelyn J. Starr. Evelyn is a brand building expert. And we’ll talk about finding the right niche, having a community centric, long term perspective and how brands change over time. Here’s Evelyn. What is the biggest misconception about building brands that you have run into with solopreneurs or indie entrepreneurs? What have you found with, yeah, being the biggest problem there?
Evelyn J Starr 0:27
The biggest misperception I’ve seen is that there’s a belief that a brand is just a logo and it’s just something that marketing creates and maybe they’ll get to it, maybe they won’t get to it and don’t realize that the brand is really the whole business. So, you know, the reason that you’re in business is part of your brand. You, as the founder are a big part of the brand, especially in the beginning when it’s just you. So you bring your personal values, you bring your personality, and all of these things color, the brand and people’s mind, you know. My definition of a brand is that it’s the expectation of what you get when you deal with any entity based on all your prior experiences and impressions of that entity. And so you know, how I feel about the Bootstrapped Founder is very much how I feel about our interactions, Arvid because that has built the brand in my mind. It’s what I expect next time I talk to you. I know oh, Arvid, he’s friendly, he’s really helpful. He’s very interested in brand issues and also building in public, all of those things factor into what the Bootstrapped Founder is in my mind.
Arvid Kahl 1:44
Do you think like the other brands in the space, you would probably call them competitors? Although for me, it’s just like other people doing similar things that we can empower each other in our community, at least. It’s not that much of a competition. Do you think these other brands influence what perception people might have of my brand as well?
Evelyn J Starr 2:02
Not really, not really. And that’s the thing that the message I would send to a lot of entrepreneurs starting out is, it’s good to be aware of what the competition is doing. But you don’t define yourself by what the competition is doing. You are your own brand. Hopefully, you’ve come to your business because you’ve noticed a gap in the marketplace that your competitors aren’t filling. And so you’re going to define your brand and your niche along those lines. And so it’s, like I said, it’s good to keep an eye out to see what changes happen in the marketplace if they invade your space. If you see something they’re doing you think, aha, I can do this better. You know, those ideas can come to you but you don’t define yourself by your competitors.
Arvid Kahl 2:50
Yeah, generally a good idea is not to compare yourself to other people anyway because you only see their highlight reel while you see your full picture. And it’s kind of an unfair comparison to yourself, I guess. Yeah
Evelyn J Starr 3:04
Arvid Kahl 3:07
I do wonder in that regard because with competitors around, you kind of that’s why you do a lot of marketing is to be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors. And that’s why I’m asking this question. Because if you have a brand and this might be a very limited perspective on brands that is similar to others, how do you give some kind of substantial difference through your marketing to the people in your field so they can see, okay, yeah, this is not just a slightly different product, but the people behind it, the mission, the vision behind it is different too? How do you do that?
Evelyn J Starr 3:42
Well, you know, when you’re first starting out, sometimes you don’t know the full nature of your brand, right? Maybe you’ve seen a gap in the marketplace. And you thought I can program that. I can fix that sort of like what you did with permalink. And so you start very focused on a product. But ultimately, if you’re going to have a fully realized brand, your brand is going to have a purpose that surmounts a product. You know, maybe for permalink, it’s to help Amazon publishing authors make sure their books don’t get booted off, right? And so there may be other products or other things you devise in the future, I’m making this up. But most brands that are going to survive long term have a purpose that’s not product related. It’s a bigger world vision. And I’ll give you a couple examples. Although these are not tech examples, but well, actually, I can read you Google. Google’s purpose is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, okay? So there’s the word search is in there anywhere, right? There’s no maps, there’s, you know, and it’s what made them it’s what’s guided them to develop a whole lot of products and then also to ditch a whole lot of products. And when I wrote my book, they had already killed off around 240 somewhat products that just didn’t adhere or fly. But that they thought might be a good idea based on that purpose. So you differentiate yourself by your purpose. You differentiate yourself by the values that you bring to your business, you know, how you go about doing your business and the values that you set for your business guide how you want your employees to behave on your behalf, if you’re fortunate enough to grow your business to the point where you have employees at your niche also is a differentiator. You know, going after exactly the same thing as another competitor, if you have a different method of doing it or some sort of improvement might be a good idea. But usually, it’s better to find some space that very few or no one occupies and use that to differentiate yourself. So these are some of the brand components that help you stand out. And the one last thing I want to say and tell the conversation a little bit is that I want your listeners to know that marketing is about relationship building. It’s not just about differentiation, that’s part of how you do it. But it’s really what is your brand in relation to these people and they relate to other people, so it’s gonna be the founder and your employees.
