SaaS Founder Interview with Cody Miles, Founder of Ashore

Tony Zayas 0:06
Everybody welcome to the SaaS Founder Show. It’s Tony Zayas joined with Andy Halko. We are on this show here to talk to SaaS Founders really hear about the journey all the way everything from the origin and the idea and how they validated that product idea and took it out to the market and where they’re at now. So, Andy, how are you doing today?

Andy Halko 0:30
I’m doing fantastic hanging out. How about you, Tony?

Tony Zayas 0:34
Yeah, doing well. I moved inside today. Yesterday. We’re outside today you’re inside.

Andy Halko 0:39
I know. Yesterday I for the show. I was dripping sweat the entire time. figured this time, like, cool off a little bit on the inside. Yeah, here. Yeah. So I’m excited. You know, I’m a software junkie I, I learned how to program early on in my career and just love to build and play with software as we’ve grown. So I’m excited to hear about today’s founder, what do we have?

Tony Zayas 1:04
Yeah, so we have Cody Miles, he is the founder of Ashore. Ashore is an online proofing system built for high velocity creatives, then 50% By automating the approval process, and improving the quality of feedback from approvers. So you really has a tie in kinda to the creative side of things. Let’s bring Cody in and we can hear all about it from the man. Hey, Cody!

Cody Miles 1:31
Thank you guys so much for having me. Appreciate it.

Tony Zayas 1:34
Yeah, we’re excited to have you on here today. Let me move the screen around a little bit. Go. And I guess to get started, Cody would love to hear just about the origin. Where did Ashore come from? Where did you come up with the idea concept? And how did you you know, decide to turn that into a product and a business?

Cody Miles 1:55
Well, you guys are agency founders too. So you probably shared some of the same experiences that I had. But way back in 2014, I had founded a small creative agency called Grand Cave. And really shortly into that venture, there were a few common themes, some issues that I was constantly running into when it came to clients. Those were primarily it was often difficult to get responses on collateral that we were sending. When we sent collateral, it was difficult to understand the feedback that we were getting. So they’re often required, follow up meetings just to discuss feedback. There, there was time spent and following up there was burnout and the number of revisions. So there were a lot of challenges that we faced and even as a very small context, in an agency and I had experienced prior and previous roles, I was creative director at a large PR firm, before the brand cave. And at some point, we determined that there could be an automated solution for this, something that improved the quality of feedback that automated the process and ultimately saved creatives from experiencing burnout. So about 2015, we started prototyping the software.

Tony Zayas 3:17
That’s cool. I was gonna ask about that. So it’s about five, more than five years now that you guys have been at this. So what was the what was the moment when you realized, you know, you had these challenges, running the agency in the proofing process and all that, when did you come up with that concept to say, hey, let’s build this out. And let’s like turn it into its own product was like for that.

Cody Miles 3:44
It’s just something that is inherent in the work that people like you guys, and like I did. At the agency that I worked at, two people were full-time employees that were staffed adjusted box check, right that they were supposed to follow up and make sure projects got approved, because in a creative agency context unless you’re in a model where you get to Bill hourly, at the end of the month or whatever that looks like, you’re often billing at milestones half upfront half at the end 1/3 of the front 1/3 at a milestone. So when those projects don’t hit milestones, agencies don’t get paid, right? So there’s not necessarily a moment where it was like, Aha, like this has always been an issue for agencies since the dawn of time, right. What it became for me though, was a process and prototyping and iterating in and coming up with something that eventually we found a lot of people who’ve had to share the same issue

Tony Zayas 4:44
And so was that the initial build out was that something like for internal purposes?

Cody Miles 4:50
Yeah, that’s exactly it. We so what we did, we built it for internal purposes initially, but we also separately creating created a landing page and We started just allowing people to sign up for a data and allowing them to test it out. So, you know, ashore was a bootstrap company we never took on funding ashore was funded from the efforts of the creative agency, I ran for the Brand Cave. So one thing we did in addition to that was I met with every major creative director in Austin, at the time, and I asked them if they were experiencing the same issues that I was experiencing and running my agency. They all said emphatically, yes. And then I showed them the early prototypes for shore. And I asked them if this was a solution that they would be interested in having. And they all said, yes. So very quickly, it moved from being an internal product to being something that we put on the market. So even at the time, when we released the beta version to the people who had requested access, that was already 400 different accounts. And then today, we’re just under 15,000 users.

Andy Halko 6:03
I’m curious about the evolution one thing that I always thinking in spinning a software product out of an existing company, you have that challenge of, you know, doing the work that feeds you, and building a product and you know, where to which one takes priority. So I’m kind of curious about the the journey there, you know, how did how did it happen, that you were able to build this product in tandem? And then what happened with Brand cave, you know, as the product evolve?

