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Maker vs. Manager

April 1, 2022 |  

About this episode

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In 2019, Ben Tossell was a frustrated entrepreneur, launching products nobody bought. His contacts showed little interest in his concepts but were curious about how he built his online offerings – especially because Tossell admitted he didn’t know how to code.

Tossell decided to create videos of how non-technical people could launch online products and put them behind a paywall. He got his first 15 orders for the “how-to” videos on the back of one email he sent to his contacts and realized he might be on to something. Two years later, Tossell’s company Makerpad, had around $500,000 per year of revenue when the automation giant Zapier acquired it.

Tossell took the cash, bought a house and an Aston Martin for the driveway, and continues to run Makerpad as an independent division of Zapier.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify a product idea with the potential to become a business.
  • Leverage Twitter to build your business.
  • Raise capital without dealing with venture capitalists.
  • Decide between the lifetime membership vs. subscription business models.
  • Know if you’re a “maker” vs. “manager”.
  • Value your business for an investor and why that may be different in the eyes of an acquirer.

Show Notes & Links

Maker vs. Manager original post.

Ben’s former employer, Product Hunt.

Ben’s investor, Calm Fund.

Sureswift Capital.

Tiny Capital.

Ben’s Tweet that caught the attention of Wade Foster, CEO & co-founder of Zapier.

Ben’s company, Makerpad.

Ben’s acquirer, Zapier.

The Messy Marketplace – Brent Beshore.

 

Definitions


No-code development platforms (NCDPs) allow programmers and non-programmers to create application software through graphical user interfaces and configuration instead of traditional computer programming”.

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-code_development_platform

About Our Guest

Ben Tossell

Ben Tossell is the CEO and founder of Makerpad, which helps people build business ideas without writing code. Ben launched Makerpad in 2019 and in 2021 it was acquired by Zapier – an automation tool that connects thousands of apps and tools together to automate business processes.

At that time, Zapier was a major partner of Makerpad – we’ve always featured it extensively in our tutorials, and to run our own business. Wade (Zapier CEO) and I had met several times virtually and in-person in San Francisco at the No-Code Conference. The more we spoke, the more we realized our visions for the future of no-code were aligned.

Then someone from the community tweeted back in 2020 that Zapier should buy Makerpad. Wade reached out to say we should chat about it, and it all went from there. We started talking about what we both wanted, and it was clear we both wanted the same thing: to spread knowledge of no-code and automation as far as possible. And we knew it’d be much easier to do it together. Makerpad officially became part of the Zapier family in March 2021.

Watch the interview

Transcript

Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. With most episodes lasting 60+ minutes, it can be difficult to catch some minor errors.

Ben Tossell:

It’s one of those things that people don’t want to talk about, is founders motivated by money. If I wasn’t motivated by money, I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have gone and taken the lead to say this is real business. I’m going to take this money to grow this business into worth more money. It’s not because I was driven so passionately about what we’re trying to solve. I am passionate about that. It’s enabled this whole thing in my life, but I can’t sit here and talk to people, and pretend that it’s not a financial motivation. That’s definitely why lots of people start companies, and I think people should just be more honest about that. I don’t think that’s an issue, and so I always had …

Ben Tossell:

I remember years ago, me and my dad, there was a yacht somewhere in Mallorca, where we’d go on holiday, and he had a similar list when he was younger, which was had to get his dream car, go and be a lawyer, do this, do that, do that, so he did that. Didn’t actually buy the car, but he did the list, so I had a how to buy this super yacht when I was 15 or something. It was go and be an investment banker, work 7:00 to 7:00 for 10 years, and do all that stuff, so I always had a drive of one day I want to be wealthy or generate some wealth somewhere.

John Warrillow:

Welcome to another edition of Built to Sell Radio. My name is John Warrillow, and this is the podcast designed to help you punch above your weight when it comes to selling your company. Today’s episode is with a guy named Ben Tossell, who sold Makerpad to Zapier. Cool story. Before we get to it though, just a couple of announcements.

John Warrillow:

First of all, all of the show notes for Ben’s episode can be found at BuiltToSell.com. We have really upgraded our show notes in the last few weeks, so you’ll find links to all the things we talk about, the different capital raising structures, the different companies. All that can be found at BuiltToSell.com on Ben’s episode page, so check that out.

John Warrillow:

I also want to make a special shout out to Christian Coldea. I’m hoping I’m pronouncing that name correctly. He gave us a great review recently on iTunes. He says, “I have to tip my hat to John. This podcast is just packed with so much value. After stumbling upon the show a year ago, I’ve actually approached decisions I’ve made in business in a new way.”

John Warrillow:

Highly recommend it when an entrepreneur finds themselves in the trenches of building a business.” So Christian, thank you so much for that very generous review, and if you’re wondering how you can support the show, the very best thing you can do is give us a review on whatever platform you listen to us on. That goes a long way to helping people find the show, and obviously, while you’re there, hit subscribe, so you never miss an episode.

John Warrillow:

Okay. Let’s get into this story of Ben Tossell and his sale of Makerpad to Zapier. A couple of things to look out for in this one, and that is the difference between a maker versus a manager. You may have heard of this concept before. It was originally a blog post written by a guy named Paul Graham back in 2009, but he distinguishes between our activities where we are creating something, a product, a piece of content, and managing, where we are making sure the trains run on time in our companies, and I think in this case, you can clearly tell very early that my guest Ben, is very much a maker, and how selling his company enabled him to remain a maker and not become a manager. So an interesting thought experiment for you to have on your own time around whether you’re a maker versus a manager, and how you structure your day accordingly.

John Warrillow:

Ben will also talk about how to identify a product idea with the potential to become a full fledged business. He talks about how he leveraged Twitter to build his company, how he raised capital without going down the road of dealing with venture capital. He also chose to offer a lifetime membership instead of a subscription, or at least next to a subscription, and that’s a very controversial idea, and Ben has some strong opinions on that. He also talks about how to value your company and how that might be different in the eyes of an investor versus an acquirer. Here to tell you the entire story is Ben Tossell.

John Warrillow:

Ben Tossell, welcome to Built to Sell Radio.

Ben Tossell:

Thank you for having me.

John Warrillow:

How on earth did you come up with this idea for Makerpad? Take me into, tell me the story of this company.

Ben Tossell:

It was by accident. I was working at a company called Product Hunt, and that’s basically a website where people in tech launch their new project, so it could be a big company like Google releasing a new app, or it could be a single developer launching a color picker type website. So I worked there for a number of years, and a victim of my surroundings. Everyone was building stuff and there’s all these new projects. Everyone could build and I was like I really want to do that. I want to build my own thing, but I’m-

John Warrillow:

Occupational hazard of sorts.

Ben Tossell:

Exactly. I’m not technical. I’ve tried to learn to code numerous times. It just doesn’t gel with me. I can’t figure it out. I always get to a point where I’m stuck. I just can’t push past that, but whilst I was at Product Hunt, I saw companies like Webflow and Zapier and Typeform, and I was like, well, that tool helps me build a website. That tool helps me connect two apps together, and this thing can help me accept payment, so I thought, well, I can string those together to make it look and feel like a real product, so that’s what I started doing.

