52: Corey Haines: Writing the book on startup marketing

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What’s up everyone! Today we have a super special guest on the show, this interview is more than 12 months in the making – You probably already follow him on Twitter – I’ve personally learned a bunch from him and know you’re going to get a lot of value from our conversation today. 

Today we’re joined by Corey Haines.

Most importantly, Corey’s all-round great dude with a world class beard.

Corey, we’re grateful to have you on the show – thanks for taking the time.

Thank you. I think that’s probably the most generous intro I’ve gotten. Great job, so I appreciate it. I love it. I want to transcribe it and clip that little thing and send that to every other podcast interview that I do. 

Boom. No problem. Let’s set that up. I want to start off by taking you back to September 2020. I remember reading, oh, shit: Corey Haynes is leaving Bearmetrics to become a full time creator. You wrote about this and kind of described it as you strapping on a space suit, launching into space, and not really sure what your plan was, but kind of like figuring it out as you go. 

The Creator journey (01:41)

How has the journey been now? Like a year and a half after that? And do you kind of know where you’re going yet? 

Yeah. Oh, man. The last year has been a whirlwind. I guess it’s almost been like a year and a half now since I left. The North Star guiding goal has been to get into SaaS myself, start a SaaS company, maybe even a couple of products, and just have a small portfolio of bets and multiple things going on at once and see where they all kind of take me. 

I knew that doing that with a full time job is pretty hard, especially when I didn’t want to step on your toes at Bearmetrics since we sold other SaaS startups. So I didn’t want to build something that ended up competing with one of our customers. So I just kind of knew, like, that wasn’t really an option for me. I didn’t want to get another job and then start working on those side projects as well. But also, I wasn’t really even close to building anything quite yet anyways. 

But I just wanted to kind of pull the trigger and jump and strap onto the rocketship, get into space. And then I could figure out where I was going from there. And on a personal level, very, very challenging. And like a lot of learning on hey, here’s how to manage cash flow for all the different kinds of feasts and family cycles of freelancing and consulting. And just like knowing where to kind of find money and all the different revenue streams that you have when you’re on your own, you don’t have a paycheck really coming through the door. 

From a time management perspective, I’ve really learned how to be super ruthless with my time. I would say for the first four or five months I imagined once I left, I was like, I’m going to be free. I have so much time, I’m just going to get so much done. All these things are on my list. And then I didn’t get anything done for like four months. I was like, what is happening? And because I had so many different meetings, so many admin things. I was busy doing emails, I was trying to chip away at small things here and there, but I was never really moving the ball forward in any one direction. And so I learned to be really ruthless. Now I do most of my meetings, like 95% of my meetings on Wednesdays. The rest of the week is completely wide open and I set what I want to get done, and I get those things done. And sometimes I work late, sometimes I work early. But you have to be really ruthless. 

It’s been a great learning experience because really through the startups that I’ve worked for, consulting, advising, freelancing. Now I’m basically the marketing lead for SavvyCal as well. So that’s kind of helped bring back some stability in my life. And I see them all as just kind of practice rounds and getting in the reps and sets for learning how to build and grow a SaaS startup for when I want to do that for myself and for my own, especially the last year and a half, it’s been like an invaluable learning lesson. 

Bootstrapping SaaS is really hard. You have to put yourself in the right position. Honestly, I wouldn’t say that going the VC route is easier because I think raising money is really, really hard and it’s a grind. And once you’re on that track, there’s a lot of expectations and it’s a whole different game. But in the early days, it’s easier because you have money, you pay yourself a paycheck. You hire the people to work with you. 

Bootstrapping is not easy. And so I would count this last year and a half as a part of my bootstrapping journey for building SaaS because it’s all the work you have to do in order to be able to be financially stable, to put your time on something else completely without your whole world kind of exploding and going broke or, like, maxing out your credit cards. So I’m doing the best that I can, but I think I’m doing a pretty okay job so far. 

Multiple eggs in different baskets (05:32)

One thing I want to ask about – you kind of mention the various different projects you’re working on, like the idea of having multiple eggs in different baskets. What is the appeal of that for your personality? And how do you manage that as you’re pushing these projects forward? 

I think that it’s not necessarily, like, shiny object syndrome. I think that’s what a lot of people conflate with having a lot of projects. You start one thing and then jump to the next one before you really kind of see the potential of it. I’m not really like that. It’s more that I’m just mega impatient, and I just want to see all these things exist, and I want to do them and I’ll do them all at once. 

My life is kind of, like, chaos sometimes. That’s also why I leave four days out of the week completely wide open to get a lot of work-work done. I just want to see those things exist. I just want to work on them. I’m kind of a yes person and where I want to have my cake and eat it too. I just don’t really like compromising and leaving something for later. 