Cody Miles 6:34
Yeah, that’s a good question. So Brand cave, funded a short, right. Therefore, the success of Brand cave was paramount, right, in order to continue getting funding for ashore, since we’re not, or never did went after external funding sources. So there are these parallel and dual lean priorities right. At the end of the day, the highest priority is always to move into the prod every service company, every agency, at some point wants to have a product, right? I mean, to tell me an agency that hasn’t tried in the same was true for us as well. So there is absolutely dueling priorities. But at the end of the day, the highest priority always came down to Ashore. So brand cave exists only as a tangential thing. It’s not just not a company that that is seeking growth. And in fact, employees at Brand cave are transitioning to ashore, and at some point Ashore will have everybody at Brand cave as well. Yeah, that’s that makes sense.

Andy Halko 7:45
It does and that’s always that that challenge? Did you ever hit moments? Where it was, it was hard to determine that, that priority for Ashore over Brand cave?

Cody Miles 7:58
Well, building a product is much harder than building an agency. If you can drive it, I’m sure you understand that. What the thing about when you’re running a creative agency, right? You typically have all the skills that are required for fallback, right, if something if an employee leaves, if someone’s sick, there’s usually some level of redundancy. But when you’re bootstrapping a software company, and something is on fire, and you mentioned earlier that you’re a programmer, if you’re not one, and you don’t have those fallback skills, you’re a little bit weak at the knees, right? So I think the difficulty is that right? Building a successful software company requires a lot of skills, and nobody has all of those skills.

Andy Halko 8:48
Now, do you have a technical background? And were you paramount in the product development? Or did you hire folks in to do that for you?

Cody Miles 8:56
So initially, I hired contractors to build the first version of ashore and this ended up this is a longer story, but it ended up in us having to rebuild the entire product. A few years after the MVP was released. I did all the UX, and I continue, I have a strong presence and the building of ashore. It’s something I’m super passionate about. I love building great user experiences. So I have a strong presence in the UX and also in the front end, even today. But on the onset of ashore, it was originally me doing UX and other people building it and the issue that came with that is if you don’t have the proper it’s kind of like hiring a lawyer or an attorney. Right. If you if you don’t know what a good attorney looks like, chances are you’re not going to hire a good one, right? The same thing is true for developers. And if you don’t know what good, efficient, elegant code looks like, especially on the back ends, you could be setting yourself up for failure. And that was the issue that I experienced really early on, we ran into architecture, problems that made our velocity creep down. It ran into unpredictable issues early on. So remember, we we launched with about 400 different accounts and a beta phase. And then very shortly afterward, it was determined that if we’re going to do this, right, if we’re going to make this enterprise grade, we need to, we need to build it in a enterprise way. Right. So at that point, we saw this as this was an MVP that just validated the idea showed that we could gain customers that we could gain revenue. What we eventually did was rebuilt the entire product on dotnet core on the back end view on the front end, and made something that also took all of the feedback from the previous two years, and made something that people love today. So that product was released on January 14 2020.

Tony Zayas 11:05
It’s very cool. I’d be curious. You so imagine that most of the team’s pretty grand cave has moved over to ashore the kind of the process, I would be curious to hear how your role has evolved. With, you know, the from the starting point launching ashore to today, how is your day-to-day changed? How has your role been overseen? You know, both sides? Both companies, what does that look like today?

Cody Miles 11:37
Yeah, it’s significant. So, especially when you’re bootstrapping a company, it requires you to be a workhorse, right? And as long as you’re on the front lines, it’s really difficult to think like a sea-level, right? It’s difficult to think long term is difficult to communicate strategy and vision. Unfortunately, the reality is like Paul Graham has an essay on it to be a successful startup, you have to do unscalable things right? Airbnb started by sleeping on people’s couches, right? going door to door and getting people to sign up that way. It’s a necessary evil and building software companies. As the company gains more success, I get to have a position of leading other people, right. And that’s kind of the most fulfilling thing about building and growing a company is I get to take a slight step back, I can be as hard and as deep into the software as I want to be or need to be. But the model of leadership that I’m taking on, is not the model of leadership, where there is a charismatic leader at the top directing the forces, right and giving the vision and strategy that’s not a model of leadership that is scalable, because when you leave the company leaves with you, right, so the better vision for leadership is something where the CEO is the architect, right, who’s thinking like an engineer who’s working under scalability terms, and empowering different departments to meet their own goals. So for example, last night, we had most of our team is in Austin, and we had short nights, but we call them and we had a retro on q2, we had goal planning for q3. In each department. We the flywheel is sales support, marketing, and at the center of its products for each of these four departments. We sat down and said, What are the things that we want to accomplish in q3, and then my goal for all of those goals that were set is to empower with resources with time with advice with my empowerment for them, right. And that’s how the model of leadership has to work moving forward.

