Join us at Agency Transformation Live 2022, an in-person here in the UK.
S45-E1 - Featuring Michael Sanders
September 2, 2022
🎙 Michael shares his agency journey from musician to Co-founder of DoneDone
Project and task management are key to any WordPress agency. For the last year at Trailblazer FM, we’ve been using DoneDone as our Basecamp replacement! We connected with Michael to learn more about how DoneDone was born.
Michael shares how they balanced client work and the development and launch of the original DoneDone Classic, which began as a bug tracker. He shares how they evolved the product with a new version. And how they attracted people to the product and much more.
One of my biggest takeaways was to do things simply and well. I was also impressed by their ethos of receiving customer feedback and only making changes to the product that made sense. You can check out their roadmap here.
Check out DoneDone on: www.donedone.com
Join us at Agency Transformation Live 2022, an in-person here in the UK.
Lee: Welcome to Trailblazer FM. This is Lee. And on today’s show, we have the young, the handsome. It’s Mr. Michael Sanders from DoneDone. How are you mate?
Michael: Very good. Thanks for the warm introduction.
Lee: That’s all right. I have it on good authority as well. I’ve seen your profile picture. Unless that’s a stock image.
Michael: No, no, that is actually me. Sounds like this is turning into an episode of Loveline or something like that.
Lee: It’s like the most flirtatious start of any show I’ve ever done.
Michael: I’m into it. It’s okay.
Lee: Guys. If you don’t know who Michael is, you can check out the website DoneDone.com and DoneDone does what it says on the tin. It is an incredibly cool project management system that we’ve been using internally now for a few weeks and we wanted to meet you, Michael, and find out more about the history of your product. So before we do that, can we just get a little kind of 60 seconds intro into the world of who Michael is, where he’s from, what his favorite color is, maybe favorite drink or maybe something people don’t know about you?
Michael: Yeah, well, I grew up in Detroit, and then once I became of college age, moved out to Chicago, spent a good 15 years there, or 16 or 17, don’t even know, and then moved down to Austin, Texas in like 2014 or so. I’m a recovering musician, which is why I ended up in Austin, and I live with my lovely girlfriend Marcelle, and our pit bull Duke. He’s meaner than he looks. He’s actually really nice.
Lee: And music wise. What was your genre? Is that the right word?
Michael: Genre? Yeah, we could use. I mean, I’m a I’m a guitar player just like virtually every musician in Austin. But music was I mean, it was usually like rock format stuff, but I enjoy playing everything really jazz country.
Lee: I like that. That’s a good thing.
Michael: Prog, all the fun stuff.
Lee: I have an Antoria jazz guitar of which I can play approximately zero jazz on. I feel a little bit ashamed of that.
Michael: Yeah, jazz is fun
Lee: On this podcast, mate. We love to go back in time and we have actually worked out how to time travel and we’d love to jump into the TARDIS with you and go back maybe whilst you were playing the guitar, I don’t know, and find out a little bit about pre DoneDone life. So what were you doing before DoneDone sparked in your imagination?
Michael: Yeah. So I guess I’m not sure how far we should go back, but in the early 2000s, I am that old. I was just, you know, the internet was kind of like a new thing. I was working as a web developer and then found, like, a nice niche. I mean, this is way back when flash development and all that stuff was huge in the advertising and marketing world. So I started freelancing and eventually got a full time job at Leo Burnett in Chicago doing that kind of stuff. Where abouts? I met a very nice fellow named Craig Bryant and he and I and a third fellow who is the creator of DoneDone and my current partner. We formed an agency way back then. This was like in 2006, 2007 kind of time. You know, we started basically our own digital agency and initially many of our clients at that agency were these former ad places that we had all worked at different times. But our shop was a dev shop more than anything, initially focusing on like building all these like microsites and web apps and stuff that these marketing companies, ad agencies were hiring us to do. And that’s really where Done Done was initially born. K Well, we were all just unhappy with kind of the bug tracking and kind of collaboration tools at that time. I don’t know if anybody remembers, but like when you were doing QA and bug tracking back then, oftentimes you’d use a tool like Element Tool, which just felt like this super clunky enterprise tool that only your nerdiest of developers would use. You could never get a client to use it and all that, all that stuff. So being unhappy with that kind of tool set, Craig created his own kind of simple bug tracker because really we needed something easy enough that our clients would use and be happy to use and something like just robust enough to get the job done on our side of things. So, you know, being able to, to track defects, assign them, prioritize them, track their status on and so forth, you know, and that’s kind of the environment under which like DoneDone was originally created and the oldest of the DoneDone was probably born in like 2009. So it’s quite.
