This week on Founder Chats I talk with Laura Roeder of Edgar! We talk building audiences, using audiences to launch products, parenting, the benefits of networking, growing a company, starting a company with your spouse and more!
Josh: So, I used to have a thing called PopSurvey.
Laura: Yeah, I know it.
Josh: I was thinking trying to figure out when our paths initially crossed and I think PopSurvey, and this was way before Edgar.
Laura: No, I think you’re exactly right. I don’t remember. Maybe I was just like, “I like your software.” I don’t know why I talked to you, but yeah, it was definitely through PopSurvey.
Information training as a starting point
Josh: That’s funny. I guess we could start there. Back then that’s sort of like consulting, but not straight up consulting, right? You were doing selling that stuff, right?
Laura: Information products, yes. I actually wasn’t doing consulting hardly ever. The business model was training information products.
Josh: Okay, so training. Would you do a training thing, and record it, and then sell it after the fact or was it always just producing training materials to be consumed by as many people as possible?
Laura: The latter, yeah. I would sometimes do them live online just for the energy of creating the product, but the intent was to create consumable training.
Josh: How did you get into that? You just said, “Hey, I’m going to start doing social media stuff,” or training, or what?
Laura: When I first started working for myself I was a designer of freelance print and web designer in 2007.
Josh: Did you go to school for that?
Laura: I went to school for advertising, but I studied design in school, and had design internships, and stuff. That’s what I thought it was going to do and that’s what I did after college. I had a job at an agency for like a year and then I quit to start working for myself, so I was making websites and I was in retrospect doing a lot of online marketing consulting, which I just literally didn’t know any better. I was like, “Well, I’m making them a website, I should probably tell them how to get traffic to their site and what to put on it.” I just thought that’s what you did.
When social media started to become a thing in like 2008 I guess is like around when Twitter started, my plans were just like, “Well, you’re young, you know about social media. Why don’t you tell me how to use it?” I was like, “Okay.” That evolved into people being like, “You know people would pay you just to tell them how to use social media.” I was like, “That’s crazy. That sounds like the easiest job ever.”
Josh: We have super similar stories. I went to school for design, so were you ever employed anywhere else other than that agency?
Laura: No, so I started working for myself really young, yeah.
Josh: I didn’t last as long as you did. I lasted seven weeks. I graduated college in 2005, got married like a month later, my wife and I moved to Colorado, and we were like, “Well, I guess we should get jobs.” I got a job at an interactive design agency and then seven weeks later was like, “Nope.” Can’t do it, not going to do it. You made the transition from the agency to self employment. Pre-training stuff, was teaching people or training people something that you had done before and you enjoyed …
Josh: This was like you were just like, “Oh, cool, I like this.”
Laura: Yeah, yeah. I think it was something that I found that I had a natural talent for. I found that I was good at explaining technical concepts to people in a way that they could understand, so it’s basically what I started doing for clients. As we’re talking about consulting, I did start out doing consulting, and then I discovered the whole world of information products and online training, and I was like, “Oh, that seems like a really great business model.” Especially because I was starting to obviously play around with marketing myself on social media. You find quite quickly this is going to work a lot better if I can have clients all over the world, all over the country. If I’m promoting myself on Twitter it just makes sense that I would have something to sell nationwide.
Josh: This is 2008 you said?
Laura: Yeah, yeah.
Josh: What was the format for, I mean certainly video stuff was already pretty big, but I mean, was that your primary mode of training?
Laura: Yeah, so 2008 was transition, 2009 was when I launched my first course. That was a course about Twitter. I just did webinars, at the time I did six weekly webinars live.
Laura: Yeah, it was like way too long, I know. Who wants to see six weekly webinars about Twitter? I doubt I’ve learned to make things shorter after that. No one made it through the whole thing, it’s too painful. I just did them live weekly, and recorded them. I can remember the first time I did it I made $3,000. I’d been doing consulting and I was like, to get a $3,000 contract for me at the time was this like I’d chase them for six months, so I was like, “Whoa, $3,000.” It was just a really good fit for me as a business model. It felt like a lot easier to me than consulting.
