Ian Blair, co-founder and CEO of BuildFire, isn’t your average software CEO. He’s more like the James Bond of SaaS…
Ian’s definition of fun ranges from driving exotic cars and surfing to skiing and flying planes around the world. Oh, and did we mention he’s only 26 years old?
Listen to this episode to get Ian’s unique story about the different channels of growth he focused on while scaling BuildFire into one of the largest app agencies in the country. In this episode, we’ll talk through creating sustainable organic traffic through SEO, how to multiply the effectiveness of your sales team, and how Ian views fundraising for startups.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
1:08 Ian’s expensive, adrenaline-filled hobby
4:08 The background on the early days of BuildFire
5:28 How much should you charge for your subscription software?
9:17 Fundraising strategies for SaaS businesses
14:49 Creating sustainable organic traffic through SEO
20:49 Scaling the sales side of the business
28:38 The Salty Six
DR: Today we’ve got a new friend, Ian Blair with us, CEO of BuildFire.
BuildFire is basically, he was describing it to me, WordPress for mobile app development. It allows anybody to build a mobile app without having to learn how to be a developer. It’s a company I heard about a few years ago — and it’s fun to actually be able to sit down and talk about it here today. Ian, welcome to the show, man.
IB: Absolutely, I’m glad to be here in my home city of San Diego.
DR: Oh yeah I forgot, this is the first-ever Scale or Die we have filmed outside of the normal studio in Austin, Texas. We’re on the rooftop in San Diego, San Diego’s tallest residential building, here on the 45th floor, which is awesome.
IB: I’ll take it, penthouse views any day.
DR: Okay, so before we start talking about SaaS. We were talking before this, and you have a car that is worth over $300,000. Tell me about the car and your philosophy around why this car works for someone that is — how old are you?
IB: I’m 26.
DR: So 26, running a new SaaS company that’s growing quickly, but what’s your thought process behind that?
IB: Well, I love that you bring up cars because cars are a big passion for me. I’ve always grown up around them, so I think one of my big inspirations for going into business, in general, was, “how do I end up buying cars later in life?”
And you can’t really afford them if you don’t start your own business. So I recently purchased a McLaren 600LT Coupe
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Ian Blair (@ianblair44) on Jul 31, 2019 at 3:08pm PDT
DR: This thing shoots flames.
IB: Shoots flames out the back, I mean it’s a true driver’s car, it is unbelievable. The sound when you’re driving it, just experience how fast you can go. I mean there’s nothing like getting behind a McLaren and just driving fast. It’s almost if you think about it, we’re just kinda zombies driving our normal cars, they’re tame, they’re not fun.
DR: That’s what I’m looking for, man, I’m just trying to get from point A to point B.
IB: It’s not fun though, so I think you get to be a kid again in these exotic cars, and then plus it obviously brings a lot of attention. It can be good or bad, but really–
DR: You’ve met people through coffee and cars.
IB: Cars and coffee events, I mean what’s really interesting about these cars is generally people that own them, they’re business owners. They’re interesting people, and cars are a way to bring people together.
It’s a common thing that I think a lot of entrepreneurs are into. I think it brings up a lot of interesting conversations.
I think just the whole network it opens you up to is incredible, and I wanna learn from other people that have achieved success because I think the biggest key to success is surrounding yourself with others that you ultimately wanna be like.
How can you learn from them, and I think you do that, it’s a great way to mix both business and pleasure, so it’s been an incredible experience.
DR: You think you’ll get BuildFire clients from just hanging out with the car crew?
IB: Yeah, I think, one of the interesting things about BuildFire, and kinda the market we serve, is that the majority of businesses can benefit from having a mobile app. So almost view it as like I’m selling bread. It’s like selling a phone service or accounting.
DR: Everybody you meet kind of has some app in the back of their mind, they’re saying oh, we’ve kinda thought about doing that.
IB: You just go to a bar, and everyone’s got an app idea, essentially everyone has app ideas, and I think it’s a really cool way to start a conversation and — having one of those cars kinda means you’re a little bit legit, so.
DR: More fun than Facebook ads… so put the money into something else.
IB: That’s very true, you just gotta be tasteful with it, you don’t wanna be one of those internet marketers driving around a Lambo, look at me!
