The Freelancers’ Show 070 – LessAccounting with Steven Bristol
Panel Steven Bristol (twitter blog) Reuven Lerner (twitter github blog) Curtis McHale (twitter github blog) Eric Davis (twitter github blog) Jeff Schoolcraft (twitter github blog) Jim Gay (twitter github blog) Charles Max Wood (twitter github Teach Me To Code Rails Ramp Up) Discussion 01:15 - Steven Bristol Introduction LessEverything LessAccounting LessFilms LessConf 02:11 - Bookkeeping Why it Sucks 06:04 - Analyzing Numbers Categorization Tagging 08:31 - Why Use LessAccounting? 12:07 - Looking at Your Books (Frequency) LessTimeSpent 14:38 - Steven’s Accounting/Bookkeeping Background 16:42 - LessAccounting vs QuickBooks 19:54 - Building a SaaS Business 21:35 - Consulting 23:24 - Transitioning from Consulting to Product Work 26:34 - Marketing Niche Markets Blog Articles - LessEverything 31:32 - LessEverything Company Makeup Having Employees 34:27 - Building & Running a Business Picks MacBook Pro (Reuven) Relately (Jim) Capsule (Curtis) Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (Eric) Software Indie Podcast: From Consultancy to a Product with Rob Rhyne (Eric) Nathan Barry: How To Launch Anything (Jeff) Daring Fireball: Markdown Syntax Documentation (Chuck) Readme Driven Development (Chuck) Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness (Steven) Planscope (Steven) Couch to 5K (Steven) Book Club Getting Things Done with David Allen! He will join us for an episode to discuss the book on July 30th. The episode will air on August 7th. Next Week Recording Video Transcript CHUCK: Why can't those idiots who write software right software? [Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at bluebox.net.][you're fantastic at code, but do you have an action plan to take it to the next level? the upcoming book, next level freelance, will help you optimize your freelance business for happiness. the book is packed with actionable steps to make more money, case studies, tips to find more clients, and exercises for you to establish your desired lifestyle. extras include: 9 interviews with freelancers who make great money while enjoying great work-life balance, videos on strategies to find quality subcontractors, and videos on making more free time by outsourcing your daily tasks. check it out today at nextlevelfreelance.com!] CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 70 of The Freelancers' Show! This week on our panel, we have Reuven Lerner. REUVEN: Hello there! CHUCK: Curtis MacHale. CURTIS: Good day! CHUCK: Eric Davis. ERIC: Hi! CHUCK: Jeff Schoolcraft. JEFF: What's up! CHUCK: Jim Gay. JIM: Hello again! CHUCK: I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. This week we have a special guest, and that is Steven Bristol. STEVEN: Hello! CHUCK: Getting started, Steven, do you want to introduce yourself? STEVEN: Sure! My name is Steven Bristol, I run a company called "LessEverything". We do a couple of things. The first thing we do is something called "LessAccounting.com", which is a bookkeeping accounting software we run up in the cloud geared towards small business owners and accountants that hate QuickBooks that hate difficult that want something finally easy in the world of accounting and bookkeeping. We've been doing that for about 6 years now. In addition to that, we have another company called "LessFilms", where we do small films animation, conference videos, that sort of thing for people. And we used to do a thing called "LessConf", which was the best conference in the world; just ask anybody. We started off as a consulting company and bootstrapped our way into a product company. So we've done a little bit of everything in the tech world. CHUCK: Nice. So between you and me and the other few people who might be listening to this -- STEVEN: Sure! CHUCK: Bookkeeping sucks! [Laughs]
CHUCK: Why can't those idiots who write software right software? [Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at bluebox.net.] [You're fantastic at code, but do you have an action plan to take it to the next level? The upcoming book, Next Level Freelance, will help you optimize your freelance business for happiness. The book is packed with actionable steps to make more money, case studies, tips to find more clients, and exercises for you to establish your desired lifestyle. Extras include: 9 interviews with freelancers who make great money while enjoying great work-life balance, videos on strategies to find quality subcontractors, and videos on making more free time by outsourcing your daily tasks. Check it out today at nextlevelfreelance.com!] CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 70 of The Freelancers' Show! This week on our panel, we have Reuven Lerner. REUVEN: Hello there! CHUCK: Curtis MacHale. CURTIS: Good day! CHUCK: Eric Davis. ERIC: Hi! CHUCK: Jeff Schoolcraft. JEFF: What's up! CHUCK: Jim Gay. JIM: Hello again! CHUCK: I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv. This week we have a special guest, and that is Steven Bristol. STEVEN: Hello! CHUCK: Getting started, Steven, do you want to introduce yourself? STEVEN: Sure! My name is Steven Bristol, I run a company called "LessEverything". We do a couple of things. The first thing we do is something called "LessAccounting.com", which is a bookkeeping accounting software we run up in the cloud geared towards small business owners and accountants that hate QuickBooks that hate difficult that want something finally easy in the world of accounting and bookkeeping. We've been doing that for about 6 years now. In addition to that, we have another company called "LessFilms", where we do small films animation, conference videos, that sort of thing for people. And we used to do a thing called "LessConf", which was the best conference in the world; just ask anybody. We started off as a consulting company and bootstrapped our way into a product company. So we've done a little bit of everything in the tech world. CHUCK: Nice. So between you and me and the other few people who might be listening to this -- STEVEN: Sure! CHUCK: Bookkeeping sucks! [Laughs] STEVEN: Yeah, it sucks. It's terrible. Even accountants don't like it. It's really terrible. CHUCK: I pay somebody to do my bookkeeping because it