Zach Moreno was a full-stack developer and coding instructor in Northern California in 2015 when he discovered audio podcasts. There wasn’t a remote podcast software for recording high-quality audio over the Internet, so he decided to create one. He and his childhood friend, Rock Felder, started working on their product and startup idea while they still had full-time jobs, with Zach as the CEO and CTO.
Now Squadcast.fm is one of the leading podcast recording studio platforms used by tens of thousands of audio podcasters all over the world, including me. Squadcast has since added high-quality video recording for YouTubers and other creators to easily generate professional-quality video content without using an expensive studio.
With 15 employees and over 10,000 customers, Squadcast is growing steadily and scaling up, but they are still a bootstrapped company with no outside investors. This is unusual in such a fast-growing market like podcasting tools and also because the co-founders live in the heart of big VC funding—Silicon Valley in Northern California.
Best quote from Zach:
“We bootstrapped as an experiment to see how far we could de-risk it and take things, to figure out how close we could get to product-market fit, and go through those first-time founder exercises. We’re customer-financed these days funded by our revenues.
“Bootstrapping was more like a series of experiments for us, both with our own level of personal investment and our sacrifice to build out this SaaS business asset for ourselves and our founding team. Control what we can when it comes to our costs, that’s just an added constraint.
“The independence that we’ve gained from being customer-financed is really interesting because we essentially have to focus just on them—our customers.”
Full-text transcript of the Practical Founders Podcast interview with Zach Moreno of Squadcast.
Greg Head: And we’re live with Zach Moreno, CEO, CTO, and co-founder of Squadcast in Oakland, California. Hey, Zach, welcome to the Practical Founders podcast.
Zach Moreno: Great. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Greg Head: Well, it’s kind of fun because I’m looking at you on the screen as we record this podcast and we’re using the Squadcast, I call it a podcast recording, platform. So we’re actually using your software to record this podcast as tens of thousands of podcasters do out there. Why don’t you just get us in the neighborhood of what Squadcast is now, and how big of a company is it, how much you’ve grown? And then we’ll go back and talk about your startup journey and some of the other things that will be really interesting for practical founders.
Zach Moreno: Sounds good to me. I think how you described it is fair, it’s a bit meta for today’s conversation. We’re recording a conversation in Squadcast about Squadcast. That’s exactly what we do. We’re a cloud recording studio. We are proud to serve creators of many different forms, focused primarily on podcasters. That’s where we got our start, but also video creators, YouTubers, and audiobook producers. And the real trick with our technology, why it’s a platform, is we help these creators connect with their collaborators from anywhere around the world for the purpose of recording studio-quality content together–when you can’t be in the same location, which increased in 2022, the world is more and more comfortable with being remote. And we’re professionals, right? So we’re needing to create content at a professional level and we want to preserve that quality for our audience, and for our brand. That’s really where we’ve been focused on our work helping creators scale their production businesses from indie all the way up to Google and ESPN. Scale their teams collaborating around the world, scale their ability to record content more frequently, and get those episodes out to their audience to help them grow and stay consistent. So our work shows up in a lot of different ways and community is at the center of that. It’s how we’ve built our product into what it is today.
Greg Head: Wherever the Internet is, there’s Squadcast and probably hundreds of countries recording audio and video podcasts.
Zach Moreno: Yeah, under various conditions. 190 countries around the world, lots and lots of hours recorded through the platform. I’ve talked to customers who recorded on boats out in the Bahamas. I’ve personally recorded from an aircraft on the $8 in-flight WiFi. Right. And just to test things out, I like to push it. The app works great and all those conditions and is really easy. Also for podcasters, a lot of times the people that you’re interviewing and having these conversations with, they’re probably not professional content creators. So our software needs to be accessible and flexible enough for that whole range of professional content creators like in ESPN studios, all the way to a guest who’s just connecting from their iPad. And we want everyone to sound equally awesome and look equally awesome in the content that they’re creating. So I’m really proud of the technology behind the platform that empowers this level of accessibility to robust content creation.
Greg Head: It’s a magical thing, and I’ve been using Squadcast and I’m reaching thousands and thousands of founders with my $79 Audio-Technica ATR-2100x mic. And your platform allows me to basically create professional quality audio. I can’t imagine what this was like before there were remote recording platforms like Squadcast. What did people do when they had somebody in a far-off place and they had to watch? Did people use Zoom or Go-to-Meeting? What did people do five years ago before Squadcast?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, I love this topic and we’re very much students of the game of what has come before: analog, digital, all the way up to the web and where we are now. There are a number of innovations that really separate these major milestones in that journey. But before Squadcast, it was Skype plus some other software like eCam or there’s a number of them. Now, Skype has a record button built into it, but we’re proud to serve Microsoft as a customer on Squadcast. So that’s pretty interesting. And I think it’s because the use case is fundamentally different.
