Hey! I’m Jordan, the Millionaire Millennial, and today I'm sitting down with Mr. Baird Hall. Baird has founded a lot of different startups over the past few years, and we're going to sit down and talk about his startups. One of his first ones that is still running today that's successful is Wavve and also Zubtitle and his newest startup Duplikit, which actually I'm personally really excited about because it will actually do a lot of the stuff that I need to have done. I actually found Baird by using one of his tools. So, Zubtitle was a tool that I actually needed. And once I found out that he was the founder, I reached out to him, almost like, “Dude, we have got to sit down and talk about this.”
A Quick Background
Jordan Kilburn:So Baird, I just have some questions for you that I just want to roll right into. First off, can you just give us a little bit of background on you, personally? Not necessarily from a business sense, but where you're at in life, how things are going? What got you into entrepreneurship from the get go?
Baird Hall:I always just had that knack. I'm sure a lot of people watching this can relate to that. Just always had that in the back of my head, knowing that I wanted to do my own thing. I didn't really know why back then.
I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and I have a seven-month-old baby girl, which has been quite the adjustment as an entrepreneur and now a dad. I'm from a small town in Kentucky. I was a terrible student; I was a C+, B- student. I didn't really like school. I went to a community college, played baseball, and I was a communications major, which was just kind of a catchall degree at the time. But I really got lucky moving to Charleston and I started working for a tech company here and that's where I got into this. My first job was doing customer support on the front phone lines of people that went on hold for like 30 minutes and trying to figure out this complex CRM software. So, I really lucked out just getting into tech, back in 2010. It's been almost 10 years now. But that's where I got started.
Then I moved into sales with a startup here in town. I got really lucky there too. I was probably their ninth employee and they were still really trying to figure things out. I joined as one of the first salespeople there and did sales and support and a little bit of everything and got my feet wet with that. I worked for them for five years and then left to start my own company. So that's, I guess that's the high level overview, the quick background.
Their First Startup
Jordan Kilburn:I always find it funny, sitting down and doing a podcast or a video of someone and trying to condense 10 years’ worth of experience into this 30 minute segment. That's always challenging to do. But, you left your sales job, so your background is in sales and tech, and you left that to do your first startup. What was your first startup?
Baird Hall:This was 2015, my business partner, who I was introduced to by my wife - my wife and his wife are best friends and have been friends for a long time - and he was in law school and I was working for this tech startup, traveling a lot. We didn't really know each other, but our wives were listening to us talk about our business ideas and all these startup ideas and they were finally like, “You all just go to Starbucks and get outta here.” And it worked out really well, because we hit it off and we started meeting up every month.
The first company that we started was called uTalk. The best way to describe it is that we were trying to build a Reddit based on audio. So, communities where people would join channels and, through a mobile app, they would record up to a minute of audio about certain topics such as politics, sports, anything they were interested in, and then other people could listen and comment back. It created this kind of Reddit-type thread.
It was definitely a consumer play startup. We tried to raise money and we worked on it for about a year and a half, almost two years. There was no business idea behind it. It was just a product and it was a cool consumer app that we really wanted to get going. That's what everybody was doing back then; they were still trying to build social apps back in 2014 and 2015. We ran out of money, eventually, and did everything incorrectly. It never raised any money. We wound up selling it to a group out of the northeast that did some live-streaming stuff and wanted to add it to their portfolio. We didn't make any money on this deal at all. It was a huge time and money sink.
That was really painful. I thought the world was gonna end and I thought I was a complete failure and I was a mess. It was affecting my personal life, too, because I cared so much about it. But it turns out it was the best thing to finally shut that thing down. We moved on to Wavve, which was our next company, and that turned out to be a great idea and worked out really well. So, uTalk was painful, but in hindsight I'm really glad we did it, because we got started and it was in the audio space and we still work in audio, video, media processing type of work now. It helped us get started, find a path, and get introduced to a lot of different problems out there.