sucks. STEVEN: Yep. So do we. [Laughter] CHUCK: So does LessAccounting make it not suck? STEVEN: Well, that's always kind of been the goal. It's a goal that we've achieved at times. Our motto is that, "Our bookkeeping software sucks, we just suck the least." So I'm not going to promise that it's not going to suck, but I can promise that it's going to suck less than everything else sucks that's out there. CHUCK: Uhm-hmm. STEVEN: Yeah, I know exactly, right? [Chuck laughs] STEVEN: By the way, for those of you who are thinking about building a SaaS company or anyway building a product, I will highly suggest not choosing a product which no one wants to use because it's just make it tougher. [Chuck laughs] JIM: I'm curious, I think bookkeeping sucks. But from your perspective, what sucks about it? Or, what do we just have either bad tools for poor understanding? Are there parts that people hate because they just don't get it? Or, are there parts that people hate because they really are terrible? STEVEN: It's really a combination of both things. The tools are pretty terrible, but the whole bookkeeping in it of itself is pretty terrible. So yeah, the answer really is both. In most bookkeeping software really, it's just difficult and hard to use. But if you think about the origins of bookkeeping and in fact why it's called bookkeeping, it really just keeping track of numbers. And that in it of itself, it's kind of like it's much fun as just keeping track of how many insects are there in the house by just keeping tallies on the wall. It's boring as hell. There's nothing interesting about it, there's nothing fulfilling about it. The fun doesn't come until you actually have your books in order. Once your books are in order and you've categorized them properly and you've tagged things properly, then you can start looking at reports and start analyzing the data and looking at your finances as data instead of as just your books. And you can then actually start seeing what's going on with your business; you can start making decisions for your business based on actual real live numbers. That's when things get interesting. That's when they start calling it 'Your finances' instead of 'Your bookkeeping'. That's what I found. ERIC: In college, because I actually have a Finance degree, I just took accounting classes, one was Financial Accounting, which is literally numbers, hash marks on the wall; but then the second one is Managerial Accounting, which is you take all the numbers and what does this mean and how is the business going, what can you do to improve things, and that was the fun class. I actually enjoyed that class because you don't do all the tedious number crunching; you're given the numbers and you decide like, "Is this business going to collapse within 13 months?" STEVEN: Right, exactly. And you can do really interesting things, like let's say you've got 3 projects that you've started and finished or that they are in some sort of cycle. If you don't know what your numbers are, all you then know is how much money you've made because that's what your bank statement tells you. But if you analyze your numbers, you put them all in, you tag them correctly, then you can actually see project by project which ones made money, which ones didn't make money, and how much money. It might turn out that you have 3 projects that all have the exact same profit margin and you're doing one type of project versus the other, it makes no difference at all. But more than likely what you'll find is that, you've got probably 2 projects that make a lot more money than the third, and if you were to take the time you spent on the third than doing the other one just like the second, you actually make a lot more money. So it's those kinds of things that you could -- that's a really easy example of what kind of knowledge you can gain just by looking at your numbers. CHUCK: I feel like I'm kind of on the verge of a breakthrough here because I don't look at my numbers because I hate bookkeeping [chuckles] -- STEVEN: Right. CHUCK: So how do I get from the point of I really just don't want to know what these numbers are to actually have them be useful to me? STEVEN: It's a two-fold process. If you think about the difference between those two classes, one of them was all about getting these numbers, categorizing, and sorting them out, and the second they gave you those numbers, then they were already done. So you really need to do that first step before you can get to the second step. So if you use a tool like LessAccounting (many tools do this) but automation is becoming kind of the norm at this point where we can input all of your bank transactions automatically. So, you're not having to input that data; you're not having to go through check register and input them in. Once it's input, then you can categorize them. There are several levels of categorization. The first is, categorize what expense category each one comes out. The software you use clearly goes on one of the software expense category, rent would go into rent, payroll, etcetera, all the way down the list. And then you can do the same thing on the income side; the income side is not as interesting because generally, you don't have that many different income types. You have other income, regular income, that's about it. But then, what you can do as more finely granulated is you can go through both your expenses and your deposits and tag each one of them, and you can actually use several different tags. For example, we'll tag things like LessAccounting or LessFilms or...I have them through stuffed my head...But we'd use different tags to represent it on the same expense. If you applied to both tags or multiple tags, then you can start writing reports on the different tags and see so you can have different tags. It could be like a project name, it could be an employee name, it could be how wording -- you can make them as elaborous, complex as you want and then the recording engine should allow you to look at multiple tags at the same time, that sort of thing. So you can start getting a feel for what your business is and what kind of shape your business is in. But you have to go through that first step of categorizing, tagging, and