Episode 0045 · May 23, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

What Business Are You In?

[Unedited Transcript]

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Well, Richard.

Rich Ziade: Hi Paul.

It’s good to see you.

Paul Ford: I don’t have time for small talk.

We’re launching a startup.

Rich Ziade: Fine.

Paul Ford: So, uh, last week, the official launch date, May 17th of a board came and went.

Rich Ziade: we would love for you to put your name in, we’re we’ve invited, started inviting people in. We’re gonna keep inviting people in, um, a board.com.

Uh, it’s a place to, uh, really sort of use the web in a calm, controlled way to help you, uh, Make decisions, collect stuff. Um, it’s a pretty slick platform with a really cool browser add-on. So check it [00:01:00] out@aboard.com.

Paul Ford: right. We’ll, we’ll stop marketing at that point, but go to the website please and do sign up. And we are bringing people in quickly. All right, so let’s stop marketing it and talking about ’em.

As you were saying those words, my brain flashed to two separate things. The mix panel, which is our analytics tool, user funnel. Yes. Because I’m just trying to figure out how people are using this and what they’re thinking about it. Yep. Are they making cards? Are they creating spaces? You know, our own little nomenclature in world may not mean anything to people, so I’m trying to figure out what.

They’re getting. And then the second thing is it flashed to the MailChimp conversion rates, which are pretty good. Like we we’re, we’re starting with the people who

Rich Ziade: a simple story. It’s a simple tool.

MailChimp numbers look real

Paul Ford: Yeah. We had the open rate’s quite good. Like, it’s like, like 70% on the email and then a good lie number are coming into Yeah, it’s great.

It’s great. So like, okay, people seem interested, engaged, they, they want to know what we’re up to and all of that is good, but, but here we are and it’s brought up a. That’s where my head is going. You know? What do you make of this [00:02:00] product? Um, five days after launch?

Rich Ziade: Well, when it starts to tell, uh, it’s not really about the launch.

Paul Ford: Okay. It’s

Rich Ziade: not really about the launch. I, as I, I am very wary of. Entertaining myself as a technologist and convincing myself that the world wants to play with an open-ended generic platform. I’m very, very nervous about that, uh, because as we’ve talked to people and

Paul Ford: so we, we should explain, we’ve built an open-ended generic platform.

It looks good.

Rich Ziade: It looks good. It’s kind of fun. But when you do that, When you have a lofty kind of abstract tagline, like Organize your passions, which is our tagline today, subject to change or not change depending on what the world tells us. If you do that, people sort of look at you, [00:03:00] patch you on the head and say, good for you, rich and Paul,

Paul Ford: you, you really went for it.

Rich Ziade: They don’t care. They don’t care about what you think. You, they, you, you, they’re gonna do with it. They just don’t care.

Paul Ford: Here’s what people do. Nothing.

Rich Ziade: they do Well, no, it’s not even just that. They’re like, can I do this with that?

Because I, my, my son’s hockey league really needs, uh, schedule. And I’m like, well, it’s really not designed for that. They don’t care. They simply don’t care. They, they see it through their own lives. Uh, now look, well,

Paul Ford: well, no. Okay, so just literally it’s, you know how people say, um, when you have, have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Yeah, with software, every, everything looks like a hammer. Like they just hammer fi everything. So they’re like,

Rich Ziade: that’s a great

Paul Ford: Yeah, you just showed me something. They’re, they don’t even care about the nail. That’s right. They’re just like, that looks like a hammer to me. And you’re like, no, no, no.

That’s actually a screwdriver. They’re like, yeah, but look. And they just start smashing the nail with the bottom of the screwdriver, and you’re like, yeah. Okay.

Rich Ziade: [00:04:00] so let’s go to piece of advice number one.

Paul Ford: Oh my God, already. I,

Rich Ziade: I am someone who tries to put together a strategy that leaves, like leaves the options

Paul Ford: open.