Arvid Kahl 6:26
That is very important. I’ve been very focused on telling people the exact same message that anything you want to do for your business that has any long term, positive, beneficial effect has to be relationship based. It can’t just be like projecting something, it has to be building an actual connection with human beings. I really enjoy the fact that you say this because it’s core to the message that I’m trying to communicate as well. And in that regard, I’m thinking of personal brand and professional brand. That’s kind of my distinction that I use, right? Personal brand is around the founder. Professional brand is around the purpose that you just described. Those kinds of terms are what I use for this because a lot of founders in my space, who want to build relationships, who want to become part of a community and from within that community build products that people actually need and have a budget for and all that kind of stuff they struggle with, well, what is the core of what I’m supposed to be a brand about? Like is it me as the founder? Or is it the product? And the mission that I have? What would you suggest for somebody who’s a solopreneur, who doesn’t have a team and doesn’t really want to build a big company out of it but does want to build a business? What is the core of their brand? Is it the person or the business? Or both? How do they go about it?
Evelyn J Starr 7:46
Well, they overlap so much. They meld so much that I don’t really make a distinction between them. Because if you’re the founder and you’re solopreneur and you’re interacting with everybody, you are the brand. You really are. And so one of the things that I found really helpful in my journey in the book that I sent you was to scope out to actually set for myself what is my purpose, right? As my brand as you start to see it, the name I came up with in 1999 in a hurry when someone asked me to interview for something when I decided to go out on my own, like ahhh, I gotta find something. But so, you know, I sat down and actually, I went through at one point, Simon’s next, you know, determine your why. And I did that first. And then I determined my company’s purpose. So my personal why and my company’s purpose are not the same, but they dovetail you know. My personal why is to help someone find the aha moment so they can move forward. Because I’m very analytical, and I’m very big picture. And I can usually help somebody who’s stuck, find a way through that. But my business purpose is that I help business owners make confident marketing decisions. So that’s a slice of the aha moment. So maybe that’s a way to look at the personal brand and the professional brand a little bit. The other thing
Arvid Kahl 9:14
That’s awesome! This is just intriguing to have this kind of this is my whole purpose and the business is just a slice of it. For me, I’ve always found like we all have these overlapping identities as people, right? We’re parents, we’re children, we’re neighbors and all of that and this kind of plays into the same overlap of purposes, right? We have the full purpose as a person and the business is just one way of fulfilling that purpose and maybe being a parent is another purpose or being a woodworker in your spare time is the other version. It’s nice to see that you found this big purpose and you have this specific purpose for your business, that is really cool. Sorry for interrupting but that’s something that I find really cool.
Evelyn J Starr 9:55
That’s great. And you know and for your listeners, I really, you know, sometimes people like oh, I don’t have time to do this. I have to tell you, when you find your purpose when you figure that out and notice how simple it is, I help business owners make confident marketing decisions, like eight or nine words, right? And but it’s talking about who I serve and what I do. And it’s not product specific. If your audience if you take the time to do this, then you have something to run all of your opportunities by. It becomes a litmus test and it becomes so much easier to make decisions. Someone approaches you for a partnership or if someone says, hey, can you add these three benefits to what you’re building? You know and you want to think, hmm, should I bother? Or should I not? If you have your purpose, you have sort of a lens to look at that and say, yeah, this fits or no, it doesn’t. It makes life so much easier in the long run.
Arvid Kahl 10:50
Yeah, you talked about the niche that you picked very, very early in our conversation. And I think niche picking or picking your future audience or your market or whatever you call it, right? That being specific about who you want to serve and empower that conversation cannot come early enough in a business journey. If you do this, when you start selling things, you’re already way too deep into it. So let’s maybe talk about the niche now, at the beginning of this conversation as well because it’s just a really extremely important thing for any founder to consider. What’s too big? What’s too small? That’s one of the questions that I always get from founders that I try to help as well. Like, when I pick a niche, can I go too deep? Or am I too broad? Do you have any kind of framework for this, how to pick a niche that is just right, the Goldilocks kind of niche?
