02: Doing Investor Updates the Right Way with Mike Preuss of Visible

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In this episode, Daniel sits down with the founder of Visible, Mike Preuss. Visible is a cutting edge platform that helps founders raise capital, update investors, and engage their team from one single platform. Mike shares the unique way in which Visible was founded and how it’s product aims at what he calls the “cheat code” of fundraising strategies. 

Through a wide variety of business and collaborative experiences, Mike has developed a wealth of wisdom in what it takes for founders to successfully attract and keep investors. The wisdom that he shares with us also transcends fundraising to touch vital elements of any business such as team culture, collaboration, and shared vision. Let’s dive in!

  • Trust your gut, and do it faster! (2:16)
  • Mike shares the interesting backstory of Visible and how it developed to become the success that it is today (3:51)
  • Visible’s brilliance in the world of venture fundraising (15:22)
    • Mike shares the “cheat code” of fundraising strategy (17:45)
    • Mike talks about affirming that Investor Updates was product-market fit (20:46)
    • How Visible is also helping VC’s to update their LP’s (23:23)
  • How Mike and Visible discerned their product value and pricing (26:39)
  • Striking the balance of investing in future growth without compromising current stability (29:16)
  • Drinking his own Koolaid! How Mike uses his product at Visible to keep his remote team aligned (35:25)
  • Dan asks Mike to share his secret weapons for success (41:21)

So much insight. Thanks for sharing with us, Mike!


Dan Hightower: [00:00:00] This is Dan Hightower with product market misfits, talking about the exploding market of startups building solutions for other startups. And an amazing company in this space was founded by Mike Preuss at Visible.vc, which helps founders raise capital, update investors, and engage their team from one single platform.

I am super excited to have Mike on the show today. For those who don’t know, Visible is your investor relationship hub, because  anyone who’s raised money before knows that investor relations is a full time job. Visible is, get this, profitable, which we’re definitely going to dive into. And on top of that, Mike has raised just under 1.5 million from some amazing investors, such as High Alpha.

On the personal side, Mike started his career out in San Francisco, heading up business development for Formspring. Where he oversaw all kinds of fun projects from their verified accounts program to native sponsored ads, to API partnerships. He’s originally from Chicago, but currently calls Seattle home. He loves to cook golf, ski hike, and he used to love to travel. Thanks, COVID.

Before we get started, I want to mention an incredible organization that I love, “Girls Who Code”. Girls Who Code is here to change the face of tech. The international nonprofit runs virtual computer science programming for girls of all ages. Visit GirlsWhoCode.com to learn more and to access their free online and offline coding activities. Or follow them on social media at GirlsWhoCode on all channels.

I also want to briefly thank Christian Anderson, partner at High Alpha and Harry Hurst, founder and CEO of Pipe.com for their great questions to ask Mike.

Hey, Mike, how are we today?

Mike Preuss: [00:01:54] Man, Dan, thanks for having me really excited to be on the podcast. I’m doing great all things considered. You know, a lot of going on in the world. No real complaints on my side. So excited to chat today.

Dan Hightower: [00:02:06] Yeah, here comes Q4 all of a sudden and got that cold air burn, in my lungs today from, from like a two mile run. So here’s Fall.

So yeah, before we dig into how awesome you are, and Visible is, I’d love to hear how you got to where you are today and especially, just as an idea breaker, what’s the absolute biggest mistake you’ve made so far? It could be product growth, fundraising, anything.

Mike Preuss: [00:02:34] Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably a loaded one.

I’ve certainly made quite a few mistakes. I think like the overarching theme though past all of my mistakes that I’ve made, this might be a cop out answer, but when I look at it, like all the different mistakes Visible’s made over the past six years of the business. For me, it kind of comes down to just not trusting my gut and trusting it fast enough.

I think that’s the one piece of advice I always give to other founders as well, is listen to your gut. And what does your gut say? And, act on it faster and try to act on a faster each time. So that could be, you know, having to let someone go, make a tough decision. When, for me, I guess, you know, early on one of the things that Visible did when we originally launched the business was, start by selling to investors and early on in that journey of selling the product for investors and to investors, I really think we should probably sell this to founders and talk to a lot of people around the table and, and mentors and stuck with the investor path path for too long. I guess my short answer is, yeah, just not trusting my gut fast enough is probably my biggest mistake. But also the biggest learning I’ve had so far as being a founder of a business.

Dan Hightower: [00:03:51] So you started off, thinking that Visible would be a tool licensed by investors that they would use, they would let their portfolio…

Mike Preuss: [00:04:02] Yes. Yeah, exactly. So when we first started the business the idea was a modern kind of portfolio management tool for investors.

So a lot of this, like many SAS apps, right  as being handled in and SAS spreadsheets. There’s no source of truth for anything  it’s just information in all of these disparate places like email, PowerPoint, text messages, phone calls, and so we said, Hey, let’s build a tool for investors and then, you know, founders would be able to use it and provide updates to those investors and, and KPI’s, and their cap table and all these different things. So we did a lot, like the original kind of product did do a lot or promise to do a lot. And I think we just did nothing great. Right? We had all these different experiences in the app and none of them solved a problem well enough to be kind of warrant like success. And so we just, we’re a mile wide and an inch deep and a lot of features and functionality. A pair weather’s a challenging market to sell into and so I think it was just, we kind of, you know, we kind of wavered for a little bit in terms of the initial, the initial business.

