Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

Bright & Early Podcast

Transitioning from Services to SaaS with Laura Roeder of MeetEdgar

Episode Transcript

The following transcript has not yet been edited. I am slowly editing them, identifying speakers, and cleaning up issues; but I haven't gotten to this one yet. For now, it's helpful for some Ctrl+F action to find a pull quote.

Brian: Hey everyone and welcome to bright and early the podcast for people building early-stage startups.

I’m your host Brian Rhea.

I talk to entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and marketing pros to learn what works, what doesn’t, and why; giving you at least one thing to apply to your business first thing tomorrow.

my guest today is Laura Roeder Laura is the founder and CEO of meet Edgar a social media automation tool she launched in 2014 to help marketers share their best evergreen content today we’re going to chat about her journey from consulting to leading a team of 15 and lessons learned along the way Laura welcome to the show thank you I’m happy to be here it’s it’s a pleasure to have you on I actually saw you speak at the business of software conference handful of years ago awesome awesome it’s a fantastic fantastic presentation so really looking forward to digging into some of those thoughts and hearing hearing some other things that you’ve learned along the way so could you just for for listeners who may not know could you just tell us a little bit about meet Edgar what what it is and who’s your target customer yeah so meet Edgar is a social media automation and scheduling tool so our best customer is a small business owner and entrepreneur who does a lot of content marketing so basically you’re creating content to promote your business and you want to use social media as a channel to distribute your content what’s unique about Edgar is that we automate that whole process for you so for example we can use your RSS feed to pull your content we automatically pull status updates from your blog post so you don’t have to write that part yourself we automatically pull the images from again your blog post or whatever you send us and then we can also automatically if you want to cycle through that content over and over again so that you are promoting your old stuff and not just what you wrote that week and that’s kind of one of the big problems we wanted to solve at meet Edgar is content marketer is getting in this vicious cycle of feeling like you have to create a brand new piece of content every time you want to say something on social media where you have actually already written 100 articles or recorded 100 podcasts or whatever it is and you need to be showing those to people as well hey you are you’re speaking my language I’m in this zone in the zone right now so I’m gonna be I’m gonna be taking a look a little bit deeper I’ve checked it out before and I think timing hasn’t quite been right but uh but so prior prior to Edgar and it’s cool to to call call it Edgar we’re on a first-name basis well you really should call him we like to call him Edgar and stop all right so you were you were running you’re running what you called LKR social media yeah can you talk a little bit about what you were up to before yeah so mean Edgar is my first software company so before I started me tiger I was doing social media training so info products for people out there who know products or you can call it online courses or training or whatever you want but I was teaching small business owners how did you know social media marketing so same area same topic I just moved from teaching in classes to creating software that does it for you okay and is it safe to assume then that the inspiration for me Decker was born from from running that business yes so Edgar actually came very directly from a class that I was teaching if you googled social brilliant I think we’re kind of changing the platform that it’s on right now actually but if Google’s social brilliant I think you’ll find it or like email our support team again and you can you can still find that course and so before before Edgar was created there was no a good way to organize and repurpose your content the major social media tools still don’t do this which kind of it which kind of blows my mind you know if you use buffer or HootSuite you don’t have a good organized library of your content within that tool you’ve just kind of used the tool to like okay I’m going to write something I’m going to send it out to the networks so I found that that was really not the best use of my time as an entrepreneur promoting my own business on social media I wanted to keep track of you know all the status updates I’d written about a blog blog post again so I could keep sending them out and keep telling people about this great work that I had created so I was teaching people a manual process to do this people were paying for a class to learn this they were actually using the process and getting great results from it so I validated the idea in kind of an unusual way basically I was teaching it as a class and I figured okay well if people are willing to pay for just learning the methodology and they still have to do the whole thing themselves and they’re actually doing it I think they would probably pay to have software just do it for them okay that’s that’s great like the idea of you know you found your validation through creating a course some people paying for it but but at the same time LKR social media was a seven-figure business in and of its own right when you switched over to Edgar so why in the world would you shut down a services company doing that well to bet on a SAS yeah so I thought we were going to do both that was sort of the game plan is that I thought okay well these will be great compliments to each other right we’ll be selling we’ll be selling products and doing courses and then we can have the software and I thought it would be sort of a lee eden thing and basically what happened is Edgar just was really successful really quickly so we’re a bootstrap company and we hit a million and annual recurring revenue eleven months after launch with a yeah bonkers is a good word for it which I was I was not expecting that level of success and so my training business had been very very dependent on me like I said you know you can still get social brilliant but actually the latest version of the course you know I didn’t create and it’s just it’s