Building a bootstrapped business with Bridget & Keith Harris
In this episode of our productivity podcast, Get More Done, we chat with YCBM’s co-founders to explore how they built their scheduling tool for teams, why failure is part of the journey, and the insights you need to start a business.
The YouCanBookMe team
Do you have what it takes to start a business? Are you ready to find out what that is? In this episode of Get More Done, we sit down with YouCanBook.me co-founders Bridget and Keith Harris to learn about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
Bridget and Keith give us a peek into the 20-year trek that brought them to their 10th, and finally successful, software venture. They dive into the reality of building a bootstrapped startup from scratch and the lessons they learned along the way. Tune in (or read below) to prepare yourself for the ride of becoming a business owner.
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In the episode “Building a Bootstrapped Business,” we discuss:
- Bridget and Keith’s path to creating the scheduling app YouCanBook.me
- 9 failures that led to a 10th success
- The biggest problems you have to tackle when building a business and how to overcome them
- The key foundations that helped Bridget and Keith get a small, bootstrapped business up and running: automation to fix issues, an incredible team, solid accounting, and more
- The importance of balancing optimism and perseverance with being prepared to fail
- Exploring how the customer-centric mindset shaped YouCanBook.me’s business plan
- Advice for future entrepreneurs: learn as much as you can and be prepared for a long journey
- Why the team is more important than the business idea
- What’s next for Keith and Bridget: solving one problem at a time
- Bridget and Keith’s top productivity hacks: taking care of yourself, controlling your time, and being active in your tasks
- The surprising insights of procrastination
“We persisted over and above the experience of having built something and it not suddenly taking off.” - Bridget Harris
“Part of the job of entrepreneurs is to live the dual reality. To know about all the risks, focus on them, worry about them, but at the same time continue to think that it's all going to be good.” - Keith Harris
“We're trying to build stuff for customers and our existing customers don't care whether we have a million customers or 10 customers, they want the product that works for them.” - Bridget Harris
“This is what running a business is like. It's just every day is a day where you've got something else to do tomorrow.“ - Bridget Harris
“The idea doesn't matter, you've got to build the team. You've got to build the attitude because you're going to be building a tech company right now where tech is changing monthly.” - Keith Harris
“Your role as the entrepreneur is about being flexible. You think you've got an idea about what the problems are now. Much more importantly, you need to understand this is a temporary set of problems. That problem domain is going to change.” - Keith Harris
Meet the guests, Bridget and Keith Harris:
Husband and wife entrepreneurs Bridget and Keith Harris co-founded YouCanBook.me in 2011.
But this isn’t their first rodeo! A passion for solving problems means they’ve developed a multitude of software solutions in their time.
The lessons learned became the foundation for YouCanBook.me, an internationally successful online scheduling solution that helps tens of thousands of customers to be more productive every day.
They credit automation and optimism for helping them grow a customer-centric, fully-remote, bootstrapped and profitable Small Company That Does Big Things.
Resources to explore:
“Building a Bootstrapped Business” full transcript
Welcome to Get More Done. I'm your host, Ben Dlugiewicz. Each episode, we will be meeting with business leaders from around the world as they talk through their day and how they are getting more done, how they use automation to level up or build systems to scale. On today's episode, I caught up with Bridget and Keith Harris, the husband and wife combo that have grown their scheduling solution, YouCanBook.me, into a profitable company with grit, determination, and automation. They share more on the ups and downs as they celebrate their company's 10 year anniversary. Enjoy.
YouCanBook.me headquarters in Bedford, England. Keith and Bridget Harris are joining me. So welcome to the podcast. Hold for applause. It's great to have you both with us. So typically what we'll do is we'll start with an icebreaker question just to break the nerves up a little bit. This one's going to be tricky because anybody who I've ever talked to and share, you know, my relationship with you both, I have to tell them you are the most interesting people that I've ever met. So with that being said, what would be the title of your autobiographies when you get around to writing them?