Lee: A mature product.
Michael: Yeah. And that’s where it came from, you know. But being that DoneDone was kind of the lovechild of an agency, I’m sure you can imagine, as being in the agency world yourself. All our client work and client demands really took precedent and we never. We’re really able to focus on DoneDone for any significant period of time. So Quinny, after working in doing client work and doing agency work for over ten years, we’re just kind of ready for something new and kind of burnt out on that type of work. And we left that agency that we co-founded back in 2018 to focus on DoneDone full time. And that’s where we gave birth to the DoneDone that you see and love today, hopefully love today.
Lee: Well, it’s one of the main reasons why I got you on the podcast, because I do. I’ve really enjoyed it. So I’ve never heard of Element. But is it anything similar to Bugzilla? We used to use a self-hosted version.
Michael: Oh yeah.
Lee: Years ago. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah, probably not radically different. I mean, especially when five or ten years ago when DoneDone was much more of a narrowly focused bug tracker, Bugzilla was definitely like a competitor and we’d get some of their customers, I’m sure. Unfortunately they got a few of ours and Sifter was another one. Sifter was good.
Lee: I just remember clients not being able to use Bugzilla and in terms of duplicates, etc. It was a nightmare. Now, a while back. Oh, when was this? I don’t know when the first version of Basecamp came out, but I was. I remember when Basecamp Classic came out and that was kind of a for me, it was absolutely revolutionary because we’d gone from tools like Bugzilla or just email hell to something that made quite logical sense. We were then able to get the client involved. One of the issues, though, I did find over time was the exact same thing that would happen in the inbox, which is clients would eventually stop responding or they wouldn’t necessarily use the tool and communications would break down. So how did you guys kind of look to solve that with this current iteration of DoneDone?
Michael: Yeah, that’s really interesting. A few months ago I started doing like One-on-One interviews with some of our stronger clients. Are supporters of customers actually call them clients or customers. And one of the things they appreciated about DoneDone is kind of like they kind of describe it as like friendly accountability, not only for your colleagues on your own team, but also we’ve always considered like clients to also be team members because at the end of the day, you’re all kind of collaborating on the same piece of work, you know? So when DoneDone, like every little piece of work, it’s a sign to somebody, right? So if threads are going dead or what have you, the fact that you can go into DoneDone and see everything that’s on your plate and we even have a little bulletin board called What’s on my Plate, you know, encourages people to kind of keep up on on their work. And that’s one thing that our customers, I think have appreciated about DoneDone. Like if you compare it to Basecamp specifically base camp is kind of it can be a little ambiguous sometimes. Like you just have like kind of bulletin board kind of things where people are just talking about stuff and we always found that that was a little bit too freeform because how do you know if the conversation’s over? How do you know if you’re waiting on a specific person to respond or perform some action? You really don’t. It’s just kind of like an email website and honestly, it kind of reminded me of like the late nineties kind of bulletin board kind of thing where it’s just people blabbing about stuff. So we always and part of this is just our own philosophy. We always thought it’s important to have a single owner for a piece of work at any point in time and be aware of what its status is. Is it open? Is it in progress? Is it waiting for feedback? Is it closed? And if it doesn’t have those kind of rails, oftentimes it just, as you mentioned, just atrophies and just putters out.