Josh: How long before you started to … You started producing all this training stuff, were you just straight up soloing that stuff for a long time?
Laura: No, I’ve always been pretty good about bringing on from the start just virtual assistants and things like that, so I always had a small crew. As early as 2009 I had two people helping me with customer service, and setting up tech stuff, and things like that. It was very gradual from moving to part-time. It took me years before I brought on my first W2 employee.
Josh: Once you start producing training stuff, how did you get that out there? Was it just word of mouth? Obviously you’re touting social stuff, so that plays a big part of it, but did it take a long time to really get that snowball going?
When things started taking off
Laura: No, it really didn’t. I was using obviously social media marketing, content marketing, and I think I entered the scene at a good time. At that time Copyblogger was really big, Problogger was really big. Obviously both the sites still are really big. The blogger conference in Vegas was a big deal. I remember in 2009 I was on Problogger’s ten bloggers to watch in 2009.
Josh: I’ve arrived.
Laura: Yeah, yeah. It really did get me a ton of traffic and stuff, too. World Domination Summit, I went to the first one. I basically found my circle right away, which was partially just luck. I was able to make myself known within that circle and another one of my early courses ended up being Creating Fame, which became my big signature course because the whole idea was using all these tools to make yourself famous in your field, famous in your niche. I figured out that idea early on. I didn’t know it was called thought leader at the time, but I’ll make people trust me, I’ll make people know who I am, and then they’ll find my courses. I guess I just figured out how to do that.
Josh: You speak a ton at conferences, or at least have in the past, do you feel like the benefit of those was … I guess I’m leading on the question here, but I always found whenever I go to conferences that the purpose of those is less about finding new customers and it’s more like the networking component where you meet other people who are doing the same thing as you and less the people who would be buying stuff from you. Is that the case for you?
Laura: I totally agree with that. I think that positioning yourself is a huge part of it. Also, early in my career in 2009 I had my own panel at South by Southwest, so that sounded very impressive. I just organized the panel, right, I wasn’t even like someone the people wanted to talk, but it sounded great and it’s one of those things you can check off. I spoke at South by Southwest and now I can say, “I’ve spoken at South by Southwest,” but something that’s always fascinating to me is once you meet someone in person you are so in with them for years and years. I remember I met, I need to remember his name, Ryan, I’m totally blanking out on his last name. The guy that runs YEC. I don’t know if you’re familiar with …
Josh: I know the Ryan you’re talking about. I cannot remember his last name.
The benefits of networking
Laura: I remember meeting him when he was working with Penelope Trunk at South by in 2009. We talked for like ten minutes. I haven’t seen him again in person until literally this year, but we kept in touch over email. If I ever needed a favor, he was happy to do it for me and vice versa. It’s always been amazing to me noticing that in person connection. I don’t know what it is, you talk to someone for ten minutes and now they’re your buddy. That thing makes a huge difference in your career.
Josh: I think it’s interesting, certainly over the past few years I’ve figured out that … I can be a bit of a lone wolf and have been for a long time when building stuff, but it’s like not from getting a customer standpoint, but just being able to hit up somebody to pick their brain about something, or throw something past them, or something. Even if it is years later after you’ve met in person, or had dinner, or gone to some conference, whatever, it pays off big time for sure. Let’s back up a little bit, or maybe jump forward, your Edgar right now, is that the only thing that you’re doing or do you still have the social media training stuff?
Laura: It’s the only thing, so we’ve phased out the social media training business. I mean, we’re too busy with Edgar to do it in any sort of clean way, so the site’s still lingering, but the only business I’m working on is Edgar.
