About this episode

My guest this week is Duncan Hamra, founder of Memberstack. For those who might not be aware, Memberstack is a credentialing or user account solution, for those that would much rather leverage a polished solution and then try and code their own user-access flow.

If you have content that you want to put behind a user account, Memberstack can solve that for you. Or if you are building a mobile app and you want to allow user-centric customization, Memberstack can be a key part of that flow with a very simple setup. But what I didn't know about Memberstack until this interview, is how unique their entrepreneurial journey is as compared with the 140 found episodes I’ve had thus far.

This is our first Startup Story episode featuring a product that launched on Product Hunt and Memberstack made it to become a featured product. This is the first episode featuring a technical solution where the vision for growth, is not about exponential growth or chasing a unicorn moniker. And it is definitely the first episode where the founder pushes to ensure that people don't work over 40 hours a week. We discuss all of these topics in great.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • How Duncan was raised in a very supportive household in Virgina, his family originally came from Lebanon. He shares how growing up he would go to family parties where everyone would talk about their businesses.
  • How he met his co-founder Tyler in kindergarten and from a young age always wanted to build things together and started their first company in high school. He shares how in ninth grade, they would get up every morning at 5 am, and do things before school started to make money. Then later started listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast about creating online business and this sparked their curiosity.
  • Duncan explains what Memberstack is and how it is a credentialing or user account solution, for those that would much rather leverage of polished solution and then try and code their own user access flow.
  • Memberstack was founded in 2018 and he explains that by building Mamberstac by themselves they could constantly develop it.
  • They originally started to build this just for themself but then realized they stumbled on something really big.
  • Duncan shares how he accidentally arrived at a VC fundraising meeting.
  • He shares how he successfully launched his product on Product Hunt and how he reached being the number 1 product. He gives tips on how he uses his friend and clients to help them grow on Product Hunt.
  • He shares how he makes sure that everyone on the team has an even work-life balance and doesn’t push his team to work over 40 hours.

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Episode transcript

Duncan Hamra: Hey, my name is Duncan Hamra. I'm a co founder at Memberstack and this is MY startup story.

Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. That is the startup story.


James McKinney: Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode, are you aware that we just wrapped up the month of July? And that means that we're in the middle of Q3 and we only have five months left in this year. Before you know it, we're going to be focusing on 2022 planning. Time is flying by. And I bring that up because a new quarter means a new issue of Grindology magazine. Our Q3 issue is on the press as we speak, and we'll start shipping in just three weeks. Now for those who may not know Grindology is a brand extension of The Startup Story. Grindology delivers founder direct resources that will help ease your grind and fuel your hustle. Every single issue of Grindology is chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of Grindology, we will be delivering to you tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately.

Our current issue, the Q2 issue that's available right now, is focused on content. And in that issue, you'll receive proven tactics on how to leverage existing content that you've already created to drive new business and deliver new revenue. And you'll hear operational tactics that were used by a founder that saw nearly 400% growth in one year, and he attributes that growth to the tactics he shares in this issue. And in our previous issue, our Q1 issue, our premier issue, our very first one, we had a SAS founder lay out exactly how he obtained his first 1,000 customers. And another founder talked about how he leveraged his video to increase sales and lead conversions. I'm telling you, founder direct tactics make all the difference in the world. And that is exactly what you will find in this issue and in every issue of Grindology. Like I said, real tactics from real business builders. And if you want to see what Grindology has to offer, then visit grindologymagazine.com and check out our digital version of either our Q1 or Q2 issue, then make sure to subscribe so that you don't miss our Q3 issue as our theme this quarter is automation. Within this issue will be a playbook on how Lyft built their marketing automation platform. And it's provided by the senior engineering manager himself, the guy who built it. We don't mess around when it comes to giving you real tactical and practical guidance. So check out grindologymagazine.com today, and of course, we will include a link in our show notes for easy access.

Just one more thing before we get rolling. Have you entered for your chance to win Time magazine's 2020 invention of the year? Would is this news to you? Well, it shouldn't be. I mean, in July, we feature the startup story of FX Rouxel, the founder of Gardyn and to celebrate his episode, he provided a full Gardyn home kit to be given away for absolutely free. They sell that kit for $899, but you can get one for free because you're a The Startup Story listener. All you have to do is visit thestartupstory.co/gardyn and enter for this incredible opportunity. And in case you're wondering, yes, we will include a link in our show notes for easy access as well. Alright, let's jump in to this week's episode.

My guest this week is Duncan Hamra ,co founder of Memberstack. And for those that may not be aware Memberstack is a credentialing or user account solution for those that would much rather leverage a polished solution and then try and code their own user access flow. So if you have content that you want to put behind a user account, Memberstack can solve that for you. Or if you're building a mobile app, and you want to allow user centric customization Memberstack can be a key part of that flow with a very simple setup. In fact, The Startup Story itself is a Memberstack user. You know, if you wanted to access all of my video interviews via The Startup Story Inner Circle, then you've interacted with an installation of Memberstack. Now I'm not a technical person so when we were creating inner circle, we needed something that didn't require a developer and I absolutely love their product.

But what I didn't know about Memberstack until this interview is how unique their entrepreneurial journey is, as compared to the 140 founder episodes we've had thus far. This is our first Startup Story episode featuring a product that launched on product time and made it as a featured product. This is the first episode featuring a technical solution with a vision for growth is not about exponential growth or chasing the unicorn moniker. And it is definitely the first episode where the founder pushes to ensure that people don't work over 40 hours a week. I'm going to be honest with you that last one, that concept around not working 40 hours a week, that totally caught me off guard, in part because of my own personal story, my time in the military and even the fact that I'm 43 and not 26. But that said, we discuss that topic in great detail to explore some generational differences that might be some opportunities for growth in that area for myself, and maybe for you. But before we even get to that story, we need to hear about how Duncan's story even got started.


Duncan Hamra: The first experience of that I can remember of saying, "Okay, I think starting a business would be fun. I think that'd be something worth doing," was actually a conversation with my grandma. So my family is originally from Lebanon, at least on my dad's side, and every family get together, between all the yelling and the really good food, is talking about new business ventures. What is so and so doing, how much did their store grow? What new thing did they start? And although I wasn't active in most of that, I got to hear the stories about that. And she always shared those. So I think that's probably where it started. And my dad too, my dad had his own family practice for a little while. So yeah, I just I've seen it modeled, and I thought it was exciting thing to try.


James McKinney: That's awesome. So then you mentioned Lebanon. So where were you raised?


Duncan Hamra: So I was actually raised in Virginia. So my great grandfather and great grandmother came from Lebanon.


James McKinney: You know, one of the things that I find interesting and for those who listened to The Startup Story for some period of time, you know that the I love the immigrant story. Like I love whether it be first generation, or having immigrated directly. I love the difference in perspective from those who were not born here, not raised here, not generationally tied to the US. Because I think things are just different in the way they see things. And so being that your grandparents came over, obviously you heard stories of what things were like back at home, and I'm sure for your parents, it was very different upbringing than even how you were brought up. So when you think to the idea of what your future held, what was the path that you were going to take growing up? Was there a set roadmap that was flavored by the family's immigrant story? Or did you truly have a clean slate that you could have done whatever it is you wanted?