So are you doing it? Are you going to start, Keith? Ben, can I first ask you, how do you know we haven't already written it? We were possibly on a rerun now. But I also want to say, I appreciate the fact that you sent your questions through in advance. And so I have actually prepared this. I have thought about this. This is not off the cuff, and I decided that there wasn't, there is a book, but I'd always liked to write, which is essentially, you know, attempting to try to understand what was that all about. That would probably be my informal title, which is: What Was That All About. But I think that the formal title would be 30, 60, 90. And I think it's because you learn through life things change and your life up to 30 is, has a markedly different kind of character to what your 30 to 60 life is like. And then what your kind of golden age, retirement, 60 to 90 - hopefully we're all very lucky enough to live that long - is different again. So I think that in a way we have to live our life understanding that there's phases and stages, and that's how me and Keith have. So I suppose what you think is quite interesting about our lives is actually just a bit, we've just, we're old, Ben. So we've just done a lot. That's all you're really saying.
Yes. 30, 60, 90. In brackets: What Was That All About?
What was that? What just happened? Right.
My answer to that question is based on a book that I recently read, which I've been enjoying, some of the classics. Recently I read Sense and Sensibility as I'm trying to think of...nice. Well, and it's gotta be Scale and Scalability is my...
They are two different things, my friend.
Right, right. Exactly. As we'll discuss in a moment here. For sure. So yeah. You know, as our audience knows from the intro that I put together, that before this, a good step, of you all have built an amazing company and a profitable software company, and it's been going wild for 10 years. Now, that seems like ages ago. I imagine for you all, right? Of just the amount of time. So walk us through a little bit of where that all began, when you decided to make the leap into entrepreneurship and creating your own company.
That's a really good question, Ben. Keith!
What happened 10 years ago. Okay. Look, the only answer to that question is that everything happens because of the problems. So we, Bridget and I, are ruled by this kind of thinking, you know? Which is we're just driven, like a lot of people, you know, you've got a lot of problems. Little problems, big problems. But it's about how you interact with them and you can't stop yourself sometimes. If someone wanted to, you know, if it always, in like some sort of disaster movie, and they're trying to stop me from making it out of the door in time to press the button to like - what they would do is they'd fill the room with little curious little problems. Here's a half-done jigsaw. Trying to get past that. Look at this number puzzle. Ooh look and look how we've arranged this restaurant.
And we put the tables here and things like, these are the things. You sit in a restaurant, do you think, "oh, they should just move the, why do they move the thing from the door? And then they could, you know, with COVID they could go around the back and stuff." So life is full of these kinds of problems and, you know, SaaS, what you're supposed to be doing is always solving problems. Big problems, broken down into little problems, and sort of turn the wheel along. And that's really how it started. We got, we had people we knew were trying to sort out meetings and stuff, slightly different version to what YouCanBook.me turned out to be with them.
Keith, Keith. Don't kid yourself.
Here's the real answer.
I don't know why you think, Ben, we've been doing this for 10 years. We've been doing this for nigh on 20 years. Okay. So this is a long trail of failure topped off by a recent success.
20-year overnight success.
So I think, well, I mean, that's it. It's a cliché. You hear people say it, but then you realize it's absolutely true. And I think that the answer is at the very beginning. Keith is right about solving problems and as a computer programmer, 20 years ago, and he realizes he can do stuff and he can build stuff and make stuff. And he does that for other people. You know, he earns money as a contracted computer programmer and I was running, I was working in politics and I was, there was this kind of moment and it wasn't actually Keith's work. It was Weebly. It was a website builder that I came across that told me that the kind of things that Keith does and building stuff - he was working for on various projects with me - with things that could be rolled out, could be scaled, could be done, you know, and that Keith is as every software developer is, you know, can touch magic, can actually produce stuff and make stuff.
And I think Keith, as a maker and as a problem solver, naturally led him to build other products too numerous to go over now that we did, but solving all sorts of random problems, everything from friends of ours who wanted a very delicate way of getting people to give them money instead of presents for their wedding to go on a honeymoon. So Keith built them that called Honeymoonify, through to me and Keith trying to find a house that was going to be good value for money. So Price Per Square Foot was born. Through to, I mean, God knows how many apps we built. Or Keith built, but we also were working together on these other projects and how, you know, it's actually, it's the web became building things on the web. Making sure that your message gets out there and people understand what you're doing and that the software can solve problems that just in the early - you know, this was in 2002, 2003 - we started working together for that decade in all sorts of ways.