Jordan Kilburn:I think people will forget. The first business was a failure, in a monetary sense, but like you said, you're still in the audio space, you learned a ton of stuff. I'm sure that is applicable to the businesses you're doing now. You can't downplay the very first business. My first business was selling stuff on Amazon, so I've done a lot of different stuff over the past four or five years. So, you can't downplay the first one.
Baird Hall:When I was getting into entrepreneurship, and I think a lot of others probably struggle with this, too, there's so much pressure on that first idea or that first thing that you're going to do when, in reality, you should just get started. Just write a blog or start creating content about whatever you're interested in. Looking back, we did this accidentally, but we picked an industry or a space where we’re really interested in people who are creating content - content creators, like yourself. We really like helping people who want to have conversations like this, or they want to talk about any subject they're interested in and put it on social media. Those are the people we want to help. There's a never-ending list of business ideas, just within that specific lane.
If I was giving advice to somebody who wants to get started and they're waffling on their first idea, I'd be like, “Don't worry so much about the idea. Worry about the next 5 to 10 years of your life. Who are the people that you want to help, or what are the companies that you want to work with? Or do you want to do blockchain, or finance, or whatever?” You have to be interested in it. That's more important than the first actual business idea. At least that's, what's worked for us. I think that it takes the pressure off for some people, which might help.
Jordan Kilburn:It does, because if you're working on something that you actually enjoy, then yes, it's work, but at least you are enjoying it. I went to college for engineering, and then I worked in the engineering field for only six months before I quit to start my first business. It was fun and I enjoyed engineering, but it wasn't necessarily the stuff I wanted to be doing. It's definitely important to pick something that you like from the get go. And, like you said, just start making content about it. Start talking about it. Start talking to other people who are doing it, too, and having conversations with people. I think that's a great place to start. And then the product will make sense.
It reminds me of Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. It's kind of the same thing. He just had this blog and then it kinda turned into, okay, I'm going to make some software and now it's this huge thing. Of course, I think he left to go do something else, but that's beside the point.
Jordan Kilburn:So, I'm really interested about Wavve because it was your first successful company that's still operating. Like I said, I found you on Indie Hackers and actually listened to the podcast they did with you, and you were talking about getting your very first customers and I thought it was so interesting that you just were just cold emailing people. Is that really what you did for several months, was just shoot dozens of emails everyday to potential customers?
Baird Hall:Yeah, it was a grind. Another interesting aspect of that old company that failed, that social audio app that we built, we actually had a big problem when we were trying to grow that product. We wanted to take these audio clips that people were making and put them on social media and put them on Facebook and Instagram to help promote it. And we realized you can't do that; you can't put an MP3 on Facebook, you have to link it to something else. So, we thought let's just turn into a video and then we can put it up there.
Then podcasters started looking at the videos we were making and they were like, we don't really care about this app, but how'd you do that? How'd you make that video? And a light bulb just went off. Once we built that first product, I'd actually just pull up a podcaster’s RSS feed. I’d go on Twitter and I had this thread where I was searching for any tweets that said “new episode”. It would basically just be this huge list of people who are talking about their new podcast episode that they launched. I would go to the podcast, grab the RSS link, and their email is in the RSS link - almost every podcaster has their personal email there - and then I would just send them an email, like, “Hey, I saw you released a new episode and you're talking about it on Twitter. Have you thought about doing a little video clip and putting it on Twitter?” People would respond and be interested, and we would just start the conversation from there. I think for the first 250 customers, there was some type of onboard happening. Maybe not all of those people. I didn't acquire via email, but we talked to them by email or had some type of communication to help them get set up. It was a very manual process, which was painful, but we learned so much.
Even through chat support with customers while they're getting set up, you figure out what they actually want. You get feature requests and figure out what's slowing them down. That first year, business grew really slow. I look back at our revenues sometimes and I can't believe we were still working on it. After 14 months, we were making maybe $8,000 a month. We had two people trying to get this thing full time and we weren't even close to that. But that snowball is really nice when you finally get it there, and it just keeps going and it's still growing today. It will have been out four years in January, so it's done really well.
