Brian Casel’s startup, ZipMessage, is a platform for asynchronous video conversations where anyone (like your clients and colleagues) can respond with a video of their own.
Why and how you should leverage asynchronous communication with your team and your customers? Joining Cory Miller on Post Status Live, Brian Casel answered those questions and showed how his new startup, ZipMessage, performs in these scenarios.
About Brian Casel
As a product designer and entrepreneur, Brian Casel has built several businesses since 2008. The product Brian is focused on today is ZipMessage, a tool for asynchronous video conversations with your customers and colleagues. He also runs ProcessKit, a tool for automating your agency’s repeatable processes and tasks, and Audience Ops, a blog content productized service.Ax
Follow Brian on Twitter.
Cory Miller: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another Post Status Live. I've got my friend and serial entrepreneur, Brian Casel on of the latest thing we're going to be talking about that he's been working on is ZipMessage. But Brian, like I was saying in the pre-show, it's always fun to talk to you. Cause I love like you're this master experimenter and shipper. You don't just do a lab. You're like, here's a lab that's out in the public and you're always shipping some new, cool thing. You are the creator of product does this awesome course that I've been a part of for a long time. But thanks for being here. Tell us a little bit about you, Brian.
[00:00:42] Brian Casel: Yeah, Cory You sent me a message. I'm there, like I'm going to show up for any excuse to, to chat business or chat this kind of web work and stuff. We've both been at it for a whole bunch of years now. And learning things the hard way. That's like the theme of my journey here, but yeah, it's been fun to, to work on it.
[00:00:59]A lot of different products, I was much more in like the WordPress services world in the early part of my career. I'm a web designer and developer by trade. But in more recent years, I, so I built a couple of product, high service businesses restaurant engine back in the day on WordPress.
[00:01:16] And then. Audience ops like a content service on we work with WordPress quite a bit, but since then I've moved much more into SAS and software. And right now the SAS product that I'm really focused on is called ZipMessage. It's for, asynchronous video messaging with your teammates, with other freelancers, with your clients customer support.
[00:01:36]That kind of stuff is great. Like without having to hop on a Zoom call, you can ha you can have full video screens. Audio recordings and actually just today we shipped it, it now automatically transcribes your messages. So you could like, basically talk into a microphone and then somebody can read what you said, basically.
[00:01:51] Cory Miller: Oh, that's so cool. You keep iterating, those things. Okay. I want to save some of the zip messes stuff for that part, but I want to first talk because I'm curious, and I think a lot of people were curious over the years, you talked about restaurant engine productivity. Hardigan SOPs now, ZipMessage.
[00:02:06]ProcessKit. Some of the ones I know you run a tiny company. To every year you're into all these cool things. And a lot of people when they see Korea in a bunch of things, I'm like, yeah, but my friend, Brian, he is in a lot of things and he's making a lot of money from all those things. Tell me about what it's like to be at, how your brain thinks and being a serial entrepreneur.
[00:02:29] Do you think of yourself as a serial entrepreneur? What, guides all of this that you do.
[00:02:34] Brian Casel: I think first of all, when you look at my website or the list of links of things that I've worked on, yeah. It looks like a lot, that spans a 13 year period. So it's not like I'm doing everything at once here.
[00:02:46]Most of those things I worked a lot. Several years ago. And I think that the general theme of what I've been trying to do in the last, I dunno, six to eight years is like anything that I do choose to work on. It's gotta be something that I'm not just going to work on it now. It has to live.
[00:03:04] After I stopped working on it. That was the big shift. It's not like any groundbreaking idea or anything, but that's generally the shift that, that people go through when they try to get more into products. And yeah know, talking about productized services. I come from a background as a freelance web designer, and then I moved into productized services so that I could build a team and processes.
[00:03:26]That to me was like the easiest way to jump from just charging by the hour, as a web developer to building a business that could run without me in the day-to-day. It took a lot of work and years of figuring out the processes, figuring out how to sell the service and things like that.
[00:03:41] But eventually, by design, I have a team today who runs that day-to-day and it has freed me up to focus years, like multiple years into learning how to build SAS products, making a ton of mistakes.
[00:03:55] Cory Miller: Learning to code. I know you learned to code. Like you went to, I think, a boot camp, or you went through something.
[00:04:01] Brian Casel: Yeah, a couple. Around 2018, before that I come from a background as a front end developer that's been my whole career. But I was never into the backend. I, that was always my limitation. I would always have to hire like backend developers if I wanted to design something and then have it built.
[00:04:18] And that, that got frustrating for me when I reached like 2018. And so I was like I have a lot of free time from my service business that cause I'm not in it day to day. So let me invest the year of 2018 and I did a bunch of different courses and Like courses, books, coaches on.
[00:04:36]Ultimately I landed on learning how to code in Ruby on rails which I've fallen in love with in, in terms of a way to build. S a SAS application. I, coming from a front end designer standpoint, I like to keep things simple. And rails has been the easiest way for me to build functional products.
[00:04:53]And since 2018, I've built a couple of different, very small SAS products, but those are mostly like learning projects. Some of them, I actually did launch as real products but the first really big one. ProcessKit and big buy in terms of like big products to build. That's an active business today.