And then all sorts of projects, most of them failed. And then as you said, the meetings, the story he was about to start telling, which is finding a time for people to meet, that story started around 2007, 2008 with that product When is Good. But then YouCanBook.me was born out of that product. So YouCanBook.me is actually, I figured it out, is the 10th product we built. Or Keith has written and built together. And we, you know, that's the rest of the history. So essentially the product or the problem is not the same thing as the company or the business. Those are two separate things.
Right? Wow. That is a massive amount of problems that you have solved. 10 software products over 20 years. Just amazing. And like you said, not all of them were successful but you just powered through. So it's like, that's the secret, right? Like that's just the tenacity there. It's amazing.Bridget (08:45):
I think what it tells us is there's nobody to blame but ourselves, you know? The thing is that you can't complain. You did it, we did it, we wanted to do it. Nobody asked us to do it. You know, we persisted. We persisted over and above the experience of having built something and it not suddenly taking off. There is no experience for us, where you build something and, you know, those stories that you see where people go, "Oh, I just spent a weekend coding something up. And I now got $67,000." You know, I just, I don't know where any of that comes from. That's never happened to me and Keith. We've, most of our experience is to work really, really hard, on something that we care a huge amount about and then get nothing, you know? Absolutely nothing. So the persistence of building it and building it and building it and believing in it and believing in it, you know, that has born through over 20 years. Which has then, you know, we feel the company that we have now with, YouCanBook.me and all of you guys, you know, you're the cavalry that comes in to start doing this with us. Would you agree, Keith?
Yeah, completely. And it's, I think it's something that inside that there is this habit of building something, loving for it, loving it, caring for it and building it up and then taking that difficult decision to abandon it and move on to something else. It's something that I think people like us share with the creative industry, where you might have this great idea for a plot or a piece of music and stuff, and you slave and you love it, but then eventually realize you've just got to move on to some new project because it isn't quite right. You still love it, but you have to let it go.
Yeah, that's the truth. It's knowing when to part ways and when it's not going to be beneficial to move on. I really want to dig into all those 10 other products and see which ones were your favorite, but I mean, we don't need to digress into that.
Later. We'll do it. We'll do a rerun next year.
But with that said, I mean, being a completely bootstrapped company and just focusing on your latest success. And I say latest success because, like you say, what's the 60 to 90, what's that going to be? Right. But I mean, latest success with YouCanBook.me being completely bootstrapped. What were some of the big problems that you remember tackling? Like two or three big problems where maybe it was some shaky ground of not knowing if the company was going to make it. Anything like that come to mind over the last decade?
Well, I was thinking about this Ben, and actually, you know, the whole history of the company is about survival. You know, in a way I define success by not failing because the fact is that 9 out of 10 businesses do really struggle or fail. At least the ones...I mean, that statistic comes from VC funded. So maybe they have a slightly, do this different definition of failure, but it's very hard to get a company, a business, off the ground and going, and so for many years YouCanBook.me ran at a loss, but we were bringing in more money than we were technically earning because we would get money in advance. So we were essentially living off of debt from our customers. You know, customers giving us a 12-month ticket until we get to spend the other 11 months’ worth of income.
But that bumpy ride was at least helped by the fact that we were growing very fast. So you've got this dual confidence of growth, but then also, you know, so you've got the expectation. You're going to keep getting more money, so you can borrow into that money and spend it. But there were definitely times where we, you know, we wouldn't be getting paid at all or delaying things, or just moving stuff around or borrowing stuff at the last minute from the bank. And essentially that you're trying to get the plane off and, you know, that kind of getting the plane out of the jungle from the really dodgy airstrip. And it's like, oh my God. In the early days, financially and strategically and business-wise, there were a lot of moments where we just didn't know whether it was going to go off the plate, off the runway and trying to, and making mistakes, spending money.
That was very painful. If it didn't play out the way you imagined versus some, you know, incredible, I say, good luck. But, you know, we got some incredible early employees who joined us, who really helped us and really believed in us for absolutely no reason whatsoever. There was no reason for them to decide that me and Keith in this very office, you know, were worth backing and they've turned out to stay with us and have carried on investing and grown with us in the company. So, you know, you sort of, you go back over all of those early times when you're bootstrapping out of nothing, and you kind of, you look around for the resources that you've got. And so we were very lucky with the people that joined us with the fact that we, you know, we took bank loans and private loans to get things going.
