049: A Membership Teaching How To Build Software Without Code – with Ben Tossel

Ben Tossell, founder of Makerpad joins Ward to chat about how his company teaches people how to build software without writing code. Makerpad helps empower people to build almost anything online with needing a developer.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any typos 🙂

Ben Tossell 0:38
Thanks so much for having me.

Ward Sandler 0:40
Yeah, yeah. So let’s start off with what is your business and who are you trying to help?

Ben Tossell 0:44
Yeah, so I run a company called maker pad and we teach people how to build software without writing code. So it could be a professional who’s trying to automate stuff at work, or could be someone trying to build a membership site. For example. Gotcha. So you say you help people build software. So if someone has an idea for pretty much anything, and they don’t know how to code or don’t have development skills, maker pad would make sense for them to check out. Yeah, definitely we Is it difficult, like, big audience to try and speak to. So saying things like build tools or build projects, build products of software, build automations, but workflows, it could be any of those things. So it’s, it’s tough. But yeah, we basically whatever you can think of, we’re more than likely be able to get you to that place, or at least 80% of the way there without writing code.

Ward Sandler 1:39
Right. And for folks that aren’t still quite aren’t sure what that means. So writing code obviously means writing code, but putting things together or through something like maker pad, it uses what’s called like no code tools. So that’s just different pieces of software that you basically point and click and connect them to each other. So there’s no technical knowledge needed, you still need to understand the system. Within each piece of software, right, but you don’t need to, you don’t need to know anything about coding to use them.

Ben Tossell 2:05
Yeah, you don’t even know how to like, spin up your terminal and start writing the actual code. You just use existing tools out there. And you basically connect them together to perform like custom software word.

Ward Sandler 2:18
Right, right. So how did you actually fall into and find this business niche?

Ben Tossell 2:24
By accident? Which is an answer, I don’t really like giving because I’ve ever been in like, trying to think of when I was younger, trying to think of all What’s the idea i’m going to be and then hearing podcasts of people saying, Oh, I found this by accident. And well, that’s no help to me. You want to know how to like actually find the answer. But for me, I was trying to build other ideas. And I just didn’t know how to code and the only options at that point were basically learn to code or find someone technical to code it for you. And realistically, like, I have ideas all the time and most probably all of them were terrible. So there’s no point me learning to build this one idea of 18 months of coding, and then it’d be just thrown away or trying to convince someone of this big idea, split an equity Donnelly’s agreement and then get to it and be like, yeah, this didn’t work was just complete rubbish. So I just found different tools that I sort of thought, well, I could, I could have this sort of website up. And then I could use type form to take a payment and make it feel like there’s like a software product there. So I was doing these for multiple ideas. And then none of those caught on, which was upsetting at the time, but people were still interested. So I figured, and found out that it was the process of how I was building these things that the people were interested in, not in the actual ideas themselves.

Ward Sandler 3:49
Well, I think that’s the key right there because you’re trying to do something. And through that you realized you have a need and a problem. I can’t build software, but I want to build software, and I want to Do it cheaply and quickly. And then without all the overhead of a partner and equity and all that, and then after you started building stuff without code, and those tools or products you created weren’t necessarily, you know, popular or didn’t really take off in a business sense. You still were paying attention to realize that, hey, people are interested in the process of how I made this not necessarily the final product, which again, it’s I wouldn’t say that’s nothing, I wouldn’t say it’s by accident, I would say that’s you paying attention listening, which is a skill a lot of people could could do a better job with.

Ben Tossell 4:32
Yeah, I mean, if he didn’t listen straightaway, and I was just like, it was more like a reflection. And I’ve found the reflections be quite beneficial over the over the years of like, every few weeks, few months, or whatever it is, just look back and think, Wait, is this the same thing I wanted to build? Is this the same thing? Am I building it in the way I want to build it? Am I running it in the way I want to run it? Is it all sort of on track or am I missing something and people are To on my podcast, we had Nathan berry on from ConvertKit. Who wrote who said, like, even just writing down the assumptions initially when you do the thing, it’s just a good exercise because then when you look back and think, holy shit, that was like a terrible, terrible idea. How do I not see that, then? At least you’ve got that to look back online and you can reflect on it.

Ward Sandler 5:19
Yeah, almost like a Business Journal of some kind.

Ben Tossell 5:22
Yeah, I mean, I’m not a journalist. So I wouldn’t call it like that. But yeah, it’s interesting to see and just look back on. Does this thing look like? I wanted it to look like, right, right.