Andy Halko 13:58
He talked about going out and getting feedback from people in your local community. I’m always interested in the beta process because we talked to a lot of folks where they do vaporware. And they kind of pretend that they have an app just so that they can get feedback. Other folks that I’ve heard, you know, they’ll spend two years developing something before they start getting, you know, a lot of feedback. How did you think through like, this is the feature set for the beginning? Here’s who I want to bring in and what I want to get back and how we were gonna iterate on this product.

Cody Miles 14:34
Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a great point. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow challenge? Something that, was developed by the founder of Autodesk Tom, I can’t remember his last name. The challenge is essentially this you get teams together and you challenge them to create a freestanding structure with a marshmallow at the top right and the team with the tallest freestanding structure is going to win this challenge repeated over and over again. And the data behind the challenge shows that at the end of the day, kindergarteners tend to perform the best. So, business school students perform the worst on average, engineers typically perform the very best CEOs do not perform well, CEOs plus executive admins perform a little bit better. And what this shows us is kindergarteners tend to perform best because they’re constantly iterating, prototyping and refining. And this cycle is just kind of moving, right? Whereas if you’re a business school student, you’re typically you’re creating a plan upfront, you’re spending too much time on that plan. And then you’re executing and not you’re writing, right, you’re staying with the plan, and then you fail, right. So it’s an interesting data set. And it applies to every level of building a company in software. So while we had to go through the growing pains of rebuilding ashore, right when we released it back in January of last year, what we did do successfully built an MVP that validated the idea early. And it wasn’t vaporware, right, it was a real product. It came with its issues, right there where there were times that it made me want to scream, right, I got off an airplane one time, I didn’t have any I had lost my only developer team, my only person working on the software. And I got off an airplane and I had received like 20 text messages, support messages, emails, saying something was on fire. And I just wanted to scream at there was nothing I could do, right. But the benefit of building software in the way we did was we had this very tight feedback loop. And we didn’t spend two years we spent six months. So with all the disadvantages, I would say one thing it did do was it helped us get feedback quickly.

Andy Halko 16:54
And expand on the feedback piece. The other thing that always drives me when I’m talking to folks about this is how do you evaluate good feedback. And, you know, you’ve got some folks that will come and tell you what you want to hear you have other people that are going to be extremely critical because maybe they’ve got some sort of motivation. How did you as you spoke to people, as you had beta users? How did you take in various feedback, and then be able to process that into something really valuable for the growth of the product?

Cody Miles 17:30
That’s a really great question. For me, it comes down to two things versus the target audience. And the second is never implementing feedback the way that your target audience wants it implemented. And what I mean by that is, people who don’t build software or are just users of the software, they think they know the best way that they would want to implement it. But at the end of the day, it’s usually not something that works into a pattern, it could be an anti-pattern, it’s probably not thought out as much as it should be. So I take every ounce of feedback, I discredit the feedback that is not from our primary users or power users, I spend less time on the features that they’re requesting. But for the target audiences that we’ve identified, and there are two primaries, and they have the overarching theme of high-velocity creatives who send multiple deliverables per day. So typically creative agencies, and then what turned out to be a $2 billion industry and promotional apparel products. Those people, when they have feedback, we listened to it, but we almost never implemented the way that they asked for.

Andy Halko 18:48
And it was funny, I had like deja vu and you said that but not in a bad way. Because I think that other founders have echoed that same, you know, the sediment of their approach. And I love when I hear things multiple times because that helps our viewers understand that there are these great ways to do stuff. So yeah.

Tony Zayas 19:12
Cody, something that you just hinted at was communicating, you know, a vision out to the team. I do want to hear about that. But first, I would like to hear a little bit about the team. You know, what does the team look like? You said most of them are there in Austin, and what are the roles and so on?

Cody Miles 19:29
So we’re a small team. Like, like Craigslist, they only had 14 developers, right? They still only have 14 developers. We have two developers. We have two customer successes. We have two marketing and then there’s me and one HR.

Tony Zayas 19:48
Cool. How do you go about really, you know, you have the you know, you’re the founder. You came up with this concept? How do you communicate your big picture vision out to your team? And how have you done that along the way? Because for you, this is something that is somewhat obvious what you’re seeking to accomplish with your product. But as people come on board as their, you know, brick on new, they begin working on the project, whatever it is, how do you? How do you go about doing that, that’s something that we’d like to talk about, always find value.

