Updates: Preceden Trends, Training Help Scout’s New Analytics Engineer, Don’t Look Up, and Ray Dalio’s Principles

Photo by Ivana Cajina

Preceden

  • Recurring Revenue: In January 2021 I introduced automatically recurring annual plans to Preceden. Prior to that the annual plans did not renew automatically which was an intentional (but bad) choice I had made because most users did not user Preceden for more than a year. However, the lack of recurring revenue made it really hard to grow the business because each year I’d basically be starting from zero (though some customers did manually renew). The changes I made last January were meant to address this: annual plans automatically renew by default, but users can easily disable that. I also email them a reminder 15 days prior to renewal, and a receipt when the charge happens, and also offer a 15 day refund window. This has worked well: most users who have no intent to use it long term wind up cancelling prior to renewal, those that forget can get a refund, and those that want to maintain their access can let their subscription automatically renew. Needless to say, this month (January 2022) has been stellar for renewal revenue.
  • New Revenue: This has been a challenge recently and is what I’m primarily focused on at the moment. Despite my best efforts, Preceden has languished at the top of page 2 for years for most key search terms. While I very much prefer product work over marketing work, I also recognize that marketing work to drive more quality to the site can move the needle much more than product improvements at this point. I have a few projects in the work that should help here.
  • Balance: This raises an important question though: how much of my day do I spend on potentially high impact marketing work (which I don’t terribly enjoy) vs low impact product work (which I do enjoy). This goes towards the question of what my goals are: do I want to grow the business as much as possible or enjoy my day as much as possible? Of course there’s some healthy middle ground, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to balance the two.

Help Scout

We recently hired a new Analytics Engineer and I’ve been spending a good chunk of my contract work at Help Scout getting him spun up on everything. That brings Help Scout’s data team to 3 folks: a full time lead, a full time Analytics Engineer, and me (a contractor). We’re also work on hiring a full time product analyst which should round out our team very well.

Solana

In my last update I mentioned I was diving into Solana application development.

I’m glad I played around with it, but it just didn’t hold my attention very long. It would have helped if I had come up with some interesting use case for it besides speculation, gambling, DeFi, and NFTs, but that’s 99+% of what crypto is these days.

Plus, splitting my professional work between Preceden, Help Scout, and Solana was just too much to juggle well.

What I’m Watching

One movie I keep thinking about is Don’t Look Up on Netflix:

Of course there’s the obvious and important climate change metaphor, but it has me also thinking a lot about the shortness of life and not focusing on trivial things.

What I’m Reading

Ray Dalio’s Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order. It’s a brilliant book where he looks at various long term economic and political cycles and how they explain in part the dynamics happening in the world today, especially with respect to US and China.

That’s it for now, hope y’all are doing well.

Friday Updates: Crypto, Solana, Preceden Improvements, and the Madness of Crowds

Photo by Lenstravelier

Hey friends – it’s been a while since I posted an update. I’ve been heads down on a number of things and just haven’t been prioritizing blogging, but figure it’s good to do every now and then. Shout out to the ~3 of you who read these :).

Crypto

For anyone who follows me on Twitter, you may have seen me periodically retweeting or favoriting bearish crypto tweets. For a long time I have been super bearish on crypto and honestly still am. I think we’re in a massive bubble at the moment that’s due to pop in a big way in part due to the mania wearing off and in part due to the massive amount of fraud in the market right now. And blockchain technology just doesn’t seem super useful.

There’s a famous chart called the Gartner hype cycle that always comes to mind:

I’m of the opinion that we’re near the top of that Peak of Inflated Expectations curve, both in terms of crypto expectations and coin prices. But I do think there’s a chance that in the coming decade after the coming crash that we’ll see practical applications come out of all this.

Solana

In order to be more educated about crypto I’ve been investing a few hours each day into learning how to develop on the Solana blockchain. I’ve found it to be a pretty steep learning curve – I’m having to learn about blockchains, Solana, TypeScript, Rust, and how it all fits together. I don’t have any practical applications in mind yet, but am enjoying learning nonetheless.

I’m trying to keep an open mind – we’ll see what comes out of it all.

Preceden

I’ve made a ton of progress on Preceden in the last few months. Things like:

I haven’t been working on it as much the last few weeks because I’ve been putting time into learning Solana instead, but still have a lot planned for Preceden in the coming months.

Also, at the end of December 2020 I switched Preceden’s pricing to have recurring annual plans (whereas before they didn’t renew automatically), which means those renewals will start hitting in a few weeks. It should help drive a lot of revenue growth for Preceden in 2022. Fingers crossed the renewal rate is decent – we will see.

Help Scout

Mostly status quo for my contract work at Help Scout. Recent projects have included:

  • Reworking the Daily Metrics Email that goes out to the entire company
  • Setting up reporting to estimate cash payback (ie, if we spend $X acquiring a cohort of new customers, how long do we expect it to be paid back when looking solely at cash payments).
  • Updating Account Executive commission structures
  • Analyzing how customers are interacting with new pricing we introduced for Messages
  • Helping a bit with hiring: we’re currently in the process of hiring an Analytics Engineer and Product Analyst

I will be reducing my hours from 18/week to 12/week starting in January which will free up more time in my schedule for Preceden, Solana, and whatever else piques my interest in 2022.

What I’m reading

Speaking of crypto, I’ve been reading Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay, a fantastic book about past bubbles. It’s amazing how many parallels there are between previous bubbles and what we’re going through now in crypto. And things will probably end just as badly.

On that happy note, I’ll end this update :).