Jordan Kilburn:I think the key takeaway is that even when you think that you're not going anywhere, you just gotta wait a little longer. I think that's a hard decision, though, because you walked away from your first SAS. So maybe at that point in Wavve, you're like should I stick with it? Should I walk away? I'm sure that was a difficult decision.
Baird Hall:Yeah. The whole time, our goal with Wavve was we just wanted to pay our mortgages. We were like, how cool would it be if we had this product that made enough to help us pay our mortgages. We hit that point and set the next bar of, okay, well maybe we can have a part-time salary on this. Even though the month-over-month growth was usually between 6% and 12%, which is pretty high, but starting from zero, it takes a long time to get to anything meaningful. But every month it would just go up a little bit and it kept going up into the right. So, we kept working on it and we did some freelancing to pay the bills and eventually it got to a point where we could start reinvesting in it and hiring developers. It just got easier as it goes, but it's an uphill climb.
Even Duplikit, the new one that I'm creating, and I'm just remembering all over again what it’s like starting something from scratch. We’ve done some cold emailing, but we're a little luckier this time to have a built-in audience. So, we know who to reach out to, and we've done some email blast with our other companies. We definitely have been reaching out to some of the usual suspects and having them try it out. Starting anything from scratch, getting attention to it, and getting first customers is tough. But it makes it rewarding when you can pull it off.
Approaching Your First Customers
Jordan Kilburn:So, you're emailing these podcasters directly. If you remember, what was the conversation, the back and forth, that led to one of your very first customers? How many back and forths were there? What did they say to you? What'd you say back to them? How did that conversation go?
Baird Hall:The first? So, I thought a lot about cold email and I did sales before starting wave two, so I had some experience with cold emailing and I definitely had a method for it. The reason a lot of us hate cold email is because we get these massive emails that say, “Hey, I found you; however, here's our product. Here's what it does. Here's how it's going to save you time and money.” And it's just canned and it feels gross and it's not not an effective way to do it.
My approach is that my first email is personalized and it's just simply to get a conversation started, because if the person doesn't even want to talk to you about their specific problem, then you're not going to sell them anything. So, why even bother? The first email would be like, “Hey, I saw you launched a new podcast. How are you sharing it on social media? Because I'm genuinely interested because I'm trying to build a product for these people.” And if they're not even posting on Instagram or trying to share it on social media, then why would I even build the thing? So, the first question is just to ask them to validate, is there even a need there? And to make it sound genuine. I’d email and say, how are you currently promoting on social media? And a lot of people would respond.
If you're intimidated by cold email, it's probably because you're thinking about doing it the spammy way. If you do it the other way, where you're just interested in helping people, you'll find that people love being helped. We love being listened to, we love being attended to, and if somebody can solve my problems, then I'm going to be interested. If you approach it the right way, a lot of people would respond and say here are the different things that I'm doing. Then I would ask them, “Well, have you thought about creating videos and turning clips into videos?” I would lose people like a funnel almost, at that step, but maybe 1 out of 10 would actually sign up and try it. I'm not exactly sure what the conversion rates were, but it usually took two emails to get them to try it. Maybe they'd have one more question before they converted, but they were very short emails, and it was pretty quick back and forth. SAS products, especially these days, are pretty much self service, so there was no contract or anything like that we had to get in place.
Acquisition Strategies and SEO
Jordan Kilburn:So, you got Wavve off the ground. What's your current acquisition strategy? I'm assuming you're not cold emailing people anymore.
Baird Hall:No, we’re not. Content marketing is really big in SEO. We're lucky that Wavve creates content that goes on social media and it creates word of mouth. We’re really focused on creating a unique style of videos so that when it was shared, it would look a lot different than our competitors. We don't put watermarks on our videos, since people are paying for it. But we've tried to almost get around that by making our animations and tech styling and things like that very unique. So, that's really helped with word of mouth marketing. Facebook ads have been interesting. It's a challenge to get those right. But sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. And a lot of people are finding us through what we write about podcasting and social media and things like that. So, those are the main acquisition channels right now. And it's been crazy with COVID; with everybody in quarantine, everybody's starting podcasts. It's been really busy, but the right place, right time. And having all that content out there has really helped.