Ben Tossell:

I started thinking, “Oh, well.” I think one of the first things I built was a directory for Alexa Skills, so any time you ask Alexa, “What’s the weather?” You could try all these different weird ones, so that was one of the first things I built, and just got the bug from there. I was like I want to build more of these. I’m doing lots and lots. I thought, well, this could be a business, this could be a business. I must have tried 50 plus things. No one bought anything ever of those things, so-

John Warrillow:

The Alexa directory is zero revenue.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. No one cared about that, but people always felt, it felt like they were interested in what I was doing, but when no one was paying, I was like okay. You all seem interested. What are you actually interested in, if you’re not buying anything? It was just interested, how you built that, if you’re not technical. How did you use … How have you got this website and how does it do that, if you don’t know how to code? It’s the old those who can’t do teach. I thought, right. I will create tutorials. I just fill my screen. I can come up with these crazy ideas and build them, just record myself, and then put that up behind the paywall, so that’s what I started doing, and-

John Warrillow:

To be clear, you were explaining how you can connect a website building product that doesn’t require code to an eCommerce, so you can accept payment like a Stripe or something like that-

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, exactly-

John Warrillow:

Here’s how I would connect those two things, and you build a tutorial of that.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so it was building my own product was here’s a website I’ve built with Carrd. It’s a very simple one page builder. If you want to view my tutorials, you click here to pay and that would link you to a type form, form product that would let you put in your credit card. An automation would send you a, “Hey, welcome to Makerpad. The password is banana. Enter that into this password protected page.” That’s where you could see the videos, and it was basically that. Three pieces, and that was those sorts of things could be for any type of content business. It could be a blog, news articles, and things like that, so that’s how I started.

Ben Tossell:

Well, the first piece of feedback I got when I launched it was, “I love the idea of this, but the guy doing the videos is so dreadfully dull,” so I was like, “Oh no, this is really bad, bad start.” It was one negative in a sea of positives at that point, and I just thought, well, maybe I’ll just try and sound more enthusiastic when I’m doing the videos, but it’s a very difficult thing when you start creating tutorials, but that’s how we all kicked off the Makerpad journey.

John Warrillow:

This was 2019, so this was relatively recent, is that right?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so it was officially launched in January 2019. I’d had a few blog posts previously, when I was working at Product Hunt, that talked about, look, you can build MDPs without code. Sign up here, if you want to know more. Just trying to build up some sort of audience. I think I have a few hundred people on that list. That’s when I said, look, I’m launching this tutorial to teach you how to do this. If you want lifetime access for, I think it was $50, just sign up here, and it was a type form again, taking those payments, and I think 15 people straight away and I thought no one’s ever paid for anything before. This feels like something, so January 2019, Makerpad was officially launched and officially a business, I suppose.

John Warrillow:

Describe for me what it felt like to receive your first order of confirmation.

Ben Tossell:

Relief probably, was one of the first things, and it just … There was something about Makerpad that was very different to everything else I’d launched before. I’d had things that I’d launched that weren’t businesses. They were just here’s a directory of marketing resources, curated things like that, and people really liked it, and it was like cool. That’s something people have used, but having a paying customer say, “Yes, I want this,” even before I had any videos, was like wait a second. It was a stop and look at it, and think is there something bigger here that I didn’t really foresee happening?

Ben Tossell:

I think that’s really what happened at that point. I thought, right. Actually, this could be thing. I can forget all those 50 other things I’ve tried to do. This actually could be thing, and I could do this as a one to many business. I’ll give you one person business with many, many customers, and I could just do the same thing, record stuff, put it out there, and that could be a very lucrative business I thought, so that’s what it was, and Makerpad generally was … There was a pull from the market, rather than me pushing it. I didn’t have to get people to please sign up for this, please sign up for this. It was much the opposite, actually.

John Warrillow:

That’s really interesting. I want to explore the pull factor in a moment. Before I do that, I’ve got a question. You’re working at Product Hunt. You’re on their payroll, so to speak. How Product Hunt. You’re on their payroll, so to speak. How did you build up your own personal list of 200 or 300 people around this blog post? Did they give you permission to do that? Or was that in your own time? How did you carve out those 200 or 300 email addresses without, do you know what I’m getting at?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. It’s one of those difficult things where you go and work for a tech company, and you want to work on side projects, and I think the CEO of that company is probably thinking, “Okay. Well, you can, as long as it doesn’t overlap in something we might do, could do, maybe one day do,” so I had a few side projects at that time that I had to step away from or couldn’t to, because it was like that’s too close, or that’s too close, or that we could do that one day, and I was getting frustrated with that.

Ben Tossell:

I couldn’t shake the bug of, yeah, but I can build stuff now. I’ve figured out how to build stuff, so I have to do it. I have to, and I think, when I look back on it, I was waiting for one of these things to have that pull moment and someone pay me for something, so I could go, “Sorry, I’ve got to go now. I’ve got a business to attend to that I created. I’ve got to go over there,” but at the time, I didn’t. I was like, “Can’t you just let me do these things on the side?”

Ben Tossell:

Really, Ryan, the CEO of Product Hunt at the time, had a very similar story. He was working somewhere else and tried Product Hunt as a side project. That started gaining some traction. He knew that … I think his boss said, “Look, you’ve got to go and explore this. You’ve got to go and explore your thing,” and Ryan did the same with me. He was like, “Look, I can see you want to launch stuff. You’re trying to do these things. You should go and do that, you should go and do that. You have to do that,” so I was forced, forced hand a bit, and just thought, right. I have to make it work now, because I’m without a job, so I had six months or so without a job consulting and doing things like that, but I was like I’ve got to make something work.

John Warrillow:

You’ve got the first 15 customers who paid a lifetime membership of $50, so you’ve got a bit of proof that it could work. Where does it go from there?

Ben Tossell:

I just was that annoying person on Twitter saying, “Hey, I figured this thing out. Hey, I figured this thing out,” and one of the … Basically, it was tutorials. I got to sit in my living room thinking what can I try and figure out how to build without code? I thought Airbnb. That’s not done. If I could build an Airbnb replica without code, would that turn some heads to, “I should go and watch that video, I want to know how to do that too?” Things like that started, just started pushing them out on Twitter, and some of them got really a lot of traction-

John Warrillow:

You would take a business model that was working, like an Airbnb, where you’ve got to publish a picture of the house, you’ve got to accept payment, you’ve got … There’s all these elements, and you were doing it without being a coder. You were effectively replicating that.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, and I think you get to a point, I think, when you’ve built many things, where you can recognize, okay. This site is very big, very impressive. Millions of users, millions in funding, but really, the components are quite simple. I know I’m dumbing down a lot of … I don’t mean to take that out of Airbnb, but it’s like they have a landing page, they have a product listing page, and they have a booking page. You can build those things separately in no-code tools, and you can put them together to have a similar type of experience.