The start of Edgar
Josh: For folks that don’t know, what was the impetus for Edgar? Edgar’s social media scheduling stuff. I might be simplifying it too much, but …
Laura: A little bit, but that said, that’s the core. Edgar actually came as a direct result from training. I was teaching people how to build a library of social media content and then repurpose it. The whole idea that I was teaching is that 5% to 10% of your content gets seen by your audience in social media, so creating new content multiple times today for the rest of time is not super effective. Instead it makes sense to build a library of links back to your old blog posts, inspirational posts, whatever, and keep cycling through it.
I was teaching people how to do that, manually keeping a spreadsheet with all your updates and that’s how Edgar came about. It’s a tool that does all the things that … That’s what makes us different from other social tools is we repeat updates in perpetuity, which other tools don’t do, and we keep all your updates in a categorized library so that you can continue to improve, and curate, and view your social as more of a body of work rather than a random misspelled Tweet that you sent out.
Launching to an existing audience
Josh: Obviously you’re doing training for social media kind of stuff. Now you’ve got this tool and you’ve got a significant following on the training stuff, so creating a product for them is really handy for launching something. Like you said, Edgar was almost built because you realized this need, but launching a product for an audience that you already have, was that really intentional or did that just worked out and that was nice?
Laura: I would say both. It was just the best software idea that I had. I’d been wanting to do a SaaS model for a long time, but I never had an idea good enough until this. I was like, “Okay, this one’s a good idea, I think people will pay for this.” Obviously I was very happy to have an idea that I could sell to an audience that I’d spent five years accumulating. That made things so much easier. We’re a bootstrap business, but it’s not fair to compare us.
We had a small team when we started, we were using money from the other business, and we had a list of seventy-five thousand people. That’s not really bootstrapping. I guess it’s bootstrapping, but certainly not starting from zero. If you can do that, if you can leverage your existing audience and existing list, obviously that’s great and that’s also something that I’ve learned is the value of this thought leadership because now that I’ve created this following on Twitter, I started blogging on [Medium 00:14:30] and a lot of those people from Twitter come over to Medium. It just makes everything easier where you just don’t have to start from zero every time.
Josh: Obviously having the audience at the start helps a ton for kicking things off. Now Edgar’s been around for what …
Laura: About two years.
Josh: Two years, okay. You’re two years in and you’ve probably exhausted a lot of the initial little kick start that your list gave you, so what are some of the bigger things that you guys have trouble with now? What are the big hurdles for you?
Growing the company
Laura: Now it’s less about marketing, and more about hiring and team stuff, so we’re at eighteen people now. This is the biggest company that I’ve ever run by far. Every person we add it’s the biggest team I’ve ever been involved with. Every software person knows the challenge of hiring developers, that’s taken two or three times as long as we think it will for every single person. Your team goes through a lot of changes from around ten people to around twenty people, you change the way everything’s organized. Now the challenges are less about how we attract customers and more how do we maintain a really great organization.
Josh: You were producing a bunch of training stuff years ago. Now presumably you personally are not producing a bunch of stuff and you’re doing the manager stuff, correct? Pros and cons of that, what do you like about that and what is annoying or a pain?
Laura: This was actually very deliberate for me. I actually really loved the management stuff, which as you know, maybe a lot of people don’t, because I stopped writing a long time ago. I haven’t written … Like I said, I started blogging on media, but even those are edited and I have help. I haven’t written for my own blog or a newsletter in many years. It used to be ghost written under my name, so a lot longer than people realize because that was something I could do, but it was never my favorite thing to do, so I am very happy to be out of the content creator role. I’ve never really considered myself a creative. I’m definitely more that business side that likes to have other people do the creative.
Josh: Now that you’ve got a team that’s growing, from the manager standpoint what do you find hardest about having a team of almost two dozen people?
Laura: One thing is finding that balance between maintaining your point of view and obviously as you grow, you bring on people who are more talented than you in their area, they obviously have their own point of view that’s different from yours. I have a marketing background, so that’s been the hardest thing for me to let go of. I finally did this year after a false start. I hired someone before, and that didn’t work out, and then I took it back. I was like, “This has gotten ridiculous. I have to let this go.”