DR: Shooting flames out the back. Yeah, dude, that’s a fine line, that’s good.
Let’s talk about BuildFire. Can you describe, what do you guys do at BuildFire, what’s the business model, what’s the background of the company in a nutshell?
IB: Yeah, so BuildFire. it’s a SaaS mobile app development platform. It essentially allows anyone with no coding skills to sign up and start building their app on their own, and the way our platform works is we have these things called plugins, which are modular units of functionality.
So when you’re building your app, you have a wide arrange of plugins you can choose from. So say you want videos in your app, boom, you just add the YouTube plugin.
Say you wanna add events, you add an event plugin. You can essentially use all these modules to build your app, and it’s similar to a lot of other do-it-yourself app-building platforms.
BuildFire’s developer SDK
But really what makes BuildFire distinctly unique is the fact that we have a robust developer SDK, where you can actually build your own custom plugins on top of our platform.
So instead of actually having to build an entire app from scratch, you can use a lot of our existing functionality to get you 80 to 90% of the way there.
You only need to build that unique functionality, that’s if you’re looking to build a custom app where we don’t necessarily offer that out of the box, and you get to tie into all of our back-end services.
What a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re building an app, there’s a lot of back-end infrastructure that goes into building and maintaining it, you have your servers, your load balancers, your CDN, your database servers, there’s truly a lot that you need to maintain. And BuildFire simplifies a lot of that.
DR: Gotcha, and how do you charge?
IB: So, we have a monthly subscription fee, it starts as low as $59 a month, and goes up to several thousand dollars a month depending on what you’re building.
So if you’re just looking to build an app for a small business, you can get started for as low as $59 or $149 a month. Obviously, as you move further up in price point, you’ll add more features like any other SaaS platform.
DR: You’ve got the SaaS that’s like the self-serve, or mostly self-serve, and then you also kinda pull people out of the air and say “hey do want us to just build a very high-end custom app on our own platform?”
How did that come about, where you’re actually building these big apps for people?
IB: Yeah, it’s actually pretty interesting.
So, as a SaaS company, when you’re early on, your software is fairly limited, and also you’re limited in your addressable market.
So when we first started our business, we were thinking, “how can we turn out a lot of these templated apps,” and we were thinking much more along the lines of a Wix or Squarespace for app development.
That’s where here it’s just kinda meant for your average small business owner."And what was really interesting about apps, and this is the important aspect of when you're developing a product is how do you get feedback from the market?"
And we had a lot of people wanting to, think about when people have their app ideas, they want us to do that, they want us to do this, and we weren’t able to actually build that in a scalable manner.
DR: It wasn’t flexible, and people couldn’t go in and do that stuff.
IB: Yeah, you were just limited to whatever functionality we would offer, and if we didn’t wanna develop something custom, essentially the whole platform would get it.
So we had to rethink the way we were building our apps, and that’s why we kinda went towards this modular functionality, where it’s more plugin-based, so any app can have these unique combinations of plugins and features.
We ended up rebuilding the platform, enabling us to do that, and then we wanted to move further upmarket and attract higher-value customers.
This a theme we often hear from Scale or Die guests — check out the episode with Tyson Quick from Instapage on the topic of moving upmarket.
And that’s not as easy as it sounds, but we started to attract those types of customers. People come to us with their app ideas, and it’s like building a house because people are always like, “oh, how much is an app gonna cost?”
If you actually use the housing analogy, think about a trailer, those are just off the shelf, you can deliver them really quickly and cheaply. But if you’re trying to build a 10,000 square foot mansion that’s obviously gonna cost a lot different.
So, the same thing with apps, there’s a reason why Uber has over 2,000 engineers. A lot of people that come to us and say “hey, I wanna build this Uber for this, and it’s like well, do you realize how much infrastructure goes in behind building these types of apps, and a lot of people don’t necessarily realize that.”
DR: Understand it.
How big of a part does the services side play into just the overall company strategy, and growing the SaaS?
IB: Yeah, so actually the agency became a big part of accelerating our revenue, and also really accelerating revenue on the SaaS side as well.
