Mark Thompson on Becoming A Software Entrepreneur, Building a Product Empire & Leaving Client Work Behind

Mark Thompson on becoming a software entrepreneur & building a product empire

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m speaking with Mark Thompson of Digital Kickstart.

Like many of us, Mark wasn’t cut out for having a boss, so after getting fired from his last job he started the SEO agency Search Creatively. While he was able to build it up into a successful agency, he realized it wasn’t what he expected. Now instead of having one boss, he had dozens, and in order to grow he needed to hire more people which increased his overhead and ate into his margins.

Mark caught the product bug like many agency owners because he saw it as a way to break free of client work and stop selling his time for money.

After getting a few early wins under his belt, he quit client work altogether and went all-in on products. Since making that decision, he and his team have created over 20 products that have sold for over 20 million dollars.

Today, Mark talks about how he first got started becoming a software entrepreneur while still delivering client work, what he does differently in order to get huge results and how he and his team manage so many different products.

If you’ve ever thought about creating a product of your own, this is the episode for you.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Mark: Get it right here.

Key Takeaways

Start with what you know [3:30 – 9:00]

Mark’s first product was something called the Link Builder’s Toolkit which was a database of high quality websites where you could get backlinks. As somebody running an SEO agency, he knew how much of a pain it was to find and keep track of all of these different sites. If he was having this pain, then there were countless others who experienced it as well.

Not only did this help key Mark into the fact that there would be a market to support this product, but even if he failed he still would have built something that would save him hours every single week. By scratching his own itch with his first product he was able to significantly lower his risk and stick a toe into the product waters rather than jumping in head first.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel [14:30 – 18:30]

Mark’s philosophy around products is to focus on things that have mass appeal and can capitalize on trends. He isn’t trying to create something revolutionary, in fact, he argues that having a truly unique idea is a red flag because there is probably a reason it hasn’t been done before.

Instead, he focuses on identifying hot trends and creating a product that is better than what is out there and has a unique selling proposition. Let the pioneers create the market place and once they’ve done the hard work you can come in with a better mousetrap and stake your claim.

Build checks and balances so you can grow worry-free [28:30 – 37:00]

By using Hubstaff, Mark and his partner are able to know that everyone is doing what they are supposed to and that the business stays efficient. This lets them focus on the big picture and keep moving the business forward without getting bogged down in the details.

With a team spread across the globe, from South Africa to Indiana, it can be really hard to keep track of what everybody is doing. While you want to trust your team, that trust needs to be earned which isn’t easy to do remotely.

Before Hubstaff they had an employee logging super-human hours without producing a corresponding amount of work. While they talked to him about his performance and worked to improve it, they didn’t really know they were being duped.

As soon as they installed Hubstaff they discovered this employee was using a program to keep the mouse moving so that it looked like they were active. They fired the employee immediately and are confident that they have the checks and balances needed to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

In Mark’s own words: “Honestly, Hubstaff has transformed my business because it’s really allowed it to scale and grow because I don’t have to sit there and worry about each of my employees and what they’re doing. If I ever have a question, I’m like, ‘This guy is usually pretty efficient and then all of a sudden, he dropped off. I don’t know what’s going on’ I can go back and just check and see what’s going on.”

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Here’s the full transcript of the episode:

Andy Baldacci:Mark, thanks so much for coming on my show today.
Mark Thompson:Yeah, thanks for having me.
Andy Baldacci:You’ve done what many agency owners dream of. You’ve successfully transitioned into products. In fact, over the last few years, you guys have generated over $20 million of your products and programs which is amazing. I want to start from the beginning, when did you first decide to get into products and what was that process like for you?
Mark Thompson:

[00:00:30]

I got fired from my very last job. I worked for a new different marketing agencies at the time. When I got fired from my job, I did what I already knew how to do, but I did it on my own. I started my own marketing agency and I quickly realized that I didn’t like doing it just simply because for one, each client is your own boss.
[00:01:00]I hate having bosses. That’s probably why I got fired from my last nine-to-five job. I did it for about three years just so I could pay my bills, just have a normal living expenses to pay those. I stumbled across the Warrior Forum many years back now. It’s probably been about five or six years ago and I saw all these people launching new products, different info products, training programs and software and plugins.
[00:01:30]I just started really following that forum. If you’re not familiar with the Warrior Forum, it’s the largest forum on the web for internet marketers and software entrepreneurs. I guess one of the great things about starting my own marketing agency was it allowed me to be my own boss and do other things on the side just fun projects. I started learning about this whole concept of really teaching people what you know, your knowledge and expertise, and wrapping it up into a product, and being able to go out and sell it.
[00:02:00]That really was appealing to me because as you know or anyone listening, if you’re running any type of offline business or you’re a service based industry, it’s hard to scale that because once you … You only have so many hours in the day and when you try to add more clients, you need to bring on more staff which equals more overhead. I’ve really liked that idea of creating a piece of software or creating a program, creating a sales page and being able to sell it 24/7 and really selling as many copies as I possibly could.
[00:02:30]Just seeing what other people were doing really got me excited and that’s how I got started. I started learning about the Warrior Forum and really that’s where I started spending more and more of my time on creating products and less time on managing and servicing clients. It was a slow process, but it happened over a few years.
Andy Baldacci:Are you technical? Do you program or code?
[00:03:00]