something that we like update every so often as we need to but I’m not before I was actively like teaching live classes and answering questions and the branding was all around me as the instructor and I really didn’t love that model for a lot of reasons you know my business was very dependent on me and I really wanted to move away from that so when Edgar started doing so well I just saw oh man like this is the type this is a software business model is really the type of business model that I would rather have rather than having my income dependent on courses so yeah sometime in the first year of need Edgar we decided to you basically shutter the the course business and go all in on software and then that was a good move what do you attribute Edgar’s massive early success to that is a that is a massive outlier for a bootstrap company you had not taken on money hmm for a bootstrap company to get to that level of m RR that quickly so I do want to add in the nuance that you know bootstrap can mean a lot of a lot of different things in our case I think the most accurate way to say it is we’re a self-funded bootstrapped company so I just want to throw that out there because I was not in a situation like there are some bootstrappers who it’s one person they have like two hours a day after work in the evening and they are not putting in you know any money aside from the hosting fees or whatever that was not the situation and that I was in you know we had a small team like less than five people very small but a small team of people 4lk our social media that could work on meet Edgar I put some amount of my own money and for initial things like advertising so I just say that because it’s easy to listen to stuff like this and compare yourself and think well how do you know my but I’ve been working for a while and I’m only a like a thousand a month mr or whatever everyone’s situation is so different and so I just I want people to be you know inspired by this if they are but I’d want to make sure that you’re no one’s listening doing like the compare my friend calls it comparison despair so to answer your question I think yeah it was so you were that you were using some I mean the success of LKR is funding development and and some marketing how about how much were you spending on marketing okay so we actually spent more than we’ve ever spent in a yes we spent way more on Facebook ads in the first six months of the business we had we had some months in beginning where we were spending like 30,000 to 40,000 on ads which now that the business is much bigger we spend like under 10,000 and I think that actually makes a lot of sense because you don’t have any organic reach when you start out right so now we can do a lot more SEO and content marketing and work of mouse when you start you can pay money to get exposure to people you’re only gonna have so much for two miles because you only have so many customers and you can’t make yourself place on Google right from day one yeah yeah that makes sense what were the what were the biggest challenges I mean even though it got off - started off as you know showing signs of life and and became a great success in that first year what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced and bringing edgar to life I mean there’s always team stuff people stuff you know not everyone we hired was the right fit especially being a remote company so we have always been fully remote we’ve never had any kind of office and now we only hire people that have worked remotely before we don’t we just you know we’re in a position where we have a lot of good candidates applying and we’re like remote is its own beast and some people love it and thrive on it and some people do not thrive on it at all and we want to make sure that you know what you’re in for so you know we had some people in the early days it’s just more in a match for us or work a match for remote you know there’s a lot of some people have a fantasy that remote means you don’t really have to work and actually you have to be I think much more focused and much more organized because obviously it’s it’s all up to you you know you’re you’re the person who’s accountable for your time so yeah finding the right team I mean I had never run a software company before so my husband Chris is a developer and he built the initial version of the tool he kind of built the initial version and then kind of helped us you know hire our development team and then left the business so I always have him as an advisor but he is not like the co-founder relationship where we were doing it all together which has been great for our marriage but there just was such a steep learning curve for me just in things like okay someone asked for this future how seriously do we take that does that mean that we should definitely build it how how do we figure that out I I just never done anything like that before you mentioned I’m curious about how you some more detail on how you validated or invalidated some of the earliest ideas of what would become Edgar were there other things that you tried that you determined through some research were invalid or how how was the process well yeah what was the process like that you went through to say okay Edgar is where we are going to put our resources we didn’t we didn’t really have one you know the the course kind of provided the structure for what the software would do and then aside from that you know Edgar is a tool with a point of view so some tools are just kind of flat resources like use it use it as you will um what’s that spreadsheet one that’s really popular err table yeah yeah so which will like err table is like we’ve given you we’ve given you this place to play you can do a million different things with it you know a tool like Edgar we’re like we have a workflow for social media that we know works really well and we’re gonna help we’re gonna help you accomplish that so I think for us it’s always been and I mean obviously we take requests from our users and we’re looking at how our users are really using the tool but I think part of the reason that we didn’t have a lot of validation and checking to you like this yes no do you like that yes no is we weren’t kind of asking so much what people wanted we’re just like okay what is the problem that our markets having and then here’s our point of view on the best way to solve that problem and you add you knew that people were willing to buy what you you weren’t trying