Josh Nielsen on Hiring Your First Employees as a Solo-Founder
For the last few weeks, I’ve been releasing an episode on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to gear up for MicroConf, the world’s biggest conference for self-funded software companies. These episodes have been focused on self-funded, often solo-founders. Some are on the smaller side, while others have ARRs over 7-figures, but they all have valuable lessons to share for any founder and this week we are wrapping up with the final 2 episodes of the series.
Today, I’m talking with Josh Nielsen, the founder of Zencastr, a SaaS startup that makes it easy to record remote interviews in studio quality and it’s what I personally use to record most of these interviews.
In our chat, Josh shares why it took 2 years before he started charging for the product and what the transition from free to freemium looked like, but where we really dive in is how Josh is preparing to make his first few hires.
The first employees of any startup are absolutely crucial to success and Josh shares a smart approach to making these hires that any founder can learn from.
If your startup is going to be hiring in the near future, then this is the episode for you.
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00:00 – Josh explains what Zencastr does and how it got started.
- 1:43 – The origins, and previous work
- 2:53 – Timeline from conception to having a product ready to be shared
- 3:20 – The unexpected polishing work required to get a product ready
4:17 – Josh explains how and when he got the word out about the product
- 6:46 – Timescale from offering the first beta to offering the first paid plan
- 7:15 – Dealing with the responsibility of holding customers’ files
- 9:11 – The benefits of a long beta / a freemium model
10:21 – Looking back, Josh discusses what he’d have changed
- 11:13 – Whether to wait for the perfect payment model vs holding manual subscription records
12:25 – Transitioning to a payment model
- 12:38 – How to slowly phase customers from a beta testing version to a fully paid-up version of a product
14:03 – Josh advises on how to make sure you ship in a reasonable timeframe
- 14:40 – The usefulness of external deadlines
16:43 – Josh describes his balance between marketing and product development
- 17:13 – Perfecting the MVP product before driving signups
- 18:51 – Finding advice that exists out there, and deciding which parts to listen to
- 19:59 – Farming out roles to people who are more skilled or interested in them than you, as a founder
23:04 – The hiring process
- 24:05 – Hiring someone first to take care of the least demanding parts
- 25:34 – Handing some autonomy to your hires to keep them engaged
- 26:40 – The importance of knowing the ins and outs of each role you need to hire for
- 27:34 – The long-term goal behind hiring people for those roles
- 29:45 – The impact of knowing your own business inside-out for making strategic decisions
- 30:53 – Figuring out how to do customer support well, and the impact that can have on business success as well as on hiring for that role later
A curated daily list of the best new apps, where Josh actually got his first big break with Zencastr
The Four Steps To The Epiphany and The Four-Hour Work Week
Two of the classic books on entrepreneurship
Where to learn more:
ANDY: Josh, thanks so much for coming on the show.
JOSH: I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
ANDY: Yeah, so let’s just start with the basics. What is Zencastr, and when did you first start working on it?
JOSH: Zencastr is a software as a service that helps podcasters record them and their guests in high quality, and the problem that it’s addressing, specifically, is that a lot of people record their podcasts remotely, either through Skype or Hangouts, or something like that, but the current or pre-existing tools to do that would only record their guests through the pipe after it had been compressed over the internet. What Zencastr does is it records everyone locally on their own end, and all you have to do is send them a web link, and they don’t have to install anything. You can get basically studio-quality recordings very easily.
ANDY: Yeah, and it’s something where I use Zencastr now – I was talking to you before this for a while about how I’ve changed my podcasting setup and all of that – and recently… I used Zencastr originally as a backup option because, I don’t know, it was, like, it was new and I was like, ‘Ah, I just don’t want to take a chance with it,’ but it had been dependable, and when I started actually listening to the recordings from Zencastr, I was like, ‘Whoa, these are way higher quality than what I’m getting through my Skype recorder,’ and so hopefully listeners can attest to this, but I think the quality of the audio I’ve been putting out in the most recent episodes has been much higher, and that has been because of Zencastr. So, first, just thanks for putting out a great product.