Mark Thompson:

I don’t. I mean, my background is in business, is in marketing. I know just some basic things like from an SEO perspective. I know how to upload a file or update meta tags and do things like that, but no. I’ve never learned how to code PHP or anything like that.
Andy Baldacci:What was your first product? Was it an info product? Was it a plugin? What was it?
Mark Thompson:

[00:03:30]

Actually the first product that I ever created, it’s called the Link Builders Toolkit. Since my background was really, I specialize in SEO, I did a lot of SEO services, I always wish that there was an Excel file or some sort of a database where I could pull from high quality places that I could build back links for, whether it’s for my clients or for my own site so I could rank my sites higher.
[00:04:00]That’s essentially what the product was. It was an Excel sheet and it was organized by different types of links whether you want web 2.0 properties or you want blog links, you want forum links. I just organized it into a really nice organized spreadsheet and I sold that. I mean, it didn’t do very well. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it got the ball rolling and that’s how I got started.
Andy Baldacci:It wasn’t like you hit a homerun right of the gate, but it was enough to be like, “All right. I think there’s something here”?
Mark Thompson:

[00:04:30]

[00:05:00]

Yeah. I mean, absolutely not. I didn’t really have any connections with other affiliates which looking to where I am now, I mean, building your own internal email list and having connections with affiliates who have their own email list is really what helps to drive instant traffic and generates sales for your products. I didn’t really have any of those connections. I was brand new to the industry per se and so it was really me just dabbling and creating my own product. I was really just going through the emotions, not really expecting anything out of it.
Andy Baldacci:After you released that toolkit, what was next? Did you like, “All right. I need to make something different,” or how did you approach that?
Mark Thompson:

[00:05:30]

I was working on a few different projects. I was working on a training program, just basically me doing video training. I believe it was on SEO. I actually never even released it so I was working on that. If you’ve heard of the product, PopUp Domination. It’s a WordPress plugin. It’s been around for a really long time. I think they still sell it today.
[00:06:00]I was using that product on a lot of my sites and so I reached out and found out who developed that product. I thought it would be cool to create a piece of software. It seemed like software sold really, really well. It was something that had that tangibility factor. You can charge a lot more with software. I reached out to the developers of PopUp Domination and I said, “Hey, I have this idea for a WordPress plugin, but I’m not a developer and so I was wondering if I could hire you.”
I had a little bit of income coming in from managing clients and I invested, I forgot what it was, it was like 25 to $30,000 which looking back on it, was a massive investment considering I didn’t really have any cloud in the space. I didn’t have partners. I didn’t have anything. I took a leap of faith and created this plugin by hiring this development team.
[00:06:30]I had this product. It’s called List Eruption. I still sell it today. Now, it’s on version 2.0. It’s evolved. I created this new WordPress plugin that I didn’t really know what to do with.
Andy Baldacci:You had this product created and then it’s like, “All right. Now what?”
Mark Thompson:

[00:07:00]

I knew I needed someone else to come in and guide me. I’ve been monitoring the marketplace to see what people we’re launching. I knew who the main players were, who were launching really nice products that they had good support. They were doing really well. As an affiliate, if you sign up for people’s affiliate list, you can get updates on product launches and things that are going on.
[00:07:30]I reached out to a few different product creators that seemed credible and one of them was interested. I just said, “Hey, I created this product.” I was very honest and open. I was like, “I don’t have a lot of experience or connections. Would you be interested of doing an official launch with me and we’ll split the profits?” That’s how I was able to get my product out there to a marketplace and generate thousands of sales, really.
Andy Baldacci:Was that your first bigger success with products?
Mark Thompson:

[00:08:00]

Yeah. It was. I mean, that was how I got things snowballed. When I went that route and brought on a mentor to show me the ropes, it really opened my eyes as to so much opportunity. I mean, I got to meet all the top affiliates who I probably wouldn’t have been able to get in front of if I tried to just say, “Hey, here’s my product. Come promote me.” They didn’t know who I was. It was a great way to get my foot in the door by building those relationships and then also just seeing the systems and processes that were in place to do a proper product launch and bring it to market.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:08:30]

Was that first affiliate you reached out to, did they become your mentor or was that something unrelated?
Mark Thompson:

[00:09:00]