Greg Head: What’s different between Skype or Zoom and a remote recording platform?
Zach Moreno: Yeah. From the creator’s perspective, it’s different because I’m producing my product that I’m monetizing, and working with brands with on all of that. And I’m also representing helping to represent my guest. And if it’s an interview conversation, sometimes they’re working with brands and launching their own products, right? And you want to preserve that credibility. So there’s some research from USC that really firmly correlates the quality of content and the credibility of the people in the content. So I feel like the product really deserves that in the case of content creators. And that’s really the difference here. What we do as a SaaS platform is provide that studio to get the same UX on the surface of something like Skype or Zoom, but really focused on the recording studio first and foremost, and the remote conversation as a feature.
Greg Head: When you were the CEO when you started this company because I know you’re the technical guy that was and is the CTO.
Zach Moreno: Currently. We can get nerdy if you want. Greg Yeah.
Greg Head: The Chief Coding Officer No, we’re not going to get nerdy, but there’s a nerdy side here. Actually, we also have a, what do you say, design background as well.
Zach Moreno: That’s right.
Greg Head: Yeah, I experienced the design. You say it’s as easy to use as Skype or Zoom or something like that. But under the hood, there’s some really audio-video geek technology going on there. It’s pretty amazing what you are able to do as just a few people creating this. You’re a bootstrapped company, so you didn’t have dozens of engineers, which is usually how you start, especially in Silicon Valley, getting big funding and all of that. How are you able to solve these pretty deep technical problems with just yourself and maybe a couple of other guys?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, it was me for a long time. And you’re right. We’re these days customer-financed. But we are we were founded bootstrapped as an experiment to just kind of see how far we could de-risk things and take things and figure out how close we could get to product market fit and just kind of go through those first-time founder exercises. But you’re right, there are a number of technical challenges that we wanted to overcome. To like translate those to benefits, we wanted to preserve the quality, something like Zoom or Skype. They degrade the quality because they are recorded over the network. It’s compressed in transit. So what we needed to do was figure out a way to record everybody at the source and still get that up to the cloud as quickly as possible so that you have the quality but also the reliability in case the power goes out or the network goes down or any of these real-world things that can happen in a remote conversation.
Greg Head: Did you invent that Zach?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, we have the patent on that.
Greg Head: You guys are the ones that came up with, We’re saving the uncompressed raw audio files and saving them locally and bringing them up in separate tracks. Are you the creator of that?
Zach Moreno: Yeah. What we’ve invented is, is our recording engine or sometimes we call it progressive upload. That’s one piece of the recording engine but yeah absolutely this approach to recording at the source and uploading it in the background while you record for multiple people connected in a remote conversation that’s a patent that we’re proud to say is just recently been awarded haven’t fully announced that yet. I’m not sure when the episode will drop but I’m happy to share that today. So very proud and was very skeptical of that. Going through the whole patent process and doing prior art search and just kind of looking around that landscape. So really, really happy that we’ve been able to define and secure that intellectual property and contribute that to a better experience for the creators that we serve.
Greg Head: So when did you ship the first version of Squad cast?
Zach Moreno: Right? Yeah, it was Podcast Movement 2017 in Anaheim. We launched and then brought it out of beta to early 2018 at PodFest.
Greg Head: Fest and was that ready for prime time? Let’s, let’s go through your bootstrapped MVP experience. You discovered this problem. You said I’m going to take a completely different approach and solve it with modern web technologies. Did you get close with your first MVP? Crappy, scrappy MVP?
Zach Moreno: Definitely. My co-founder and I and our founding team all still held down day jobs for the first year and a half. So all of this happened while we were working full time. I was teaching at Cal Berkeley for a good chunk of this as well. Full stack web development there. Yeah. And was getting married. So it was a very exciting time in my life. But yes, to answer your question about the MVP, we definitely nailed the quality in the beta. That was our focus there. But we still had this problem of reliability. If the network went down or the power went out, that file was essentially toast. So this is where one of our other innovations, we were also the first cloud studio to add backups. We wanted to be ambitious and take risks with our recording engine, and we needed a fallback to always ensure our customers had their recordings, even if we got it wrong in that week’s test. So yes, we iterated our way from quality to also be flexible enough in all different network power conditions, all of these different fail cases. And that’s where we took it out of beta. We were measuring our fail rate of getting those files delivered. And when we got above 99 point something percent, we promoted it from beta to V one because we we wanted to be strict about our definition of reliability there.
Greg Head: Had you quit your day job?