Lee: I like here, I’m looking at my current workload, so I’m onboarding a new employee at the moment and I’ve got a list here of all of my tasks, but I can also filter them through project, etc. nice and easy in a table format. So that’s certainly something I appreciate. And I know folks, you must think I’m fanboy ing and trying to sell you this. I’m not. I literally am just fan boying over this tool. It’s very rare. I find something that I enjoy using quite so much and rare I then get to interview the founder about it. So on DoneDone When you kind of started on your secondary version in 2018 after you’d left the agency, what was your kind of your plan for monetizing this? Because you’ve gone from kind of reassured income, as it were, through clients. You’ve got clients here, they want more work. They have projects. You can find new clients for projects. You’ve suddenly gone from that to building a new product and having to find enough people to use it to keep the lights on. What was the kind of plan to do that? Did you have investment? Did you bootstrap?
Michael: No, no, no. We’ve always been bootstrapped, I guess investments. I mean, I shouldn’t say this, but yeah, not a fan of the investment model had actually my very dear cousin, she was in the San Francisco VC world, raised a few million dollars, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Long story short, like worst experience of her life. And we left. The agency, not because we wanted to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. We left the agency because we’re getting older and a new face in life. We both had some personal things going on. We were willing to sacrifice a little bit of like, I guess, financial gain for the luxury of having like simplified focus, right? So instead of focusing on however many dozen clients and a couple of our own products, we finally had one business and one product to focus on and our kind of our mission and our pivot from DoneDone classic DoneDone 2 and we don’t market DoneDone is DoneDone 2 is just the latest one you see out there. It was because some interesting things started happening with the original DoneDone, the more narrowly focused bug tracking DoneDone. Like I said, we kind of just put it on autopilot because we had our own client work focus on. And then organically over time we started getting businesses that had use cases that we had never imagined. Right? So we developed classic really to be a bug tracker for digital agencies in their clients. Like it was a very specific, narrowly focused thing. And we started getting companies we had never imagined, like property management companies, municipal utilities, manufacturing companies. We even had a couple of megachurches start using DoneDone. And these are churches with like tens of thousands of congregants. And also people started using DoneDone classic had a thing called public issues, which was like a primitive version of what you see in DoneDone mailboxes today. It’s like, hey, you email a, you send an email to this like DoneDone email address and then it gets logged in DoneDone as a ticket. So people started kind of exploiting that capability, to do essentially kind of customer support activities. So with DoneDone 2 because classic never really spoke to any of those like non digital agency audiences. DoneDone 2 it was our deliberate effort to kind of broaden our audience base while still retaining a very simple feature set that really anyone should be able to immediately use. I’m still targeting small businesses, still targeting entrepreneurs, but not only in the digital agency world and with DoneDone 2, we also rolled out custom workflows. So you don’t have to use the bug tracking workflow. You could use one of a handful of other built in workflows, create your own workflow that reflected your team’s unique work process, and then also DoneDone mailboxes, which is just a more robust or more fully realized, you know, shared inbox so that that can be used for customer support and new business inquiries and hiring, application tracking, that kind of stuff.
Lee: So just to kind of circle back a little bit because I wasn’t sure if I missed it, but how did you at least get those new customers on board? Was this just a natural transfer then of people from classic, which continued to allow the funding of DoneDone 2’s development? Or did you have to do some form of drive when you broadened your client base to attract new, new customers?
Michael: No, we we you know, we had a decent classic audience and especially those classic customers that weren’t the digital agency audience specifically. They definitely tended to gravitate to DoneDone 2 a little bit more quickly because they’re like, Oh, custom workflows. I don’t have to use this bug tracking workflow that didn’t work make sense for my megachurch, for example. So they kind of came over. And then also just the fact that DoneDone had been around since 2009 or so, we’ve, we’ve always had like pretty decent kind of organic traffic. We’ve got an Internet record going back over ten years of content and stuff. So people to this day, a lot of basically all our customers come from just organic traffic. They’re searching for shared inbox or task tracker or whatever, and they stumble upon DoneDone. So we migrated some of that classic audience over to the new DoneDone. But really the new DoneDone is just attracted brand new audiences on its own. So we’re just kind of adding to the pile.