[00:05:11]And I've worked on that for the past, like two and a half years. And then and then I, and then the shiny object syndrome set in right around the turn of 2021. And that's when I started shipping ZipMessage and I've been almost fully focused on that.
[00:05:27] Cory Miller: Okay. Here's my question. So if I say what's the Brian Casel criteria for when you start a project. One, I think you said, which is it has to live on after I've stopped working with it.
[00:05:41] So I don't know what your percentage of time is, but like audience ops, I know lives on pretty dang autonomous team. So you can do on these other things. W where's ProcessKit in that, but what are really the criteria that you look at starting a new project? So we talked about restaurant engine.
[00:05:59] How did that start? What was the thoughts from post a ProcessKit to all the way to ZipMessage, thing, things you think that make them compelling to you?
[00:06:10]Brian Casel: I don't think that there's any Framework or real pattern in any of these? I think each one of those has a different story in there.
[00:06:16]Restaurant engine, I was younger and I, and really that whole business was a huge learning experience for me. In many ways that was like the first. Real business that wasn't freelance service, like freelancing as a web designer. And then I got into restaurant engine.
[00:06:32] So that was the first time I actually learned about how to do recurring revenue and any sort of like real marketing so I learned a ton there, but then I sold the business in 2015. Part of the reason I decided to sell that year. It's sold to restaurants and I'm not particularly connected to the restaurant industry.
[00:06:50] So that to me was a limitation in terms of my ability to really grow the business. I didn't want to double down on, flying yeah. To a restaurant industry conference every year and things like that. I just wasn't going to do that. And so it was better off in somebody else's hands.
[00:07:06] Cory Miller: Moving into a profitable point though. And…
[00:07:10] Brian Casel: Yeah, it was at a point that it was sellable, it was profitable at the time to cover my bills with my family, back in 2015. And then it was also built to a point where I had a team running. It was a combination of like services and some WordPress software underneath and and it was a business that is, that had a subscriber base, which makes it valuable to be able to sell to someone.
[00:07:31] It wasn't a huge exit, but it was a six-figure thing. And at the time, for me, that was a pretty big deal, and yeah,
[00:07:37] Cory Miller: So now if we skip onto ProcessKit, my perception as I follow your work is you are the productized person. Like you own that site. You're the one that I think about as teaching, you don't have to sell.
[00:07:52] Services for time that you can make it in a way that is like a product and you even talk the course on it. I'm a student still in there. I still go back to it. But ProcessKit to me, seemed like this isn't. Yeah. Brian's jam, like you have set up processes so that audience ops can run and grow and do great.
[00:08:12] Like you own the processes. That's what I hear from you a lot. So it was processed kit. What were the criteria there?
[00:08:18]Brian Casel: ProcessKit was a real attempt to build a SAS product that, that really built out of a lot of the learnings that I had from bill. Audience ops. In many ways we built all the processes and our team's workflows, like manually using a lot of, just a lot of Google docs and to document the SOP standard operating procedures. Excuse me. And then hobbling together, lots of other tools, whether it was like Trello and then communications to the clients and to the team and stuff like that. And that worked fine.
[00:08:54]It builds the business but it's pretty overwhelming for the team and it's also, it also leaves a lot of room for error and the more repeatable, the more predictable that you can. The business, the better it's going to run. And the more freedom you have as the manager to not have to deal with fires, to put out because some something was missed or some, or there was some custom scenario, right?
[00:09:15] So with ProcessKit it took what we had built, but it made a better interface and it automated a lot of that. So we could with ProcessKit, you can build out processes. But you can also build in conditional logic. If this, then that, cause we had to write all that stuff out in Google docs before.
[00:09:32] So now it's okay, if the client purchased our top package, then these steps in our onboarding process apply to that client. But if the client purchased this other package, then these other steps apply or maybe the client's website is in WordPress. We're going to say. A certain set of plugins for them, but maybe the client's website is in Squarespace.
[00:09:54] So then we have a different set of processes to handle that client. And so instead of having to rely on, instead of having the team, have to constantly like figure out like. Which way do we go on this end? Each situation process gets logic, just handles that for the team. And then the team just sees their next tasks and then they can focus on their talent.
[00:10:15]So we have a team with audience ops. We have a team of really great writers and copy editors and account managers who communicate with clients. They do what they're best at. I don't want them wasting mental cycles on oh, which SOP was that? And step 19 links back to the other one.
[00:10:33] Like, where am I? We don't want any of that. I want them to think about how can I write the best article possible for this client today? And so that was the idea with ProcessKit and it still runs and it works really great for teams. Who operate that way, maybe they don't call themselves a productized service business, but they're probably an agency with a small team, maybe a large team and they're doing things in a very repeatable fashion, ProcessKit is really made for that sort of thing.
[00:10:59]Yeah, and it's been pretty good. As a product, I love the product. We use it in audience ops every day. And the teams that use it really love it. But it's also been a challenging product for me. One of the reasons why I moved on to ZipMessage, just because, process kids didn't see that like overwhelming growth that some SAS products like rocket ships, just see, and it's you cannot do anything else but tame that, that beast it wasn't that, so it was more of a slow, steady kind of thing. And it's, SAS is a hard thing to get, I've learned,
[00:11:32] Cory Miller: It was also like your first project, real public facing project after you'd learned Ruby on Rails and all that kind of stuff. Is that right?