Zach Moreno: When we launched V1? No, no, I still had my day job. And yeah, I was like, you know, doing all the scrappy things was in support every day, listening to our customers, talking to our customers. We’re very fortunate that our creators, our customers are essentially communicators for a living. So we focused on listening, right? So I just would try to talk to as many people as possible on the platform. And it kind of demos itself. So this also helps with our organic growth story. We have this very short viral cycle time. So the first thing somebody does on Squadcast is to invite somebody else to collaborate with, which helps us grow. And that was an accident That was not by design. It was just kind of a side effect of the UX that we knew we wanted. Our kind of vision for it initially was something like, you know, Google Docs, real time collaboration, but for long-form audio and video content. It’s really great to see what’s happened with like, Figma more recently with their focus on multiplayer and being focused on the web, betting on the web, these are things that, you know, we’re proud to be part of apps that really push the user experience into this kind of multi user paradigm.
Greg Head: There’s a new generation of super modern, well-designed, high quality try it in 30 seconds apps, like Figma, Squadcast, and others, that are exploding and changing the game. It’s really exciting. So when did you start charging for your app? Speaking of customer funding.
Zach Moreno: Day one, Yeah, we were pretty firm on that decision that we were going to build something that was premium and valuable and we did our best to live up to that with everything that we shipped, but also getting better all the while. So with that beta, you know, we were very transparent about what was coming soon, what wasn’t there yet, the risks, and that we had this fallback that was baked into it. So we felt like we could take those risks and customers in that beta stage were hip to that. It was an informed decision that this was a possibility. But the benefits were there with the quality.
Greg Head: It was already ten times better than how you did it before on Zoom or on Skype.
Zach Moreno: That or so that’s where we said, let’s just be really transparent. That’s something that’s a core value for us at Squadcast. And yeah, we charged 20 bucks for unlimited recording time and just made it really simple. Did the SaaS kind of approach there which was new to me and I’ve learned a ton about it. So that was definitely just-in-time learning in action. But I loved it. And those customers, a lot of them are still with us and they’re grandfathered unlimited, which is now like an enterprise-only feature on Squadcast. So I’m really I’m happy about that.
Greg Head: I think every month since then you had more customers and lost fewer. Was it a pretty steady compounding growth, a hockey stick kind of growth? COVID I guess even accelerated even more?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, that’s right. Because of the organic kind of growth factors with our product and we sit at the intersection of a few different growing areas. There’s, of course, podcasting, which is a really exciting space. Really great companies creating lots of new experiences around audio. I call podcasting the Internet of audio, kind of like the Internet of Things, but audio. And I think we’re seeing that come to life with a lot of the work that’s being done. And we’re proud to be part of that. But we also have video because we always wanted body language and eye contact for remote, remote video conversations. So that inspired our customers to have video recording as their most requested feature. So not every company in podcasting has anything video related. And then, of course, remote. So with work from home and what happened in the pandemic, forcing everybody out of their physical studios. If you were privileged enough to have access to a physical studio, of which there are not enough of in the world for the creator economy to do their thing. So we were already seeing this remote distribution. I mentioned working with ESPN and Google and some companies like that, they’re already globally distributed teams. So COVID really just made that much more granular where instead of being in different offices in different cities or countries, everybody is at home on the edge.
Zach Moreno: That’s where COVID started to feel like a really big inflection point about, I don’t even know, like 20 days after the lockdown here in the United States. And I think one moment that stood out to me, if I can tell a quick story, was initially in the shutdowns globally, it was Italy first. It seemed like everywhere was very quickly thereafter. But kind of a footnote of history is that it was Italy first. And we saw an episode get published by some creators in our community that were doctors who were quarantined in the first or second hospital, one of the first hospitals in Milan that were closed down. They recorded an episode with doctors in like I think it was Canada, and this was some of the first information that traveled. This was before there was research and published papers and any of that. So that was like really something that blew my mind. There have been a few things that were definitely up there for me that we played any kind of role in helping that critical information spread at a time when people could benefit from it for real health outcomes was just really something that I’m proud of contributing to.
Greg Head: How big is Squadcast the company now with employees? Customers?
Zach Moreno: The Squadcast team is up to 13 full-time. My co-founder Rock and I are working together all the time to grow the creators that we serve. We’re seeing them grow as well and new areas like we’re seeing a lot of cross-pollination and growth from indies professionalizing and getting brand deals and having greater opportunities to monetize with subscriptions. Like we do with SaaS, right creators now are doing with Spotify and Apple Podcasts. So I think all of these growth vectors, overlapping, is really a great opportunity for our company. So more recently, a lot of momentum is upmarket for our product and the customers that we serve both in their own journeys and also in our product, facilitating teams collaborating across multiple shows, and having like people focused on pre-production versus post-production and bringing the audience in with backstage. All of these were key areas of focus for us and our most recent product update. And I think that that’s a that’s you know, the areas that we’re excited to help people grow in is, is exactly at this intersection of prosumer becoming B2B and then more businesses also embracing content strategies for their marketing for their internal communications.