So that’s more the thought and the spirit behind multiple things. It’s not really diversifying my income and multiple revenue streams and millionaires have seven sources of income. It’s more just like, I want to work on all those things. I think they’re fun. I want to see them exist, and I don’t want to do them sequentially. I want to do them currently. 

What would it take to get you back in-house (06:56)

So, in-house, freelance, consultant, entrepreneur… Now you’re getting a taste of all of them at the same time. Maybe someone in the audience right now is kind of thinking to themselves, I want to hire this Corey Haines guy that maybe this is not likely to happen… You possibly get a lot of offers to go back in-house. What would it take to get you back in-house? Or how would you design your ideal in-house role? Or scrap the question completely and tell me why the entrepreneur journey is the only way to go. 

Okay, well, I’ll give you a Humans of Martech exclusive, because I haven’t talked about this really anywhere else.

So for last year, I’ve been working with someone who we were going to build SaaS together, and it’s sort of like that was like the main thing. I’m putting most of my eggs in this basket. Long term, I want to work with this person. Then it turned out, his other businesses became too successful to really be able to step away from it even part time. So basically it came to a point where like, hey, we’re good friends. We would love to do this, but it’s just like not going to happen. It’s just not realistic for this stage of our lives. 

That’s a huge bummer because I was kind of just like, all right, well, do I go and find, like, a new technical co-founder or how do I even start to go about that? Is the last year just like a huge false start? Basically, do I go and get a job? Do I go try to do more freelancing or start an agency or something? 

I thought about this question fairly recently. I thought about it very seriously – going back in-house, to be honest. The first most appealing option would be to go full time with Savvy Cal with some sort of profit sharing or equity agreement on top of just a paycheck. Still, very early on, I had a feeling maybe I could make that work, but just not immediately. And so I was kind of like, well, I can’t really think about that right now. And also I’m not going to freak out. I’m just going to let it sit there for a minute. 

If I really wanted to go work somewhere else, I think that it would be a very short list of companies. A company about to IPO or a unicorn, like a Stripe, or just a really impressive, interesting company that I knew was just going to be a moonshot and explode. And I’m still waiting for the day that Stripe IPOs so I can dump my whole life savings in there because it’s just a massive success that they’re holding out on all of us investors. Or I would want to jump in really early stage as basically a co-founder but first marketing hire at a really early startup that I think would be the next Stripe, essentially. 

I think that if I went back full time, it wouldn’t be in a big corporate job. It wouldn’t be like in a Series A or Series B, because you kind of, like, missed a lot of the work. And there’s still the hardest part ahead of you. So I kind of want to jump in really early, get a good deal on equity and compensation, just be in it for the long haul, like the next ten years, and it’s going to devote myself to this or like really late and have something that I knew was just like a Grand Slam. 

The work itself, honestly, doesn’t matter a lot to me. I love product marketing, I love demand gen, I love copywriting, I love all the lifecycle stuff. Actually. I don’t love Ops. Sorry, but I’m not an Ops person. So the role and responsibility and I don’t need a team. Also, I could have a team. It’s more just about what’s the company, what’s the stage or basically the opportunity of where the company’s at. And would there be enough autonomy for me to do the things that would be enjoyable within my circle of competence? 

I didn’t want to start an agency, and didn’t really want to take on more clients. That would kind of feel like going backwards a little bit. So long story short, I found other sort of technical co-founders who are in this dating phase right now where it’s kind of like we’re building small things and we’re going to see how we work together, not put a whole lot of stake into it or like, this is going to be the thing that we work on for the next five years. But I was like, hey, let’s ship something and have some fun along the process. So that’s where I’m at today and not for hire. 

Managing the stress of building your own thing (11:37)

That’s something that I’ve thought a lot about myself. I’m entrepreneurial too, one day I see myself starting something, but something I debate a lot is this idea of stress, the stress of being the person or one of the two people running things versus being a co-pilot, like being someone who is going along the rocket ship like you kind of mentioned with Stripe. How do you think about that? Is that something that sticks around? 

If I’m passionate enough about something that I’m building, the stress is going to be a positive stress. I don’t know if you’ve heard this concept, but there’s like good stress and bad stress. I think good stress is called eustress and then bad stress is distress. And for me, distress only comes when I feel like I’m doing a bad job of what I am doing. If I am doing a good job but isn’t performing well, and I know that and that’s sort of like not an acceptable outcome. So it’s sort of like coming to something bad or if I just know that I’m letting myself down where my motivation is down, or like I’m not getting enough work done or don’t have like, the energy levels that I have. 

