108: How to organize and focus with Ward Sandler of MemberSpace
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Interview with Ward Sandler of MemberSpace
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One of the things that I was really excited about when I launched this particular show is that I wanted to bring on people that not only matched the audience that I'm speaking to, but also those who could provide a lot of value such as providers of services to solopreneurs and all of us that are out there on our own building our business. And this first interview is with someone that I really have admired for several years and I've actually been a customer of his product for probably about five years now and I've watched his evolution as he's grown this business and having a software company is not an easy thing. He will actually talk a little bit about this. One of the things that I've enjoyed most about watching his growth is to see how much he really cares about his customers. He listens.
I can't emphasize how important it is to listen to your customers and really develop your products in your services and even just your content marketing that you give away for free to build your audience by having that back and forth conversation where you're really understanding what people are struggling with. How else are you going to know what to create what to serve and how to have demand if you're not addressing what people are really struggling with. I'm so happy that I got to invite Ward Sandler who is the co-founder and CEO of MemberSpace. Now, MemberSpace is a software company and they're a third-party product that actually lays on top of you know forgive the expression but it integrates with Squarespace websites. What it does is it turns a Squarespace website or part of a Squarespace website into an actual membership site. That means authentication, security, payment options, login—all types of controlled access, all the things that we like about a membership site, yet we don't want to get involved in learning a big infrastructure or investing a lot of money in something. We've already got a great Squarespace website and we want to lay something on top of it so we can actually have part of it or all of it be a true membership website. That's what MemberSpace does.
I have a great conversation with Ward and we talk about a lot of different things about not only how he got started but also some of the things that he recommends for his customers and I think that this is going to be really helpful if you are considering doing a membership site or doing online courses or some type of controlled access where you're charging a fee to give content information whatever it is to your customers or your clients you want to be able to make sure that you're using a tool that is a safe and works really well if you're doing a Squarespace website which is my favorite platform by the way if you haven't already figured that out.
Just really understand that this is an important part of any business especially for solopreneur because what it enables you to do is it enables you to have recurring revenue based on content that you create once. I mean every online membership site has different types of content and offers different types of things that you can engage with. Some are high touch, some are basically here is a bunch of video library you can go and learn yourself like you know some type of online training or what-have-you and they often combined with like a Facebook group or something like that where social’s involved and everything runs the gamut. What's great is this allows you to scale your business and that's what I love about doing something like this and this is also why online courses and membership sites are so because they allow the solopreneur to create scale and be in more place than one at any given time. So without further ado, I'd like to go ahead and just launch into this wonderful interview with Ward Sandler CEO and co-founder of MemberSpace.
The Interview with Ward Sandler
I'd like to welcome Ward Sandler, the CEO and co-founder of MemberSpace today on the podcast. Hey, Ward, how's it going?
Good, thanks for having me, Terry.
Awesome. Glad to have you here. I had a little intro prior to our conversation so I just wanted to just launch right into some questions and we can have a fun discussion about what you're doing today and how you can maybe offer some tips and advice to the Simplify & Multiply audience.
What were some of the early struggles that you experienced as you were bringing MemberSpace to market? So you've already got 320ny going good, and you are finding that there's this strong desire of Squarespace subscribers that they want a membership website. What were some of the things that you struggled with as you're bringing that to market?
When we first launched MemberSpace was real, real barebones very, very initial simple version where you can literally just protect pages on your website and have people give you their name and email address so you can imagine if someone's trying to get a membership business that is just the beginning of what they need help with but we go back cuz I was the core that a lot of people literally just that our struggle was well people want a lot more features and we don't have them yet and we're going to build them at first it was just me and my partner Ryan so just two people only go so fast so that was probably that the biggest thing is that we had a lot of requests for a lot of other features but that also was good in a way cuz if it helped us find out okay what is it that people need the most next and that’s how we built out those features.
I listened to another podcast where you were interviewed and you made a comment about keeping things simple that's one of the things you recommend for MemberSpace subscribers as they're actually trying to build out their own membership sites on a Squarespace platform to not try to jam you know 10 pounds of you-know-what into a 5-pound bag.
A lot of people especially about the pricing model I think overthink it sometimes and from a customer's perspective, if you think about your own experience when you buy things especially online, simpler the better, the clearer the better, right? Everyone's got a little bit of a I guess a fear and anxiety when you're buying something online even these days I mean obviously it's getting less and less as it becomes more more normal to buy things online but there's still a little bit of that everyone inherently especially as you get older. By keeping pricing real simple that email with X dollars a month and here's what you get and that's it convoluted 30-day free trial then fifteen bucks for the first month and it's $100 after that but then you’ve got to recur annually, and it's just you're getting too crazy, you just keep it really simple.