JOSH: You're welcome! I’m glad it’s been helpful!
ANDY: So, when was it that you started working on it?
JOSH: I started on Zencastr, kind of roughly at the end of 2014 – maybe, like, November-ish? I’m not really great with dates – but at that point in time I had kind of come off the heels of a previous failed startup attempt, and I’d been doing some contracting, and then some of that work dried up unexpectedly, and so I was in a position – and I found out I was having a kid! – so I was, like, ‘Okay, I need to figure something out a little bit more stable than having off-and-on contracting gigs,’ and so I was, like, ‘I’m either going to need to look for a real job, or maybe I can start something of my own.’ The reality of that decision ended up being both. I got a real job that let me work part-time, and I started working on Zencastr.
ANDY: And how long did it take you from when you first started working on this in earnest? How long did it take you to get a product that you were comfortable at least, like, sharing with the world? Not necessarily charging for, but just putting out there?
JOSH: You know, it took me about… I think I launched the earliest beta, which probably should have been called an alpha because it was that rough, in May of 2015. So, it took… I thought I would have a prototype in, like, a month or two, maybe, and I kind of did. It did kind of work, but it wasn’t anywhere near… I didn’t realize how much polish, and finish, and edge-cases, and lots of different things I needed to, kind of-
JOSH: -account for. And that’s actually been the hardest part of Zencastr, is not getting it just to work, but getting it to work under all circumstances, on all systems, and if things crash… You know, so there was a lot of that that I didn’t expect that dragged it out.
ANDY: Yeah, and it’s like, everyone talks about ‘shipping fast’ and that whole mentality of just, ‘Get out the MVP. It’s going to suck. If you wait until you’re ready it’s too long,’ and all of that, but at a certain point, if you’re solving what is a relatively difficult technical problem – which this is – then it’s going to take some work. You can’t just ship something in a few weeks, in a month, whatever, when you have to put all this work into it. But at that point, you have it out in a beta – even if you wanted to call it an alpha – how were people finding it then?
JOSH: I had a few people that I knew who were podcasters, who I kind of passed it off to, and they quickly at least said it was interesting and started giving me feedback, so that was good, but honestly, for the first maybe 100 users of Zencastr in the beta, I did it by Twitter.
JOSH: I went on Twitter and I started searching – and I don’t know if I came up with this idea or if I heard it somewhere else; I’m not confident enough to take credit for this idea but it works – is that you just go on and search for people that are complaining about the problem that you solve. So, I was searching, like, ‘Skype podcast recording sucks’, you know? Just trying to think of what I would say if I had a problem with Skype and I was angry, and I was recording a podcast. I had a bunch of saved searches for that, and whenever I saw one of those pop up, I would reach out and I would say personally, ‘Hey, I’ve fixed this problem with Zencastr. You should check it out.’ I actually had a pretty high success rate of people a) not being angry that I was spamming them – most of them were, like, ‘Oh, wow, cool!’ and that's kind of how I got from zero to something. Then, shortly after that, maybe a couple months in, it had been slowly… From the beginning I had a very slow but steady growth, just because I think podcasters are inherently social. They’re interviewing other podcasters, and they’re seeing the app, and then they sign up, but then someone put it on Product Hunt. I think, actually, the Product Hunt guys put it on Product Hunt.
JOSH: Because I think they kind of scour the web for things to post.
JOSH: Yeah, and that got me past 1000, and from there it’s just kind of been organic, you know, steady growth.
ANDY: Because one thing I want to talk to you about is what you mentioned in the Indie Hackers interview, and it’s that it took you a really long time to go from that beta to actually charging at all for the software. So, how long did it take from when you launched in beta to offering the first paid plan?
JOSH: Well, I launched paid plans in November of 2016, so a solid two years.
ANDY: What was it that held you back from charging for so long?