In general, having high expectations, big goals, a lot of work in front of me, that’s good stress and it’s a lot of work, a lot to do. I look forward to it. I like it. I nerd out about SaaS marketing, and I’m generally not too worried about like, can I do this or will this work out? It seems to all make sense. As long as I do the best that I can. I’ll just let the pieces fall where they may and generally they fall pretty well and it works out. That was true with SavvyCal. That was fairly true with Baremetrics. That was really true with Cordial. It’s been true across all the other startups that I have worked with, and the advice that I give them, I can be a little bit more prescriptive now. I’m not too scared about being very particular and specific about the things I tell them to do. 

But yeah, stress isn’t too bad for me personally. I think that the problems I might have that would be distressful later on is if a couple of these kinds of SaaS projects end up working out. And now I sort of have a good problem, which is that I have multiple things to work on at once. That won’t necessarily be like a new thing for me because I’ve always been juggling a whole bunch of stuff. But I think I would have to figure out, how do I not let those things become a distress because I feel like I’m letting someone down or because I’m not giving the time and energy that is needed for this thing to really see the potential of it. So that’s how I think about it. 

In-house skills to prepare you for full time creator (14:24)

Somebody else sitting on the other side of this journey, thinking, I want to strap on a space suit. What skills do you think people should be focusing on in their in-house career? You’re kind of earning your stripes, so to speak. What skills would you recommend people focus on to prepare themselves for a journey that you’re taking? 

I think getting used to and knowing how to think through owning a project or even just a whole kind of area of responsibility. Like, all right, I’m tackling the blog, and I’m going to manage everything between writing or hiring writers or editing, publishing, promoting content. Just getting used to owning an area, whether that’s content marketing or email marketing or demand gen, events, whatever, it’s just having one lane area. 

I think what can happen early on is that you specialize and you’re sort of like a contributor to an area of responsibility or some sort of channel. And that kind of leaves you off the hook because you’re like, well, as long as I’m doing what’s needed of me for this project, even if it doesn’t work out, then, it’s not in my hands, basically. And that’s not really like a great thing to get used to. 

Getting ready for a creator journey, what you want to get used to is: all right, this is mine. I’m going to tackle this. I’m going to think through this end to end. I want to make sure that this is successful.

To give you, like a little kind of snippet of this. Early on, I started as an intern at Cordial, and they started throwing stuff at me like, hey, we need to sponsor some events, do some research, figure out which events to sponsor, and then we have 500k to spend in the next couple of months. I was like, Holy, you’re giving an intern this responsibility?! But they were just, like, kind of generous enough to be like, all right, here you go. Have at it. And I took it and ran with it. 

To be honest, I hate events, but I was like, this is my one chance to show some ownership and some responsibility at this, so I’m not going to squander it. So, yeah, I found the conferences. I had no idea what I was doing. I talked to people and got advice and got a lot of feedback along the way. But we scheduled them. We spent the money. We planned and coordinated all the travel schedules and cocktail parties and the booths and who’s going to go where and how do we get salespeople to actually get meetings and make the most of these events? 

But I could have just been like, hey, I can’t do that. Or, like, I need, you know, I’m going to basically, like, push this off to someone else, and, like, they’re going to help me do it, but it’s still not really going to be my responsibility. So just learning how to take on responsibility and really have that ownership be a part of what you do. It’s a totally different experience, being a part of something that happens in marketing versus, I am the driver of this thing that is happening, and it forces you to be really objective and to really be like a truth seeker, to be like, Maybe this doesn’t work out. Or maybe I was wrong about the way that this thing worked. 

I remember actually early on after conferences, we were like, all right, we need to fix our website. I came up with, like, the worst website copy of all time. Just, like, slapped a whole bunch of chatbots on there. That’s when Drift was really hot. I had no idea what I was doing. Nothing worked. Nothing happened. I was like, oh, yeah… I was really wrong about that. It didn’t really matter at the end of the day, because it was a couple of months that was kind of lost in progress but didn’t hurt sales. It’s just that nothing good happened out of that, right? 

But after that, too, I was kind of riding the high of all these events, and I was like, yeah, I need to really be honest with myself about this stuff. Maybe. I don’t know everything. I need to really be objective about how this thing works, or is this right for us? And I just want to do things my way or what the ideas I have are. But what is the most promising idea to actually work and drive results for the company? Let’s do that thing. And I’m willing to be wrong or adjust course or fix things along the way or change it completely, because I just, at the end of the day, want the best outcome for whatever it is that this thing is that I’m responsible for. 