That's great advice for everybody, especially myself, I mean what's the name of this show it's Simplify & Multiply.
Have you always I always like to ask questions about what made you go out on your own? What was it that you know some people get laid off work that was my situation I work for Marriott I got laid off when the economy turned bad, and I'd love to ask what was it that really brought you to you know any even if you have had a business before 320ny, I don't know if that's your first business, was it?
So what was it that made you start that company?
Well, I was working at a large financial company, Thomson Reuters, I was actually doing sales, enterprise sales, for expensive tax software which is as boring as it sounds, but I we actually enjoyed it because at first it was just a startup before it was acquired by Thomson Reuters, so the group of people that were there were super fun, everyone was cool, even thought we didn’t really care what we were selling, even though it was a good product, it was a good group of people, but as we got, when we got bought by a large Fortune 500, Thomson Reuters, things started to change, the culture started to change, more rules, less fun and it got lamer and lamer and eventually we were, me and lots of people were just like disgruntled and didn’t want to do anymore even thought it was good money, it wasn’t worth it. So me and my partner started to explore random business ideas that were terrible, but the point was that we wanted to do something else and every idea we had we were like, well we would have to hire somebody to do that and because we don't know how to code or build anything cuz everything you want to do pretty much involves the internet these days. So at the time, neither one of us had any training whatsoever in that. So we were like, why don’t we read a book and see how complicated it is. So we both read html and css books, the basics, and we took it from there and kind of took off. I went more on the design side and he went more on the back-end logic side and it kind of worked out nicely and that’s how we began.
Interesting how you spent all that time researching and learning. I remember when I first kind of had to learn Squarespace I had a new client that actually dictated they said I want this on the Squarespace platform and this is back in ‘09 when I was still hand coding everything and I did like you did I read and I went I took some classes and I figured out how to do it cuz my background is design and creative, so the coding was new to me, I had to learn it. And thank God it's binary, you know, it's not subjective like creative is. I remember learning Squarespace and just like thanking the heavens because it's such a wonderful platform. I mean it's amazing how much is evolved over the years.
Yeah, I know, it's really taken off as far as the amount of features they have and the different functionality. It’s able to work for so many different types of websites that wasn't able to before.
Now what do you, do you ever have a concern or do you have a strategy to deal with the interdependency that you have with MemberSpace and Squarespace?
Yeah, I mean at the moment it's a good thing and a bad thing because we’re kind of the only game in town that really does this well, as far as memberships for Squarespace. When it comes to other website platforms like WordPress that there's a ton of plugins know their competitors, but, yeah for sure are our roadmap, our strategy is to expand other platforms probably WordPress next but right now Squarespace doesn't have membership functionality and even if they do launch it, it’s probably going to be something really simple, very basic and the kind of people who would use that would be it would not be people who are running serious membership businesses cuz they would need pro features and so it's not too, too worried about it, but it is something we know obviously you want to hedge your bets and I'll not have full reliance on any one thing in business right.
Yeah, or Squarespace will come along and knock on your door and want to buy you.
Doubt that. We actually get that joke a lot from people, and I just don’t at least their track record, they really don’t buy companies at least that’s not their M.O. They have a big enough team and they keep getting they recently raised like 200 something million dollars and they have money to buy developers to build whatever they want.
Well, if they can afford to buy a Super Bowl commercial, they’re doing something right. This first season of the Simplify & Multiply show is all about how to stay organized and focused. What are some of the things that you do to stay organized and focused on what you need to do to take care of your customers and continually improve MemberSpace?
I guess from a macro view, I, are you familiar with the book, Deep Work by Cal Newport?
I read that recently and it definitely resonated the idea of you know when you are working work like don't be constantly switching tabs are compulsively checking email or social media or anything like that that's not work and when you when you were actually work that way in a deep state you don't need to work that many hours number one, and you can, and it doesn't need to be one continuous block of 8 hours either, so the way I do things I kind of break my day up. In the morning I do a lot of health-related stuff I walk, I do yoga, I exercise, I just started doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu actually, and I can fit all that in during the day, during a week day and still get in a good you know six to seven hours of productive work and some people might say, ah it's crazy, there’s no way you can create a successful business with “6 hours of work” but if you're doing 6 hours of real deep work of no distraction type work you can get a heck of a lot done and that for me has been a way for me to stay focused. So, but to get more specific about the business and such and how we stay focused customers it’s one of those simple, not easy kind of things where it’s like listening to customers and and in truly using that as like the thermostat as far as what you're doing right or what you're doing wrong and then continually adjusting it and never just being complacent with okay, people seem happy, let's just do whatever we want. I just always being humbled that you customers know what they're like what they like and to really follow your intuition when you’re getting a lot of complaints about something or a lot of requests about something to shore that up and to fix it so that the customers are happy. That being said, you also can't be blindly led by customers because they can lead you down the wrong path so it's a tricky dance, but you also have to also keep in mind that there are some things that they might not know or even realize that would make sense or would that were that would benefit them and that part’s a little tricky and slippery to figure out.