But what it taught me was some of the early wins that we decided to go for are very boring. Nobody blogs about them, but they have really, you know, stayed with us. Like a really rock-solid accountancy and finance model, you know, just having online accountancy software. So Xero, now everybody thinks Xero is great, but we adopted Xero six years ago. So Xero has always managed all of our accounts. And it just makes it...Keith then integrated Stripe into Xero. So our early first version of subscription software was helped to manage by that. So automation and really solid systems allowed us to build more of a customer infrastructure, you know, sort of business infrastructure for customers without very, without having to hire an army of bookkeepers. So I think that our focus early on, on automation writing software to fix problems, instead of trying to spend the money, and really good HR systems and good recruitment systems. This helped us get a very, very small company off the ground, even if our product was booming. So operationally, we got to set up quite a lot of foundations then.
So always I was thinking about this question Ben, and about where are those times where it's all basically nail biting and you just didn't know if it was going to happen and how did you, whatever. And it's interesting, and Bridget's just spoken, not about some of our failures, but about some of our successes and how we got through. And that I think has really, for me the answer to it, which is, yes, I can think of lots of examples of times when we made the wrong technical decision. I mean, nearly deleted this file and that thing, and that we'll let that customer down. All these harsh, tricky lessons. And then there was that time and financial blah. But I think that part of the job of entrepreneurs is to live the dual reality. To know about all the risks, focus on them, worry about them, but at the same time continue to think that it's all going to be good.
It's optimism. It definitely is. So I can look back at like, and try and find three examples where I thought we didn't make it. No, there were no examples. Cause every time it was really, really bad, you couldn't get through it if you thought, "oh, this is really hard." Maybe looking back, you realize you're lying to yourself and it's a problem. But at the time it's like, I don't know exactly how this is going to work out, but we can do this. I mean, we're lucky with the kind of bootstrap, and the relationship we've had with our customers and that we've chipped away. We at certain times, squeaked through financially, on this. No, we didn't have the pressure of a lot of, you know, some breathing down our necks for figures and quarterly returns and so forth. We were able to take our time and look at it in a slightly different way, but definitely that kind of, you know, we can do, we can basically do it. I think that's one of the-
We're very cocky basically, Ben is what we could say. We pretty much, going back to the earlier thing about saying how we like to solve problems. Another way of putting it is that we go into anybody else's organization and go, "yeah, we could probably do this."
And then if you ask us in the podcast later, about what problems we've had, we'll just talk about our successes all day.
Exactly. Just sugar coat it. No, no-
But now we, you know, now the problem is, is that there? Me and Keith got so used to them, we see each other do it. We're like, I know you, I know what you're doing there. You can't do that.
You're lying to yourself. You're lying to me. Doomed, doomed.
But like you mentioned, I mean, it's a tough, tough road and it's not necessarily paved in front of you. So it's like, you have to know where you're going and have faith in that. Right. And have like that, that determination to get there.
If you don't think about the problems, if you don't do the risk analysis, we talk about it in terms of risk analysis now from information services, blah, blah. But if you don't think about the potential problems and how it can go wrong at any moment, then equivalently, the optimism has got to be balanced by that realism. Every single time you've got to have two ideas.
So yeah, he's right. You have to get used to the idea that you're going to do stuff that you don't quite know is going to work out. And there's a sort of an uncomfortable feeling there of, I might be wrong. And a lot of people avoid that by being very good at what they do. You know? So there, obviously, you don't want a brain surgeon to go into an operating theater and go, "oh, I might be wrong here. I'll just give it a go." So there's obviously...or a train operator or anybody basically with somebody else's life in their hands. So the first risk, if you like, that we mitigate is that where we're doing online scheduling software, you know? So you have to get some perspective about the risk of what you're doing. But the second thing is that, you know, you need to be prepared to fail and if you fail, what would you do?
So in the early days, you know, me, I had a full-time job. Me and Keith both did consultancy. And you think about, we're going to borrow 25,000 pounds from the bank. What happens if it fails? If we screw this up. Well, I just have to pay that back. You know, that just gets paid back like a credit card bill over however many years. So you have to...you're backing yourself and the really kind of significant impact on our decision-making, which has been very strong and is kept, is the thread all the way through and the sound. This makes me sound like some kind of, you know, happy clappy, advert for customer service, but it is true. Is that the thing that, as Keith was saying, you just have to keep going is because you've got customers, who've just given you money.