They did. I mean, we actually became partners down the road and we created many products together. You never know what’s going to happen. This person was very knowledgeable and credible in the space and that product did really well. I was like, “Well, you know, I have other ideas.” He was interested in it. We partnered on a few different projects. That was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Andy Baldacci:Up until that point, you’re still doing a bit of client work on the side?
Mark Thompson:

[00:09:30]

Yeah. I was doing a hybrid. I was managing a lot of SEO work for clients and then also creating products. I mean, the products that we were creating, I wouldn’t say enough to fully go off into that direction. Like I was saying earlier, it was a transition that happened over a few years where I was finally able to create enough different products and programs and build my network and build my list, my email list where I was like, “You know what, this is actually making me more money than my client work. I’m going to just dump it and move strictly to product creation.”
Andy Baldacci:How was it in those earlier days that you balanced the client work with the products? I know a lot of agencies, they want to get into products but at the same time they still need to pay the bills. They’ll work on the product for a month or a few weeks and they’ll jump back to client work. When they keep switching back and forth, it’s really hard to get traction, so how did you make it work?
[00:10:00]

Mark Thompson:

[00:10:30]

It was just good old sweat equity. Just putting in 70, 80 hours a week. I mean, I was a work horse back then. I’d wake up and just put my head down and just work really, really hard. I mean, obviously there were certain things that I did from managing my clients, my SEO work where I was very efficient with my time just building in processes and I did a few virtual assistance or some outsourcing teams that helped me with my SEO work. I was able to delegate a lot of the heavy lifting to them. It opened up some time so I could focus on the product side.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:11:00]

That’s what I’ve heard so much of this is like if you don’t have the processes in place, if you’re the agency owner and you’re constantly putting out fires, dealing with whatever comes up is going to be really hard to find the time to do something different. It’s like the first step is almost get your agency in order so that you have, not necessarily the freedom because it still takes a ton of time, but you have the ability to step away at least part of the time.
Mark Thompson:Yeah, exactly. I mean, so it was one of those things when I first went off on my own, I was taking any and all clients. Anyone who’d pay me money, I didn’t really care. I mean, because obviously everyone knows there’s good and bad clients. Majority of them are bad or they’re just very meaty.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly. [crosstalk 00:11:21] but they’re going to be pain in the ass.
[00:11:30]

Mark Thompson:

It’s usually the less that they pay you, the more that they need you. I didn’t really have the luxury of picking and choosing who my clients were in the beginning, but then as I started to create products and started generating some revenue from that, I started to really fire some of my clients who were just eating up a lot of my time and not really playing me enough for my time.
[00:12:00]It’s just really how much is your time worth and as I started to create products and really generate a new revenue stream, my time became more valuable and so I was able to really remove some of those clients who were eating up that time and just pick and choose who the clients that I wanted to hang on to.
Andy Baldacci:It’s like when you have the extra revenue coming in from the products or from wherever, it breaks away from the feast or famine cycle that so many agency owners know that you’re able to actually say, “You know what, I don’t to work on this project,” because you know you’re going to have enough cash coming in that you’ll be okay. You’ll make it to the next one.
Mark Thompson:Yeah, exactly.
[00:12:30]

Andy Baldacci:

When was a tipping point where you said, “I’m not doing any more client work anymore”?
Mark Thompson:

[00:13:00]

It’s a good question. We started doing product launches where each product launch we were doing six figures. We would do like anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 in revenue. Once I started creating products, I built that network of affiliates and I learned the system of, “Okay, we need to have a sales page. We need to get sales copy done. We need to get a sales design. We need to have a sales funnel.”
[00:13:30]I started just creating a process for how to streamline a product launch. We started doing three, four, five different product launches whether it was an info product, whether it was a piece of software and these things started to snowball. People started reaching out to me and being like, “Hey, I really love the products that you’re putting out. They seem to be doing very well. Would you be interested in launching a product with me?” I started to become the mentor per se.
Andy Baldacci:I see.
Mark Thompson:

[00:14:00]

It became really easy to launch products really fast because they weren’t even my products. Instead of creating them myself, people will come to me and be like, “Hey, I have this product and I had something of value because I started building a network of affiliates and people who wanted to promote these products. I had a great designer and I had a great copy guy and I just have that system in place to do really successful launches.
I started just creating consistent revenue from products that weren’t even mine. I had a mixture of products that weren’t mine and ones that were. I think that was really the tipping point when people started to come to me and being like, ”Hey, I have this product. I just don’t know how to market it. I don’t know how to make sales from it.” I did. I learned how to do that and I think that was the tipping point.
[00:14:30]

Andy Baldacci:

In those early days, I’m sure there’s a ton of trial and error figuring out this launch process. Other than just experimenting, who are you learning from on how to do this the right way?
Mark Thompson:

[00:15:00]