[00:11:40] Brian Casel: Yeah, it was my first big one that, that I was the main developer on, in, in the early days of it.
[00:11:45] I also work with a developer now I'm still in the product day to day, but I, now I work with another developer, but I built like the first main part of ProcessKit. I had tried other SAS products before that, where I was outsourcing the development to someone else. And those didn't. Really go so well, not necessarily because of the outsourcing, it's just learning.
[00:12:07] Cory Miller: Yeah. It just seems to me it had multiple benefits. You use it for your own work, made your course probably better. You got that. Learn new skills and practice new skills out there. But the main question I want to get to is, and this is what I've been asking myself is when do you quit? And when do you keep going?
[00:12:28]I am the master at starting things. I can start things, get them out in the world. And a lot of people would have a problem with just getting started. But my problem that you might stay too, is I get too much out there and then I'm like, I equate it to going fishing when I was growing up, like we only fished on stock ponds.
[00:12:45] I didn't very rarely know what it was like to put it into a Creek or Le like that. I didn't know that it wasn't actually loaded with fish. And it's the setting, like how long do you leave it out there? When you just know like the fish aren't biting, like zip ZipMessage, but process get you said was a slower build, but ZipMessage took off.
[00:13:05] How do you know when to quit? Or keep going.
[00:13:09] Brian Casel: Yeah. It's a really tough question, I think in general it should be obvious, you're seeing consistent repeatable sales of the thing that you're trying to sell, I have definitely had things that did not sell even in recent years.
[00:13:22] I remember one the one before ProcessKit was actually called ops calendar. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. The one that like I was probably talking about for a year there, but it didn't really go anywhere to be honest, and that was a software product where, and that was before I learned Ruby on Rails.
[00:13:37] So I designed it, but I was outsourcing the development. And you could say it was a version. It was like an early, or it was like a precursor to what became processed kit. But it was different. It was more of a calendar product. It was a little bit like social media scheduling, a little bit WordPress scheduling calendar, a little bit of process in there.
[00:13:54] It's a mix of different things. It didn't really know what it wanted to be. And I had a handful of customers who prepared. Like I, so I, I took prepayments before I even built it. I was like, oh, it's validated. And then I invested a whole lot of money in hiring developers and spend about, oh over a year, I think a year and a half on that.
[00:14:15] And ultimately it didn't crack like a thousand dollars a month. And so that's when I got. Frustrated with the limitation and the cost of outsourcing. And that's when I stopped and I spent the year to learn Ruby on rails and then took another crack at it with process. Could I, and I think it went better, with ProcessKit, but yeah,
[00:14:37] Cory Miller: I like this within the products and I just put a link to Brian's personal website where you can see his products.
[00:14:42] And he's actually got a lot of I didn't see this until just now, because I forgot about ops calendar. Th that's the thing, not everybody is okay with something flopping, and when I look back on my career, just that I themes, I go, I get credit probably for the home runs. What I get asked the most, I don't know about you is the failures.
[00:15:00] And my failure, one of mine was I think it was exchange, which is our e-commerce project. I was like, you know what? I want to keep make e-commerce simplified. But what happened to me when I was asking criteria is I think I put profit before passion and purpose and all these things. And I held on too long.
[00:15:17] And what I tell is I probably wasted about 400, $500,000 spent didn't get any. Any re we got some revenue, but it was just like, you're talking about obstacles. Like it eat and stuff. Didn't pay for it. We had to switch ultimately other things. But I held on for three years.
[00:15:33] Brian Casel: Yeah. And I think that there's and I struggle with this a lot.
[00:15:36] I have over the last few years where you hear a lot of people say, focus don't get shiny object syndrome. Don't try other things on the side. And that's good advice. Generally yeah, like especially a SAS product, that's a subscription thing, that's it? No matter how successful it is, it's going to take awhile to get it to where it needs to be.
[00:15:57]But there, there does come a point where it's where you do have to make the really hard decision to say, either, I'm going to sunset this thing, shut it down, maybe just leave it on maintenance mode, maybe sell the business if it's a valuable asset. But it's a gut feeling.
[00:16:13] But it's also how many things have I, how many avenues have I exhausted with this thing in terms of marketing or sales or positioning, or, that, that sort of stuff. But frankly, at the end of the day, if you're not getting excited about it, if you're not driven to keep working on it I think that's as good enough of a reason as any, to just take a break.
[00:16:31]And for me, I don't know if this is the case with others. I probably is that I tend to get excited to work on stuff when there are customers for it. Like it's, it is hard when you're, when you spend a lot of hours and months on something, couple of customers here and there, but it's not that, that much.
[00:16:50]That's the type of thing that, that makes me less and less interested in the thing. But when I see customers every day on something, yeah, of course, I'm excited to keep building that product and not go chase another product. Cause it's like, why, Nothing else is as interesting as where the action is right now, if that makes sense.
[00:17:11]And that's not to say I'll go build anything as long as somebody would buy it. I don't start things in the beginning, unless it's, unless I think there's a founder fit with it. And I feel like right now zit message. It's still pretty early at seven months in, but it's.
