Interview with Ben Sears from Billflow.io

Ben Sears

Ben Sears: Can't just like look away for too long, 

but 

Jeremy: then what happens? Right? Well, I, as I just press record welcome Dennis here. How are you

Ben Sears:  doing all right. How about yourself, 

Jeremy: dude? Come on. How good can you really be? As you're in the middle of building a SAS company out the stages of building. Okay. So here's, what's funny and no code is I build V1, which is dude.

No one knows how hard it is to build the tool that people use to build their tool. 

Ben Sears: Oh, yeah, definitely like, uh, especially like with my, we just put out a bunch of fires this morning, cause we made some big changes to our, to our product. And like you get like one or 2% of the, like maybe like 1% of our customers come to us and say, Oh, your, your update broke our shit.

And I Oh, great. So I'm gonna have to go in and figure out what's the very specific configuration that those customers have. And it's just a huge mess, especially when you're dealing with embeddables like, what we have is like anything can break your shit. So, 

Jeremy: yeah, man, and it's so funny when you make like a platform update and it just to think about an extra level, which is we push an update, our customers, see it.

But so, but it affects our customers, customers, you know what I mean? Like the shit, the left. And sometimes I talk with my, the engineers cause I'm non-technical solo guy and I talk with it and I'm like, why the fuck? Aren't you going faster? And I'll just, I literally just, I get to this level, right. Like, um, I try to empathize and it's like, I have to sit back and go, okay.

Yeah. We're not building like a CRM tool, right. That people use. And it's like, they use it for them. It's like people build things for their customers using our thing. And you're like, okay, I get the, and then it's on web and then it's on mobile. And then you're like, Oh, I'll get it. Okay. Okay. I get it. 

Ben Sears: I mean, I, I like for your case, especially with V1, what you're really building is like a visual programming language and yeah.

And you have a lot of challenges with just that, like, Like building a programming language is a bitch in itself, but like having to build a UI that can interface that programming language and like, did you program with the UI? It's just like a long way then making sure that the stuff that your customers are programming actually works.

Oh, 

Jeremy: it's not so like enough about my stress and problems. I want to hear about your stress and problems. So like, uh, with bill flow, um, it's bill flow.io, right? 

Ben Sears: Yup. Yup. Formerly known as service bot now known as bill flow. 

Jeremy: And I, I see you're a Stripe verified partner, baby. 

Ben Sears: Oh yeah. We were very close with, uh, with the strike team.

Uh, we, we, we loved those guys. Um, one of the things we're most proud of is how, uh, w how closely we work with their API APIs and how. Like we, we keep up with all of their latest features and we even get in like, w we talked to them about features they haven't even launched yet and make sure we're going to be compatible with those bright as they launch them to go GA.

So yeah, definitely a big on Stripe. 

Jeremy: I will. Um, I, as I actually love, I love the new branding and the website. I really do like, um, I'm a big fan. So tell me, how did, how did bill flow come about. 

Ben Sears: Well, so we started and we've been around quite a bit, actually. So we started around four years ago coming up on, I think now, um, but basically four years ago we started and, uh, we, we basically did everything wrong in the book to launch.

Right? Yep. Great. Every mistake possible. So like we built in private, uh, we. You know, we, we built, we spent like, I think six months building out our MVP, uh, and then we launched it and then nothing happened. And we were like, what do you mean? What do you mean? Cause we were, we all had it all we had, it was actually five of us founders.

And like most like four of us have engineering backgrounds. One of us is a designer and we were just like, what, what, what do you mean? People don't give a shit about what we bought. So that was, that was like a, that was kind of how we started our entrepreneurship journey. 

Jeremy: Um, well, dude, I took it the opposite way.

I was like, I think people should charge before you even think you're ready. Right. So it's like, I, and then you build an iterate and that's kind of, that's kind of the stress, which is great. Hundreds of people now, a thousand people buy and you're like, now you gotta like keep up with their expectations.

Right. And like, so you're like, What, what ways? Like a happy medium? I like the way we do it. It's more stressful. Definitely on me, but probably more on the team, but like you building private more off, like building and private, not that we're building in public. But like, um, w what would you do 

Ben Sears: differently?