So, I see, in general, I think when you look at enterprise SaaS, you have a lot of the times, there’s always services revenue associated with the platform. And a lot of the times when people are buying into your product philosophy, they’re not necessarily the ones that wanna execute it. They want a kind of a done for you solution.
Thet might buy into your vision, but they’re somewhat looking to you to actually help them accomplish that. So in our particular case, it actually makes a lot of sense. Because people who come to us with an app idea, they want us to just build it for them.
So, it’s really nice, because in SaaS, it’s really tough on cashflow. Say you close a large, say a $100,000 deal, you’re only gonna be making like $8300 a month, for 12 months — and you get paid out over time. So you might have a four or five-month payback, and what’s nice with upfront revenue is you get that immediate payback. You can actually start to reinvest those dollars back into sales and marketing to go generate more cash.
DR: Are you guys self-funded?
IB: We raised a total of about three million dollars from friends, family, some small family offices.
And we actually always raise money as we begin getting traction over time. The largest sum of money we’ve ever gotten at once is a million bucks, and that was our last round about a year and a half ago. We always started off with revenue.
Actually, the way I started the business was, I started white-labeling another app development platform. So I basically got to start my own SaaS company for like 300 bucks, which is essentially unheard of.
And I started building up a customer base, and once we had customers, it was a lot easier to say “hey, we need to go build our own technology, we did that, and then still continue to acquire more and more customers.”
And it’s a lot better value prop to investors saying “hey look, we can actually take money and turn it into more money.”
DR: And you were just kind of a consultant almost — using this other platform. You’re gonna white label this, you’re gonna say it’s us, you build it for ’em, and then essentially you’re like hey look, what if we actually just did have this? Instead of just saying we have it, and started launching it from there.
IB: Yeah, exactly, I mean it was pretty neat. I mean I definitely kept it as secret as possible that we’re white-labeling another technology, but it took us about a year to build our own platform, and then we seamlessly migrated all of ’em off of the other platform onto ours, and ever since, we’re now one of the biggest in the market.
DR: Yeah, so you’ve got about, as of this recording, about 47 people on the team. I think when we talked the other day, you said you were trying to add about 30 more people in the next several months. Are those mostly sales and support?
IB: Yeah, we’re gonna see it kinda spread across the whole company, but definitely more marketers, more people in customer support.
Sales and customer support are kinda the two departments where you’re gonna get the highest headcount in terms of scale where engineering will somewhat taper off at a certain point. Because what we’re supposed to do as a SaaS company is just get to scale, right?
Where we can kinda have a fixed cost structure and then revenue can scale nicely on top of that without having to always increase your cost. I think there’s a lot in customer support and sales, all throughout the org.
DR: I’m curious, so how are you thinking about raising the game, you’ve got this cash cow. You call it an agency, the services side of the business, that I imagine you pull a ton of the revenue from? Do you wanna go raise again, and what would make you raise again?
IB: Yeah, it’s interesting, I mean as a SaaS company we’ve been very modulated with our burn rate, and I just had a meeting with some investors the other day, and the smallest checks they write are like $20, $25 million.
I’m thinking to myself, man, what do I do with that much money? I don’t know how to burn that much money…
DR: You’d figure it out, you’d figure it out day one, I got McLarens.
IB: Yeah, McLarens, exactly. Mark it in the budget.
DR: The type of guy that knows how to spend money cars, I think you’d figure it out.
IB: Yeah, we’ll go buy some million-dollar cars.
But I think we’ve been so efficient with our capital, as we’ve been able to deploy. We’ve been able to grow revenue quite nicely, so we haven’t had this insane burn rate, and I think that’s a testament to how scrappy our team is.
And I think doing that, it causes you to be very calculated with your decisions, because you only have so many bullets in the chamber, and we’re just very calculated with it.
DR: There’s something nice about just kinda having your back against the wall, not being flushed with cash, and just saying you know what, we’ve gotta eat what we kill today, and then do it again tomorrow, and then do it again the next day, and just survive.
It causes you to think totally different. I know for us, after we raised our seed round, from Y combinator, it was like, next month, we were trying to be scrappy.
But we had kind of lost our mindset, we weren’t frugal, we bought this golf simulator for our office. Six months later we ended up taking it down, because I was like, that’s not what we need, we don’t need golf simulators here. We ended up selling that thing off, I think right afterward. We kinda just lost perspective for a little bit. I know that flushed out the whole company through what you build.
