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029: Building Digital Products and Scaling Your Business – Michael Devellano – Author of Automate and Grow
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In this episode, I discuss business innovation with Michael Devellano. Michael is the author of the book Automate and Grow, which is about building digital products and scaling your business. We also discuss how technology is driving change in sales force and digital products.


Sam Schutte 0:06
In today’s show we have Michael Devellano. Michael is the author of the book Automate and Grow, which is about building digital products and scaling your business. And we’re going to talk about how technology is driving change in sales force and digital products.

Sam Schutte 0:43
Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Devellano 0:45
Thanks for having me, Sam.

Sam Schutte 0:46
Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about your company. How you got that started, how you sort of got into this field?

Michael Devellano 0:53
Yeah, sure. So probably about 10 years ago, I’d started a company, really around building everyone digital product. So at that time, as you probably recall, you know, iPhone was fairly new in about 2010. Prior to that, I’d been working in the wireless carrier space. And what I was doing there was like what’s now known as IoT. So you know, in those days, we kind of call it a whole bunch of different things all the time. But it was really like stitching stuff together so that you could have mobile field workers, you could have, you know, sometimes it was fleet tracking, sometimes it was Field Service Automation, sometimes it was enterprise data coming from outside inside. So I had a background in really, you know, building, but those in those days was digital products. But when iPhone came out, it was like such a different model. It was obvious that that was so much more empowering. And suddenly everybody in the universe had an idea for an app and in the end, that’s a digital product. So since then, you know, I was out there building everyone’s digital products, so they could launch a company or or some sort of a venture, sometimes it was side hustles sometimes it was enterprise. What I noticed is You know, there’s obviously a real gap between what I knew and what most people knew. So when I wrote Automate, and Grow is really how I think about number one, what digital products to build, and then how to do it. And then how to scale that business through marketing, sales and customer success, automation. And that’s really where I landed on. So, to this day, that’s pretty much what I work with clients on it’s like, figuring out what digital products to build, and then how to build them actually building them. And then helping them figure out a game plan around scaling through marketing, sales and support on

Sam Schutte 2:33
You’re located in California. Is that right?

Michael Devellano 2:35
I am now in California. So in those days, I’ve moved around a little bit, the last 10 years can be a little crazy, but those days I moved from Canada, basically to California. Okay,

Sam Schutte 2:45
So you wrapped up a lot of these ideas, and you put them into your book, Automate and Grow. Yeah. Which is available on Amazon, of course, how did you decide how to talk a little bit about that process or, you know, developing that book and how did you write that What that process look like,

Michael Devellano 3:01
The actual book itself was interesting. So, I mean, I’ve always had, I was wanting to write a book and actually wrote a book prior to this on sales that I never published. And in those days, there wasn’t really the Amazon infrastructure to self publish, don’t even know where that book is. It’s buried somewhere. So then I had this other thing in my head around. Well, this is my blueprint for, you know, the next 10-15 years of how to build scalable, impactful businesses. And everyone’s been talking about digital transformation. So you have businesses that have processes and data locked up in old systems. So it was like, Okay, I have this idea, and I hit this thing around my birthday. And I was like, Alright, my gift to myself is going to be on that write this book for the next 30 days. So what I did is I basically in addition to whatever else I was doing, I I mapped out a plan so the first thing I did is I created like an outline of the ideas but almost like chapters Essentially became chapters and then ideas under them. And then I said, look for 30 days, I’m going to write five pages a day. And at the end of that, I’ll have like 150 pages. And, you know, that should be decent for a little book. What I didn’t think about was formatting. So when you format 150 pages, let’s say, you know, from Word or from Apple pages, it’s actually a 260 page book. So suddenly, I realized, Oh, I have something real here. It’s a weighty tome, you know? Yeah. So it really I ended up writing it in about 45 days. And actually, somewhere out there. I did a video on that. But that was the that was the writing part. But the really painful part comes when you go to edit it. Yeah, actually, the writing was not that easy. Some days, it was really tough to write five pages. So I kind of just jumped around within the framework. So that’s really how I got to the point where I had like something editable. I made a point of not trying to judge what I wrote, I just tried to get it out and get volume out so that I had really something worth editing, you know, and then it was like the editing process. Like I use an external editor and I mean, I’ve edited it so many times and still think it needs another edit. Right. But yeah, so that’s what I did at the same time, I learned about self publishing infrastructure on Amazon and figured out, you know, kind of got a book cover design, and then use that to basically get it out into the world.