On researching how to solve attribution (18:38)

The beauty of startups getting to wear all those hats and drive big projects, sometimes with big budgets. I remember a couple of years ago, around the time that you left Baremetrics, you spent a lot of time chatting with a bunch of different folks, wearing a bunch of those different hats and different roles and stuff like that.

You reached out to Close, you and I chatted about attribution. What were some of the things that stood out in the groups that you chatted with? Was that part of: I’m thinking of maybe one day building a SaaS and I’m doing some research here. Maybe talk about what’s the hardest role to hire for in marketing and why it’s operations. 

Well, actually, when I talked with you, I was really hot on this idea of marketing attribution and building software to solve that. I’m kind of convinced that at this point because of the direction with data and Privacy laws and a lot of deprecation of technology around cookies and tracking and browser technology, that it’s sort of a lost cause. We might be able to have this conversation maybe like five years from now once the pendulum swings back in the other direction away from a lot of Privacy and data stuff. But right now it’s basically impossible to build an underlying technology that would solve market attribution. It’s just a total crapshoot. 

Sure, you can piece things together, but really, if you want to solve it, solve it. It’s a little bit easier for ecommerce and for products and stuff. But for SaaS, if you want to solve it, it’s impossible. So after about 50 conversations, one of which was with you, we realized that, yes, this is actually a pretty impossible task. But marketing attribution by far was the biggest and most painful problem across every marketing organization that I talked to and probably still is, because at the end of the day, that’s literally what matters: what is working in marketing. If you can’t prove that if you don’t know it, you’re misplacing dollars, you are optimizing for the wrong metrics, you are going after the wrong channels. You’re not using your budget in a way that is profitable to build and grow the company. So that is the thing that’s the crux of the whole thing working is how do we know that if we deploy this dollar, it will result in $2 in the error for the business? 

A lot of the other really painful problems were around, I would say, around operations and just like kind of meshing with sales, a lot of the kind of marketing automation stuff around personalization and how do we connect all the dots so that people get the right experience at the right time for the right lifecycle, et cetera, et cetera. I would say just like data in general is really difficult to do, like Segment and if you build your own data warehouse and whatnot kind of solve that. But it’s still like a massive headache to manage, make any tweak or change. And similarly, those operations roles are really difficult to hire for because who knows how to do that. It’s just you’re looking for a unicorn, like you’re looking for an engineer who likes marketing and they like getting the leads with data and automations and all this stuff. It’s really hard. 

The hardest role to hire for in marketing is the head of marketing (22:08)

Honestly, though, I was thinking about it, and I think that the hardest role in marketing to hire for – just in general – and maybe I’m thinking about this wrong or interpreting the question wrong, but I think that the hardest person to get right to hire for is basically like a head of marketing. Because there are so many bad people out there who look qualified on paper but just aren’t and just are really bad. 

To be honest, during my time at Cordial, I think that within about two years we went through five different marketing leaders and all of them were crap. Sorry, but they were all complete trash. Had no idea what they were doing. No managerial skills, no leadership skills, no budgeting skills. Couldn’t even tell you what HubSpot did. I was like, how are you in this place? How did you get hired? 

There are a lot of roles that are really hard to find people for, like Ops. I think Demand Gen is a pretty specialized skill set in SaaS, especially when you want to find a SaaS marketer. For Demand Gen, content marketing is getting easier and easier. That’s probably one of the easier roles to hire for. But to get a marketing leader right is such a critical position in the company. And normally there’s a reason why it has the highest attrition and the highest turnover is because it’s hard to find the right person. So that’s my answer. 

What makes up the DNA of a great marketing leader (23:36)

Final answer for hardest position, great answer. I want to dive a little deeper on that. Like, what do you think makes up the DNA of a great marketing leader at a SaaS company? 

I just don’t think that you can be a marketing leader and not be able to get your hands dirty and execute and do the work yourself.

Maybe at a really late stage when you’re more like CMO or VP of Marketing level, truly, and you have 20 to 50 people on your team, it’s a lot more about leadership and managerial skills and actually more like budgeting kind of capital allocation. How do we get all people working in the right direction working on the right things. 

But I would say for a director of marketing, head of marketing, early stage VP of marketing, you just have to be able to do the work. You have to be really good at it. I think that’s why Dave Gerhardt was such a massive success and like unicorn when he was at Drift. He was amazing at doing the work. He was an incredible marketer at doing the work. And early on you just need people who can get their hands dirty and get down to business and crank out some landing pages, crank out some email campaigns like really think through the ads and be strategic about do you know your market really well where you can sponsor the right podcasts and you can show up in the right communities and you can make the right connections for your sales team and your marketing team to the right events, et cetera. 