It’s still a challenge for me to decide how much do I want to advise him or even him just learning, sometimes I’m like, “I don’t think that’s going to work out,” but maybe I’m wrong and I should let him see. Then we’ll know if it works out or not. I just have to bite my tongue. We just had our in person company retreat in Denver and each department gave an update about something they were doing. When he was giving his update about marketing there were so many things that I wanted to be like, “Let me explain this, let me add this,” or he forgot to say that and I was just sitting on my hands being like, “Don’t say anything because you’re going to undermine him, like speaking over him in front of the entire company.” I had to make myself not talk over him. He’s obviously a saint to put up with me, I know.
Josh: It’s like I have a design background and when I was doing design consulting I’d hate it when a client was like, “Well, I do a little design work on the side myself.” “Nope, nope, don’t talk.” Now I’m in that position. I’m effectively the client. The designers have to like [inaudible 00:19:00]. The whole thing’s remote, correct?
Laura: Yeah, yeah.
Josh: You’re in Austin. Are there other people in Austin that are on the team?
Laura: Yeah, to be clear we don’t have an office. We are in US and Canada, though. We’re not remote worldwide, which is a little different. My husband built the initial version of the software and now he’s an advisor to the company, so he lives in my house in Austin as well.
Josh: Two people share an office.
Working with your spouse
Josh: That’s a good point, actually. Your husband basically built the first version.
Josh: Had you guys worked together before Edgar, like worked on anything together?
Laura: We hadn’t, no. At that point we had been together for maybe about two years. We were both self-employed. He was doing some other projects freelance. We weren’t working on any projects together, but because we both worked from home together and I would talk to him about the startups he was working with and stuff, we did talk about business a lot. That’s obviously very different than actually building something together.
Josh: My wife and I worked together. We built an e-commerce toy company for years, this is back like 2007, or ’07, or something like that. Loved working together, but there’s a lot of people who were like, “I would just throw myself out a window before I worked with my spouse.” The problem that we always had was not just talking about work stuff all the time. Is that something that you guys try to avoid or you just embrace it?
Laura: We’ve gone through different phases. If it were up to me I would just talk about work all the time. My husband, Chris, definitely is sometimes like, “You have to stop now.” We actually don’t find it talking about it. Obviously we’re entrepreneurs, it’s fun, we love to talk about it. As long as we’re not actually going out of control with working too much, the talking about it is fine, but we have a one and a half year old, so we can’t work that much.
Building a company as a parent
Josh: The one and a half year old I’m sure forces a conversation change.
Laura: Right, and it’s good. You have a bunch of kids, you just can’t really be a crazy workaholic. Kids take up a lot of time.
Josh: They do, they do. I think of the typical poster child for Silicon Valley’s like this twenty-something year old, single white dude who’s sitting in a room coding. I can’t do that at all, but I think it’s a healthy thing.
Laura: I agree.
Josh: It forces some good habits. You took off a significant chunk of time shortly after you’d launched Edgar, right?
Laura: Yeah, yeah, so I was actually pregnant when the company launched. We launched basically July 2014, I had my son January 2015, so it was early in the company and I took off three months maternity leave, like actually, truly off. In retrospect it was such an amazing constraint because when I launched the business in my head, I was like, “This business has to grow without me because I’m going to be gone for three months within the first year of the business.” I would be pregnant forever [crosstalk 00:22:33] startup. Maybe not, but at least to have that kind of idea in my head because it was actually really great for making sure we have the systems in place set that I didn’t have to be there finding buyers.
Josh: It grew quite well without you around.
Laura: Yeah, we actually hit $100,000 a month while I was gone.
Josh: To me, that’s almost it relieves such a huge amount of stress for any future thing. Say you’re just somebody gets really sick in your family, you’ve got to take some time off, you’ve already faced something and you’re like, “I know this is going to work just fine without me.”