[00:17:29] I think it, it has, I think after all these products that I've, I tried to work on, this one feels different in that both like daily traction with customers and a really good fit for me. I use it every day, but it's also zip ZipMessage has been how I've been generally working the last decade.
[00:17:48]I've been reading. The whole time I've been I love asynchronous communication. I'm very down on too many meetings with the team and I think it's great.
[00:17:59] Cory Miller: Okay. Let's shift into to ZipMessage. So it came about, as I gather from our previous conversations, to solve your own problem too. Getting into things like how you work and things like that. How did that idea come about?
[00:18:13] Brian Casel: It's interesting how it came about and how it's evolved just in the last few months. So I was doing, I was working on ProcessKit last year in 2020, and doing a lot of customer support for process. And so there would be a lot of times where I'd be talking to a customer and I need to see their screen.
[00:18:32] I need to see what they're seeing, especially if it involves other tools. If they're connecting Zapier to process kid or something like that. And sometimes even just a screenshot is not enough. I need to see it on video. Walk me through how you put together this and that. And then I can see where something went wrong.
[00:18:49] So I would be emailing with a customer and say, Hey, can you record me? Make a recording for me, use some tool that you find somewhere and then maybe send me a Dropbox link to that or whatever it might be. And then I can see what you're seeing. And then I was thinking like, man, it would be great if I could just send a client or a customer, a link, they click it, they come to a page, they could click record and start recording their screen. And then it sends back to me. And that's essentially what does it message does? And that was the idea. And then when I launched. Fast forward to so I started building that in January and launched it in March, like a very early version of it.
[00:19:29] But as we build. My developer and I, we made it the ability to do that for anybody to respond with a message, but then you can respond back and then it's a conversation. So now ZipMessage. It's a whole conversation down the page, my video, and then your video. And then my video, maybe we pull in another team member or someone else.
[00:19:49] Now we have a small group, all in an asynchronous, like contributing our messages on video or audio or screen and or texts too. And that, that it turned out that the customer support piece is interesting, but it's the conversational piece that people are really resonating with. That's the part that I didn't fully expect when I started building it, because people are, there's plenty of tools out there, like loom is a popular one.
[00:20:17]But those are one way you record one message, you fire it off and then it's, and then it's flying around somewhere. And then you do another one and then maybe they sent if they're going to respond back to you, then they have to download that tool and install it. It's too much friction.
[00:20:32] It's not a conversation in one place. And so I think that's the thing that has resonated with people. And so now all the different use cases, it's not just customer support. It's. Agencies talking with their clients and getting feedback on a design or a website or it's a lot of teams, just remote teams, different time zones doing status updates.
[00:20:56]Another really good one is hiring interviews. So if you're hiring someone or you're looking for a freelancer to work with, you can maybe do a live interview, but you can do a follow-up with 20 more questions. Asynchronously without have to having to book a hundred different calls on your calendar.
[00:21:11]All these little use cases are popping up and people are finding like really interesting ways to do it. Even with podcasting too, so a lot of podcasts are using it as the take listener questions and stuff like that. Yeah. And what we're going to be doing in the next month or two is we're going to be producing a new podcast using ZipMessage. We're going to record guests asynchronously and do it that way. It'll be a little bit different.
[00:21:36] Cory Miller: I've told you this, but we're talking that through, at Post Status to leverage that because sometimes you have to do async, but I'm so curious about that. But how that actually plays out, and I can't wait to start testing it like you're doing,
[00:21:50] Brian Casel: I'm curious too. Working through the logistics of it, but it'll be fun. Yeah.
[00:21:56] Cory Miller: Yeah. How that's an issue, my thought is whenever I try to characterize what I do, it's really I'm on a safari or I'm wading through a jungle that I think I know some things about the jungle and I have my backpack of things and tools I use, and sometimes I have people with me and I'm exploring, what's so interesting about ZipMessage and all of your stuff, it seems like you've got this real theme of curiosity and exploring. I want to, I think there's something here, like a thesis to these async this is happening in my life.
[00:22:27] How do I, I think the thesis is other people would be doing this too. And I love that you've innovated on a medium, like the greatest example as you're sharing with ZipMessages is I have one colleague friend who I love text messaging because I'm a fast typer and I can juggle things, but it's the most interesting thing.
[00:22:48] He sends me an audio message instead of typing it out. And I'm like, that's interesting, but. ZipMessage. And what you're doing, you're showing people that you can have a conversation that's not live on the like we're doing live on the phone or the webinar, or simply text you're showing it can be video and audio and the stream conversations really compelling.
[00:23:12] Brian Casel: Yeah. If there's one thing that I really want to tell the world about this right now, it's that it, and I'm trying to figure out better ways to explain it. Once you start using it with and into real conversations, you start to notice that these are actually better conversations. Like they're more productive and then a Zoom call because yeah you're going to cut out the, having to do live calls and booking calendars stuff and that's a great benefit, but I think it's even better that.