Evelyn J Starr 11:38
I do, I do. And I’m going to mention to your listeners that I wrote a book called Teenage Wastebrand, How Your Brand Can Stop Struggling and Start Scaling. And I actually have step by step instructions on how to look at niches in there. So if they’re interested, they can check out that book. But what I would say to you here is that what you want in a niche is to be very specific, so you can talk to a particular customer or a particular customers a particular problem, okay? And it can be pretty narrow. You just want to have some running room, so your brand can grow for several years, okay? You know, if there are five people in the world who need what you have, you’re going to run out of that audience or pitching to that audience really fast. But you don’t need hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of people. You just need the right people and enough of them so that your brand can continue to grow for a while and you can make a name for yourself. And that is what’s most important about a niche. And what people get wrong, is that the biggest fear founders have is that they’re gonna go too narrow, they’re gonna leave money on the table. If they’re gonna say no to somebody, they’re purposely limiting their business. And that feels very scary. You know, I call it in my book that my book, Teenage Wastebrand talks about how there are sort of adolescence symptoms to brands and I call it suffering from FOMO fear of missing out, right? If I don’t serve that person, you know, I have this major, I’m missing the party kind of feeling. But what’s really the case is that when you target some specific audience, whether it’s by an attitude or a group of people you’re serving, you make a name for yourself in that arena. You have to have something and this goes back to differentiation, right? You know, permalink is one of the only services I know, I think the only service I know that does what it does. And so that was amazing to me, that was exactly what I needed. I saw it on Jane Friedman’s newsletter and I was like, yeah, I’m there. So that was speaking directly to me and my problem. And I don’t know how many authors are worried about their books getting kicked off of Amazon because the link goes bad. But I think there are probably enough of them that your business is growing because it’s a big problem. So I would encourage your listeners to choose an audience narrow enough that when someone sees the brand and sees what it’s about, they say, ah that’s exactly what I needed or oh, yes, they’re talking to me. You can’t be that specific if you’re trying to target everybody.
Arvid Kahl 14:19
Have you found a good way of finding the places where you can do this research? Like where do you go to look for information on the size of the niche? Or if people are actually having problems that you’re interested in solving, how would you approach that?
Evelyn J Starr 14:34
You know, it’s an industry by industry situation. You know, I’m a big secondary research person. So I will put in my browser, all sorts of terms that come at that this is where I would start with any of them all sorts of terms that come out the problem I’m trying to solve, to see who the players are. I would, you know, go to each of the players websites. I would look at any public information or ask about, look for reviews, look for statistics. And really what I’m looking for in that case, especially I think I’ll probably a lot of your listeners are going after something that either hasn’t existed before or is fairly new. So you don’t have to have buttoned down numbers to justify what you’re doing. You just have to ascertain that there’s enough interest and enough of a market there that you could build your brand for a few several years, right? That’s all you’re looking for, you know, so you don’t need to know specifically how many there are. You just need to know that there are enough.
Arvid Kahl 15:41
Now you kind of validating a trajectory, right? You don’t necessarily have the precise numbers, but you know that the vector of it is pointing somewhere upwards in some capacity. I think that’s great advice. I feel like understanding that there are already players in a particular field, but people are not too happy with them. That’s probably one of the best kinds of situations that particularly a bootstrap founder can find themselves in, right? Because you know that there’s budget because people are already paying for these other things. You know that there is interest because otherwise they wouldn’t even have attempted to build the thing that they now are being paid for those businesses. And you know, that there’s a misalignment between the products that exist, the solutions and the problems that people still have. That is great. So yeah, I love that kind of research. Like it’s kind of free build competitive analysis that is happening there. That makes a lot of sense. Are there any other ways of figuring out this information?
Evelyn J Starr 16:38
Well, I wanna address something you said before and maybe respectfully disagree a little bit. It is optimal if you can figure out your niche ahead of time and before you’re selling, that is true. But if any of your listeners are in a position, saying, oh, no, I’m already selling and I’m keeping my language calm because no is not the word that I would go to if I was listening and thinking, you know, how did I do this wrong? You know, brands are evolutionary. And sometimes you have to get into it to find where you need to go. So let me give you an example. A lot of people know Airbnb, right? That company, what a lot of people might not know is they started with a niche that was too small. They were targeting cities, areas that had conferences, where the conference attendance exceeded the hotel capacity. Okay, very specific. So like the national conventions in the US, right? The Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Convention, may be South by Southwest two really huge conferences, where there was going to be a greater need for accommodations than the supply the hotels had. And so those were the situations they were serving. And there weren’t enough of them to keep the company afloat. But in the meantime, people were pinging them saying, hey, I had a great time staying in Austin at this, you know, I’m gonna go to vacation in Austin. Do you have another location? And initially, they were declining those and then a bell went off, you know, maybe it doesn’t have to be just for conferences. And so they adjusted and widened their niche in the process of building their brand. And that’s how they came to grow so large.
Arvid Kahl 18:28
Yeah, large and highly precarious in many ways, too, right? Like when you look at these unicorns, I feel particularly from the perspective of a bootstrapped founder does not have access to that kind of capital, the venture capital that’s put into it. It feels like they over expanded their niche. That’s also something interesting because we already talked about picking too smaller niche but let’s maybe talk about picking too big a niche because Airbnb is essentially trying to take all of the hotel market and all the vacation home markets and you know, all these markets at the same time. And obviously, if you have like billions in funding, that’s fine. But if you have your savings, you know, you’re a couple of months of life savings. That’s probably not a good idea to invest that into trying to revolutionize the hotel market either. So what is too big of a niche to start it? Like where is the niche so big that you can find your footing?