There's the old saying that a first time, first time founders obsess about product development and product features, and a second time founders are obsessed about content distribution and marketing, and that's really, how would I, what I would do differently is I w I, it was kind of exactly what you said is I, which I think is.

Pretty much the right way to do it is sell first, sell what your vision is, make sure that people are interested in that vision and then build it. Because if, if, if you're not going to validate that your idea is a good one, you shouldn't build it. And that's kind of what we built without validating. And then we, we, our product, our product now is completely different than what we launched with four years ago.

Everything about it. We actually. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's why I said we've been around, we've been around a long time and yeah. It's really been quite the journey. Like what we started out with was completely different. We had an entirely different, well, not entirely divisions. It's been basically the same, which is make it easier and faster to sell subscriptions.

Um, that's kind of been our overarching arching vision is like, make it easier to sell subscription, make it easier to integrate with Stripe. Uh, just make it easier and faster. That's always been our driving vision, but. The way we implemented that vision was just completely different. We had an entire different audience.

We were focused on like the gig economy and selling, selling services. And we were, we were like, Oh, you can sell anything as a service. We had like a whole no-code component to it where you can create like a little landing page that had your services and systemize it, and like kind of like a site builder thing.

And, uh, we had this whole thing with. Making it, we were originally open source actually. And that was part of our marketing strategy back then was, Oh, you're not, we're going to build this whole open source community, like be WordPress for services. And it was just, it was crazy how, I mean, there was still some, some, some grains of truth.

There's some, some nuggets in there of things that would work out if we had focused on, like, for example, we'd be expected there to just. In spring up out of nowhere, a community around our open source site. And that never obviously pan out because we, you have to actually work on building community. It doesn't just happen.

Uh, so 

Jeremy: yeah, I left and I was, cause I was going to say, it's like, I'm looking at the site as it is now. Like deal flow, like what you're doing now versus what you did a couple of years ago. Um, it fits the name, like the like service spot doesn't fix, fit the name of what you're doing now. Exactly. 

Ben Sears: So that's exactly why we, we wanted to switch.

You hated it. We hated the name service bought it. It was, it was, it was from a different time, a different thought process and just the different way of thinking about what we did and it just didn't fit anymore. And we were tired of people being like, is this a chat bot? Which we'd never been a chat bot, but for some reason we thought the word bot sounded serve as bot sounded good.

But, uh, 

Jeremy: did you guys raise any money or has it been completely bootstrapped? A hundred percent bootstrap. Nice. And how many customers do you have now or over the years? How has the customer base changed? 

Ben Sears: Uh, so just under well, so we saw most of our growth two years ago. Wouldn't be completely a funny thing, right?

It was two years ago when we, when we made the decision that. Well, we had, well, we had a whole open source product that we had built. It was just was way too big, way hard to move fast with. Right. Cause we did a million different things and we took one feature of our, of our offering back then, which was the embeddable billing pages.

And we were like, this is what the SAS companies are using us for because we had a couple of some customers back then. And, uh, W we took that one feature and we're like, this is, this is it. This is what we want to make into an entire product. So we took that feature, rebuilt our entire code base from scratch into just focusing on the embeddable aspect of billing pages and rolled that out into a product.

And this, the growth was crazy. We went from, it took us like, you know, I, I forget the number as I had written down, but basically we went from like maybe like 500 to a thousand dollars MRR to. $10,000 MRR in a year. Yeah. It's like three years to get to like a thousand MRR. It took us one year to get to 10,000.

Jeremy: So it took it. So to get to 10,000, like users, MRR. Oh, MRR. Got you. Got you. Got you. Okay. So like, I think that's still great. That's amazing. Right. Like, and is that where you, that's where you're at right now? 

Ben Sears: Um, we're, we're a bit above that now. Uh, I think we're closing in on 15 K MRR 

Jeremy: now. Dammit.

Congratulate. That's a great, that's a great milestone. And that 10 we're getting close to it. Yeah. Yeah. Dude. How did it feel to go back? Because one thing I just, I love to preach and get people like, so psyched about is that first fucking dollar in that first customer, when you build something and it's like, Do you remember chasing or getting or begging for that first customer and how it felt to close it?

It 

Ben Sears: was kind of a funny story for that first first customer was it kinda just happened randomly for that one. Like, wow. That was way back when it was the funniest thing. We had one person sign up and actually pay us right away. Right. Almost like a, like a month after we launched. And we were like shocked because we had, we didn't even know where they came from.