It’s not really about the people skills and the leadership and just managing a team, making sure that everyone shows up to your daily stand up. No, it’s about doing the work. I think also having the respect of other people under you, if you can do the work, makes them a lot more productive, a lot more motivated, and they will get a lot more done knowing that they have a leader who can actually help them with their work rather than someone who’s just like, yeah, let me know how I can support you. And then in your next one on one next week, nothing’s changed, right? You’re still alone doing the work yourself, maybe mediocrely or just kind of stuck and blocked because they’re not really doing anything. They’re just sitting on their hands going through meeting to meeting to meeting, reporting to leadership. 

I think for earlier stage companies, maybe like seed through Series Bish, it’s really about being able to do the work and managing the people. You can’t be a crap leader, of course. I think it’s kind of like we don’t need to say that. Right. But you have to also be able to do the work well. 

From owning projects to leading teams (26:09)

Just to tie this back to something you said earlier, like the advice around owning a project, there’s a straight line from owning projects to being a team lead. You own projects. You can own all of marketing eventually, it’s a transferable skill set. 

Yeah. You can’t not know what you’re doing in any one area. That’s a huge blind spot. And that area will absolutely hurt because either that person won’t know really what they’re doing and they’ll do a subpar job and that basically reflects badly on you or it’s just not going to get done at all because you’re like, I don’t know, this whole event’s thing, we’re not going to touch that. I’m not that type of marketer. No, dude, you have to do everything. You have to do whatever the business needs. 

On writing a book on early stage marketing (26:52)

Really good advice for especially that early stage marketing role. Right. One of my favorite tweets that you wrote was potentially one day writing a practical book on early stage marketing.

For the folks that are listening to the podcast right now that are in an entry level role or mid level management that are one day hoping of leading an early stage marketing team or even mid stage marketing team. Did you ever get around to writing that book? And what would the rough chapters look like? Because there’s so many things you can specialize in marketing, right? Like you say, you need to know how to do the work, but the T-shaped marketer is so vast and varied, how would you break it down? What are the most important parts of early stage marketing? 

My goal is to have it done by the end of 2022. This year, we’ll see. Basically I’m working through a framework. I don’t know if you guys know Rob Fitzpatrick. He’s the author of The Mom Test, which is a great book, even for marketers, about how to talk to your customers because they’re mostly lying to you very nicely. It’s sort of white lies, but he has a whole framework around how to write useful books. And so I’m kind of going through his process, but I started with a table of contents, and the table contents is basically supposed to act as, like the skeleton of high level learning outcomes and topics to hit, and also what not to hit. 

So the frame of reference here is that it’s for: how to grow a SaaS startup with limited time, budget and resources, basically, early stage companies. I’m not like a late stage scale up to a unicorn type of marketer, but if you’re a founder, first time marketing hire, and you’re kind of struggling to kickstart or accelerate growth, create some kind of scalable marketing channels, then this will help you basically create that plan and go and do the work and not have any sort of, like, area weakness or things that you can’t do. 

I’m repackaging a lot of the course material, so it’s not really a lot of writing for me. It’s going to be a lot of transcribing and assembling stuff that I’ve already created from a lot of other courses and newsletters and podcasts and things I’ve done in the past. But the loose structure is kind of like we have table stakes: 

All marketing is derivative with the product 

Here’s how you measure your product market fit, that way, you’re not like throwing money into a leaky bucket and marketing something that isn’t really ready for traction. 

How to pick a great market or expand to great markets. Common myths and mistakes that hold people back. 

Customer research

And then it really starts with customer research. I’m a big believer in this. You can let customers tell you how they want to be marketed to, and the customers basically set the strategy for the copywriting. Here’s the thing that resonates. Here are all the areas where they hang out. Here are the most likely value propositions and offers to resonate with them. Here’s how we go and find more people like this. 

So I first start with online sleuthing, where you do a lot of review mining and going through communities, being active there. Then you can kind of go through surveys. If you have an early access list or a small group of customers, we can ask them basically to find patterns and value propositions, what they care about and buying triggers, how they find and search for software like yours. 

And then you can go to video calls. We hop on a call like this and you really kind of dig deep and you’re trying to really grab voice of the customer. Right. Like tangible words. These are the words that customers use. And you can copy paste them onto your landing page about how they describe their problems and what they’re looking for, as well as influence mapping. So what are all the podcast you listen to and the Facebook groups that you show up in? Basically, who and what do you lean on to learn in your industry? Where do you go to learn about stuff related to your job, these digital watering holes of fuel. Right. 

Landing pages and positioning

And then I think it really starts with once you have that kind of nailed down, you have to start with your landing page on your website. This is the same thing that I did with SavvyCal. That worked really well when I started with them. 