Cody Miles 20:30
it comes down to shared mission and values. We began with a mission statement that was really poorly planned, it was to increase the joy between approvers and creatives. That mission is a really narrow focus. What we have shifted to is a mission statement that says we want to make collaboration accessible to everyone. And what that means for us, and what it means in the long term, is that we get to help people communicate in the same language, right? If you’re a designer, or you’re an audio engineer, or you do video, and you send a deliverable to someone, that person may not be a professional, they might speak when they when they’re talking about an audio file, and they’re saying there’s this like, weird thing on maybe the high end, and you’re like, actually, that’s air, or when you’re talking about a PDF, then they’re saying there’s this like dosing on top of the image, you’re like, yeah, that’s opacity. What a short does well is it makes things contextual, it makes feedback contextual. So you don’t have to know the right language, right. And the long-term vision of ashore is to improve on the collaboration so that the time that creatives spend in revision cycles is less, right. So the time spent in following up with approvers is less, or it’s automated ashore has an entire suite of workflow automation, so that when your internal stage is approved, it automatically goes to the customer stage, and so on, that those things are needed in your organization. So making collaboration, something that we can do without being on the phone without being in meetings takes less time than decreases the level of burnout and creative agencies. That’s what I’m trying to solve. And that’s the vision, right? So if I can properly communicate that to employees, then we have a shared experience right there that we can move forward on.

Tony Zayas 22:45
So you made the adjustment, kind of to the mission? How did that happen? When did you realize that the mission as it was spelled out was a little too narrow? And that you needed to change it? And how did you get to where you’re at today?

Cody Miles 23:02
You know, it’s one of those things where, if I had asked any of our employees what the mission statement of a chore was, they wouldn’t be able to communicate it back to me. So it was really simple, it was a really simple problem to identify because no one’s taking it to heart, right. So if no one can repeat it back and forth, every time we meet, we’re all saying it together verbatim. And you still can’t repeat it back to me, I’ve failed in communicating the value behind that mission statement. So when we developed the new one, I proposed it to the group, we discuss the merits of it. And together we decided this is the mission that we want to use moving forward.

Andy Halko 23:45
So for all of our bootstrap founders out there, how did you get those first beta users? And then how did you start scaling into, you know, real users paid users? Yeah. I think especially for the bootstrap folks, you know, they don’t have a lot of cash throughout marketing. How did you make that happen?

Cody Miles 24:08
Primarily the Inbound Marketing methodology. Okay. So beginning with a landing page, beginning with content marketing, writing articles, again, we had the advantage of having the power of brand cave behind us so we can churn content out quickly. We know how to do keyword research properly, we knew how to create an effective SEO strategy. So these are the things that we have been doing for b2b technology clients for years, right since 2014. So when we started applying those same methods to assure we knew what would work and what would have the highest ROI. Today ashore has social media channels. It’s the thing we spend the least amount of time investing in because at the end of the day, a bootstrap company with limited resources, we already know that social media is going to have the lowest ROI of any b2b technology marketing activity, right? Not to say it’s without merit, absolutely does have merit. But if you’re going to pick and choose where you’re going to send your resources, I know for a fact that we’re going to have the highest amount of resources when it comes to or the highest amount of impact when it comes to content marketing, to PPC, specifically in AdWords, and then, you know, doing HARO, and outreach and link building and ethical ways.

Andy Halko 25:32
And is that evolved for you over time, like you started out with the inbound, have you expanded to other different, you know, tactics, and whether that includes, you know, paid as well as affiliate or anything like that.

Cody Miles 25:46
So something that we have been experimenting with lately is partnerships through other organizations, we did a month-long partnership at the end of last year with dribble for familiarity within the design community. And that included display ads that included sponsored articles that we wrote on their behalf. And that was a really interesting experiment, it didn’t have the ROI that I would have expected compared to our normal activities. But those are the things that, you know, you begin a kind of experimenting on emerging out from when you have successful strategies elsewhere. The other things, of course, you can double down on and that’s obviously what we’ve done is the resources have expanded. We also, in this past year have taken on some reseller partners, and that has not been affiliate but actual resellers or our product has been integrated into other software products. And that is probably the most promising growth strategy that we have.

Andy Halko 26:53
Yeah, and for those bootstrappers out there, again, it was there any, like main catalyst or one thing that you think really impacted that, you know, free trial, sign up, or paid signup?

