071: Building a membership without a developer – with Joanna Auburn

Joanna Auburn is the Co-founder and CPO at Trace, a company that helps people to take climate action by offsetting their carbon footprint. In this episode, she joins Ward to discuss how to combine no-code tools to create your dream membership.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler: Welcome everybody today. I’m talking to Joanna Auburn, the co-founder and CPO at Trace, a company that empowers individuals and businesses to take immediate climate action by measuring and offsetting their carbon footprint. She has a Master in Sustainable Civil Engineering and a long career in renewable and sustainable energy. Most recently, she spent four years as a Lead Product Manager. Joanna, welcome to the Membership Maker Podcast. We’re thrilled to have you here!

Joanna Auburn: Hi, yes, a pleasure to be here. Thank you!

Ward Sandler: Sure thing. Sometimes people are reluctant to start a membership site because they don’t have the technical knowledge or skills. You’ve built a business without being technical or having a developer. Can you tell us how that process was?

Joanna Auburn: Well, yes. Now, this was a learning curve from the very beginning, the co-founder and I, we always got the comments of do you not have a CTO? or have you got a developer? How are you going to handle everything? And honestly, that was a real weight on my shoulders with this being this sort of half of the business that I look after, so it was something that definitely played on my mind. I’ve worked as a product manager for the last seven years. So that means I’ve been surrounded by technical people, technical lingo, and I might have a technical mindset, but I have never formally learned software development. So, I could by no means build anything fully from scratch, and when you’re a PM, you always have a team of engineers to lean on to actually do the implementing for you and figure that thing out that you can’t do, and as the Co-founder of Trace, like I certainly didn’t! So there were, there was a lot of roller coaster moments for me with this one, but I think the key thing here is understanding what you want in micro terms, so right, draw flow diagram, sketch it out. Like what system you want to talk to another system, like I want members space to tell my email CRM, who that person is so that I can contact them, and then, you know, you’ve got to get an email from one system to another system and there’s loads of amazing tools that can help. I think breaking things down, firstly, so that you really understand the one thing that needs to happen to make that true is really, really important, and I think for me, I was overwhelmed by actually how far we could get without developers, no discredit to developers. I’ve worked with them all my life, and it’s an absolutely amazing career, but yeah there are so many tools out there you can really get so, so far nowadays with all of the tools that are available. I took advice from different people talk to different people, who’ve built things themselves before, but ultimately you’ve got to just try tools. I think you’ve just got to try stuff out. And one thing I would, might sound really, really obvious, but if you don’t understand their Wiki or kind of goats ads, articles on how to implement the tool. Then you’re not going to be able to use the tool, so I just looked for, tools that had either great forums, great knowledge basis, great wikis, or a huge online community. Online chat has been really helpful to me, or very responsive email coming from those providers just to make sure you’ve got that support if you need it and don’t feel sort of backed into a corner or anything. I think the other thing that overwhelmed me with this process was thinking really far ahead. So, you know, in day one of your business that you’re going to build something that’s probably going to be in the bed, by six months time, and you’re gonna read on it because you might’ve even pivoted what you’re solving for, it’s just so overwhelming, so you’re like, what do I pay for, what do I not pay for? Like, I have no idea. I think just making sure you’re locked into contracts is definitely a good tip, and just try and look like six months ahead. Don’t worry too much about what happens after that. I think I have told you this, last year I thought we would have needed a team of engineers by now, and we still don’t. So, we’re still rolling and it’s fine. So, yeah, it is a journey, but you can get really far, a lot further than you think.

Ward Sandler: Congratulations by the way, for making it so far without having to hire a developer, that’s a definitely a serious cost that if you can avoid it good job, and I think also we’re at a kind of a Goldilocks period, in some ways, of the internet where you can build. pretty robust software, without needing a developer by just kind of putting third-party tools together that can work, that can work together. And that’s something that wasn’t really possible even necessarily a few years ago, so it’s good that you’re able to kinda take advantage of the modern times of that. But what you were saying earlier, I think was really, really clever in terms of writing out really the user interface that you were imagining, like all like the flow diagram of like, okay, when a user goes here, I want them to be able to click on this and this. I want that to lead to a form, and I want that form to have these fields, and when they submit the form, I want them to go over here, like all of the nuances of that, although yes, it’s definitely work, definitely manual, it is very valuable. Even if you are working with developers, just to be clear, like I’m someone who works with developers, I’m a partl developer myself and breaking down your thinking and not assuming things is a great way just to create software or websites in general. So I think that’s really smart that you did that, and then you also have like a map to go back to, to be like, ‘All right, I want to edit something you can see when you’re editing that, what other flows that might affect’ Cause it’s already been mapped out. You don’t have to remember, ‘Oh yeah. What else touches that?’ So I think that’s a really, really smart thing to do. Did you have you done that since the very beginning? That was just you just kind of knew that from working in product development?

Joanna Auburn: Yeah, it’s something that I would do in product. development, just so that you can have that conversation with the engineers, I guess, and break down the problem that you’re solving, and then it just became particularly valuable to me for Trace, cause I was kind of setting up the website through to the member experience then through to the CRM and then if they want to cancel, how they cancel and how they would, we would confirm that back from the CRM, and it was like, ‘Oh, I need all these systems to tell each other things at different points of that customer’s journey’ and when you start thinking about that without drawing it, for me it was overwhelming, but as soon as you start drawing it, it becomes a lot simpler and you realize you just need like one little identifier and everything will be fine!

Ward Sandler: Yeah. Yeah. It’s hard to keep all that in your head. You’re prone to manual error for sure and the other, I think interesting, you know, positive I guess thing about this process you described is, If you’re writing out the user experience and you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be great, It’s going to be perfect’, If you have to actually write out each step that a user needs to take to accomplish something you’ll very quickly see, wow, this is convoluted or, wow, this is a lot of steps, this isn’t going to work and, and you haven’t wasted much time. You just wrote it down on a piece of paper before you had an engineer or someone on your team, build that out with no-code tools. Instead of wasting all that time, being like, wait, this is too complicated. We have to start over. You just had, you just wrote it on a piece of paper, like a rough draft, and you’re like, nope, this is too complicated. Let’s rethink this before we start building anything. Is that kind of that helped you as well?

Joanna Auburn: Yeah. A hundred percent! You realize very quickly like, wow, this has like 20 steps in it, and they’ve not even put their credit card details in yet or something, and you’re like, this is too much. It becomes obvious!

Ward Sandler: Like how did I not see it? But sometimes, you need to write things out to kind of just visually see it.

Joanna Auburn: Totally, totally!

Ward Sandler: That’s super interesting. So, yeah. All right, Joanna, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We really appreciate it. We’d like to share and resources or recommendations for folks that are trying to more about trace,

Joanna Auburn: Yeah, I say the one thing you should do is calculate your carbon footprint. If you head over to our website www.our-trace.com and just scroll down the homepage, you’ll find a test to calculate your carbon footprint. We’ve got little Aussie animals which have been very popular at the end of that, so I hope you’re all perfect possums or conscientious koalas. It’ll help you understand in three minutes, understand more about how you’re having an impact on the world.

Ward Sandler: Great, that sounds wonderful. Everybody check them out!

Joanna Auburn: Thanks for having me.