Laura: Yeah, and I think one of the reasons I was able to do it, so another part of my history that we haven’t mentioned is B-School. It’s a really popular training program for female entrepreneurs. Maria and I had started it together, and I ended up leaving it to pursue my own business. It was basically a side project that went crazy. I made a lot more money exiting it than I had running the company, which I had just never had any kind of experience like that before. It sounds great, right, and it was great, but it also makes you be like, “This thing blew up after I left? What does that mean?”
It was good because it just showed me this very clear life lesson of I can detach my hours from the money I made because I made way more money than I ever had before by leaving that company. I think that lesson being ingrained in me made it much easier to set up Edgar in this way.
Entrepreneurship & parenting
Josh: Tangent, were you entrepreneurial as a kid?
Laura: Yeah, I mean, like nothing crazy. I would set up dance camp where I’d teach girls to dance.
Josh: That’s more than a lot of kids I would say. Being the entrepreneur, that to me is a big word for saying professional problem solver, is that something that you want to be intentional about teaching to your kids or you think it’ll come naturally because you and your husband are both that way?
Laura: It’s obviously something that I’ve thought a lot about since becoming a parent. Chris will be like, “You can’t force them to be an entrepreneur. You have to be happy if he wants to do something else,” because I do think it’s definitely a life that I’m very much bought into for myself. I think it’s a great way to go, but also the good thing about running a company is your work with a lot of people who are obviously employed by you, and you see why people do that, and how that’s great as well. We recently hired someone who’d been running his agency for a long time and he’s like, “I cannot tell you the feeling of having someone else just hand me a check at the same time every months is amazing.” I was like, “Okay, I can really see that.”
He’s growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, he won’t be able to help but learn about it. We are a little more unconventional about our ideas about school and college. We’re not saving for college, we’re not especially convinced what the state of it will be by the time he’s there or if he should go. We’ll see what we do when it comes time for school, so we’re definitely unconventional.
Josh: We’re the same way. My wife and I met in a private college, so just so expensive and both of us were like, “We did not need to go to college.” We’re not really saving for college either, but there are certain things that school can be useful for, most things I would say it’s not, but some days I think there’s no way … I want to tell my kids to not go to college, do not ever go to college, but I constantly try to get my kids to sell stuff to each other even. Like, “Hey, your sister wants that? How much is she going to pay for it?”
Laura: I would say I definitely want to teach him just the idea of being a freelancer, that you have skills, that you could trade them for money. I think that is definitely a basic life skill that I think every human should know about, should know that that’s an option for them, so I will definitely consciously at least teach him that.
Josh: I think most people don’t realize that they have the ability to create something of value. Maybe it’s not a tangible product or some sort of digital product, but there’s something that they can sell and they can be good at selling it.
Josh: Jumping back to Edgar, actually, so the marketing that you guys have done for that, maybe not marketing, but the way that you bring people onboard. You guys do an invitation thing, correct? You’ve been doing that from the start.
Josh: You just kept it?
Laura: We’ve tested it and it’s worked, so we kept it, yeah.
Josh: The format there is somebody puts in their email address and then it’s sort of like a faux invitation, correct?
Laura: Don’t say faux!
Josh: I don’t want to give it away.
Laura: They get invited. Basically how it works is you put in your email and then we’re always testing the sequence. Right now, an hour or two later you get your invitation to be able to buy it.
Josh: Got you. Then you guys also have a single price plan, correct?
Laura: Basically, we have a higher price plan, but it just doesn’t make sense for 99% of our customers, so yeah, almost everyone’s on the same price plan.
Josh: Have you guys tested doing multiple pricing plans?
Laura: We have. When we launched we had the like, “Let’s have a $500 a month and see if anybody signs up.” Nobody signed up because our tool is very specifically designed for small business. We don’t have a sales team, it’s all self-serve, and the tool was created like if you’re an agency, we don’t have groups for brands, we don’t have multiple log ins. That’s just not how we’re built, so it’s no surprise that the customer we built for is the customers that have come. I am a big believer on staying really focused on what you do well. At this point we have about six-thousand customers, that’s a tiny chunk of small businesses in the state of Texas alone. We have a lot further to go for small business, so we want to stay focused there.