Sam Schutte 5:17
Gotcha. And I think it’s, it’s very important that you talked about, you know, companies having a plan, and something that’s really impactful when they’re building a product. Can you talk a little bit about, maybe, you know, a customer you work with, that really helped you gain clarity on the importance of that, that sort of is influential in your sort of thinking?

Michael Devellano 5:35
Um, I mean, I think what I’ve seen is, you know, I’ve been involved in well over 150 custom development projects the last 10 years. And the one thing I see is, you know, let’s say it’s an entrepreneur, a lot of times they’ll build, we’ll build something for them, and then they don’t do anything with it. We’ll build something they haven’t really validated it to a customer. So they’ve, you know, they have an idea in their head, something they might use, or they think there’s a big problem and then they think that There’s an approach to it. So what I saw was a lot of mistakes there where you know, you would build something you try to advise them, maybe is too complicated, or I don’t know if there’s actually a market for it, and they would never really listen. And then there was just like, hit and miss whether it would be successful. So what I wanted to do is try to, like, at least give a framework to people that are thinking I have an app idea, or I have an e commerce plan, or, you know, some sort of digital product, or SAS platform, right, a lot of SAS platforms last 10 years. So really, what I say is, you know, prototype quickly, and that can be just get the screens design, you know, get get a designer UIX, map out the features that you think are out there, and then get the screens design and then go to your audience invalidate it. Like say, look, this is what I’m building. Would you put some money down to buy them? Or is it and a lot of people will say, Yeah, I would use it but then they don’t use it. So I think getting people to put some money on it. Makes sense, right? So that’s really what I map out is, here’s the thought process that you use to go from idea to App essentially. So that’s, that’s the first part of the book.

Sam Schutte 7:13
Interesting. So I run into that a lot with our customer with some of our customers that are in that startup, sort of basket, you know, where they, they often will say, we’re just going to go out and get an amount of money. And then we’re going to come to you, and we’re gonna try to build this because they don’t, you know, say, well hang on, how much are you going to try to get how much you’re trying to raise? And then you have no idea what you need. And so it’s interesting, you talk about prototyping, because I think that’s important to sort of right size, what you’re building out for what you’re trying to fund at that point in time. And so, do you find that that’s a more successful model for folks that they’re, you know, maybe there’s trying to go out and fund a proof of concept and then from there, they fund in an alpha version?

Michael Devellano 7:51
Yeah, totally. Totally. Right. So I think most projects, you know, what I try to articulate is Look, this is how, whether it’s software Service mobile apps or anything else, this is the process you go through to build it. And the lowest cost, easiest way to start and get the UI built, which is the user interface. So imagine, okay, what are the features you’re thinking of? Let’s get those out in words. Let’s think what the user experience is, like all the different roles, and then get a designer to actually make those screens, whether it’s a software as a service, or an app, and then, you know, it’s pretty easy from there just to stitch it together without building too much infrastructure. So you can actually walk around and say, Hey, this is how it’s gonna work and find early adopters. And then I think you got to get money down there. Right?

Sam Schutte 8:41
I agree with that, too. Because I think that’s that can be such a differentiator, you know, money or some real signed letter of intent, maybe, that you can say, Look, I’ve got, you know, I’m not sitting here saying, Give us the money, we’ll build it and then we’ll figure out a solid, which is what 99% of what everybody does, right? It’s Look, I have customers, they’ve paid Something I mean, especially, I mean, I have known startups that get enough people to pay that upfront, you know, get a couple hundred thousand. They don’t need investors.

Michael Devellano 9:08
Right? Yeah, that’s crazy. No, it’s like a pseudo Kickstarter, right, maybe consumer app and you can use Kickstarter. Right? I think that that gives a little bit of validation to once this is built, it’s not in vain. I think that’s helpful. So yeah, that’s, that’s our own digital products. And then really the same thing is to have a game plan around marketing, sales and support. So maybe it’s an existing business. And what they’re looking at is, hey, I’ve let’s look at today or like we’re in the middle of this global pandemic around Coronavirus, right. There’s major problem because there’s a lot of businesses that are just totally shut down. And the ones that are shut down are mostly like the worst head. They are based on physical products or services. They’re based on people’s time.