Ward Sandler 5:32
Okay, cool. So what are you actually charging for maker pad?

Ben Tossell 5:36
So currently, we have a lifetime membership, which is $600. We’ve got some business enterprise plans. And we have a yearly plan, which is $350. Okay, so 600 for lifetime 350 for for yearly, so that’s a yearly recurring plan. Yes.

Ward Sandler 5:56
Okay. So and then then there’s the enterprise which we’ll dive into in a second. So the sixth Under lifetime, that’s pretty straightforward. That gives you access for life to all of the content on maker pad, right?

Ben Tossell 6:06
Yeah. All the content of any content we release in the future.

Ward Sandler 6:09
Right? Okay. And then for the yearly so why is there a $600 lifetime than a $350 a year plan?

Ben Tossell 6:16
Well, this is old testing like pricing for me is always in testing mode. And I mean it, it may frustrate people sometimes when prices change, but I think that if you’re not going to buy it then in there then it’s obviously not valid. The value is not there for you to purchase at that point. But essentially maker pad was a side project for me for a long time. About nine months. So I had a lifetime membership then because it was just a fun thing. And it was getting like 2030 k a month in revenue and I was like sweet, this is just like, extra money for me. This is awesome. But this is fine. I didn’t want to have the intricacies of or stress even All thinking of going to have a monthly pricing, I’ve got to have a yearly pricing. Because every month if you have a monthly price, and I think you have to start from scratch and say, okay, right, I’m gonna make sure these 20 people on this tier. And now like convinced to also buy it for the next month and buy it for the next month. Everyone’s got a growing number of subscriptions happening monthly and yearly now. So for me at that point, I was like, Well, I don’t want to be another subscription. So I just gave lifetime. And people loved it. And then we switched to yearly because it became a business and I thought lifetime wasn’t a very good business model. And we’ve tested monthly a couple of times. And it’s never really been my favorite, to say the least. But then on the flip side, and again, I think we want to test lifetime again, because it seems like that’s what people want to want to do and want to have, like been able to do that. It’s not a normal thing for a company to offer a lifetime. memberships, I think people really value it. And knowing they can get in, probably get the value worse in the first month or two if not less. And then everything else is a bonus. They become like a champion of your product and your community. And everything’s just like, it’s not transactional anymore. like they’ve done the thing they’ve paid, gone through a few courses when I polish it, I’ve done. I’ve built some stuff without code, you’ve already promised me and delivered what you wanted. Now, I’m just like, getting all these extra benefits. So we’re playing with that and seeing how it is, and especially now with current climates with the COVID-19 stuff we were thinking of doing lifetime and we’ve just brought it forward. And you said, right, we’ll try it now because people may not want to think about having a payment on a recurring basis. So maybe we’ll, we’ll test it and it’s been pretty good so far. So it’s, we’re looking into it more and more.

Ward Sandler 8:54
Yeah. Now, there’s a lot of things I want to dive into. So number one, the fact that yeah, it’s $600 lifetime. And to some folks that might seem like Wow, that’s really expensive. Oh, there’s that might sound like a reasonable price to pay for something. But what’s interesting is that for the people that think it’s a good deal, they will get a lot of goodwill out of that price, right? So they’ll pay 600, they make a project or two. And they feel like, Yeah, I got my money’s worth, especially if they’re able to generate money via the projects they built because of maker pad. So anything that they do after they get that, you know, quote, unquote, ROI, is just complete gravy. It’s just goodwill, and that’s just gonna make them happier and happier. And like you said, more and more of an evangelical about maker pad. So I think that makes sense. And then the other side of what you were talking about with trying that monthly plan. I think a lot of folks out there, especially in the membership community, and entrepreneurs, kind of assume Of course, you want to charge monthly, right? That’s the holy grail of recurring revenue. But for a lot of business models that just doesn’t make sense. And I think for maker pad that might be one of them. Because there is the That other the other side, the double edged sword of, yeah, you’re getting money each month, but you also have to deliver explicit value each month. And for something like what you’re providing in your context, someone, you know, in January might be, you know, let’s go build a project, let’s go launch a business. And then let’s say it doesn’t work out. And then February, they’re doing consulting, they don’t have time to build something. So they don’t want to be paying for something in February because they’re not using it. But then maybe March or April comes around, they want to try a different side project. So for what you’re providing, it’s just like, Hey, we’re here the whole time. There’s a lot of stuff here to go through. And anyone out there who actually follows maker pad knows that y’all are constantly releasing things constantly making new content, new articles, new workshops, so it’s not like it’s a stagnant thing of like, Here’s 20 videos and just use it when you want. It’s constantly growing and evolving. So I think that model that you’re talking about makes a lot of sense to me.