Dan Hightower: [00:05:10] Yeah. So when you got started backing up, like briefly here, you saw this pain, no source of truth I heard, a number of others that I’m sure you could shed some light on. How did you go from that moment to, we’re going to start a company called Visible?  Like right there, how’d you make the decision?

Mike Preuss: [00:05:29] Yeah. So I was, at a company called Formspring, I think you mentioned in the intro there, and towards the end of that, I was fortunate in that I got to wear a lot of different hats and was looking to do my next thing and did some like investor slides and board reporting. And so I saw, I kinda saw some of that from inside from the founder perspective but it was actually approached by a group called High Alpha, this kind of predates High Alpha, this is 2014. High Alpha launched in 2015. High Alpha is a B2B enterprise SAS. A venture fund, but also a studio located in Indianapolis.

So, I started it with, Christian Anderson, who you mentioned and, and Mike Fitzgerald kind of, this is like the prototype for High Alpha, so High Alpha didn’t even exist yet. They said, Hey, we have this idea of building this venture studio it’s really never been done before. So we’re kind of building the prototype and I remember looking at the first kind of HTML prototype of like, you could load it up in a web browser. It was like all dummy data. It’s hard code on the back end, but like the app on the front end, I was sitting on a plane, just landed in San Francisco and a good friend of mine Max Yoder sent me a text and he said, Hey, check this out. What do you think about this? He was starting a company. about a year before me called Lessonly, with the same, with the same team and said, Hey, they need someone to come run this. So, Visible kind of when we started the business, I was brought in to run it and help kind of spin up the, the, the business of Visible with the High Alpha team.

So it was kind of a weird scenario, which it wasn’t like my baby or this desire or passion that I had. It certainly is now today when you fast forward. But when I started I was kind of brought in from the outside to come in and help start it in a full time capacity.

Dan Hightower: [00:07:14] Okay. So this is unique. Can you talk about being launched out of a venture studio?

Mike Preuss: [00:07:21] Absolutely

Dan Hightower: [00:07:22] Is it like a traditional, like, do you have to talk him into investing after you’ve been a part of the venture studio or does that just come with it? It may be unique to High Alpha.

Mike Preuss: [00:07:31] Yeah. I’m happy to share my experience and talk a little bit about the High Alpha model or at least I know.

So, High Alpha launched in, I believe April of 2015, very different than when we built Visible and Lessonly, just for some context. So when you’re starting Visible, it’s kind of like a nights and weekends movement project from a lot of us that were starting it. Like, we would all throw in some time or resources like, Hey, I have a designer, we can do a couple mockups today, or I have some spare engineering time and then we can build, you know, the billing experience or what have you.

But for the kind of first year, it was all of us putting a little bit of time at Monday, you know, we’d have a call with everyone and say, Hey, here’s what we think we can do this week or where we could chip in and then, that’s like how we started right. That then they had enough conviction in the High Alpha team, enough conviction around, the success they had with a company called Sixer which has now been acquired by Terminus. Lessonly’s raised quite a bit of funding and it’s a huge business in general. A company called Octive was acquired by Conga. They’ve had a lot of conviction around these businesses they’ve started in kind of this ragtag capacity to actually create a venture studio and raise capital for it. So, Very different. Like, it was just kind of me in my apartment in San Francisco and that was kind of it. 2015, the High Alpha launch for the proper studio. And that experience is awesome. It’s way, it’s way different. they provide design resources, financial resources and both in terms of like finance people, but also every single capital gets. Or every single company gets capital onto the balance sheet, a recruiting business, a partner is fundraising help.  And so I think we took a lot of the experiences we had early on and in that helped  inform  the studio.

And then in terms of your question around pitching, the studio is interesting. I don’t think there is a right answer or a common trait amongst all of the studio companies. Some of them, are conjured up in what’s called “sprint week” where those folks, everyone at High Alpha outside people come in and guests and they break in into teams of five, six, seven teams, work for a week and decide like, hey, here are the businesses we think could be really interesting. And that goal of the week is to kind of come up with a prototype of that business and the pitch for it. Sometimes those are outside founders that are coming in and saying, Hey, I want to start this business, new studio with you, or sometimes those are internal ideas, ideas from external stakeholders, maybe a big corporate or enterprise person. So I don’t think there is a right answer there. But if you are kind of a founder with an idea, then yeah, I think it is kind of like getting a traditional investment in the sense that you’re pitching. Like, hey, I would love to be part of your, your sprint program and potentially turn this into a business with you.

Dan Hightower: [00:10:13] Ok, so it sounds like you get access to a ton of input, support and that probably leads to a ton of insights, especially around like early product and how it might fit into a market. You mentioned earlier that originally you were targeting investors. I’m curious if like all of that studio input was formative, as you switched gears to targeting startups as your customer.