to create a brand new segment you weren’t trying to create a entirely different thing yes the people were willing to hand over money to get this done better because they were buying your course exactly and I love an established market I mean so many entrepreneurs are scared of entering a competitive market but if you have competitors then the research has already been done that some one of lots of people are willing to pay for a solution so if they’re gonna pay for the other guy if you create something that’s not terrible a certain amount of people are probably gonna be willing to pay for yours that’s I’m glad to hear more of your thoughts on that because because you do hear that pretty often lot of times founders will think that they’re that coming up with something brand new that no one has done before is an advantage and that’s not always true so when as you are thinking about competition and entering a crowded competitive space what you did with that good when is competition a good signal that there is demand and when is competition a signal that you’re going to be drowned out by more established players if you don’t have fukusa of money to spend on marketing how do you slice that yeah I mean it’s an important question especially as a bootstrapper right because you’re often going against heavily funded companies but funding funding is not everything at all and in the VC war there’s all this talk about winner-take-all is it a winner-take-all market I don’t know where this idea came from because thinking an example of an example of something that is a winner take all market is incredibly difficult to do like as I look around the room that I’m sitting in right now I cannot find any object that there’s only one brand the sells that object you know like did I have few choices for utility companies or cable companies I still have a few you know so this this idea of like oh you don’t want to compete with with like uber right so something like uber is still not winner-take-all obviously they’re just really heavily funded you know and they’re also willing to expand everywhere at the same time but something that was fascinating to me so I used to live in Austin Texas and uber got banned in Austin for like two years for like a long time you know well after uber had already been very established and local companies sprang it up and filled the void that focused only on Austin and I don’t know how they’re known now uber is probably driven them out of business now because ubers willing to just you know lose 40 bucks on every ride if they have to right but they stuck around for a while and and maybe still stick around so it’s less about like is there competition available in your marketplace because they’re almost always is and most things like software people often do just use one tool if you’re not software people I’ve got a bunch of cups I just showed you the two microphones that I have right before we started this fall and even software there’s instances where people use more than one of the same tool but like even if they’re only using one they absolutely can switch and so it’s not it’s looking at like what is that strategy of your competitors cuz yeah if you’re going up against a VC business that is uber which is the most just hyper aggressive business in the world where yeah they’re like their strategy is clearly just to crush everyone else which they still haven’t been able to do right because lyft is out there so that’s not the case most times you know usually even if a business is funded with tens of millions of dollars that’s not enough where they’re willing to just like lose tons of money on every customer or maybe you’re looking in a different space so I mean Unger we’ve focused only on very small businesses most funded businesses go up market really quickly because they can be larger businesses serving enterprise clients and we’ve definitely seen some of our competitors go in that direction mm-hmm how did you how did you come to that decision to focus specifically on small businesses as your target customer so it’s it’s a combination of my background and my passion so one I just don’t know how to do sales I know how to do marketing I’ve just like literally never done sales I’ve always worked for myself I’ve never been in an enterprise environment I have no idea how they do things I have no idea how they buy things like it’s just it’s just not in my wheelhouse I could hire people who know how to do it but I certainly didn’t know how when I was starting out so that’s part of it is it’s just not my world and the other part is that it’s just really hard for me to get excited about surveying really really huge clients and that’s just my personal preference like some people don’t do get excited about a huge clients because they’re like yeah we could serve them and they have such a big impact and that’s so cool well for me I’m so passionate about entrepreneurs about all the solopreneurs that we have as customers because I feel like we really you know our tool saves a lot of time I’m like man if we can save a solopreneur five to ten hours a week that they were spending on social media that’s that’s a real difference to their life and that is really motivating for me yeah definitely I like that I like that that your personal motivation and your personal passion is pulled into the strategy of the company you could certainly you know go after some enterprise clients and pull in some you know some high ticket high ticket things I’m sure but do you do you see do you see that that that passion and personal motivation for yourself kind of filters through the culture of your absolutely absolutely so yeah I mean people that we hire definitely need to be passionate about serving this community as well and and they are so we have a slack channel where we just post like cool businesses that we come across in our customer base you know and we just kind of like look through their websites and we’re like oh it’s so like she has a business doing dog grooming like just for Bulldog that’s cool where there’s just there’s so many interesting things that our customers do and you know some of our team has come from a background of huge companies and hated it and you know they want to work for a small company now so we are a small company right they like working for us and they like serving this market as well yeah and so and you mentioned that the team is fully remote do you y’all have a an annual get-together