Duncan Hamra: I'm going to say I was extremely fortunate. And I feel like I had a clean slate, I really feel like it. So and actually, I'm going to mention Tyler a lot in this because our stories very much overlap. So Tyler is my co founder, and we met in kindergarten. So we met a long time ago. And we always bounced ideas back and forth. But I will say just in the conditions we were raised, just how much our family supported us and the people we had around us telling us that it's like, "Hey, like, you can go do whatever you want to do," that we took that to heart, and sometimes to their chagrin. Because they would usually follow it up with you can do whatever you want, but I highly recommend you go to college, or you do this thing, or this thing that's like a recommended usual path. So there definitely was that roadmap.

But we really stuck on the first thing they said when they said we could do whatever we wanted. And we went that route. Yeah, I think that definitely is part of it that like, just I guess, how would you describe it? Just the way I think family talked about what it meant to make a living, or what it meant to have like a fulfilling career, it was definitely a big part of their lives. And, like, it's different for every family member, some to a fault, right. I saw some people modeling that they could take their career too far, and maybe do too much with it and spend not enough time with family. But then I also saw others who they recognized the value of work and just put in a good day's work and came home and spent time with family. So it's been a constant balancing act between those two.


James McKinney: It's just it's interesting, because like the number of founders, and again we've had I think by the time your episode airs, probably 140 episodes, and I would say maybe a quarter of them, there's some immigrant tie into it, whether they were born here or whether their parents were ones that immigrated over, or even to grandparents, but there's some there's some tie in to it. And one of the things that I find fascinating about it, is the perspective of opportunity between those that, again, the United States and everything about the way we do things. For those who are born in that even myself, right, you know, again, I can't even think back to when someone in my family lineage immigrated to the US. But it's all we've ever known is the opportunities that lay before us. And so we're not wide eyed about it. Like there's not like it really a sense of awe of the opportunities.

But yet, when I talk to those that have some tie into first or second generation US, their perspective of opportunity is so much greater than how I frame up the opportunities here. And so it's just I always find that interesting, and how that plays into the Startup Story for those families that have that tie in. So let me ask this question because you mean again, you mentioned your co founder Tyler and we're not at the Memberstack story yet but Tyler obviously becomes part of your story very early on. And so in your we'll say your elementary through high school years, were there early entrepreneurial leanings, like did you start building things? Was there some hacks you guys put together? Like, is there anything that signaled in the K through 12 era that you guys were going to do something together?


Duncan Hamra: Oh, man, I love that question. That's fun. So I feel like one of the first things that comes to mind, and this was I had different friend groups throughout school, but I remember Tyler and I would always talk about building things. And it wouldn't be like for profit, it would just be like, what if we… I remember one of the first things was a tennis ball launcher. We wanted to make like just a thing that could shoot a tennis ball as far as it could. I have no idea why that was the thing. But just stuff like that. It's perfect example of we just started building stuff together. And then the first thing we really built together that was like more business oriented was like a landscaping company that we started in high school.


James McKinney: Okay, excellent. So coming to the end of high school, what was your next step? I mean, end of high school is a natural chapter, we close that chapter move on to the next. Were you technically inclined, so you're leaning was I just want to start coding and doing something? Or was it I want to go to college and learn business, or I want to do something in medicine, or whatever the case may be? What was that next chapter for you?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah. And actually, I'm going to add a little more to the high school story, because I think it'll color this a little bit. I'll say I had senioritis in ninth grade. I remember being told that several times, that it was going to be rough. But what was really exciting and kind of what like got us through it. I'll say both Tyler and I, was we would get up every morning at five. And then we would go and do random things. Like one fall, we went and gathered like all the leaves around town before school, and then we would like make compost piles and then sell the compost. So once high school started, we were like up and at it, and trying new things. And so we did the compost thing, we did landscaping, we sold wood for a little while, like firewood.

And then we like started discovering podcasts and listening to people talking about, it actually started with Pat Flynn was the first I think like business podcast we heard. And the idea of starting an online business came up. And this was probably sophomore year. And the problem that we saw in front of us was it was like super annoying to format papers. So we actually ended up using some of the money from the manual labor jobs, to hire someone to help us build a web app. And that's actually still online. It's called formatically.com and it's a citation tool and formatting tool. Of course, we were trying to sell it to students so there was no financial model to that. But hey, that's all part of the you've got to learn that some step along the way. But yeah, I think that was getting into that, I got to do a lot of the design for it. I designed it in PowerPoint, and it was terrible. But I have so much fun. And Tyler's always been more technically inclined, he's been like taking things apart and putting them together since like, he is the stereotypical, like, he wants to take everything apart, and then can actually put it back together. I was to take it apart. And then I was like more aspirational. Tyler was skilled. So he went to school for engineering. And then I went to school for design.


James McKinney: Interesting.


Duncan Hamra: So that's kind of, that's how the exit out of high school.


James McKinney: Okay, interesting. So let's talk about that Formatically real quick, because obviously being your first venture and you not being technically inclined, you hired someone to build it out for you. That's a model in and of itself, right. And again, we're kind of going back and forth in a ping pong match of because we know we get to Memberstack. But from a date perspective, when was that Formatically web app?


Duncan Hamra: That would have been 2013.


James McKinney: 2013, okay so we're talking eight years ago Formatically. So you know, not technically inclined, you now are at Memberstack, you could have started paying people to be building your technical solution after the fact. Why did you go the route you went to when it comes to… In fact, let's unpack because we are going to go back and forth a lot in the Memberstack era. Let's unpack for my listeners, what Memberstack is, and then I'll get to my question on why you chose a certain decision. So what is Memberstack?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, so Memberstack is a way for web designers and developers to manage authentication and payments in a web app. Most of our clients are web developers. They're folks who build websites every day for clients, or maybe they work at a company that has a web app. And instead of having to build out all of the integrations separately and manage the payments, and set up your databases they're able to use Memberstack to do it all at once.


James McKinney: So for those who are listening, and for those who may have ever joined The Startup Story Live online, anything engaged with thestartupstory.co, if you've put in credentials, you've played with Memberstack. We use Memberstack, and so I'm not a technical person. I have a friend of mine who is technically inclined and he is always looking for applications versus coding things himself and Memberstack by far was the best solution he came up with. And so I love the fact that we get to interview the founders of something that we rely on so heavily. So this is pretty awesome.

But let's go back to the question at hand. So Formatically, you were not technically inclined, you paid for people to develop it for you. You know, what year did Memberstack begin?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, Memberstack began in 2018.


James McKinney: So five years after Formatically, right? And again, Tyler went off to college and did some probably technical training, computer science, I assume. You were in the design side. So having learned what you learned by outsourcing technical, and knowing that Tyler was fairly new in technical coming out of college, why did you go the route of coding directly versus taking your newfound knowledge and accelerating the development by outsourcing it with you guys just kind of project managing it? Why did you choose to do it yourself versus outsource?


Duncan Hamra: Ah, that's a great question. And to be totally honest, I don't know if we really considered it as an option. So I think it was more of like our starting conditions. Like whenever we had the idea for Memberstack, we had an idea in our minds. And it started out really simply. We had this idea about how easy it was going to be to build out Memberstack and how few things we'd have to build to make it really valuable. So at that point, we were like, "Oh, this is a no brainer. This is not that complicated. We'll build it ourselves." And that was naive. I'm so glad we did it the way we did. But it wasn't intentional. And if we did it again, I would do it the same way. But I think the reason why I didn't do it is because we just didn't know better.