Greg Head: I’ve watched this podcast platform evolve and it’s amazing to hear that you’re empowering large production teams with different roles. Yet Squadcast for me has gotten easier, cleaner, and more reliable. It’s just simpler. It’s a tough challenge to push on both ends of the spectrum, right? The individual user and the super team. Usually, you have to choose one, especially if you don’t have a large team. Zach, you’re in Oakland, California, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, right in the heart of big funding, big unicorns, and big everything else.
Zach Moreno: That’s right, the East Bay.
Greg Head: So you’re doing some really cool technical things in the product which is very Silicon Valley, right? Pushing the envelope but you’re not very Silicon Valley in that you are not doing the normal thing. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley and I have a lot of friends there. I don’t know if bootstrapping is even in the vocabulary of the Silicon Valley tech scene, but yet you’re doing that. I guess, you’re counterculture, which is key to the East Bay over there. So you say that you’ve just wanted to see if you could bootstrap and now your company is growing fast in an exciting space. What was it really that you were thinking? Because the normal thing in Silicon Valley is get funding early and often. But you didn’t do that, did you? Were you the only kid on your block doing that way? Or was there a group of people that are saying, stay off the (funding) drugs?
Zach Moreno: I think later on there were people who encouraged us because they had already seen it and they didn’t want us to see us de-risk it for like 90% of the way there and then let somebody kind of come in and gain some value from that.
Greg Head: Yes. Right.
Zach Moreno: You know, so at points, there are different perspectives on bootstrapping. I mean, there are a couple of things that are just like macroeconomic factors. Back in 2017, there was not venture for podcasting like there is today. That’s often less discussed, let’s say. And I understand why. The market was fog year and it was unclear. We’ve always been, as an investor, long on podcasting, long on the creator economy, and we saw this as an opportunity to make an investment in that space.
Zach Moreno: Rock and I both are from different backgrounds than the typical Bay Area founder story. We’re both Latino background and from Central Valley and Sacramento, California. So we didn’t come from a place of privilege, at least to the degree that we could easily access money from family and friends. Our experiment was designed more around whether can we have our day jobs. What sort of sacrifice are we talking about here? Can we just be really efficient with our spend and try to see how far we can get this? And we’ll talk to investors as we go. And at some point we probably will raise we always talked about it as we would need to like turn this corner at a point and it’s a great problem to have if our engagement goes up so much so that our cost structure gets out of control, that’s good to the story of going and funding. We were pitching. We did talk to investors all along the journey. We got offers, we got a lot of no’s, and still do as a practice meet with and learn from and talk to investors. So, you know, I would never rule out the right partner That is a fit to help us scale. Now where the business is we’re beyond profitable and growing from our own revenue. It’d have to be very strategic, right? So I’m not ruling it out.
Greg Head: So you were pitching investors in the beginning at least to see what the pulse was.
Zach Moreno: Hell yeah. Help validate this.
Greg Head: But now they must be pitching you. We’d love to be part of your journey.
Zach Moreno: It’s weird how that happens.
Zach Moreno: Thank you. Yeah. It’s really great to learn from these people. A lot of them are operators and founders themselves. So I’m never going to turn down a conversation to learn, as a first-time founder, for sure. With us, it was more like a series of experiments, both with our own level of personal investment and sacrifice to build out this SaaS business asset for ourselves and our founding team. Control what we can when it comes to our costs, that’s like an added constraint. So nowadays, our lead software engineer Gene, I’ll quote him and he says that bootstrapping is like playing on hard mode. It’s still the same game, but you’re on veteran OG mode, which as a first-time founder does add risk. So, a lot of times with bootstrapping people talk about de-risking, you are also adding risk by playing fast and loose with your governance or some of the other things that come from a structure, like a venture investment. So I think that for us it was important to build out the people that we learn from and can look up to and talk to. So our advisory board, my growth as a founder, and my co-founder’s growth like all of these things were designed into the process for us. You know the independence that we’ve gained from being customer-financed is, is really interesting because we essentially have to focus on them. They are our customers.
Greg Head: And you don’t get distracted by an investor customer.
Zach Moreno: Right. Exactly. Which is just it’s a different category of customer. That’s how I think about it, too, so I love that choice of words. It’s really interesting also from the growth of our team perspective, right? The story that we tell and hire is one of independence and that this is a place that is very collaborative and can be because we are our own investors and can make investments with the capital that our customers provide to us.
