What happens when a side project takes off, with Josh Pigford (@shpigford) of Baremetrics


Last updated on February 16, 2018 in CredoCast, Entrepreneurship, Growth

Josh Pigford is the CEO and founder of Baremetrics, which they say is “Metrics, forecasting and engagement tools for teams using Stripe, Braintree, Chargify and Recurly.” They help SaaS and subscription businesses have clarity into their subscriptions, revenue, churn and more.

Josh started Baremetrics as a side project in 2014. He has always been self-employed, from consulting to software, and built Baremetrics to solve his own problem. It has taken off and so now he focuses on it full time alongside seven other full time employees plus a bunch of contractors.

In this interview we talk briefly about their beginning story, but focus a lot more on what has helped them grow the best as well as Josh’s journey to being a CEO instead of just a founder.

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Transcript

John: All right, everyone. Welcome back. Today, I have with me Josh Pigford, who is the CEO/founder of Baremetrics. So Josh is someone I’ve been connected to online for a little while now, followed his stuff, respect his content marketing, and all the work he’s doing to really help entrepreneurs bring transparency to their business and also know what’s going on in their business with Baremetrics. So I’m super excited to have Josh on the show. He’s an awesome entrepreneur based out in Birmingham, Alabama. So, Josh, welcome. If you would, tell us a little bit about yourself and about your business.

Josh: Cool. And thanks for having me, John. So I started Baremetrics about four years ago kind of to scratch my own itch. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 15 years and always kind of had all sorts of things going on. Was doing some consulting, but also building SaaS products as well. And so Baremetrics was initially like me needing something for myself. I mean, I’d actually planned on it, just building this little internal tool because nothing else existed at the time for this sort of like easy access SaaS analytics stuff.

So I built it for myself and then realized, “Hey, this actually would be useful for other businesses.” Threw a pricing page up, launched it, and then it just took off. Really, it was kind of like…it was one of those things like I had two other SaaS products in the survey space at the time and I was kind of thinking like this Baremetrics thing will just be this little side project to do for kicks. And then like within a year, like, “Man, I don’t know if I’ll still be doing it in reality,” because it was built on Stripe and my thought was like, “Stripe should build something like this anyway.” So they’ll probably just acquire it or they’ll build something and it’ll make us irrelevant, whatever.

John: The age old, “Am I building a feature? Am I building a business?” conundrum.

Josh: Right. But it turned out lots of people needed it, still need it, and we’re kicking right along.

John: That’s awesome. So where is your business at these days in terms of people? I mean, if you want to share revenue, we’d love to hear that as well.

Josh: Yeah. So we are eight full-time plus a handful of contractors doing various things. And then we’re doing…the last I checked, we’re doing like 1.1 million, 1.2 million a year right now.

John: That’s amazing. And I love that you’re like, “Last time I checked,” because at some point, you’re at the point where, “Hey, my business is working,” and you’re not like wondering if you’re gonna be able to pay the bills and you can just focus on operating and growing and that’s the best spot to get to.

Josh: Yeah. It’s easy to get obsessed about numbers. A lot of people do, and sometimes, I get a little obsessive about it. I mean, our entire tool makes it really easy to get obsessed with. But I try really hard to not check that stuff all the time because checking it doesn’t do anything to like affect the numbers.

John: Right, totally. Yeah, I completely agree. It’s kind of like checking Google Analytics where you’re like, “Okay, it’s good to know where you stand,” but if you’re checking four times a day, it’s like, “So what?” So you put out a tweet and you got four more visitors. Who cares? Let’s do that a thousand more times, and then let’s talk. I know you’ve told your story a lot about Baremetrics and you just mentioned the beginning days. What I’d really love to talk about in this conversation is kind of the different phases that you’ve gone through as an entrepreneur in growing Baremetrics. So you said you were doing some consulting and you had some other things going on, and then Baremetrics started to take off. So I’d love to hear some of the…almost of the psychological stuff that you went through as an entrepreneur in that like, “Okay, what do I focus on? When do I stop consulting because I know I can pay the bills with Baremetrics?” And then going from being like a solo person and building it yourself to building out a team.