Evelyn J Starr 19:24
Well, so let me just on an Airbnb basis because I think this brings up a really interesting point about niches that your listeners might find interest in or get some benefit from. So what Airbnb is doing now is they shifted from this very specific, very narrow personal interest and through their evolution several years in, did a whole bunch of research and they changed their niche to or their purpose to help people belong anywhere, right? To help anyone belong anywhere. And so their niche is this market of people who travel who want to feel less alien, less strange to a new place, right? And they do that by going into someone’s home instead of going into a hotel room. And now that they’ve launched all their experiences, they do that by signing up for something that people in the know would have access to, right? So their news is attitudinal, right? I want to belong in San Francisco even though I’ve only ever been there twice in my life. And I want to feel comfortable there and so I’m using their brand to help me do that. So attitude is also an interesting niche to address. But in terms of being too big, when are you being too big? If your brand’s not resonating with the people that you really want to serve, if you’re not being specific enough, you know, so like my target market, I work with lots of people and some of my clients are men, some are women, some may be non binary. You know, I don’t know all the time, I don’t ask. But, you know, for a long time, I noticed a pattern that there were, most of my clients were men in their 40s and 50s who had started a company who had come to it without a business education. Generally, there were sports fans, they were married. And they enjoyed American culture. And so if you read my newsletter, which I publish, once a month, I write with that person in mind. You know, I will make sports references once in a while. I will make American cultural references. I think in my next newsletter, I’m talking about Star Trek, but
Arvid Kahl 21:46
Evelyn J Starr 21:49
Thank you. But so you know, when you can do insider stuff like that, so that person doesn’t feel like you’re talking, you’re up making a general speech to hundreds of 1000s of people. But instead, you’re talking to me, then you know you’re doing well with your niche.
Arvid Kahl 22:07
That’s great. That is such a yeah, that is so visceral to me because if I read a text that is written not for me, I notice because it doesn’t resonate with me and those little things. But if there’s a Star Trek reference in there, you have my attention, right? And I know you did that on purpose too like you did that because you wanna talk to me. That’s what I see in that kind of newsletter. That’s very interesting. And I feel let’s talk about the evolution of the brand that allows you to do this because we just talked about Airbnb going from tiny niche to becoming this kind of experiential, attitudinal thing, which is a great observation. I think this is what many tech companies have figured out that it’s not about like being in that tech space. But being something that aspirational for people, right? We want people to allow themselves to become a better version of themselves. And that is our purpose. But that takes a while to come to that point, right? It takes an evolutionary process. So how does that work for a brand? Like how do brands grow up? What are the signs? Are they getting rowdy when they come into the teenage years? Like how does it work?
Evelyn J Starr 23:14
Well, so what I noticed and the reason I came to this as when I was serving all of those guys who were in businesses, you know and I talked to them about their business and marketing. And they really were very sheepish and said, you know, I don’t like marketing, I don’t do marketing because they really didn’t understand it. And they were afraid they were going to sink money into it and time into it and not see any return for it. But the common trajectory of a lot of their brands was that they would start off and they’d find a lot of takers and it would go really well for several years and then they hit a plateau. And when they hit this plateau, it was mind boggling because they said, I’m saying all the same things I was saying before. I’m talking to the same people I was talking to before and all of a sudden, I can’t seem to get above this level, you know or I’m tapering off a little bit. And what I discovered and the reason I call it a brand adolescence is that brands evolve over time, right? So that definition of a brand that I talked to you about earlier, about being the sum of all your experiences and all your impressions. You know, when you first launch a brand, when on day one, if you’re a founder, you get to tell the world what your brand is, what you intend it to be. But once your audience has a chance to experience it for a year or two years, they’re gonna have all these different interactions. Maybe it’s still all with you if you’re a solopreneur. But maybe you’re lucky enough to be growing and they’re having interactions with your employees or they’re seeing reviews online or they’re talking to other people who are using this totally away from your earshot. You can’t hear what’s going on. And all those activities factor into their impression of the brand. And if they’re finding that your brand is better for one thing that’s not what you launched it for, over time, you know, the difference between what you said your brand was on day one and what it is in their mind starts to separate, it grows further and further apart. And when the gap gets big enough, your initial marketing messages no longer resonate because they’re not speaking to the way that people think of your brand. And so the way to deal with that is to stay in touch with your customers, listen to how they’re using your brand, listen to what it means to them, you know, listen to their thoughts about it so that you can stay on track with the way that it is appearing in the world.