And then we didn't get like another customer for like another, like four or five months. So it was kind of a really funny first dollar experience for us. Wow. Yeah. Every everything after that, there was just been like tooth and nail. Like you have to, we back then we even had an even more high touch SAS than we currently have.

Like that's always been our thing is like we have a very high touch SAS needing a lot of handholding to get them onboarded. And actually it pays Paisley. We streamlined the process a lot and there's obviously always more that you can do, but, uh, that's the thing with the high touch SAS is you really got to provide amazing customer support to make, make the people stay and keep them happy.

Jeremy: And with the high touch, you also have to have like a higher price point to be able to afford it or make the economics work. 

Ben Sears: Yeah. Yeah. That's back. We used to have a higher precedent. We've kind of, we've gotten to the point where we've understood all the, all the parts where people get stuck in and, and we've kind of streamlined those parts and it used to be that, you know, Um, you know, getting their stripes set up was the hard part.

And now, I mean, the, the hardest part for us has always been the, getting the secure setup, which is like for people who have regular SAS, it involves putting some code in your backend and for, and luckily for the no-code people we've made that actually a lot easier for them. It's it's, that's why we, one of the reasons why we're on bubble right now is like, um, for the bubble users, they deliver.

Drag and drop or embeds it. And then they just work out of the box and we have a WordPress plugin to that. It works the same exact way. It's just, you know, plug and play and you're good to go. That's why we love the no-code space so much. 

Jeremy: And it's so funny to me that you bring up WordPress because I love it.

And it's like, it doesn't get a WordPress. That's how I started, dude. The first version of V1 was built was like a WordPress checkout that people don't understand that it's like what an actual first version of your product looks like. And that's kinda what I knew like that had 84 plugins in it. 

Ben Sears: Yeah, it, I mean, I'll work.

Well, the one on this is actually really interesting as one of, one of the channels that we are seeing the most growth in is our WordPress plugin and customers coming to us using WordPress. And that's one of the things that, um, one of my co-founders, uh, th that's like their focus is the WordPress community.

My focus has been like bubble in the general no-code community, but hers has been. Um, WordPress and really nailing down that persona. And actually, I meant to ask you, I'll talk to you after this, but we should definitely talk WordPress sometime. Um, I'd love 

Jeremy: to pick your brain about it. Oh, dude, that is I, my first two, no code companies were built in WordPress and it's like, it is the biggest mammoth, but it's like the old school.

It's the O G no-code tool, right? Like that. So many people, so many it's weird. I was just talking with, uh, I don't know if you know, Isaac that no coder on Twitter, a no code handle. I forget what his handle is. Um, I'll have to go back and listen. Oh, 

Ben Sears: I know, I know who you're talking about. He's a 

Jeremy: big one word presser and he builds shit and it's fully customizable.

Um, and it's like, non-technical people know the CMS of WordPress. It's 30% of the internet, whatever, you know, And so it doesn't get any respect in the proper and no coding community. And it's like, what do you think about that? Like off-shoring and those old school just going it's cool. Cool. Versus practical motherfucker.

You know what I mean? Like, what gets your 

Ben Sears: job done about the WordPress? I made actually a tweet about it a couple of a month or two back saying like, you know, we're pressed, it doesn't get enough love in the NOCO community. And it sparked a whole argument. People were like, well, either, either, either we're like, I want to get as far away from WordPress as possible, or WordPress is the best thing ever.

You're right. You know, it doesn't get enough love. And the reason for that. Is I think the way I see WordPress compared to like other Norco tools like that are out there right now is. Um, for, for basic use cases, right? You're able to just spin up a WordPress install, a few plugins, and then it's done right out of the box.

You don't have to build any workflows or any of that, but the moment you start getting into some edge cases or want some customization to what you have just put in place, that's when you're going to need to break out the PHP and then it becomes a nightmare to work with. 

Jeremy: Sure. Yeah. That it has been a T, but on the flip side, it's like, I mean, like you can hire, cause there's a hack here, right?