And I ask that kind of selfishly because I’m going through that process right now and I’m realizing it like I need to grow up as an entrepreneur, as a CEO which is still weird to call myself that, but a couple employees, I guess I should, or at least founder. I’d love to hear about how you kind of made those different shifts and what those kind of phases were as your company has grown and now doing 1.1, 1.2. And once you hit that, there’s really no ceiling.

Josh: Yeah. So I mentioned earlier like I’ve been an entrepreneur for 15 years. I’ve always been self-employed and like kind of relying on whatever my ability to make something happen. So this wasn’t anything new in that regard. I think like there’s just the logistics of it like going from having like split my time between consulting for like 50% of my time and then my own products for 50% of the time. Like my goal had always been to not do the consulting stuff. Like I could make really great money consulting, but like at the same time, it was just whatever. Like the purpose behind it was just to pay the bills really. My goal was to not do it.

So when Baremetrics got to the point where it could sustain me for like I didn’t need to do the consulting anymore, as soon as that was a possibility, then okay, I was done. I just didn’t take on any more client stuff. And that was that. I mean, like the end. I mean, I guess I could have kept consulting and like maybe hired some people faster and just like my own personal salary would be split between Baremetrics. Or maybe I still keep consulting and use all of the money from Baremetrics to hire people or grow or whatever, but my goal personally was to not consult anymore. So like as soon as I could make that a reality, I did it.

John: Got you. So it sounds like that was just like a decision that you had made that you’re like, “I don’t want to be consulting. I want to be doing software.” And so it was pretty easy just to say like, “Nope, I’m done.” Though it is hard to…I mean, the money is…I still consult. The money is fantastic. It can probably be like, “Walk away from that.” But if this is why.

Josh: And I’ve got a family. There’s obviously like more parts to that, but at the same time like my wife has only known me like as an entrepreneur. So we’ve never had like super stable income. I mean, Baremetrics has been the most stable that’s ever been because I set my salary and that’s that, but like with consulting, there’s ups and downs, and we’d still try to like flatten that out as much as possible. But like there’s still like dry periods or really great periods. And I think it was just…it didn’t feel like any kind of risky move at all. Like it just felt like the normal part of being an entrepreneur for us, but…

John: Right, right. And I don’t wanna belabor this point too long, but at what point…did you have like a certain revenue number or something in mind that you’re like, “All right. When Baremetrics hits this, then I’m not doing anymore consulting?” Like how did you make that decision, like at what point?

Josh: I mean, it was just like a personal budget thing. Like as soon as we could pay ourselves…I don’t even remember four years ago what I was trying to pay myself. But like that as soon as we reached that number, okay, we’re done. I remember there was a time where it’s like I’d hit that number but I was still in the middle of like some huge client project. I mean, I finished up the client project and that was that, but like as soon as the number was there, we went for it.

John: Cool, awesome. So let’s shift a little bit and let’s talk about your team. So you said that you and you have eight full-time employees and then a bunch of contractors.

Josh: Yeah.

John: How have you gone about building that out? Have you ever started a business like this where you’ve grown it to multiple people outside of yourself?

Josh: No, I’ve always done…I mean, like I’ve worked with other people or had business partners on stuff, but had never done the like payroll, salary, benefits, that whole deal. So that was new.

John: Yeah. So what have been the challenges there?

Josh: So I think the challenges that we’ve had have been more around just like the mechanics of having a remote team. So like half the team isn’t in the US, and the other half is. And so like there’s a lot of tools now where like five years ago, there weren’t these tools. So there’s like Justworks or like…I think Gusto is another one. These like HR in a box kind of things where…but they’re only for the US, but they make it super easy for me to run payroll and do all the taxes and even offer benefits like healthcare, dental, vision, all that stuff to our US employees, myself included because at this point, I’m just considered as an employee. So like the US side, super easy because of Justworks. That’s who we use for payroll and HR stuff.