Greg Head: Are your lead engineer and other members of your team, are they in the Silicon Valley area?
Zach Moreno: We’re a fully remote team and have been from day one. Gene is actually in Orlando but was working in the defense tech space before and turned down a job offer at Meta to come work at Squadcast. So there are definitely a lot of people.
Greg Head: How do you hire top talent without the Silicon Valley story of I just raised a bunch of money I can overpay you, with options that’ll be worth something big someday, we’re going to shoot the moon? An engineer that could work for anybody. What’s your pitch to recruit somebody? Is it just about, We get to do it our way?
Zach Moreno: It’s part of it. But I also think that the veterans, aand as a former senior software engineer, the veterans in the space have also observed the full life cycle of statements like that several times over and are very mindful of how startups that grow big and flame out have an impact on them in their life’s trajectory. So I think that there are a lot of people who are hungry for stability in an environment that is otherwise very volatile. And that’s certainly part of what’s interesting, as are the just the real technical challenges. Right. That’s why, you know, seeing Tesla do their AI Day the other day. Right. Is essentially a recruiting thing. So we talk about the hard problems that we solve. We talk about what’s interesting about this and what’s a challenge and how it’s not just a cakewalk because we can throw millions of dollars at problems. We actually have to roll up our sleeves and find an interesting way to solve them. We find that attracts top talent.
Greg Head: I bet. Do you feel like for the last five years you were saying someday podcasts are going to be big and we’re going to build a serious company and we’re going to do it without funding? And people just kind of patted you on the head and said, Who knows, kid? And now it’s you’re at a different place. Or do you feel like you’re the only one talking about only one bootstrapping?
Zach Moreno: No, no. We’ve actually seen an increase in it. And I think there’s a number of factors. I don’t see bootstrapping and venture as a zero-sum game between them. I’ve known a lot of founders who have gone in both directions. I think that’s really cool and kind of adds a piece of the board for the founder journey that makes things a bit more interesting in some ways and different. I see them as being complementary and in some ways venture kind of created bootstrapping because they’ve so substantially been successful at lowering the barrier to entry for infrastructure and some of the kind of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 Infrastructure pieces that we now build on these days. So I find that really fascinating. And frankly, one of the reasons that we can do we be a global Squadcast was global on day one because of this level of access to infrastructure. So I think that’s really fascinating and is going to contribute to more and more SaaS companies that you can spin up on this infrastructure that just makes these types of businesses more accessible to some more founders.
Greg Head: Was there an inflection point in the infrastructure, the Why Now that allowed you to race in and do something with a few people that previously wasn’t able to be to do?
Zach Moreno: A couple of things like that in our journey. Like WebRTC as a standard in browsers was something that definitely preceded Squadcast and was important for the real-time audio-video conversation that we knew we would need to connect people in low latency, real-time experiences. But then also the web audio API. This is not super sexy, but there were some major bugs that got closed right before we got started with Squad cast. And I did my internship on the Chrome team at Google, so I tracked these web standards very rigorously. It was always kind of one of my career goals to be a developer advocate on the Chrome team at Google. And therefore I had this habit of tracking these bugs and I just kind of saw some of these pieces fall into place where we could both capture quality, have control over the quality, and have access in permission-based. I don’t know if you probably do remember right but browsers didn’t used to like have any awareness or use of your microphone or permission to ask for using it. So these are all kinds of enabling technologies in the web platform that allowed us to build something cool and extend that out.
Zach Moreno: And what I had learned about cloud and, you know, microservices architectures and API first and all these buzzwords, we really put them into action in squad cast and have this really awesome like real-time experience with audio-video data and it’s a recording platform, so you get those files. It’s really interesting because there are experiences online, most of which are around consumption Squadcast is actually the opposite of that. We help people create things. And I love that because that’s part of our hypothesis with podcasting and video creation. As a true platform where you can both create AND consume. The best platforms that are kind of a very blurry line like Twitter. So we hypothesized that podcasting is a lot easier to consume than it is to create. And something like Squadcast really helps make it just as easy to create as it is to consume. And when those things are closer in balance, you’ll get this huge inflection point of more people creating and consuming quality content together.
Greg Head: So you are 13 employees and over 10,000 customers, I’ve read, and growing in this fast-growing area. What is your vision for Squadcast? Do you expand out to all components of the podcast world? You elegantly solve a specialized slice of the podcast universe. You’re not promoting podcasts, you’re not delivering podcasts, and hosting podcasts. You are remote recording of high-quality audio and video for podcasts and YouTubers. Do you see that the podcast universe is going to come together in one giant platform someday?