everything. If it's too tedious for you to do, then you should hire someone to do it, whether that's an intern or a low-paid employee or high-paid employee or an actual bookkeeper. You need someone who can get that done for you so that you can then do something with those numbers. REUVEN: Steven, I was going to ask, why would I want the sort of accounting program? Because basically, for the last 15-16 years since I started being business for myself, every month I take a huge stack of papers, bring it to my accountant's office, they do all the bookkeeping and they do the accounting and they tell me, "You now owe this amount of taxes and so on and so forth." [Laughter] REUVEN: And I say, "Okay, yes, Sir," and we do the bank transfer. Granted things are a little different in Israel than here in the US, but fine. But what you're saying is that, that's sort of the bare minimum. STEVEN: Right. REUVEN: What I could be using is using these numbers to really have a better sense of how my business is running and what's worth and not worth doing. And while I could get those reports from my accountant is going to be way easier and better for me to get it from a program where I'm in charged and I can do the queries. STEVEN: Absolutely. The reality is that most accountants don't want to give you those numbers; they don't care. We know a lot of accountants that say, "Hey, I want to be more of a CFO. I want to use your tool. I want to help business," and that sort of thing. But when you get down into integrity, they just wind up doing bookkeeping. There are some great accountants that actually do and they will be proactive. The best thing you want is you want in September, your accountant send you an email that says, "Hey, it looks like you're going to wind up with X money, this amount of X money this year. Let's start spending, let's buy that extra computer, let's buy that extra thing so we get the deduction this year." But most accountants simply don't do that, so you want to be proactive and you want to get that information for yourself. You want to be running those reports and see what's going on in your business for yourself because most accountants simply won't do it. CHUCK: Yeah, it's really interesting. There have been times in my life, in my married life, where we kind of ignored our finances so to speak. We just spend money and enough more money came in so we just spend more money and enough more money would come in. It's really interesting how things have changed now that we're paying attention to what we're spending. STEVEN: Yeah. CHUCK: It's the same thing with the business. I don't know why I didn't make that connection, but just knowing what's going on and understanding, "Okay, this is what I'm bringing in, this is how I'm bringing it in, this is what's still out there that needs to come in," where I am, what I'm spending my money on, what I need to cut back on, all of this stuff, "Don't buy anymore books, Chuck, because you have a ton of them," that kind of stuff, it makes a ton of sense! And then you can take control of your business and adjust it so that you can better take care of whatever it is you're going to take care of. It's interesting, you talk about making more money and I hear people, some people don't like the idea of making more money because it's bad or something. For other people, it's other things. But just understanding what's going on and being able to kind of steer the ship, if you're more concerned with lifestyle or whatever, it just gives you that much more control to steer it toward that. STEVEN: Yeah! Correct me if I'm wrong, but generally on your show and in other places, I don't hear people saying so much that more money is bad as they say more problems are bad. CHUCK: Yeah. STEVEN: More employees are bad, more projects are bad. There's a big difference from those two things. Generally, hopefully if you have more employees and more projects, you make more money. But it's possible to be making more money with the same number of employees and the same number of projects if you know what's going on with finances. Now, that's not always the case certainly, but there's a huge difference from those two things. I see nothing wrong with having -- if you're really interested in having a lifestyle business, which my business partner Allan and I have always been interested in, then there's nothing wrong with still making, maximizing the revenue and maximizing the profit. And without growing the business to a level, that's no fun anymore. CHUCK: I have another question and that is, how often should I be looking at my books? STEVEN: As little or as often as you need to. I think that if you look at them every week or everyday and the numbers look exactly the same, that's probably too often. If you look at them once a week and the numbers are changing drastically and you're like, "Oh, my god! When did this happen? When did that happen?" then that's probably not enough. So I think it's going to vary from business to business and the financial picture to financial picture. In general, I think, you shouldn't be finding a lot of surprises. You should be going in daily or weekly and checking to see which invoices are overdue or which invoices are coming up. If you're a freelancer doing consulting work, one of the things we always did is we always got paid in advanced, so I always had to make sure that we're sending up the next invoice before the current scope of work is completed so there wouldn't be a gap between its work, which just slows everything down including cashflow. So I would look at the books regularly to keep on top of that sort of thing. And by that talking, timetracking software called "LessTimeSpent", which integrates with LessAccounting, so I was constantly, between those two programs, looking and building reports for time and see what should get work; who needs to get another invoice. And I don't know how you guys do payroll, but we do payroll every other week, which is a slightly more aggressive than twice a month. The reason we do that is because if we do it every other Friday, then two times a year, there's a month where you get 3 paychecks. So twice a year, you can just take a full paycheck and just put it in the bank or