We were doing like $500 in MRR. Maybe. And of course we want to kind of get down to business and start scaling stuff up and do some marketing campaigns. But I just knew, like, there’s still a lot of people who are signing up. They were like, how is this different from Calendly? And we would try to describe it still wouldn’t really make sense. The conversion rate was really low. Like, Derek had sent out a bunch of blasts to his email list and it still wasn’t really converting very well. 

So I just knew, if we do anything else, it’s still not going to land very well. We need to nail the landing page. And really what that means is we need to nail our positioning. We need to nail the messaging. We need to have a clear, concise, compelling reason for someone to click that button and say, get started with SavvyCal and connect my calendar. 

So that’s why I tell people now. It’s like, okay, go to customer insurance. Then you start with your landing page and your positioning. You can use what I call the only test to basically create a compelling positioning statement where you are kind of the obvious choice. This is very derivative of April Dunford. It’s obviously awesome if you can’t tell. So we use a lot from there. But you need to be an obvious choice for someone, right? Not just marginally better or not just different, but you need to be an obvious choice for a subset of customers. 

Pricing and activation models

Once you have that down, I think the temptation is to just immediately jump straight to channels. But your pricing and activation models really matter because, again, you got someone to click the button and get started.

And now what a lot of people do is they’ll put them through a form where it’s ‘contact us’ or it’s ‘start your trial’, but it’s ‘credit card required’ or there’s just some sort of exorbitant price that they just pull out of thin air. That doesn’t make any sense. And people are like, whatever, screw it. I’ll look at this later. Right. 

So you want to map pricing to value, not to cost or competitors. But you also want to make sure that you’re picking pricing that you can learn from and that’s oriented around the primary value metric that’s linear with the value that people get and the outcomes that your software helps them achieve in their lives. And also that you’re onboarding them in a very fluid, nice way so you’re not turning them off immediately. 

Then the real marketing starts

And then we can start getting to the marketing, the real marketing, the scalable stuff. Here I have everything on how to launch and announce and kind of use special offers to create momentum. 

A couple of examples, with SavvyCal, we did a landing page, we planned for a Product Hunt launch before Product Hunt. We ran a little campaign to reserve your username because there’s some scarcity on the little slug. So SavvyCall.com/corey and whatever the meeting ID is. And so I want Corey. I don’t want Coryhanes3691. I want it to be Corey. And we knew that a lot of other people would, too. So we sent that out to the list. We said, hey, this is our customers only sign up today. We’re about to launch on product hunt and we know there’s going to be a huge wave of people coming. So become a customer, save your own slug. That created a lot of momentum and early kind of scarcity. 


We did another thing around a Calendly buyout where we offered to buy the end of your subscription since it was around the end of the year. And we know that you just re upped for your annual subscription calendar, probably, but we’ll buy it out. We’ll basically credit the same amount to your SavvyCall account. You won’t lose a dollar if you switch. Right now, we’ll get this done for you. That created a whole bunch of waves.



So things like that, you’re building this momentum, and then the kind of crescendo is at the end with a product launch that’s kind of like the last thing that you do in your launch event. Product Hunt was absolutely massive for SavvyCal, really. There’s like a step change in inflection point in the launch or in the MRR trajectory after that, and then we get to channels. 


So I go through all the channels, everything from content, which I think is very much like the cornerstone of marketing strategy to advertising partnerships, platforms. Events, community, product, virality, and how that can be engineered as well, even if you’re not inherently viral and then gorilla tactics. 

Rest of the book

The rest of the book, I’m not really sure. I have some ideas for scaling. So how do you hire and create budgets and map a budget back to a goal and then, some type of stuff around your tech stack and minimal tools and things you need to implement. 

But the real meat of it is channels, obviously. But then, the work before that too, which is your landing page, customer research, pricing, and the launch events. 

What about the metrics? (35:56)

There are so many things you said there that I want to go off on tangents with, but I know we have a limit here on time, but one thing that you didn’t really dive into, and maybe that’s in the channel section. But metrics is something that’s super close to Jon and I’s heart, being at Klipfolio. We know that early stage founders love to obsess about all the metrics they can track. Once they get into the funnels and the channels they think they have product market fit, then it’s like, all right, what are we tracking? And I know that you’ve recently been talking a lot about this idea that your SaaS metrics are oftentimes lying to you and specifically talking about LTV, churn and attribution. What do you mean exactly by that? And is that part of the channel section of the book? 

Yes, actually, I need to figure out a place to put that in there. Maybe they’ll come in the tech stack section. But also given my time at Baremetrics, metrics are very near and dear to my heart, and something that I spent an insane amount of hours thinking about and looking at and consulting others about. 