JOSH: You know, that’s a good question, because you asked me that in the… you told me you were going to ask me that and I’ve been kind of thinking about that more, and I’ve been asked that a lot, too, because it does seem like a long time, and it is. Part of it was just that it was a hard problem to solve well – well enough. I mean, there's a lot of responsibility that goes into providing a podcast recording platform as opposed to other types of services, because if I screw up, you’ve lost something that can never be retrieved.
JOSH: Like, even if you had the time and ability to reschedule and have the conversation again, it's not going to be the same conversation. So, you know, that’s a bit of weight on my shoulders that I wanted to be responsible with, so I didn’t want to rush too quickly. But, on the other side of that, being in beta kept that weight off my shoulders a little bit, because I could, you know…
JOSH: I was always like, ‘Hey, this is beta, you know?’ and so I was a little bit… even just for my own sanity, I think deep down I didn’t want to move to paid plans, in a way, because it was uncomfortable. I knew it was going to be extra stress. You know, it was a heavier situation.
ANDY: There’s more expectations at that point.
JOSH: Well, yeah, a lot more. That was part of it. The other part of it was I had a busy two years. I’d gotten married, I had a kid, I was traveling, we’d lived in several different countries in that period of time, and I was working.
JOSH: I was working 20 to 30 hours a week, up until, I think, July of 2016, and so, you know, I was kind of… I wasn’t full-burn on it most of the time, so what did slow me down as well. But I think for an app like Zencastr, that wasn’t a horrible way to do it, and it actually taught me a little bit about, you know, just how freemium and free plans work, because I was getting a lot… I think I got a lot of sign-ups during that period just because it was free.
ANDY: Right, it was easy.
JOSH: It was easy, it was free, you know, and that gave me a lot of… That build a really good foundation of users just letting everybody in for that long of a period of time and using it. That has always been helpful, moving forward, because I’ve always had a good group of people to get feedback from, or testing it, or whatever.
ANDY: So, looking back, like, with what you know now, do you think you would have done things differently? Because there are pros and cons, and like you said, it’s not as though you were sitting there twiddling your thumbs. You had a lot going on in your life. You had a job, you had a new family, you had a new wife – you had all these things happening, so it’s like, looking back, would you have changed anything?
JOSH: Well, here's what I may have done differently, and this kind of addresses the previous point a little bit more. There was a point in time when I was ready, when I did feel like the app was ready to start charging for, but it still took me several months to actually start charging for it because building in the payment system (I used Stripe) and integrating that and building the plans, and making sure that that's well-tested – I really didn’t want to mess up with billing people’s money -t hat took a lot longer than I had hoped it would to get plugged-in. So, I held off a lot on charging for that very reason. If I could go back in time, because there were people, even from, like, 6 months in, or even earlier, who were like, ‘This is amazing. I want to pay you. I want to make sure this doesn’t go away…’
JOSH: And I was just turning people down. I was like, ‘I don’t have a way to charge you – just spread the word, please!’ and that was fine, but if I could go back in time I think what I probably would have done was instead of waiting to get my billing system perfectly set up, I could have easily just manually started some subscriptions for people. I could have reached out and said, ‘Hey, if you love the service and you want to start paying, contact me and I’ll set you up,’ and that would have at least kind of helped.
ANDY: It would have been something, yeah.
JOSH: It would have been something, because towards the end of… I quit working, and toward the end of that, I ran out of savings and I had to take out some credit cards, and so it did get pretty dicey there towards the end, and I could have saved myself some of that stress if I had been a little bit more outside-of-the-box thinking on how to get money coming in the door.
ANDY: And so, once you did start charging, once you hit that point, what happened? Did you announce it by just sending an email, like, ‘Hey, we're charging now!’ How did that transition work?