It was really just monitoring the marketplace and just seeing what people wanted. I’ve gotten to a point now where you’ve seen so many products come to a marketplace. You almost know what’s going to do well and what’s not. As long as you just look at the trends, and what’s hot, what’s not? Back when I started creating products, WordPress plugins, WordPress themes, those were really, really popular.
[00:15:30]Now, the market has evolved and now it’s more about SaaS web apps, but really just monitoring what people were doing. Products that have mass appeal. Products like anything traffic related, webinar related. You just know if it’s going to do well. It has a unique selling proposition that your competitors don’t have. You just know from being entrenched in it day on and day out, what’s going to work, what’s not going to work and just monitoring what other similar products are doing.
[00:16:00]I always say now that I’ve been creating products for such a long time, you don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel, you just want to make the wheel better. If you say, “Oh my god. I have this amazing idea. It’s never been done before,” that’s a major red flag that the product probably isn’t going to do very well.
Andy Baldacci:This is probably the reason it hasn’t been done before.
Mark Thompson:That’s exactly right. It’s almost impossible to create something so completely unique that it’s going to be the next Facebook. What I always like to do is create something that you know has proven to work in a marketplace, but just make it better or beat them.
Andy Baldacci:Build a better mousetrap.
Mark Thompson:Yeah, exactly.
[00:16:30]

Andy Baldacci:

Obviously, the first part is building something that people actually want and are willing to pay for, but from there, it seems like there’s so many different routes to market, to promote, to do all those things. How much have you relied on your ability to build and cultivate this strong network of affiliates and partners? Is that one the major reasons you’ve been so successful?
Mark Thompson:
[00:17:00]
It’s two things. It’s a combination of continuing to grow that network of affiliate partners. It’s being able to maximize every single customer that comes through the door. If someone is willing to pay $40, how can you get them to pay you $100, $200 or getting that customer that’s willing to pay you one time to get you to pay on the subscription base? Once they’re paying $30 a month, how can you get them to pay you $100 a month and $500 a month? I’ve always created a suite of products.
Andy Baldacci:Like a product ladder?
[00:17:30]

Mark Thompson:

Yeah, exactly. Just continuously move them up that ladder and get them to buying more stuff or willing to pay more for your products and services.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:18:00]

I forget if it was Dan Kennedy or who said it, but the point it always comes back to, whoever can spend the most to acquire a customer is going to win and whoever is going to make the most money from the customer is a better business. It’s easier to grow. You’re going to have way more margin to work with rather than just selling a $27 eBook or whatever it is. You want to have a full suite that you can then move them through as a life cycle progresses. Is that accurate?
Mark Thompson:

[00:18:30]

Yeah, exactly. That’s the whole point. If you can make $500 instead of $100 from every customer that comes in the door, what type of opportunity does that make for your business? That means that you can spend more to acquire the customer because you know that you’re going to make more from that customer that allows you to invest into better people in your business that are designers, developers, whoever it may be. Then also just maybe it’s just quality of life stuff. Maybe it’s just taking more vacations or buying a cool car, whatever makes you happy.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious. I’m looking at your site now. How many products do you have out there?
Mark Thompson:
[00:19:00]
There’s probably about 20. I mean, there are some products that just didn’t do well and we just closed the doors to them and we don’t really sell them anymore. The way that I built my company was I didn’t want to just try to hit the homerun and if I don’t hit a homerun then my company is going to implode. I’ve always tried to juggle three, four, five different projects at one time because if one or two projects or products didn’t do well, then hopefully one or two will.
Andy Baldacci:Making a bunch of small bets rather than just one huge one.
Mark Thompson:

[00:19:30]

Yeah. That’s at least how I always look at things when I first started out. Now, if you ask me that same question right now today, I’m going to say the complete opposite. I’m going to say, “You know what, now that we are in a position where we can invest more time, money and energy into that homerun where we need more developers, we need more money to invest to compete with the marketplace, then we’re in a better position to do that now.
[00:20:00]What I did three to five years ago or for the past three to five years, those were stepping stones to get to where we are today which now we’re investing a lot of our time and energy into our payment and affiliate platform which we’re hoping is going to become a multimillion dollar business, but we wouldn’t haven’t been able to create this platform unless we did the things that we did for the last three to five years.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:20:30]
It’s almost like what you’re talking about when you’re shifting away from client where it gets that. In the beginning, you’re taking anything and everything that comes, it’s because you need the cash. It’s like if you need cash, if you don’t have a stable income stream, it’s not too smart to just try to swing for the homerun and if you strike out, you’re going broke and you don’t have enough money to pay rent and all this and that.
You got to start small, but once you have had a few of those basics, once you do have some really solid recurring revenue coming in or even a steady revenue coming in, then you’re able to make those bigger bets because if they don’t work out, you’re going to be okay.
[00:21:00]

Mark Thompson:

[00:21:30]