Actually, one of the core things that I did was I would meet with about 10 to 20 founders and operators a week, either who were customers with questions and wanted help and advice, or with trialing potential customers. How do I use this? What is the value of Baremetrics? So I’ve seen everything. Like, any combination, Jon, I’m sure it’s the same. I’ve seen it all. There’s nothing surprising, and it really gives you a lot of perspective. 

And so I finally after all those brain dumpsI was like, here’s some kind of quirks about your status metrics that you might not be aware of. It can actually be really misleading. 

Higher growth leads to higher churn

The first one, actually, is that higher growth usually equals higher turn. This drove me absolutely bonkers at Baremetrics because it felt like every time we started to grow faster the turn would pick up and then everyone else on the team would be freaking, oh, what’s going on? We need to stop whatever we’re doing, fix the churn and then we can start growing again. 

So it’s the stop, start, stop. We’d like to turn on the channel, start doing these campaigns, churn would pick up, we’d stop, trying to go back down. After the third time, I was like, wait a second, this happened three times in a row. Now I started really digging in with other founders and other Baremetrics customers also looking at literal growth rates and curves on the graph and mapping that onto your turn rate as well. And it’s pretty much always like a one to one linear correlation between higher growth equals higher churn. 

Why is that? It’s because when you’re growing more, you have a lot more top of the funnel, a lot more interest, a lot more hype and momentum. And also with that, a lot, a lot more cruft, the drifters, the people who are not the best fit for your product. 

So basically when you’re fast growing, a lot of metrics are going to go down, your retention is going to go down because people are going to be churning out after the first month or two because they got really excited about it or they caught you when you’re running an ad, turns out they’re not a great customer. Also your conversion rate is going to go way down because again, more trials or more premium users, but less conversions because they might not be a great fit or just like you caught them early, you’re sort of like front Loading a lot of your marketing. Also your landing page, you’re getting a lot of traffic conversion rate way down. At one point I think the landing page was converting at around like 3% from visitor to trial. And then I started doing all this content marketing, all these events and all these launches, and then it went all the way down to like 05%. And I thought, I am the worst marketer of all time. 

No, actually it’s par for the course. It just happens. So a lot of people don’t realize that. But you can expect higher churn when you have higher growth. And if you’ll see as well really plateaued startups, they have great churn. Their churn is like 0.5% or 1%. Why? Because no unqualified customers are coming through the door whatsoever. Because they’re not doing a lot of marketing, right? They’re not doing a lot of acquisition. 

Reactivation rates are underrated

But also you can actually have high churn if and you can sustain high churn if you have a high reactivation rate. No one talks about reactivation at all for some reason, I think because no one really understands it or has taken the time to really think about it. But reactivation is the rate of canceled customers coming back and signing up as a paid customer again and again. 

I realized after our churn would go down, our reactivation would go down too. And then growth would go up. Churn will go up, reactivation will go up. I’m like, what is going on here? And it turns out that some customers are just finicky, especially certain segments. I found this a lot when I started digging in into software that serves freelancers kind of creators and anyone who generally doesn’t have a lot of money. 

Actually, a lot of gym owners are like very on edge with their finances for whatever reason. I couldn’t tell you why. But just like anyone in the fitness industry, they’re probably going to have failed payments or they’re going to cancel, come back for next month, or like, they’re always in between different things. But you can actually have high churn if you have high reactivation. Basically, think about it as a discount to your churn rate. 

So there was a startup that I talked to, looked at the churn. It was like 12%. I was like, this is absolutely insane. But about half of it, about 6% of that was coming back, like the next month or the month later, they had about 6% of their growth come from reactivation every month. 

So I was like, oh, it’s actually fine. It’s actually about 6% truly churn. So it’s sustainable. It’s fine. And they made it work with another one. And then I’ll kind of digress. 


Here is lifetime value. I could talk about this all day long, but lifetime value is not a thing in SaaS. It just isn’t. It works for one time sales. Actually, if you guys have a different opinion, I’d love to hear because I’m always trying to test this and see how I’m wrong here or if there’s any edge cases. But it works great for one time sales. 

Because basically the thought is how do we quantify the expected average value of a customer over time when you have a one time sale or like a very small product skew with very similar price points? It’s very easy to calculate lifetime value. And that becomes useful because, you know, even if I’m like break even on the first purchase with this customer, over the lifetime, they’ll be profitable. Right. And that’s the whole idea. 

The problem with SaaS is that it’s recurring revenue. So therefore, there’s kind of multiple sales happening every month or every year, and there is no end date. There’s also a wide range of price points. Could be anywhere between $9 a month and $900 a month. And so if you average that out, you’re going to get to a number that might be skewed lower or higher than what’s actually representative of the customer base. 