That like you can hire someone in India for help for eight bucks an hour to do a little piece of it. Right. So like where you can't do that in 

Ben Sears: Webflow. Yeah. No, exactly, exactly. But that's, that's the whole, that's the whole dynamic, right. Is like, that's what people have been wanting to avoid is once you, once you have, do you ever have them to manage, then you have to keep paying that person every time.

Yeah. They're not going to do it the way you want. You have to actually manage people. Whereas with, with no coat today, You could get by doing it all on your own, if you, as long as you have the will to learn. And I mean, theoretically, you could learn code too, but again, it was code. I think that big, no code, this is all, a lot of the concepts are exactly the same.

Like you're learning code concepts when you're learning no code. But the thing that no code has over code when you're learning it is. The problem that I always have with code, or I think people have with code is the boiler plate involved with learning code. Like you have to learn the point things, you have to learn the language syntax and every language is different.

You have to actually learn, um, you know, like how to. Uh, you have to learn how to do authentication. There's all these different things that you have to learn as like, uh, as prerequisites, like, cause just scripting. I think most people could learn how to do like basic JavaScript or basic PHP scripts. But the moment you have to actually like work in an entire environment with an entire framework, um, that's where it becomes a little bit overwhelming and that's where I think NOCO really fits into place.

And what, where it's, it's starting to grow is. It's like, it takes care of so much without you even realizing it. 

Jeremy: I think it really does. Like, I mean, clearly, like I love no code and back to the, I mean, honestly, the days of using words, I remember just like five years ago, I had no idea how to install a WordPress plugin.

You know what I mean? Like no idea how to set it up, set up a server, do these types of things. Now there's like one click install and everything that makes it easy. Um, and the last thing I want to touch on, right? Uh, for the no-code CEOs, not boring nation out, there is a pro tip using no code. So like for me, a lot of things that people sit back there and they'll wait forever to launch something, launch that first version.

And we kind of touched on this a little bit ago, but like if you had one pro tip to leave people with on this pod, What would it be starting in no-code or making your first dollar? What's the best tip you 

Ben Sears: got. All right. I got it. Uh, so my best tip for y'all is when you, when you're launching, you don't want a lot of people think about scalability of no code, like, Oh, is my no code going to scale.

When I go get a million users, I have two things to say to that. Well, that's a great problem to have, right. Having to deal with a million users, but to one of the, one of the superpowers that I have found in no-code is that you can combine no code and code. Right. So if you run into a piece of your no-code app, That isn't scaling well, or is like you click a button and it's taking forever to execute, or you have some heavy data processing that needs to be done.

You can move that out into some, into a coated backend, and call that coated backend with your no-code app. So there's a lot of, there's a lot of power and flexibility that you can just, you can literally just have a no-code front end and have that call a coated backend. And as you're scaling up, start breaking out your heavy lifting things into the backend of code and keep your no code front end.

As in an eventually you can even transition completely to code if you want, or you don't have to. But the key thing is keep the pieces that no codes good at, which is building UIs. Um, you know, boiler plate things like user profiles and user login, that kind of stuff. Keep that all no-code. And then just to give out your secret sauce into a coded.

Jeremy: Yeah. I love that idea. That's good. That's perfect then. Cause I agree with you. Um, yeah, it's a, it's a good hybrid, good blend. And I think everyone should get started. So, uh, Ben, where can people find you? 

Ben Sears: Uh, find me on Twitter at BCS underscore. 

Jeremy: Beautiful. Ben, I'm going to, I'm going to have to have you come back on.

You're obviously a great recurring person that next time we're going to have you come back on and we're gonna talk about WordPress. So like, uh, great people. I follow him. Great follow on Twitter. Um, you just passed 600 followers. I saw, 

Ben Sears: I, I had a whole, I had a whole thing with that where I know bad unicorn.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I had this whole bad unicorn challenge in January. I was like, I had like 350 followers. I'm like, I'm going to get 600 followers by the end of next month. It was a dollar Dewar club where some embarrassing fact about you comes out. If you don't meet your challenge. And I was like, I'm going to try, I'm going to try hard this month of January and I managed to get it.

So I was very proud of myself. 

Jeremy: That's perfect, dude. I love that. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on Ben. 

Ben Sears: Thank you for having me. I'd be happy to come on whenever. Uh, it's been great chatting with you 

Jeremy: looking forward to it. 

Ben Sears: All right. Have a good day.


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