But what I think was really great about us getting to build it ourselves was that we were able to iterate pretty quickly through ideas, the feedback loop, because we were right there next to each other, like in whoever's house that day, going back and forth. We were able to make updates and talk through things where if we were trying to do that asynchronously, especially with our experience with Project Management, we're still trying to get better about that. I don't see it working out the way that it did.


James McKinney: What was going on in yours and Tyler's life where you were trying to solve the credentialing issue that you guys had? Because it's really, I mean, a lot of startup stories come from a personal pain point that one has, and we'd want to solve around it, but needing or wanting to solve credentialing issues is a very specific challenge or problem. So what was going on in your guys' world and lives that you needed to solve that?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, great question. It was a perfect storm. So I was doing freelance client work. I actually dropped out of school, I was going for graphic and web design, and discovered a tool called Webflow. And that pretty much rendered the entire degree obsolete. Quick, funny story, I was walking down the hall at the end of my first quarter. So I'd been there for like three months. And they were doing senior projects that day. And everyone had their laptops out, and they were showing their websites. And that previous weekend, I discovered Webflow and had built a few template sites. And I'm not bragging like this is not like I'm like "I did a great job" thing. Like the stuff that I built was higher quality than what they had learned to build while they were there. And it was just by the nature of like them using the tools that they use. So as soon as I saw that, I was like, Okay, I'm out. I'm going to go just like start building websites for people.

And while I was doing that, Tyler and I were still going back and forth, always sharing, always talking about kind of what was happening. And I remember mentioning to him that I had a client reach out who was willing to pay like $10,000 or something, which was huge to us at that time. And still, it's still big. So yeah, I heard about that. And the reason I couldn't do that project is because I was not technical enough to be able to handle the user accounts and payments. And I knew just in the community that that was an issue. Like I had been hanging around for a year or two, got to know a lot of the people who just were in the community, kind of the, the experts in the Webflow space. And I knew this was a thing that they wanted.

So I mentioned it to Tyler. And at the same time, we were rebuilding Formatically again, and the thing that was holding us back, the thing that was taking the most time was the user accounts, and the payments, and we had already built it twice over. So Tyler felt the pain of the developer building it for our own product. And I saw a market that was hungry for it. And he knew how to do it. Like he knew how to build it. So when as soon as we had that idea is like okay, drop Formatically. Let's build this thing. And if nobody else wants it, we'll go back to and use it on Formatically. So it felt pretty low risk.


James McKinney: It's amazing the six degrees of separation when it comes to startups, right? Because you mentioned Webflow. Again, thestartupstory.co is built on web flow. And in fact, four weeks from this date, we will be releasing The Startup Story of Vlad Magdalin, the founder of Webflow, and so it's going to be… it's just it's crazy how small this massive startup world truly is. And so I often mentioned Memberstack to Vlad, as part of his startup story, if you will. Yeah. But, you know, for those who are not technically inclined, but know enough to at least point to various solutions, part of your, what you're trying to solve for was payments. And so people might be listening and saying, well, Stripe is the 800 pound gorilla. Like, what does Stripe not solve for? Can you answer that question for the listeners?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, that's a great question. So Stripe is wonderful. And we are actually a Stripe partner. So folks who use Memberstack and accept payments, do so through Stripe and Memberstack. Essentially, they're great on the payment side. But they are mostly a developer tool. Like they're primarily a developer tool. And they're doing more in the no code, low code space. But Memberstack comes in and handles the authentication side, which is usually, they usually come hand in hand, but nobody had coupled them. So there's, there's this whole process of whenever you're building out a custom solution, you have to go in and set up your authentication, and your account structure and fingers crossed, you got the business model and pricing model right, because now you're going to spend some time integrating that with Stripe, and going through all the documentation. And it's a great experience to do that. But if you find out you have to change something, it's not as easy as clicking a button. A lot of times you have to go and re architect things. And it's just it can be a real, real pain. It's very expensive, very time consuming. So we're a big value add to Stripe.


James McKinney: Got it. So now, when you were building this, again, because you were a Webflow fan, when you were building this, were you looking to build this specifically for Webflow, or were you wanting to be platform agnostic?


Duncan Hamra: So we actually kind of did both, we would say we wanted to be platform agnostic. But if you just watched our behavior we were building for Webflow. Yeah, I imagine most companies, right, you'd find some version of that. But that was a bias that took us a very long time to kind of get over and really figure out what does it mean to be platform agnostic. But yeah, I'd say we primarily built for Webflow to start. And actually, one thing that might be interesting to know is whenever we first started Memberstack, I mean, I kind of shared it was just Tyler and I saying, if no one else uses this, we're going to use it. And if people do use it, it'd be really cool if we had like 300 customers, and Tyler and I are just going to like kind of coast, be like passive and super easy. And then there was a gradual realization that oh, I think we stumbled onto something really big here. I think we stumbled on something that a lot of people could benefit from. And maybe we could hire a team. Maybe we could raise some money. And yeah, it's been a crazy two years.


James McKinney: So let's talk about it because it has been a crazy two years, right? So is Memberstack bootstrapped as of today?


Duncan Hamra: So no, we actually did raise funding. We still have most of it, so we're kind of weird in that sense. But we did raise money.


James McKinney: When did you raise money? And what was your hope in raising money? Or let me rephrase that again? I mean, did you think from the get go, that venture was part of your story? And I asked this question, because for a lot of startups, there's this idea that venture has to be part of the story. And then I again, you go back to 140, started free episodes. And I would say, you know, 20% of them are bootstrapped. Right, but we're just programmed to think that venture has to be part of the journey. Was that the case for you guys being that this was fairly new territory for you? Or did someone come to you saying, you guys are going to be massive, you're going to need money to scale?


Duncan Hamra: The latter, someone came and said exactly that. So Tyler and I, we, and I'm going to acknowledge a few things here. One, like I said, our families have been incredibly supportive. Actually at the moment, I actually live in a van, I did the whole, like, convert the van, van life kind of thing. So we're extremely frugal, we don't have our own families yet so we're able to save money. And Tyler and I lived off of like, just like side gig money for a little while, while we were getting this put together. So it's definitely not like I acknowledge it's not something everybody can do. But when you can do it, you can own more of your company, hey, I highly recommend it.

But yeah, so somebody came to us, actually. We did a Product Hunt launch. And it's kind of a quick, funny story. We did a Product Hunt, launch. And we were just drowning in new setup interviews, we had given out a calendar link without any restrictions. Don't ever do that. But we gave out those calendar links, and it was back to back talking to people. And I got on a call with somebody sitting at the end of a long table. And there were two of them down to the end and like super nice office and I'm like, Oh, this is exciting. Like, could be a big customer. So I said, "Alright, Hi, I'm Duncan. I'd love to hear how you want to use Memberstack and how I can help you." And we get through this conversation like 10 minutes in and he goes, "Let me stop you. I think you're confused. My name is Darian Shirazi. I work at Gradient Ventures, one of Google's like investment funds, I want to invest in Memberstack." And I was like oh, oh, I didn't realize that's what this was. And what's really funny is that because Tyler and I didn't think this was something we wanted to do, I kind of told them on the call it was like, well, this is really like what we're after. Like, we don't know if we want to raise VC money, which in hindsight actually helped us quite a bit because it made us look cool. But it was total ignorance. It was total ignorance.