Ben Tossell 10:55
Yeah, I think like, realistically if makeup had was more of a tool, so An example is ConvertKit. For me, I use ConvertKit as a tool to send my weekly newsletters. And like, I can’t do that myself, I have to use an email marketing tool for that, whatever it is, whether it’s MailChimp, ConvertKit, or mailer light or whatever else. So for today, of course, I’m going to pay yearly monthly because I need to use that tool for an education. It seems, it seems strange to pay monthly because like you said, you’re in different frames of mind in different times of the year. And it may be that that one month, you spin out five to 10 projects, or you learn that many things, and then you’ve got that information to then know how to build stuff for the next six months, seven months. And it just feels like a weird dynamic to charge and to be paying monthly to get access to like lessons essentially. And if you think of it, you said that 600 might seem a lot of focus And good values for other folks. I completely empathize with that. But I think there’s like, if you look, if you go out there and look at courses, I mean, essentially what we have is just a lot of courses. And some of them are packaged up in like a structured boot camp and some of them are just sort of standalone tutorials. But tutorial a bootcamp course. Essentially, it’s a video with text that teaches you how to do something, whatever you call it. So if you look at some courses, it’s not unheard of, for people to drop $2,000 on a course or $700 on a course for like one course for motion design or something like that. But when it comes to like, you add the word membership on there, people just don’t think of it in the same way. So we’re trying to close off the fact that of thinking of it, like a monthly yearly membership type of product and more of a Hey, I can like get access to learn all these courses. All these dudes camps in one payment. So that’s why we think, obviously, I think 600 is a steal. And I imagine when we have the price again, I’ll be thinking the same thing because like you said, more and more things get added all the time. We have new sounds and new things. So yeah, I think that’s how I that’s how I see it is a bit different to tool based membership, I suppose.

Ward Sandler 13:22
Yeah, I mean, lifetime as a membership pricing model isn’t unheard of it. You’re right, though. It’s not the it’s not the norm. But it’s not crazy either. And something just popped in my head, you’ve probably thought about this, for folks that maybe don’t have the cash flow for 600 lifetime, but see the value. Have you considered doing like multiple payments, like, say, three payments of 250. And like they’re contractually obligated to pay that even if they you know, quote, unquote, want to cancel something like that?

Ben Tossell 13:46
I haven’t. Yes, because I haven’t had people reach out about that yet. And I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know how to set that up. I assume I’ll be able to do in some sort of strike plan or something. But I don’t know what if someone like I just imagine it’s okay. Someone’s trying to get it cheaper. And then they’ll go, Oh, yeah, I’m just going to cancel this and then do a do one of those fraud things on stripe, and then I’ll have to deal with that on that side. So I don’t know, I haven’t really looked into it or thought much about it. But maybe that’s something we were we will look at. Yeah, just curious. So yeah.

Ward Sandler 14:18
How did you actually build up that audience then for maker pad? Because I assume you didn’t just launch and it worked like you weren’t launching to crickets. So how did you get people to even know about you and be paying attention and invested in maker pad before you launched?

Ben Tossell 14:30
Yeah, well, I used to work up products. And I’m sure people in Twitter will always say that’s how I got followers and things like that, which was true. At that point. I had some a few thousand followers from products and times when my only use was getting you on the homepage. And then when I left. It just it just continued to grow. And I think I kept on putting stuff out there like these ideas and I was building without code and sort of showing behind the scenes or just doing little gifts and videos. And how he’s doing it. And I mean, I’ve never really put too much effort that I’ve thought of like, into growing an audience or anything like that it sort of has happened naturally for me, which is very, very lucky. But yeah, I mean, I was I was putting out all this content, people could hate it, which is why you can unfollow people, but people can like it, which is why you end up having followers. So people were just finding me that way. And then, like, it just, it just grew from there. I think there was like a list of 800 800 or 1000 people on my launch list, because I did a blog post, which is like, here’s the five projects to start building without code. I did that a while before maker pad and had like a building something didn’t know what I was going to be. I just sort of knew that you need to have email addresses. So I had that to the emails and then started from there.

Ward Sandler 15:53
Yeah, so I mean, if I could kind of summarize that I would say you were kind of working in public and sharing what you were learning, right?

Ben Tossell 16:02
Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

Ward Sandler 16:03
So there wasn’t some overarching here’s my Twitter strategy and my content release schedule or anything like that. It was just, you follow what you’re interested in what you’re passionate about, and you just were sharing what you were learning along the way.