Ben Tossell:

Like someone can come in, view a property and book it, and you don’t need any code, to be able to write code anyway, to do that piece, so that’s what I was trying to do. Is everyone looks at the big startup VC stories as the goal, but really, you can build Airbnb for dog homes without needing all of that. You just build it like this, and then go and get your customers.

John Warrillow:

You would use Twitter as the primary publication. How many Twitter followers did you have when you started? You had 15 customers, 200 or 300 emails. How quickly did your Twitter following scale? What was that like?

Ben Tossell:

I think I had a few thousand at that point, because I worked at Product Hunt, so people had to follow me, to say, “Hey, can you help me launch this business on the side,” so that definitely helped, and then I think it just might have gone quite rapidly from there, when I was putting out these videos that would basically be shared by Marc Andreessen. I retweeted the Airbnb one, for example. I remember that, so that just happened quite rapidly from there I think. I need to actually go back and check the numbers, and see what that growth was like.

John Warrillow:

Yeah, so give me the numbers. In 2019, you had a couple thousand maybe. 2020, 2021, 2022. Just give me the ballpark number of Twitter followers you have.

Ben Tossell:

It’s around 44,000 now, so it’s probably about half that last year, and the year before even further down, so it would have been tens of thousands a year, I think.

John Warrillow:

Got it. Okay, so that’s the primary, where you are driving people to watch these tutorials, but you’re putting them behind a paywall.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. That was it.

John Warrillow:

That’s helpful, for sure. When did you make the decision to go from the lifetime payments to a recurring payment?

Ben Tossell:

It’s just something I always battled with, so at the time of launching Makerpad, I also had a side job helping create the community for what’s known as Calm Fund, so they are funding for boot strappers, essentially, alternative to VC funding, so I was helping them. So I had a day job and I had this side project that was doing well, doing up to 20K, 30K a month in revenue, but of course it was lifetime payments, or we did do some tool partnerships. So companies like Zapier, Airtable would pay us sometimes up to 10K for the year to be listed on Makerpad, for me to make some tutorials about them, things like that, and then it was when, I don’t know. I was scarred by all these projects that went nowhere, so I didn’t know that I wanted to do a business. I was like this is a great as a little side gig. I’m not sure I want to change that up yet.

John Warrillow:

And it’s pretty lucrative. $10,000 or $20,000 a month, when you’ve got a day job, that’s a pretty lucrative little stream of cash.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. Exactly, and I was very happy with that, and I loved working at Calm Fund. I think it was about the August of 2019, that Tyler, who runs Calm Fund, was like, “Look, do you want to go full-time on this thing? Because it’s making a lot of revenue. A lot of the revenue is more than a lot of our companies that we’ve invested in, because they invest quite early. If you want to go full-time, just know that we will be one of your … We’re happy to lead the round. We’ll give you that first check.”

Ben Tossell:

I was like this is one of those things I’m like, right. I’ve got to make a decision here, and I think around the same time I had two companies who acquired other companies. One of them is Andrew Wilkinson from Tiny Capital and one is Kevin from SureSwift Capital. SureSwift Capital are investors in Calm Fund also, so those two people separately messaged to say, “Hey, Makerpad is doing great. When can I buy it?”

Ben Tossell:

I was like there’s a few signs that are telling me I need to actually go and go full-time, so I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s raise a little bit of funding, so I feel like I’ve got something to fall back on I guess. I can hire a few people and go full-time,” so September, October 2019, I raised 350K from-

John Warrillow:

Sorry, 350K?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, 350K from Earnest, and then a bunch of angels, Andrew Wilkinson being one of those as well, so-

John Warrillow:

How much equity did you give up?

Ben Tossell:

It was, it must have been around 15%. Something around that number, I think.

John Warrillow:

Wow, so they’re placing a pretty high valuation on this company already. How much revenue where you doing at that time, in October 2019, roughly?

Ben Tossell:

Like I said, it was around 20K, 30K a month.

John Warrillow:

And not recurring, just onetime payments.

Ben Tossell:

Not recurring, yeah. Just onetime payments.

John Warrillow:

That’s a pretty fat multiple for a couple hundred grand a year in revenue, onetime revenue.

Ben Tossell:

I think, I do, I think it was … Yeah, I need to check that, because Calm Fund basically invest on the basis of it’s a shared earnings agreement, so it means you take the money. For a year, you have that money and deploy it. You hire people and grow, and then after that year you start paying them back a percentage based on the money they invested in you, and it’s a revenue share back to them, and then their percentage of ownership comes down as you’re paying back some of that capital. So that’s how it started. I can’t remember exactly the equity piece at that time, but I think it was something around that, I think.

John Warrillow:

Got it, so you’ve got a war chest now, so where does it go from there?

Ben Tossell:

I started hiring a couple of people from the community, so it grew quickly. Sorry, you were asking me about the lifetime payment. I went off on a tangent, but it was at that point of we’ve got to raise some money. This is going to be a real quote, again, business. Can I survive off lifetime memberships? Or should I listen to some people, some customers saying you should do monthly, you should do yearly subscriptions, and a thing I really didn’t want to do is focus on churn or worry about churn, or think about I’ve got to keep these customers coming back. I’m basically competing against their Netflix subscriptions.

Ben Tossell:

All of that felt counterintuitive to me for the site I was building. I’m building something that’s a learning platform. Life gets in the way, work gets in the way. Anything just gets in the way of you learning. If you don’t then learn within that four weeks, chances are your churn, and I don’t want that to be up to me to then try and compete with all that. So it just felt a big mess and I thought the lifetime, and even why we started really early is cashflow.

Ben Tossell:

You get that upfront cash straightaway. The value’s probably already given to the user within the first couple of weeks. Then everything else from then for them would feel like a bonus, so that’s how I wanted to be treated as a customer, and I know that a lot of these other companies or SaaS businesses, nothing’s like that. So I thought, if it’s just slightly different, different enough to be a set it to get it type payment, then I thought that would be good, and it worked really well for us, actually.

John Warrillow:

What triggered you to change or to add the monthly and annual offers?

Ben Tossell:

Well, I think it was we only tried monthly for a couple of months, so there’s very small uptake on that, and then again it was the natural, the churning happened. I think people basically wanted access to one tutorial or one course, so pay that, do it, and then drop off, but I think around that time, October, September 2019, we did yearly. And then at that point I raised the prices of lifetime again. I was always increasing lifetime. I think from the January, it must have been $50, up to the June, July of that 2019.

Ben Tossell:

It was around $169, and then I changed it to 217. Then 297. Just completely making these numbers up and thinking what do I think I can charge? And then brought in the yearly around … I can’t remember what we started with the yearly, but I just made sure, okay. If I think yearly is going to be at 150, where do I think I need to price lifetime? Because again, thinking about that churn. Are people going to stick around for three years? That’s a long time with a new site.