JOSH: [Oh, you know, I think I gave people notice. I gave people, like, a month or so and then I created, like… 0:12:28] There was such a big difference between the chargeable form and the beta version that I didn’t want to just flip the switch and start charging without testing it, so I actually had, like, a beta beta, where I said, ‘We’re going to start charging in a month. If you want to help test the new version, go to the staging server and you can start recording there,’ so I had a little bit of an interim testing phase there [0:13:03 and then, yeah, on the 13th… You know, well, I don’t know… You might edit this out if I go too long on this, but…] Honestly, I wouldn’t have even started charging as soon as when I did because it got… I ran into so many problems towards the end. You know how they say how the last 10% takes 90% of the time?
JOSH: Or something like that, but I had gotten a call from TechCrunch, or an email, and they wanted to… They were, like, ‘Hey, we want to cover the launch, we want an exclusive, we want to set a date, we want to…’ So, I had this hard date set where they were going to publish an article about this new launch, and so I actually had to really kick it into high gear and pull some 40-, 50-hour coding shifts to make that happen.
ANDY: Are you glad that you had that external pressure, looking back on it?
JOSH: Well, you know, this is something that I’ve used several times in my career, is you need to set yourself… If you’re having trouble getting things done, then set yourself up for public humiliation somehow, with a deadline. In the past, that’s been conferences where I needed to have something ready to show off. In this case, it was that article was going to be published. Funnily enough, that article produced very little traffic and was actually horribly written. They even misspelled the name of the company in the title, but they greatest thing about it was it got me-
JOSH: -to actually get the thing out the door, so I am grateful in that regard, but I probably am never going to put an article onto, or work with, TechCrunch again.
ANDY: But it’s like, I know exactly what you mean, and I try to do similar things. Not necessarily with TechCrunch, but just having some external thing that I’ve committed to, and that if I don’t follow through on this promise, if I don’t follow through on whatever it is, I’m going to look bad. Like, I’ve committed to someone, and for me, a lot of it is the podcast where it’s like I have a hard time if I say… ‘Alright, I need to write this blogpost, I need to do this, and I need to do that.’ It’s very easy for me to put that off, but when I have a podcast and I say I’m going to put it out every Tuesday, I almost feel like I have some real obligation to whoever’s listening, even if it’s not a huge audience, but I feel like I have to get it done, and that’s been really helpful for me, personally, just to be consistent with content creation. I think using forcing functions like that can be really powerful to just get things done, because it’s easy to make excuses when you don’t have something kind of looming over you, whether it's breaking a promise, whether it’s public humiliation, whatever it is. It’s easy to find a reason to keep pushing things back.
JOSH: Well, yeah, I mean, because you are going to have to cut corners, which you might not normally want to do, but if you have to, then you do, and so it forces you to. There are few greater motivators than the fear of public humiliation.
ANDY: For sure! And so, since then, since going live with… You have premium version. It’s still a freemium product, like, right now I was telling you I’m on the free version, I’m probably going to go over the limit with this interview so I’m going to upgrade to paid. I’m more than happy to do so because the product has really saved me in a lot of situations where Skype wasn’t working well, but you mentioned doing the Twitter outreach in the early days. You're someone who’s going to be the first to admit you haven't done a ton of marketing other than that. Have you done anything other than that? Or what has been your focus? Has it been purely, ‘Let’s get the product to where it needs to be?’ or what have you been spending your time on?
JOSH: I would say right now I’m very much in a phase of, like, polishing and picking up all the pieces of the corners that I had had to cut to get here. There’s a lot of just roughness in the app that needs to be fine-tuned, and, you know, fixed, and as you mentioned before the call, tutorials and all this stuff, so right now I’m very much in a phase of what’s, you know, now that I’ve got it launched and there’s revenue coming in, let’s double-down and just make the whole thing rock-solid and perfect and amazing, and then I want to start really driving users through, because there's still some issues where on some computers – especially on Windows machines – people have a hard time with the mic selection issues, and there might be some bugs with that, so I’m not quite ready to just drive as many people as possible into it, until I get all that stuff worked through. But, I mean, to answer your question, ‘what have I done on the marketing side’? Let’s see. I don’t do the Twitter outreach any more because it wasn’t very sustainable past the first few hundred because it just takes a lot of time, and now it’s kind of growing on its own. I’ve written a few blog posts over the years, but I wouldn’t call that a really great effort. Honestly, right now my master marketing plan is to not say ‘no’ when people invite me to be on their podcast.