Pricing and product changes
Josh: Are there any big changes to Edgar coming or any big projects you guys are working on? I know a pricing change.
Laura: Yup, yup. We’re raising our pricing for the first time. That’s exciting. It was definitely a scary move because we’re a higher priced tool for the market largely because we don’t have the $10 plan, we don’t have the free plan, so people are already … I actually always joke, I’m like, “Oh, we’re just like HootSuite except way more expensive.” It’s a joke, we actually do something totally different than HootSuite, but so many people see our tool and it’s just like, “I guess that’s what they are.” It’s definitely scary raising the price, but also I think it’s time.
It’s been two years now and I’m not afraid of showing people that we are something different. I think a price can be a great way to do that. Other changes, again, we’re very focused. We’re looking at what other tools are doing and other tools in our space are going very Swiss army knife, like a little bit of everything. We want to stay focused on what we could do really well, which is build a library of content, and then repeat it without you having to go in an refill your queue, and reschedule everything over and over again, so we’re less about adding on big new things and more about just constantly improving the things that we do.
Josh: What’s the people that are working on the product side of Edgar, for them is it more about optimizing the current stuff that’s already there?
Laura: Yeah, yeah, and sometimes that is bigger than it sounds because it’s on the front end and the back end. We had a huge project totally rebuilding how your queue is generated, so often it’s stuff like that that’s not very exciting to talk about, but the load time went to point oh-seven seconds or whatever, so it does dramatically effect the customers experience. We totally changed the interface of how the scheduling looks based on a lot of customer feedback, so it’s often things that don’t sound that exciting that actually do make the app much faster to use, or easier to use, or easier to understand, or faster to load in content, all those types of things.
Josh: A lot of the small businesses, especially [inaudible 00:31:38] companies, struggle with churn and mainly figuring out why people churn. For you guys, what’s the big hangup that people have about sticking around with your product?
Laura: That’s definitely been a huge challenge for us and it’s very clear. It’s loading up the library.
Josh: It’s a lot of work up front to make that happen.
Laura: Right, right. We’re different from other tools and it’s hard for people to understand or buy into that totally different workflow. People are used to doing social one ten second update at a time and we’re basically saying, “That’s not faster, instead you’re going to have to take two hours instead of ten seconds multiple times a day,” but I get it, sitting down and taking that two hours is a huge challenge. We find that people stick around once they have the tools set up because [crosstalk 00:32:27] social for you. The value’s pretty clear once it’s set up, but what kills me is when people get inside the tool and still don’t understand what we do differently. When people get inside the tool and they’re like, “Oh, so it’s just the same?” I’m like, “No, no,” but …
Josh: No, no, no.
Laura: I just have to take it as feedback that no matter how many times we explained it, no matter how great the onboarding was, if a human can go through the process and not get it, there’s still more that we can do.
Josh: Do you guys do much on the hand holding people with the onboarding or do you try to automate as much of that as possible?
Laura: It’s something we’re experimenting with. In the past we’ve automated it, things like automatically pulling an RSS feed based on URL and their email address, trying to find different automated ways to pull in content. We’re actually hiring now an onboarding specialist for our CS team. That means someone whose full-time job will be helping people set up content, load in content, all that kind of stuff.
Josh: Like Nathan Berry ConvertKit, one of their big things is manually helping people move over, which is a lot of work upfront, but after you’ve got the stuff in there, fantastic.
Laura: Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely someone that I look up to. We’re modeling for success, so we’re going to try it out and see how it works for us.
Josh: I think that’s all I got. Yeah. How can people get in touch or follow along?
Josh: All right, good deal, good deal. Well, thanks for helping on the call, Laura. It was good talking to you.