Mike Preuss: [00:10:45] Yeah, I think for, for us, it was kind of like red headed stepchild of High Alpha in a way, in a good way, then we would all, we would all say that in a sense that we were kind of started before the studio and then kind of rolled our equity and everything into the studio. But, in terms of the decision to pivot. I think it was, we know we’re not serving kind of any of these customers great and customers are certainly churning. These are venture funds at the time. We, you know, we’re hearing from people that there’s a ton of pushback, whether that’s on price or product or, or, you know, getting an end user adopted.

I think one of the big hurdles early on, with the original Visible was we were selling to a venture fund who is price sensitive, being pitched all the time, whether that’s for investment or time or what have you. So you had to create a lot of signal just to, to get into to that person or that investor, and, you know, price sensitive so we, we kind of looked at that and said, Oh, and the other thing is sorry, around the kind of price sensitivity is, you know, you would sell an investor and then you would have to have all of their portfolio companies adopt and use Visible as well. Even if the tool is free and that’s sometimes that’s even harder.

And so we said, why don’t we just start with the founder first and foremost and see if we can build a really valuable experience for them. We’re going to remove all of these degrees of separation. we could probably build a bigger business, do things a little bit faster and then come back to the investor product at some point.

So, actually this year we did, we think we learned from the first go around and, and what’s old is new and we relaunched our product for investors and it’s been selling incredibly well. We haven’t had anyone lose. We haven’t lost any customers from that product yet. It’s very different than like the first iteration of Visible so I think it’s a lot of the learnings we’ve had and the fact that we kind of built everything now with the founder in mind. So we’re always thinking of the founder first and foremost, like I said, so I think we’ve learned hopefully, and kind of pivoted our way back to again to investor products.

Dan Hightower: [00:12:54] Okay. That’s super interesting. So, I guess you hear out there that selling products like software to other startups is this growth act because all the startups out there is like super hungry. They move fast, they make decisions. They’ve got some money to play with. They’ll try things. Did you find that true? Is that part of like the the benefit of selling to startups or is that just

Mike Preuss: [00:13:23] I do subscribe to that, right? I think startups are usually on the leading edge of things and for us, you know, they’re willing to try a product  they are willing to buy a product online, you know, trust, credit card checkout. I mean, it’s kind of funny to think pre Stripe like how did I buy software online? You know, companies are willing to try things, buy things, adopt them. So I definitely think that’s true. I also think that when you’re dealing with startups, and especially when you’re on kind of the leading edge of what you’re trying to do, product product requirements are usually pretty high in terms of like, Hey, it needs to be able to do these things. You know, it’s got to be beautiful. It’s got to have this incredible user experience. Those are all like table stakes. I think when you’re dealing with startups, we’re used to great software. And so you really have to finish the product and have an awesome experience when you’re servicing those types of customers.

But yeah, I think like someone tweeted recently about like, Every single one of, you know, every single startup I’ve seen now has like Brex as a customer, right? Who is probably, you could, we could debate if that’s even a startup at this point. but that idea, right, that they quickly I software and use it and implement it, I think is a great benefit. But I do think that product departments are high. Whereas, if you think about selling a product or servicing a customer, but that’s maybe more enterprise or commercial in nature, I think their product requirements and the wow factor is actually pretty low. Like just being able to sign in painlessly sometimes online is something they’re like, Whoa, this is incredible.

So I think there’s pros and cons to servicing, you know, startups. And I think the other thing. with startups as well, depending on what stage you’re selling into that type of company is, one, are they going to be around? So do you have, do you have churn risk? And then two is just like, where do you fall in terms of the priority in the company internally?  So many things that can be, could be pivoting, priorities and, and changing things all the time. So I think that’s, that’s the other kind of con of, of selling into a startup customer base.

Dan Hightower: [00:15:22] Yeah. Okay. So the product, I’d love to like dive into that a little bit. You always hear, you should, as a startup, always be raising.

Mike Preuss: [00:15:31] Yep.

Dan Hightower: [00:15:32] So, I did an interview with a founder recently Shannon Goggin at Noyo and her like secret weapon was investor updates. She said it was just like fundamental for their raise, to the point where like, they didn’t have a fundraising process. They just kind of were updating the investor along the way and, investors are like, please take a check essentially at the right, at the right time. Like, so, so they’re super important. And I know that just on your website, that’s a part of your product. I’d love to hear more about how you, I think about that. And then what’s interesting to me is like, Startups need to keep their investors updated  but also like VCs need to keep their investors updated. And I’m curious if there is like, was that the reawakening of your, of your VC or investor, like customer at that point?