Jordan Kilburn:For sure. I'm assuming you kind of did the same thing with Zubtitle, because that's exactly how I found Zubtitle, was through SEO. I was searching for “how can I caption my Instagram videos” and I spent all morning, and then I found an article that was “How to caption your Instagram videos” and I went, that's it!
Baird Hall:I spent two hours this morning working on our ad words campaigns that seem to have changed for some reason. But if you can figure out SEO and Google, especially if you can get on the front search page of a popular topic like that, you can really do wonders for acquisition.
Jordan Kilburn:That was the same strategy I went with on my first SAS, I had something called the Atlas, it was an inventory management software for Amazon sellers, and we did the same thing. We made some blogs to target the exact keywords, so if you're searching for this, you're ready to buy something from us. That's definitely a very powerful method. It just takes a long time; it took like six months to get something ranked appropriately that was actually working.
Baird Hall:For anyone out there who feels intimidated by SEO, I'm no SEO expert. I'm sure it's a rabbit hole you can go down. It's just like anything else, you can almost learn too much about it, to the point where you don't even get anything done. But the best advice I have for people is just get started, just start writing blog posts and put them out there. But most importantly, put yourself in the shoes of your customer or potential customer. Just think about what they would be typing into Google, and then go type that into Google and see what comes up and write articles around those topics. Try to find old posts that you can make better, from competitors or people who have already written them. And don't overthink it or don't be paralyzed because it's intimidating, because it's just writing. Just write to help people and it'll take care of itself.
The Beginning of Duplikit
Jordan Kilburn:Or, you can make videos and have them converted into posts using duplikit. And so, speaking of duplikit, that's your third SAS?
Baird Hall:Yeah, we just started it. I'm not sure exactly why we felt that we wanted to. I think we're just addicted at this point. This is kind of random, but I actually had a neighbor who was telling me how they just had their third kid and he's like, “Yeah, it’s interesting, after three years you forget how hard a newborn is. It kind of leaves your head. So you're like, let's just do it again.” And that's what is happening with us, with companies. It's like every two to three years, we're forgetting how hard it was. Again, I think the main lesson here, and I hope this one works, it might not, but we're just staying in our same space. We're helping content creators and we know that a lot of podcasters and video creators are looking for ways to make things easier. It takes a lot of effort to create a podcast; it's time for both of us and you'll have editing and all these things. If you're going to create this really nice piece of audio or video content, why not reuse it in different ways?
So, we're building a tool that’s going to start out as a podcast and video to blog converter. Repurposing content for your blog. We're going to transcribe it, clean it up, help it get SEO ready. And it'll do some fancy things to remove filler words that have probably been said a lot, and identifying speakers, things like that. That's the latest idea. A lesson that we learned over our previous two companies, is that our idea usually isn't the best. It's better to just let your customers tell you what to do. Actually, the first idea before this was that we were going to build this content engine where you can upload one video, split it into multiple videos, turn it into a podcast. We were going to do this massive content repurposing engine and, instead of starting to build that, we put out a website where we did this for people as a service. It was like $6 a pop.
We're still doing some of this now, where people would just send us the video and we would do it for them. And we started converting it and doing this manual process for people. And then we started learning what we can do, what we can't do, what people will pay for. After dozens of customers paying us, we found out that really the podcasts and video to blog was the real core thing that they wanted. So, we scrapped everything else and we're just focusing on that. It was really helpful.
It was another good lesson of, “Hey, we have this great idea that's going to be amazing.” Probably not, but let's just put out a really simple version of it first, that’s the easiest way to get started, and let's learn from people and adjust from there. I think people get really married to their ideas. We almost get romantic with them or emotional with our ideas and we power them through, as opposed to the way we try to approach it. When we have an idea, we put something out there as quickly as possible, and it's no longer ours. We separate ourselves from it and let this thing become whatever it's going to do, and shut it down if we need to, but let the customers actually drive it. That's really been the biggest thing for us, for me and my partners, is just that idea of not feeling “this is our idea that has to work exactly how we want it”, and just rather being flexible and adjusting and making decisions quickly. That's been the biggest turning point for us.