Cody Miles 27:07
Oh, you mean in terms of the actual site itself. So we experimented a lot with a website, we did things where we would show pricing on the site, we would not show pricing with a be tested, we ended up discovering that our conversion rate was twice as high when we showed pricing on the site. So that was interesting and useful to know. We experimented with the language of starting the free trial versus starting a free account, we had both of them at different points, we discovered that the free trial works better strategically, as well as from a lead conversion standpoint. And in plenty of other things, we AV test on the marketing side all the time, we’re constantly running test. We also in terms of like a catalyst, some of the things we have experienced the most amount of immediate growth from we were on top of product time last year. And that led to a lot of growth as well.

Tony Zayas 28:10
Shifting gears a little bit. Here, a bit about, you know, the community that you kind of surround yourself with, from, you know, an entrepreneurial founder standpoint. What does that look like? Who do you know, who are your support resources, people you bounce ideas off? Go to for advice? I would love to hear about, you know, that community in Austin, I know it’s, it’s, it’s a good community for that space. I just like to hear what that looks like for you.

Cody Miles 28:43
Yeah, this is what I love about Austin. People here are kinds, they are all too willing to share their experiences. And thankfully, Boston has become a tech hub. I am very close friends with, you know, people just like me who bootstrapped, who took a million-dollar company made it a $5 million company took it a $10 million company. These are people I call friends. And they’re also very talented and experienced businessmen that I get to learn from picking their brains on. So just about once a week, I’ll meet with one of them, and I’ll get them drunk, and then I’ll have them share all of their secrets. So,,

Tony Zayas 29:29
Yeah, I’ve always heard that, you know, the best. The best speakers come out at the bar. So that’s where I come from. So yeah, yeah, it’s cool.

Andy Halko 29:39
Tony, that means we’re gonna have to start asking our guests to drink during the day.

Cody Miles 29:44
Who says I’m not doing it already?

Andy Halko 29:46
Yeah, that’s okay. Don’t get it. Yeah, I think mentorship is such a ePiece of growing a company. Have you used any other interests? networks are groups to for mentorship and just helping you, you know, go through this journey.

Cody Miles 30:08
So what’s interesting is I’m not part of the Oh, and I’m not part of some of these other groups. Seven CTOs is a really big one that I’m also tangentially related to. What’s weird is that because of my relationships with the people in these groups, I am essentially like a quasi part of the group. Like, I’m going to the events, and I’m friends with business coaches, but I’m not actually part of the group. It’s like, I’m just leeching off my friends, essentially. That right, yeah, yeah. So so I can’t officially say I’m part of 17 years, and I can’t officially say I’m part of the or UAE. But in some ways, yeah.

Andy Halko 30:51
Well, I mean, you know, the group so that, you know, obviously, you know, the types of relationships that are valuable that come out of that

Cody Miles 31:00
You have and to be fair, like, one of my friends just completed ELA and had a really, really transformative experience. So I can only say, you know, high praise for these kind of organizations, I think they’re extremely valuable. If you can’t have the non formal relationships where you can take these guys to a bar and get one on one with them. And yeah, I mean, the next best thing is being in a formal group.

Andy Halko 31:29
Yeah, it’s great. Now, just kind of talking backed up product a little bit. Sure. So how have you managed roadmap, we talked about feedback a little bit. But one of the things that I always liked as founders is, you’re probably like me, and you’re probably like, a lot of them as you have a million ideas. Right? And you’re always thinking about this. And so, you know, how do you and maybe it goes back to what you talked about with feedback is does it match the target audience these other things, but still, I mean, you have a lot of ideas. It’s always cycling through your head. How do you manage the that chaos and develop a roadmap? that’s right for your product?

Cody Miles 32:18
Yeah, great question. So developers hate shifting priorities. So you try to limit this as much as possible. We have a roadmap that blocks out goals for each quarter of the year, right, and what we intend to accomplish. Those goals sometimes shift. It’s not fun for anyone, right? Ideally, we have our plan for the year. And that’s just how we’re going to continue moving forward. Those goals shift when customers leave. Because of x, right? Maybe it’s lack of feature, maybe there was some experience that they wanted better in one particular feature or another. Maybe it was buggy, maybe it was a multitude of things. But all of that has to be tracked, right. And those things should be shifting our development goals. At the end of the day, if I generate 10 new customers, and I lose five at the end of the month, I’m not doing a good job, right. So churn early on. And building especially bootstrapping a software company is the most important thing that to look out for in terms of what’s going to kill your growth. If the same is true, it’s it costs less to keep a customer than it is to create a new one. So in terms of shifting priorities, and how that affects the roadmap, blockers, and for not subscribing for not becoming a customer. And reasons for churn are the things that change that roadmap, and my ideas. Because you’re bootstrapped, and the resources are more limited and safe, we became a $10 million series company it becomes even more important to hold the roadmap close to your chest.