Rich Ziade: for moving around. Right.

Paul Ford: Well, let me, let me contextualize why I’m laughing here, which is Rich is. Number one thing in life and business is to preserve optionality. You want, and, and this is really let, let’s break this down for a second cuz I don’t, people don’t think this way. Here’s how most people see business. We’re gonna get a plan and we’re gonna follow that plan and we’ll get our customers and then we’ll build a good business and we’ll get money.

Yes. Okay. That’s not how you see it. What you see is I’m gonna make as many bets as I can simultaneously observing each one. Yes.

Rich Ziade: And

Paul Ford: And then essentially the ones that don’t work [00:05:00] for, for better or for worse, kind of never happen. Like we’re just gonna get ’em out of our brains. This

Rich Ziade: how I think about marketing. Like marketing is so alien to me. I’m like, well, let’s buy, you know, one of every color and I’ll have all the scarves.

Paul Ford: so what, what happens as your business partner for many years, and this is I think where, where you and I work well together, you. Create tremendous. Your, the force of your personality, the decisions you make, maximize optionality to the point that it can actually be kind of confusing and freeze people cuz they don’t know you’re going in so many directions.

They don’t know which direction to go in.

Rich Ziade: and they’re looking for cues

Paul Ford: and you’re saying, yeah, I’m not gonna give you any cues. I need you to go in as many directions as

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: This is a very good and effective strategy for bringing things into the light really quickly. Yes, at enormous psychological cost. Thank

Rich Ziade: you, Paul. You’re welcome. Appreciate that.

Paul Ford: Well, no, I, what, what ha what’s, [00:06:00] what’s different is we now try to communicate and, and sort of isolate the psych psychological cost as opposed to just That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. And no, no business was more purely exemplary of this than an agency where 15 things are going on at once.

If you’re succeeding, I’m

Rich Ziade: sort of optimized for agency in a lot of

Paul Ford: So this is you’re, so you’re looking at a board and you’re seeing, okay, we have built a general purpose tool because we believe. That a lot of problems fall out of this kind of like a lot, this tool can solve a lot of problems for a lot of different people.

But the reality is you can’t market that.

Rich Ziade: Well, here’s the fatal thing that happens when you do that. When you put out a generic tool in the world is the burden of understanding why you want the thing shifts back to the user.

And the user just wants a grilled cheese sandwich.

Paul Ford: Or a tool for their sales team or to organize their beach house

Rich Ziade: They, I’ve been in meetings where [00:07:00] I, I could hear the echoes of the meeting just before me, where I didn’t, I wasn’t there, uh, coming through and them saying, can I just use it for that? Cuz that’s on my mind right now.

And what, what’s happening there,

Paul Ford: there?

Rich Ziade: which can be very jarring by the way, for an entrepreneur who’s building a product.

Paul Ford: very risky cuz it’s exciting to hear about use cases and then you immediately chase that use case infinitely.

Rich Ziade: If you want to make an operating system for people’s lives and you feel like you have the resources and the ambition and the drive to do it, then do it. Like, if that’s really your vibe and you think you’ve got you, you’re gonna build Windows 3.1 for everybody. Go for it, man. I wanna watch that. I’ll watch that documentary whichever way the movie ends.

Like I’ll watch

Paul Ford: a guy, I can’t remember the name of it.

I think it, no, I do remember. It’s called Serenity Os, and it’s like Windows 95. And a guy was in recovery from addiction and he was like, I’m gonna just make an operating system like clearly needed.

Rich Ziade: that sounds healthy for that

Paul Ford: He was building a whole new universe to replace the old one. Right, right. [00:08:00] And it’s really good and people use it and there’s a community around it and it’s kind of a clone of like mid nineties windows,

Rich Ziade: Oh funny.