Ben Tossell:

I’d really wonder, so I think we ended up with lifetime being $600, and then yearly being around 250 to 297, and still most people would go for the lifetime. Most people chose that, so that was a huge credit to everyone who actually believed in us and actually did all that, because we wouldn’t have got where we are today without those customers.

John Warrillow:

What proportion of your revenue? You said the majority was lifetime. Can you give me a rough split in terms of-

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so we did have the semi occurring piece with these businesses who’d pay to be listed and have tutorials, so that was about 40% of our revenue was coming from these businesses, and then 60% of the revenue was between lifetime and yearly, and I think it was about 70% were lifetime subscribers.

John Warrillow:

Got it, and how was your churn on the annual? Did it come to bear that most people churned out after one year? Were you able to track that?

Ben Tossell:

I think, again, it’s probably one of the things I didn’t track too much, because I didn’t want to get bogged down in it. There was definitely people who’d come and not subscribe, or people come in and say, “Well, I paid for a year, and now I’ve been auto charged.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s how it happens. That’s how, type of thing.”

John Warrillow:

It’s the way subscription works.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. Exactly. I can’t really remember the churn, but I don’t think … I feel like the lifetime was definitely the best thing for us to do, and if I had to do it all again, I would definitely stick with lifetime early on, especially.

John Warrillow:

That’s a controversial statement, certainly in the whole content marketing, SaaS marketing world, that everybody has moved to these monthly payments or these annual payments, and the lifetime, it feels like a bit of an albatross or a commitment, a legacy commitment. I’d be curious to know, and we’ll get to it in a moment, but when your conversations with Zapier happened, I’d love to know how they thought about the lifetime obligation, so let’s put a pin in that and come back to that, make sure we address that when we get there. Give me a sense of where the revenue is, so at the beginning, you were 20K, 30K a month, and you raised 350 grand. Take us into the same time in 2020. What’s your trajectory looking like?

Ben Tossell:

We basically doubled revenue the next year, so it’s about 200K, around 200K, 300K the first year, and then 400 to 480 or something, I think was the following year.

John Warrillow:

What about the year after that, 2021?

Ben Tossell:

We were required, so that’s when it all happened and we changed up what we were doing, and we don’t disclose the revenue for that, but it’s been good. We’re running courses and things now, so it’s a slightly different model.

John Warrillow:

Got it, so the year before you acquired it, it was you were four and change, 450, something like that.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

Got it, so still on a revenue basis a relatively small company. How many employees did you have at that time?

Ben Tossell:

I think we got up to something like 14, 15, and it was a mix of contractors and full-time employees. We only had maybe five or so full-time, but we liked working with contractors, and we had very long relationships with contractors doing 20 hours a week, so it was … I think that was the bit I found the most difficult, is switching from the maker schedule to the manager schedule. I think that’s what-

John Warrillow:

Explain, because people, the maker versus manager, and we’ll put that in the show notes, is a great blog post. Explain your interpretation of what you mean by maker versus manager.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so the maker is the person who wants to build stuff, just the default you’ll build stuff, and I’ve been in that mode since I can remember. I want to build stuff. Then I could build stuff, and then I was building lots of stuff, and then you become this, I’ve got a team. I’ve got to check in with this person. Are they okay with doing their thing? I’ve got to make sure that’s delegated. I’ve got to make sure this is …

Ben Tossell:

You’re then a people person managing those people, but really, my go to thing in life is building stuff. I would always … If you put me in a room for a week with a laptop, I would end up building websites, or seeing if I could build this thing, could build that thing, so that was a real … That’s my biggest struggle, I think, with building a company, was I’ve got to grow up or switch, or think about this thing, rather than that thing, and I think that became more apparent as Makerpad was going on.

Ben Tossell:

We were growing, customers were growing, but it was getting to that point in mid 2020 where I was like what is this business? We were trying lots of different things. We were trying the … Should we try and do the B2B route, and have these companies listed on our directory, and we do tutorials for them? That feels like an agency business. Do we just go full, go for the customers? That feels like a big Coursera, Udemy type business, that requires a lot of venture capital. There’s lots of churn. You expect it, and I was in that.

Ben Tossell:

I’ve never run a company before. I’ve got a bunch of people. We’ve got to stay alive. What’s this business doing? That crisis mode of, what lots of people I imagine go through also, and that was my like I don’t know what to do, because I’m a maker. I’m not this business operator yet, so that was my biggest struggle, I think.

John Warrillow:

What did you do to reconcile that struggle?

Ben Tossell:

We tried lots of things. We built different things, and we’re waiting for that pull moment again. I wanted to try these different things, to see that’s the obvious path that we need to go, and even I’d have conversations, because when VCs know you’ve raised one thing and it’s going well, and you look at that as one of the leaders in the space. There’s lots of let’s just have a chat type conversations happening, and I used them as, if we were going to raise money, what would you want to see? What is it?

Ben Tossell:

It’s we want those subscriptions. We’d want to see that growing. You want to see the churn at 5% or whatever it was they’d say, and it was very much like, okay. This. There has to be a decision made here. I can’t just go through throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s not quite as simple a business as I first intended it to be. We need to do something or figure something out, and I don’t think I ever did, actually. I think it came around when we started chatting to Zapier, that I was like I feel like this is the best thing that this business, our business needed.

John Warrillow:

When you’re having those chats with venture capitalists, are you starting to get a sense of what the business could be worth one day?

Ben Tossell:

It’s difficult, because I think you’ve almost got to take those conversations with VCs with a pinch of salt, because they’re not as hung up on valuations as someone who was actually analyzing the business to buy it would be. They’re more, oh yeah. Don’t worry about 10 million valuation, 20 million valuation. It doesn’t really matter in a venture capital world, because it takes one swing for that to be …

Ben Tossell:

It’s almost not matter that yours was valued at 20 million or something, so I was becoming very aware of the conversations I was having, what they were saying, what other companies are raising, knowing that, when we raised, it was a big valuation that really was just given to us, and it really put a spin on are these valuations, because it’s the venture capital game playing? Or is it because the business is worth that?

Ben Tossell:

That’s how they analyzed that, and that’s why there are those valuations, and I think it’s actually the former is we need, looking for a certain percentage of your company. If that means it’s this much, that’s fine. That’s what it is, so that was an interesting process to go through and see.