Andy Halko 34:22
How do you look at churn? We actually talked a lot about churn on various shows and things. How do you look at it? Because I would say, you know, there’s a lot of things that go into it. I mean, it could be functionality in strategy, it can be UI UX, could be even you brought the wrong target audience to dry application. And that happens even before they sign up. How do you measure churn? How do you look at it? How do you approach?

Cody Miles 34:52
I think that’s a growing discussion in an organization and I think it will always be right I Don’t know that we’ve solved the I mean, ideally, we want to hit 0%. You’re obviously, right. We want people to stay with us for the next 10 years. Right now, on average customers are with us between, you know, 15 and 18 months. So that’s not a bad LTV. It, that’s a great LTV. But how can I extend that twice as much? What are the reasons people are leaving, it’s identifying these things, categorizing them, and then reprioritizing based on those things. So if the feedback is coming in that we have lost X amount of customers for y reason, maybe y is the new priority. And there are also other things that can be done to mitigate churn. And these are things that we are experimenting with. Even right now. We spend a lot of time helping customers experience the full value of ashore after they sign up every single new account is given, we have two Customer Success reps. One of them is assigned to the account, that person is made to make sure that there is the proper amount of training given and made available to the organization that signed up that they realize the full benefits of ashore, everything from being able to white label the URL to integrate into your email to all these other things, making sure that there is a sequence and an automated sequence of what we call the welcome packet, right. So that here are these resources, you need to know the very first things you need to do after creating your account. You’re the second thing and one day, three days four days is making sure you have an expansive knowledge base so that you can anticipate these questions and spend less time in support calls on support chats. And it is making sure that within the UI itself, things are properly explained through tooltips through product tours, through a UI and UX that makes sense and is intuitive. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a self-service product, a fully self-service. We can debate this all day long. Not even Dropbox is a fully self-service product. So what are the things that can be done to mitigate it?

Andy Halko 37:25
It’s great, what one other thing that kind of goes into churn for me a little bit. And I think that a lot of founders struggle with is pricing. How do we price our product? How did you guys get there? Has it been a constantly changing journey? Yeah. Did you go out and compare it? What kind of tactics did you take the determined pricing for your product?

Cody Miles 37:50
Really early on, our pricing was about half of the market, what the market was charging for a product similar to ours. And we could get away with that because one, we were validating the idea to be bootstrapped. So I’m not beholding to anybody. To do that. Of course, I’m in the business of ashore, because I want to make money for myself and my family. Right. So early on, it was more or less a marketing strategy to gain users. During beginning in March, and throughout COVID, we’ve raised our pricing three times. And it comes down to one, we always want to be our customers provide more value than they do and also at a more affordable rate. And they do. So that’s important. And we can do that because we’re Bootstrap. But to we want to know what our threshold is, how much is the market willing to pay? And I think, you know, for lack of a more definite strategy, it’s experimenting, a B testing on pricing. And that’s what we’ve been doing. So we’ve increased pricing three times in the last year. Our products, our skews skew toward the enterprise. So even now, we’re probably pricing too low for our product. Because people are more often than not, not always, but more often than not taking our highest and pricing.

Andy Halko 39:24
Kind of just to add on to that too. How did you determine to gear towards enterprise versus mid market small business? Was there something conscious about that or how did you come to that?

Cody Miles 39:39
It’s probably a misnomer. When I say enterprise we have a pricing plan called enterprise which for us means unlimited everything, unlimited users, unlimited proofs to send per month. And it’s probably just as true to say that SMBs will purchase the enterprise plan.

Andy Halko 39:59
Okay, so When you said that you’re not necessarily saying that you’re trying to go after enterprise clients, it’s more that pricing structure that makes sense.

Cody Miles 40:07
The sales cycle for our enterprise clients is twice as long, right. And oftentimes people will make a purchase decision within the first 20 days after signing up for Ashore. Sometimes it is on the first day. It’s not uncommon for that to be a single-day decision. And so that the markets that we’re going after, probably so your if you look at proofing software in terms of, it’s under the umbrella of project management, right? So project management is the largest umbrella, right, and then you have a niche of project management, which is proofing requirements. If you if project management software requires an entire creative agency, not all of them are sending deliverables for approval, right. So that’s a segment of those people. So I mean, we have Coca-Cola and Adidas using ashore, we have BuzzFeed using shore. Because of the nature of proof in software, it’s a smaller team at these organizations, then all of the details are all of Coca Cola, for example. Does that make sense? Yeah. So, the sales cycle is always longer for enterprise companies. And that’s mostly because they have stricter requirements, right? They want to see penetration tests, they want to see other things. But the average number of users in a given account will range anywhere from you six to 20. On average, a not huge amount of users. That makes sense.