Paul Ford: It’s very cool. Like the exact thing you’re describing. Yeah. If you’re a nerd like us, check out Serenity d os. It’s a good cultural project,

Rich Ziade: Is Sereni Serenity Os gonna unseat Microsoft or Apple? No, obviously,

Paul Ford: But it is, it’s adjunct to this individual’s quest for Serenity. Yes. As part of their recovery journey.

And that I, I just like, and I just wanna celebrate that story for a moment. That’s some good stuff. So

Rich Ziade: So here’s, here’s first piece of advice, uh, which I think I was gonna say about 15 minutes ago, but you interrupted me.

But this is a podcast with two people. This is

Paul Ford: a conversation. Yeah. No,

Rich Ziade: I’m being silly. First piece of advice, um, uh,

Paul Ford: Monday morning, rich, everybody,

Rich Ziade: re, the reason you want to keep options open is because you [00:09:00] want to have as many options as possible, right? The downside of that and the risk of that, but the o having too many options open means that users or pro prospective users are gonna glance at the window dressing and just keep walking.

Paul Ford: give it a name. I, I like to call it optionality freeze. Like you just get to a point where everything kind of cl it’s like, oh my God, we have so many options.

Rich Ziade: I’m just not gonna, you put the work on me.

Paul Ford: Yes, that’s right. I walked by the store. I.

Rich Ziade: do the work.

Paul Ford: I thought I was gonna go buy shoes and it’s got like five puppies in the window. I’m not gonna go in there.

Rich Ziade: I’m not gonna go in there and I don’t wanna understand it. And then the name of the store is, there’s a store upstate in upstate New York called like this, this, you know, the branding to be determined later is like the name of the store or something like that. I was like, really, really like, uh, okay, fine,

Paul Ford: fine, fine. Yeah. So

Rich Ziade: first piece of advice, um, alienate many users and embrace a few.

Paul Ford: I have faith in you. [00:10:00] As a product manager, I know you can do

Rich Ziade: When people are able to quickly connect the tool to their own lives, and you can do that through marketing, by the way. You don’t have to change your whole product so that it, it connects for certain people,

Paul Ford: on, let me, let me inter

Rich Ziade: stories, sharing narratives that people can relate to that are narrower and not like, you know, organize your life.

Are way more effective and you’ll have way more loyal users. Why bother? Why not go for it? Right. Well, there’s a few things that happen. Adoption is lower when it’s too generic because you’re making them do the

Paul Ford: Well, everybody uses Excel for everything these days, but it started as a way to add a lot of numbers. Yes.

Rich Ziade: So here’s the other risk.

Around being too generic. Um, you have, and I’m assuming this isn’t a fully fleshed out product, you’re on a roadmap. You have a team, you’re building stuff. You start to flail when trying to figure out what to go build [00:11:00] next, you have no idea. And what you do here is maybe the most important piece of advice I’ve ever shared on this podcast.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: It was very sheepish. Okay. Alright.

Paul Ford: right. Well, now I’m like, oh God. What? What are we gonna get? Yeah. Uh,

Rich Ziade: your path to salvation is never your next feature. Do you wanna know the path to salvation? Because you’re gonna have anxiety and, and, and hesitation and you’re like, you know, if we just build this one feature, it unlocks everything bulletin.

It never does.

Paul Ford: this is a joke that I keep making because there’s features that I really want in the product. Yeah. And ev, every time I talk about them, I go, and then if I get that, I’m gonna be really happy.

Rich Ziade: There’s no

Paul Ford: No. And, and, and then I tend to, then I like, but after that I’m also gonna need X, Y, and Z, but then I’ll be really happy.

Yeah. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: So how do you decide, what [00:12:00] if it’s not that, what is the path to salvation? I’ll tell you what the path to salvation is.

Paul Ford: Wow. You and all the other slightly mentally ill people on, on the subway. one. Okay. That’s the path to salvation.

Rich Ziade: It is the path to salvation.

Paul Ford: Well, you just reinforced every stereotype of yourself that anyone’s ever had in their entire life.