IB: I think that’s certainly true, and as soon as you get flushed with cash, your runway becomes so much longer.
Essentially, money equals time as a startup, and that’s what we’re all trying to… I guess not run out of because I view it as — you almost have a gun pointed at your head as a startup, and as soon as time runs out, bang.
If your burn rate is way too high, if you’re not growing fast enough, investors aren’t gonna want to invest.
You basically fall into three different categories as a SaaS company. One, you can be growing over 50 to 100% a year, and you’re always gonna have investors that are willing to put money in, so capital’s always there.
If you’re going fast enough. If you’re in no man’s land, where you’re growing under 50% a year, you’re burning a bunch of cash, you’re pretty unattractive to investors, and that’s a really tough position to be in.
Or, you could be break-even, burning maybe just a teeny bit of cash, or profitable, and have a decent growth rate. That is the best position to be in because I don’t necessarily wanna be beholden to investors, or slaves to them.
Why do we start these businesses as entrepreneurs, are we just looking for jobs, or are we looking to actually build companies that work for us in the long term?
DR: Yep, very cool.
So let’s talk about the growth strategies from the beginning, so obviously you’ve kinda got those first handfuls of clients. You launch, what were some of the early growth channels that seemed to work, that you got a big kick of customers from?
IB: Yeah, for us, being in the app development space — unfortunately paid was pretty much out of the question.
Sample search results (displaying paid) for app development
Because if you Google anything development-related like it’s interesting, you see bidding on AdWords.
Salesforce, you’ll get Zoho, you’ll get all these random guys that have tons of money they can just fill up all these search results.
The cost per click is incredibly high because there’s so much commercial intent. So there’s no way we’re gonna be able to pull this off with paid — we’ll just blow through cash, so I decided to go more towards SEO, and build a sustainable moat around our business, and sustainable traffic.
Luckily, the guy I hired was incredibly good, he actually went on to go lead customer acquisition at HubSpot after working with us. So he ran our SEO campaign for about a year, and he just did a phenomenal job and got that initial kickstart for us, and we’ve just been continually building on that. Now, even if I just pulled my entire marketing budget I’m still gonna have hundreds of thousands of people a month on our site, plenty of leads for our sales team, it’s just a really great position to be in.
DR: You wrote that check four years ago. Every month, you’re saying I hope this is gonna pay off. It’s hard to do, especially when you don’t have a ton of cash.
IB: Yeah, and SEO isn’t overnight, either, so you gotta bet on the long term results of that. Our paid channel’s like a faucet, you turn it on or off, but it gives you an incredible amount of scale because if you’re ROI positive on your ad spend, you just keep dumping that in until you get diminishing returns.
DR: So you started getting traffic and getting growth through SEO.
What else was working, and how did you monetize that traffic?>
IB: Yeah, it was, so first it was just how do we rank for the commercial intent keywords, like app builder, app maker, app creator.
One of the things that was really interesting for us is that sometimes you get lucky in business, and I think there’s a bit of luck in any startup.
There was an article written by this company called Business News Daily or something. It ranked really well for a lot of these app builder-related terms, and they just happened to sort it in alphabetical order.
For some reason, they didn’t have other companies like, there’s one like Appy Pie or AppMachine, so they didn’t have any of the A’s. It started with B, and BuildFire is at the top. So it was in alphabetical order, but we were at the top, so people assumed we were the best, and that kinda gave us a little kickstart early on when we needed it.
And then once we were able to sustainably grow on our own, we were able to do that, but sometimes you get a little bit lucky, and there was a great article that ranked really well and sent a ton of referral traffic, I mean that article was probably worth several hundred thousand dollars to us.
DR: Huh, amazing. All your companies in the future are gonna be started with an A or a B, just in case, it hits that.
Okay, and was that most people come in and start the free trial? And how did you price things at the beginning, how was that changed to now?
IB: We started off just as flat $49 a month, and it was just basically all free trial-driven.
We kinda had these different inflection points in our business where we realized that we needed to, I guess expand our services offering. So, we started our Pro Services department, where we’d actually build apps for them.