[00:23:46] The content of the conversation is much better because each participant in the async conversation has they have the space to, I hear your message. I'm going to go think about it for a few hours. Maybe walk the dog, think it over then I'm going to come back and now I've gathered my thoughts. Now I know what I want to contribute to the conversation and I'll record it. And maybe I messed up that recording. Let me record it again before I send it off, so it's a better contribution from each person. Whereas if you're on a Zoom, if you're on a Zoom call, let's say you're on a team meeting or you're on a class. I call it a client on a Zoom call, you have to keep talking. You can't just, you can't just sit there and awkward silence. So you have to just blurt out whatever the most, the first thing that comes to mind on everything.
[00:24:33] Cory Miller: You've got to improvise.
[00:24:34] Brian Casel: Yeah you've got to improvise. They ask you a question, whatever your first gut reaction is, you'll say it, but it's not, that might not be the best that you have to offer or the best that somebody else has to offer, and I've been doing all sorts of like research into this where, there's all sorts of studies now with teams using Zoom and Zoom fatigue and teams literally like teammates literally like tuning out and like putting their camera on, like hiding their camera and then just tuning in when they hear their name is mentioned, but they're not really listening.
[00:25:04] They're not really engaged, so I think with an async thing, like you're literally getting the best from every person, And I've seen it firsthand like my team that I work with, like most of what we do is through ZipMessage and we're moving the ball forward. We're having really good productive chat.
[00:25:19] Cory Miller: Yeah. And now I know you can do multiple channels. I can't remember what you call them, but you can have. What are they called?
[00:25:25] Brian Casel: The message templates. Yeah. Yeah. So now we'll, you can think of them like canned responses. You can turn any recording that you've made into a template, like a reusable message.
[00:25:37]That's interesting in two ways. One is say it's like a customer story. Context, you can just reply to the, with the same canned response for a common question. But another one would be like, if you're hiring people and you need to post like a question that a hundred different applicants need to answer, you can record that once. And then they all respond to it. And then that generates like new one-to-one conversations.
[00:26:02] Cory Miller: And it feels more personable. Like you can hear you, if you're asking the question. And they can listen to it and go home and get inspired and to go like when they're ready to go. And I think you've got something to say, push it.
[00:26:14] Like I'm thinking about this Brian for like business groups, mastermind type groups, you could say, what are you working on this week? Hey, don't forget, go over there. And it's what are you working on? And you just reply and give your message. I'm in this 30 days of clicking publish challenge, I put to myself, which is every day, 30 days, just click posts on our blog post.
[00:26:34] What it's done for me that I think something like this can do is I do a lot of video content, but I feel like my I'm more comfortable in writing sometimes, but I think it's so good to be able to communicate. You know what you're doing. I'm actually looking at the reading, this book influence and persuasion from HBR, because we'll be doing pitches here pretty soon.
[00:26:59] I do a lot of audio video content, and I think that'd be cool. Like even a 30 days of video. Little blurbs that could, I know through ZipMessage, you can download the MP3 debt or an MP4, I think, so you can put those in your podcast or up on YouTube.
[00:27:18]Brian Casel: And they're shareable. So you can record your thing for the day, Tweet it out and have your followers click the link and post their response in ZipMessage. They could record and they don't even need to download anything. They don't need to even register for ZipMessage. They could just post it anonymously if they want to. And the idea is to keep it like frictionless. What was I going to say on that too… there was something else.
[00:27:41] Cory Miller: All those are huge benefits. What I love is you put you've created this platform and he had lightning in a bottle right now. And you're seeing people use it for not the original intended reasons. And I love that because you're flexible. You're like, I like this. I'm going to use it for myself, but you built this platform in a way where people can use it in all these creative ways.
[00:28:02] Brian Casel: Yeah. And that's one of those things. I really think there's a lot of advice out there that we hear floating around that you have to, Hey, I really struggle with this where it's I know that's generally good advice, but there's always exceptions to the rule. Yeah. And I, and it's hard to spot when I'm supposed to ignore the most common advice and just go a certain way. So like earlier this year with ZipMessage, I thought okay, I have to niche down this thing. I need to figure out what the one use case is with the one industry and triple down on that. And I tried to do that a little bit, but I just kept seeing it.
[00:28:40] Five or six different use cases pop up. And so for right now, it's still just, like a horizontal product, you could use it in different ways and I'm starting to just embrace that. It is what it is it's working for now. We're still gonna do like more targeted campaigns to certain use cases.
[00:28:57] But, I think the product itself it's that's one of those things. I think there's so many. Things where everybody's path is going to be a little bit different. It's really good to learn from other founders and other entrepreneurs and product people, but you can never say oh, that worked for them.
[00:29:13] So it's going to work for you or this or that. Like you got to pick and choose little bits and put it together, I think.
[00:29:19] Cory Miller: And I think that's such a differentiating role of the entrepreneur is. Exploring and take it where it goes I don't know about you, but I look back at I themes and I go, I didn't intend to create ultimately, which would be a backup security and maintenance company.
[00:29:35] Brian Casel: That's right.
[00:29:35] Cory Miller: I didn't set that out.
[00:29:36]Brian Casel: It was called iThemes.
[00:29:37] Cory Miller: It was called iThemes, it's about themes. And I didn't even want; to call it iThemes, by the way. My partner did and it was much better than my brand. But I didn't set out that I went where the customers were. Like I went in our fishing example, I went where the fish were and saw those opportunities.