Rich, good job.

Rich Ziade: I’m saying is this. Let me give you two examples. Okay? If you have a revenue model, which we don’t have yet for a board by design, we don’t want one just yet. The zigzagging through the maze to get to the revenue pretty much aligns your whole team. Like it pretty much tells you like, we, we should.

Yeah, that sounds good. Dark boat sounds good, but here’s what I really need, because it gets me about three inches closer to money. And I don’t mean that in a, like a ugly, sinister way.

Paul Ford: way.[00:13:00]

Rich Ziade: Let me give you a second example and then turn the floor over to you. If the B, if the product is for groups and businesses that are gonna pay you, when they say, look, if you do these four or five things for me, I think I can pull the tr, I think I can sell this.

Right? That is incredibly illuminating. Why? Because it isn’t. Wondering if this feature is the one that everyone’s gonna fall in love with. Someone told you, if you do this for me, I will give you money.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. Maybe.

Rich Ziade: maybe’s good enough for me, by the way, maybe is how you build an agency. In fact, maybe is, is, is, is the threshold.

Uh, if you do that for me, I might be able to get, I might be able to sell this internally. Great. I’ll be back. Gimme two weeks.

Paul Ford: You and I violently agree on this. There’s a moment they were having some trouble at Google. I don’t remember the exact story, but it was early days and Marissa Meyer was at Google working on Google Maps or search or whatever, okay.

And they, something wasn’t working and the team was fighting and so on and so forth. And Eric Schmidt. Who was the CEO at [00:14:00] the time stuck his head in the door and said, revenue solves all problems.

Rich Ziade: I mean, it sounds cold and

Paul Ford: No, it’s not cold. It is. It’s why we’re in business and I think that, uh, What I’ve noticed about the world, and I think this is, I’m gonna bring this back to us, but also to, to everyone.

We’ve, we’ve given this advice before, and this is real, most people don’t know what business they’re in. Like I think if you went to Microsoft has hundreds of thousands of employees. Yeah. Many of them don’t know where the revenue comes in. They just know that they work on my, well

Rich Ziade: trace the, the like dotted line from this. Point to that point, to this point. To that

Paul Ford: I am in charge of the LinkedIn API integration with the Microsoft Word tool that will allow you to auto update your resume. Yeah. Okay. Now, true product managers of very large organizations, we, we often talk about PM in a kind of spiritual way, but the actual [00:15:00] role of PM in the industry and program management is to identify revenue paths and then build products around them.

Rich Ziade: Oh no. Like a good pm Like the product manager at the shampoo manufacturer.

Paul Ford: is an mba.

Rich Ziade: No, it’s not just that. They literally like, you know what? I, we just did a study in, in, in the south. If this, if the bottle is like 10% brighter green sales go up 4%.

Paul Ford: That’s right. Well, and the

Rich Ziade: And they go back with that data. Right. Product managers have a feedback loop from the market back into the agenda.

Paul Ford: Well, what they have is a platform that has distribution, that has products inside of it and so on. And they say, this kind of marketing, this kind of feature set, and we think we’re gonna get, achieve a run rate within 18 months of X and x X better be like millions of dollars a month or hundreds of millions.

So, so you and I. What is an entrepreneur? What is a founder in this context? And I’m gonna tell you,

Rich Ziade: go [00:16:00] ahead and I then I want to tell you,

Paul Ford: good, I, I’m sure a founder is someone who doesn’t know what business they’re in

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: is, as opposed to an employee who often just accepts that situation, decides to go find out.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes,

Paul Ford: Yeah. And that’s what we’re doing. We don’t know what business we’re in with our product. That’s a ridiculous situation for any human being to find

Rich Ziade: Yes. And that, and, and what I’m feeling, and I’m gonna be just self-reflective for a moment here is that’s not tolerable for me for too long.