BuildFire’s professional design and setup offering
At first, I think we’d built apps for people for 500 bucks — just tiny, tiny amounts. But you know, slowly now, we started working our way, we’re doing couple thousand dollar apps, and then we started to move our way up into large custom apps.
What’s interesting is that having that upfront revenue. It’s nice just for that, but we also make our customers a lot more successful when we’re able to do that.
Because they come to us with challenges and problems, and they’re looking at us to solve those problems.
People don’t invest in your software just because. They need a business outcome, and we’re the best ones to know how to do that using our own technology, right?
So come to us with your problems — we’re gonna be your trusted advisor, your consultant, to ultimately help you accomplish those goals, and we look at the lifetime value of those customers where we build apps for them versus when they build ’em on their own.
It’s like 10X, right? And the apps are probably 10X better as well.
DR: Those customers are happier?
IB: Yeah, I’d say so, and they’re lower maintenance, too.
It’s interesting, sometimes your ankle-biter low-dollar customers are the ones that actually get the majority of your resource. I’ve actually heard this from a bunch of SaaS companies, and you gotta be really careful with how much support resources they consume. So I think it is interesting how as, people pay you more, they’re generally less demanding.
DR: That’s what we found too. Yeah, less demanding — they don’t get angry as fast, they get it. They’re like, “you know what, I get that this is challenging, where, some people don’t even know how to use a computer are so pissed when the software breaks, like ‘this is hard!'”
I wish you could kind of understand that, like work with us on that.
IB: Yeah, it’s unbelievable, you have people paying me like 150 bucks, and what’s your alternative to actually build an app. It’s generally tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’re complaining about it.
Why does this not work, or whatever, and they’re just consuming all your support resources? I don’t know.
DR: You’re offering something that wasn’t possible six years ago, you know, and they’re so frustrated when it doesn’t work.
IB: Yeah, take for example flying, right? We’re literally flying through a metal tube through the air.
DR: Complaining about why the peanuts aren’t better.
IB: Why’s my Wi-Fi not working, or something.
DR: I think about that with the Wi-Fi on the plane, it’s like wow, this is cutting edge. 10 years ago it was mind-blowing that you could do anything.
As far as your growth — we were talking earlier, and you were kinda talking about how sales are becoming a bigger part of it. And you wanted to kinda ramp these things. It’s like you kinda cracked the code and gotten a funnel and gotten a sales process that’s working well.
You’re putting money in, getting more money out, what does that look like and how are you thinking about scaling the sales side?
IB: Yeah, so our sales team just handles all of our inbound leads, and one of the things that I noticed early on in 2018, is that we were generating all these leads but my sales team really wasn’t maximizing the value of them.
And the more valuable your leads are, the more you can go spend to acquire them. If you think about it as a SaaS company — the one that’s gonna win is the person that can spend the most on customer acquisition, right?
And if you’re operating off thin margins, your conversion rates stink, you’re just gonna have far less money to play with…
And you’re just gonna be up against people that have far larger budgets, so you’re always in a much better position when you can pay a lot more to acquire a customer.
I noticed we were generating all these leads, but we weren’t capturing the maximum lead value. So I really started to invest in building our sales team, and I think the first thing was getting true senior sales leadership on board. Ao I hired an incredible VP of sales, and she came in to rebuild the sales team, and we’ve learned a lot.
BuildFire uses Gong for their sales team
Unfortunately, it’s not an overnight process, because sales cycles do take 30 to 90 days, and you need months worth of data to identify trends. It’s never an overnight fix, but we were able to start rapidly increasing our revenue once we started to make some pretty basic adjustments and stay data-driven. Listen to our sales conversations, one of the tools that we use, we use a tool called Gong, and it’s an AI tool that listens to all of our sales conversations so we can kinda have a quantitative view of our, the quality of our sales conversations, and how much is each rep talking, and kinda give more data-driven feedback to improve the quality of our sales conversations.
DR: And that’s helpful, that actually works?
IB: Oh yeah, totally, and then you can also build a library of sales training materials, so when you onboard new reps, they can listen to training materials, it’s pretty cool, so… I feel like for us, there’s a lot of problems that every business has and you need to solve, so how are you gonna prioritize that? For me, the leading domino is sales, cause it’s really tough to grow a company without revenue, so let’s focus on generating as much revenue as possible.