James McKinney: That is hilarious that venture capital kind of hacked their way into this, because they set up an onboarding appointment, and somehow got into the pipeline. That is awesome. Maybe, you know, maybe for a future episode, we'll have to have him on to discuss that whole story and how venture capital looks at deal flow, because I have never heard that type of story before when it comes to venture capital. And so let me ask this question, right. I mean, here you guys are, you're arguably living the startup dream, you have vans that you've built out to live in, you guys are building a product that has users. You said you were you were inundated with onboarding assistant calls to be made. And so you have clients, you have users, whether they're paid or not, don't know but we can talk about that later. So I mean, you have traction, you're building out something. Now that you're having the venture calls, what conversations are you and Tyler having, that would then make you want to actually give up the equity for the venture capital?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, great question. And it was a lot of conversations. Like I'm not exaggerating, we talked several times a week for several months. Tyler and I are extremely risk averse with almost anything, which is really funny to like hear me say it starting-


James McKinney: That's hilarious, considering you guys are startup founders.


Duncan Hamra: Yep. But I think that's part of it, though. It's like what we're optimizing for, the thing that we aren't willing to risk is the flexibility and kind of opportunity we feel like we've been given to have some choice. And to give that up for something that isn't what is really important to us. And every step of the way. And this is just another like opportunity to be grateful. Every step of the way we're given these opportunities, and it forces us, we have the time and space to reflect and say, is this thing the thing I want. And it's just it felt so cool to be able to kind of say to these people who are giving us a huge opportunity, like we had a few people also offer us jobs or to buy Memberstack around the same time. And each one, I think we took over a month to give them an answer. And we would just talk, we would say like, "Tyler, what could happen in the next five years that… like what was even the question?" It was like, if we look back in five years, what are we going to be glad we tried? What would we regret? What are we worried that fear might make us do? And we tried to loop in other people in these conversations, whether it was parents or significant others, and yeah, it was a lot of conversation.


James McKinney: So let's, if you don't mind, just because again, those listening are entrepreneurs or wantrepreneurs, 90% of my listeners are easily pre series A, I would say that remaining 10% might be closing on a series A, like they're very early on. And you had mentioned, someone even tried to buy Memberstack, right, that's, for a lot of people, that's the dream, that's the ambition to build something that someone not just wants as the client, but would want to buy and integrate into their solution, whatever the case may be. Again, you were trying to solve something in your web flow, user access that you had, and, and you were going to if it didn't work you would use it for Formatically, but you came across something that is highly desired. And now someone wants to buy it. Now, if it's an insulting offer, that's a pretty easy no. But if it's something that's got two commas in it, it's like, "Huh, I've got to think about that a bit." So how did you guys get to a place where you're like, I don't think we should take this offer.


Duncan Hamra: I think Tyler and my process is very gut, like we lean on our guts quite a bit. And the process was, I mean, just a lot of conversation. Like it sounds like, I mean, we really talked a lot. And we would just kind of dig in, ask why a lot to say, okay we take this deal, why is that something we do? And let's say, and we do this other thing, too. This is a useful tool we use, we do called pre mortems. I don't know if you're familiar with these. But in medicine -


James McKinney: I'm familiar with post mortems. I haven't heard pre mortem.


Duncan Hamra: Exactly. So in medicine, you do a post mortem to just kind of reflect as a team and say, Alright, what went wrong? How could we help the next person who comes in? And a pre mortem is where you sit down before you make a decision. And you give everyone a piece of paper and you pause and you say, okay, for the next five minutes, be as pessimistic as you can. You have a license to just be pessimistic for a little bit, and we're going to write down, and just imagine a world where everything goes wrong. This breaks bad, it's just every fear comes true. And right now and tell the story of why that happens. What is it that caused it to go wrong? And then hit the timer, okay good, now we can be like positive again, this is stressful. And we go through and read through the list. And a lot of times insights will come out of those, where at any time, we would come up with an insight, which like, potentially compromised, something really, really important to Tyler and I, it added, like something important to the conversation where now It wasn't just it didn't matter how many commas were in it. If this is a non negotiable, if this thing we're now looking at is a likelihood and it's something that we would regret at the end of the day, no matter what happens, like whether we get the money or not. It just at that point, we have to say, okay, we're not willing to risk this. And that's what I mean by risk averse. It's like finding those things, we're not willing to sacrifice and then moving forward.


James McKinney: Do you guys have an ongoing we'll say a values list on what those non negotiables are? And would you mind sharing them?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, I don't think we have a formal like polished list. But I can say at a high level, some of those things are sort of just like acknowledging the fact that the one variable you don't get to play with in your life is the amount of time you have, and not asking people to put in more time than they're comfortable putting in to make sure folks have time. And I'm speaking for the team now that everyone on the team has time for those things which are really essential to them. And, like everyone on the team is incredibly excited about what they do and the opportunity to work on this tool. But this can't be their whole life. This shouldn't be, your company should not be your whole life is at least a personal opinion of mine. It's far too fickle. The market is far too fickle to tie your own contentment and satisfaction to something like that. So yeah, we make sure everyone on the team is respecting their time, managing their time. I think that's the biggest thing to be honest.


James McKinney: I love that. I absolutely love it. You know, and, and I want to go back to you, we got sidetracked on the venture capital thread because of how unique that story was. But it all started with a Product Hunt launch. So let's talk about your launch strategy. Because thus far in your journey it's you and Tyler. Up to launch, it's you and Tyler correct? You didn't have another partner or another developer or marketing person or anything, it's just you and Tyler up to launch. And so up to this point, we have not heard a lot of expertise around growth hacking, or user acquisition, or marketing and advertising in general. Not even Facebook ads we haven't heard any. Again, I'm not saying that we didn't have that experience just hasn't been part of the story yet. But one of the things that you did mention was because of a successful Product Hunt launch, you had a calendar of pipeline for onboarding of the solution that was just jam packed and you guys were backlogged and you guys were running a million miles an hour because of it. And that sounds like the Product Hunt launch story that people would love to have for theirs. I mean, I've launched a product years ago on Product Hunt, and it went nowhere. And so for my listeners, I mean, this sounds like you just can just glean a ton of expertise from you. Can you share with us how you successfully launched Memberstack on Product Hunt?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, absolutely. I'll have to rewind a little bit because it starts before Product Hunt. But before that, you're 100% right, that it was exactly what we were hoping for. And it was one of those surreal kind of moments where I woke up that morning, and we were number one on Product Hunt. And it was just like, Oh my gosh, it's actually working. The thing, the plan we made actually worked. So what we did is it all started back when we first launched the product. We started as an agency. So this is interesting. We started by doing one on one work with people, which meant our first 20 customers knew us personally and had spent time talking to us. So there was like a, there was an actual relationship there. So from those 20 people, we started a beta where we got up to about 100 people. And same thing, Tyler and I were on the phone, we were talking to them, they knew us and we knew them, like we knew things about them. We were friends with them, we could go visit them if that was something we wanted to do.