Mike Preuss: [00:16:30] Yeah great, great questions. So let’s start with kind of the, the always fundraising concept, which I think, nails it, when we were sort of really thinking about Visible and where we fit in the market and just our messaging. We think that the fundraising experience for a founder is the same as what a B2B enterprise SAS selling motion is right. So you have kind of your prospecting and awareness of your brand at the top of the funnel. And then all the way at the bottom of the funnel, you have kind of current investors which I would call like customer success, right? And then in the middle you have things like I’m currently fundraising so I’m putting a pipeline together and having meetings and those meetings are progressing. And, hopefully I get a couple, a term sheet or more at the end of that whole process. And so when you break down, that B2B funnel and think about the best of experiences online. I think a lot of it comes down to marketing and like nurturing your prospects and doing it in a really smart way. And so that example of kind of not even having to pitch cause she was using investor updates is exactly how we think about why you should use Visible.

So if I’m sending, an investor or update out every month, have something about my business to potential investors, I’m staying top of mind to them. I’m showing progress along the way. You’re probably building a relationship with them through that, that mechanism. Because remember a big part of this whole kind of song and dance of fundraising is building a relationship with these people. It’s high, you know, with, with investors. It’s hey, I’m signing up for the next 10 years or whatever, with these, with, with investors. So very rarely will someone write a check in the first meeting, there’s the, you know, adage of investors invest in lines, not dots.

And so I think what investors updates help you do is kind of connect the dots. And it really lets an investor see how fast you’re moving, gaining traction or even not. Right? Like I think if you are, you’re honest with the challenges of your business to potential investors, that’s like a breath of fresh air. And so you want to be smart about it. Like I, you know, if we’re getting into some more tactical advice, I would say there’s probably update that you send to your current investors and then there’s an update you send to your potential ones. And it’s like a Venn diagram. Some of the content you include is the same and some is not like, you’re not, you don’t want to necessarily share things like maybe cash burn or, or position and in an, in a potential email, but you definitely want to share things like here are key customer wins we’ve had and maybe certain metrics growing a certain amount and it’s kind of the sizzle. So. So, yeah, I think like updates are a great mechanism where you can, you can really leverage them for financing. Harry who you mentioned, you know, has been one of our customers he’s used visible twice. So he started a company called Skirt, and was a customer with us there and sold Skirt and, then started Pipe and became a customer at Visible and is just using it for updates, through our, through a recent raise  he took, like there was a potential investor. He sent his, the past three investor updates to the potential investor and they committed to a check right there just through the narrative of what Harry was saying through those updates. So, definitely a huge, a huge, kind of cheat code if you will, when it comes to fundraising strategy.

Dan Hightower: [00:19:58] So almost like a backlog, like as a. You know a fast forward update on like how the company has been going. It’s like the timeline slide in a pitch deck. Yeah,

Mike Preuss: [00:20:09] yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. And a lot of times in diligence, you know, depending on the stage, investors will ask for like, Hey, can you please send me your last 12 investor updates for the last 12 months of investor updates?

If you don’t have it that’s a really bad sign. But you know, done correctly that will help weave a narrative and we’ll let the investor kind of see like, Hey, how can I expect, for you to engage with me after we write the check? So there’s a lot of times in diligence, especially later, like, I’m not sure if that’s, obviously not so common when you’re talking super early stages, but call it series A, investors will certainly want to see your, your historical investor updates.

Dan Hightower: [00:20:46] Okay. So you mentioned about, around the time you switched gears to targeting customers and we’ve talked about, you know, always be raising…was the investor update functionality your earliest indication of product market fit? Do you remember the moment where you were like, Oh man, this is actually working?

Mike Preuss: [00:21:07] Yeah. I, I wish I remembered the moment and maybe there wasn’t a moment. But investor updates, kind of where we’re, where we’ve thought really confident about the business and product market fit. And I think it was around the time of, We, we kind of said, Hey, what’s one thing we kept hearing. And I guess some of our learnings from, from the investor product help this too, is like the things we kept hearing over and over again are people don’t want to sign up for yet another service or app, right? Like I’m managing so many different tools and things that I’m using in  my business and then trying to make an investor sign up or sign into something or a founder to do so when they’re not part of your team is really hard to do. And so we said, okay, knowing that kind of design constraint or principle, where do we think we can take the business?

And so one of the decisions that we made is, Investor updates, or going to be able to be fully rendered in email. So anything I build invisible in our update editor has to be able to be rendered in email, whether that’s a data visualization. Yeah. Like a chart, a file, a video even, right. how do we make sure that everything you build in a web browser.

It’s put in email so that no one has to sign up or sign into something cause everyone has email. So how do I open my inbox and view all of the continent, priests and visible without actually having to sign up or sign into it? So that’s, that was a big decision for us. And so we helped the owners look great, and to, you know, to their investors and kind of have that like, Oh yeah, this company nose knows what they’re doing and the investor doesn’t have to sign up or sign into anything.

And now more recently on the flip side of that is the way we’ve architected and built the investor tooling, is that founders don’t have to sign up or sign into Visible to provide data or updates back to those investors. And so we’ve built it and it’s, you know, it’s not that hard, right? It’s getting more or less a, a Google, a glorified Google form, maybe a little bit better. But it’s really seamless and we actually now more recently connected both of those products together, so that, if I’m using the company product or the investor product, they can actually all be integrated one another and almost automate that and that entire process, which is kind of how Visible got started. It took us a little bit longer to get there. Cause we had to build great experiences for each of those, those different people.