Getting Started With an Idea
Jordan Kilburn:I think that's really hard for people starting out. You're right, you get this idea and you're like,thisis the idea.
Baird Hall:I wasted two years on it, because I thought this app is the coolest thing that’s ever going to happen.
Jordan Kilburn:I think everybody just has to make that mistake of doing those things. I was reading a post from one of the founders of Y Combinator, and he was saying at the beginning to do stuff that doesn't scale. Because nowadays, people are always thinking about scaling, like how can I scale this? Or how can I build this giant system? It's like, no, maybe you just need to do what you guys are doing with Duplikit and just have your user upload a video to you and you just manually do it just to make sure that, A) the market exists and B) that people want it and they're going to use it in the way that you think they're going to use it, because odds are they probably won't; they want to use it for something else. I definitely agree with what you're saying. That's a very important aspect.
Baird Hall:I always admit that I'm never the smartest guy in the room and it's almost been an advantage. I'm always like, well, let's just try it. Let's just see what happens. I don't need to have all the answers right now, because I never have the right answers. We'll just put it out there, get feedback and move forward. I have some entrepreneur friends who are a much higher level of intelligence, and sometimes they almost get into the weeds and they just think too much and they're contemplating different options and avenues. And I could have done all three of those avenues by this time and tested them all out, if they had just got started.
Jordan Kilburn:I call that the curse of entrepreneurship is when you see opportunity everywhere and so it's hard to focus on one particular thing. One of my friends, he said to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be dumb enough to actually take a massive risk, but you have to be smart enough to pull it off. You can't be super smart, because then you think you're right all the time and that you're going to stick with something. You're not very flexible, at that point.
Baird Hall:You have to be willing to practice humility and drop the ego, because if you really care about your ego, it's going to get busted up by early customers.
Jordan Kilburn:Maybe that's a good thing, then from there you can move forward. If you have an ego, it will get destroyed. So, don't worry about it.
Balancing Three Businesses
Jordan Kilburn:I have to ask, three businesses - it seems a bit much, so how are you balancing this? How much time are you spending on each, per day? You also have a wife, you have a kid, I'm assuming you have friends and hobbies. What is the balance? How do you do that?
Baird Hall:It's not as bad as it sounds, because we’ve spent two years on each business. Well, Duplikit is just getting started, but Wavve had two years that were dedicated to it. Then once it was up and going, we were able to bring in contractors to help run the business. And it was very much the same thing with Zubtitle. It was very heavy hands on for about a year and a half. Then we start growing to a point where we could start delegating more. I'm much more out of the weeds now. I'm not writing blog posts.I did do a lot of work on our ad words campaign this morning. I should probably hire somebody to do that too, because they'd be better at it.
Now, I'm very much removed. I'm not doing a lot of the actual work. I'm more just coordinating and making a lot of decisions. That's the other thing for any entrepreneurs out there, the strongest skill you can have is decision making.
And I feel like that's really all I do all day now, and answer questions and make decisions about which way we're going to go. Where to put resources, where to try to cut resources, things like that. So, I really worked from nine to two, every day, or something in that range. I found that four hours of really focused, important work is about the max I can do in a day. I'll do a lot of admin stuff in the afternoon or late at night, but I just spend two hours on Wavve, two hours on Zubtitle, and then we're trying to get Duplikit, that's been a kind of a late night project, as of late. It's a little easier now, once you put the work in and get the business up and going, and you can delegate some things out, you don’t have to work 40 hours a week and still keep things moving.
Jordan Kilburn:I feel that. I don’t know if you’ve read the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, but it's all about how we only have a finite amount of focus per day, and it's like four or five hours. So, I always scoff at the idea of these really long work days. Because I find myself going in circles after about five hours. I'm working against my past self really sometimes, you know, reverting things I should have done.