or how do you how do you manage the team no yeah we meet in person once or twice a year it’s an interesting balance because you know a lot of people are looking for a remote job because they want the flexibility they want the time with their family and the hard thing about meeting up in person is it takes a lot of time away from your family right because you have to be away overnight for an entire week so we started to drift into meeting up more because we’re like okay we’ll have our two annual meetings and then maybe we’ll have it’s some other meetings where people are just meeting up with their department and people were like hold on and like now you’re asking me to be away from my kids overnight at four times a year this yeah this this isn’t what I signed up for so it it’s always tricky because it is so great to have that in-person connection but you also need to make sure that you’re building a remote business to thrive on remote and that you do get your best work done in remote mode [Music] hey friends this is a great time to pause and let you know that bright and early is brought to you by transistor not FM transistor offers you professional podcast hosting and analytics they host this very podcast that you’re listening to right now and my friends I got to tell you it could not be easier I can tell you from personal experience as you also probably know podcasting is becoming one of the best ways to develop a closer relationship with your audience and so if you’re thinking about starting a podcast trust me look no further just visit transistor dot FM and if you decide to sign up let him know that Brian sent you so if you were if you were bootstrapping a brand-new company today what are some lessons that you would take with you into day one so I am the strapping brand here company of the day all right I can talk about it it’s very early and I had another business that I started since meager that was a total failure I just recently recorded a start ups for the rest of us episode about that one so we can we can link to that people can show you guys um so yes I’ve done good I’ve done bad so hopefully now I’m taking good parts from learning from the bad parts so yeah I mean a big thing that I’m focusing on this time is I mean it’s gonna sound silly and obvious but just staying within my wheelhouse like we talked about before so the new business is something that can be easily bootstraps it’s the same market that we serve for me to Edgar I can do all the marketing myself I can connect with the community myself that wasn’t true for the business that we ended up shutting down very early which was in the DevOps space like maybe it was a tool that was needed but I’m not the person to go to the DevOps meetups and speak that language it’s like not my passion so yeah a big it’s something that I really took for granted and my success immune Edgar like you know you talked about like what made us so big so quickly I genuinely as I’m sure you can hear listening to this podcast like I have so much passion for our customers and making our businesses succeed and you know we haven’t talked too much about the details of meet Edgar but I’m so confident in how successful me Tiger can make them with their social media like when I meet someone I’m like no but you really really should just really should be using it you’ll be really it’ll be really happy that you did um and that like there’s no substitute for that genuine passion and that genuine excitement for spreading a word about what you do so I want to make sure that the next thing I do is not just like okay I found a problem I found a way to solve it you know let’s put together some ads and sell it to people it’s like no I am excited to talk about this over and over and over again yeah that’s great so final final question and thanks again Laura so much for making some time for the show final question is you know building your own business can be stressful and I’m just curious if there are any practices that you have found personally helpful in managing stress that you would like to share so I am really good and not letting business stress affect me personally I just always I think a way I think about it is like that I know that I will be okay in the worst case scenario and I think it’s actually good to really think through the worst case scenario because people have this sort of vague fuzzy idea of like oh well if I do this like my company will go under and then it’s like okay well what if your company goes under it’s like I’ll die well actually you know you won’t you won’t die right maybe you’ll get a job which is probably what you did before you have the company and that’s not so bad maybe you’ll even like get a crappy job for a lot know that you don’t like lots of people do that every day like you’ll be ok um so yeah I just sort of tried to keep the perspective that I am a very lucky person who gets to do something that I love you know I really enjoy being an entrepreneur I really enjoy running a company and the beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you get to do it your own way right so if I find that I’m getting really stressed by work regularly then something needs to change like there’s plenty of jobs I could get to stress me out the whole idea of creating my own job is is not to have that stress on my life it’s interesting yeah am i hearing some stoic negative visualization in there are you reading they don’t know about that okay Laura I have news for you you you could write books on stoicism hey listen how can our out can our listeners find and follow you online so you can find meet Edgar at meet Edgar calm in the et not in EI t made of meat that would be creepy or meet Edgar on all the social medias that you can find me by googling Laura Roeder I feel I could be saw my name wrong you’ll still find me or you can find me on Twitter at LKR perfect my guest today has been Laura Roeder Laura thank you so much for taking some time to chat with you today yeah thank you [Music] hey listeners hope your week is going great settling in here with my kombucha this week super super tasty and hey shout out to Austin Texas didn’t want to interrupt Laura in the middle of that interview but my grandparents lived in Austin when I was growing up and I got to visit that fine fine city every single summer and run around Zilker Park and so if you’re listening from Austin howdy partner and reach out and and say hello uh be good to be good to know yeah