Dan Hightower: [00:23:23] I get the startups using it to keep their investors updated. I’m curious if VCs are updating their LPs with it.

Mike Preuss: [00:23:32] Yeah. So the kind of twist on the investment product and new product we launched is kind of the inverse of, of Visible, for companies.

So, the investor platform allows an investor to set up what we call a request instead of an update that request can include things like quantitative information, like what was your revenue last month? To qualitative information  like where can we best help you? Really, the goal here is how can I get structured data from, from my portfolio companies? Because I need that, whether that’s internal, for my own kind of LP reporting that could be portfolio review, where do I want to, you know, put my capital a reserved capital cause they usually have some sort of reserved strategy. What companies should I put that into? It’s maybe even benchmarking, some of our customers will take a lot of the data flowing through from their companies and we help turn it around into benchmarks. So you can say, Hey, here’s where your portfolio is. And then you can even send that back to companies and say, Hey, here’s where you stack up against the rest of the companies and kind of figure out a game plan to, to help or even double down on certain things.

And then in terms of investors, we built kind of their equivalent of an investor update is really a tear sheet. Which is, think like a four page, like a single page about each of their portfolio companies. Some of that information’s like static in nature. Like what the heck does this company actually do? And so if it might be more dynamic, like, traction metrics, like ARR growth or head count, or, maybe how much you’ve invested in this company. And so we allow an investor to kind of colate and create that report automatically now. So if I had 200 portfolio companies and I wanted to create a page per company every quarter for my LP kind of quarterly report, that’s pretty laborious process today. It’s a lot of work for analysts or associates to put it all together. We helped through that now with a couple of clicks of a button to, to put all that together. So we’re betting kind of our bet with the investor product is that the quarterly report is time consuming and we can do it better. And that’s where we think we all have a lot of product market fit, which is like the company equivalent of the investor update.

Dan Hightower: [00:25:49] Got it. Okay, that’s super, super cool. I get it. And you’re feeling that pull from the market on?

Mike Preuss: [00:25:55] Yeah

Dan Hightower: [00:25:56] Okay. So it must be exciting that the VC is like now pushing you to their investments because it enriches their reporting in a way that makes their lives easier. So, you kind of just like activated them as a business development channel.

Mike Preuss: [00:26:12] Yep. Yeah, exactly. Right.

Dan Hightower: [00:26:14] Cool. And then, Proving out the value of the product. I get it as a founder, who’s trying to raise money. How do you, how did you find out the willingness to pay for it on the customer side?

Mike Preuss: [00:26:27] Yeah, so we, we just keep testing and we keep raising prices to be honest. So when we first launched and  kind of pivoted this, this is a couple of years ago, from servicing investors as customers to companies, we started Freemium. And thinking back on this, it was, so the product was free for founder use. And then, if you wanted to upgrade, I think our first kind of thing we gated was like multiple dashboards. That, hey, if you want multiple dashboards within Visible, that can kind of put your KPIs one place for your current or different investors. We’re going to charge you for that. It’s obviously iterated, so we don’t offer a free plan, anymore. and I think our first, Paying customer was on the company side was rival IQ, which is a startup actually here in Seattle. And I met John Clark, he’s the CEO, there face to face and I think we sold them in $19 a month plan.

So like clearly not scalable from like a go to market perspective, but we wanted like proof like, Hey, will people pay for this? And so, pricing now on the company side, we keep pushing it up, testing it and seeing what kind of adoption we can get. Right now our average contract size for founders is around 140 bucks a month that they’re paying us. I think we’re actually probably, in a sweet spot on the high end for Visible as it tops out at $199 a month. And we’re about to roll out a light version of Visible, Visible Light that’s going to be probably in the $29 a month range because I think we’re actually missing quite a bit on the early side. Like, think a company that’s just getting started that wants to send investor updates and manage a fundraising process, but doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of data integrations and dashboards and some of the other features we offer, someone that you would meet is like, Hey, I’ll put this on my personal credit card. So, we’re gonna, I asked a light plan and I think the test is, can we convert customers at a higher clip than we are today? And, more importantly is everyone talks about like net dollar retention, and can you get more than a hundred percent? and if you think of more than a hundred percent of the SMB market, which I consider visible, they say, you’re doing great. So for this, the test is can we, you know, consistently land customers and expand them as a company grows from 29 to 99, $199 a month.

So, we’re, we’re kind of figuring out pricing. We started low, we kept raising it. there’s like the rule of thumb that like 20% of your customers should say no to price. So we certainly get people saying, Hey, this is too expensive to me, which is, I think a healthy thing. We consider ourselves a premium product, but we are going to start testing something on the, on the lower end as well.

Dan Hightower: [00:29:15] Okay. Well, it’s paying off because I heard from Harry at Pipe that Visible is effectively growing each year without burning any capital. How do you balance burn, funding, and growth while also trying to create more, you know, long term enterprise value?

Mike Preuss: [00:29:39] Yeah. A lot of sleepless nights.