go buy something big or whatever, if you pay every other week instead of twice a month. But then also, it means that payroll is coming a lot more often. So I'd be in the bank, I'd be in LessAccounting checking just to make sure, "Okay, I got payroll due on this day; I got to run it on this date. Will do we have enough money? Yes, we will; no, we won't. Who do I have to get more money from?" that sort of thing. And then all the projects dance; let's go look and see if this project was profitable. What was our effective hourly rate versus what we charge as an hourly rate, because obviously, those two are different numbers. So I don't know how often you should look for your business. But I think it's as often as you need to, to know what's going on and to feel comfortable and to feel like you're standing at the helm as opposed to chasing, running down the boardwalk trying to get to the helm. REUVEN: Steven, I'm wondering, you sound extremely knowledgeable about accounting, which is good even that you have a fast accounting app. [Laughter] REUVEN: I would sort of hope that we always this interested in bookkeeping and accounting even before you launch LessAccounting. STEVEN: I think for the most part, I haven't spent that much time talking about bookkeeping as I've been talking about just running a business. I've been talking about the financial side of running a business, and I think there's a big difference from the two things. When I was a kid, my mother had a bookkeeping company so I worked part time for her through part of my junior and senior year of high school. Besides that, it's really was my only bookkeeping or accounting background. The reason we built the software was, Allan and I (I already mentioned my business partner, Allan Branch), when we started up together, he had a list of ideas of what he wanted to build, of things we could build, and one of them was an expense tracker and I had a similar idea, we named it LessAccounting, and so then it became accounting software. So from where to go, we always wanted to make it something simple for small business owners so we never wanted to get too into the accounting side of things. Like it matters that we had to learn or we knew enough accounting to write the software, but there's still a lot of accounting stuff that we don't know and we don't want to know that our CPA consultants say, "Hey, what if we did this and that and other thing?" and we were like, "Yeah, it seems like something that's really for type of business that's outgrown LessAccounting." So we really want to keep it for small business rather than, "You wouldn't want to go public using LessAccounting for example. I can test your goals or business; you want to start with a different piece of software." ERIC: Oh, that's when you want two sets of books, which some companies do. [Chuck laughs] STEVEN: Yeah, that's true. Generally, there's the one set you show to the government and then there's the other set that's correct. CHUCK: [Laughs] That's what I was thinking. That's exactly what I was thinking! REUVEN: Wait! That's our standard procedure? [Laughter] CURTIS: That's why Eric does his own accounting. STEVEN: Yeah, that's easy to do with a spreadsheet. CHUCK: I guess another question that I have is -- I'm going to hurt your feelings -- I just installed QuickBooks on my machine this morning. ERIC: And you wonder why it crashes? CHUCK: No, I'm wondering like what the differences are, like one does that the other doesn't, or whatever? STEVEN: Well, have you opened it yet? CHUCK: I activated it. But no, I haven't. STEVEN: Okay. I think what you'll find after a few minutes of use is that one is entirely frustrating, and the other is only moderately frustrating. CHUCK: Okay. ERIC: He's being generous type, too. STEVEN: I think that's the big difference -- [Chuck chuckles] STEVEN: QuickBooks is a fine piece of software. So far, there are lots of people, mostly accountants, that use it and like it. If you're a QuickBooks user and you know it, then you can make it really, really work for you, and I think that's great; LessAccounting is not for everyone. I still don't want to convert anyone. If someone is happy with this piece of software, I don't want to put them on something with less functionality that's going to make them less unhappy. Because we certainly have less functionality than QuickBooks does. By the same token, I was in Seattle recently, at a conference - accounting conference. There were demos of a bunch of accounting products, so for the first time in the long time, I've seen a demo of QuickBooks and I was amazed - not in a good way. This lovely young lady who is doing the demo spent an hour apologizing for it and an hour -- [Chuck laughs] STEVEN: No, seriously. Like she was trying to do list out nothing and all she could say was, "Oh, I'm sorry. Oh no, I made a mistake. Oh this, that, and the other." And then every time she would say, "Look! They finally fixed this," everyone in the audience would cheer. I looked at around the room and I was just amazed. I just couldn't believe that that's the world we live in. So, are you going to like QuickBooks? I don't know. If you've got an accounting background and if you don't really know this things like when someone gives you a simple logical puzzle and you just completety make a mess of it, maybe QuickBooks will work for you. [Chuck laughs] STEVEN: I don't know. You might like it, you might not like it, who can tell? I think those are the big differences; that QuickBooks is really meant to be able to do everything, and LessAccounting is not. The makers of QuickBooks, in effect every other accounting software out there, are all MBAs and they all have like a serious money behind them, and LessAccounting is made by 2 guys whose parents are entrepreneurs and who are entrepreneurs and who are interested in small business. So I think there's a certain level of hue risk that they have that makes it impossible for them to really say, "What is a small business owner need as opposed to what do we need as someone's trying to go public or has gone public?" or something like that. The needs of those 2 businesses, they both need to know how much money they spent in this and that. But there are