Hope y’all are doing well πŸ‘‹

Friday Updates: New Homepage, Focusing on Professionals, Data Intake Form, Acquisitions Anonymous, Startup

Photo by Manuel Venturini

Hey friends, it’s been a few weeks since my last update. I’m probably not going to do these weekly right now, but hopefully can still find time for one or two a month going forward.

Preceden

New homepage

For years now Preceden’s homepage has had a sign up form above the fold:

There was a time when the sign up page was separate, but I A/B tested it back in like 2014 and putting the sign up form on the homepage almost doubled sign ups, and so that’s where it’s remained ever since.

There was an example timeline below the fold and there’s also a whole section of the site with examples, but a large % of users signed up without actually seeing the type of timelines that Preceden can create. And as a result, a lot bail immediately after signing up, I suspect because there’s some misalignment between what type of timeline they expect vs reality.

To remedy this, Milan (the front-end designer I work with) and I redesigned the homepage to ensure everyone visiting has a better idea of what Preceden is capable of:

The tradeoff is that the homepage to sign up conversion rate winds up dropping, but I’m alright with that because new sign ups are a lot higher quality now and I’m not wasting the time of people that Preceden isn’t a good fit for.

The day after this change there was a huge spike in sign ups – about double compared to the day prior. My optimistic take on it at the time was that the homepage was resonating with a lot more visitors which was leading to more sign ups than in the past. But… after digging in it turned out that a large % of the sign ups were bots. Whomp whomp. I suspect that there are bots that look for /signups paths, fill out the form with garbage content, and then look for more forms in-app to spam. Preceden’s in-app experience doesn’t lend itself well to bots so all of the bots gave up immediately after signing up, but it still wound up inflating sign ups and hurting a bunch of post-sign up conversion rates. I was able to prevent the bot sign ups by looking at a few factors like whether they had keystrokes on the sign up form (these bots did not) which dropped sign ups back down to a more realistic level.

Focusing on professionals

When people sign up for Preceden, I ask them what they plan to use it for. Historically the options were Professional Use, Personal Use, School, and Teaching. Preceden has been a general purpose timeline maker tool and these are the groups that virtually everyone falls into. But… being general purpose is tough. It’s difficult to focus the copy on one audience, it’s difficult to focus the product, etc. I’ve been hesitant to focus on one because no single group dominates revenue. For example, people who choose Professional Use have made up about 5% of sign ups but 40% of revenue. The risk of focusing on them is that you execute on it poorly and put the other 60% of revenue at risk.

But… after years of waffling on this issue, that’s the direction I’m now headed: focusing on professionals. They are great customers and there’s a lot of long term upside if I can pull it off, even though I might wind up seeing lower revenue in the short term.

Practically speaking, it means things like:

  • Removing School and Teaching from the sign up form options
  • Focusing the examples on professionals
  • Focusing the copy on project planning and whatnot
  • Reworking the plans which have historically included a low-cost Student plan

We’ll see how it all turns out, but I’m optimistic and excited to work on it.

Help Scout

Michael, the new data lead who joined in May, set up a data request intake form which has gone a long way towards organizing our day-to-day data work at Help Scout. Here’s the current version:

These get sent to an Asana board with lists that we can move the tasks around as needed: Inbox, Backlog, Blocked, In Progress, and Complete.

Should have set something up like this a long time ago.

What I’m listening to

What I’m watching

Startup on Netflix:

Take care y’all.

Friday Updates: Back from Paternity Leave

Photo by Sergey Shmidt

I took it easy for most of June to help out with Owen and generally try to make things as easy as possible for my wife. We now have 4 kids – ages 6, 5, 3, and the newborn, which means there’s rarely a dull moment in the Mazur household.

Preceden

I put some time into Preceden during the break, knocking out a few small product improvements here and there.

One of these included integrating Headway, an in-app changelog notification widget that lets me keep users informed about recent updates to the Preceden:

In addition to being able to read them directly in the app, Headway generates a public page where anyone can follow the changes. I also hooked Headway up to Preceden’s long-neglected Twitter account where it shares updates when I publish them:

Recent updates include:

And yes, I do need to resume marketing initiatives one of these days.

Help Scout

I took June completely off from Help Scout. As a contractor, it’s not paid time off, but I put in extra hours in May in preparation for the time off in June so thankfully didn’t have to forgo any income to take the time off.

With the hire of Michael, the new Data Lead, in May, my work at Help Scout is changing: I have more bandwidth to tackle bigger data projects because Michael has taken on a lot of the other day to day responsibilities.

The big project I’m starting is building out a Likelihood to Close Score that uses machine learning to help us estimate the probability that a trial will go onto become a customer. It’s requiring picking up some new skills because it’s one thing to build a scikit-learn model locally in a Jupyter Notebook, another thing to get a model in production and have the score available in our data warehouse to use in Looker and other analyses. I’ll write a post down the road sharing how it all works, assuming I can figure it out.

What I’m listening to

Lots of podcasts thanks to some long car rides during my break + listening in the morning during yoga:

  • My First Million with Sam Parr and Shaan Puri
  • Lex Fridman, a polymath who interviews lots of brilliant folks in technology, science, and entrepreneurship. I’ve listened to his interviews with Vitalik Buterin about Ethereum 2.0, Bryan Johnson about building brain-computer interfaces at Kernel, Sam Harris about consciousness, Silvio Micali about Algorand, Jason Calacanis about angel investing, and Clara Sousa-Silva about her work detecting phosphene on Venus which might be a sign of life there.
  • Indie Hackers with Courtland Allen
  • Art of Product with Ben Orenstein and Derrick Reimer

What I’m reading

Hope all is well with you all πŸ‘‹.