I like that that's really insightful. So what is it about being a business owner that you really like love and get you out of bed in the morning it's just like this is the best thing anybody could ever do.
I mean I don't I don't think it would be quite as romantic as that. There are always going to be things you don’t want to do, like today I was dealing with Pennsylvania like sales and use tax like that's not fun. Nobody has a movie scene about that part.
I actually grew up in PA and I moved to Florida 30 years ago and so glad I don't miss that at all.
There’s a lot of parts that suck about it, being an entrepreneur, and having your own business as opposed to working for somebody else where they handle all that crap, but the good stuff that I really do enjoy it is is actually talking to customers, especially when they’re happy. It’s cool when you talk to somebody and their eyes light up and you think, ooh this is exactly what I’m looking for or they’ll say thanks for building this, that kind of stuff, is awesome to hear. For me personally I think we probably have a similarity here, I’m on the design side of things, the lead and the only designer in MemberSpace so all the interface I'll go look and feel that's all but I thought I'd be back to my team and I like creating a system and especially creating a system that people actually use it to look pretty and that's that's a big responsibility but it's also kind of fun to like you like cool like I made this system that people use and it actually works well and we get compliments so yeah that part is energizing.
I feel the same way it's wonderful that's why I talk so much about customer relationships and building really good solid communication between you and your customers. It’s so critical.
On the flip side of that coin, what is like one thing that you would like to change or improve about your business right now?
It's tricky because at the moment we don't have any like burning fire anything that's terribly wrong on my I'm on like a very systems oriented kind of guy so I've created and revise and am constantly editing our systems that we have is a company so when anything that is kind of terrible we at least fix somewhat everything's pretty good at least and some things are great, the only the only thing that's come back to what we talked about earlier is this WordPress in the first face the fact that our business is completely centered around Squarespace is good and bad in the bad part is if something happened or Squarespace I don't do this but if they said no more third parties on Squarespace. That could turn our business off like that. That part is the biggest thing in my mind as far as you know what would I know we need to focus on getting fixed.
I'm also sure that and this is an assumption on my part but I'm sure that the people at Squarespace know you and know what you're doing and know that the customers are using their platform because of you, they didn’t escape to Wordpress and use all of the membership type plugins that WordPress requires when you build a membership site or going to one of the other providers like Kajabi or something like that and if they want to keep those customers so it's kind of a win-win if they continue to allow you to play in their sandbox
The only issue is that it comes down to leverage. Even for us, we have a lot of customers in for a lot of people they would love to have the customers we have it's still a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount of customers at Squarespace has. It might not move the needle for them. They may say, we could take it or leave it if you exist or not because that's not going to it's not going to affect their bottom line that much yet so it's still it's still a precarious position for us to be in.
Well, there's a goal for you Ward.
Listen to you have a lot of solopreneurs as customers, like myself, and what do you find that solos struggle with most as they come to MemberSpace?
I mean the big thing I always tell people is build an audience before you launch a membership business. Everybody likes the idea of people paying them on a recurring basis every month automatically but its unrealistic for that to happen no matter how pretty your website is even actually in a lot of cases, how good your content is or your service you're providing that will obviously help, but the initial getting started part nobody knows who you are and the best way to launch and have a little traction to begin is to have an audience built. We always tell people, especially for solopreneurs, anyone can do this, whatever it is that you're providing a service or product for, you’re clearly some version of an expert or qualified to talk about it so provide free information around that topic for people. Generally I'd recommend an email list cuz that way it's, social media platforms they have their own privacy issues and other things, but they’re also, but they control your audience then. If you’re building your audience on social media, that’s good in some ways, but it’s bad because they control it. Whereas an email list, you control it, right? If you don’t like your email provider like MailChimp, you can move to another one—but the email list is yours. That's a real asset. So by building that up by providing free information through a newsletter or whatever it is a good way to start getting people and then when you’re ready to launch a membership business around the topic that these people signed up for anyway it's a great way to get that bump started and just start building a sustainable business, not just a business that you're doing on the side cuz you need to generate a certain amount of revenue to make this full time and to keep growing it so you need customers for that and an audience.