Arvid Kahl 25:44
Hmm, interesting. I think a lot of that is also word of mouth, right? Where people just talk to their peers about your business and what you offer. And I know that a lot of founders at some point, they feel they lose control of word of mouth, obviously, because it’s other people doing the work. What is your opinion on that? Like, should people try to cling to that or should they just embrace what people are saying and kind of guided like, in a different way?
Evelyn J Starr 26:07
So there was a McKinsey study, McKinsey consulting study back in 2009 that showed that two thirds of marketing is happening outside the company. And it’s because of all the internet related, right? Because of reviews, because of ratings because of social media, because of conversations people are happening or having. So what I’d say to your founders is take a big exhale and realize that a lot of the marketing of your brand, a lot of the conversation is going to happen away from you and you cannot control it, but you can influence it, okay? And the way you influence it is by being consistent in the way that you put it out in the world. And so, if you’re a solo and you’re continuing to lead the brand yourself, then you need to find out how the world perceives you and how the world perceives your brand and be consistent with those. And that’s another thing I talk about in the book. Those are called brand attributes, you know, so, you know, one attribute you might have, Arvid is kind of technical because people know you from that’s sort of a common thread through your businesses. And so, when you talk, you’re talking to an audience who’s coming to you for things that are technical and you, you know, you’re not talking to me about, you know, how to bake doughnuts or something. This is out of the wheelhouse. You’re serving that expectation and the voice and the language you use also acknowledges, you know, that kind of technical bent. So people need to find out how they’re perceived, how their brand is perceived and kind of stay consistent about that. And when they do that, that will help the way that people outside talk about them and think about them.
Arvid Kahl 27:53
Yeah, I’m thinking about like, the difference between a serious brand and an adult brand. I don’t know like if that makes sense to you, but I’m hearing you tell me like you want to stay consistent, you should stay consistent in the messaging and that kind of communication that you give to allow people to have the opportunity to use that and talk to their peers in the same way and have this kind of cohesive narrative going on in the world outside of your marketing activities because other people are doing it and inside of them because that’s just keeps it going. Now, over time, I think many particularly in the tech field, people have this expectation of things becoming more serious, more enterprise, right? More business
Evelyn J Starr 28:37
Arvid Kahl 28:38
And that’s kind of what I mean, the difference between like a serious brand and a grown up brand, like where one is just a little bit older because it’s been around for a couple years. And then there’s the serious version, the one that uses fancy words and jargon to communicate something. It loses it’s kind of personal touch. So should we aim for that?
Evelyn J Starr 28:58
Arvid Kahl 28:59
Obviously, you know, can we be serious without that?
Evelyn J Starr 29:03
Oh, yeah, not only can you be serious, but you know, that the problem with thinking, oh, my business is now six or seven years old. I have to get very formal about it. Is that the reason people came to you and the reason you are where you are is the way you’ve been all the way along, right? The voice you use, like, you know, Wendy’s is a, you know, fast food chain and they’re really kind of snarky on Twitter and they’re known for that. They kind of have an attitude. They go after McDonald’s every once in a while. They tease them and they’re a huge, large, well established brand. And people love the snark. They love the rebellious attitude. That’s how they’re known. And so getting larger isn’t a time to bail on the way that your brand has been. I would say on the other hand, it’s a time to lean in. You know if you’re talking to your customers and they love you know, the casualness of your blog posts and the ease of your manuals of use and all that stuff. Don’t ditch that, you know, lean into that. So that if you’re growing and you need to hire employees, you need to kind of codify what your values are and how you want the employees to represent your brand so it can be consistent. So you can continue that not so you can become stodgy. Nobody wants stodgy.
Arvid Kahl 30:24
Yeah, company culture doesn’t have to be like casual Friday, right? That’s not what the culture is about. It could just be, be kind, be friendly, be easy, be playful, right? These kinds of things. And other companies might not do that because I don’t know they targeted the front market or they just want to appear at the front in front of their customers also fine. Just making a choice and sticking with it. I like it. I like consistency. Generally, I’m a big fan of that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in episode 200 something of this podcast at this point, right? So consistency is central for me to build for building a business or immediate business or a brand to begin with. And it’s nice to hear that that is something that will keep attracting people. I think that’s the fear that so many founders have, right? Oh, I am going for bigger businesses. Their expectations are different, I need to change that. And then they have this weird dichotomy where they now want to change who they are for the people that they want to attract. But in that lose the connection with the people that they have already attracted. That feels like such a hard balance to strike.