Zach Moreno: Well, we think of it more in terms of creators and people’s accessibility to becoming a creator. And we want to help more people by empowering them to be able to create in whatever format they want for as long as they want, for as short as they want, and whatever their audience is into. We want to help them collaborate and create that in the highest quality professional sense. So the vision there is that everyone can be a creator, and with that there are just not enough physical studios in the world to accommodate everyone being a creator and everyone having their own media business.
Greg Head: I can’t even imagine. Zach, going to a studio. I think I Googled it once and that was it was this archaic-looking studio with old wood paneling…
Zach Moreno: They often are. They’re usually dusty for some reason.
Greg Head: And expensive, but I thought that is the silliest thing I’d ever seen.
Zach Moreno: I’m a fan of clean studios and at home, I make my studio clean, and be very efficient without having to travel or all the things that come along with the logistics of recording together in person. There are some real superpowers that get unlocked when you record remotely. So it’s not even a 1-to-1 comparison necessarily, because we can do things like more in the cloud, we can automate, and you get your files super quickly. So I think that there’s or the creator economy to become like the economy. There are not enough studios in the world for that. So we need to scale. We need to scale with the creators that are pushing it.
Greg Head: You’re creating a massive impact with a very small team in your company that is growing and you bootstrapped this company. So how did you learn the game of SaaS? How the game of being a founder, the game of being a CEO, the game of SaaS pricing, all of those games. Bootstrap founders can’t hire people who’ve been there, done that before, and fill up with VPs and they don’t have seasoned advisors that call them every other day because they put money into the company. You’re a wise founder here and you’ve created a lot of leverage. How have you been learning to be the SaaS CEO you need to be?
Zach Moreno: You need a tremendous compliment and it has been a journey for me of learning and embracing things changing and being different as I go. And that demanding different things off of me and my team, I think about it in terms of learning as we go, just focusing on being able to have like really clearly defined experiments that we’re running, clearly defined results that we’re after, how we can get closer to those things over time, and in the process, like becoming the person who can solve that problem if I’m not already. And just try to accelerate that as much as possible. And I’ve really loved that process of growing in the ways that the company has needed me to. And that’s the culture that we cultivate in our team as well.
Greg Head: Are you doing that through books and podcasts and videos and running around in Silicon Valley going to conferences and meeting with buddies and endless coffees? Or do you have advisors?
Zach Moreno: Well, it is meta in some ways as well because I’m using podcasts to learn about growing a company in podcasting. I’m using YouTube to learn things. All of these things, things like Udemy books, podcasting, other founders. And we’re part of an accelerator called TinySeed that we’re proud to contribute and be part of. Rob Walling and the team, Einar and Tracy, have done there at TinySeed. We were part of Batch 2 that went through there. So that was part of our journey of learning. We have an advisory board as well.
Greg Head: Can you say a little bit more about TinySeed? And Rob has s been talking about doing it the bootstrapped way with software companies not changing the world at a massive scale but creating valuable companies. And he’s been talking about this and podcasting about it for years and has a conference about it, MicroConf, and maybe you could make a plug for Rob and the team at Tiny Seed and in particular the accelerator.
Zach Moreno: Yeah, it’s a year-long program focused on B2B SaaS founders that are self-financed or customer-financed or bootstrapped, whatever you want to call it, and at various different phases of their company’s journey. So yeah the I think investment thesis that I’ve heard from Einar and Rob is these are tremendously valuable companies and life-changing outcomes for the people that grow and work there. So that’s really where they’re coming from in this space. But I think there’s there’s a number of different perspectives learning from and talking to the founders in TinySeed as well. There’s not really an agreed-upon definition of what a bootstrap is even so. So it’s really interesting times. And you know when how we got exposed to Rob was my co-founder Rock was like one day was like this guy gets it you need to listen to the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast And he’s also a podcaster, by the way. So he gets it. He gets that too. So we should probably talk to these cats. And that’s really where we started the conversation with Yeah, Tracy, and Rob, and the team at Tiny Seed.
Zach Moreno: So I’m really glad that we did because we were kind of on the fence about doing an accelerator. We’d already been doing our thing for a couple of years at that point, but we are very much students of founders and startups and SaaS, so I’m very much focused on being a professional founder. Squadcast is the first company that I’ve had the privilege of being a part of, but I definitely see it as phase one of my journey here. That’s another part of the growth story for me is that I’ve always kind of known and embraced that, just focusing on actual long-term relationships, learning from people, and taking the long view. Even if worst case scenario we fail at squad cast, I want to have grown in my career so that I have any degree of confidence of going and helping somebody else at their company or doing another company or whatever is next in the journey for me or any member of our team.