John Warrillow:

Interesting, so you’re delineating between how someone might value the business for the purposes of investment versus acquisition, and what you’re saying, if they’re investing, is it only works, if it’s a massive home run, so what … The valuation is somewhat less of a priority at that moment in your mind. What about for the purposes of acquisition? Are you … You came from a day job at Product Hunt, right? You would have had a salary and a normal kind of life, as 99% of the world has, right? And then, all of a sudden, a year later, are you starting to get the sense that, hold on a second, I might have this, an asset that could be worth a considerable amount of money?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. Well, I always wanted … It’s one of those things that people don’t want to talk about, is founders motivated by money. If I wasn’t motivated by money, I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have gone and taken the lead to say, “Right, this is real business. I’m going to take this money to grow this business into worth more money.” It’s not because I was driven so passionately about what we’re trying to solve. I am passionate about that. It’s enabled this whole thing in my life, but I can’t sit here and talk to people, and pretend that it’s not a financial motivation. That’s definitely why lots of people start companies, and I think people should just be more honest about that. I don’t think that’s an issue, so I always had …

Ben Tossell:

I remember years ago, me and my dad, there was a yacht somewhere in Mallorca, where we’d go on holiday, and he had a similar list when he was younger, which was how to get his dream car. Go and be a lawyer, do this, do that, do that, so he did that. Didn’t actually buy the car, but he did the list, so I had a how to buy this super yacht when I was 15 or something, and it was go and be an investment banker, work 7:00 to 7:00 for 10 years and do all that stuff, so I always had a drive of, one day, I want to be wealthy or generate some wealth somewhere. So it was always in me, and I was then went down the I want to be in a startup, I want to start my own thing.

Ben Tossell:

I want to do this, do that, and as I was going through the process, you launch something, you see it work. You have team members. Lots of changes again. You almost have these mini cycles of I don’t actually want to run a company of 300 people. That sounds awful to me, and I don’t think I have the skills at this moment in time to do that or want to do that. I’m still a maker, I’m still a builder. I still want to sit here all day making stuff. I’m happy with that. That’s what I’d like to do, so that changes over time.

Ben Tossell:

You have these conversations with VCs about, okay. If you want to go and do a series A, these are the sort of numbers you need to do. You need to be thinking about the churn, you need to be thinking about subscriptions, and I’m there, sat there going that’s not what I’m aiming to do. I’m not aiming to run and operate a good business that might be nothing in a few years. I want to have, it has to be my business. I want to own most of it and I want to be in control of this, and I want to have a good outcome that changes my entire family’s life. I do want that.

John Warrillow:

What was that to you?

Ben Tossell:

It would have been … I don’t know, actually. It’s difficult to say, but I think it’s probably seven, eight figures would have been in my head. Right, I’ve made it, and that’s the freedom. I can do whatever I want in my life and I think I’d be fine. I know that, that number is different for everyone, and might be much higher than other people think, but I do think that, that’s where I was aiming at the time.

John Warrillow:

Yeah, because for you, seven, eight figures, there’s a big range there, so I’m assuming it’s closer to the eight and the seven, but I’ll interrupt that, would have given you freedom to go back to being a maker, I’m assuming.

Ben Tossell:

Well, yeah. This is the thing. If I was, at that time … Before I even started making money, if someone just said, “Here’s $10 million. What are you going to do now?” I’d probably say I’ll sit on my computer and just build websites, and figure out how to build stuff without code. That’s what I’d end up doing, so it is one of those that, if you can do both of those things, or you can still be a builder and maker, that’s really I’m still trying to focus on do I like my day to day stuff? I don’t want to still have six hours of people managing time, when I can build for two hours. I want it to be the complete opposite of that.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. I get that, and I think a lot of people listening will get that as well. So you’ve got all the VCs saying this could be a juggernaut. This could be amazing. You’ve got to switch to recurring revenue model. We’ve got to be a SaaS company. We’ve got to worry, manage churn. You’ve got to hire a CFO, you’ve got to hire this time. Let’s throw a bunch of money at this. Come on, Ben. You can do it, and you’re like, “That sounds terrible to me. Everything about that sounds exactly where I don’t want to be,” so you’re a maker, in your own words, and so that’s interesting.

John Warrillow:

I’d be curious to know, you mentioned you raised money from Calm Fund, and they don’t invest in companies presumably to not have good outcomes, so what was that narrative from them? Were they saying, “Come on, grow up Ben. You’ve got to put your big boy pants on and become an entrepreneur, because we want an outcome here. We want to monetize this investment. We don’t want you tinkering around making stuff. We want to build a company.” Did you get that sort of pressure from them?

Ben Tossell:

Not at all, and it’s more of the support network, because other entrepreneurs who are often solo founders are also the portfolio, so you end up chatting with them. You realize you all have the same problems. I was an employee doing this. I want them to do that. There’s all of the same things and you get a feel for it. Really, Calm Fund are trying to invest in a number of winners, rather than we’ve taken all these swings and one of them will work out, but most of them probably won’t. It’s the complete opposite.

Ben Tossell:

All of these companies are growing and growing in a calm way, in a sustainable way. That means that the revenue that they’re generating goes back into the Calm Fund, because that’s how the agreement works. If that’s how that works, their model is successful. If companies have an exit or they go on to follow, they follow on VC funding, and then go and have a big exit somewhere else, that’s the outlier for them that’s not really part of their playbook, but is welcomed, I’m sure.

John Warrillow:

Got it. That’s helpful, for sure. So they really are a different kind of investor, and with a very different model.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

Fantastic, so what happens next? Maybe talk a little bit about, and I did a little bit of homework before this interview, and there was a tweet you made, which caught the attention of I guess the CEO of Zapier, Wade, if I’ve got that right. So maybe talk a little bit about the tweet, and we’ll put the tweet in the show notes, so folks can get it, but what’d you say in the tweet?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so Zapier was a partner of Makerpad’s whilst we were doing some stuff.

John Warrillow:

A lot of people won’t have ever heard of Zapier, so maybe just explain what Zapier does, so folks know.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so it’s essential an automation tool that connects thousands of apps and tools together to automate your business processes, so-

John Warrillow:

Stripe to talk to HubSpot, or …

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. If you have a customer come in, you want to mark them as a sales lead, and you want to send an automated email and put them into [inaudible 00:42:06] all of that sort of stuff happens automatically. They’re a huge, huge business, and they’re a partner, because they are the glue that holds all of these other no-code tools together, so I use them extensively in all of my tutorials and running of Makerpad. So we had a relationship there, and I’d spoken to Wade a couple of times through Twitter, and we did a podcast or so together.

Ben Tossell:

I met him in San Francisco, because Webflow put on this big no-code conference. We had a dinner, group dinner, and I think just the more we spoke we realized our vision for what the future of no-code looked like, they were just very much aligned. It was just like a both of us thinking how is this not a normal thing? Why is everyone told to learn to code? This is the easiest, most efficient way to do automations and building anything, so that, we both want to just get that out to as many people as possible.

John Warrillow:

The term no-code may be new to folks, but essential, it just means making things without necessarily being a coder, effectively.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, and it’s the name is counterintuitive, and I don’t want to have any association with creating that no-code term, but that might have been given to me. It’s one of those that code is being generated. It’s just you’re not having to write it. You don’t need to understand it. You can just drag and drop a few elements on a page to create your website, for example. It’s very much like my parents could do it, anyone could do it, children can do it. We’ve seen that happen often, so it’s the least technical version of how you can build a website, how you can build anything.

John Warrillow:

Great, so you tweeted out and Wade saw this note of the most common tools used.