Evelyn J Starr 31:28
Well, it’s a hard balance to strike. And also, I mean, it’s sort of, you know, your brand, it’s an asset that you’ve built, right? You’ve worked so hard in the beginning, in the first whatever it is. I mean, the tech world, your tech world, it’s like dog years, right? You know, a brand could be, you know, an adolescent at two years old because it gets adopted so fast and there’s so many things that it goes through. But you’ve worked really hard to differentiate yourself with a brand personality, with the values you bring to the culture, whether it’s you personally or whether you have a team, you know, so that becomes an asset that’s valuable. You don’t want to throw that away, right? You want to build on that. I mean, think of the early days of your brand and the culture that you’re building in the company as a foundation, right? So you’re not going to build stories upon that by ditching the foundation, you know, by ruining it or putting cracks in it. You’re gonna need to make sure it’s solid and then just go up from there.
Arvid Kahl 32:29
I’ve also had the experience that your initial customers, like the people who are your first believers, they can play a pretty big role in you establishing that foundation and then going from there, right?
Evelyn J Starr 32:40
Yes. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. They can be your biggest fans, they are word of mouth and their influence bringing you, you know, the first that like sort of that second round of users is critical. And if you can make them love you, you know, there are books that talk about them, like raving fans make raving fans. And I think Kevin Kelly the Technium had that a post years ago called you know, 1000 Raving Fans and basically saying, if you can get 1000 raving fans, you have a business. You know you’re good because they’re gonna buy whatever you sell. So those initial customers are really important.
Arvid Kahl 33:19
Yeah, that Kevin Kelly quote came to my mind as well because that’s kind of how I personally approach this. I mean, I have a couple more than 1000 followers at this point. But I know that a true fan is still not just a follower, right? Or a customer is not necessarily a true fan. They could just be a user of the product that you offer. Do you have any tips on how to find these fans like how to kind of sift through the hopeful masses of people who you know, are involved in using a product or hanging out with you on social media and find the ones that really, really care about you and then cater to their needs?
Evelyn J Starr 33:58
So what I would say is, sometimes when you’re starting a business, you’re moving so fast and juggling so much that you kind of put off responding to anybody who connects with you, you know and I would say that the way to find those raving fans is to keep your eyes and ears open for someone who’s engaging with you because the person who’s taking the time to engage, whether it’s a Twitter direct message or an email or however they’re doing it, has gone through a lot to sort of raise their hand and make that effort. And that is the sign that this person could be very, very, you know, important to your brand and has a lot of thoughts about that. And those are the people you want to pay attention to. So, you know, when I get comments on posts on social media or when I get responses to my newsletter, I try to respond as fast as possible and keep the conversation going. And that’s how I learn about, you know, the most engaged, you know, the audience that I have because, you know, they’re willing to share their thoughts, they’re happy to share their thoughts, they’ll also tell you where you’re wrong. And there’s a lot of learning that can happen there. But also a lot of people who, even if they say to you, I’m writing to you because you messed up x, if you engage in the right way, not only do they become a raving fan because you’re willing to listen to them and you’re willing to learn from them. But they feel a connection to you now, right? That goes back to the relationship building, right? You want to build these connections and the people who feel most strongly connected to your brand, are the people who are gonna raise their hand and try to reach out.
Arvid Kahl 35:38
Yeah, people who care enough to even reach out, right? Like that’s already quite the indicator. I think many founders, they think they can get people to talk about the product, but just like working on the product and making it better, like making it more exciting and more usable, which is somewhat true, right? Like better product is something that people will talk about more just because they have more reason to talk about the product. But the product really doesn’t matter as much as you just helping somebody with their problem. I had this experience building Feedback Panda with my girlfriend. The people who reached out to us in the beginning, our first couple of customers, again, initial customers that reached out that had a problem, but one in itself because they saw potential in the platform, I spent sometimes half an hour chatting with them through the chat system on our website. And those almost all of them became evangelists for the product, right? They were just regular online teachers doing the job. But they took the time out of the day to whenever they saw somebody talking about a similar problem to one that we solve, to kind of pitch us as a solution to that problem. Because they were often saying, hey, these people, they will actually help you when you have a problem. Because for some reason, it is an outstanding capability of a business to actually help people through their customer service at this point.
Evelyn J Starr 36:50
Yes! Yes, it is. And it’s the most important thing because again, the definition of a brand is the sum of all the experiences they had. And if they hadn’t experienced where, wow, I can’t believe Arvid took a half an hour out of his day to chat with me. And he’s now considering the suggestion I had for software. Now I’m invested in that. Right now, I feel like I’ve contributed and I’m a part of it. And I’m connected to you. And I want other people to know how wonderful this is.