And it’s starting to bear down on me. And I, I need some clarity directionally, about where to drive this effort and this team and everything. And I think that’s healthy. Like I, I think to build big, audacious things, you do need to tell money to wait outside for a bit.

Paul Ford: Yeah. Well,

Rich Ziade: but you know what, it’s starting to leak through the bottom of the [00:17:00] door.


Paul Ford: Like, well, that’s where we’re at. Right. I think they’re, we’ve, I’ve known entrepreneurs who’ve been very, very successful. They’ll, they would take another year

Rich Ziade: and that’s it. Look, that, that if we see traction, we may decide to do that. We’re like, okay, there’s, there are people falling in love with this for these three reasons.

Let’s keep going. Let’s hang back cuz once money is in the picture, all, all of your agenda. Gets reshuffled. Once you take money from anyone, a lot of other things

Paul Ford: can. No, that’s it. You, there’s literally a contract involved. This

Rich Ziade: There’s literally a contract involved. What is your refund workflow? Now, your product manager who is innovating on your tool, is spending three weeks on the refund process.


Paul Ford: the most important thing in your own goes from being the product to being the Stripe integration.

Rich Ziade: All of it. All of

Paul Ford: like, that’s the most important thing. If, if the product’s down, that’s a bad day. If the Stripe integration is down, we’re all gonna die

Rich Ziade: here. Here’s, here’s what a product manager. Probably would rather not hear, um, when are we [00:18:00] supporting coupon codes?

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: It’s real.

Paul Ford: But that’s the real stuff.

Rich Ziade: That’s the real stuff. Um, I wanna close with this. If you look at a lot of the startups that are out there,

Paul Ford: there, uh,

Rich Ziade: succeeded the early days. What you find is the founders go into an intense sales mode. Mm-hmm. I was just reading yesterday that the founder of Pinterest emailed 5,000 people with his cell number.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: To essentially lean forward and say, I’m here to hell. I’m here. I want to understand what’s going

Paul Ford: cracks me up though is I think you and I, this is agency, like we live in that mode. You’re like, yeah. I’m like, yeah, okay, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll do that. Yeah. That doesn’t feel intense.

Rich Ziade: doesn’t feel intense. And, and, and the truth is that early hustle and the superhuman founder would like, make you get your credit.

We heard, we’ve heard this from firsthand stories. Make you get your credit card out on the call to, to put it in and say, look, I want you to try this and use it, and I wanna know what you like about it. I wanna share my screen. I’m gonna send up your email. That’s a power move,

Paul Ford: you know, one of the best. [00:19:00] When you listed a job on Stack Overflow back in the day and you, if you put your phone number in but didn’t finish the form,

Rich Ziade: it’s like, whoa.

Paul Ford: no, no, no. You’d get a phone call. Hey, that’s brilliant. Yeah, I want to help you finish that.

Rich Ziade: I mean, what we’re talking about here is really connecting with humans in the end, right? Like you could build just the most glorious, elegant tool, but you’re gonna have to connect with people somehow

Paul Ford: Well, revenue solves all problems. Okay? And so we don’t know quite what business we’re in right now.

And that’s the loop. We have to create that loop, right? We need to go create paths that will drive revenue in. Yes. And that is what’s gonna solve the problem, not us coming up with 50 new features.

Check out

Rich Ziade: out aboard.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts good and bad. Uh, also get the word out about this just remarkably insightful podcast called Ziti and Ford Advisors. Uh, hit us up at hello@zitiford.com. Glad to answer any questions. We love mail [00:20:00] bags.

Paul Ford: We do. It’ll be time for another one soon.

Rich Ziade: Yes. And follow us on at Ziti Ford on Twitter. Uh, Good discussion, Paul. I’m enjoying this journey

Paul Ford: we’re getting there.

Rich Ziade: We’re getting there. Have a lovely day.

Paul Ford: Bye.

More Ziade+Ford Advisors
RSSApple PodcastSpotify