Tony Zayas 41:23
Yeah. Cody mentioned, you know, the attention that you guys pay to make sure your customers understand the capabilities that ashore has, and really how to use it and all that, that makes a lot of sense. I’d be curious to hear how that relates to what channels do you guys have in place to collect user feedback? And then how do you process that? So how do you organize it, prioritize that address it, so on and so forth, for purposes of, you know, great future growth, whether that’s something that needs to go into the FAQ, support chatbot, or if it’s something to be added to the roadmap. So just curious, the collection and processing of feedback,

Cody Miles 42:45
I would say 90% of the feedback, this is an estimated number, I don’t know it off the top of my head 90% of the feedback that we receive is in-app through the chat. So we’re we have a bot collecting the data. And if a support person is online, then we’re immediately responding. And, and working out whatever that feedback might be, right? Whether it’s like, I don’t know how to use this, or I have a feature request or whatever. And all of that feedback is added to our roadmap, no matter what, if we have a certain feature card, we are tagging the customers to that card. And later on, whenever the feature is released, we always let those specific customers know as well. But that data also helps us prioritize. We talked earlier about that shifting roadmap priority and how features get rearranged. That is ultimately how we’re doing that. So customers attended to feature cards, we know the priority because if the customer was is within our target audience, and there’s a lot of those requesting a specific thing. We know that should become a priority.

Andy Halko 43:55
No, that you’ve done this, has there been any major roadblock or challenge that you can share with our group just because I think we learned the most from those big challenges or mistakes that we make. So you know, I’m sure the journey has not been smooth sailing. What can you share with our viewers about, you know what you’ve run into?

Cody Miles 44:22
Yeah, I mean, ultimately, I shared it earlier, the biggest challenge that we ran into was our MVP, right? It was a product that worked, okay, right. But it had velocity issues, it had architecture issues. The biggest challenge was deciding to rewrite. People say that there is no ROI and rewriting. That’s probably true for the most part unless you’re going to have a much higher philosophy in the rewrite after the rewrite. And the challenge was also not only was it a complete rewrite completely new UI completely new features read on everything we have it also migrated users from the original product to the new product, which had higher pricing immediately when we launched it, and convincing users that it was worth paying twice as much for something that did really similar features to what they were used to. That was a challenge. But it was a much harder challenge getting off that airplane, and I had no developers working on my product, and it’s on the fire. And my inbox is full of support chats, and the feeling of helplessness. And that kind of situation is not something I would ever want to repeat.

Andy Halko 45:44
So, you know, we know that you mentioned, outsourcing the first data build, and then bringing people in. And one of the biggest challenges I think, right now is finding good software folks. You know, everybody’s facing it. At this juncture, a lot of our founders talk about finding a CTO partner, because it’s such a big challenge that they need to really entice someone to come in and be part of the company. So how did you solve that problem? How did you find the right folks? And you know, especially in an area that I think is very, you know, there’s a lot of demand and very little supply.

Cody Miles 46:29
Andy, you, you hit the nail on the head, so the answer is finding a CTO, and I did. Our CTO is a savant. He’s an incredibly talented person with great leadership skills, who knows what goat good code looks like who covets beautiful elegant code bases, but also balances that with business priorities, and making sure that our goals are accomplished? He’s the reason for your success today.

Andy Halko 47:06
How’d you? How’d you find that person? I mean, again, for those folks that are out there, maybe thinking about building a product and they’re going where do i Where do I even start? How did that work? Yeah, you?

Cody Miles 47:19
Yeah, he’s a friend. And that’s it. The challenge there was, I knew who he was. I knew who he was, as a person, I knew that I could trust him. The challenge was convincing him to join our products. And taking that big shift and responsibility into this life.

Andy Halko 47:44
Yeah. Okay. That’s yeah,

Cody Miles 47:46
I got lucky in that regard. Because we talk a little bit early, it’s like, looking for developers is like finding an attorney. If you don’t know what to look for, you know, you’re gonna mess it up. And I did when I contracted out the first time, I acted in CTO roles, that I wasn’t capable or qualified to me. So I can do things on the front end. But the back end is a mystery to me. Right? So when, when we were running into architecture issues that caused them a lot of problems and caused bugs throughout the app. It was, you know, it creates that feeling of helplessness. But when you have a partner there who is looking out in the best interest of the app, you know, it’s a good feeling. There’s a lot less stress.