[00:29:55] And I feel like that's like what you've done across your projects, but also with ZipMessages. You've been asking, what are the things that I interviewed her friend mutual friend, Derek from SavvyCal, and he's iterating on things, but he didn't just go copy paste, Calendly features. He's going where the customer goes. And I think that's so cool.
[00:30:15] Brian Casel: So I do like the idea of going into a cat… so for a new product, like going into a category that is established, that already exists, that there are competitors out there. But you have to come in with a differentiator. What is the thing that's different? Like, why should someone switch?
[00:30:34] And I just recently switched from Calendly to SavvyCal and, because it's a smoother booking experience for both parties and yeah I really like it.
[00:30:42] Cory Miller: Do you think projects have to have, take a stand on something? Or how do they, maybe it's a better question, way to ask this is, how do you find that point of differentiation?
[00:30:54] What was, if you give examples of previous projects, including ZipMessage, what was the thing you'd go like Derek, I feel like Derek's was the visual view of senior work. Yeah. And not like having to click and see the times having to click and say let's Calendly. And every other thing I loved his week view that sold me for me. That was like the killer feature for me.
[00:31:14] Brian Casel: Yeah. Yeah. With ZipMessage the thing is clearly the conversational aspect of it. Like having multiple videos on the same page, in a conversation. That's the thing that's different from like a Loom. I guess you could throw in there, the fact that anyone can respond into your ZipMessage without having to have ZipMessages themselves. Which, the others either can't do at all or there's a lot of friction there. Like with ProcessKit, I didn't really intend this, but it went into the project management software space.
[00:31:43] So people would switch from like Asana or Base Camp or something over to ProcessKit. And the differentiator with ProcessKit is that it's made for repeatable processes. You're running the same set of steps with your team. Like every time you onboard a new client, and so those bigger project management tools are made for doing everything, but they're not exactly geared up for client work. Whereas ProcessKit is for client work and especially repeatable process oriented stuff.
[00:32:15] Cory Miller: Yeah. And it seems so thinking to differentiator is really key, but sometimes I'll tell you, it feels more like art than science, more like magic.
[00:32:27]Brian Casel: I also try to think of it like, okay, you have that functional differentiator, but then it's a question of who does that really matter?
[00:32:35]Yeah. Okay. That's cool. That it's different. But there has to be people who are like really hungry for I wish these tools would just have a better way to have a conversation instead of throwing loom links back and forth to people. And I'm still figuring that out with ZipMessage, but especially people who do a lot of them.
[00:32:52] We're trying to replace Zoom calls with clients and with team without resorting to just text over Slack or something. I think that's where that's going.
[00:33:02] Cory Miller: All right. Let me switch gears a little bit and ask you, what do you look for to the future of ZipMessage?
[00:33:07]Brian Casel: You started this thing with all the different projects that I've had over the years. And many of them are still active in my portfolio if you will. But I am at this point in my career trying to narrow it down and try and trying to get that focus thing. And I would love. To build this company that lasts multiple years, growing. ZipMessage is the product that we're focused on, but I think we can, as a company, we can still do other interesting things around ZipMessage. So I'm really trying to think of, think about it more like we're a media company that, that sells a software package. So I talked about how we're producing a new podcast right now. This might be like the first of several podcasts that we create over the next few years.
[00:33:52]Like we might become like a network of podcasts or maybe we also have a, several different newsletters or videos or things like that that are just interesting and useful for the industry. But the business model behind it as we're selling this SAS, ZipMessage. Lately, I've been really interested in that idea of like media brand that instead of selling sponsorships, we sell a software product.
[00:34:14] Cory Miller: The classic example I think about too is Red Bull. Yeah. They're into everything. Yeah. I think they'd probably say they're a media company that happens to drinks and races and like it's really encrypted, but the core is any, you built a business around it. Several. In fact, audience ops three, and one is I made, do this exactly show that you can be a publishing media company that happens to also sell those things, like wrapping all of that around it, where it's a bigger bundle.
[00:34:47] This is the one you really get paid for.
[00:34:49]Brian Casel: Yeah. Yeah. I, And I guess on that same note, I'm lately, I have always felt like marketing is my weak point in terms of a skillset for me
[00:34:58] Cory Miller: Really? I think you do so good with the design. You're like, I'm okay. I'm going to here. I'm like, oh man, on all these Brian's above me about several notches and you're like,
[00:35:09]Brian Casel: Yeah. Cause I think I could create things. I could design a page, I look at someone like Ruben Gomez, who is a winner. Yeah he made a bid sketch and now he has he has a new one called Sign well, which is like a document signing thing. And actually you just said you don't really know him well that's his preference. He's not a big personal brand. He's out there. He's on some podcasts, right? He's not out there that much, because he is like a wizard when it comes to SEO and Google traffic and marketing.
[00:35:41]And I don't really have that type of skillset, yeah. For me, the things that have always ever worked with my businesses. I come, I do things like this. I go out on podcasts. I I write content. I I've done videos and I, lately it's more podcasting than writing, but and what I'm more interested in going forward is instead of stressing out over, oh, I can't build like a pay-per-click funnel conversion funnel that, turns $1 into $3 predictably and I can measure it every single day. That would be nice. I would love to have that, but it's not my strength.