Greg Head: How do you see the future? Do you see a dotted line of continued growth in the impact that Squadcast can make with growth in customers growth and employees. And that infinite dotted line of growth is one way to do it. Others say we don’t have to grow our team infinitely. Jason Fried and others would say that you don’t have to get on the drugs of funding and you don’t have to grow forever. You don’t have to do 17 different products. You could just focus on one, and create some constraints around that. Do you see something like that in your future, or can this grow as much as you can grow?
Zach Moreno: We have to be really mindful that we’re not line-extending and diluting our experience. I’ve seen other inspirational stories where people have structured these things in different ways. Like your point earlier, we’ve always been really, really focused on not being another podcast host, not being another listening app, but really focusing on solving a real problem that actually does have financial positive outcomes for the creators in this ecosystem. We did fall into the trap early on of exploding our idea outward, but we did start with the initial problem of remote recording, and then we kind of added everything else. And then our founding advisor, Harry Duran, pointed out a fact when we met him at Podcast Movement that I mentioned earlier was that you know, look around, all these other companies are solving different problems. Some of them are solving the same problem. Why waste anybody’s time trying to do something that’s already been done or is that a solved problem? Focus on solving interesting problems. So I love that because I have my own opinions on it now that it’s been a few years since then.
Zach Moreno: And it’s been it’s incredibly freeing to focus on one problem space. It may seem to constrain, but as you can tell, if it’s a deep problem space, there’s continued room for innovation and exploration within that to add value for those customers. So that’s where we have a number of integrations because we want to be part of the ecosystem. So we want to be empowering workflows that are grander than just the production in the dead center of your workflow. But you have preproduction before that, you have post-production. After that, you have your publishing and marketing, and distribution. So playing nicely with that whole ecosystem has been something we’ve been excited about, has been exciting for us in, in the recent months too, with the integrations like the team had Descript or I mentioned Headliner. So there’s really interesting work going on there too to really help people automate their workflows that are that don’t need to take up time they could be spending on their next episode.
Greg Head: What was the most recent job that you did as the scrappy co-founder that you’ve recently given up to focus on the better things here? Are you coding in the app anymore or doing all the customer support calls? What what’s the most recent thing you’ve delegated to somebody who can do it better?
Zach Moreno: I get my hands dirty because I like to focus on execution. So I need to be aware of what’s going on and help people in their various roles. So I very much look at leadership as a platform approach where I help other people lead and I practice that across all of our teams. More recently, I was a contributing engineer up until our version five. I had some commits on that, but now I’m fully transitioned out of that and the engineers that we have now far exceed my capabilities. So I’m really, really privileged to be able to work with them, they’re incredible. Then, my co-founder Rock is the lead on this. But we do this together. Basically, for any new team or effort that we add to our company, we do it first to figure out what to do and then that’s how we feel confident at some point handing that off to somebody else to grow as a leader. So we’re in the process of doing that right now with our enterprise sales team and our business sales efforts. So that is something that we’re doing ourselves first and we’re in the process of transitioning.
Greg Head: And you actually said this earlier, it’s a very profound thing, almost a bumper sticker, but you slid it right in there. Something like, I’m figuring out who I need to be next and what I need to give up and what I need to be next, which is the growth mindset. It’s not just what I need to learn and what facts do I need to integrate. It’s that I need to be something and I need to stop being something and move to that. Are both you and Rock, let’s say extreme learners like that?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, we are. And we complement each other. We don’t have the same backgrounds, but we’re very complementary and I think that’s one of the things that’s actually very similar between the two of us. People often focus on the differences, but I do see that as a similarity between the two of us and it’s really great. We actually feed off of each other in some weird way and grow together as well.
Greg Head: So you were the coder. Was Rock everything else for a while in the beginning? And I know he’s a friend of yours, a long-time friend. Zach Moreno: You started this journey together. That’s exciting.
Zach Moreno: That’s right. We met in high school and have been friends since then. His career journey was more finance and business. Mine was more engineering and design. And I had also taught, and written, wrote a book and had done creative side projects, had kind of an amateur art career before college, and really saw how collaboration helps with the creative process across all these different formats. And that’s where Squadcast comes into the picture, is that Rock actually introduced me way back when in high school to listening to podcasts as a listener, and then wanted to eventually create our own but found this problem of quality being super low when you weren’t in the same location. So that’s where we got the insight of being able to focus on the quality through some of these technology pieces that had fallen into place recently while being remote. And that’s where it’s really cool that our friendship exists, of course, outside of Squadcast, but also has grown in that way. And then just with our journey as founders and investors and operators also just really cool to see how we come at these challenges from very different places. But with this growth mindset approach, we’ve been able to really transform in the ways needed. In some other ways. And it’s just really cool that it demands that of you..