And that's a non-trivial contract to undertake. If somebody gives you, it doesn't matter if it's 10 pounds, it's not, don't ever diminish the value of somebody’s just given you 10 pounds or 10 dollars. And they expect you to give them a service back. And that's an obligation as far as me and Keith. And that's the way we were brought up. We are obliged now to do a job for them. Now that is very different to companies who don't work for customers. They work for VCs, they work for VC returns. It's a different business model. It's a perfectly legitimate one. I'm not criticizing it. And it might be the right one in many ways for some people's companies. But when you work for a company that's been set up essentially purely in order to grow it and flip it, you're working for a VC-defined business model.
And it's their business plan that starts to dominate decisions, not your business plan. Whereas we've been very lucky that we've only had two obligations, one to our family and friends and our life for 20 years, our 30, 60, 90, and the other to our customers. And so the business plan has been evolved around it. So sometimes, you know, as a business, quite a few years ago, how many times people would come to me and say, "oh, well, you don't really charge enough." Or "I don't, I didn't see you market enough." Or "I didn't see, you know, you're not taking advantage of this, or why don't you take on more VC?" And that's cause it doesn't right now, it doesn't suit our priorities. And we're trying to build stuff for customers and our existing customers don't care whether we have a million customers or 10 customers, they want the product that works for them. So our prioritization has always been around customers who are going to give us money and me and Keith's time. And that's, what's added up to an assessment. Is it, is the failure worth it? What would be the worst that could possibly happen? Would we back ourselves in a fight? Essentially, I actually wouldn't back ourselves, in an actual fight but in a, whatever, whatever we would back ourselves in, would we-Ben (20:41):
In a boardroom maybe, but not in an actual street brawl.Bridget (20:44):
Not in an actual fight. No, I'd run away. I would run away.
So I guess, you know, apart from like the nail-biting moments, as Keith mentioned, was there ever a moment where you're like, this is actually something? When was that time of, you know, all the failures that you stacked up and you're standing on those losses and you start with, you know, YouCanBook.me. Was there a moment when you're like, this is going to be a thing, we can scale this? This is something that will grow.
There were definitely landmarks along the way where, Bridget was speaking about the 11, the 12 months upgrades, and stuff. So memories of the first of those coming in. Because, you know, when we first shipped, there was $10 here, $10 there coming in. It was never going to...you couldn't add that up, but you get one 12-month or 24-month contract coming in for, and it's suddenly, it's like, wow. That, and just-
Given us $200.
The other thing is that that invoice came in with provision dates starting today and a renewal date maybe in two years' time. So you're looking at something that says like, "oh my God, that's going to renew. in like 20-something-teen." And it's like, that's the future. We're still going to be around, they think we will still be here.
They expect us to be around in two years’ time. They've just bought something from us. And I think, you know, you're right, Keith, early on selling two-year subscriptions just used to freak me out. I don't know why they think we're going to be around for two years. This is a really, you know, really overly optimistic expectation. But that's because you know, you're inside your own bubble and you're constantly seeing all the things that you need to fix. And you forget what it looks like on the outside. So in a way, it's on the outside people come back to you to say what you did is really good there and you go, "really? Oh, that's great. Thank you."Bridget (22:31):
Because if you just think there's a line in the sand, like, "oh, this is great, we've done it. We've achieved it." You probably will immediately start to fail, you know? Because there isn't, there's always a moment where you realize that you haven't done exactly what you were intended to do and you have something else to do tomorrow. Or are you going to get more people or solve more problems or whatever? So it's a growing thing. I mean, this is what running a business is like. It's just every day is a day where you've got something else to do tomorrow. So as Keith was saying, it's great to have customer validation because that's the only message you're going to get that you - from a real person - who's really going to give you some money to say that what you're doing is working for them.Keith (23:10):
Yeah. And other signals you'll get from them about particular ways in which there's plenty of feedback. Oh, we love you guys. It's a really great tool and everything else, but then, every now and then, you'll have, you'll learn one customer story, which will be specifically this change. This feature saved us that much time every week. We've now, you know, that's brilliant and it's probably a disproportionate benefit to them for what we happen to be charging for. We ship a little feature. Those stories go deep into your psyche where it's like, okay, if we are solving something, that way things that we're unaware of, or some random Tuesday morning, somewhere in the Midwest, someone does not have a headache about a certain thing. And like, okay, there's something significant happening here. It does feel good.