Ben Tossell:

I did a tweet around the most common tools or the most popular tools on Makerpad, and Zapier was one of them, Airtable was one of them, Webflow, et cetera, and someone else from the community I think picked up on that, and then tweeted and tagged Airtable and Zapier, and said Airtable and Zapier, something, something, no-code. One of them should buy Makerpad as soon as possible, and I responded to it saying it’d be like picking between one of my parents, and Wade emailed me to say, “Hey, did you see this tweet? We should have a chat,” and I was like, “Yeah, I did actually see this tweet. Did you see my response?” “Yeah, let’s have a chat,” so we went from there really, and that’s how the process started.

John Warrillow:

I love that line, picking between my parents. That’s awesome, and so where does it go from there? How did Wade approach it?

Ben Tossell:

Yes, so Wade was just open and said, “Look, this would be a great partnership. We can definitely see why there’s a beneficial interest for us to merge forces, and is that something you’re interested in? Is it something you’ve ever thought about?” All of that stuff, and if so, let’s explore it. Let’s come up with some numbers and how many customers you have, and revenue and things like that, and then we can go from there, so that’s exactly what we did.

Ben Tossell:

I was in that moment of is this a real business? Am I trying to swing from the fences and be a billion dollar company? I don’t want 300 employees. VCs would push you this way, that way, and then this shining opening came, and I thought I’ve never actually thought of the alternative of trying to raise money and trying to do that business. It was, wait. We could be part of this huge no-code company, probably the leader in the space, and what would that look like? What would I want us as Makerpad and me as maker, not manager type person, how would that whole thing fit together and what would that look like?

Ben Tossell:

I had to really think about that, because I was going through this whole moment of figuring out what I don’t want. I really wanted to put down this is what I do want and how I do want to do stuff, is I wanted to still run Makerpad independently. I don’t want to just be merged into a company and dissolved, and then you’re within this company of 500 employees that have never been at a company like that before, so there’s a few things like that. I was like, well, we do want to push this message and push out this education to as many people as possible, if that’s really our aim, and if we don’t have to focus on staying alive, paying people, getting that money, topping time for money type scenarios, which is what we were previously doing to stay alive, then what could we do? What are the options? What would we do together?

Ben Tossell:

Then Wade and I were having those chats, and then it was just very much like we wouldn’t need to worry about this thing, but more we can look at opening up the no-code courses, and we can have that push out to Zapier as customers. There’s thousands and thousands of new avenues we can explore there, and get the hands of more people, and really, that was the most attractive thing to me. It was growth without the asterisk of powered by VC, or growth without-

John Warrillow:

You strike me as a very independent soul. You keep saying, “I don’t want 300 employees.” Your Product Hunt and you’re launching all this stuff, and they’re like, “Ben, you can’t keep launching these products, because you’ve got a day job,” so how did you get your head around the idea of working or having Zapier own Makerpad? That feels like a real departure from your personality type.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. I understand that, definitely.

John Warrillow:

Take me inside your head there.

Ben Tossell:

Well, I think probably I was talked off the ledge by all the things I didn’t want to do, and I was like, right. That is one path. Another path is trying to bootstrap, and I was very stressed at the time, trying to figure out the business, because I was like this is the bit I don’t know what to do. I can start companies, or start businesses or ideas. I don’t know how to run them yet, so one of the things was, well, I’ve got Wade, this fantastic CEO, who would be my CEO coach essentially. Once a week, we’d just have a chat. That’s how we talked about what bringing the two brands together would look like.

Ben Tossell:

We would stay our own Slack, we would do our own thing. We’d stay all of our own systems. They would essentially leave us alone, and all I would do is chat to Wade once a week, and we only had … I’ve only been onboarded with a Zapier email like two weeks ago, so it has … We’ve left them intentionally separate, and that was a big part of it.

John Warrillow:

Acquired a year ago?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so it’s just over, about 13 months now, so we didn’t see the need to change from a 10 person company to a 500 person company, and Wade was very, very open with talking that through with me, and how that could look. Does that really mean I can just make decisions myself? Does that really mean we can build anything we want? Does that really mean this, that and the other?

Ben Tossell:

I made sure that was part of my diligence I guess, and this deal was you hear about companies getting acquired and saying one thing, and then another thing happening, or them being merged and swallowed up, but I really trusted Wade, and his approach and his demeanor about how he’s built Zapier. It’s just been really impressive to me, and I thought Makerpad cannot be in better hands than in Zapier, and likewise myself.

John Warrillow:

I wanted to come back to this issue, and I think this is a good time. How did Wade react when he learned such a high proportion of your customers were onetime lifetime memberships? Was that a conversation? Did that trigger a conversation around valuation or that’s an obligation you need to fulfill?

Ben Tossell:

It wasn’t really anything with valuation, and it wasn’t … The thing with Zapier was that they weren’t buying us for the revenue stream. They do very, very well, and they’re quite open with some of their revenue members, and it wasn’t like-

John Warrillow:

Worth over 100 million in ARR now, is my understanding.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. It was that when we were acquired, so they’re doing great. They don’t need Makerpad’s extra 400K to do any … That’s not going to touch the sides with Zapier, so it wasn’t that discussion. It was more a case of what have they paid for? How does that change, if we wanted to make decisions as a company, to make stuff free, or to open up a bit more, or change what we did as a company?

John Warrillow:

Did Wade ever raise the prospect of just doing it himself? As you say, big company, they’ve got lots of resources. They could have hired some people to create a bunch of video tutorials, no?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. They have that themselves. I think we just were the independent company. We sat in the middle. We were the Switzerland of no-code. We were just happy to use all different tools and we talk about them equally, and that I think really helped us build a reputation in the space of trusted voice-

John Warrillow:

Yeah, because Zapier puts out a video. All of a sudden, oh yeah. Well, Zapier. They’re trying to sell us a product, but when Makerpad does, there’s that semblance of independence and we’re agnostic of tool. Interesting, so how did it come up? How did you guys deal with the financial stuff? Did he ask you what do you want for it? Because clearly no standard valuation technique is probably going to be appropriate here, if they’re not buying it based on revenue. How did you guys stick handle around the money stuff?

Ben Tossell:

Basically, I had listened to some of the episodes you did, and I remember, I think someone, I can’t remember the name, who’s selling the company to GoDaddy I think, which is one of the WordPress hosting sites I think. One of the things on that episode was he wrote down a number and just left it at the front of his desk, and then tried not to look at that number, until near the end, when different things were happening in the negotiation, so I tried to say, right. Okay. Let me come up with a few numbers, so in my head I’m benchmarking myself and thinking, okay. If it’s worth this, am I happy with that decision? What would that look like for my life?

Ben Tossell:

For the situation, I would go be at Zapier, so considering all of that. So had a spreadsheet with a bunch of numbers on them, and all just plucked out that I just had different stages of everything, really. And then I think I pushed for or asked for, well, give me an offer then, so we got on a call and Wade said his offer, and it wasn’t really something I’d planned for.