DR: You feel like the product has gotten to a place where the product is good, it fits, customers like it, there’s all the things you wanna do, but you have a place where you can start pouring on the fire, pouring on the gasoline.
IB: Yeah, exactly, I think, essentially cause our product is so flexible, and hey, if we can’t do it, we can easily custom-build it for you, so, there’s really not a lot of limitations for us. So, once we were able to start maximizing our lead value, and volume, we were–
DR: How do you know it’s maximized, what does that mean, in your mind, what are you looking at to say okay, I think this is, I think we’re doing well with these leads.
IB: Well I’m looking at just how much were we making off our current leads, or maybe six months ago versus now, and when your percentage doubled or tripled that, you’re like okay, we’re doing better.
DR: What’s a lead value now? Do you know?
IB: Well, I mean my sales team was going from maybe 50K, 60K a month and new customers to now 250, almost 300,000 a month.
DR: You didn’t up the leads all that much? From the same batch of leads, you were able to get five or six times?
IB: Yeah, and also some of my routes were the same, it’s just under better leadership and management.
So now, admittedly we still have a long way to go, it’s not perfect, and we will get better at that over time as we uncover more insights, and also, so now my most recent hire’s been a VP of marketing, and I’m incredibly excited to have him on board.
Your VP of sales and your VP of marketing are the revenue engine of your business, right? And unfortunately I was stuck doing marketing for far too long — being a CEO and running marketing is a little bit much. So I’m very happy to pass that torch on, and now sales can have a lot more support from marketing, and I think, I view them as multiplier effects.
Who are the key people that you’re gonna bring into your business that are going to provide multipliers? When I look at, take your sales team, right — say you have five reps and call it, say their quota’s 50K, five times 50, and then what’s your multiplier by your VP of sales, how much more can they get out of the team that they would not otherwise be able to get?
So is that like times two multiplier, times three, whatever it may be. I kinda see it as a mathematical equation, how are they gonna maximize the revenue per employee in many aspects?
DR: You think about it, become very very data-driven, you see this big math problem.
IB: Yeah, it’s a puzzle piece.
I mean, essentially all we do as entrepreneurs, and even all your employees, we’re just solving problems. When you hire people, I think, is this person going to solve problems for me, or cause problems for me. Because you can go through your list of employees and say, hey, this person, think about, you have a problem, who’s the employee that you’re gonna hand it to?
That’s gonna just get the job done and solve it for you. And those people are so valuable in your business, and how do you have all your people operating on that level.
DR: Love it, so what do you want BuildFire to be doing? Or what do you think you’ll be doing in 10 years from now? Way out ahead.
IB: Hopefully have exited by then.
DR: That the plan from the start?
IB: The plan from the start, yeah, is an exit, plus you gotta pay back investors.
And I think it’s just like a natural course for these companies. You start them, grow them, you get to the point where you wanna exit them, and you kinda go through that whole lifecycle. And I think that’s an exciting journey, and I think there are really interesting milestones that you accomplish along the way — like getting your first million in revenue, then first 10 million, first 50 million in revenue.
Those are all really interesting problems that you have to solve, being part of the journey. And then I’m excited to go through the whole aspect of selling a business.
I haven’t sold a business or exited a business yet, but it’ll be really fun to deal with private equity firms or strategic buyers, and see how they value companies. And what are the drivers of enterprise value?
That’s just gonna be a huge learning experience for me, and then how do I store that in the memory bank and then go off and do this over and over again. Because ultimately what I wanna do is I wanna play.
Hopefully, it’s a big enough exit where I can go play with my own money and start to go buy companies and take all the processes that I learned scaling my business and apply it to those other businesses. We were just having lunch with Dan Martell, and he had five exits on five businesses, and I was like at what point did it become mechanical?
Where you just have this down to a science and a process, and he was like yeah, by the third one, I have it down. Now, he coaches other entrepreneurs for their businesses, and I think everything, growth can be boiled down to a science, there is a process for this, people have playbooks that work.
DR: Repeatable process that just needs to be tweaked, and they work for any business.