[00:36:15]And so I'm much more interested in creating interesting things for our industry and our people. Like usually in the form of a show that's different or some content that's different that gets people talking. And, helps expose the product that supports it like that.
[00:36:34] That's where I'm headed in terms of like marketing. I, and I don't know exactly what that's going to look like over the next year or two but that, I just want to go more in the direction of creating interesting stuff rather than having to measure every single click and conversion and all that kind of stuff.
[00:36:48] Cory Miller: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I have to ask you this question, cause it seems like. I think you have this hunch, like you validate things all the time, is it hitting or whatever, but I think you also have this hunch. You didn't know restaurants but you had this hunch Restaurant Engine would do well. Had this ProcessKit as soon as like little bit more passion there, but you got this hunch.
[00:37:13] It seems like that's like you had this internal just gut of, I think this is going to work, but it doesn't. I always play out either.
[00:37:20] Brian Casel: Yeah, I know. It definitely doesn't always play out, but I. Looking back I've always thought about it this way, where every new thing that I start, I'm solving a problem that was in the previous thing.
[00:37:34]I'm finding the things that were frustrating or that didn't work in the previous one. And how can I, whatever the next thing is, maybe I can. Do those two or three things better or differently this time. So let's see, like starting with restaurant engine right before, before restaurant engine, I was a freelance web designer, but I was also selling themes out of, I had a tiny little themes shop back in the day, like 2013, not 2010 stuff like that.
[00:38:03] And I remember you were like one of the big guys. The iThemes and Press75 and WooThemes like, you guys were in that crew and I was trying to like, oh, I can do that too. And I just felt like one team a month. So I was doing that, but then I was like okay, I started learning about SAS and I was like, I know WordPress. I would love to have a subscription-based business. The problem with themes is that they're one-off downloads. But also the problem is they have a ton of options. You've got to have all these theme options to customize them for all these different use cases.
[00:38:35]How could I solve for that? And the thought was not necessarily to go to restaurants, but it was more like how can I sell WordPress themes on a hosted platform, a subscription-based platform without having a thousand different customization outs. That was mentally like the equation that I was trying to solve for.
[00:38:52]And then it was like the way to solve that is make every website on the platform, basically the same. So how do you do that? It's you sell to one industry like restaurants, but I listed like 20 different industries that you could do this for. Yeah, that all have the same needs. They had, they have food menus, they have photos, their store hours.
[00:39:13] That's all the options that you need in the theme. And then that made it, and then it turned out, as I learned was okay, once you do that, now, it actually makes marketing easier because you only need to reach restaurants. You don't need to reach the whole world. So that, that was what I learned there.
[00:39:25] And then then so then I mentioned I sold restaurants. One of the reasons was because I didn't personally have a network or a connection to the restaurant industry. It made sales harder, once it started to grow. So I exited that business and then I started audience ops and. Part of the reason with audience ops was to grow a service business that had higher revenue, but it was also like if I'm going to do something, it should be in my network of, so I started selling that service to other SAS founders.
[00:39:55] Cause I was already friends with SAS founders. I was going to MicroComp than other conferences where these people hang out and WordPress businesses too. I'm networked with. These people were asking me about content and stuff, because I was doing that with restaurant engine and I was like, okay, I see an opportunity there and it's my network.
[00:40:10] So I could, I have some inroads here. It's going to make it easier to get the first round of customers on this new thing. Fast forward to now with ZipMessage. I talked about ProcessKit quite a bit. One of the, one of the big challenges. Has been adoption, right? So if a team is going to start using ProcessKit, if they sign up today, I've worked on this, but they don't get a lot of value immediately day one on ProcessKit. They have to start setting it up and creating their processes and then they have to invite their team. And then they have to get their whole team to adopt it and leave behind a sauna or base camp or something like that. That's a whole month of work to get a new team on board on ProcessKit.
[00:40:57] And so when I started looking at the idea for ZipMessage, it got, I got really excited about it because I was like, man, this is fast to get value from. You start using it, you have one conversation with someone else and you just got value from it. And that's what I'm seeing. Like people can start using it really quickly. It's simple and it's spreads too, because there's the viral component you're literally using it. You're sharing it with someone else. So those things made ZipMessage. I wouldn't have gotten that excited about ZipMessage unless I went through the struggle with ProcessKit, so that's how I think about each thing.
[00:41:33] Cory Miller: This is why Brian, nobody does what we do. This very few people, go one, start a business. And the success failures and the second is start multiple businesses. Because if I go don't know, but you, I go, this is like baseball. If you're a 300 plus hitter, average hitter in baseball, you're in the hallway.
[00:41:54] Yeah. That's one out of three times roughly. Got a lot. Yeah. They strike out a lot. The biggest home run hitters I used to follow had enormous strikeout rates, but what did you see on ESPN? The highlights, the home run. And I think this is I was just reading by the way, Seth Godin's The Dip I returning to that. And I was like, it's because the dip is tough because it's uncertain and it's like figuring it out and it's, will it hit? I almost go, I want to say, I want to ask this: how do people in your social network, not in like software as a service technical circles, think about what you do. You probably get a lot of this
[00:42:32] Brian Casel: Like my friends and family? Oh yeah. Oh dude. My parents think I like fix printers for a living or something. They know a bit more, but yeah, it's still… It's weird a little bit. I don't know if you really relate to this at all. Like on Facebook. I treat Facebook as that's my friends and family space.