Sam Schutte 9:53
Yeah

Michael Devellano 9:53
Whereas digital products can scale without people’s time typically. So usually digital products are one of three types right? It’s like, maybe it’s completely digital, and you don’t need people involved at all. Or maybe it’s taking a traditional service or a hard product. And it’s giving a new method of distribution or delivery or ordering, or it’s just a tool to enable people that are doing a physical job or service. So usually it falls in one of those. And the further you are towards the fully digital, like you’re going to be less impacted by what’s going on out there. That prevents people from working in a physical world, right. So I think it’s a really good time for people to think about how would I take what’s going on in my industry and solve that problem that I’m doing today with a physical service or a physical location? How would I do this digitally? Yeah, and this is a methodology to do that.

Sam Schutte 11:45
A friend of mine was saying on Facebook, he’s a business owner and kind of innovative in what he does. And, you know, he was saying he thinks that all of this sort of like disruptive changes happening is going to cause people to invent new solutions for these problems that when we come out the other side, you know, the business market will have changed, you know, even if it does go even if it does go back to sort of normal, we won’t have. I mean, you look at, for instance, a great example I read today is all the food delivery services, grub hub, these guys, they are not really being used that much as what I heard now, because they typically take about 30% of the sale. And in this market, they cannot afford to give up 30% when you’re when they’re struggling. So they’re inventing their own, you know,

Michael Devellano 12:28
so first of all, every restaurant now suddenly delivery is the method of staying alive, right? Yeah, yeah. And but if they’re coughing up 30 points, plus, they’re still paying physical rent somewhere. Yeah, it’s a challenge. So I can totally see. Number one, there’s gonna be a lot of restaurants that don’t come back from this. And there’s a lot of restaurant guys will make two choices. One of two choices one will be how do I leverage this model and just go straight up mobile because the physical thing is what song The physical catbacks The physical rent, whereas I could have been in an industrial park, have a great brand out there digitally and people order for me and I deliver it. I can also see where there’s going to be models in the food delivery scenario where there are common kitchens. Like why wouldn’t you have in an industrial area certified by the Health Board, a common kitchen that has lots of different brands operate out of it? So almost like the we work model for food brands? Yeah. And then it should be, you know, I think what these guys are realizing is they need to build their customer list, and that’s where it goes to. Okay, once you have that digital delivery part, what are you doing around your list? And then how are you engaging and building immersive marketing that’s automated? And then how are you selling to these guys, which, you know, the app is a is enabling them, but instead of using grubhub, and all these guys, I can see where food brands are going to want their own customer list and people ordering directly from them. So that’ll be the challenge to them. And there are solutions out there. Actually, I advise A company called smooth commerce. and smooth Commerce has built basically a back end platform where any restaurant brand, they’ll build the app for them. And it has their own order ahead, and then their own option for delivery, curbside, whatever can go through that app and it has their own loyalty and CRM built into it. So it’s like I can see were coming out of the other side of this restaurants are gonna be totally different.

Sam Schutte 14:23
Well, and I think, you know, they, in fairness, I mean, I think not to not to be critical of restaurants in their different you know, struggling time here, but a lot of them have are operating or had been operating over in 1950s model. Yeah. And some of them had said, Hey, okay, we’re gonna do a Facebook page, we’re gonna neighbor, we’re gonna do a grubhub thing, but not a whole lot.

Michael Devellano 14:44
Right? Like they’re when you’re in a low margin business, and your constraints are labor cat tax like all the equipment that you’re buying or leasing, and then rent, what and then food costs, like you’re the you’re eating after all that so to speak, right? Whereas What does the model look like when you have less expensive or shared like, you know, preparation facilities, and then you own the delivery piece, like giving up 30 points ain’t going to work, right, you shouldn’t get three points just for the process, the transaction, and then something for the delivery. So I think that’s why I think to your point, like, people, it’s a very demanding business with this romantic so that inexperience and you know, they tend to be there’s an element of art there and not that you want to destroy that you got to think of, how do these restauranteurs that creates such a great food experience, create such a great in, in dining experience, how would they take that and think in a different way? And I think it’s probably going to be well, it might be older restauranteurs, but definitely the younger on restauranteurs, and a lot of them out there need to start thinking in these terms, not just one market, obviously. But I think it’s a good example because they’re going to be the most under stress now.