ANDY: Alright, well I think that’s a good one, and hopefully there’s a few podcasters out there that are like, ‘Alright, I’ve got my next guest. Josh cannot say no. He’s publicly committed. He doesn't want to look bad in public, so I’ve got him there!’ But to push back a little bit, with the experience of potentially staying in beta for too long, for waiting a bit too long to start charging, do you think this might be a point where you wait too long to really double-down and start marketing?
JOSH: Probably! I mean, here’s one of the things that I’ve kind of come to… I don’t know, come to a realization of, at least for myself. You read all these books, you know, there's 5 or 6 classic entrepreneurship / marketing books – there’s The [Four] Steps to The Epiphany, and some of these other ones. The Four-Hour Work Week is one that I found interesting, even though I know that that’s maybe played out at this point – they all have great advice, and there’s all these amazing things that you could and should be doing, but at the end of the day you have to digest that and realize, ‘Okay, who am I? What are my strengths? Where am I going to be best deployed?’ and, you know, you just have to think about your own psychological or mental welfare as well. I’m not a marketer. It’s not my thing. I’m not great at it. I very much prefer doing… I mean, I enjoy getting on podcasts because I like talking to… having close, one-on-one conversations with people, but I’m not the guy who wants to pore over my analytics and figure out what new phrase I should use in my next Tweet to maximise ROI or something. So, you know, eventually I’m probably going to have to get more into that, but right now I’ve got more pressing matters. Things are going well enough that it’s not like I’m in a bind, or like, ‘I’ve got to get more people in or else.’ So, as I think as I grow more, I’ll probably need to bring somebody on who’s more skilled in this area to help guide me through it. I have been recording my own podcast for the show, but I’ve been so busy that I’ve yet to release it! This is not a ‘what you should do’ podcast, this is what I’m doing, and that is probably very ineffective in a lot of ways! It’s kind of like when you have a kid. Do you have a kid?
ANDY: No, I do not.
JOSH: Anyway, before you have a kid you look at other people and you're like, ‘Man, when I have a kid they’re not going to be eating chicken nuggets. They’re going to be eating healthy food. When I have a kid, they’re not going to be screaming down in public.’ And then as soon as you have a kid you revert – almost instantly – just into survival mode. It’s not like, ‘What’s the ideal scenario?’ it’s like, ‘How do I get through this day without going crazy?’ and I think the same thing kind of happens with business, at least for me.
ANDY: Yeah, honestly, I think you touched on something that’s really important there. Well, a few things. The first is staying true to who you are and not necessarily trying to force changes that aren’t you, and obviously if you’re a solo founder you’re going to be out of your element, you’re going to have to do things that aren't comfortable because you have to do everything, but, like you said, you are a skilled developer – that’s the side of things that you enjoy, is solving those technical problems – and you have traction, you have people coming in without you doing much, and so if you can continue making a better product, then the word of mouth referrals are going to pick up. It’s funny because a lot of people assume they’re going to build a great product and everyone’s going to flock to it from day one, and that’s not usually the case, but if you do get a critical mass of users in there, which you did by being in the beta for so long and letting them come in and having the viral component of the market, but at that point where you hit the critical mass, if you keep improving the product and making it so much better than what is out there, people are going to be talking about it, and you will be able to sustain that growth for a while. But what I want to talk about now, though, is something you touched on at the end, and that's planning to hire, because I know you had said you made your first hire somewhat recently and you’re looking to hire again. At what point did you say, ‘Alright, I need to bring someone on the team?’ and what was that position you hired for first?
JOSH: Well, I’ve known for a while that I’ve needed help, but I didn’t have any money up until recently to do that, so that was kind of that. The problem that I’ve been encountering most acutely is the more and more people that use the app, the more and more support requests, and emails, and questions that I get, and that basically digs into my time every day that I could be using to develop and push the app forward. It’s gotten to the point sometimes where I just get through my emails and I’m already spent for the day.