Right. Especially if you bootstrap at yourself. I mean, we’ve bootstrapped our company so we’ve never taken money from VCs or investors. Not to say that that’s a bad direction to go. There’s plenty of successful companies out there that take investment money and they do go for that homerun. I mean, that’s just not the direction that we went. Me and my partner, we own our company 100%. There’s no investors, there’s no one to really … We don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, but at some point in time, you may want to go that direction if you’re looking to really scale it out.
Andy Baldacci:Was there ever a point where you considered taking investment?
Mark Thompson:Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:I’m sure you’ve been offered.
Mark Thompson:

[00:22:00]

Yeah. There’s been certain offers here and there. I mean, that could be something in the future that we look into, especially as we look to grow our PayKickstart platform. When I first started out, it wasn’t really something I thought about. It was like, “Okay. I’m going to just create this product too,” but always having that long-term goal in mind. You see lots of people who create products and they always look at that shiny objects syndrome where it’s like, “Oh my god. Okay, if I create this product, I can get a nice spike of money from this launch,” and then it dies down.
[00:22:30]Then we do another product launch and then it dies down but they don’t actually think about, “Well, how can I get these people to continuously pay me every month or every year without having to go back and reinvent the wheel and create more and more products?” At some point in time, you need to put the money that you do make from your products into something that’s a larger play.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:23:00]

Right. It’s like the old adage where it’s like you can either spread your … I’m going to butcher this. You can spread your wood between a dozen arrows or you can just put all your wood behind one arrow. You can make a thousand little bets. You can make all these and that, but at a certain point to really get the results you’re looking for, you need to stop spreading yourself so thin.
Mark Thompson:Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious. Right now for all these 20 plus products, it seem like you’re biggest bet is definitely PayKickstart, but how many of the others are you actively promoting now?
Mark Thompson:Out of those 20 to 25 products, there’s probably four to five products that have just have risen above the rest. I mean, it’s just-
Andy Baldacci:The 80-20 stuff.
[00:23:30]

Mark Thompson:

It really is the 80-20 rule. EasyVSL which is our desktop video app, PressPlay, Heat Map Tracker. There’s just a handful of products that have just done really well and there’s a bigger audience, there’s more demand for it, they convert better. We’ve identified those products and those are the ones that we’re really putting our time and effort into.
[00:24:00]We’re working on EasyVSL 3.0. We’re working on PressPlay 2.0. If the money is in those products, well then we just know we need to improve on them. It’s already proven to convert and people want it so we’re just going to improve on them. Then hopefully, if they were willing to spend $47 one time for that product, if we can improve on it may be they’ll want to spend $97 or $27 a month or whatever. We’re just continuously improving on those products that have proven to convert.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:24:30]

Right. It goes along with what you were saying about the smaller bets is that some of those are going to have disproportionate results to the rest and once you see that, once you see the [inaudible 00:24:36] responding positively, you don’t just want to move on to the next one, you want to say, “Wait, let’s run with this. Let’s see where we can take it.” That’s why I’m assuming you’re devoting more resources to these ones that did turn out to be more than just a single.
Mark Thompson:

[00:25:00]

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Also from a marketing perspective, maybe going and building funnels around those products. Maybe paid funnels where you’re doing Facebook ads or Evergreen webinars that you’re running traffic through. I mean, if you can have a proof of concept for a product and it has proven to convert then scale it out and see how big of a market there actually is out there because there’s probably going to be other opportunities of traffic that you can explore outside of just maybe what you already know or your own internally email list.
[00:25:30]

Andy Baldacci:

Now, that I’ve clicked through about a dozen different pages, how many ads am I going to get on Facebook sending me into these things?
Mark Thompson:

[00:26:00]

I mean, we don’t do nearly as much paid traffic as we want to. That’s actually one of our goals for the next 2017 and moving on is building out more paid funnel. There’s probably one paid funnel for each of our core products out there. That is something that we’re looking to invest more time and energy into.
Andy Baldacci:Is the reason you haven’t invested much energy into it because the results from the joint ventures, the affiliates, the partners because you were getting such great results from that. Why distract yourselves with something new when what we’re doing is working? Why haven’t you yet done much with the Facebook ads?
Mark Thompson:

[00:26:30]

I mean, that is what we’ve known. We’ve spent a lot of our time and energy building affiliates, relationships. It’s really easy for us because we’ve taken the time to build out those relationships. It is easy, right? We can just be like, “Hey, would you be interested in running a promotion?” It’s really easy to do that and of course there’s no upfront investments pay traffic.
[00:27:00]Whereas with paid side of things, you need to really monitor and tweak. It’s hard work. You got to split test and try different ad copy and really maximize the return on investment from each ad. It wasn’t necessarily something that we personally have had a lot of experience in. We just recently did hire an ad agency to help us out with that side of things. Again, it’s something that we are looking to scale out because there is so much opportunity. I mean, there’s an endless amount of paid traffic that you can get. It’s really just a matter of targeting it the right way and building a proper sales funnel.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:27:30]