So fast forward, I think six months or so. We have maybe a couple 100 users at this point, a couple 100 paying customers, and several 1000 people who kind of are aware of us. How we launched on Product Hunt is we leveraged that initial network of people who really knew us as people and wanted to see us succeed. At the end of the day, it came down to we had templated letters, personalized Slack messages and emails to every single person who we had interacted with in Memberstack's history to that point. So whenever we, and actually this helped a lot to one of our customers is actually really popular on Product Hunt. And we reached out to him to ask if he could help hunt us. So I don't know exactly how that plays into the algorithm, but I think it does help. So, whenever he helped us launch, we had timed emails going out to customers in different time zones. We hit New Zealand first because their day starts earlier than ours. And that got us some initial votes. We had comments from people where we would ask them, it's like, "Hey, if you leave a comment, it's like way more likely that more people will find Memberstack. And we would just so, so, so appreciate that." And we'd do that through videos or through emails, like Loom. Let me just drop a little hint right here. Loom is just a game changer in terms of building relationships, like at scale. It's a video tool you can use to like record yourself and send it out like an email. It's really fantastic. So we did that. And whenever I woke up that morning, 100 people who we had contacted had already gone, and up voted or left a comment. I think we had 10 comments by the time I woke up, but it was enough to put us on the top. And if you can get on the top early on Product Hunt, it makes a huge difference.

And there's a bunch of other stuff that comes along with that, right, you have to have like a compelling tagline. If your logo or graphic looks good, like you have to get that stuff right. And then if you can get on there early, your odds of being in the top I think five is what you want to aim for is way higher. If you can get the top five, you're going to get into their email, which gives you a bump on the second day. But yeah, I think the other thing that we did, which worked really well, is we were super active in the comment section. And we followed up with people who didn't reply to our first message. So what that looked like is we were in the Product Hunt all day. We were on Twitter, we weren't following up with people, we were just making sure that I mean, it was really human, it's probably the most like human marketing thing I've ever done on the internet. And at the end of the day, Memberstack's story is really about that. It was about creating relationships with people solving their problems, and then making really reasonable asks whenever it was beneficial.


James McKinney: I love that. Absolutely love it. Now, what would you say the results of Product Hunt were for you? Besides the venture capital opportunity and the awareness that came from that. You know, what is what was the upside for you to? I mean, do you know exactly how many new customers came because your Product Hunt launch? Was that your only launch strategy? Tell me a little bit more about the outcomes of that.


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, so it was pretty much our only launch strategy at that point. Our goals at this point Memberstack are still I what if we could get to 400 people in the first year, that's like enough money to actually pay ourselves doing something. That was our goal. And as far as the results go it kind of comes back to your question earlier about if we had experience doing this stuff. Absolutely not, we didn't have any like attribution, and we didn't have any tracking going on. So I can tell you top of funnel, and I can tell you kind of it helped us, it was definitely a good thing to do. But I couldn't tell you exactly how many people ended up converting. I think we ended up with, I want to say, you know, this might be interesting, maybe, yeah, I'm going to say 3,000 to 6,000 unique visitors over that like, it was 10,000 total over like the three days that kind of gives you an idea, if you get a top three or number one of the day, you can get a really solid amount of traffic and a few days.


James McKinney: I love, I love that because again, not having the background, no attribution, all the things that if I have any growth hackers listening right now they're just like, they're dying inside. But again, that's just part of it, right? When we run, we go, we and we solve along the way for so many things. And so after you have this success with Product Hunt, which again, being you know, one of the top five on Product Hunt is a great metric in and of itself. L lots of visibility, again, through that email man to be a part of the email must have been huge, you know, but again, it's a vanity metric that doesn't guarantee dollars that come with it. You happen to get some venture capital out of it, as well as some new clients out of it. So at the end of your first year post Product Hunt, your hope was to have 400 paying customers. Where did you end up at the end of year one?


Duncan Hamra: We were at about 300 to 400 customers, I would say.


James McKinney: Awesome. So here are 300 to 400. You now have venture capital, though. I'm assuming, and correct me if I'm wrong, but let's talk about your hiring strategy. Now that you have venture capital, were you thinking, let's just go into user acquisition mode or let's get people on board that can help us with user acquisition mode because that's not exactly our area of strength.


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, I think there are some things I would do differently now. But let me tell you what we did. So we raised this money with the help of actually the first teammate who decided to join. His name is Naitik, Naitik Mehta. He was working on his own startup helping folks with disabilities get jobs in tech. And he was using Memberstack as part of his like tech stack to enable that. But he decided to step down from that startup and reached out to us and he was very into the idea of raising capital. Like we would not have successfully raised. We had the opportunity, we had people who were interested. But we wouldn't I don't think have closed it out if it weren't for Naitik. So a lot of what happens next is like a collaboration between the three of us.

And we know at this point, we need to solve the support problem. Tyler and I are now trying to manage hunt like several 100 people. And I do remember now it's actually between 200 and 300. It actually wasn't even above 300 yet. But that was whenever we started getting, we started drowning a little bit in support, new leads, also trying to build out the product in a dev environment that we created, that was not ideal. We knew there were a lot of problems we needed to solve, but we had never solved them before. Like, this was the biggest and the furthest along we had ever gotten when it came to building a company of this kind. So everything slowed down quite a bit. It took us a while to make our first couple hires. And every time we did, we were so glad that we did. It was time to make all the hires.

But we had to learn how to hire at the same time. So the first three months, I think was just us putting out job descriptions, doing interviews and not finding the applicants we were looking for. We just didn't know how. So there was a lot of that. There was we continue to try to like add new features and things. But we pulled ourselves in too many directions. We were still in the mindset of let's do everything ourselves, while saying that we're going to start treating this more like a company. And only now, I feel like only in the last I would say well, six months to a year, are we really starting to get some traction on implementing and doing the things that we need to do to make the company grow?


James McKinney: How many employees do you have right now?


Duncan Hamra: We have I'm going to say eight and a half because somebody just signed the offer, but they haven't started.


James McKinney: Okay. Awesome. So Naitik, we'll call employee number two or three, I should say because you and Tyler being one and two. And so services where you're drowning, marketing did you guys solve for service first, so a couple hires there and then marketing? What was your hiring order?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, so Naitik came in under the title of growth. He pretty much came in and worked on like funnel optimization partnerships, he was out talking to customers. He also did a lot on the administrative side. So he was kind of growth and operations. And then Molly was actually our next hire. And she started out just on the customer support side. And she has since transitioned into first managing support and now into like the content marketing side of things. So yeah, it was Naitik, and then Molly, and then Josh joined next. And he joined as customer support /customer success. Same thing, talking to customers. And then after that we had Lydia join as a back end engineer. So we finally made that first engineering hire and oh man did that change some things. It was so good at every hire, like every time we hired someone, like I said it, it was just a total game changer.

And I don't regret that it took us a long time. I think it needed to take us a long time. And now I think I'll pause to say, we're super lucky. And I hope this is representative of people who raise money. But we got to raise on terms where the expectation like when we raised the money, we said, this is our first time doing this. And this opportunity is really important to us, and we want to do it well, which means we're not going to rush. That's when we decided or when we told people that we're going to do this on our own terms. We want to figure out how to do this well. And I'm so glad we have because just the people who we get to work with every day, it's just a complete dream come true. So I'm really, really glad we raised from the people we did, and we had the opportunity to hire and work with the people we get to work with now.


James McKinney: First, let me ask this question for you. You mentioned that there were a lot of things wrong, technically, you know, you built it on the wrong stack, or wrong to environment, I believe was the words you used. When you hired your first technical hire, or had a third party come in and reassess the situation and what needed to be corrected, was that a humbling moment knowing that, okay, we've gotten this far we've built a business, we have 200 to 300, maybe 400 customers this time, we need to revamp our tech stack, our dev environment, the way in which we engineer this whole thing. Was that a humbling thing? Are you guys fully devoted to this idea that we're learning as we go?