Ben Tossell:

It was one of those that I maybe thought we were going to be sold for less. I wasn’t sure at what point we were going to get to, so I was like, “That to me sounds like a great offer,” but that’s not what you say or you’re supposed to say in those negotiations, but it’s one of those that, and I’m sure lots of people think this in an acquisition process, it’s like, actually my deal is probably different. I trust the CEO, so actually, I’m just going to talk candidly about it with them, and we’re going to just, we’re friendly. We’re friends and we’re going to be fine with it.

Ben Tossell:

Maybe I gave, didn’t have a poker face or didn’t have anything like that, because we ended up staying at that number the whole time. That number never changed then, so it was a number I was definitely happy with. We tried to come back and say yeah, but that’s the value of the business now. It’s stopping us from doing another year’s worth of business, which we could do, and if we did it in one year’s time, the value of the business could be this number, which is more than what you’re offering, so it was one of those of that.

Ben Tossell:

We’re trying to push to the future valuation and Zapier was staying on yeah, but this is what we are purchasing now, essentially. So we did stay on that number, and like I said, it was the number always is a huge factor, but it’s also part of that whole package of can we stay independent? Can I run it? Can we do this? What does the day to day look like? All of those things really were a decision to be made.

John Warrillow:

Got it, and for listeners who were wondering, “Okay, Warrillow, could you please ask him what the number was?” We talked before we hit record saying that Ben was unfortunately unable to share what the specific number is, despite my best attempts at getting him to share that, but I appreciate that, that is in a private transaction like this sometimes the case, and totally respect that. So you had this spreadsheet of possible outcomes. These were numbers. I’m going to just make up numbers, so if it was a million, would I be happy with that? If it was two million, would I … Is that the kind of process you were going through?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, exactly that. Yeah, I was doing-

John Warrillow:

If it was three million, that would have enabled me to do X and Y. Would I be happy with that? And so you had all these different numbers, and you arrived at, I’m assuming a threshold, where you’re like, “Yeah, if I could get that, I would be happy and that would meet my criteria for a successful exit,” is that right?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah. Exactly, because I didn’t want to go into the conversation about the number without actually having a … Okay, well, I do have a cutoff at this end, and this is the reason why. I wanted to have that whole process almost come up with a conversation in my head of why is it that number and why would it be a certain split? And why would I do any of that sort of stuff? So I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and like I said, listening to some interviews, and reading a book and everything beforehand or during it, I was like that’s what a lot of people have talked about, is saying, having that in their heads of I’m happy with this, not this.

John Warrillow:

Yeah, so people have, and we talk a little bit about this, we’ve talked of the freeing point, where we actually zero in on this number. Some people think of it as a minimum number, like this is the minimum. I would never go below this, and then other people have a dream number, be like that’s the minimum, but man, if I could get the dream number, it would be this. Did you have that? Did you have the two?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

And so, if I’m trying to understand correctly, so you had your dream number and your minimum number. What was the delta between the two? Was the dream number double the-

Ben Tossell:

It was probably five times what the minimum, so the dream number is five times what the minimum, and then we ended up, the offer ended up being somewhere within that.

John Warrillow:

Got it, so you had the minimum, you had the dream, and the offer’s somewhere in the middle, so your reaction to that was, “Okay.”

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, because it’s one of those that you hear these stories, you read these blog posts of someone comes in with a really, really low number, and then you end up with this whole negotiation, back and forth, back and forth, and it’s not … Again, it’s not probably something I’m any good at or have any experience in, so I really appreciate it, actually. The number coming across and me being like that is a great offer, and I’m ready to accept that, but I know that you don’t just do that on that call, and everything else. You’ve got to think about it and consider everything, but it took a big part of that acquisition process out of it, where I imagine a lot of people get hung up and think, “Oh yeah, but they stiffed me on a million here. I really wish I did get that, but I didn’t.” I think that was a nice thing to avoid in this whole scenario, actually.

John Warrillow:

Yeah, for sure. It sounds like you zig when everybody else zags anyway, in every part of business life, so this is perfect, that you chose to do it that way, which is great. Did you ever … As you rightly point out, it would be like picking between my parents, which I love that line, but there was a vested interest for a lot of companies to acquire you. It wasn’t just Zapier. There was, I think you mentioned a company called Airtable, which admittedly I don’t know anything about. There were a few others that would have had a really good investment thesis to buy you. Did you ever think about shopping the company to multiple potential acquirers?

Ben Tossell:

I didn’t. Well, I did actually, and I didn’t want to. It was one of those where I thought I’d feel really … You run the risk of pissing off your acquirer for one, and I felt that Wade and I had a very good relationship, that I wouldn’t want to tarnish that, even if a sale didn’t happen, so I was very much, I don’t know, using … If I went to Airtable or someone else and said, “We’ve got an offer from Zapier. Would you want to give us a counter offer?” We start pegging them against each other, I just wouldn’t feel right about it, but another company was chatting to us about a closer partnership, how do we get closer?

Ben Tossell:

At that time, I was like, well, we are in the process of being, having acquisition talks, so they came back with, okay. Let’s see what we can do, but that was just their … It wasn’t quite the right fit anyway, and I wasn’t … I was always in the Zapier deal. It was just I know they’re having that conversation, so I thought, if they’re going to throw a number out, it has to be now, because we are having conversations with Zapier about this.

John Warrillow:

Did they ultimately throw out a number?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, they did, and I was just like it’s not … No, we’re not going to get to where we need to be for this, to change at any moment.

John Warrillow:

Okay. Great, so it was inferior. How did Zapier structure the deal? Was it all cash? Or was it cash plus earn out? Or did you get Zapier shares? How did you structure some of that stuff?

Ben Tossell:

It was a cash and share structure, so we-

John Warrillow:

You got cash plus Zapier shares.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

Okay, and I don’t know the answer to this. Is Zapier privately held?

Ben Tossell:

Yes, it is. Yeah.

John Warrillow:

Okay, and do you have some rights to sell that? Or do you only get to liquidate the Zapier shares in the event that they choose to sell at some point?

Ben Tossell:

No. I think there’s ways you can do it internally, or the company buys them back and things like that. It’s not anything I’ve looked into. That’s how I understand it, is there’s events that would allow you to sell shares privately, if you wanted to do so, but I think it’s one of those companies that I’d be shocked, if there’s no public offering at some point in the future. Disclaimer, that I’ve got no insight into that whatsoever. I’m just completely making that up, but-

John Warrillow:

Just as a layperson, you’re … Yeah.

Ben Tossell:

Zapier is one of those that also zigs when others zag. They started completely remote, so they’ve never had offices. They were a remote company from day one. They only raised I think $1.3 million from Y Combinator in their early inception, and then didn’t raise for a long time and just focused on profit, and then they raised I think just before the acquisition from Sequoia and others in a bigger transaction, so they’re not focusing on the building a massive war chest, because they’ve got a very good revenue generating product.