I thought that right off the bat there the conversation around you know avoiding comparison to spare as her friend coined the term so so good just to keep in mind it is it is a quite an accomplishment for me to Edgar to grow in that first year at the rate that it did she was also very forthright that was not organic that was definitely you know a fair chunk of of ad spend going into going into that that business however well and and to note that like Laura Elizabeth they are now as time has gone on able to pull back on adspend because because organic traffic is increasing and and that lower cost customer acquisition channel is kicking in so interesting to hear both of them both of them make that same observation and take that same approach but at at any rate comparison despair is not anything that that any of us ought to engage in easier said than done obviously I think it was also fascinating to hear talk a little bit about you know that the product validation that they didn’t have a formal process that they went through it sounds like to to generate the idea for for Edgar that they had proven you know some demand and willingness to pay willingness to buy the course that would eventually be product heist in the form of Edgar you know do these things if you if you if you are trying to generate traffic and leads and grow your business by posting content on social media these are the steps that you ought to follow do these things and take lesson 1 lesson 2 lesson 3 put these things into practice and this will help you solve that problem as they noticed enough people handing over money to do that thing well then automate that in the form of in the form of a product just a fascinating thing there I that it’s worth noting you know creating a course is no small feat there’s there’s certainly and there’s certainly an argument to make that creating a very minimal prototype of software might very well be less work than creating a decent course that that that certainly is that certainly is true and on that topic of VADs been much easier to get your money’s worth if you are targeting a very specific use case very specific workflow in the way that the way that i’m sure that laura and team over there we’re able to do you’re much more likely to get your money’s worth out of simple product management for remote teams of five less than the product management tool you’ve been looking for let’s see what else the bit about competition i thought was really fantastic advice to to reiterate don’t do not be afraid of competition don’t be obsessed with being first to market the list of of companies successful companies who were not the first one to come up with yeah they were they were not the first product of that idea on the market that has to be a perfectly sustainable successful business that is that’s a long list and there’s just it I don’t know I feel like it’s less you’re less likely to hear it now then you know some than in years past you know the idea of oh yeah if somebody else is already doing that or you share an idea with somebody somebody shares an idea was with someone else and you overhear you know yeah that’s exactly like you know fill in the blank there’s no that’s no reason to be dejected and and I think that yeah the the the distinction or the question I think that early stage founders should ask themselves is not am i first but okay is so is this a signal here that there’s demand and this is a this is a proven market and I can enter it with an interview with it with a distinct point of view for a particular segment of this larger market versus oh gosh yeah there’s there’s no way I’m gonna be able to break through the noise here unless I have you know fifty thousand a month to spend on marketing Laura’s thoughts and observations on kind of staying in your wheelhouse so to speak or you know being in an industry that that aligns with your strengths your background your knowledge I’ve been hearing people refer to this as market founder fit that said passion for a given market isn’t enough and it’s it’s important but not sufficient what I mean by that is just because you’re extremely passionate about a problem or a niche market that does not mean that there’s a sustainable business there or that it’s an attractive market so for example I’ve really gotten into fly-fishing over the last several years and I would really love it to be able to create a SAS product around helping fly fishing guides you know find and book more gigs or some sort of offering for fly shops to make it easier for them to to book to book date guide guided guided tours guided trips so but the thing is is I mean in talking to you know some like dozen or so now guides and shops like I hate to say it but like a pattern that has just been very consistent is how like borderline anti-tech and kinda jaded a lot of the folks that I’ve spoken with seem to be and and so as much as it’s just it’s just like a qualitative like feel just like a vibe that I’ve gotten that you know if advice that I give on a regular basis you know through through customer interviews is yeah you just kind of like get a feel like follow the energy where is it going and as much as I would love to put a bunch of time and energy into creating a solution for a market that I believe in and impassionate about I wish that there were more I wish more people went fly-fishing and cared about natural waters and and enjoyed being outdoors and I wish that there were more you know people making their living off of providing that service to people boy it sure feels like they’re I’d be forcing it there’s not a there’s not you know there’s not a it’s it’s the market just sure doesn’t seem there I could be wrong and somebody could prove me wrong but in in this case it is it’s where like my sense is telling me okay in this in this instance passion what passion is not enough there may not be the time may not be quite right as always I would love to hear what you all think you can go to Brighton early you can sign up for the newsletter you’ll get about 1 e 1 email to a week for every two weeks or so from me with thoughts similar to to these closing thoughts and I would love also if you’d introduce yourself on Twitter I am beer a that’s BR h EA as in Bowie Ross Houston Eisenhower and Austin and if you’re enjoying this show it made a whole lot you can just scroll down right now leave five star rating or review it helps other people to find the show and until next time i’m brian ray