Dan Hightower: [00:29:41] Yeah.

Mike Preuss: [00:29:43] With me like numbers in my head, I’m going, I’m trying to sleep. But yeah, so that’s a good, that’s a good question. We, a couple of years ago know, so Visible’s raised some money and looked at the business and what the business we wanted to build. And we’re like, man, we love kind of building tools for startups and investors and made the decision that we want to kind of own our own destiny and not be reliant on outside capital and, and continue to build tools for investors without having to like pivot the business again and tell this bigger story of how Visible was not only being used by startups, but, you know, by big enterprise customers. And so we did a lot of that. So it was a very conscious decision, to, to turn the business into profitability. And, it was I mean, it was, I mean, obviously it was hard for awhile, right? When you, you don’t have unlimited resources, but I think there’s a certain truth to a lot of the things you read online around fundraising and constraint.

Like, the more can constrained we made the business, the better we performed. I think you just make smarter decisions on where do I spend my time and my money. So, I guess in terms of how we balance everything, I think all of the things that we think about at Visible are, how do we make sure we’re building something for scale in the sense that it will be widely used across all customers, not just a single customer, and, and at the end of the day, now we’re all accounted for, for revenue.

So we kind of always are balancing, top of funnel. So like, alright, how do we bring in more. trialers and users, and there’s kind of three ways visible gets customers there. Organic search, paid search, and referrals. Referrals kind of both on and off on it, like blogs or people finding us through a podcast for example. Organic search is pretty straight forward. We build content we think founders will love and find and read, and then that gets them into our world. And then there’s paid search, which is kind of your most direct, like investor update template, and hopefully Visible shows up there and in AdWords, right?  So we can invest there in terms of time or money. I think for us, you know, organic search is huge for us and that doesn’t cost any money, right? So, we really think about how do we compound organic search as a strategy for us? So we don’t have to spend money on paid or other channels.

Then we have the middle of the funnel, which is like people starting trials. And we started to get pretty sophisticated around scoring trials. So when people do certain things on trials, we know they’re more likely to become customers. How do we actually kind of, and we know certain things create customers, right? So if I connect to an integration, for example, we know you have a better likelihood of becoming a customer if I send an update. So, how can we orient the onboarding experience for you to kind of become a, what we call a product qualified trial?

And then finally there’s like the, the end of the funnel, which is like, alright, converting those people now to customers. And so we’re always kind of managing the balance of all three of those things, and at different times of the business. So you would call it for the first, I’m just trying to think, like last year, for example, we had a big emphasis on just middle of the funnel. How do we make sure we’re converting trialers? For this year was really a lot of top of funnel. So we’ve invested a lot in organic. In getting smarter, just about technical SEO. So we’ve brought on some really amazing people that kind of have cut their teeth and know everything there is to know about SEO. We, you know, we’ve brought those people on board in a consulting capacity to help us, you know, get our things together and that’s paying off. And then now we’re kind of actually switching gears to, to, to the bottom of the funnel, again, like I mentioned around the light plan and, and, and testing some things.

So I don’t think there’s any like one answer in terms of how we’re balancing all those things. Like, our goal is to run Visible at kind of just break even right. We’re not burning any money or we’re not putting any money in the bank account at the, you know, we always want to invest everything back into growth.  And so Pipe is actually not, this is a shameless plug for Harry and Pipe. We’re just meeting to become good friends. But pipe has really allowed us to do that too, because we’re able to turn some of our monthly customers, and convert them as if they were paying us annually. So we can kind of pull forward some of that annual cash flow from those folks through Pipe, and we pay them a small percentage of that, which is, which has been a huge game changer for us.

Dan Hightower: [00:34:07] Yeah, they’re a total game changer. I mean, especially this doesn’t really, I mean, your contract value is solid. When my background like Enterprise, when you’re dealing with  large contract values, where the customer is less likely to just voluntarily pay up front and you end up extending that like discount to sweeten the deal to get them to pay up front. That’s where pipe just crushes it for me. I’m super excited about that product.

So, how many people like full time are you right now?

Mike Preuss: [00:34:41] Yeah, so, Visible’s eight full time people, hopefully going into nine here in the next week or so, and then 10, probably the by, by the end of the year. But, eight full time people that are part of the business.

Dan Hightower: [00:34:53] And you’re in Seattle, are they nearby or are they everywhere?

Mike Preuss: [00:34:57] Yeah, so, everywhere. So we started Visible, even like the origins of Visible kind of remote. I was in San Francisco at the time and some team was in Indianapolis and some in Wilmington, Indiana. So we’ve kind of always been remote even from, from kind of the origin story. But then as we brought on full time people in the business, like one of our first engineers was, was in Montreal, for example, we’ve been, we’ve been remote. So we’ve been remote from, from the get go.

Dan Hightower: [00:35:24] Right on. Okay. So, your product is like about keeping investors aligned. I’m curious, did you eat your dog food? Like, do you drink your own Koolaid? Do you use visible to keep your like team up on company progress? Or how do you keep your remote team aligned? If not.