Lee: That’s phenomenal. It’s a fascinating journey, interesting how you start with one product and then eventually, rather than continuing to edit and customize and improve the original until it looks like a monster, you kind of took that decision to go for something, a significant rewrite. Was there a point where you weren’t sure you were doing the right thing for a significant rewrite, or how did you guys fare there?
Michael: Yeah, I’m sure you know. But you know, just being a small team, small business, you’re engaging with your customers directly. You know, I handled most of our customer support handles a little bit. Whenever you get it, there’s always going to be people that are unhappy with some of the decisions you made, like some classic customers coming over to DoneDone 2, and those may feel like a knife in your side sometimes and you’re like, Oh man, should I should we have even bothered with this? Should we have just left it alone and everything else? But ultimately, we made the. Right decision because really the focus of Bug Tracker for only digital agencies, it’s pretty narrow and it’s kind of hard to grow that pond, if you will, especially fast forwarding from like 2009 to 2019. Know bug tracking just kind of gets eaten up by all those kind of broader project management tools like Monday and Asana and stuff like that Jira those tools didn’t really exist in 2008, 2009, but they do now and people just kind of do much of their bug tracking kind of work and these kind of broader, larger project management tools that they’re already using. And that’s also one interesting thing that I discovered when I did kind of these one-on-one customer interviews like six months ago or so, is that I had initially thought that the new DoneDone needed to be more of like what you would expect from a general project management solution, know something more like a monday or something like that. But actually the customers that love us the most actually appreciated that it does not do that. They appreciated the fact that DoneDone is really focused on the execution of work. It’s like the list of work that you have to get done today in this week and not Gantt charts. We’re not doing resource planning. We don’t have like auto check ins and all these other things. I guess that’s one interesting piece of feedback we got from our customers is they many of them were former Basecamp users and they all felt that base camp, quote unquote, had too many things and they couldn’t figure out where their work was or where their conversations were. Right. So it’s like, did somebody leave a comment on a message or was it a comment on a to do or was someone talking about did they leave a comment on a file and what is campfire and why would I use that instead of slack, you know, that kind of stuff they kind of appreciated. DoneDone was just focused on the actual doing of the work and not all the other stuff.
Lee: I have to be honest, I’m not even a fan of Slack. I prefer if we’re going to do any communication in the team. On Let’s read this about a project. I would prefer to do that like in email form or even better in the PM system. So we’re a long time Basecamp users for many years. We then kind of kissed many frogs in between, then trying to find something else, you know, maybe a Asana, a table we really enjoyed because it was ridiculously simple, but it was also missing a few kind of workflows, etc.. Yeah, we’ve kind of settled here with you guys predominantly for those two features. Everything’s in that one place, so we know where it is. We can segment everything into projects, but we also have the mailbox, which is super cool because we we don’t want our clients in our projects, but we certainly want them to be able to email us on specific things or to be able to log basic support tickets. But we don’t need all the features. So I think that’s that’s a mistake many agencies make. And I do this, for example, when I buy a MacBook, I feel like I have to buy the MacBook that has the most space on it, the highest ram all of the specs. I did it with the flip in iPhone 12 and now there’s another one out. You know, I’ve got the iPhone 12 like extra, extra, this extra, that extra the other because I feel like I’m going to miss out. And I do know it.
Michael: Has seven cameras on it. Yeah.
Lee: I do it with software. You know, I get suckered into the enterprise level because it’s apparently got something extra that I’m probably going to miss out on. I do it on Appsumo deals a lot of the time I’ll stack because I think I’m going to miss on something and then I just use so little all of the stuff that’s in it. In fact, all of the stuff that’s in it puts me off and I can’t get the job.