John Warrillow:

Are you able to share roughly the proportion of cash versus stock? Like majority cash, majority stock, anything around that, that you’re able to share.

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so it’s a slight majority cash to start.

John Warrillow:

Got it. That’s super helpful, and what about running Makerpad longterm? Was there an earn out component as well? Or are you now salaried on that front? How does that work?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, just salaried, and it’s basically the share piece is the incentive for sticking around I suppose, in a cruder way to put it, but yeah. That’s we didn’t do an earn out or anything like that.

John Warrillow:

How has it affected your motivation, now that you’ve ticked the box of wealth that you were hoping to tick, and using your dad’s same analogy, you’re now an employee again, similar to the way you were at Product Hunt? How has it affected your motivation day to day?

Ben Tossell:

Well, I’m lucky in that I don’t feel like an employee, so that’s been a big part of it. I think one of the things after the acquisition was I want to hire an assistant personally for myself, just because I don’t like dealing with lots of things. The person I ended up hiring is training to be a therapist for CEOs with stress, which I thought was very helpful, so we’re spending our days, we have a daily check in, and I’m trying to be really conscious of what things am I doing day to day? What do I like doing? What do I not like doing? How is that changing based on Zapier putting pressure on me to do this, that and the other?

Ben Tossell:

The answer is always no with that, because that’s not been any part of it, and if I go to Wade and say I think this is what I want to do, he’ll just say, “Why is it you want to do that? Okay. Great. You’re figuring that out. You can test it and you come back with how it goes.” It’s always that’s how our relationship has been whilst being part of Zapier, I think. That’s just been a massive, massive help to feel like I can build these experiments. I can build this thing. We’ll go out and test it, and there’s no one in your way. There’s no we’re going to run this through the Zapier team first.

Ben Tossell:

There’s nothing like that, which has been very, very helpful, and again, it’s my day to day is flexible and structured the way that I … If I want to go and play tennis in the morning, I’ll do that. I’ll walk a dog, and then I’ll start work at 11:00. It’s not that structured. Clock in, clock out stuff, but that all is part of Zapier as a culture, so it’s been very easy to go back into an employee actually. A lot easier than I ever thought it would be.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. I’d love to get and do a due diligence round. Are you up for a power, a very fast round of questions that we refer to as due diligence?

Ben Tossell:

Sure. Yeah. Let’s go for it.

John Warrillow:

Okay. Here we go, and I know you’ve had a lot of conversations with VCs, investors, potential acquirers, as well as Wade, so when I ask this question, I’m not asking you to tell tales out of school about Wade per se, but if you think about the entire community of acquirers that you’ve spoken with, and investors you’ve spoken with, what’s the slimiest trick you’ve seen them try to pull over on you?

Ben Tossell:

The only thing is when people are trying to get a number out of you, or get a sense of what you shouldn’t be telling them, even if it’s VCs saying what about this competitor? Or they’re trying to say, “I know a similar competitor to you that basically does this and you should do this.” It’s air a bit of dirty laundry about other things they see from conversations they have with other founders. Maybe some stuff like that, but-

John Warrillow:

Yeah. Biggest mistake you made during the selling process.

Ben Tossell:

Not carrying on running the business as it was before. Getting distracted by the process.

John Warrillow:

What was the lowest point emotionally you reached during this process of selling your company?

Ben Tossell:

Probably within a week before the deal had to close, just the stress of it, the panic of it, the big change of it, and just pressures of questions and is it going to happen? Is it not going to happen? That was a tough time.

John Warrillow:

What was the highest point you reached in the exit process emotionally?

Ben Tossell:

When the documents came back signed two minutes before the deadline.

John Warrillow:

Nice. What’s one thing you wished you had known about the exit process before you’d started?

Ben Tossell:

To get yourself someone who can explain it like you’re five years old. Just having someone else who’s invested in what you’re trying to get done, who doesn’t have the emotional attachment like you do.

John Warrillow:

You already mentioned graciously, and I appreciate the acknowledgement that you did listen to the podcast and read the book, so that’s fantastic. Were there other resources that you used to really inform yourself about the exit process? A book, an online course, a speaker that you listened to, is there anything you can point people to?

Ben Tossell:

Nothing particularly online, I don’t think. I read the book and there was another book similar, I think, and really-

John Warrillow:

Do you remember the name of the other books?

Ben Tossell:

It’s, I cannot … The Messy Marketplace.

John Warrillow:

The Messy Marketplace, okay. We can link to that.

Ben Tossell:

I think so. I think that’s it. I was lucky that my best friend actually is, helps companies sell and get acquired and raise money, so it just so happened that those two things aligned and he was just … We were on the phone ever single day, and I said, “What does this mean? What does this mean? What does this mean?” You figure that out, you tell me.

John Warrillow:

You owe him a pint, my friend.

Ben Tossell:

I’ve paid him already, actually.

John Warrillow:

Got it, so having that resource was helpful.

Ben Tossell:

Oh, yeah. That was invaluable. Yeah, definitely.

John Warrillow:

He’s an M&A professional, investment banker-

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, essentially.

John Warrillow:

Great. What’d you buy yourself to celebrate the win? I want to hear trophies. Tell me you bought yourself something.

Ben Tossell:

I got an Aston Martin and a new house.

John Warrillow:

Okay. Good. I’m glad to hear you actually did something with the money. That’s great. New house and an Aston Martin, so is that the car your dad dreamt of?

Ben Tossell:

No. That’s the car I’ve always had on my list that whole time.

John Warrillow:

Nice, nice. Well, congratulations on both of those purchases, and I’m super happy that you made them. For folks who want to reach out, maybe learn … We’ve got a lot of makers that listen to this show, so they might be interested in Makerpad. Do you want to point people to some resources or a place to find you online, that kind of stuff?

Ben Tossell:

Yeah, so Makerpad is M-A-K-E-R-P-A-D.co. We’ve got a course that’s our free curriculum into no-code, so it’s all the basics. Self-serve, so do it at your own pace, and I’m on Twitter mostly @BenTossell, B-E-N-T-O-S-S-E-L-L.

John Warrillow:

Awesome, so we’ll make all of those links up in the show notes at BuiltToSell.com. Ben, thanks for doing this.

Ben Tossell:

Thank you so much.

John Warrillow:

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Ben Tossell. For show notes, including links to everything referenced in today’s episode, along with definitions for some of the technical terms I referenced, visit the episode page, which can be found at BuiltToSell.com. Don’t forget to nominate a guest for the show. Some of our best guests, including Ben, came from someone who nominated them. You can nominate a guest at BuiltToSell.com/Nominate.

John Warrillow:

Thanks again to Christian Coldea, who gave us a review on iTunes recently. Please go ahead and rate the show on whatever platform you listen to us on. That’s always appreciated. Today’s show was produced by Haley Parkhill. Special thanks to Denis Labattaglia for handling the audio and video engineering, as always, and thank you to the entire community of Certified Value Builders™ who help us bring our message to you. I’ll see you next week.

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