Especially when you have that product ladder in place, especially when you’re able to maximize the value of every customer, you’re really able to then … You said way more opportunities with the paid advertising because you’re able to spend more profitably.
Mark Thompson:

[00:28:00]

Yeah, exactly. Each of our products has some sort of a sales funnel. Maybe only one upsell or up to three or four upsells, but the cool thing about email traffic whether it’s your own internal email list or from affiliates is it’s instant traffic. You can really test the funnel really, really fast. Just within a day or two to see if it converts then you could flip a switch on from a paid ad and drive additional traffic if you know it’s converting well.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious, how big is your team today?
Mark Thompson:
[00:28:30]
There are … Let’s see, I’m just looking right now. There’s about, I don’t know, 12 to 14 developers. We got two designers. One is a sales page designer. Another guy is a software, UI guy. Then we have about six supports guys that are just in our desk, just handling customer supports.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:29:00]

You mentioned it early on is that as you grow an agency, really you need to increase your overhead by hiring and hiring. While you don’t need to hire as quickly in software to grow, you still do need to build a team and it seems like you’ve built a good-sized team. How are you managing that today? Is that your responsibility? Do you have someone in charge of that? What does that look like?
Mark Thompson:

[00:29:30]

One thing that’s made our life a lot easier is by using Hubstaff just to track time and ensure that everyone is doing the work that they’re supposed to be doing and that we’re being efficient. We’ve just built a very simple … What’s this word I’m looking for? We have managers of our developers. We have a support manager that manages our support team. Our designers, they take direction from me and my partner.
For the most part, my partner and I, we just manage the high level stuff and then we have managers who manage each of the different departments, if you will, but we’re still leaning off where if we need to make a quick decision, we get stuff done.
Andy Baldacci:Right. You don’t need to get through five layers of approval just to get something done.
[00:30:00]

Mark Thompson:

Yeah. We’ve beefed up our development team. We have a team that works strictly on our PayKickstart app and then we have a team that just manages and works on technical tickets for existing products. Then we have a team that handles the new versions of some of our other existing applications. I mean, it’s pretty streamlined even though our team is probably about 25 people right now, which isn’t too bad.
[00:30:30]

Andy Baldacci:

That’s the thing. It’s like I’m guessing in the first few hires that wasn’t necessarily so streamlined. This was another process that you had to figure out as you went.
Mark Thompson:

[00:31:00]

Oh my god, yeah. I mean, so when I first started, I mean, I even partnered with developers. It’s like I didn’t even have to incur that cost where I’d be like, “Hey, developer. Create this product. I’ll market it. We’ll split the profits from it.” That was a really easy way for me to not have to really incur any cost. It went from there. I would partner with people or I would hire it out and have it created.
Then sometimes I would hire a full-time developer, but I’d have them working … They’d be a hybrid doing a whole bunch of different things. Maybe they’re creating a new app and then they’re supporting an existing app. It wasn’t as departmentalized as it is today. It was a wild, wild west looking back on it.
Andy Baldacci:At what point did you say like, “All right. We need a bit more structure here?”
[00:31:30]

Mark Thompson:

Probably not until about, I don’t know, maybe two years ago or even less. Maybe a year or two ago, when we finally got to the point where we started generating a lot of reoccurring revenue where we didn’t have to necessarily reinvent the wheel. We could go and invest a lot of our time on bigger projects where the competition was less, but you had to up your game when it came to a product or a piece of software that you want to create.
[00:32:00]In doing that, by creating bigger products, we’re able to say, “Hey, it’s going to be $99 a month or it’s going to be $49 a month,” wherein people will be willing to pay it because we’re at the highest level of our competitors. I mean, it didn’t happen overnight, but obviously we’ve taken our products to a point where we feel that they’re at the top of the food chain in terms of our competition.
[00:32:30]

Andy Baldacci:

Interesting. I’m not trying to turn this into an ad for Hubstaff, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t do a little bit of customer development here.
Mark Thompson:Of course.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious, what originally led you to Hubstaff or just a time tracking tool in general?
Mark Thompson:
[00:33:00]
It was really just having checks and balances. I mean, because we have a virtual team. We have guys in South Africa. We have guys in different parts of Europe. They’re all over the place. I have my home office, my partner has an office in Indiana where he is. We’re all over the place. I mean, you want to trust your employees, but I mean it can be hard sometimes, right?
Andy Baldacci:Right.
Mark Thompson:
[00:33:30]
You want to make sure you’ve being efficient with your time. We’ve been able to actually catch people using Hubstaff and either spoofing hours or not being efficient or just being on Facebook and watching YouTube videos all day long. It’s like, “Hey, you know, we’re paying you … “ Some people we pay by the hour, some people we pay by salary, but we want to make sure that you’re efficient with your time because time really is money and if you’re just messing around all day long, we’re not going to deal with that.
[00:34:00]Part of it was just making sure that we have checks and balances that people are getting things done. The other part was just sheer, “Okay. I’m going to pay you by the hour. I want you to be able to track all of your time. I want to see where you’re spending your time if it’s on different projects.” Maybe I have-
Andy Baldacci:Do you guys integrate with any of the project management tools or anything like that?
Mark Thompson:We don’t. I mean, we use both Basecamp and JIRA. We use JIRA for our software, more of our technical projects and then we use Basecamp for just marketing related stuff. We actually don’t do any type of integration. I know you guys have added some, right?
Andy Baldacci:

[00:34:30]

Yeah. I mean, we do integrate with Basecamp and JIRA. I might send you an email to say, “Hey. Mark, you should probably set these up.” One of the cool things I’ve seen with talking a lot of different agency owners who do have the integration set up, the number one thing people get brought into Hubstaff for is usually accountability. They want to just know what their team is working on, wherever they are and not have to worry about that.
[00:35:00]Then it’s obviously just having all the data in one place making it easier to do all the data in one place making it easier to do payroll, all of that stuff. A lot of people, once they dig into it, it’ll be like when they set up the integration with project management, they can then look at more efficiency things like, this person is spending way too much time on these type of tasks. Maybe, one, there’s someone who could do that faster or two, we need to improve our processes so they can get quicker. That’s where it can be a level up and really give some deep insights into just how things are working.
Mark Thompson:
[00:35:30]
Honestly, Hubstaff, it really has transformed my business because it’s really allowed my business to scale and grow because I don’t have to sit there and worry about each of my employees and what they’re doing. If I ever have a question, I’m like, “This guy is usually pretty efficient and then all of a sudden, he dropped off. I don’t know what’s going on.” I can go back and just check and see if what’s going on.
[00:36:00]Unfortunately, you don’t want to use Hubstaff for a tool like that to be the big brother to look over their shoulder, but we’ve had unethical employees unfortunately. We had someone that he had what’s called mouse jiggle. It’s basically a little app that you run in the background and it jiggles the mouse every few seconds. It tracks time. We’re like, “How is this guy working 75 hours a week and he never sleeps?”
Andy Baldacci:And high activity.
Mark Thompson:
[00:36:30]
Yeah. The activity was through the roof. This guy doesn’t even go to the bathroom. What’s going on with this guy? When we found out through Hubstaff, and you can see the different apps that are running in the background, we saw this mouse jiggle thing. We’re like, “What’s going on? It allowed us to say, “Hey.” You really call bullshit on him and get rid of him. It really helps us to find great, talented, developers who are efficient with their time.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious. When you’ve removed a lot of that manual management from your day to day, what does a typical day look like for you?
[00:37:00]

Mark Thompson:

I mean, it’s all over the board right now. I mean, I guess it’s one of the things I love about what I do. It’s just everyday is a little different because we’re so entrenched into our payment affiliate platform right now. I’ve been spending a lot of my time with that. It’s even helping out with QAs. Just the overall direction of the platform.
[00:37:30]I’ll even get in there and do some wireframes on new features that I want created and then I’ll pass it over to my designer. He’ll do the user interface for it. He’ll pass it over to the developer. The developer will implement the functionality. Then he’ll pass it over to quality assurance of which then me or my partner or someone in our dev team will go through and do some rigorous testing, make sure that its working well.
[00:38:00]Really, at least over the last six to 12 months since … We launched the platform about three months ago, we’re just hammering home new features and making sure the system is working really well. I’ve spent a lot of my time just recently working on that, but I mean t wasn’t always like that.
Andy Baldacci:Is PayKickstart live right now?
Mark Thompson:

[00:38:30]

Yeah. We went live about three months ago now. It’s the end of November. About three months ago. We have an early beta program which we led in about, I don’t know, maybe 50 people and they were just testing it out, but really trying to break it, find all the bugs and fix it up so then we can release it to the general public. I mean, my job, my day to day is ensuring that everything the machine is running properly and then also the marketing side of things.
[00:39:00]We’ve created a nice webinar offering for PayKickstart. Making sure that the support desk isn’t getting backed up. Now, I’m not in support really answering tickets like I used to when I was doing 70, 80 hours a week. Now, we have a system in place for our first line support guys and then our second line tech support guys. We have a system in place for that, but just making sure that the machine is running smoothly, really.
Andy Baldacci:I think that’s a good transition into a few rapid fire questions. Again, you don’t need to answer them too quickly, I’ll just ask one after the other, all right?
Mark Thompson:Sure.
Andy Baldacci:All right, so the first one is just on that, what do you spend too much time on day to day?
[00:39:30]

Mark Thompson:

Too much time on testing right now. Just like I was saying, because PayKickstart has just been released to the public, even though we have beta users, we have all of our developers testing, you can never do too much testing. You want to make sure that it’s working smoothly and sometimes you only have one shot at acquiring a customer and getting them to use your platform. I do spend a lot of my time recently just doing a lot of QA.
Andy Baldacci:If there are more hours in the day, what would you spend more time doing?
[00:40:00]

Mark Thompson:

Just business development type stuff. Just figuring out unique integration, unique partnerships to help expose our new platform.
Andy Baldacci:Nice. Then the last one is just what are the long-term plans for DigitalKickstart? I think a lot of those are going to be around PayKickstart. What are those long-term plans?
Mark Thompson:

[00:40:30]

I mean, we’ve really tried to separate the two entities so there’s DigitalKickstart which is all of our different products. On that side of things, we’re really focused on the products that have really made us the most money, the 20%. Three of those products are already working on new iterations of those products. We’re going to be doing individual products launches for each of those as we come up with new releases of those and then PayKickstart is going to be … I mean, that’s its own business and really just start to really scale that out and spread the word about it. That’s really what we’re focused on for the future.
[00:41:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Awesome. Mark, what I want to do to wrap things up, I’m curious, who should look into a product like PayKickstart? Who is that built for?
Mark Thompson:

[00:41:30]

I mean, really any online entrepreneur, any online business owner. If you want to sell a product, PayKickstart is a great solution. Not to go too far into this, but I’ve tried all the different solutions out there without singling any of them out. There’s pros and cons to each of them. Being product creators ourselves, we have the unique ability to really understand exactly what product creators need and want.
[00:42:00]Anyone, who’s trying to sell a product you don’t need to necessarily even have developers or designers because we have things like customizable checkout pages and one click upsell functionality which if you’re not using one click upsells in your sales funnel, you can miss out on a ton of additional profits from just a person being able to put in their credit card information or their PayPal information ones and clicking yes on different upsells and your sales funnels. It integrates with all of your different, your email platform, maybe your membership site. Really, it’s a central hub to manage your online business.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:42:30]
Interesting. You’re talking about this before, but it’s that agency owners who do want to get in the products, there’s just so much that goes into that actual building of the product that it’s like you don’t want to just add one more thing of like, “Oh, now I need to figure out how people are going to pay me. I need to figure out all this other stuff.” It’s like a tool like PayKickstart is going to make that a lot easier. Is paykickstart.com the best way to go for that?
Mark Thompson:

[00:43:00]

Yeah. Just go to paykickstart.com. We have a 14-day free trial on there right now. We don’t charge per transaction fees which is unique. It’s a one-time flat monthly fee. Right now, it’s currently at $99 a month and you can do as much transaction as you want to. You can go there and test it out. Like I was saying back when I first started in product launches, I wish I had a platform like this where I could basically have my product listed and ready to go and I could start selling it and having affiliates promote it and keep track of commissions and pay them out and do all that stuff with the flip of a switch. I wish I had it back three to five years ago.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:43:30]

Have you implemented this in all the other products? Are you now building out the funnels for the other products using PayKickstart?
Mark Thompson:Yeah. I mean, we’re about 90% of the way there. We had an older internal system that we used to use and we were like people were always wondering what system we used to house all of our products and we’re like, “Oh, it’s kind of an internal thing.” Then finally, where it’s like, “You know what, we’re going to build this and release it to the world.”
[00:44:00]We actually rebuilt it from the ground up and that’s what PayKickstart is today. We’re in the process of finally moving over, I think our last two or three products into PayKickstart so then affiliates can just use the one system instead of the old system that we were using.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious. Listeners are more curious just to hear about just what DigitalKickstart is up to. In general, what you’re doing, where should they go to follow you, to follow DigitalKickstart?
Mark Thompson:
[00:44:30]
You can go to digitalkickstart.com. We have a blog. I actually have my own podcast as well where I interview other software entrepreneurs. You can see all of our different products that we’re offering. We have lots of different free guides and PDFs. You can sign up to get on our email list. We’re always letting our subscribers know what we have coming up. We do webinars and free trainings and we’re always promoting other people’s products that we think are above the rest. You can go there.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome. Mark, I just want to say thanks again so much for coming to the show today. It was a lot of fun chatting.
Mark Thompson:Yeah, Andy. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

Want to learn more?

If you’re looking for an easy way to handle the backend of a product launch, head to PayKickstart.com and check out their 14-day free trial. Launching a product is hard enough while running an agency, don’t make more work for yourself.

If you want to hear more from Mark and see what he is up to, head to DigitalKickstart.com where you can find all of their different products, free guides and PDFs, and his podcast. Sign up for their email list to be the first to hear about any new webinars or free training courses.

Resources mentioned

Basecamp
JIRA