Andy Halko 48:35
Yeah. Yeah, I would say 9 out of 10 of our founders have found their CTOs or partners through, you know, networking or connections or someone that they’ve worked with before. Either good friend, that’s an entrepreneur and he always has a bench list. He’s as he’s out there if he meets somebody, even if they’re not ready to move, or he can’t afford them. He puts them on a bench list and stays in contact with them. So I think that’s a great idea. Yeah, for those great employees. I mean, that’s a little bit of what it’s about is networking and staying in touch with folks.

Cody Miles 49:13
Yeah, absolutely. I only recently truly understood the value of what it’s what it’s like to have a good tech network. And I’ve taken advantage of it since I’ve realized that it’s yeah, it’s a probably for a role like mine in growing a software company. being isolated or reading blogs or trying to do anything else other than be with people who are successful is the wrong move.

Tony Zayas 49:48
So Cody, I’d like to hear what you know, what is the next 12 months look like for sure. What do you guys have your eyes set on and what are the plans?

Cody Miles 49:59
Yeah, we have major development goals for q3 and q4. And we’re, we’re being aggressive with it, we’re hiring another developer at the moment to try to meet those goals. And we are also completing, as a Friday a major integration with a reseller, who will then be releasing their product to their customer base of around 9000 customers. So that would be an excellent influx for us as well. So working through our new features, taking on the additional hires, and then supporting our partners is going to be what the next at least six months of Ashore looks like, I hate to say 12, because in the startup world, that the cycles are much shorter, right, and we’re iterating quicker. So 12 months is decided I can’t tell you.

Tony Zayas 50:56
Quick question on those reseller partners. I know you mentioned that that was one of you know, biggest growth tactics you’ve had, how did you identify those, identify those partners and reach out to them to engage them? What did that look like?

Cody Miles 51:11
In every case? It was them reaching out to us.

Tony Zayas 51:15
Cool.

Cody Miles 51:17
Yeah. And I think that’s a that’s a benefit of the content marketing and the SEO strategy that we’ve had until now.

Andy Halko 51:24
Yeah, it’s really great. What? What do you see just that same question we had before of challenges? Is there anything that you see in the horizon that, you know, your company needs to plan for and say, Okay, this is, this is something we need to think about how to get over.

Cody Miles 51:45
The challenges that I’m focused on currently are looking at ways to improve on the turn to reduce churn. So part of our quarterly meeting, the goals that we set last night for the foreseeable future, we developed a strategy for doing that. So it’s the challenge now is acting on that plan. And, and seeing what happens at what the experiment everything at this point is all prototyping and iterating. So we’ll find out.

Andy Halko 52:20
Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah, churn has to be one of the biggest things. I mean, you get to a certain point, and then that’s, I mean, really, it needs to be paid attention to from day one. But yeah, that’s right. But that, you know, most, you know, founders that I talked to, at first are not always as focused on it. But at some point, that does end up being a very key piece of what they’re focused on for sure.

Cody Miles 52:44
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And early on, you’re just like, can I even get a customer? Right? Will they will they want to pay for this at all? If you can get them to pay for it, you know, that there’s potential there, if they started paying for it, there was just something that went wrong along the way. And you know, that’s something we can optimize. But we have to prove the product first. And so that that was early. That’s what every founder has to experience movement early on.

Tony Zayas 53:13
Yeah. Totally. Cody, before we dive into our last question here, and kind of wrap up the hour, where can our viewers find out more about a shore? See what you guys are up to and even follow and connect with you?

Cody Miles 53:30
Yeah, I always happy to make myself available to anyone. So anybody can reach out to me, email me at [email protected] You can find out more about our product at ashoreapp.com Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Ashore App. So pretty straightforward. Very cool.

Andy Halko 53:55
Awesome. So the question that I always like to ask at the end of the show is, if you were able to go back in time, before you started your app, and have you know, sit down have coffee with yourself, what advice would you give, you know, to your past self about this, you know, upcoming journey and what you’re about to embark on?

Cody Miles 54:21
Man, that’s an interesting question. I think. I don’t think I would have listened to me if I would have said anything.

But I would have said the focus on the people, empowers them. Don’t try to be the person who knows it all. Don’t try to be the source of truth in anything. The people that are in this organization that you’ve hired, or more than competent and leading their own departments. So I would have leaned into that more. And I think they’ll be a leader who puts himself at the top. That’s insecurity, you know. So working through those things, I think, would have been what I would recommend it. It’s awesome.

Tony Zayas 55:13
Well, Cody, awesome. Thank you. This has been a very thoughtful and insightful conversation. We really appreciate you spending your time here. So thank you for joining us here today. And to our viewers. Thank you guys for tuning in. And we will see you again, same time next week. And with that, everybody, have a great week.

Cody Miles 55:34
Thank you guys.

Andy Halko 55:35
Thanks, Cody. Thanks, everybody.

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