Michael: It becomes distracting.
Lee: Yeah, exactly. So I really enjoy that about this. Well, as we come into land, mate, I guess my one final question. You’ve you’ve kind of nailed a platform for day to day projects without too much in there to distract. But now the complicated question, what does the future look like for the product? Because I guess you’re going to have to be careful that you don’t introduce too much, but equally you don’t want to go stale. Do you have a kind of a roadmap in mind? Yeah.
Michael: Well, first of all, we did just release our roadmap publicly, maybe just three or three weeks ago or so. And you can that’s linked to from our site. So if you go to donedone.com, you’ll see a link to our product roadmap in the footer.
Lee: We wil put that in the show notes.
Michael: Thank you. Thank you. But really, we kind of have kind of like a philosophical litmus test for introducing new features. And really, we focus on the features that we’re confident that virtually every one will use. Right. So if it’s not a feature that everyone will use, that’s kind of a couple demerits against it. So if it’s a feature that some people will use, like maybe we’ll introduce it. And if it’s a feature that just really a narrow segment of users will use, even if that feature sounds amazing and useful and all that stuff, we’re probably not going to do it right. So we’re very much focused on the common denominator. So digital agencies can benefit from it, but also potentially their clients who aren’t technical or that digital savvy at all can still make use of DoneDone without getting confused and overwhelmed and all of that stuff. So for example, we were a little hesitant to introduce some type of combine view, but that’s become an increasingly standard kind of presentation of work, something that I think most, if not everyone, will use at some point. So that’s something we’re rolling out in a couple of weeks. And then from there, we’re just going to double down and make our core feature set of projects, mailboxes and workflows. Just focus on improving those specifically without necessarily introducing like brand new features, because there’s been a number of kind of incremental improvements and ideas that people have shared on on our roadmap that we’re going to tackle. And then probably a little bit later this year, we’re also considering some more kind of like white labeled kind of features that people have asked for. And those are, I guess, still kind of in deliberation. So that’s a little bit more of a TBD.
Lee: Yeah, I’ve got to admit, I’m one of those people who if I like the product, then I don’t need to white label it. I want everyone to know I use it.
Michael: Thank you.
Lee: Interviewing the owner? No, that’s fascinating, guys. You can check out all of these links in the show notes, especially go ahead and check out the roadmap. It say, really? I think that’s my biggest takeaway from this episode, is doing things simply and well and not trying to load everything in. I’ve told this story on the podcast many times when we first produced our very first SAS product back in kind of 2008 2009, we tried to build everything into it. We built a monster. It was horrible. It was full of bugs. It was almost impossible to support. And we ended up making loads of money and then losing loads of money because it was just so unprofitable to try and support the beast we created. So it’s really encouraging to hear your journey from back in 2009 to today and also hearing your ethos of taking it slow, deliberate and making sure you you do what you know the majority will use. And Kanban is definitely in my list of things that I would have I would have wanted to see because I’m very visual when it comes to being able to move things through a kind of a pipeline of to do pending and closed. So I can.
Michael: Well it’s coming, it’s coming very soon.
Lee: Oh I see that. I’m very happy about that. So what’s the best way for people to connect with you? And then we shall say goodbye, buddy. Yeah.
Michael: You know, just come check us out at donedone.com. And if you use our contact form or shoot us an email to [email protected], that will actually end up in our very own DoneDone mailbox so we can go back and forth with you from there.
Lee: Well, you’ve got to use the product, haven’t you? And also, whilst I’ve been sat here, I think I’ve found you have 41 pages of blog posts going all the way back to 2011.
Michael: Oh, yeah, that’s cool.
Lee: Yeah. Proper old school guys, if you want to read tons of great content, donedone.com/blog. Michael, thanks so much for your time. Have a great day.
Michael: Thank you. Have a great day
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