Arvid Kahl 37:16
That’s right. I often would actually build the features that people were asking about or suggesting while I was talking to them and then kind of secretly pushing it to production because it was very lean, very flexible approach. And then it would tell me just refresh the page, check it out. And their minds were blown, right? That’s just that moment of actually mattering as a customer in the lifetime of a product that was so novel to all these people who were just using these gigantic like Google products, right? If you go to Google Drive or use Google Sheets or whatever, you probably won’t impact the business direction of that particular product with their customer service. But if you do that to a SaaS product built by an indie hacker somewhere, it’s quite likely that your suggestion is going to make the feature list, right? So that is something that most people that we served did not know before because they only ever use these gigantic products or products built by gigantic companies. And that was already such a differentiator when they talked about solutions in the space, right? Oh yeah, you have these, these and these but they don’t really care about you. But here’s feedback Panda, they seem to really care. That was super strong of a differentiator that we used. We wrote that wave like most of our marketing, if not all, was word of mouth with that business. We did try paid customer acquisition at some point, didn’t really work. Didn’t need to because people were already talking about our product and we just amplify their voices.
Evelyn J Starr 38:37
Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s a long standing comment in marketing, which is a truism, which is that people have to know like and trust you before they’ll buy from you. And so anything you can do to get along that continuum, where people get to know you, they like what you’re doing, where they like who you are, they like the way you’re treating them. And then they trust you to do things in a manner that warrant their money and their attention. That’s the precursor to you having a customer.
Arvid Kahl 39:10
I think liking is an interesting verb here like to be liked. I think most people in the indie hacker space and I might be overgeneralizing, but a lot of them they’re introverted. They’re trying to you know, just do a thing, be technical, built a product and, you know, not to do too much with people. And I think particularly because I’m such a person myself. I always felt ugh, if I reach out to them, If I talk to them, they might not like me and by extension, the brand, the business, the product that I represent. So I always felt the kind of hinderance that I put in myself so it was just a mental blockage. But you know how people are, right? Our brain often fights itself in many ways and trying to encourage people to talk about my product felt desperate or needy on my end. I know now having done it and having understood that it’s not that, that that was just, you know, a construction that my mind put in there to, I don’t know, protect itself from change or whatever. But for an introverted founder who’s having trouble understanding that marketing or encourage word of mouth is not desperate or needy, how would you help them overcome this particular blockade in their mind?
Evelyn J Starr 40:26
Well, I would say most people wanna help, especially if they’ve reached out to you, but most people wanna help. And so for me, you know, because I come across as an extroverted personality, but I definitely have an introverted part to me, also. And what helps me and what I would suggest to you is, think of it as just a one to one interaction. Don’t think of it as you are broadcasting to the world. If you’re reaching out to someone, it’s just two people having conversation, you know, and the worst that they could say is no, right? And so, but you know, my dad has a wonderful saying. He’s like, give yourself the option, you know, because you don’t know if you don’t ask and so I would think about that is, you know, maybe no doesn’t feel good. But most of the time, you’re gonna get a yes and most of the time, you’re gonna get an answer. And that feels so good. And so far outweighs the shyness, you know, the the aversion to being in contact. So that’s what I would say focus on to one to one conversation. And that’s all that’s at stake right now.
Arvid Kahl 41:29
That’s great. I also, I think, people saying, no, that’s just a regular part of life. And if you can separate this kind of this identity of the business from yourself as a human being, right? Like, even though you might be the person behind the business, the only person behind the business, you start conflating the business with yourself, but a no to the business is not a no to you. They don’t hate you as a person because they don’t want to use your software. Like to tear that apart and see the no as a business decision on this side of a potential customer that still thinks you’re a great human being that could probably help you with approaching them, right? In a conversation to deconflict deflate, I don’t know the word for that. But you know, like taking these things apart, that certainly helps me. Because if somebody doesn’t want to, I don’t know, sponsor this podcast or you know, my newsletter or you know, buy my book or whatever it is, I don’t see this as an attack on myself. I see this as somebody’s budgeting choice. All right. And it’s all about what they think is good for their business as a tool at this point. It’s not about my personal likability.
Evelyn J Starr 42:35
That’s entirely true. And you know, I’m a writer. And so writers are really used to a lot of rejection because more often than not, we get a no. And what you learn over time, is that the no rarely has to do with you. It often has to do with what’s going on in the person’s life, you know, to whom you’re making the request. It has to do with budget strings that are beyond their control, it has to do with so many things. And I will tell you, there’s this great, I’m gonna I don’t know how to pronounce his name, I’m gonna say Jia Jang. But he did this experiment called 100 Days of Rejection. And so he tried, he said, I’m going to try and get rejected 100 days in a row to thicken my skin. And if you Google or you know, search for 100 Days of Rejection, you’ll find his videos, they’re hilarious. And what you see is he learned, it wasn’t about him, it was often about the people. And a lot of times when he tried to get rejected, he actually got a yes. And so it’s just very entertaining. And it also kind of helps you get out of the mindset. It’s not about you. It has to do with the circumstances in the moment.