Yeah. It does feel good. It feels good. It's just like I said to the people who want to come and join YouCanBook.me. And I said you've just got to love helping customers. And just that feeling of helping somebody and knowing that you've made their day a bit better. It's a humble feeling. People are doing it up and down the country. They're volunteering. They're helping with the vaccination program at the moment. There's people up and down the country. And their only motivation is to help people. And we're doing it as a business, but we have that same sense of feeling like we've just helped them. We've done what we said we were going to do. And they're grateful and appreciative and that's a nice feeling to have.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, apart from that, you just mentioned having the optimism to make it work, focusing on customers. What other advice would you give to somebody looking to start a software company? Don't do it. No.
Oh, well, 20 years. Listen to what we're saying that we're not making this up. It does come down to the problem. I mean, you know, I can understand how, if we started a business tomorrow, Ben, it would be so different to what we did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. So, you know, in a way I'm jealous. If anybody wants to start a business tomorrow, especially if they had the kind of benefit of the advice. I mean, and that's it. Really get advice, talk to people, find out what you shouldn't be doing, what you should be doing. I think you have to be realistic about your expectations, about what it is that you're, why you would want to do it. So, as I said, me and Keith have always balanced our, you know, our home life, if you like, with our business life. I don't believe in the kind of self-sacrifice go all in.
It's really important because if it doesn't happen, then you've probably, you know, frustrated or annoyed quite a few people along the way, thinking that you are going to be sacrificing those relationships in order for something better. And in the end, you know, no birthday party or evening dinner or holiday is worth missing for something that you don't actually have the certainty of knowing. And then, frankly, it's hard either way. It's not like, "oh, but that's because they bootstrapped." And so it's really hard because if you take on VCs, all you're doing is working for VCs. So they're the ones that are then telling you and expecting you to be answering an email at 10 o'clock at night when you're supposed to be at your anniversary or something. So my advice to anybody is to expect to be part of a longer-term journey.
Don't put your life on hold, or indeed go get a job, work for a startup, get all the buzz and the experience of it, but get the permission to walk away because that's the thing that me and Keith have never had. We've never got the permission to walk away. All of our holidays have included laptops and, you know, sort of sometimes some, I mean, Keith was talking about puzzles and you know how we like it. We have literally been as a family in a room, an escape room in Poland, where Keith is on the phone to a colleague, getting them to reboot the servers. WhenIsGood, essentially rebooting, WhenIsGood. So he's kind of like we're in this sort of really meta world where we're in an escape room, but Keith is also in an escape room trying to get Kate on the other end of the line, trying to reboot WhenIsGood.
And I just thought, I can't cope with this. Now this is too much. So that's it, you know? We prepare, we have, we accept that as a compromise. That's what we get, but we bound it, we manage it. We know what we're doing. I wouldn't expect employees to do the same kind of thing as me and Keith. And that's what you do. If you're starting a business, ultimately it's about making money from offering a product to a customer who's going to give you more money than it costs you to make it. It's like, it's not difficult. It's not rocket science. The startup SaaS world has acted now like it's reinvented capitalism and business and labor economics. It's all the same as it has been for many, many, many years. And, you know, it's, what you're doing is going into business. You're making, you're trying to make money from customers. And that's. If you don't like customers, or if you're not that interested in the product or the solution, or if you don't like working for other people, or if you'd rather just keep your head down, don't do it because you need bucketloads of optimism and patience and a good sense of humor and good relationships and, you know, an acceptance it might not work.
Yeah. In the SaaS world, SaaS in tech terms is the additional challenge for people doing it. Now, when we started doing it, is that it's such a rapidly changing scene. So don't think that, I mean, that one was founded. Bit of advice is it's not about the big idea. You have some great idea like, oh, Uber for pets or whatever it is, that none of that matters. None of that matters. You've got to do-
Uber for pets though, Keith. Think about it.
No, number 11 right here!