financial reporting needs that are vastly different, and I think that makes us better for small businesses. CHUCK: I'll buy that. I kind of want to get into building a SaaS business. STEVEN: Great! CHUCK: It seems like a lot of people, when I talk about doing SaaS business -- and this ties right in to what you were just saying -- what they talk about is finding that niche, a group of people that they want to serve and then serving them. It's kind of an in that discussion of "You do just what small business needs and you don't throw in the kitchen sink". STEVEN: Absolutely. CHUCK: I'm just wondering, do you ever find that you lose sales or lose customers that would have come to your product had you had just that one more thing? STEVEN: Absolutely, absolutely, and everybody does. That's not unique to us, that's universal. You're always going to get a customer that's going to say, "Oh, well, only you had one or two more things," or "If only you are $2 cheaper per month." I think that, when you're not hearing those complaints, that's when you know you've made a mistake. If people aren't complaining that you're too expensive, then you're way, way too cheap. There are just cheap people out there and some of them are vocal and you need to hear them just as the check of, "Yeah, we're priced okay," or "We're at least not too cheap." It's the same with features. If no one's complaining that you're missing features, then you probably have so many features that you're missing business because you're hard to use. I think there's no real way to do both: make everyone happy from the feature list's standpoint; and make everyone happy from usability and getting things done standpoint. CHUCK: My other question, this is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately, you mentioned that you guys started out as consultants -- STEVEN: Yes. CHUCK: Building software for other people and then you moved into a product business. Do you ever wish that you could go back? STEVEN: No. We started working on a product before we had a business. Allan had a consulting company he was doing, and I was actually doing like 40-hour a week consulting for corporations that sort of thing, which is basically fulltime work. We started working on LessAccounting on nights and the weekends, and our goal had always been to make our living from the product. I finally quit my job and started LessEverything as a consulting company, he joined as a founding partner, and then we kept doing consulting work simply to bootstrap and pay for LessAccounting. So I don't think there's any part of us that prefers doing consulting work; we always kind of look at it like our clients were our VC. But that doesn't mean that that's the right choice for everyone. I think that consulting work is really good; some people are really good at that and some people really love it. I think we were good at it and we enjoyed it, but I think we're better at products. I've got a good friend who owns a company called 'thoughtbot', and these guys are some of the best Rails developers. In fact, certainly the best Rails consultancy in the world. They had a few products which they sold off and they kind of minimized. At one point, I was talking with Chad, we're joking around that he thought that they did better Rails code than we did, but we did better products than they did. I think it's just personality and I think it's what you're good at and what you like. I don't think one is better than the other. REUVEN: So how did you make that transition then? Was it just the working nights and weekends? How did you split your time, for instance? STEVEN: It's difficult. The first thing to know is that we started the company generally in 2007. And in 2007, I worked 4400 hours. A normal person who has a 40-hour a week job, they work 2080 hours for a year; I worked more than double that. I worked 16-hours a day, every day for a year, and I don't advice that anyone should do that. There were nights where Allan was apologizing for going to bed at 11 o'clock at night because he was tired. We just worked our asses off. So that's one way to do it, and I think that's not necessarily the best way. I think it does require some sort of split. You can't do 8-hours a day consulting work and then be done for the day and then expect your products to magically appear. But at the same time, you don't have to do 8-hours a day of consulting work; you could do 4-hours a day of consulting work and then you could do 6-hours of product work, or vice versa or depending on the situation. You could also up your rate. If you're currently charging $110 an hour, what does it look like if you charge $150 an hour and work a few hours of consulting work, assuming you have the work and assuming you could sell that. So, there's all different ways you can skin that cat. We always like to tell people that are doing consulting work or they have a job and they want to start their own product, what would they do first. We like to tell people that you should get up an hour early everyday - an hour earlier. Because if you don't have the ability to wake up an hour earlier and just devote that one hour a day to your product, then you'll never going to make it in business. Unless you're extremely lucky where everything just falls into place, which happens (it's rare, but it does happen), but you shouldn't count on that. So just try that; try to get up an hour earlier every morning and see what happens there. And if you can do that, maybe you can do 2 hours, or you can do an hour in the morning or an hour after work, or you can start just putting your time up. If you have a budget, if you have a picture of your finances, then you can go and see what you can make cuts on, what makes the most sense to make cuts on, and what doesn't. Sooner or later, though, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul. In my experience, you can only take so much of that before you just go bankrupt. ERIC: That's kind of what I did. I guess last year, I actually -- because I'm watching my finances, I knew how much I needed -- I actually had stuff saved the way and used that to buy my own time, so I actually was my own client. STEVEN: Exactly. ERIC: And then I picked up some of my time, built