JOSH: Even though I’ve got more time, I don’t have more mental ability to really dig into something fresh and new and get it done. I’m not a great multi-tasker either. I’m actually horrible at it. Anyway, so now I’ve hired a guy to help me on the development side while I focus mostly on customer support, and kind of guide him and let him get acquainted.
ANDY: So why did you go that way rather than hiring someone to help with support, given that you have a lot of experience with development yourself?
JOSH: Well, I am in the process, now, of hiring someone to help with support so I can move back to the development side because I do think that is where I’d be best allocated, it’s just the problem right now is that a lot of the support requests I get are quite technical in nature, as far as how to resolve a situation, and I don't have a good admin panel set up where I could just send a $15 an hour person in and say ‘do this’ because they’d have to, like, log in to the server, and get on the database… you know? So, it’s definitely maybe some growing pains there just as far as trying to get things set up to where I can delegate on some of those things.
ANDY: I know you also mentioned that prioritizing those hires has been a challenge in that it can be difficult to give up some control, so did you have any concerns when you hired that first dev of being, like, ‘Man, this is my baby! They’re going to be coding on what I’ve spent so much time and effort on.’ Was that a difficult thing to get over?
JOSH: In some ways yes, I think, just because… I don’t know. Everybody’s got their own opinions on how thing should be solved, and how things should work, and if you don't give your employees some latitude to use their own brain and solve the problems in the way that they would want, then they’re not going to have as much ownership and be as engaged, so I think you do need to step back a little bit. I've done that a little bit with the current hire. He’s made some decisions with the code that I probably wouldn't have, but I’ve kind of just said, ‘Hey, write some tests. If it works, I don’t care,’ and so it’s not that bad. I think what I would have a bigger problem with is if I’d given creative control to someone else and that’s probably – hopefully – not going to happen. I think what I would like… The hard part that I’ve come to in growing this business – and I've never done this before so this might sound very pedestrian to some people – but I thought ahead of time that I could just be the developer and whenever I needed help with marketing, or whenever I needed help with something else, I could just hire someone who’s an expert in that area, and then they can just do it. The truth of the matter is you’ve really got to become an expert in whatever area you’re going to hire for so you can effectively hire for it, and then kind of coach them into it. It’s much harder to hire someone and just say, ‘I don’t know anything about this. I want you to handle it.’ Well, they might not know, you know?
ANDY: You don't have a way to judge if they actually know what they’re doing.
JOSH: Exactly. You don’t know how to guide them, you don’t know how to gauge their progress, or anything like that, so I think my path going forward is to become as much of an expert in these different areas as I can so that then I can hire for them and be able to kind of keep an eye on their progress, and then once I have that settled in I’d like to move… Ideally my role in the future would be prototyping new products and new features, and I would have a team of people handling maintaining older stuff, or doing, you know, odd testing and all that other stuff. That's where I’d be happiest at. I like building new stuff.
ANDY: What you just said, I think can’t be emphasized enough. First, it’s understanding what you are happy doing, but second, understanding that especially at an early-stage startup you’re going to have to be doing a lot of other things in the early days when you’re grinding it out, before you have enough money to really start hiring for those positions. Btu that’s not necessarily a bad thing because, like you said, if I’m a non-technical founder (which I am – I can’t code. I’ve hired developers before and I can communicate with them in a way that I don’t sound like a complete idiot – they still probably think I am! But that being said…) if you aren’t technical, it is really hard to hire a developer because you don’t have a way of judging the code. You don't know if they’re putting in way too much technical… You don’t even know where they’re cutting corners. You just have to trust them. The same goes on the other side. If you’re a developer hiring a marketer, you don’t really know how to analyze if they know what they’re talking about or not. Those first few hires in a startup are absolutely critical to the long-term success of the business, and so I think you were right on the money by saying you need to get a good sense of how each part works, how to do it, so that when you start to hire you have a sense of if the person you’re talking to basically is full of shit or not; if they actually know what they are doing. Otherwise you’re just gambling. You’re just taking a risk and hoping it plays out, and sometimes it does, but a lot of times it absolutely doesn’t.