Mike Preuss: [00:35:46] Yeah. So, we use Visible. I use Visible as well every week. So every week I’ll send out an update. Typically Monday I’ll send out an update right in the morning, kind of outlining the metrics from the prior week. And then we’ll talk through things this week on our team calls. So we definitely dog food and it’s something fun, was that I just wrote an email to the entire team back in. but like a quarter or two ago, when we launched our new investor product and I just said, Hey, I’m giving all of you $20 million and I want you to go invest in 10 startups of your choice. And I need you to report to me every quarter about how those, how your portfolio is performing. it just is a fun exercise for us to dog food the investor product as well.

So we definitely, we definitely dog food our products and in terms of staying aligned, I think we continue to get better at it. And it’s something we, we put a lot of thought into as a remote team. So we have, kind of a quick breakdown. So we do two off-sites a year where everyone gets together the team and we’ll drive strategy for kind of that half of the year coming up. So like our last one, was in, was in Barcelona. We got together and that’s where we did a lot of the strategy around our fundraising tool that you mentioned and the debt investor database. So a lot of that came from, from that offsite. So we do two, we have two offsets a year. What we’ll do and kind of talk about high level strategy for six months. And then from there, we run what’s called cycles. Where it’s kinda it’s stolen from, Base camp and 37 signals. I’m a huge fan of it, where we’ll break our strategy down into kind of eight week chunks.

And so in those eight weeks you spent two weeks purely from a product perspective, kind of just planning what you want to build and why you want to build it. Writing, kind of doing some fat market sketches of product, talking about what it can and cannot do and everything you build can either has to be shipped in six weeks. So the idea here, how do we innovate and build without having a project run more than six weeks at best, if it’s at the end of those six weeks, we’d kill it. Or, or maybe we decide to, to do another kind of extend it. So we run those cycles. Those have been huge by the way. We’re, we’re definitely a big fan. It allows us, it’s kind of scary when you’re thinking about startups and how fast you should move. Like man taking two weeks off of that, doing any kind of like true coding or development is scary, but it actually allows us to really think through the entire experience, both from a user perspective, but also like the customer.  So we run cycles and then, on a weekly basis you know, we try to be, this is also a fine balance when you’re dealing with a remote team. I’m sure a lot of people even just that are now we’re forcing the remote or feeling this, but how do you balance, asynchronous work? Cause it was a ton of, benefits to doing things asynchronously, with like, Team culture and collaboration and making sure that we’re like, you know, kind of thinking through things together in real time.

So, we’re always kind of testing and iterating there, but, every Monday morning we get together as a team and do a team call review metrics and priorities for the week. Tuesdays is when kind of the product teams together. We’ll talk through product and marketing and go to market. And then Thursday is usually a show and tell of some sort, whether that’s something someone’s built for the marketing site or products, and everyone gets to collaborate there and then we’ll do design, sprints, and yeah and stuff like that throughout the different cycles. But that’s how we think about it kind of from a top down, keeping everyone, online.

Dan Hightower: [00:39:20] That’s awesome. So for your, this is something that I struggle with in my company. There’s back and forth on, you were talking about asynchronous communication, synchronous coms, scheduling your like all hands team zoom meetings.

Mike Preuss: [00:39:37] Yep.

Dan Hightower: [00:39:38] How do you think about that? Like, tactically during the week, do you have like a Monday kickoff or how does it go?

Mike Preuss: [00:39:44] Yeah. So there’s the Monday kickoff and it’s at 7:00 AM my time here, Pacific. So it’s certainly early. and that’s because it used to be 9:00 AM when I lived in Chicago and we have people in Europe on the team, so we try to, you know, make it convenient for everybody. So. The earliest is like 7:00 AM, but we had all hands on 7:00 AM and that’s where, everyone, so. You know, I’ll review things and then everyone’s going to go around kind of round Robin style since we’re only nine. And I’m going to talk through my priorities for the week. And then everyone gives thanks to another team member for something that they helped them move the week prior.

From that, you know, will definitely spur a conversation like, Hey, let’s pair together this week on certain things or, Hey,  Anna, I need to get with you on this billing thing I’m working through. So that’ll kind of spur like, Oh, here are some kind of like other quick things I need to pop up and pair with someone on. So everyone gets together on Tuesdays. Thursdays, we do another kind of standup kind of shown and tell and then, or sorry on Thursdays. And then on Tuesdays is when we’ll get together with the respective teams. So we’ll go through like your typical kind of engineering or product standups. On Tuesday morning we’ll go through those and talk through, Hey, here are the things I’m working on. Here’s where I’m stuck or blocked maybe it’s something with copy or a certain mockup, or maybe it’s an engine or something that’s actually blocking from the technical side. So we’ll talk through those Tuesday. And then Tuesday afternoon is when we do our go to market stand up.

Dan Hightower: [00:41:17] Right on. Sounds like a good game plan. Okay. So wrapping up, let’s talk some secret weapons. The things that give you this, like unfair advantage in your work in life.

I’ll bring up some questions. You tell me really quick what your secret weapon is for it, and just like briefly, why? So what is your secret weapon for personal learning?