However, international employees, it’s different for every country. So we’ve got two people in Canada, one guy in Switzerland, another guy in the UK. And so like every single one of those country is different. Like the way that we have to handle them and there’s like…I was just having a conversation yesterday about issues with like exchange rates fluctuating. And so that changes what those employees are getting paid because the dollar to whatever their currency is fluctuates. There’s that kind of stuff. Like there’s no easy…

John: And you even paid else or you’re paying them more, and yeah.

Josh: Yeah. So sometimes it works out great in their favor, other times not so much. So it’s like, “Okay, what do you do?” And then obviously, there’s benefits. Like every country has different healthcare setups. And so it’s like, “Well, how do you fairly compensate people for that stuff? If we’re paying for healthcare for US-based, we should probably pay for international too,” but whatever. There’s all these things. There’s just a thousand random decisions to make, and not any of them are necessarily right or wrong. We just had to figure something out. So that’s probably been the hardest part, is like there’s no like rulebook for this stuff and you just have to like…it’s all situational and like figure out, “Okay, what can we do based on our current cash flow?” And that stuff.

John: Right. What about going from you being the one creating it. It’s your baby. You’re building it to then like determining what to hand off and then now you have…I mean, it seems like you probably have teams, right? You have like probably a couple engineers and multiple people working on things. So what’s that like? What’s that been like as you’ve grown? And how has world changed?

Josh: Yeah. I’ve known from the beginning that like…and I’ll be the first to tell you I’m hardly like the most skilled at anything. So I’m super typical jack-of-all-trades kind of person which works very well for starting businesses because I don’t need anyone else to start the business. But as soon as possible, I need to hire people for all the roles because I’m not the best person for that job in any shape or form. So I can hack something together, built the first version of Baremetrics, designed it, did all the marketing, customer support, the whole thing. But like so many more people are way more talented at those things. And so as soon as I could start hiring for those roles, I do.

And that’s basically the case for any task. So like I’ve now basically delegated basically anything else other than high-level sort of strategic stuff like planning. My role at this point is basically CEO sort of vision and strategy kind of stuff, product manager, though that’s sort of been spread across the team as a whole little bit more, but I guess I would technically sort of be like leading that, and then marketing stuff. Minus like we need more engineers, but as far as new roles to hire for, like top priority as far as new roles is like a marketing person.

So I do a lot of content stuff, but it’s more like I just happen to write and then we’d call it content marketing. But I’m in no way like the best content marketer or the best marketer. So I would love to hire for that soon. Basically, it’s to get me to not do those things because there are other more talented people, and so I try to do that as quick as I can.

John: Totally, totally. And I’d like to push on that point a little bit there. You’re saying like you just write and you call that content marketing. And there are people out there that are like legit content marketers. I think you and I are very similar in that like I can’t help but write, right? Like I share what I’m thinking about. I share what I know. I share what I’m learning, and it resonates with people, and we could both name multiple people that have built their business off of sharing what they know. Like Pat Flynn comes to mind immediately. He just started his business because he was like, “This is what I’m learning. I’m gonna share it with people,” and he has a great business now.

Butwhat do you think about the founder as marketer? I mean, you’re obviously a jack-of-all-trades, but like especially starting like a SaaS business, what do you do when…I mean, you’re obviously right. And so like it makes sense for you to be the marketer until now. But, yeah, I’d love to hear like the thought process you’ve gone through as you’ve thought about, “Okay, we have product covered, all these different things covered.” And then like, “Should I be doing this?” And it’s almost like that, you’re just constantly working yourself out of a job.

Josh: Right. That’s my mentality is to like as soon as we have the budget to hire for any given role, we should because the less…like I’m spread thin constantly from day one. So there’s no way that I’ll be able to do any given job to like its full potential. So as soon as there’s a thing that’s like very important to the business that I can hire to someone who can focus 100% of the time on it, I’ll do it.

That’s my mentality is to like as soon as we have the budget to hire for any given role, we should because the less…like I’m spread thin constantly from day one. So there’s no way that I’ll be able to do any given job to like its full potential. So as soon as there’s a thing that’s like very important to the business that I can hire to someone who can focus 100% of the time on it, I’ll do it.

John: Nice. How do you identify what those things are? Do you have a process?

Josh: I mean, it’s sort of like we try a lot of stuff, and then if it works, then we keep doing it, and if it doesn’t work, then we don’t do it anymore.

John: I like that.

Josh: It’s very scientific.

John: Very scientific. It’s called the entrepreneur scientific method, right?

Josh: Right. Yes, yes.

John: Throw things against the wall. If it sticks, throw more things. If it stops sticking, stop throwing things.

Josh: Right.

John: Cool. So talk to me about Baremetrics. It’s obviously a SaaS tool. Talk to me about like what’s been working to grow that? I guess like what have been like the top two or three things that you…and I hate saying like top two or three because I’m sure they’re like 2,000 or 3,000 things that in aggregate have added up to good growth. But like what have been the paradigm shifts that have really helped you go to the next level?

Josh: I mean, there’s two sides of it and two things that we focus on a lot. So there’s just product stuff on a base level. So making sure that we’re building stuff that adds significant value. Like we saw a big uptick in revenue when we launched this like Recover feature which is basically helping people recover failing charges.

John: Yeah, that was awesome. I saw that and was like, “Holy crap, that’s cool.”

Josh: Yeah. So that like big bump in revenue because like that was an add-on, you pay extra for that. But past that, like long-term strategy is it’s really just like it’s content stuff. Because we can use that stuff in so many formats, so like the blog post that we published yesterday, was it today or Thursday? So yesterday, was a rewrite of like a podcast I had done. I had interviewed Nathan Barry from ConvertKit on a podcast I have called Founder Chats.

John: Yeah, I’ll link to that in the show notes.

Josh: Thank you. So I had somebody who does a lot of writing for us, I had her basically like distill that into like an article.

John: Cool.

Josh: And so like that’s a great example of like, “I’d record a podcast, put in the effort to make that happen, and now, how can we reuse that content to be useful in other formats or to get more life out of it?” So it’s like maybe not a ton of people have heard the podcast, but I can get the article in front of tens of thousands of people. A lot of times, like I occasionally do these little like 10, 15, 30-second snippets called Startup Tips which…those are just like me taking an article and then distilling it down to like 10 little lines of text and then like saying it. And then I’ll have like my administrative assistant, she’ll like use…there’s this tool called Adobe…oh, geez, I can’t remember it now. But it’s like you basically add audio or upload audio and then like you can add little icons and graphics along a timeline. And so then you’ve got this like video of these little startup tip things.

You can reuse content in all sorts of different formats and in like…after you spent the time to initially generate the first chunk of content, then you can just keep reusing it over and over again in all these different formats. And so that’s why like we’d love doing content marketing because we can keep using it over and over and over again.

John: Totally, totally. And that’s something you’re doing really that works for your business and for your audience because your audience is like entrepreneurs that are building businesses off of Stripe and these other payment integrations that you have. And so it doesn’t have to be…like I know Buffer joining…when you launched Open Startups, Buffer joining that like that was like a huge like press thing for you because the audience is like, “Holy crap, look how much money Buffer is making,” which as we were saying at the beginning like it’s not…at some point, it’s not about the money that you’re making, but that was kind of baked into who your company is, is that like open transparency side but also your audience is anyone from a like solo entrepreneur launching a side hustle using Stripe to the Buffers and the ConvertKits of the world.

So you can speak to them on all these different levels. You’re not talking about payments, you’re not talking about like reducing churn and that sort of thing though you could be, but you’re talking about like…you’re just talking about building a business.

Josh: Right. Yup. You summed it up very well.

John: Yeah, cool. I actually just published a video of me today talking about…I’ve seen people creating like beginner’s guides. And so like in my space, in like the agency world, if an agency is creating a beginner’s guide, I’m like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that? Is a beginner gonna pay your agency fees to market the business that they’re working for? They have to get like four levels of approvals. Like no, that doesn’t make sense.” So you gotta speak up the chain. But for you, that sort of thing makes a ton of sense because it’s what you’re thinking about, it’s what you know, and it’s also what your audience needs to learn.

Josh: Yeah. And I think like it’s one of those…and that’s been the case for the past four years. I think we will likely, for 2018, start shifting a little bit away from the like the founder is our customer thing because less and less, it is the founder that’s signing up especially when you get into like any business that’s got more than a few employees. Like for us, I am the worst person at our company to get in touch with if you wanted us to use your product because I’m not gonna use your product. I’m not the guy. I might approve it or like have the credit card and I will pay for it, but like I’m not the guy you want to talk to about using your product because like I don’t want to use any more products. I’m already using like 50 different ones to manage the company. And I’m almost certainly not gonna be the person on the team to even use it. But people keep thinking that like the founder is the person you want to talk to at a company to like get a company to use your product and it’s just not.

For us, it is a lot of times because the financial nature of the product, but at the same time, it’s like we see more and more like CFO kind of people signing up for it, or even like growth sort of marketing people signing up for it. And so like writing more or publishing more content that talks to CFOs is kind of like will probably make more sense for us long term, but I’ll keep writing the blog itself because it’s like startup therapy for me.

John: Right, totally. Totally. And I feel the same way. But, yeah, that’s interesting hearing that shift, that that’s kind of where you’re starting to go with your thinking. I think that’s a very like kind of natural progression of a business where as you get bigger and as you start realizing…like I don’t have your pricing top of mind, but like the starter package, it’s…

Josh: Fifty bucks.

John: Fifty bucks, okay. So 50 bucks a month, right?

Josh: Yeah.

John: So 50 bucks a month, 600 bucks a year. Someone that’s doing, I don’t know, five grand a month in revenue or something like that, they can afford to pay that, but if they’re…

Josh: You would think. You would think.

John: They’re all cheap, right?

Josh: Everybody complains at that price level, though, unfortunately.

John: Fair enough, fair enough. But it’s the bigger customers, the ones that are paying you multiple hundreds of dollars a month, those are the ones that really build your business and then moving your marketing to do that. So I’ll actually be really interested over the coming months. Maybe I can have you back on in like 12 months or something like that to…you know, if you’ve made that shift to talk about that process of moving that because I’m going through the same thing at Credo, and it’s hard. It’s hard to shift from the like, “I’m the founder and this is what I know,” to like, “What does my audience actually really care about?”

Josh: Well, it’s easy for me to write the stuff for founders because I’m a founder, but like writing for the CFO, I got nothing. I don’t know anything about that.

John: Exactly. Exactly. It’s easy for me to write stuff to marketers and even like up to like director of marketing level. But like once you get into like VP of Marketing of global Fortune 500 company, like completely different worlds. So cool. Awesome. Well, Josh, I want to be respectful of your time. So if you would, tell us where people can find you best online.

Josh: Yeah. So Twitter is a good spot. I’m on Twitter @Shpigford, S-H-P-I-G-F-O-R-D. Or shoot me an email, josh@baremetrics.com. That’s usually your best bets.

John: Cool. And your website is baremetrics.com, right?

Josh: Yep.

John: And the open that I mentioned is open.baremetrics.com, something like that where you can see…

Josh. No, baremetrics.com/open will get you there.

John: /open. Okay, cool. On the subfolder, SEOs will appreciate that.

Josh: There we go, yes.

John: Awesome, Josh. Well, thank you for your time and best of luck this year.

Josh: All right, thanks, John.