I fancy a dog today. Go to Uber for dogs and book a dog. But it's that basically, that is an idea.
You heard it here first, folks.
The idea doesn't matter, you've got to build the team. You've got to build the attitude because you're going to be building a tech company right now where tech is changing monthly. So you're going to be building something and in a year's time, a competitor will come along and see your great idea, and they will do the same thing, but they will have a technology leapfrog over you because whatever comes after AWS cloud or whatever it is, will be even better, even slicker, even all more automated. And automation is the name of the game. We use automation a lot, Bridget was mentioning it before. It's one of the key things that we do, but the whole industry is doing it. And you know, if cars are driving themselves now, they've got a big, complicated landscape to do, but with the tools and the plugins and everything else, it's a robotic game these days, running a SaaS company. So that you need to get tuned in to that.Keith (29:47):
And it's, your role as the entrepreneur is about being flexible. You think you've got an idea about what the problems are now. Much more importantly, you need to understand this is a temporary set of problems. That problem domain is going to change. And my team of - choose a good co-founder, that's a really good tip - and then get flexible to be able to pick yourselves up after disasters, crack on and expect the landscape to change around you again and again and again.
And last thing is you also need really good wifi.
Yeah. That's half the battle, right? Running an internet business, good internet. So, you know, with all of that prestigious, you know, career in the technology space, what's the next problem you're looking to solve? What's on the radar for you next?
Can I answer this? Because there's, this question has been asked me before, Ben, and my answer to it is the same. The last time I was asked this, this is the big problem. Like this is the problem we're solving. And it's because I mean, and I love this theme of your podcast because problems come along all the time. It's really important that we stay focused on why we want to fix them and what we're doing. And I'm not driven to do things in order to sort of gain trophies of success on a mantelpiece. What we're trying to do is build something that is really hard, difficult, takes a long time, serves a lot of people, will always change, requires a lot of demanding attention. And we need to adapt, as Keith was saying, in terms of our solutions and technology response to it.
And that is a really big problem, you know? And if I was thinking there isn't, I don't have any other major goal, because if I was thinking about it being a major goal, it would directly affect my ability to solve this issue. So there's, you know, home life stuff like learning how to play the banjo, which I'll come onto in a minute, but you know, that's not the same thing. It's like, this is the thing. We're doing the thing now. I would say, unless Keith has got another web application.
Seven software products ready to go.
I mean, you know, there's, Ben, this is it. So you can't go through, obviously, you know, coming up with ideas for a SaaS is one thing, running a SaaS, you spot opportunities for SaaSes when building a SaaS all the time. You know, you're using a lot of tools. You're always redesigning and thinking like, "oh, look, it could be something different about project management" and this and everything. And so we've got a long list of things that, and that's, again, one of the skills is you have to be pretty brutal about, I mean, we were the reason why we had those 10 going along was because we kept on, in some sense, getting distracted or just trying out different things. And eventually, that's where you have to sort of say, "okay, well, but you can just write down those ideas. Have them on a piece of paper on the someday list." So there are other ideas we would love to do, but Bridget is right, that this is not a finished problem. And we've still got an awful lot of ideas in this space about how, what the company could go on to do, what the product and the domain, the whole domain of people organizing their time more efficiently online. It's just not a finished story at all. There's huge amounts to do.
Awesome. So everyone needs to stay tuned, right? Stay tuned and subscribe, and just be on the pulse. Yeah, that's amazing. So I guess, you know, as Bridget mentioned, the purpose of this podcast is just to celebrate these problems that people are solving. Just talk a bit about, you know, high level on how everybody's managing that. So coupled with that is, you know, staying productive and staying focused during that time that you're working on these things. So do you have, do either you have like some productivity tips that you could share with the, with the audience on just how you've managed to do all of this, you know, from you two working at a dining room table, right? Of staying productive, staying on course to growing your company to where it is today.
I got things to say, but then none of them are very, you know, earth-shattering. Cause that's the thing there isn't like a magic bullet that's going to transform you into being more productive than you really want to be. You know, you have to obviously take care of yourself, make sure that your mental health and your wellbeing and your general life choices are good because you're not going to start a company in the middle of a, you know, an unhappy situation. It'll just make it worse. But I think really my only productivity tip would be, or the thing that I know distracts me and I stopped a couple of years ago. To me, the big difference is you've just got to get the sort of notification world out of your head. So, you know, the days when I have no apps that run on my phone, like Slack or WhatsApp that are allowed to ping me, nothing is pinging me.