a product in that time, released it. Since that I've done it several times now, that's a waste; you don't have to do the 16-hour a day if you just can't do it or if there's personal reasons why. STEVEN: Yeah, I think that's great. CURTIS: Yeah, I even just put an hour in the morning and for the last 15 or 20 days to get a book out that I wanted to write and did a thousand words a day. STEVEN: That's awesome. The other thing I'll mention is that I think if you're playing and going for a niche market, I would strongly advice going for a niche that you have access to or you can get access to. One of the things we've discovered is that when the whole potentially any business can be your client or your customer, it's incredibly hard to reach that. So if you'll look at less everything and who our followers, it's mostly developers and people in the software world, that sort of thing. But most of those people don't want to do bookkeeping and they're not most of our customers, although certainly, business is out there. But most of them, they either have a job or they have one or two clients and they really just want to invoicing and that's about it. They're not really doing bookkeeping yet. But if you have a niche, if you have a target audience and it's someone who you can have access to someone who you can get all of their email addresses, you're much more likely to succeed than if you can't. Growing a business is tough. And writing good code and having good design isn't anywhere near as important as being able to get people to sign up for your app and reaching people and putting your name in front of them. REUVEN: So how did you do that? How did you do that with LessAccounting? STEVEN: We're still working on it. There's no magic bullet. We've done all kinds of things. One thing we did early on is before there was any kind of marketing on Twitter, Allan is genius, he realized that most of the people tweeted about QuickBooks hated QuickBooks so we put up a website called weallhatequickbooks.com, which just showed the Twitter stream for the word QuickBooks. Like we infiltered it anyway because 99.9% of the tweets were negative. So that got us some marketing, that got us some tweets and some retweets in front of people. And then, of course, someone figured it out and started, I think Intuit or someone, started putting out lots of positive tweets about QuickBooks. [Laughter] STEVEN: And now most of the tweets about QuickBooks are people who sell QuickBooks training and so there's not much point to that anymore. So we've done that. Here's another example, Entrepreneur magazine did this conference about 2 months ago in Long Beach in California. It was a half-day conference and it ended at noon so we thought, "Well, let's go and buy everyone lunch. These are entrepreneurs, these are exactly the people we want to get in front of," and then we were unable to contact the event organizers for some unknown reason there is. You look at the website, you look at wherever, you just couldn't get in touch with these people. So we thought we'd go and put up a picnic table across the street and just invite everyone to lunch afterwards, and that's what we did. So in other words, we've got about 45% of the audience actually came to our lunch and we got to meet them and talk to them, that sort of thing. So there's all kinds of little things you can do. Of course, we do a lot of content on our blog for SEO because I was getting good in Google; it's pretty important. One of the ways we did well with consulting was we -- I'm not sure if it's still true, but at one time, if you search for Ruby on Rails developers, it would be rubyonrails.org and then us. So getting in front of people and getting known is tough and it's an ongoing thing and there's no silver bullet for it. REUVEN: Do you think that it's harder for you in some ways to reach people because you have such a wide potential audience of all these small businesses that it would be easier if you were looking for one particular kind of business? STEVEN: I don't think so. The way to overcome that is you segment your market. So you say, "Okay, this month or for the next 6 months, we're going to go after software developers, or pizza parlors, or photographers," or whatever it is. So in that way, you just segment and then just try and focus on getting in front of them wherever they are. I'd say the biggest obstacle to us getting in front of people is money because we're bootstrapped; we haven't had a dime of investment, we don't have any debt. So at any bit of marketing, we do have to come from the app itself or from our business. So in a sense, with LessFilms and LessAccounting, we're still kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul. At some point, LessAccounting will have enough customers that it's going to kind of become this nice little monster, which can just generate money and we can keep with them, we're going to just throw more and more money at R&D, throw more and more money at marketing, and that sort of thing. But we're still in that place of having to watch your pennies and make sure that everything is on a budget and that we're not overspending so that we can stay in business and keep going. REUVEN: Are you comfortable saying how many customers you have now? Or, how many people do you have working for you? STEVEN: I'll tell you the latter. We currently have 3 developers plus myself; I'm an engineer, although I don't do that much development work anymore. But I do write at least some code every day. Then we have 2 people in support, one of whom is a bookkeeper, and then we have Allan who is a designer and he also helps, obviously, together we run the business and make decisions. That's on the LessAccounting side. On the LessFilm side, we have a guy who does the video work and the editing, and we have someone that runs that business for us. I didn't count, how many is that? Is that 8, 9 something like that in total? [Chuck laughs] REUVEN: Something like that. Is this what you're aiming for when you guys decide to have a SaaS business? That you wanted to have not just the two of you guys, but a bunch of people working for you? STEVEN: I don't know. I don't know that we ever had like a dream of what's the