JOSH: Exactly, and I would add on top of that also that it’s hard to make higher-level strategic decisions if you don’t have it all in your head. And so, you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’ve got this wall in your mind between what you're working on and, maybe, the marketing side and what they’re working on. You kind of need to have that all in your head at once so that you can synthesize that well.
ANDY: Right, you can't just compartmentalize it and say, ‘This guy’s taking care of this – that means I can only think about these things,’ when everything is so inter-related.
ANDY: And so, you had said that you’re getting ready to hopefully hire someone in support pretty soon. Once that happens, do you think you’ll then have a bit more bandwidth? And once they’re obviously up to speed, do you think you’ll have a bit more bandwidth to get that blog more regular and start releasing some of those videos you mentioned?
JOSH: Yeah, definitely. Hopefully! [0:30:40 Yeah, it’s just been a real challenge to keep things moving and to keep the…] I believe really strongly in, like, customer support and, like… I’ve been really impressed with I guess just humanity in general as I’ve dealt with people who, you know, may have had good grounds to be angry at me. If you just talk to them and let them know they’re heard, and that you’re on the problem, that goes so far with people. A little while ago there was this guy that wrote me, and he was just incensed, and I don't even remember what the issue was, but he sounded like he wanted to kill me in the email. I wrote him back and I just said, ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever I can to solve this. Let’s get on a call. Let’s figure out what the problem is. I can troubleshoot with you,’ and then at the end of that call he wanted to be an affiliate and he wanted to share my app with all of his community, and I gave him a coupon code to share out, so that taught me the power of good support and how it can totally redirect problems like that.
ANDY: Yeah, and if you had just tried to hire that out from day one, you probably would have just been like, ‘Oh, I just needed someone in there who could respond to emails, it doesn’t really matter,’ but now that you’ve gone in there and applied your touch, you see what matters and what impact that can have.
JOSH: Right, and honestly one of my fears about hiring out the customer support side of things – which is why I’ve got a plan to kind of stay involved, at least marginally – is that that’s my best indicator of how things are going. Not what people are writing publicly, but the emails that I’m getting and the support requests, because yeah, if things are not going well, that’s how you know. If you get too detached… It’s easy to, like… Let's say there’s a bug that only affects 1 in 20 people. It’s easy to just completely ignore and never fix something like that if you’re not getting those frequent reminders, like, ‘Hey, there’s a problem here…’ ‘Hey, there’s a problem here…’ ‘Hey, this problem is really affecting real people in real life,’ you know? And so, I think if you’re not connected to the support system as a founder in some meaningful way, then you risk really losing touch with that information that’s going to give you the ability to make your app not just useful, but delightful to use.
ANDY: I mean, you gave us a ton today, and you shared so much that I know a lot of listeners right now are nodding their head in agreement with, because these are real concerns, real things you have to balance when you are in these early stages of a company. You have to wear a lot of hats. You have to do more than you necessarily want to, but it’s just part of growing the company. I’m excited to see how things go in the future for you, because it does seem that you’re very deliberate about the way you approach building the company, and growing and scaling, and so I really do think there's a lot to learn along the way from listening to your story. But before we say goodbye, I like to ask everyone just a few rapid-fire questions. I’ll go through them quickly, but your answers don’t need to be short.
ANDY: The first one is just: What do you spend too much time doing?
JOSH: Hmm… What do I spend too much time doing? Reading Hacker News! I’m definitely not a hyper-productive person, so I do probably spend more time than I should distracted. Like I said, I’m not a good multi-tasker, and when you’re bouncing between coding and doing a support request, and then you get a notification on Twitter, and then that… you know? It’s easy to get dragged into kind of just bouncing around and not getting anything done, somehow. I don’t know if that makes complete sense?
