The guy who gets software talking perfectly
As a young adult, Max went into a theater program. “I learned how to be professional; we had a demanding director and I'm glad we did because he taught me to always be on time and make sure that you are prepared,” he adds. Max’s first IT job happened around this time. “Between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I was working at a country club in town. I was there twice a week updating their website and it was God awful! They were using some crazy third-party system; it took half an hour to do tasks that with WordPress would have taken two minutes,” he explains.
Speaking to people face-to-face while fixing the tech certainly helped, he continues. “I'm all about personal connection. I get a lot of value out of relationships. During the season at the country club, everything was in high gear all the time. So if the printer in the kitchen went down, I had to run in there. It was hot and busy, and everybody was running around me – we were ‘in the zone’ right there!”
Max enjoyed seeing first-hand the effects of what he was doing and trying to combat the difficult relationship we have with tech sometimes. “When I was working with people, I would say, ‘Okay, I just pushed an update to this computer’ and I would get to see whether it was helpful to them, or if they would get confused. I would get to see these different sides and learn how people respond to technology. A lot of IT folks will just say, ‘Okay, this is the way things are now; this is the new update’ and that irritates me. I like to work with people.”
Max realized that being proficient in tech could make a difference to people’s lives. During the country club years, his dislike for printers began: “They just never seem to work when you want them to work!” he smiles. A significant portion of his time was spent fixing printers; working with hardware taught him a lot about systems architecture: “I ended up reworking all their systems over the years. I still do work for them now,” he adds.
Striking out by himself
As for a formal education, Max went to Champlain College in northern Vermont but learned something other than the curriculum. “I was one of a dozen information technology majors, which is really funny, because as I was in school, they decided that they were going to sunset that major! They brought us into a room and said, ‘Hey, guys, so you're still going to be able to graduate. But we're not going to offer your major after this year’!”
Max started working in audio-visual production because of his background in theater. “That involved more fixing technology because all the classrooms depended on having a computer, projector, and projection screen,” he continues. “When it went wrong, we would walk into these full classrooms with people and everyone would stare at us, and we’d stand on a table and swap out a projector bulb!”
“I stayed in college for only two years; I dropped out because I was finding it slow. The web world moves so quickly, that by the time you end up learning something in college, it's already out of date in the real world. For the professors having to learn and to push that out to the students, it takes a while,” Max adds.
Of course, the pace of innovation hasn’t slowed – quite the opposite – and the pace and goal of formal education ultimately led Max to starting his own company. One of the reasons he left was because his vision for his future didn’t match that of his college: “They liked to say they got 99% of their students a job right out of college – this is awesome, but they go hardcore on making sure that everybody gets into the corporate environment. I enjoy working with people but not so much in that way; it wasn’t for me.”
So Max struck out on his own and started the search for his first client. He had just taken a webinar and the man running it had asked for testimonials. Max remembers: “I sent one in, just thinking I'd practice my copywriting skills, but at the bottom, I put ‘PS - If my skills can ever be of use to you, let me know?’ and he replied, ‘Well, what can you do?’”
Max took a look at the website and wrote up a bulleted list of improvements: “No BS, just right to the point” and Max received a simple reply: ‘Text me’ and a phone number. “That was how I got that particular gig. And to this day he’s a good client!” Max smiles.
Services and projects
“You have all these different pieces of software powering business, but none of it's talking to one another. I'm the guy who gets that software talking perfectly,” Max says. He explains that this creates a more powerful single system, which is able to drive business growth and save time and energy. “I call myself a systems architect and integrator. A lot of people, including my parents, just call me the IT guy!” he jokes.
Max explains that an average client’s tech stack may have 100 pieces of software, all in silos. “You need to bring all these things together so that they speak to each other. I started working with a few clients on web design and then I got into integration specifically in April 2021, as one of my clients wanted to run a paid members only community.”
Max had been working with that client, a health influencer and evangelist, for a while and it was going well. He hadn't had much experience with membership but he already anecdotally knew what the pain points that were going to be. “I ended up researching a bunch of membership software providers. I have a way of researching where I look at different lists of what's the best software, and I'll correlate them.”
Max chooses software for the best user experience, both from an admin side and a customer side, to save customer support time in the long run. Simplicity is crucial. “I can work in a more complex environment but I also understand when something gets to the point where it's not usable for everyday people. They want to purchase something, and they want to get access to it. That's common: when someone would sign into the website, I'd be able to see the look on their face. I would start to explain it and their eyes would just glaze over!”
Styles of integration and the future
“Integrations can be deceptively complex,” Max muses. “They have different types and different depths. So for a native integration, like Memberful with Mailchimp, you click a few buttons, it's authorized, and you're good to go. There are no-code and low-code integrations, like Zapier’s Zaps; and totally custom ground-up integrations where you code everything from scratch.”
“Generally, I play in the no- to low-code sphere, because it tends to be effective for my clients. But for one particular integration, my client wanted to go very deep with it. They wanted to have the features of a native integration, but through Zapier. It took me a dozen different Zaps to get the whole thing wired up and to get it to feel native and I still needed to add some custom code.”
What made that particular project so interesting was the sheer volume of interactions. “The first day we launched it, we put 50,000 tasks through, which was insane! I had to optimize it a lot for it to be worth the cost. I ended up getting it down to an average of less than 5000 tasks a day, which was pretty aggressive.”
He adds: “That was the first time I had worked with a client of that scale with Zapier. I've worked on a bunch of different projects, some that were more design-oriented, others that were more technical, but this was the standout.”
This larger scale of development seems to be driving Max’s future. He says: “Longer term, I want to develop software for business.” He adds that he thinks about software a lot because it's such a key element of his career and because so much software has become worse over time. “It gets slow and bloated; it's not user-friendly anymore. They're constantly pushing out these UI updates that just make it worse. At this point, a lot of people expect software to suck!”
He explains that he wants to offer a better, simpler, end-user experience. “It's very early in the design stages but I have some interesting ideas there. It's probably at least six months out, because I tend to work solo most often. I don't like working with an agency: they hand off a project to some new, unnamed developer who they just keep locked in a closet! I don't like that environment and I tend to work with people one on one.”
Max shares his latest thoughts with—and gives preferential treatment to—subscribers of his email list (which he lovingly refers to as the “#MilianFam”). And as an exclusive offer to new subscribers coming from Memberful, he has created a special bonus training, which, as of the time of this writing, he has never offered anywhere else, at any price.
To learn more about Max and his work, or to subscribe to his email list, go to mackson.com.
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