And also the way that you’re supposed to calculate value in churn is by dividing your average revenue per customer by your user churn rate. And the thought there is that your user churn is basically the rate at like if you take 4% user churn, for example, over the course of twelve months, in theory you will churn through about 40% of your customer base. And so you can kind of reverse engineer the expected time for customers to be with you, which I think for I want to say for 4%, it’s about an average lifespan of about two years. 

The problem here’s, what we found at Baremetrics was that our highest paying customers stuck around the longest and their lifetime value was about like $40,000. For example, the lowest value customers stick around for about six months to a year on average and their lifetime value was about $1,000. Our lifetime value evened out to like three or $4,000. But that was not a useful metric whatsoever. It was like, what do you do with that? Right? How is that even useful at all? 

So anyways, I basically just say don’t use lifetime value, it’s not useful whatsoever. People try to use it for like CAC:LTV… just use payback period, just use ARPU compared to CAC to multiply that to your cost of acquisition. That gives you your payback period. At the end of the day, that’s what is the most useful way of thinking about lifetime value anyway.

So I digress. 

This is fascinating, I think there’s definitely room for a full chapter just on metrics and including this rant here. I think your breakdown of LTV is fascinating, especially folks that don’t buy into the annual plan model of SaaS and are all about the monthly recurring revenue and SaaS products change all the time and the pricing model changes as well. The reactivation bit too as well. I think that’s a huge untapped area. I feel like we could chat about metrics all day. 

Happiness and balance (45:29)

We only have a few minutes left here, but JT, I’ll let you kick it off with the last question for us. Thanks so much for being on the show. I know you’ve got like a ton of stuff going on, just evident through this podcast. One question we ask all of our guests I’m very curious on your take is… between all the things that you’re doing and managing on a day to day basis, how do you manage being successful and happy? 

That’s a good question. I’m glad you ask it. It’s a fun one for a podcast like this. Every week is a little bit different. I think, though, for me, just knowing that I’m making progress, doing the best that I can. Like I mentioned before, it’s kind of like eustress. It’s only distressful when I feel like I’m not doing a good job or when I’m behind on things, or when I feel like I’m letting people down. I’m very much like a yes man and a people pleaser. So for me, being happy, like in my work, it’s just knowing that I’m doing the best that I can and that things are moving forward and generally the way I’ve set things up between Swipefiles, consulting these new staff projects, advising, and random other investing stuff that we do on the side, I just want to make sure I’m not letting anyone down. I’m not doing that. Then I’m pretty happy. 

And I can kind of go at my own pace, which sometimes feels slow and sometimes feels fast. Personally, I find that having really strong friendships and also a really good relationship with my wife is very key to just being happy overall and in general. But I’ve also found, I don’t know if you guys have a similar experience, but I’m not happy if I don’t get outside and do something competitive once in a while. So more recently, I’ve taken up pickleball, which has been like a huge sort of competitive release for me. And it’s like, active and it could be outside and it’s fairly casual to do it with friends. It kind of checks all the boxes there. 

I love basketball. I also love playing poker. It’s also very social and competitive as well. So if I do that, like one of those things at least once a week, I can look forward to that and kind of get my fix. And it makes me happier and it kind of releases me to do my work as well. But I find that if I don’t do my work and I’m only doing those things, I’m unhappy. If I only do work and I don’t do those things, I’m also not happy. So it’s like having the blend of both those things to work with and kind of the back and forth that makes me happy. 

Where to find Corey (48:03)

Awesome. Love it. Thank you so much for your time, Corey. I’ll let you end it for us. Why don’t you plug some stuff for our audience? 

Sweet. Thanks for having me. It’s been a ton of fun. Love the conversation. Great questions. Kudos to you guys. You can find me on Twitter at Coreyhainsco for all the things that I’m working on, Swipefiles.com for the newsletter. 

Also just for podcast listeners: You can use the code “humans” at checkout at swipefiles.com/membership for 50% off the 5membership, join us in the community. Get access to the courses, office hours, access to me, and I think that’s pretty much it. 

Check out the Swipe Files community. I’m a member (Phil). See a lot of value from there. I’m actually friends with a couple of people that I met in the community, so, yeah, thanks for putting that together. And thanks for taking some time and chatting with us. It’s been an awesome conversation. Feel like we can keep this going for two or three more hours. But. Yeah. 


Background notes

Corey’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/coreyhainesco 

Corey’s website: https://www.coreyhaines.co 

What Corey has going on

(Formerly) Baremetrics: https://baremetrics.com


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created by SLB

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