Ben Tossell 16:15
Yeah, exactly. I was like, Well, okay, other than phone bills, and that’d be in Baekeland today. And then I’ll build it and like, cool. That was, that was pretty sweet on I’ll just put on Twitter. And then sometimes it took off and send those in.

Ward Sandler 16:27
Yeah, but I mean, you took swings, you shot your shot, you had to keep trying and putting things out there. And I assume as you were doing that you were also getting feedback from people that were like, Oh, this is awesome. Or I want more of this, or you would not hear that and you’d be like, okay, that would assume sort of shape the next sort of project you would work on or share.

Ben Tossell 16:45
Yeah, yeah, it was definitely early on. There was a lot of the clone style tutorials because they’re the sort of reference points that people understand that people understand when Airbnb clone is going to be like people understand what an Instagram clone is going to be like, but Now we’re transitioning away from that, luckily. Gotcha. So what have you done? Like, what are some, I guess, business strategies or initiatives that you’ve tried that just really haven’t worked? We have a, I don’t know how many we’ve tried. I don’t know if there’s too many really, we haven’t really done much marketing. And luckily, a lot of it has been word of mouth, which, again, is not helpful for people who are trying to figure stuff out. But we did do, we signed up to reward for and had like a affiliate program, I suppose it’s called. And it’s not one of those things that you just can set up and then assume that everyone’s just going to do it and it’s going to be easy, then all of a sudden, you get all this viral growth. Like I think you need to have like, people dedicated to, like helping people on your referral program. Like be successful. I know people like morning brew, haven’t really successful one another’s but there’s like a whole there’s a whole product there. There’s a whole Team looking into that and refining it and tweaking it but I just set it up and I mean we get trickles every now and then but it’s just not a it’s not like a growth engine that’s let’s work along.

Ward Sandler 18:13
Yeah, it doesn’t really move the needle it sounds like Yeah, Yeah, I agree with with affiliates like we were talking about converting earlier like affiliate revenue is like a huge source of revenue for ConvertKit I know that’s been a big success for them. But I think the way to think about affiliate programs is almost like you have a Salesforce like a small little sales team or a big sales team. And you’re gonna have some people that are like star performers who are like killing it and generating the vast majority of the of the affiliate links that are coming in. So be treating it like a Salesforce like a team of people you need to nurture to make them successful. It makes sense, right? As opposed to here’s a link Good luck. Hopefully you can get us some business horse as opposed to, you know, we have someone here to help you to answer any questions you have maybe to help you with any kind of like collateral or marketing material to help you Sell, you know maker pad. In your case. See, I think that’s a good lesson to think about that you can’t just put something out there and hope it works. You have to everything is everything. Everything takes time. Everything that you want to do well requires effort. It’s not just going to work automatically.

Ben Tossell 19:13
Yeah, absolutely. I’m when I’m putting together learning from that we’re putting together like a meetup program with workshops and everything else. But obviously with current environment were put a little hold on that for now. We’ll see. We’ll see how we pick up with that later in the year.

Ward Sandler 19:27
Awesome. So Jim, any resource recommendations for folks that are trying to build membership businesses out there?

Ben Tossell 19:32
Well, I’ve started listened to my first million from Sampath from the hustle and Shawn, who is now at Twitch, and they just like, talk about different business ideas and all sorts of stuff like that. And Sam has a he runs the hustle, like I said, with an email list and trends, and that’s like a membership site. So they always get into different business types and how to build and set up some of these things which is quite Interesting. Listen.

Ward Sandler 20:01
Very cool. So how can people learn more about maker pad?

Ben Tossell 20:04
It’s makerpad.co. or on Twitter @makerpad Instagram @makerpad. And yeah, that’s where we’re mostly hanging out.

Ward Sandler 20:13
And you mentioned you have a podcast as well.

Ben Tossell 20:15
Yeah. To be released. It’s gonna be released next week, which is last week of March.

Ward Sandler 20:19
Okay. Yeah. Well, this will be out after that. So what’s the name of the podcast?

Ben Tossell 20:24
It’ll be the maker pad podcast.

Ward Sandler 20:27
To be determined. Yeah. Well, I’m sure I’m sure people can Google maker pad podcast and find it.

Ben Tossell 20:31
Yeah, find it.

Ward Sandler 20:33
Alright, then. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Really appreciate it.

Ben Tossell 20:37
Yeah, thanks a lot for having me.