IB: I mean I think running your organization shouldn’t be rocket science, there’s a lot of books that you can just go read, that give you the whole blueprints on how to run a business. It’s been tested by hundreds of companies, lots of research, a lot of really smart people that have distilled down all that information, that complex disoriented data and made it something that you can easily consume in a couple hours. So it’s out there, just read it, absorb it, apply it, and kinda rinse and repeat.
The Salty Six
DR: Well, we’ve gotta wrap up here, and to wrap up we have my favorite section — it’s called the Salty Six. Six rapid-fire, in your face questions, to learn a little bit more about you.
IB: Cool, let’s do it.
DR: Sound good?
All right, number one, what do you do for fun?
IB: Ooh, lots of stuff. Surfing, I fly planes, road biking, exotic cars, wakeboarding, wake surfing, snowboarding, golf, traveling.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Ian Blair (@ianblair44) on Feb 18, 2019 at 11:12am PST
DR: You’re like the most interesting man in the world. You’re like the James Bond of SaaS. I read a good book every now and then for fun.
IB: I like reading, too.
DR: Of course, why leave that off? Very cool, so you just love being outside, and doing.
IB: Yeah, always been into extreme sports, and I’ve just always been able to pick them up rather quickly, so it’s fun.
DR: Do you have a morning routine, and if so, what is it?
IB: Somewhat of a morning routine, I think routines are really important because we are creatures of habit, and if you think about it, everything just cycles, right?
The Earth spins around, the sun goes up and down, up and down, and you just put food through your body, you’re just always cycling things through, and it’s like how do you modulate those habits over a sustained period of time to drive you to your end destination?
So, I don’t have a super rigid morning routine, but I’ll get up, I like to set an hour aside where I can just think and write things down, I think writing things down is incredibly important, because if you don’t write it down, the odds of you achieving it or making it happen goes down substantially.
DR: You write it down like a pen and paper?
IB: Pen and paper. But I write things down too on my phone, but pen and paper is always very kinesthetic.
DR: I found it’s harder for me to write stuff with pen and paper than it used to be like I’m getting worse and worse at it. It’s like leaving my body, the ability to write my name with pen and paper, I’m just so much better at typing and texting.
IB: I can’t spell anything on pen and paper anymore.
DR: No autocorrect! It’s horrible, I don’t know how to spell anymore because you don’t have to know how to spell anymore.done?
Okay, cool, number three, how do you focus during the day, how do you kinda block out time or any strategy you use to just get stuff.
IB: There’s a really good book called Deep Work by Cal Newport.
I highly recommend it, and it’s all about creating blocks during your day.
One easy thing to do is just put it on your calendar and chunk things out, cause generally, we can focus max, maybe one, two hours if you’re really good, sustain on that specific task and only focus on that task.
And also theme your days, like, this is the day where I’m gonna pack in all my meetings, this is the day that I’m gonna work on this particular task. And once you get it all on a calendar for the week, you can start to modulate your efforts a bit better.
One of the things that I think is really interesting is, for me at least, is at night I’m able to see things in a completely different view and understand what actually needs to be done. Where in the day to day, you’ve got so much stimuli, and you’re like wait, what should I be doing.
Ao at night if you plan things out, during the day you’re like all right, this is the next task, next task, next task, you can just go right through the list, and there’s not a lot of question, and your body just feels like it’s ready to do it, so I think planning at night and then just working your way through during the day is incredible.
DR: And what’s a book that has impacted you deeply over the last few years?
IB: Man, there are so many good books.
DR: Could be business, could be personal.
IB: One of the most interesting books I’ve read, I like Deep Work, that one was really incredible. I think one of the ones that transformed my business the most, was a book called Who, basically just how to hire better people.
Because once you realize, businesses are just groups of people, at the end of the day, and if you build a high-performing group of people, you’re gonna be able to accomplish so much more.
I mean generally a lot of the problems that get to your desk on a daily basis, they’re people problems, right? Like why didn’t this get done, or whatever it may be, you have the right people, you just have so many fewer problems.
If you can go down the list of every single employee and you rate them as A, B or C or D, how many A-players do you have? The quantity of A-players you have and the percentage of A-players you have is gonna significantly affect your outcome, and I wanted a predictable way to be able to hire people. It was a book that was highly recommended. It was a simple read for me, and I’ve applied a lot of the principles to hiring.