Zach Moreno: I don’t know why companies succeed or don’t succeed. This is my first company, so I’m very fortunate in a lot of ways. I’d be remiss to set that aside. So I’m super fortunate in a lot of ways. And one of those is that my potential co-founder list was like 1. It was just Rock. So had he said no to me, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done the whole solo founder journey and I respect anybody who does because it is, you know, it’s lonely either way. So, I’m really, really grateful to have a partner like Rock.
Greg Head: Yeah, it’s really exciting to see how far you’ve succeeded. I’ve watched the journey of squad cars through the app itself and watched you guys. And now you’re headed towards the, like, the really big scale zone. The sky’s the limit and you can keep going here and you’re not trying to sell the company anytime soon or get funding. And we’ll watch to see what happens here. Zach, what is the biggest lesson that you learned that you can share with other practical founders who are up and running and in the journey, someday going to sell this thing or could run it forever and are not so excited about big funding? What’s the biggest lesson you could share that you’ve learned in your journey?
Zach Moreno: Yeah, I mean, it’s recent because the world and the market have been really crazy for a while now, and seems like that’s the path we’re on for some time to come. And it’s surreal in some ways to see the advice coming from the startup industrial complex of like venture capital, the advice shifting once the market dynamics change and cash is no longer super cheap. The narrative change to focus on your cost structure and get a clear path to profitability. These are things that are just inherent and like designed for and built into Squadcast and companies like Squadcast that are bootstrapped. Those business fundamentals never change. What changes is the market. So it’s really interesting to me how you know something that somebody at a cocktail party may have scoffed at is now the narrative and advice that’s where startups should be, that should be the heading for startups.
Zach Moreno: So in a lot of ways, Squadcast and bootstrap companies are built for market conditions that are less than ideal. Why build for just the ideal case, right? While they are a venture-backed startup, Palantir, now they’re public, so I don’t know if you’d still call them a startup. You know Palantir, Alex Karp talks about they designed for a world that had turbulence. Or I might use a slightly different word, but a turbulent world. Right? We very much view it as like, we’re built for all the variability of market conditions. So I think it’s really interesting to think about the choice of venture or bootstrapping or maybe it’s a sequencing of those things in a different order that know there are real advantages to being a business with fundamentals like revenue and profit that help you in times that are less than ideal.
Greg Head: Does that mean you’re not stressed right now?
Zach Moreno: I mean, stress is all relative. I always call the startup journey., I found the words a few years into doing it, but I call it like a Roller Coaster Time Machine. When things were tremendously growing out of control, crazy during the start of, you know, shelter in place and people were recording on Squadcast as they’d never have before. That was positive. All positive. Great. Amazing. That would be like the montage part of the movie if we were making this after the fact. But I mean, that was also very stressful, right? So I don’t know that the stress ever comes or goes. It’s just like good stress, and bad stress. It’s just, you know, it’s healthy. It’s healthy stress if you’re channeling it towards a better version. And that’s always, you know, how we approach these things.
Greg Head: Awesome. Well, I look forward to seeing the continued developments of the Squadcast product, and we’ll be watching to see how you grow and what happens next in your journey. Zach, I really appreciate your sharing your story with founders here on the Practical Founders Podcast today.
Zach Moreno: Well, thank you. I appreciate the questions and your level of preparation. You know, your commitment to your audience, has all been really cool to collaborate with you on. And if I can help any of your listeners or your audience in any way, I’m @ZachinSpace on Twitter. I’m available. And always happy to help people on their founders’ journey, wherever you’re at. Feel free to hit me up if I can be of service.
Greg Head: Thanks, Zach.
In this episode, Zach explains:
- How they prototyped their idea and launched their MVP at a podcasting conference before it was really ready
- Why his timing was perfect to solve this problem with the explosion in podcasting and technical changes in browsers
- How he gets advice, support, and insights as a first-time CEO by reading books, meeting with VCs, and participating in a bootstrapped accelerator called TinySeed
- How he thinks about bootstrapping in Silicon Valley and why he hasn’t raised outside funding so far
- What he thinks the future looks like for audio and video content creators and how the market will change as it matures
Squadcast Company Facts
- Founded: 2016
- Description: Squadcast is a podcast and video recording platform for high-quality remote interviews
- Practical Funding Type: Bootstrapped with time when they had their day jobs, then customer funding (revenues) to fund growth. Minor investment from TinySeed for participating in their accelerator.
- Number of Employees: 13
- Location: Oakland, California
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