[00:42:53] And I'll friend, someone from the web industry, only if I've basically met them in person. If I've done that, then I'm happy to see them on Facebook. But I also, Facebook is the place for my kids' photos and seeing other friends, kids' photos, and stuff like that. Twitter is more where the industry, my industry friends hanging out and I feel weird when first of all, I don't feel totally comfortable sharing, like my kids' photos on Twitter. Cause it's too public. But I don't like to share my work stuff on Facebook because I don't want that world to necessarily see all my stuff here. Just cause it's I don't know. It's so different and confusing. Yeah.
[00:43:32] Cory Miller: Yeah, you're right. Yeah. I'm not alone. I get it. It's like, why don't you ever stick with just one thing, Cory. And I'm like, cause I like a variety. It's just how I'm wired. And I found a career called entrepreneurship that helps me live that.
[00:43:46] Brian Casel: You know what a quick thought that's related to all this, I was thinking about it today is, I think that there's a lot of, again it's some of this advice that you sorta need to ignore sometimes. There's a lot of people saying don't do that or you shouldn't do, you shouldn't work on that or you need to validate it before you invest real hours in it. Or if you're a freelancer, you shouldn't do any work for free. Your clients have to pay you.
[00:44:09]Obviously you got to make a living. In general, I think it's actually better to default to yes. Than to default to no. Yes do it. And I think, yeah, at a certain point, if something is taking off you do got to stay focused on it. You'll probably want to stay focused on it, but in the early days, like for me, when I was a freelancer at doing web design I was charging like 50 bucks an hour. Eventually I was charging a hundred bucks an hour and then doing expensive projects and stuff like that. But I was also doing a lot of projects for absolutely no money, zero, $0. I was creating things and putting them out on the internet whether it was podcasts, whether it was a WordPress theme, whether it was this or that it was just trying stuff.
[00:44:57]I was improving my skills. Yep. And I was publishing, I was putting it out to the world. Yep. And that helps you. You might not make money from it today, but people see what you're doing. And then you get to meet interesting people and then that, and then you learn a thing or two and then things click.
[00:45:16]But the only way you're going to get there is if you're willing to actually do that. That are not going to pay you anything today.
[00:45:22] Cory Miller: That's so true. So parallel to my experience, even this clip holds 30 days, I just got a comment from someone that I interact with sometimes, but wouldn't have had the opportunity if I hadn't been clicking, publish and putting myself out there.
[00:45:37] So I totally believe in that you built businesses, multiple businesses around it. Everything else. Before we spin down, I asked my good friend, Brian here, if he would offer some deal to the poststatus.Com community and Brian do we have something I can offer the Post Status community?
[00:45:54] Brian Casel: Yeah. So ZipMessage right now is actually still invite only.
[00:45:57]But here's the dirty little secret. You can just go to zipmessage.com/signup. I get to write in, I didn't build any fancy sign up thing. It's just not linked from the homepage. I've been emailing that link to folks. So first of all, you can go straight there and get straight to the signup link.
[00:46:12] If you're watching this right now. But it's a 14 day trial by default. If you email me and mentioned the Post Status thing, I'll extend that to 30 days. And even if you need an an additional week beyond that, I'm happy to extend it for you. Yeah just, send me an email or send me a ZipMessage.
[00:46:27] You can go to zipmessage.com/brian that's where you can record a message for me and start a conversation. And really, if you think you might find ZipMessage useful, I would just love to know, how you plan to use it. Cause again, I'm trying to learn about that.
[00:46:41] Cory Miller: I love it here. Like I was just going to ask what's your email and you're like, zipmessage.com/brian. You've got viral flywheel effect in the platform. This is so cool.
[00:46:52] Brian Casel: I put it in my email signature now. So it says my name and then it's reply to me on video with zipmessage.com/brian.
[00:47:01] Okay. So if your name is Brian, I'm sorry, I took that URL already.
[00:47:06] Cory Miller: So I hope you've been inspired by this one is an entrepreneur too, that you can use ZipMessage. I've been waiting to upgrade to the premium and I just need to get in there and get my subscription because I want to start using these things, but head over to zipmessage.com/signup, get on the free trial and just try it or go to zipmessage.com/brian say, thanks for doing the podcast at Post Status and for all your tips and use it. Brian, where else can they find you?
[00:47:34] Brian Casel: Mainly on Twitter I'm @casjam on Twitter. And by the way, I've been a fan of Post Status for years. Obviously I've known you for years and Brian Krogsgard, I know you've taken it over, so that's really exciting too, but I've been on the newsletter for years and it's still my one connection point into the WordPress ecosystem. So I love what you're doing with it.
[00:47:53] Cory Miller: Cool. Ditto, man, I'm writing you on. Everybody. Thanks Brian. Go to zipmessage.com. Sign up, send them a message. Tell him thanks @casjam on Twitter. Brian Casel thanks so much for being on the podcast, the draft podcast to Post Status this week. We appreciate you and hope to see you soon!
[00:48:12] Brian Casel: Yeah. Thanks, Cory. This was fun.
[00:48:14] Cory Miller: All right. Thanks everybody.