ANDY: Oh, I think that makes a lot of sense.
JOSH: I think I find myself losing track. I’ll have a goal in the morning of what I’m going to do, and then at the end of the day I realize that I actually just let the day take me wherever it wanted and didn’t focus on my goal, and so that’s, I guess, my best answer to that.
ANDY: And what do you think you don’t spend enough time doing?
JOSH: Right now, I don’t spend enough time coding as I would like to – as I need to – just because I’ve been kind of swamped with the new flood of users from the launch, and support requests, and there’s a few bugs that once I get them fixed are going to cut down drastically on the support requests. Right now I’m kind of in survival mode while we’re working on getting those fixed, so that then I can kind of dig myself in.
ANDY: What are you hoping to accomplish in Zencastr within the next quarter?
JOSH: Well, I for sure want to have all the current UI bugs and issues worked out. I’d like to see a very… One of the things that I’m working on right now is I initially made a timesaving decision to use Dropbox as the sole cloud storage for the audio, and I think that was a good decision at the time, but now it’s time to kind of grow up and move on to having my own servers that are hosting the audio and all of that. So that’s kind of the big technical milestone that I’m trying to get through right now. I can’t say that I’ve really thought about it in quarters, but I’m…
ANDY: So, it’s getting those bugs fixed and ideally having your own platform to host the files?
JOSH: Expanding the platform into… because that’ll save a lot of the bugs. A lot of the bugs that I’m having right now is that people have connected their Dropbox account, but then, like, their friend logged in and connected theirs, and then the audio’s going to a different place and it’s confusing, so that’s kind of intertwined there. The other goal that I have currently is to get myself some time back. I’ve spent over 2 years basically day and night, weekends, full-time on this. Well, working on the side, but basically all of my free time has been occupied by this. So, trying to figure out, you know, what’s the fewest amount of people I can hire to get me some time back because, you know, I would like to spend more time with my kid, and I’d like to spend more time snowboarding and doing some other things.
ANDY: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to you getting that time back?
JOSH: I think, as we kind of touched on before, it’s figuring out how to delegate well, which is hard because that takes a certain amount of structure and intention to get things to that point, and when I’ve been doing it solo for so long, it’s never been a priority to do that because there wasn’t a need. And also finding the right people. I don't know if this is helpful or not, but my current strategy for hiring people – because I don’t like the dynamic of… It’s really hard to reach out and find good skilled developers, especially who are interested in your space. It’s hard to find that perfect fit. But what I’ve been doing is, like in my Indie Hackers post, I threw in a little line that said, ‘Hey, if you're interested in this kind of stuff, reach out,’ and I’ve gotten several people reaching out, and they’re already kind of pre-qualified. I know that they’re entrepreneurial because they’re reading Indie Hackers. I know that they’re into podcasting and stuff because they wrote me and said, ‘Hey, I use your platform.’ So, trying to find ways to get them to come to you instead of the other way around is, I think… That’s what I’m trying to do right now and it seems to be working okay.
ANDY: That’s a really good tip. I mean, I wasn’t expecting that, but I think going inbound on the leads for hiring is huge, and I hear so many people that say, ‘It’s one of the values of building out a network before you need to hire, because you don’t want to just put out an ad and sort through whoever applies. You want to get referrals. You want to get people coming to you, reaching out because they have an interest, rather than just taking whatever you can get. So that’s an awesome tip, and I’m glad that we’re able to end on that note, but before we do say goodbye, Josh, if people want to learn more about Zencastr, where’s the best place for them to go?
JOSH: Well, Zencastr.com is the homepage. The Twitter account is @Zencastr, blog.zencastr.com if you want to see some of those, and then you can also feel free to reach out – my personal Twitter is @Joshontheweb.
ANDY: Awesome, and just so listeners are aware, it’s Zencastr with no second ‘e’ dot com. Josh, thanks so much for that. It was a lot of fun chatting today.
JOSH: Hey, I appreciate it!