DR: The book changed our process, too. We had no process, I thought hiring was just, you just wing it, then I read that and it was just like, I need help, I’m just gonna do this exactly, and years later it’s still the exact formula that we use.
IB: And then, in terms of a personal book, there’s a book called Sapiens, I think that is the one book every single human should read, hands down. It’s all about why are we here, in this day and age, it’s actually unbelievable when you think about it, and it goes back through the whole history of humanity and it combines both historical as well as biological aspects of it and it really meshes those two things together well, and causes you to think so deeply. I would say that’s probably the most significant book I’ve ever read.
DR: I wanna say, I thought the beginning of Sapiens was interesting. I thought the guy tried to tackle way too much, I thought the beginning– I thought the beginning felt very, at least scientific, and he’s citing sources, and then he kinda just went off into his own personal view of the world and, I thought he kinda got off-base. I stopped reading it halfway through, because I was just like, this dude is just winging it. He wasn’t citing things as well. But I know a lot of people love it, so I think I was more in the minority reading this because I heard a bunch of other people talk about it and it was amazing.
IB: Yeah, you’ve got guys like Bill Gates, or Richard Branson, or Obama, saying that this is one of the best books out there, so I mean it does have that kinda celebrity status. I really enjoyed it, I thought it was really interesting when you get to where are humans going, right?
I mean if you think about these little devices that we have in our pockets, we’re essentially cyborgs in many ways, cause the interface is, you still need to tap into it like this, but wearable tech, who knows if it turns into contact lenses or implants at some point, and, you have access to all the world’s information right on this little device, and it’s kinda weird to think about how we’re gonna blend this type of technology with biology, and where does that go over the next 10,000 years?
DR: Yeah, like you know the score of every game the Los Angeles Lakers played this year, it just takes you a little bit to get it using the Internet. All right, question number five, before we go off on this existential tangent here.
What’s one of the best purchases under 150 bucks that you’ve made recently?
IB: Under 150 bucks. Probably a lift ticket, when we got just unbelievable powder. So, you think about it, what is the point of spending money — it’s experiences — and I look back and I have tons of photos from it. And it’s just a very memorable experience. I love scoring deep powder, and it’s an all-time 10 out of 10 day with your buddies.
I think for 150 bucks, a great experience, yeah.
DR: All right, and finally, what’s a trait or characteristic that you have that has led to the success that you have today?
IB: Always be curious.
I’ve always wanted to learn more, I’ve always wanted to improve, both having a growth mindset is always being naturally curious, and a sense of natural curiosity, I mean that’s what got me into this business, because when I went into college I was like, how are websites built? I just was naturally curious, and like, oh, coding’s pretty interesting, how are apps built?
That’s interesting, and then, how do you grow companies, that’s interesting, too. So I’m always just asking questions, and really the quality of your questions are gonna determine a lot of things because it’s gonna really determine how well you can solve problems. Yeah, I would say just natural curiosity, just asking deep questions.
DR: I think that’s true, so many entrepreneurs just, I’m afraid to ask, how do I do this, I don’t know how to do it. Very cool, man, well that’s all we got, thanks for being on, man. If people wanna follow you, are you on Twitter, do you have a blog, just go to BuildFire.com?
IB: Yeah, go to BuildFire.com, probably the best way to find me is I’m on Instagram, ianblair44, you can see some of my fun adventures, talking about all the stuff we were talking about, the exotic cars, snowboarding.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Ian Blair (@ianblair44) on Sep 15, 2019 at 4:12pm PDT
DR: We wanna see the cars, man.
IB: Yeah, the cars are on there, so check me out, ianblair44 on Instagram, and you’ll see some pretty cool memories.
DR: Perfect, man, thanks for being here, sharing this wonderful rooftop with me. By the way, it was a year ago, today that we met, back in the boat a year ago.
IB: Happy anniversary.
DR: Right on, dude, it’s good, every year we’ll be right back here and do another one. Awesome guys, thanks for watching this episode of Scale or Die, we’ll see you in the next one.
This interview has been edited and condensed.