Arvid Kahl 43:46
That’s probably one of the biggest reasons why people fear marketing is the moment you talk to other people, you don’t have this kind of clearly defined, I don’t know, programming API that will either tell you a yes or no reliably on the input that you put there, right? You don’t know what’s going to happen. And I think lots of people are afraid of that moment. So I’m glad that you’re kind of teaching people with this, that it’s fine to be rejected or to feel rejection and it’s actually a strengthening moves. It’s kind of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but put into you know, interpersonal relationship.
Evelyn J Starr 44:21
Well, and then also, you know, if someone says no, instead of risking that you’re gonna go and feel, you know, like you’ve shrunk into a tiny, tiny thing. You could also muster your courage and say, okay, I understand. Could you tell me why? And when you hear the reasons that will often defuse your chances of feeling awful because then you see that it’s not you. You know, I don’t have the money or corporate just asked us to cut our budget by 10%. And I can’t add anything new or you know, this doesn’t exactly fit my need, but I think what you’re doing is really great, get messages like that. And it kind of saves you. So if you can muster the courage to ask why could save yourself a lot of angst.
Arvid Kahl 45:08
I like that because when I’m thinking about validation and all varieties of product validation, market validation, solution validation, whatever problem validation too, I’m always reminded of the fact that no theory can ever be proved. You can only just prove it, right? You can add more evidence for it to maybe be true, but the counter example might just be right around the corner. And you never know because it could always happen. So the only thing you can do to any theory is to invalidate it. And getting a no and the why leads to so much closer to a potential invalidation than a yes. Even though the yes is great for your business. But you haven’t learned anything. The only thing that we’ve learned is okay, this is yet another kind of argument for what I’m currently doing. But the no and the why will give you much clearer insight into why what you’re currently doing may not be the perfect version of itself just yet. So there is value in the no maybe even more than in the yes.
Evelyn J Starr 46:04
You do learn a lot from those.
Arvid Kahl 46:08
Well, yeah, think I’m what I’m glad about in the indie hacker founder community is that failure isn’t demonized. I think like failing or making mistakes, that’s just accepted as a regular part of doing something that nobody else has ever done before, right? That’s just what entrepreneurship is. It’s like building something that did not exist in this particular kind of state ever before. Of course, you’re gonna make mistakes might just as well embrace them.
Evelyn J Starr 46:32
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And you need to give yourself the space for that because it’s gonna happen over and over again. And the more resilient you become, the quicker you can recover and just keep moving forward.
Arvid Kahl 46:46
And in terms of personal brands, that is part of your journey, that’s part of the whole that you then present to the world, right? You trying stuff not working out, but you persevering, and still building more things that do eventually work out. Now, that’s quite the story, which is why building in public is such a great thing. I love that. I love watching people making little mistakes recovering and then coming out on top, that’s just the most enjoyable thing that you could possibly see.
Evelyn J Starr 47:13
And there’s a lot of compassion out there, you know, people relate to because it’s so human to fail. Everybody can relate to it. And so when you share that in public, like, okay, I put all my resources into this avenue and I hit a dead end. And so now I’m going to try the other way. People, you know, feel for you. There’s an emotional reaction of compassion there.
Arvid Kahl 47:36
And compassion and just being relatable. That’s just built this relationship, right? That’s what connection needs. I really enjoy them. Well, thank you so much Evelyn, for sharing all these things. Like that was a wonderful, brand building masterclass today and I love the fact that it’s so relationship centric because I think we can all just improve everything around what we do by making it more about building long term, positive win-win relationships with other people. So thank you so much for sharing everything you shared. Where can people find you, find more about you and your work?
Evelyn J Starr 48:16
So my website is estarrassociates.com and starr is spelled with two R’s like Ringo. So they can go to my website to find out more about me, to find out about my book, Teenage Wastebrand, How Your Brand Can Stop Struggling and Start Scaling. They can also find that on Amazon or bookshop.org or anywhere you buy books, you can find it. And then the other thing is, you know, if you kind of like what I have to say, but you you know, I’m not ready or to share any funds or you’re building in public and need every penny for what you’re doing. Penny because I’m in the US. I would say you could also at my websites sign up for my Varsity Marketing Newsletter, which is only once a month. I don’t stuff mailboxes and includes a brand story every single month.
Arvid Kahl 49:03
That’s awesome. Yeah, very, very highly recommended all of this. Thank you so much for being on today. And I would like to close this with, live long and prosper.
Evelyn J Starr 49:14
Live long and prosper.
Arvid Kahl 49:17
And that’s it for today. Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You will also find my books and my Twitter course there. And if you wanna support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice, tell your friends about it. That’d be nice and leave a rating and review by going to (http://ratethispodcast.com/founder). Any of this will truly help the show. So thank you very much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye