A Interesting Solution to Contact Management with Jay Gibb

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Jay Gibb is the founder and CEO of CloudSponge – a B2B SaaS company that sells an address book widget. We talked about growing an audience, research good opportunities for building a product, and Jay gives some fantastic advice for cold outreach.

Show Notes


Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 124 of How I Built It. Today my guest is Jay Gibb, the founder, and CEO of CloudSponge. CloudSponge is a business to business SaaS company that sells an address book widget. I wasn’t sure, to be honest, how this interview was going to go, but Jay offers a lot of really great insight into research and building out a great, useful, and focused tool. His trade secret has to do about cold outreach. After I recorded this interview, I took that trade secret and that advice to heart, and I think you will too. We will get into that interview in a minute, but if you want to stick around until the end, I am going to talk about my plans for the future of my podcast course. But first, a word from our sponsors.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Plesk. Do you spend too much time doing server admin work, and not enough time building websites? Plesk helps you manage servers, websites, and customers in one dashboard. Helping you do those tasks up to 10 times faster than manually coding everything. Let me tell you, I recently checked out their new and improved WordPress toolkit, and I was super impressed by how easy it was to Spin Up new WordPress sites, clone sites, and even manage multiple updates to themes and plugins. With the click of one button, I was able to update all of my WordPress sites. I was incredibly impressed by how great their WordPress toolkit is. You can learn more and try Plesk for free today at Plesk.com/build. This episode is also sponsored by our friends at Castos. Castos is a podcast hosting platform built specifically for WordPress. They’re a Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin that lets you manage all of your episodes and podcast RSS feeds from your WordPress site, but have your files hosted on a dedicated media hosting platform. If you use WordPress, this is by far the easiest platform that I have used for podcasting. I also really love how the castoffs team takes a common sense approach to their pricing. You can create as many episodes and podcasts as you want and you don’t have to worry about how much storage you’re using or bandwidth restrictions. If you’re like me and you already have a ton of episodes from an old host, they’ve got you covered. Castos will import all of your podcast content into their platform completely free of charge. It’s literally one click of a button in your WordPress dashboard. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this in action, and it’s stuff like this, which is why I built my own podcasting course on top of Castos. They have put together a really special opportunity for the show today. You can get 50% off your first three months with the code BUILTIT19. Just head over to Castos.com/HowIBuiltIt to learn more.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Jay Gibb, the CEO, and founder of CloudSponge. Jay, How are you?

Jay Gibb: Doing well. How are you doing, Joe?

Joe: I’m doing very well, thanks for joining me today. We’ll be talking about your business, which is a business to business SaaS that sells an address book widget. Why don’t we start with who you are and what you do?

Jay: I’m Jay Gibb. I live in California, and I’m a father of three. I’m the CEO and founder of CloudSponge, and also a partner at a dev shop, an agency that builds SaaS companies mostly in FinTech companies for funded entrepreneurs. We’ve been doing that for about 18 years now, and I’ve been a partner for about twelve. CloudSponge, which is what we’re here to talk about, is a company that was born from the agency similar to the famous stories of things like Basecamp coming out of 37signals and so on. CloudSponge has been around for about eight years, it was launched in 2010, and it’s a main hustle for the agency or part of the way that the dev shop generates passive income. That may be interesting to some of your audience. We basically support that company through the people who work for the dev shop, and we also work on the companies and the products that we spin out of there. So, that’s how that’s set up.

Joe: That sounds great. A lot of people in the space that I generally talk to are either trying to sell a product while also running the agency, or they’re an agency that that splits their time like it sounds like you do. How do you manage the resources? Do you have a dedicated product team and a dedicated client team, or just whoever has more time on their plate in any part of the year?

Jay: The answer to that question has changed as the product has changed, or as it’s grown. At the very beginning, we decided we were going to do this thing, and we chose a budget for it and then spent that budget, and then got it to market. That’s a story all its own. That’s probably a little bit long for this. At some point there, we launched it and then we stopped actively spending tons of money on it every month. We decided to run it and operate it and support it because it’s expensive to have full-time engineers working on something that you’re not sure is going to be able to support itself. It was something where we did spend as little money supporting it as we could, while also keeping quality high. It became a really powerful way for our workforce to have stability. If on the client side, if we started to get a little bit light and maybe one of our projects was over, and we didn’t quite have one teed up yet, we had something for our people to do. We had someplace to put them internally, and we always had, just like with every software project, we always had an endless list of things that we could do if we had the resources and the time to do it. At some point in that journey, CloudSponge started making enough money and having enough responsibilities for customers that we were able to justify dedicating full-time resources to it, which is where we’ve been in that state now for about four years. Now we have some full-time dedicated resources that only do CloudSponge and are basically off the roster for client work. Because we have a full stack team and we’ve got a couple dozen people who work here, we’re able to bring in resources as we need them. If we have a new vulnerability is discovered, we’ve got security people to come in and fix that stuff and then go back to client work. If we have some new landing pages we want built or something specific that needs some front end work, I can dip into the agency’s resource pool and pull somebody out for a day, a week or a month or whatever it is the project and then put them back into the roster for client work. It ends up being a really powerful structure for both companies. It makes the agency stronger to have permanent clients because we treat our internal project, we treat CloudSponge as a client from the agency perspective. Then from CloudSponge’s perspective, it’s really powerful to have this multi-functional team of people that are available whenever we need them to draw from a pool of resources on an ad-hoc basis. I’ve found that it’s a great mix and it’s a great way to do what we’re doing and if your listeners would be interested in hearing more about that I’d be happy to talk about it.

Joe: Awesome. I like a lot of what you said there. There’s been multiple guests on the show that have talked about the importance of diversifying your income streams, and it sounds like you have successfully done that. I like what you said about treating CloudSponge as a client. Because I’ve been in situations where maybe the product is a side project, or I worked in higher ed, whatever we had to do to fill our hours for the week is what we did without really tracking time for anything. But it’s important to know what resources you have available vs how many resources are going into the product.

Jay: Absolutely, and we’ve done that to the extreme. CloudSponge is its own legal entity. It’s got its own taxes. It’s got its own insurance policies, and it receives invoices from the agency. Everything about it is just as if it was its own client. We’re not just faking it, and we’re not pretending it is its own client. It already is legally its own entity.

Joe: It’s not just like a time tracking project in your time tracking tool.

Jay: Yeah, it needed to be– It didn’t have to be at the very beginning, but we have– CloudSponge has customers that are pretty big. We have Yelp as a customer, Airbnb, GoFundMe, and Patreon used to be a customer. We’ve got lots of big names that use the product, and those guys demand $2 million dollar insurance policies. They demand certain types of structures that you can’t fake it. At some point, you need to spin it out into its own company. For us, we just did that at the very beginning. At the very beginning, we said, “Look, worst case scenario we pay $800 a year in Franchise Tax Board, and that’s our overhead for this thing. Best case scenario, is this turns into a real company that we’re going to be happy that we structured it properly from the very beginning,” and that’s what ended up happening for us.

Joe: Gotcha. Yeah, I like that I mean it shows that you guys had a lot of foresight in setting this up. You’re right, and those bigger clients do require certain insurance policies for protection and things like that. That’s cool that you did that. I know we’ve talked a lot about the structure of CloudSponge, but we haven’t talked about exactly what CloudSponge is. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the product and how it came to be?

Jay: Sure. It’s software for your website. It’s mostly a JavaScript widget is what most people buy from us, but there’s also a REST API for the more advanced customers. What it does is it makes address books available on your website for your users, so that they don’t have to leave your website to go look up contact information when they want to create a recipient list on your site. A lot of times that’s for a referral program, where you’ve got a field that says “Please enter a comma-separated list of email addresses,” and I’m sure everyone has seen one of those. Or it will be for a recipient list for an e-card, or a fundraising campaign, or a gift registry on an e-commerce website, where you’re trying to get your user to give you 10-20-50-100 email addresses. Without something like CloudSponge to do that, you need to educate them on how to go create a spreadsheet or properly formatted comma separated values– CSV file or something like that, and it’s pretty tedious. Instead of doing that our customers use the CloudSponge product to display all the popular logos for address book providers. Google Contacts, Yahoo mail contacts, outlook.com, Office 365, AOL, iCloud, etc. We’ve got about 50 of them that we support around the world and they can just put those buttons on their form, on their page, so that their user can click the one that they recognize. Click the one where their address book lives, authenticate through the CloudSponge system, and then they get a beautiful interface that’s sortable and searchable, and they can tap or click on the contacts that they want to share with. When they exit our widget, all those contacts that they’ve selected are shared with our customers UI, and then they’re able to get through that process of creating those recipient lists without having to type anything, without having to leave the website to go to a different tab or a window. We generally find that adding this type of functionality to forms like that will increase the number of successful conversions of the form. Or, in this case, the number of email addresses that are shared will increase that number by a factor of two or three at the very minimum.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense, and you’re reducing the amount of friction between the user and then completing the form. I think we’ve all probably seen something like that. I’ve certainly seen and used that where I didn’t need to go through like you said, and input all of these addresses manually. Now you mentioned that Yelp, for example, uses this tool. Is there an aspect specifically for them, for like looking up other contacts? Or is this basically like “I’m a business, I have a user, and I want them to input this information as quickly as possible?”

Jay: That use case is the use case that I’m sure all of your listeners are familiar with. Whenever they signed up for an account with a social media product where they say “Upload your contacts, and we’ll help you find everybody you know who’s currently on the social network,” people have seen that in LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, basically everywhere you’ve ever signed up for an account. Yelp is also a social network. They’re trying to make it so that when your friends leave reviews for businesses, they can tell you about them. They can say, “Joe, Jay just reviewed this restaurant near you, and we’d like you to be aware that this review exists.” For smaller companies that are using WordPress, there’s a WordPress plugin called BuddyPress for people that want to make a social network on top of WordPress. Inside BuddyPress, there’s an add-on I think, or maybe they call it a plugin for BuddyPress called “Invite anyone.” That plugin improves this invitation process that your users are going through when they’re using your BuddyPress website, and inside that Invite Anyone plugin is an option to turn on CloudSponge, for example. So that’s one of those examples where you don’t really need to understand how the CloudSponge product works, all you need to do is come to CloudSponge and grab a key, paste it into your Invite Anyone configuration form on your admin site and then it turns on that functionality, so that your BuddyPress community can grow faster.

Joe: That’s fantastic, and that’s cool. You said that the product is about eight years old. I mean, if we’re looking at 2018, this functionality makes sense. Every social network I sign up for asks me to do this. But in 2010, it might have been less obvious. How did you come up with the idea? What research did you do to figure out if this was a viable thing to pursue?

Jay: I’d like to be able to say that I was clairvoyant and I had this great idea back then, but that’s not true. What ended up happening was we set out building something different. Address book importing was a feature of something bigger, and so we said “Because we’re engineers, we need to make a really good address book importing feature.” We were working on that, and we were trying open source packages and other commercial packages that were available at the time, and they are either just terrible and unsupported and non-functional, or they’re just ugly, or they didn’t have a lot of coverage. There was always something wrong with them. We ended up, after evaluating three or four options, the best three or four options, we decided we’re going to build these integrations ourselves. Then, as we were doing that we were obviously spending a lot of time in stack overflow, or we’re spending time in Google developer forums and Yahoo developer forums, Microsoft developer forums. We were seeing a lot of other developers asking the same question in the same tags and the same categories and threads, and we’re able to see this common piece of software that dozens or hundreds of developers were all building. Because they are saying “I can’t get this thing with OpenInvite to work. How do I do this or that?” They’re basically challenged with the same things we were. So we realized that if we just took what we had just custom built and made an API for it and stuck a price tag on it, that these people would probably buy it. These people probably would be happy to know that they didn’t have to build this or they didn’t have to try to make these open source packages that they were struggling with work properly. That’s what we did, and it turned out to be true. Once we got it out there, we basically started helping people in those forums. Meanwhile whenever it was not too shameless we would mention “By the way, we got this thing if you want to try it,” and it turned out that a lot of them were delighted that it existed and they were happy to go and kick the tires and try it out and see if it solved their pain points. At that point, we didn’t know the use cases for all those use cases that I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation. Those are all things I’ve learned since we launched it. Things like referral programs, and gift registries, and fundraising campaigns, and all those things that people use address books for. We didn’t have an exhaustive list of those things when we started. We spoke to our customers and asked them, “What do you need this for, what are you doing? How’s business, what’s going on?” They would tell us, and we’d write it down and keep track of all that. Then over time, we ended up having a great understanding of exactly the different use cases for this type of product. We’ve been doing this for long enough that we’ve got all those covered, and anybody coming to us nowadays, we’ve already got some knowledge about their use case, and we have some case studies written or some tear downs on our website to help them, and we’re able to also be consultants in a way where we can say “By the way, we’ve got these other companies that use us for gift registries, and here’s how they do it,” or “Here’s how their interface looks,” or “Here’s how they’ve set up the CloudSponge configuration.” Our leads and our prospects tend to get a lot of value from that. It’s a good trust builder for us, too.

Joe: Nice, that’s fantastic. I want to touch on two things you just said there. First of all, you set out to build something bigger but found by talking to other people in the forums that people needed a good address importer. The conversations, or at least conversations that other people were having that you were listening in on. You saw on the forums people were all asking for the same thing?

Jay: Yeah, I mean it was more of lurking, we were watching. Looking at the other threads, a lot of times we would benefit from a conversation that happened that we were searching for. We’d say “I can’t get AOL to work with some package like OpenInvite,” which back in those days, it’s abandoned now, but back in those days, it was one of the PHP packages that people tried to use for this. We would go and say, “OK, cool, this other person had this issue with OpenInvite a month ago.” Just like you always do, you can always just read the thread that exists. As we did that for several months, dozens, and dozens of times in half a dozen different places, we started to see those patterns.

Joe: Absolutely. I think that’s already a good take away. Because you’re looking at the problems that people are trying to solve, and then the same thing with the use cases. You spoke to your customers, and you saw what pain points CloudSponge was solving for them, and you gained a better understanding of the product by not just keeping that conversation internal but by looking at your actual users.

Jay: A lot of that was natural curiosity because somebody just paid us for something. So, one of our– “Cool” At the time there was this company called, and they may still be around, but they’re not a customer of ours anymore, but there was this company called Causes, and they had this thing that I think Facebook now has natively inside the Facebook platform. This was back in 2010, and they had this thing where you could donate your birthday to a cause. You could say “Don’t buy me anything on my birthday, I have everything I need. I want the Children’s Miracle Network to benefit from my birthday so if you want to get me something, give them some money.” So, Causes, they’re one of our first customers. I think they’re one of the first 10. We were honored to be a part of something like that. These developers at Causes, they were building the way to collect money, and they were building the email campaigns and all the interfaces, and the last thing they wanted to do was also have to do all these address book integrations. They were able to come to CloudSponge and say “Cool” they can check off a bunch of boxes on their product roadmap and make it so that when I go, and I donate, I went through the Causes UI myself. Partly because I thought it was a cool idea, and also because these guys are paying CloudSponge and I was just curious. I donated my birthday, and sure enough, after I went, and I chose the charity, and I wrote the– Filled in whatever form fields they asked me to at the very end of it, there was a place that said “Now that you’ve done this, upload your address book via CloudSponge and select everybody that you think might be interested in giving you a gift for your birthday.” It was again, this– I think all of us, all of us builders, we have an instinctive desire to see our stuff in the wild. We did that basically every time anybody ever bought anything from us until it got to a point where we couldn’t drink from the fire hose anymore. But probably the first hundred customers or so we took the time to go and talk to them if we could. If they were willing, and if not we go sign up for their service and go consume our own product in the wild to see “What are these guys doing with it? What kind of business are they in? How have they done this integration?”

Joe: That’s fantastic. Again, really good advice for anybody who’s building product out there. Talk to your customers. Or like Jay is saying, go and use the site where your product is being used. I do want to know because over eight years you’ve gained some pretty big clients, what did you do for growth? Was it mostly viral, did you market specifically,  did you have a list of good contacts that you could use? What did that look like?

Jay: A lot of organic stuff. Not a lot of really deliberate marketing, other than– I think I mentioned earlier, being present in places where people were having conversations about the things that we’re integrated with. Google developer forums, on Yahoo developer forums, Microsoft developer forums, and Stack Overflow. Those are four really big ones for us. If you go there right now and you start asking, and you start searching for questions and error messages and things from these different API’s, most likely you’re going to stumble across threads that are eight years old or six years old, four years old. Where somewhere in there, somebody from CloudSponge has been helpful and answered those questions. Those are places where the director of engineering for a 200 person engineering team at a big, venture-backed, Silicon Valley startup– They’re going there. It’s not just small developers working on hobby projects that use these things, and it’s everybody. All developers use these forums. That’s become like a natural, organic discovery mechanism for people that are just in the middle of searching for the problem. Like, a solution to whatever problem they have, and they discover us because we’ve taken the time to be helpful four years ago or five years ago. Same thing goes for Quora. Quora is another great place where people, in that case, it’s not so many developers as maybe it’s more founders or product managers that are doing vendor selections and they’re saying “What’s the best way to solve this problem?” We’ve basically been in those threads and answered questions there. They discover us along the way, so that’s one big channel that helped us get off the ground at the very beginning. Then probably the next one after that was our JavaScript widget has a powered by CloudSponge logo on it. Early on, I made a couple deals basically for free distribution with, and there was a company called LaunchRock. They were like a landing page company where you could go and make a landing page to do some smoke test or some initial MVP validation for an idea that you had. I made a deal with LaunchRock, and I said “I’ll give you a CloudSponge account for free if you just put it on every single one of these pages that anybody creates. I’ll just let you have it for free and let all your customers have it for free.” Things like that, that’s just one example. Things like that where we basically really tried hard to get that powered by CloudSponge logo out there on as many websites as possible. We had it out on well over a hundred thousand websites at one point, and that was another great place for people to discover us. One of the things that most makers or builders will do when they’re thinking about making something is they’ll go look for somebody’s homework to cheat off of or go look at somebody else. They go look at some company they have a lot of respect for and say, “how did how did they do this?” Then in that process, they’ll stumble across this powered by CloudSponge logo, and they’ll come check it out and learn about it, and then hopefully implement it. I think that was probably our second growth channel, both of those are still pistons that are currently firing, by the way. After that, obviously, word of mouth has been a pretty standard baseline. Word of mouth for us has always been really important. Then, the last one that we turned on more recently just because we got better at marketing basically was Organic Search. So now we get a great number of leads through Organic Search, just because we’ve been working hard on developing good content and making sure we’ve got an optimized marketing website and all that stuff. So, Organic Search is becoming a really important acquisition channel for us nowadays.

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Joe: It sounds like the common thread in all of your growth channels is that you are helping people solve a problem that they were having. With the forums, answering questions on Quora, powered by CloudSponge logo. I think Hotmail famously got popular by just having the email by Hotmail   in the footer of every email address, and people are saying, “This is a good solution for my needs.” I like what you said about developers looking at other people’s homework. That’s 100% true, and then Organic Search, good content again. Probably content that aims at solving a problem that somebody has.

Jay: Yeah, the thing that they all have in common is that there are things that people will see at the moment when they’re searching. We’ve spent a lot of money on experiments trying to raise awareness of our products to people that maybe haven’t heard of us before. Just things like advertising on Facebook, the booth at a conference and talking on podcasts and things like that. They don’t work that well for a company like ours. We’re not like a generally interesting tool for just anybody. We’re like a plumber. You need a plumber when you need a plumber. It’s great that you discover that your friends have a plumber that they like, but just because your friend– You become aware that this great plumber exists, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to go create a plumbing problem to solve for you. You sort of need to put a pin in it, wait for a problem-solving problem to come up and then go and ask your friend, “Can you introduce a plumber friend?” That’s a mental model that I use to help me decide which marketing channels are most likely going to work for us and which ones we probably shouldn’t waste any time on. Because it’s really hard for me to tell somebody about CloudSponge at the moment when that’s a thing that they could use.

Joe: Yeah. People don’t realize–  you can’t tell somebody that they need this until they realize they need it. You can’t convince somebody of a solution that they don’t think they have a problem for.

Jay: Yeah, for us the outbound campaigns that we do are basically super targeted campaigns at people that we can actually see ourselves, that they have this problem and we can go to their UI and say “By the way, you’re making people type email addresses in this really important form on your website. You should stop it. Here’s a couple examples of people that have stopped it by using CloudSponge and have benefited.” We can reach out directly to those types of people with some relevant content for cold campaigns, and that tends to work. That tends to work pretty well. A lot of times it tends to work in a long sales cycle sort of way, where it’s really hard to say that to somebody and have them take action immediately. A lot of times they’ll say “Oh yeah you’re totally right, we definitely need to do that. Let me put it on the docket for Q4 or two quarters from now,” and then we have to have them in the CRM and circle back with some and remind them about that conversation that they’ve forgotten about. The nice thing is that we are able to proactively identify companies that have the problem that we can solve for them, and do a small education campaign to help them acknowledge that it is a problem and that they could be doing better. It could be growing faster if they had a CloudSponge to the specific place that we’re talking about.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. We are coming up on time here, and I haven’t even asked the title question yet, which is, “How did you build it?” If we can change gears and talk about the technology a little bit, what is the tech behind powering CloudSponge?

Jay: It’s always been a Ruby on Rails application at AWS. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot and deleted a lot of code that we wish we hadn’t built. At some point, it’s one of those things where it’s like the boiling frog problem. You keep on writing code and doing things that seem like obvious choices and then after a long time you realize “Wow, we should have started using an external CRM a long time ago, and now we’re doing that and deleting a hundred thousand lines of code.” It used to be a Ruby on Rails monolith and then the next evolution was to spin out billing into Chargify for billing. We spun out the marketing website into a Jekyll site. I think it was 2015, or something? We had our marketing website, our home page, and all the public pages inside this monolithic Ruby app. It was super brittle and hard to change. So we cut that out and spun it out into a static site generator called Jekyll, and GitHub pages, and then we killed that and moved the marketing website over to WordPress which happened this year. WordPress for marketing site. We also deleted our CRM internally and moved everything over to Zoho CRM, so today the core product that our customers are buying from us, which is basically all the back end API stuff, and then the customer portal where people sign up and do all their configuration onboarding, that stuff is a Ruby app with the REACT front end and an AWS infrastructure. The marketing side is WordPress, and CRM is Zoho, and billing is handled by Chargify. There’s probably another 10 or 15 different SaaS products in the stack, stuff like Zapier and Segment that we could talk about if you want to, but those are the big chunks.

Joe: So these were all part of the original app of CloudSponge? People would go to the marketing site on CloudSponge, and then you’d be able to charge them from CloudSponge? When you charge them maybe they moved it to your CRM, or they filled out that initial form and they moved into your CRM all on CloudSponge, is that right?

Jay: Yeah, you mean all internally with our custom code? Yeah.

Joe: Yeah. Cool. So then you decided at some point “This is– Maybe we should make this an expert in one area, and then let the experts in other areas do their thing?”

Jay: Yeah. Also remember, eight years is a long time. A lot of things have changed in eight years. WordPress was a lot different eight years ago. Zoho was a lot different eight years ago. These billing solutions like Stripe didn’t exist that long ago. A lot of these things we had to build the way we built them. But at some point, as you go upmarket and you start getting more sophisticated customers, let’s talk about billing for example. It starts off you’re like “OK, I need to be able to bill somebody $50 bucks a month on a recurring basis. Cool, that sounds simple.” If you’ve got plans, you need an expansion and contraction and pro-rating. You get one big customer who asks you for– You want their money because they’re going to give you a lot of it, but they need invoicing, and they need to be able to pay with a check in the mail, instead of just a credit card number. Then you change your pricing, and if you start imagining the code that you have to support to do all those things, that’s where we were in 2010-11-12. Finally, we said, “Look, I don’t want to do any of this, none of this is our differentiating value, so let’s just move over to a third party billing system.” Luckily we were able to do a vendor selection with a pretty comprehensive list of requirements. So I think at the time we were looking at Chargify and Recurly and Chargebee, I believe, were the three that made it to the bottom of the lists or the top of the list, depending on how you want to look at it. We ended up with it going with Chargify just because at the time it was the best fit for us.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s fantastic. I love the evolution of this product from a bigger thing, and then you realize, “We should niche down and focus on solving this one thing that developers seem to have trouble solving.” Then further from there, you took that product, and you’re like “OK, this is the thing that differentiates CloudSponge from everything else. So we’re just going to spin off and get Chargify and Zoho CRM to focus on the other parts of it.” What are your plans for the future of CloudSponge with that in mind, knowing that the web has changed a lot in the last eight years? I suspect it’ll change even more in the next eight years, so what are your plans for the future?

Jay: We’re super strict about what we want to do. We get pulled just like I think every business, we get pulled in the directions by the vocal minority all the time. We get people that are– They want to use CloudSponge, and they want a referral program. They ask us, “Can you build me the referral program?” So, we’ve been disciplined about saying no to all of that and staying focused on being the best solution in the world for address book importing, which is a use case agnostic thing. I think for me, the future for us, the next year or two we’re going to be building integrations so that people can get what they want without us losing our identity. Integrations with things like Zapier and different transactional e-mail providers, and e-mail service providers and CRMs, and things like that. Because we’re able to see what our customers are bringing to the table, and we need to meet them halfway in terms of the parts of the system that they’re building in order to be able to use CloudSponge. But it’s going to be a bit of a tough challenge to make sure that we stay disciplined about not taking that too far and not like pigeonholing the company into being something that’s really specific to one area and instead of being a more multi-purpose tool. So I think that’ll be part of it, and then the other part of it is to date, we’ve really focused heavily on selling our product to individual companies and we haven’t put enough focus on finding distribution channels such as agencies that want to implement us into all of their projects or platforms that want to add us and bundle us into the functionality of something that’s a multi-tenant system. I think from a growth perspective, and there’s a lot of opportunity for us to make those kinds of partnerships and get those integrations similar to the one I have described with BuddyPress and Invite Anyone, where we can do a bunch of upfront work and then basically build a permanent distribution channel for product. I think for me that’s where I’m focused for 2019. I think those two things are going to move the needle for CloudSponge pretty dramatically.

Joe: That’s great. It sounds like you’re making– Maybe it’s easier to say that in hindsight, but it sounds like you made a lot of the right moves up until this point, staying true to what you want CloudSponge to be and moving forward it sounds like you’ve got a really good plan for growth. You’re not just saying “We’ve only reached the companies that we want to reach. So what do we do now?” It sounds like you’ve got a really good plan. So with that in mind, do you have any trade secrets for our listeners?

Jay: Trade secrets? Can you explain what you mean by that?

Joe: So don’t give away your secret sauce obviously, but is there anyone really good piece of advice that you’ve taken with you on your journey through starting this business?

Jay: OK. I’ll tell you something that I feel like I discovered on my own, that I don’t think enough people have discovered. It’s in the category of cold outreach. If you’ve got listeners that know their target and are able to identify them, don’t just put them into a marketing automation tool, don’t buy a list or don’t put an email address into a tool and start spamming people. Go to their website, spend 5-10 minutes on their website. Go get inside their head a little bit and write them an email. Be human about it. Write them an email if you’re trying to do it, and in a super up high volume way, then you’re probably doing it wrong, in my opinion. Just take it slow and steady. The other thing that I’ve noticed is all the spam that you receive, and all of your listeners are getting a lot of spam all the time I suspect, the one thing that they all have in common is they all have your email address in the “To” field. They’re all sending an email to Joe Casabona. What I’ve found is that if I want to send an email, like a cold e-mail to somebody who doesn’t know me, I’ll put two e-mail addresses in the To field for Joe Casabona and your co-founder. Two people, two individuals. It’s a really simple difference. But I think it circumvents a bunch of spam logic, and it enforces your recipients to open the email they get. It breaks the pattern of an email from some person I have never heard of, to me, and turns it into an email from some person I have never heard of, to me and my co-worker. We’ve done that now, like anytime I do cold outreach, one of our outreach principles is always have two email addresses in the “To” field, and our open rate and reply rate is astronomical compared to what I’ve heard other people getting. So, I think it’s something that anybody who wants to take a few minutes and think about what they’re doing and deliver a handwritten email to somebody should also take the time to make sure you can find two email addresses at the company you’re reaching out to and make a massive difference.

Joe: That is advice that I am going to start using today. Because let me tell you, I got an email from a company that I was working with for a potential podcast sponsorship. I got an email from somebody else on their team, and I was like “Is this– Are you working with the other two people that I’ve been talking to?” And they’re like, “No. This was just an automated email marketing thing,” and I’m like– It felt disingenuous to me. I thought they already knew who I was, but now I’m in this automated thing already. But this is great, get into their head and again talk to them like they’re people, don’t just send generic email to them.

Jay: Yeah. I think a lot of people feel like they need to send 100 emails a day to succeed. It’s just not true. You’re better off sending five emails a day if you’re going to get 100% open rate and a 70% reply rate. Just take your time and do it in a really– follow the golden rule and treat people the way that you would like to be treated. That’s what we do. We’re like, “I don’t want to see these kinds of emails, but I do want to sell to this company. So what can I do? I can go sign up for their service and go to the e-card recipient list interface, and see if they need CloudSponge. If they do, take a screenshot of it and circle the big part of the screen where CloudSponge would live and then email them a screenshot of their own product to two people, like to two product managers or maybe a VP of dev and a VP of product or something like that. Those two people are going to be compelled to open that email, and then when they open it, they see “OK. This guy has spent 10 minutes on my website and taken a screenshot and sent it to me,” they’re going to feel obligated to reply to you. I feel like the world needs to go to a quality over quantity frame of mind, and I’m just taking it personally and operating my company that way.

Joe: I like that. Jay, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. Where can people find you?

Jay: You can go to CloudSponge.com and click on a little chat bubble, and if I’m not the one who picks up somebody will send it to me. Or I spend a long time on LinkedIn these days, so if you search for my name on LinkedIn, you’ll find me.

Joe: Awesome. I will include that and lots of other stuff we talked about in the show notes. Jay Gibb of CloudSponge, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Jay: Thanks for having me, Joe.

Outro: Thanks so much to Jay for joining me today. I appreciate him taking the time to come on the show. There was a lot of really good advice in this episode, especially for people who are looking to do business to business or B2B services. I think that’s a little bit different from client services or direct to person products. So there’s some good advice there, and then, of course, his trade secret about cold outreach and not sounding like a robot. Don’t use an animation tool, connect with them on a personal level. With that, my question of the week for you is, “How are you going to improve your cold outreach plan, and what are you doing now? How do you plan to improve?” Let me know by emailing me Joe@HowIBuilt.it or on Twitter @jcasabona. Thanks so much to Castos, Plesk, and Pantheon for sponsoring this episode and most of the season for Castos and all of the season four Plesk and Pantheon. They have made this show possible. If you liked this episode, do me a favor and share it with somebody who you think will find it interesting.

Miniseries: To round out and wrap up my story on this multi-part series closing out these episodes, about how I built my podcast course, is plans for the future. Aside from just teaching how to do a podcast, there are a few other things I want to offer. There are often packages associated with selling online courses as the basic offering, there some advanced offerings which maybe comes with workbooks or something like that. And then there’s usually a done for you service, and that’s something that I intend to add to my podcast course. A couple of done for you services, one is to set up the podcast website completely for you, but then my friend Ryan Kinney who was a guest on this show gave me an idea that collided with another idea that came from my mastermind group, and that’s to offer an almost consulting concierge service for audio setup. So, I’d help people set up their audio remotely. I listen to their audio, and I give them advice on it. I am by no means an audio expert, but I know the audio that you need to sound good on a podcast after doing recordings for several years now. So, there’s that, and then there is just critiquing the first episode. I’m going to offer a tier of this podcast course eventually that allows students to send me their first episode and I will listen to it and critique it and give them advice. So, those are my plans for the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series over the summer, and between the break from this season and the next season, I’m going to release a full episode where I talk about this course that will hopefully coincide with the launch. I don’t want to set a date on that launch, but I do think I’ll be able to do that sometime in mid-June or early July, and I will also be at Podcast Movement this summer in Orlando. So if you’re going to be there, be sure to come out and say “Hi.” Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, get out there and build something.

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