Duncan Hamra: I think the process of accepting the fact that we had to actually undo a lot of the things that we had done was a very, very long process of us kind of accepting that and coming to terms with that. And I think that's okay, as someone I should say, speaking generally to people who are like building products. It's like, you want to build that MVP in a way that is easy to deconstruct and build again. But what our mistake was we got well past the MVP stage without building a scalable product. And we kind of shot ourselves in the foot, just the way we built it, the whole front end is in Webflow. And like I said, I love Webflow, it got me out of college. But it's not the best place to build the front end for the type of web application we were building. So there was a point in there where we should have switched platforms and started building. Only now are we really doing that, and it's a lot harder once you have 2,000 customers. So I mean boohoo, I would love that we have this problem. But that's just like, a tip for others is don't be afraid to build it wherever you need to, to get started. And then as soon as you start to get some serious traction, get out of there, as quickly as possible into something that's going to scale with you. Otherwise, it's going to be a pain in the future.


James McKinney: You know, when you look at your entire journey of Memberstack, you know, there's a lot of exciting things that have happened so quickly for you guys. And too, with the hires you've made, being so experienced in their areas of focus and responsibilities, there's probably a lot that you've learned from the people that you've hired. When you think across the last two years of Memberstack, and specifically the last year where you've hired people, what have been some of the most incredible learnings for you personally from those you've hired?


Duncan Hamra: I love that. So I would say some of the biggest, I mean, first off, just touching on just like cultural differences, it was really fun to work with people from, I guess, just different backgrounds. People from all over the world where we have now the teams distributed in Canada, the UK, the US, Mexico, and the Netherlands, at this point. So the team calls are really fun to get to hear just yeah, how different people interact and learn from each other and communicate. And I think that for one has been extremely valuable. Then I would say, on the… and what's interesting, and I don't think the team would mind me saying this is that we're all relatively inexperienced. And I shouldn't say all actually, because that's slowly been changing. But that core team was relatively inexperienced. Molly had never really done any technical type of work before. Whenever she started out in support, I don't think I mean, she had never messed with JavaScript or HTML or CSS before. So she's learned all of that. One of the biggest learnings actually, now that you're saying that, it's just the speed at which people are able to pick things up and become experts, was shocking to me. Just seeing how long and knowing how long it took me to pick this stuff up, seeing Molly come in, and just like crush it pretty quickly, was really, really exciting.

I think one of the big things I learned is that if there is, and I don't want to say culture fit. But if there is alignment in what's important to a group of people, and there's trust to be able and there's excitement about like getting to sort of an internal compass, like an internal drive to do better, that people can do some pretty cool stuff. Now, on the technical side, as we've been making more hires recently, we have been optimizing for folks who do have previous experience. And that has been a total game changer. I remember a conversation Tyler was telling me about the other day, where him and the core dev team were on a call with one of our new hires. And they were going back and forth. They were sharing ideas, kind of like they would before we made this hire, and they got to the end of the call. And he like leans back in his chair. And he goes, "What if we do…" he like pointed to three things. And like all the stars aligned for everyone on the team. And he was like, whoa, oh, my gosh, it really pays to have experience with this stuff. Because he saved us. I don't know how much time or work.


James McKinney: That's awesome. That is awesome.


Duncan Hamra: I think it's just I think the surprises, like work with good people. And I think they will surprise you just generally day to day.


James McKinney: Do you find yourself, again from an area of focus if you will, do you find yourself wearing the product hat? Or the CEO leadership hat? And then what percentage if you're wearing both?


James McKinney: Yeah, great question. So Tyler and I split pretty much everything 50/50 initially, and then we'll have a conversation about specifically, how do we move it to the right or left about who wants to do a little more of something. So on the leadership side, I would say it's pretty split. And actually Naitik has a handle on leadership side as well. We don't have like a CEO figure exactly. I would say I end up leading a lot of the team calls and trying to coordinate some of those things. But yeah, I mean, it really though the team is very internally motivated that we don't really need somebody kind of like pointing which way to go it seems. We've had a really easy time lately. We'll see how this continues to change over time of we kind of know what needs to get done. Everybody kind of looks at this the problem we have right now and says yes, like let's go do that. Let's go do the thing that we all know we need to do. So that's been, that's been really good. And I'm still doing some product stuff. And I'm going to be doing more but right now hiring is my main thing.


James McKinney: You know, when you mentioned your year one, you and Tyler's and how cool would be with 400 customers. And obviously, you had mentioned a story now you're sitting around 2,000 customers? Do you still measure year to year growth from a customer metric, from a retention metric, a revenue metric, like when you look at year to year growth now, what are your targets, not numerically, but from a category that you look to hit each year?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, so we now focus on revenue more. But the secondary KPI is the customer count. And then the third, which we're actually just now implementing, and trying to figure out how to track accurately is basically just like customer appreciation, satisfaction, the number of people who are excited that Memberstack exists. So those are the three main things. Money, we need to keep the lights on. Customer count, really good indicator of, okay, it's like the more customers we have, the more potential we have for creating value for them. If we can add a new feature, which is beneficial to them, and we have more customers, it's like, has a more outsized effect, right on revenue? And then of course, we just want to know that people really appreciate what we're doing. So we want to track that as well.


James McKinney: From a perspective of exponential growth, right now, my assumption is, if all of a sudden, in the next 30 days, you were to have, you know, 10x growth, you wouldn't be equipped for that type of growth, growth and scale. What is it you guys are looking for internally before you flip all the switches to try and just grow this exponentially?


Duncan Hamra: Great question. And I think it's been an ongoing conversation internally about what kind of growth rate are we optimizing for, and even from the beginning, and actually, you know, I kind of left out a big part of our story, which is we got to go to Y Combinator last year in the summer. So at Y Combinator, they have a metric of you're aiming for 10%, week over week growth, which when you're brand new, if you know, like percentages, right, like I'm brand new, that's a lot easier than once you started to grow. So we've, I would say categorically, we are less aggressive than the average YC company, but maybe more aggressive than your average lifestyle business. We're somewhere in there, maybe like 10% monthly growth is more in the ballpark of what we're aiming for.


James McKinney: That's your ongoing target is what you're aiming for.


Duncan Hamra: Right, right. It's slower. Right now, we're actually in the process of making a growth hire. A lot of our growth is still to this point, like organic referrals. And it's just it's, it's not a good lever, it's hard, you can't control it very well. So we're looking to bring somebody in, who can help us hit that more regularly. But yeah, that kind of 5-10% per month, it puts us on track for our hiring roadmap, being able to offer salary raises, and that sort of thing.


James McKinney: Let me ask this question from your VC investor, you know, they look for obviously they're part of the conversations is, what does an exit look like for you guys? One, what does it look like for you guys? And do they share the same perspective on that 10% month over month growth?