I can't emphasize how important what Ward just said to you, listener, because this is exactly when I start working with new clients this is the first component that we develop when we build their website it's we create a lead magnet or something that we can start building that list from and you're right, Ward. it is all about that list and having that one to one relationship with the customers directly and not relying on social media to do it. I can’t tell you how many times I've gone on recently especially to Facebook for like a live and the the host has problems with the bandwidth or their video’s not working I mean it's just relying on a platform like social to do a true communication is really tricky and you know keeping the relationship close which is why I love the membership idea because you're bringing that person into your Squarespace website.
Right. It’s more intimate, it allows you to have a real communication with folks, not just saying, “Follow me just to follow me” it's like you know I got to provide information and you can always unsubscribe I'm a big proponent of trying to build an email list for every new business.
Yeah, do you find that a lot of your customers or wannabe customers are building their list through paid advertising or they do an organically or does it vary?
Mostly organic it seems, a lot of the ones I talked to have some sort of group built up on Facebook to be honest and then from there they kind of funnel them into into an email list but generally yea at least these ones I spoke to, Not a ton of paid ad. I would generally advise against that to just cuz you're throwing money after something you don’t even know if it's worth it yet. If what you're providing is so, if it doesn’t grab people to sign up or go at least visit your website in the first place, paying people to come it just seems it seems silly, like if you're providing value in your in your in your solving a problem that people actually have they should actually want to go to your website enjoying your email build something organically if you can't do that something's off about your value prop I’d say is fundamentally.
Gotcha. Great tip. Just as we're kind of wrapping up here can you can you share a like a a story of one of your customers it was like a really super awesome success story like they started you know almost at the bottom with very little list and then they built their list and then they got of a membership site go on and now they're just killing it?
I’d say Christy Harrison we have a case study on the MemberSpace website if you go there you check her out but yes she started with she's actually a journalist and then from there she's already interested in like food and nutrition and then from there she basically she started a Facebook group just for people who are trying to think of dieting and nutrition is in different than the standard out there and she started meeting with people in in the lid and in the Facebook group kept growing and growing eventually she started doing one on one consulting with people that eventually that got completely filled up she couldn’t physically do more one on one consulting otherwise she’d go crazy, and that’s when she transitioned and clearly had an audience built up, and then she transitioned to a membership business, because that's what we are a lot of people do actually as they do one on one type work and then once I get to full capacity than either way to scale it or they want or they want some one way to help more people cuz if they're booked up they’re not helping anyone. There’s the money aspect, but if you do feel like a truly helping people that yeah do you need to weigh to do that at scale. She had a podcast as well and that helped build up her audience, and she has a nice website, and that worked because she had good pricing, great content but the fundamentals were there an audience she knew what that audience wanted wanted they want to talk about cuz that's the only good part about them vacuum did you get to hear their interaction about what they like about the content what kind of content they want you to talk more about what problems are having things are struggling with these are all perfect things to use as content on your website to use as products and services that you should provide right here people complaining about something that's a good something to fix that they've been a good success story
Ward what in your business would you like to simplify?
I see I'd say processes. We have I'm always looking for ways to simplify those better I feel pretty good job template for your team it's above your customer and then. That's a lot of things so I think it's kind of a never-ending thing is to make your process simpler for you, for your team, and simpler for your customers and that’s a lot of things. So I think it’s a never ending thing, and I might be okay but that's something I'm always striving it to make simpler.
What in your business would you like to multiply?
The number of platforms that MemberSpace is available on.
I’ll support you in that and supporting you and echoing that. So what cool things are coming down the pike for you that you're excited about?
Yeah, one big one is a podcast to that we’re launching. It’s definitely got some similarities to what you're doing our focus is really drilling down on pricing strategies and how to build an audience like that that's really the two things are focusing on with with guests on the show. If you want to learn more, it’s not available quite yet, but if you want to be notified when it is, just go to MemberSpace.com you can click on Growth and Updates in the in the top tab there and then just enter in your email address.
I'll let you know as you get closer to that I'll make sure my listener is up-to-date on that as well and because I think that'd be great for for the folks that are listening to this particular show. Listen, Ward, it has been a pleasure and you've given lots of great advice and tips and insights and I so appreciate everything you're doing not only at MemberSpace but what you brought today on the podcast.
Appreciate you being here and we’ll see you soon.
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Disclosure: Better3 participates in the affiliate program provided by MemberSpace, subscribes to and is an avid proponent of MemberSpace for Better3 clients.