Mike Preuss: [00:41:43] Personal learning secret weapon. I love, I do love reading, and consuming content. And I personally use an app called Raindrop, that just like, lets me bookmark or manage certain things. So I read an interesting article, I’ll put it in there or save it to read later and I can kind of tag things and search them later. So, for me, yeah, I use Raindrop. It’s kind of like Instapaper or pocket. What have you, but love reading, and particularly because. I love being able to help founders in our community and our customers. So if we’re kind of always up to date with what’s going on in the ecosystem or market, we’re better able to help serve those founders or customers, whether it’s someone that needs help with hiring or, maybe I needed help with the financial model. We can hopefully point you to the latest, best practices, tools, trends, or you with the right people. So that’s, that’s a big one for me in the company.

Dan Hightower: [00:42:39] Your personal learning is like your content plan

Mike Preuss: [00:42:42] Yeah, it really is.

Dan Hightower: [00:42:46] That’s cool. Okay. So you touched on that earlier with something you guys do in your standup meetings, which is thanking another team member for something that they helped out with. So what is your secret weapon for team culture? Is that it or is there like…

Mike Preuss: [00:43:01] For us it’s called harmony . And you know, when we first started the company, you always kind of hear about work life balance and that’s certainly become even way more blurred than I even was before, like pre COVID-19, call it 2019 and before I think people always like, Oh yeah, we have this great workplace balance. I don’t really prescribe to that. I think there’s just life, what you do happens to be part of, of life. And so, we, you know, have really talked about this idea of harmony at Visible and it doesn’t mean that like everything’s like, yeah, I work 30 hours a week. It’s how do I have harmony? And in that like, Hey, sometimes, like we just did this last cycle where I asked a lot of everyone, I said, yes, there’s three really big things we need to do and we want to do them now. And I expect everyone to, you know, come with the best foot forward and it’s gonna be hard. We succeeded and we did it. That’s not sustainable though. And so I think there’s always this idea of harmony and taking time off when you need it. And even during COVID, you know, every couple of weeks, I just told everyone to take Friday off, right? Cause no one was traveling or, or wanting to leave. So, harmony is a big one. So that’s kind of like our secret weapon is like, what I’ve realized, is that just because you’re working more hours or your, your butts in a chair doesn’t mean you’re actually more productive and we have a lot of bit data to back that up, I think as well.

Dan Hightower: [00:44:20] Yeah. So do you just like ask the team, is everyone in harmony? Or like, how do you…how do you check in from time to time?

Mike Preuss: [00:44:29] Yeah, yeah. It’s more gut. I think it kind of, you kind of extrapolate it from one on ones. I think you can kind of sense when people are like, maybe getting slightly burnt out or, or frustrated with something. I try to qualitative or quantitatively get it from people as well. Like, Hey, how are you feeling on a scale of one to three,  like good, bad, or indifferent? I haven’t found anything interesting there, truthfully, I think a lot of people just say the same thing every week. But for, yeah, I think it’s kind of just sensing, you kind of have a sense of like, when you’re talking to people one on one or what we’re doing, like, Hey, are we feeling like burnt out or energized? Or, or how do we feel, kind of collectively?

Dan Hightower: [00:45:08] That makes sense. Okay. Last one, secret weapon. All right so all of the things that you license, all of the software tools that you license at Visible, which one is like, if you had to pick one, what’s your secret weapon? The one you like not everyone’s using that you’ve like, you feel like you have this like,

Mike Preuss: [00:45:25] Oh man,

Dan Hightower: [00:45:26] I don’t even want to, you don’t even want to post about it. You’re just like, this is…

Mike Preuss: [00:45:30] I love Metabase. So my original answer was going to be segment, which I think is fairly well known from an analytics tool. So we’re, we’re fairly data-driven with a lot of what we do. But like, I think everyone kinda knows about Segment, we’re huge fans of Metabase, which, is this kind of open source, free BI tool, and segments plugged into that. So it’s kind of a cheat, but a huge fans of Metabase. It allows anyone on the team to kind of ask questions about the product or business and, and have everything accessible.

And if you want to write sequel, you can. But I think, you know, great cultures usually have a, I think that you asked everyone that, ask companies who has a great culture, and then you ask those people what makes it great? I think transparency is one of them. And so, you know, the goal with Metabase is that anyone at anytime can see how a particular product is performing or the business was performing, or people are using certain features. And, that’s, it’s great. Right? Cause then it helps us also identify like, Hey, what products should we think about sunsetting? Cause like a lot of times we’ll be like, Hey, we need that. I’m the one that’s most guilty of that. And then we can kind of see after we build it in test, like, are people actually using it or not?

Dan Hightower: [00:46:43] That’s huge. I mean, you talked earlier about the things you don’t do as being important in sprint planning so, that’s like a super helpful little tool there.  Alright. Awesome Mike. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. It’s been amazing. And thank you listeners for listening and please subscribe for more amazing conversations with venture backed founders like Mike. And you can find the notes from this episode @productmarketmisfits.com.