perfect number of employees to make us happy. Honestly, I think that dream would be zero [laughs]. If we could write everything and get everything done without any employees, I think that would be pretty cool. It's not possible, of course, because there's too much ongoing work whether it's new R&D or fixing a user issue or server issues or updates or customer support, we could never do that just the two of us. So I don't know. We like the number we are now; we like working with people who we'd like to hang out with. So we do this thing or always do this thing called "LessConf", and one of the things we would do is we'd fly our employees in and we'd always stay for a couple of days extra, and it's just like fun, nice people to hang out with. So for us, when I'd hire a developer, one of my qualifications was personality; personality was equally as important to as engineering talent. I would take for granted that if I'm going to hire you, you're going to be a senior-level engineer because I only hire senior-level engineers. But then you have to have a personality to match that; you have to be a great guy, you have to laugh, you have to get along, you have to be someone that's fun, you have to be someone who, if I swear too much, you're going to be okay with that. Or, are you going to tell me to, "Okay, it's enough!" that sort of thing. I think that's more important than the number. I know that there is a number where scale gets difficult, and I don't know if we've ever been interested in getting that big. I don't know what that number is, certainly, over a hundred; maybe until over 20, maybe it's over 50, I don't know. CHUCK: Well, that's really interesting, and I'm glad you came on the show and talked about it. Are there any things about bookkeeping or SaaS business or just business in general that you think we ought to know or that you want to share? STEVEN: Yeah, a couple of things. The first is that, I think it's a lot harder than people make it seen. I think that most people go into this that there's -- I think there's an industry built around entrepreneurs, and that's whether you're a consulting company or whether you're building a product. There's an industry of people that want you to buy their books, or people that want you to attend their conferences, or people that want you to keep reading their blogs, and on and on that make money because of us, because we're interested in doing this particular kind of work. So to keep making money, I think they try and do two things. They try and make it look easy and make us all feel like we're stupid for not being millionaires already, number one. Number two, if we haven't done, then we're stupid for not starting because obviously, it's so easy to get there. I think all of that is complete bullshit. I think that running a business -- I don't care what kind of business it is, I don't care if it's a pizza parlor or if you're building server infrastructure -- running a business is hard and it takes a lot out of you. It takes everything out of you. You have to make sacrifices, you have to decide whether you're going to go that kid's soccer game, or that you're going to go to work because you have to get that thing done. And you don't always choose the right one. I think that there's not enough emphasis placed on, I think, difficultly of it, and it's not made for everyone and there are no guarantees in any other. And then by the same token, I think that that same industry or whatever wants us to think that we have to do it all the time. Like I have a buddy (if I could share a blog post about this), we're talking about what we do to kind of relax and unwind at the end of the day. He was saying how he likes to read, and I like to read a lot and I read everyday, it's one of my hobbies. He was saying how he likes to read, I don't know, some kind of mystery books or something, but what he winds up doing is reading business books because he feels guilty for reading mystery books. I just think that's such crap. Here's his 20 minutes or hour, whatever he gives himself for the day to really unwind, and he feels like he's not doing a good job if he's not using that time to read some business book. [Chuck laughs] STEVEN: That kind of thing just makes me sick. We're here to be happy. The purpose of life is to find or to uncover our happiness and not to get rich and not to build a business and not to be famous. I think that in our industry and in the freelancing world and in the Saas world, there's basically zero emphasis put on that stuff. I think, if you want to build something, if you want to own your own company, I think that's great. But I think we should all be asking ourselves what do we really want in life, which is happiness generally, and then how do we go about getting that. If it's building a business, great. But that's what we're here to do; it's not to get rich and famous in the eyes of our peers, I think. But regardless all that, you can still use LessAccounting. JIM: [Laughs] I think that's a really good point. I often feel that way, too. If I'm not reading technical books, then I'm not really advancing myself and I can't move forward and I won't be able to do all the other stuff, so I never read fiction. I've gotten to the point where I'm getting a little older now and I am tired of putting up with that stuff. So it's nice to hear people who have successful SaaS businesses and put the hours in who say, "Look we got to balance it." So, I totally agree. STEVEN: Right on. CHUCK: Awesome. Well, we're just about out of time. So let's go ahead and do the picks. Reuven, why don't you start this off? REUVEN: Sure! I've got just one pick for this week. You guys on the podcast know that I've had problems with my computer over the last month or so. So now that I'm in Chicago, I went and got a brand new "MacBook Pro". And the other, of course, a few different approaches to buying computers and I tend to just sort of buy a relatively high-end one and keep it around for a few years until it runs into the ground. So at least for the first few months, it just feels blazingly fast. It's sort of like or might have said, two core is bad, four core is good. So I definitely feeling the love of having lots of cores and the