Duncan Hamra: Great question. No, they would like that to be higher. They would, and we have these conversations with them, where they'll say, they'll put on one of two hats. They'll have the, "I want to see you succeed in your goal" hat, and then the "I want to make some money here, make some money" hat. So they're really cool people. And definitely, they very much want us to be more aggressive with that. But this is when it comes back to that we kind of check the amount of time we're putting in and our expertise and say, okay, we need to figure out how to do we… because if we're not going to like this is a weird thing about Memberstack. One of our non-negotiables is the 40 hours, right? Like, if you don't want to work more than 40 hours, you're not expected to, but we're going to optimize that, we're going to work hard, and we're going to build cool stuff during that 40 hours. So if we need to spend money to move more quickly, we do that, but sometimes it's a bottleneck in like, we need to hire a contractor or a consultant to come in and help us but we have to find the consultants, that takes an extra two weeks. Whereas I think in a perfect world, they may like us to be a little more aggressive and like spend the money, make a mistake, spend the money again, hopefully get it right the second time, that kind of thing. But yeah, that's the growth rate we're comfortable with. And it's long term, I think going to be better for the health of the company from a culture perspective, from a customer perspective.


James McKinney: I want to ask this question. I want to frame it up from the standpoint that I truly want to learn the differences in not culture but generational. I'm 43, let's just put that out there. How old are you, Duncan?


Duncan Hamra: Yes, I am. 26.


James McKinney: 26 so I'm almost 20 years your senior. And I grew up with this idea, and we're seeing so many things on LinkedIn now from article sharing on this, I know that my thinking needs to be updated and revamped. So I'm truly coming to you with this question from the posture of wanting to learn, and re engineer myself. You know, there's this thinking about the idea of if someone were to tell me, "I only want to work 40 hours," I'm automatically red flagging that resume and not considering it. Like, there's this idea that I have in my brain that if you don't want to work more than 40 hours, you're not a hard worker. And I understand that is flawed thinking, and I'm telling all my listeners right now, I'm acknowledging this, I'm owning it, and I know I have listeners that are in my same age bracket that probably think the same way I do. And again, part of it also, too, I'm a Marine Corps veteran, like there's just a lot of things that are built up in me in layers that come to say, I don't want someone telling me that they're not willing to… that there's a cap to how much they're willing to put in, if you will.

But in the spirit of learning and authenticity and transparency, you did say we're going to work hard those 40 hours. So have you put in systems in place to optimize how those 40 hours are spent so you're truly getting 40 hours of work? Because, again, part of the old school 40 hour workweek was that you weren't really working 40 hours, like you're walking around the office with your coffee and chit chatting about the latest episode of Friends or The Office or did you see the Jack Ryan show? I mean, this is idle chitchat that kills a lot of the time. But that was also what we put under the umbrella of culture too, right? Like that was part of the culture. And so help walk us through how those in your generation are viewing work. The idea that if you only want to work 40 hours that's not perceived as lazy or not perceived as someone who doesn't have buy in on what we're trying to accomplish. Help me and those listeners who think like me to reframe how we view that.


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, I will, I will do my best.


James McKinney: And real quick, Duncan, I hope that question didn't put you on your heels in any way, shape, or form.


Duncan Hamra: No I love it, I love it.


James McKinney: Like, I truly do want to understand this. There's so much out there that talks about something in line with that process. I just, I'm trying to wrap my head around this.


Duncan Hamra: No, I love that question. These are my favorite kind of questions. So the first thing that comes to mind is just and maybe this is just me, but my brain shuts down after a certain amount of the type of work that I get to do. Like you put me in front of, I don't know a pile of rocks and asked me to shovel, I can do that for more than 40 hours. Like, after a few weeks, actually, I'd probably just like die of soreness after the first two days, but give me enough time, I can get stronger, I can do that. But if you have me solving problems, hard problems all day, every day, my brain gets tired. And I think that's true for most people.

And I really believe that being able to like come to work energized... And I think the best example of this is just think of a time in your life when you built something and you can't explain it but you've got so much done in like a day, or two days or three days, just really, really quick, kind of the stars aligned, and you're able to just execute effectively. I feel like that comes from being rested and having balance in life. Speaking personally, in the past where Tyler and I did do the like 60 to 80 hour weeks for a while. That was like a thing for that stage in life where we looked at each other and said, "Is this the thing we want to do? It's not a given, it's not a thing we have to do. Is this what makes sense to us?" And we decided, yes, we decided it was a worthy investment to kind of take advantage of that phase in our lives, to hopefully have a big payoff from the things we'd learned and things we get to do. And we just kind of prioritized for that. We missed out on some other things. But it worked because we were still able to maintain a certain level of energy.

Now, and now and going forward, I think that's continues to shift that there's a balance in a week where like I can tell you about my workweek right now and kind of what it's doing for me, I think it's a good example. I work 40 hours but I do it Monday through Thursday. So I work 10 hours a day Monday through Thursday, which means I have Friday completely off. And this is the thing that like if you own your own company and you're making money from it, or I mean, if like you ask your boss like, maybe they'll go for it, that we have the ability to do now. I don't have to be in front of a desk talking to people. So given that, that's an option, and given that it gives me an entire day of rest, like three day weekends every week, just saying that gives me energy.

The opportunity to be able to do that is exciting. And when I get to work on Monday, I know I have 10 hours that day to just get amazing, like to get as much done as I can. And then I'm going to just have Friday to chill. I can spend it with friends, I can go for a walk, I can go like watch the sunset, and just not worry about it that day. So I find being able to come back to work energized, really helpful, where if I was doing 60 hours, it would just be a steady grind. And I worry, just given my ability to kind of get on a thing or get tired of working on something that just I lose a lot of creativity, also. The freshness of having a stop and a start, I find a lot of problems get solved on Mondays for me.


James McKinney: Interesting. Are there principles that you've employed, you put in place across the team that helped to ensure those 40 hours are a diligent work in progress?


Duncan Hamra: That's a great question. So we are still figuring that out. We find that one thing that's nice is, and this is kind of an unintended consequence, but we've had some among the team some like distant deaths in the family where maybe like a grandparent will pass away. And because of the expectations we set, as a team folks feel empowered to take a day off, to be able to like check out of work early and say, all right, 40 hours, I can manage this, I'll just do the time a little somewhere else, when I'm feeling a little better. So we're kind of trusting them to say, life is going to throw things at you. And we've set expectations where you can rearrange the time a little bit to still get your work done, and be excited and happy while you're doing it, despite everything world's going to throw at you. And so that's on the negative side.

But on the positive side, if someone on the team, like their kid makes it into a tournament, so now that's new, newly scheduled, and they like normally would have to miss that because they have to travel or something. Now they feel empowered, they don't feel bad for asking for that. And I really have a feeling that stuff adds up. Just that really important stuff. I'm a true believer that the simple stuff in life really is the good stuff, like the important stuff. And the idea of work taking that away, I just don't think it's worth it. So the 40 hours is kind of a proxy for saying, for communicating that that value, that we trust you to get this work done in a reasonable amount of time at the time that you deem appropriate. And yeah, we're still figuring out how to track that, and how to really make sure it's working. But so far, so good. Folks are happy and work is getting done.


James McKinney: Interesting. So when you think of, and I'm fascinated to hear your response to this because, again, we've talked a lot about scale, accelerated growth, work limitations, or work boundaries, if you will. So if we were to have a where are they now episode in three to five years from now what does Memberstack look like? And I don't expect to hear we're a unicorn, because that doesn't seem like that's in your line of focus, it doesn't seem like a metric you care about right now. So what if we were to have a three to five year recap where would Memberstack be?