Knowing When to Exit A Business
Jordan Kilburn:Last question here, and then we'll close it out. I'm curious if you've ever thought about exiting either Wavve or Zubtitle altogether, or are you planning to grow it more?
Baird Hall:We have thought about it. We spent a lot of time talking about it towards the end of last year. We have five partners total now, across all three businesses. We've talked about it a lot and we came to the conclusion that, with Wavve, we've been working on it for four years and it's gone from the startup stage to now more needing operators, people who are really more scientific. It probably will be time to move from that in the next year or two. I haven't really said this out loud, so I'm having a hard time formulating it. But, the conclusion we came to is basically that we love starting new companies and we love that startup phase, but not so much once it turns into more of that operational scientific approach. With Wavve, if we can optimize churn by a half a percent, it makes a big difference, but that's not the stuff we like to do. We're not specialists in any specific area. I think that's kind of the natural life cycle of these companies. When they move into that phase, we'll be ready to exit, or want to exit them.
We actually have tried with Wavve. Well, I wouldn't say tried, but we've tested the waters, I would say. We want to get Duplikit off the ground. We also have another, we want to move into more B2B SAAS products, hopefully late this year or next year starting a new company. We've got some concepts that we want to test out. So, there's more stuff that we want to do. I think the goal will be to exit, or to find somebody who can run them efficiently and get them out from under us, as far as operations go.
Jordan Kilburn:I was looking at this, because you have all your revenue posted on Indie Hackers. I was like, they can exit for a cool few million. I think, if you did both of them together, Zubtitle and Wavve, I'm like, that's pretty good right there.
Baird Hall:Maybe that's a long term play for us, is to actually bring them all together under the same house or have somebody buy them and do that, to create like an Adobe Light type thing with some different products. That would definitely be an option.
Like I said, we tested the waters and thought about it. I'm glad we didn't, because we've been growing like crazy this year with both companies. But now we've got the cashflow to do interesting things. I don't know if we'll be rushing it anytime soon. It's tough; even just making the decision to talk to potential acquirers and work with brokers and to have those meetings was definitely a lot of thought and discussion and trying to figure out, well, what do we actually want for these businesses? What do we want out of our next 5 to 10 years of entrepreneurship? And of life, we've got wives and families that play into this, too.
It's never cut and dry, but it's so important. I'm so lucky and blessed to have good partners to work with, that we can get on a meeting and make massive life decisions in 30 minutes. We'll talk through everything and we'll all come to a conclusion. Everybody communicates really well and we make sure that we're all listened to and valued and all those things. Those difficult decisions become a lot easier when you have good partners. Luckily I had no problems, but you hear horror stories from people, where one person can really throw a wrench in everything. So, be careful and work with people who you trust.
Jordan Kilburn:Yeah, for sure. I exited my first SAS just a couple of months ago. It's a headache and a half. The paperwork alone is not fun.
Baird Hall:Was it an individual who purchased it or was it a group?
Jordan Kilburn:It was actually three guys together, but one of them is just a passive investor who fronted a lot of the money. they just acquired it and right now it's migrating over to them and I'm still helping a little bit. They brought me on as an advisor, they pay me pretty well to be an advisor on my own business, which is cool.
Baird Hall:It sounds like the way that goes, maybe it's been six months or something, during the transition and then you work on something new.
Jordan Kilburn:That's exactly what's going on. So, they have me for actually six months, to help them make sure they understand everything and their plan is to scale it and then sell it again. That's pretty cool. Anyways, that's all I got for you, Baird. I really appreciate you chatting with me. It's been a lot of fun. Some of these answers you've given me are pretty interesting.
Baird Hall:Thanks. Hopefully there's some helpful tidbits in there for others who are getting started and check us out at Wavve, Zubtitle, and then Duplikit is the new tool. If anybody out there is wanting to turn a podcast or a blog into a video, please reach out to us and help us test it out and learn what we need to build. I'm always happy to look at projects or help people with cold emailing. I'm not hard to track down.