fast SSD, and if nothing else, backups run way, way faster. Anyway, that's my pick for the week. And the fact that I was able to stay on the podcast until the end is a nice plus. CHUCK: Yay! [Reuven laughs] CHUCK: Jim, what are your picks? JIM: I went one and I just started trying it out. There's a service called "Relately", relate.ly. It's a way to keep in touch with the people who you know. Like I often have either previous clients or just old friends who I haven't got in touch within a while and I kind of wanted something to remind me that, "Hey, you haven't talked to this person in a while. Just send him an email." So I'm trying it out; I haven't really used it very much, but check it out! CHUCK: Nice. Curtis, what are your picks? CURTIS: I'm just going to go with one today. I'm going to pick "Capsule", which is a developer's, I guess, journal. You stick code in it and comment on what approaches work and what didn't, and then you can actually run it locally and you can also synch it with the servers. So for a team, you could synch team projects but keep your private ones and synch your private ones to a totally separate server or just keep them locally. That's a free open source project built on WordPress. CHUCK: Alright. Eric, what are your picks? ERIC: I got 2, one is a book I finished a couple of days ago, it's called "Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind". It's on Amazon, it's in the Prime Membership library or whatever. It's nice because it talks about a lot of the creative side of how do you refresh your energy, how you plan to be creative and all that stuff. It's written by, I don't know, maybe a dozen different authors so you get a lot of different perspectives. There's quite a bit in there about building good habits that can let you be more creative and I think such as freelancers who are doing creative work, you kind of get into this rut where you have to produce but sometimes, creativity is just not there. I found a few tips in here that I'm going to start working to try to apply to my own business to kind of have that spark when I need it. The second, I listened to a new podcast last night. There's one that was really nice. This is the "Software Indie Podcast", the specific one is 'From Consultancy to Product'. It's nice because it's someone's story about how they had a consultancy and then they took time off and they actually paid for some other developers to build, I think it was an iOS app, launched that, and how they used that iOS app to help get better clients. It's pretty short, looks like 17 minutes, but I really like that; I'm still checking out the rest of the podcast to see what's in there. CHUCK: Nice. Jeff, what are your picks? JEFF: I've got one. A follow up on Eric, though, the Software Indie Podcast is really good. I think the episode he was talking about is with Rob Rhyne, and they built Briefs. It's interesting they got the 4-part series on basically consulting to product and their high-end behind the scenes can't-tell-anybody-we-work-for-you-because-our-clients-will-kill-us kind of people and so they were booting in product to showcase their work and then sort of the evolution. It was so interesting. And the guy that does a book, as he's working on his own SaaS app, it's kind of a journey, but the first 12 or 13 episodes have not really been about his journey yet. It was a good podcast so I second Eric's recommendation. My pick is an article by Nathan Barry, "How to Launch Anything", it's on Smashing Magazine; a bunch of information about how to launch a product and clicked emails and keep your list warm, all of these stuff that Steven was just talking about how our community is encouraging us to read business books instead of Anna Harrington or whatever we want to do, but it's so timing. That's my pick! CHUCK: Awesome. I'll go ahead and give you guys my picks. My first pick is "Markdown", I'm sure most of you know what Markdown is. It's a really simple markup language, and I really like it. I'm sure it's been picked on the show before and I know some of us use it for different things, but it's just a handy way to represent stuff. My other pick is "Readme Driven Development". I think that's also been mentioned on the show before. That's how I'm approaching a new project that I decided I wanted to work on. Of course I'm going to have to rethink it because it looks like or lately is a lot of the same. [Chuckles] So, I'll decide if it does what I want, if I want stuff to do, and then if it doesn't, then I'll probably go and build an open source system that does what I want to do. Anyway, Steven, what are your picks? STEVEN: The first pick I've got is -- I'm going on my theme of happiness, one of my favorite topics -- there's a TED Talk by a guy called "Dan Gilbert" where he talks about why we're happy and how the brain synthesizes happiness. I think it's a pretty good talk and everyone should check that out. The second pick is based on an event that happened just the other day, I went on a half marathon; I ran a half marathon for the first time in my life. I've just went out running and ran a half marathon and then came finished up back at the house. For those of you who don't know me, I'm a pretty big guy, so it's a pretty big accomplishment, and I did it just by -- I started with a "Couch to 5k" app somewhere around a year or so ago. So I want just any Couch to 5k app for your Android or for your iPhone or whatever, just pick one up and just get up off of your ass and go. And then my last pick is an app called "Planscope.io" written by a buddy of mine called Brennan Dunn. It's great for freelancers who are planning projects, who are doing project management, who want to see how much money they make, whether they should be raising their rates, that sort of thing - planscope.io. CHUCK: Awesome. Alright, one last thing that I want to bring up, we are going to have David Allen, the guy who wrote Living Things Done. He's going to come on the show and talk about getting things done on the 30th of July. So you'll probably get it like the 6th of August, I'll get the show something around there. So start reading the book; you've got a little less than a month. And then we'll talk to him about productivity!