Sam Schutte 15:55
Yeah, I’m curious too, because, you know, as an example, like there’s a real big brewery scene here in Cincinnati, and one of the local breweries has been doing something neat, which is they’re going instead of asking people to come and pick up stuff from them, or even saying, hey, order it, we’ll deliver it. They’re just driving a truck out to a residential neighborhood and parking and saying, Hey, we’re here, right? And then, you know, you can go there. So I can see all kinds of, you know, apps and stuff to support that. But one common problem I see with the folks have is that an app like that, if you imagine, say, I’m going to build an app that all the breweries in town can we can crowdsource like, the best neighborhoods to park in or something, right? You know, you need a lot of data for that. And it’s great to sit here and say, Hey, I built this app, it does it, but it’s got an empty database. How do you how do companies, you know, how can they sort of get over that hump of you know, whether you’re doing like a machine learning product or something when they don’t have the data yet? How do they go around?

Michael Devellano 16:51
Well, I think the reality is it’s, you know, what’s the data, really, it’s customer data, and that’s where you get into marketing sales. And support automation. So what you want to do is obviously, you think about who is my ideal client who who’s going to buy my beer? Where are they physically, I think and then you can use, as you probably know, that’s where you come up with a traffic conversion plan. So now you’ve got this client, you got a digital product, but then you’ve got to get into marketing, sales and support. So you go in that model, my marketing is I gotta let people know that we have this new model. There might be issues around beer, but I guess you have to figure that out. But you know, you build community I would say using for example, Facebook, which can let you really geo target, you have a game plan to reach first of all target that ideal customer by demographics. Don’t necessarily sell to them but get them into your funnel so to speak in the funnel for that might be a community talking about beer it might be then to download the app and place an order it might be a gift, whatever you can do to fill that database, which is really your marketing automation. And it’s really like, okay, target your ideal client where they’re at, you know, they’re probably using Instagram, they’re probably using Facebook, they’re possibly using things like snap and twitter or whatever. But I think it’s probably those first ones, right? And then build your data from that. Because you can do that really inexpensively. You can get them into messenger bots, you can get them to opt in and download your app or to opt in and get on your list too, especially if you’re doing I think someone’s creative. They’re going, Hey, I’m going to do pop ups. I’m going to leverage temporary physical space, or I’m going to leverage something else that where I can do this or parties. And then you get people to opt in you do event driven business, but that’s how you’re building your list. I think. I think that’s really where you’re getting people into your system. And then then it’s just a matter of taking that new model and scaling it. So it’s like find, find your ideal client, attract them on the platform you’re in and then give them some sort of offer to get them into your database.

Sam Schutte 18:55
Make sense? What would you say? I guess just to close here, what are the three main things that if folks want to, if they want to get help from you, with their, you know, building out their product plans, and automating their their business, what are the three main things that they should reach out to you for help with? How can they reach you? How can they find you?

Michael Devellano 19:16
Yeah, so I think any business that’s thinking about not just digital product development, and I would classify that as Software as a Service, ecommerce apps, chat bots, you know, feel free to connect with me at robot at automate, grow dot biz, and I have various other handles out there. That’s probably the easiest way to get ahold of me or find me on LinkedIn. Or if they’re, if you’re thinking of, or have bought technology around marketing automation Sales Automation. So like for example, I’m a Salesforce partner. We’ve helped people that have HubSpot. We’ve helped people that have no custom platform, but generally marketing sales and support automation on the Salesforce platform or HubSpot, or to the bigger platforms where you’re creating a game plan and then automating it and then I think the the other easy way to get ahold To me other than email is just again, LinkedIn. So it’s just my id is M Devellano, So just M Devellano on LinkedIn, you’ll find me or Michael Devellano on LinkedIn. And then the other thing I’m going to I’ve started is something called founder’s pack. So if you’re thinking you have an idea, and you want to be part of a big community of other founders that either have ideas or existing businesses, and they’re following this model, founderspack.io and you can send me an email there as well or just join at founders pack. And we’re starting we had an event was supposed to go on Wednesday. And the plan is once the world gets back to normal is that there’ll be events in LA area, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, Nashville, Denver, and New York. And actually Miami, we have a partner in Miami, where there’ll be like monthly meetup events for people that want to pitch their give their one minute pitch and get feedback and find allies and form alliances with other founders.

Sam Schutte 21:02
Very cool. Yeah. So founderspack.io correct. Check out his LinkedIn page. And I’ll include a lot of links to this all those links in the episode description. And thanks, Sam. Yeah, thanks so much, Michael, for coming on the show and talking a little bit with me about automating digital products and what you do and I hope that you all stay safe out there in California, and that we sort of get through this and you can launch your your meetups and stuff more easily here in the near future. Thank you again for coming on.

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