You know, nobody's interrupting me. Nobody. I will look very regularly at the systems that I need to stay abreast of. And if I've missed a DM from somebody and it was an hour ago...well, there you are. Everybody can calm down. I'll go back to that person. When it's, when I've got the, you know, the time to, I mean, I read this the other day and it makes a lot of sense. You know, you spend your time in front of the computer to say, "Right, I'm going to be doing all my emails now," or "I'm going to be doing all my notifications" or "I'm going to bash through stuff." But what you can't do is let other people decide how you spend your time. So even if I'm just walking the dog and I'm not doing anything, it's not like I'm powering around, you know, being a high-flying executive. I'm just walking the dog, but I don't want to be pinged. You know, I'm walking the dog. So it's that I think. That's it. You just control your time. And then if you control your time and you end up not being very productive and you can't achieve anything...well, there you go. You know that then maybe it's not for you.
I think a lot of productivity things, I mean, there's like kazillion, you know, top five posts, listicles, and so forth about this topic. And for me, one important aspect of this is, it's a lot of it is about prevarication and procrastination management.
Are you going to start pitching Todomerang? Is that what you're going to do?
No, no, no, no, no.
'Cause Todomerang is the next big thing for Keith. He wasn't mentioning this. That man has actually written a to-do list in his head.
Everyone's got a to-do list. Everyone's got a to-do list.
Todomerang.com. We own Todomerang.
Can't be a SaaS thing without having to do a to-do list app in your head. Look, what I'm saying is about productivity. How are you productive? You're a sit down an hour, an hour goes by. You need to achieve an hour’s stuff. Now, if you take out from that, this kind of, procrastination management, prevarication management, distraction management. How do you avoid turning your phone off? Do a deep dive, give yourself, break it in 10-minute chunks.
Here are these tips and advice about doing it. What's really at play there is a difference between what you want to do and what you are doing. Now, you're an entrepreneur. Hopefully, you're watching this podcast. You've got an entrepreneur. You got to take on the world. You're going to do it. And the main thing there is that if it's as long as you're - and this is the key thing, ties into what Bridget was saying - as long as you're being active, doing something, you're engaged in a problem. Say we've got to do, I mean, there's any number of things, which at first instance don't seem that exciting, your information security audit, whatever. But if you dig into it and you look at that, it's a challenge. It's a problem. And it engages you. Eventually, you can get into and do anything and you can, as long as you're being active.
And what I'm thinking is that you can tune it and find, just align the things that you're interested in with your business. I mean, you'll just be much more interested in say, if you're interested in a particular topic and you can get your, forget the big idea side of SaaS, but if you could get the domain around whatever you're interested and you're just drawn into it and then productivity isn't the problem. Because as long as you're active, then you'll carry it forward. And your energy and your passion, you'll find the creativity. And you'll find eventually you'll be exploring a particular area and maybe somebody has done a lot at, so it's research you then, after the research, you can go forwards and you're engaged, your brain's turned on, you haven't got to worry about, "oh, then you've got to do it in a certain way to be productive."
What's the production, what's the output. Don't worry so much about it. Be passionate about it. Explore, ask yourself questions and keep on asking those questions. And it doesn't matter what you're doing, because you're just in some sense, it's like, "oh, that, wasn't what you went to do today." You procrastinated, you did a whole bunch of stuff. Well, let's look at that. That's obviously, what's interesting. That's where my brain is taking me. And you know, that is the unique thing that an entrepreneur has to do. So procrastinate away basically.
Right? I think, yeah, you summed it up, you know? Everything, the optimism mixed with that passion, and then all for the customer. Good. Like that's the recipe for success that I think, you know, it took 20 years to get there, but you've got there and it's amazing to see. So will you all come back to the podcast in a few months and just give us an update on everything? That would be great to see what new problems come. Because I think, I don't know, I'll know where to find you at least.
Look forward to that.
Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. This has been an amazing time to talk with you both. So Bridget and Keith Harris, thank you so much, and best of luck.
Thanks very much, Ben.
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