Duncan Hamra: So we want to build a hyper focused product, we really want to double down on one or two communities who find what we're doing really valuable. And we want to be the most highly recommended tool for them. From there, if we have that platform, it's basically taking everything I explained about Product Hunt, and just setting that up again, and it gives us an opportunity to decide where do we go from here, if we really have 10,000 people who greatly appreciate what we're doing, that's a launching pad right there that we… I don't know, I don't know what we'll do with that launching pad. But that's what we're optimizing for is the ability to make that choice. And we have to grow to be able to do that.


James McKinney: When we think of the idea of entrepreneurship, you know, and even my listeners right now, as I say what does an entrepreneur look like they may have a certain demographic, they may have a certain experienced track record as part of it, they may have a different idea of what work ethic looks like, who knows. Everyone has a different persona of entrepreneurship. But for you, do you think anybody can be an entrepreneur? Or do you even have a mental makeup of what it takes to be an entrepreneur?


Duncan Hamra: Wow, such an interesting question. These are great questions, by the way. So I do think anybody intrinsically like has the potential to be an entrepreneur, I do think it comes with a certain level of being able to take on some discomfort. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. And depending on your situation, it may not feel that uncomfortable. It's like one person's comfort is not necessarily everyone else's comfort or discomfort, vice versa. I think it's complicated in particular. And I really, I just double down on, I feel like I had Tyler and I had a lot of lucky breaks and a lot of love. I mean, really just like, from people around us, helping us out in kind of our situation. So I would, I would definitely say there are people who would be much more effective entrepreneurs than me. I think it seems to me entirely the universe keeps nudging us in this direction to say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, no, trust me, keep going, keep doing this," despite our behavior.

So I hope, I mean, I believe, like anybody is smart enough to be able to do it. And I think there is a big component of luck. So to somebody who is trying, and it's not working out. I mean, listen well, and don't take it too, personally. As long as you're listening, and as long as you were looking to see what the world is saying in response to what you're doing, that's a win. That's an opportunity to learn. And I really, if you don't have to make a lot of money to be an entrepreneur, and it really is just about, like responding to the world and trying to make things people want and that's valuable to people, that's a worthy endeavor. And I think anybody can do that.


James McKinney: I love that. Absolutely love it. You know, you mentioned the idea that entrepreneurship comes with a level of discomfort, right? You know, it does force you to, in some cases wear many hats, work many hours, experience many rejections, many failures, there's a lot of ways discomfort comes to us as entrepreneurs. But for you and your entrepreneurial journey, what was the most significant area of discomfort for you that you've had to navigate through?


Duncan Hamra: Oh, I think one of the biggest areas would be realizing that I was operating at kind of a surface level with what I thought I wanted. And I think, I mean, at least in my experience so far, I know I operated most of my life and there were very few opportunities where that was challenged, or I was given opportunities to go deeper, like where people really wanted to know, why do you want things you want? And then why did you say that? And have you considered you might be wrong? Like foundational stuff is we're figuring out what we want to do in life. And the kind of like all the flexibility entrepreneurship provides, I think gave us the space and the challenge that asked us, here's the thing, do you really want it? Is this actually what you want? And why? And that was a very, very surprising thing. That was an extremely… yeah, something I didn't expect, mostly because I just didn't know I didn't know. But I'm very glad to do now. And every opportunity I get, I tried to ask people. I've lately been able to do a lot more interviewing and hiring. And it's something I love doing is giving people an opportunity to like think a little deeper. It's like, okay, you want to be a manager? Why, like, why is that important to you? And to ask why a couple times, and sometimes you see the light bulb go off in their head, they're like, Oh, actually, wait, I want something slightly different. And seeing that unlock is so exciting to me.


James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. There's a thing that I take my kids through my daughter's 15, my son's 13. And it goes back to, you know, Product Management where there has to be like the five why analysis, like any anything, I take my 15 year old through five why's and it is amazing to watch them process, that third, fourth and fifth "why" because then they start realizing something completely different than the initial. So I've never done an interview process though, that would be interesting to do, a hiring interview process. That can be fascinating. But let's, you know, again, back to honoring your time, we got two more questions in your Startup Story, and again I'm just so appreciative of the time you've afforded me.

But one of the things that I like to break down in the idea of entrepreneurship are the narratives that the media has put out there and one of those narratives that it's an isolated journey. It's just you and maybe a co founders sleeping on someone's couch, pounding away code and it's just it's you against the world. You're living on Hot Pockets and pretzels if anything, right. It's just so isolating, so dark, so dingy in some cases. And while that may be the anomaly, I mean, again, Airbnb has that similar story, but they're not the norm, they really are the outliers. And so I believe that entrepreneurship is not an isolated journey or should not be, I should say. So when you look across your entrepreneurial journey, who the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?


Duncan Hamra: Yeah, I love that question. The first people that come to mind are those initial customers, people who are total strangers, people who I had never met and had no reason to be kind to us genuinely wanted to see us succeed. Just that, that in and of itself, and that pretty consistently I think has been one of the most, like satisfying things about the need to do this. Yeah, if you go out and you genuinely want to help people, I seems like most people will respond in kind. And maybe our customers are unique, but I don't know, most people I meet are pretty darn cool. So yeah, but it has to come from that place. It has to come from a place of wanting to help people. I definitely have been on the receiving end of a sales pitch where I am like an object. And so if your experience has been people are rude, and not very kind to you, I guess do that thing I said earlier, definitely listen. Really listen closely.


James McKinney: I love it, you know, and I would love to afford a chance for my listeners, each of them, to sit with you one on one and receive guidance, and maybe even some entrepreneurial mindset shifts of just what your journey has provided. But it's unreasonable at this scale. And so if we were to have a hypothetical coffee talk, just you and one of my listeners, and maybe that listener is the frustrated entrepreneur who is non technical or is trying to play in this no code, low code space, and they want to bring something technical to the world, but they tried Product Hunt launch and they failed, they try to a an email list opportunity, they failed, the sponsorship opportunity, they fail, the Facebook ad opportunity or whatever the case may be. They just seem to keep hitting a wall. What would you say to one of the listeners that fits that persona?


Duncan Hamra: I would say, Don't fear change. Don't be afraid of changing something. I don't know what that thing needs to be for you. Maybe when I said that you instantly thought of something. And maybe now you're trying to push it away out of your mind. Hold on to it, figure out what that thing is you need to tweak or change. And I think we've made that a bad word. Usually we call it quitting. But I mean, quitting is change. Something you might need to quit, maybe something you need to try differently. I would say if you're that hypothetical person who is launching things, then great, keep launching things. Keep trying, right? You're already doing that. But yeah, just have conversations, make some friends. Go out and try to build something people want, and like optimize for that. And, yeah, keep going.


James McKinney: Once you've got a few moments to process all the value that Duncan Hamra brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. And if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I've put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. With that in mind, visit Memberstack.com and take a look at their whole solution. Even if you're not a technical person, they have an unlimited free account so visit Memberstack.com to set up an account, so you can play around with it and see what it has to offer. It's hard to argue that every website doesn't have a justification for a user account. And you might be missing out on this very easy implementation. So again, just visit Memberstack.com, set up an account, play around with it. You know, one of the things I say all the time about entrepreneurs supporting entrepreneurs, it's about the community. So as a community, let's show up in a huge way for Duncan and the Memberstack team. And of course, we're going to include a link in the show notes for easy access. But now for my personal ask.

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August 03 2021
Duncan Hamra, co-founder of Memberstack

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