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Bootstrapping a SaaS Startup from Scratch  (medium.com)
735 points by batina on Dec 19, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

"Instead of coding, the vast majority of your time is going to be spent marketing, selling, optimizing funnels, and providing support. Those are the things that get (and keep) customers. Those are the things that you do when you run a business. Not writing code."

This is the best part of this article for me. A lot of solo bootstrappers don't get it. They struggle. But the fact is that you have to market and sell. Talk to customers and do the shittiest but most important thing: Support. No matter how much automation you create, clients will send you emails and say "I cannot do anything. please help" before even explaining what exactly is broken.

There is a lot of dirty work you have to do every day as a bootstrapper and you get no relief from it. You can surely add team members or "outsource" some of it, but you can never outsource talking to clients (both pre sales and post).

Agreed. When I started writing my SaaS app, I thought the 25000+ lines of code and 80+ database tables would be the hardest work, and that the marketing would be a breeze afterwards.

How wrong I was! The marketing aspect proved to be just as difficult and brain taxing as the coding. In fact, I found it almost impossible to move ahead until I decided to bring on board a co-founder with a marketing background (after a full year of struggling). It was only then that I realised that marketing and sales is a whole art form not unlike programming. Both disciplines need focus and constant energy to bring about results.

And this, my friend, is why starting a [successful] business is hard. Because if it were that "easy" (i.e. the code, the database, etc.) then virtually anyone in the software development world would do it because it would be so much more lucrative to do so. But add in the fact that, yep, your software engineering chops are only so valuable to the extent that you can also provide and build skills (or have the resources to buy) in these other areas that are 100% critical for a business to flourish.

I wonder where I can find such marketing partner and what's the expected compensation in term of equity and whatnot?

I got into marketing through reading about the startup world (I think some of the people on HN would be surprised at how much of it is a discipline once you get passed the BS-ers), and come more from a hacker perspective.

If you're bringing them on as a co-founder, then they're a co-founder, equity and all. It's a valuable skill as much as programming and sales are (if you're actually building a business, that is).

The issue you'll find is that most of the places to find them will be full of aforementioned BS-ers, or self-titled growth hackers. Have a small LinkedIn hunt at marketers who work in-house at a semi-large organisation - in a lot of places there's a lot of hunger to do more, but large orgs tie your hands and often see marketing as a "support" function over and above a business driving one.

It might also be easier to find a part timer who doesn't want to give up the above security, but wants to exercise their creative muscles, depending on what stage/size biz you've got and your reqs.

No idea how many are out there, but there are quite a few I'm sure. I was looking for years to partner with someone and found a couple nibbles, but ultimately no one was as serious as myself about being an entrepreneur. Let's be honest most are talkers.

If only I ever had found people that valued my work, I may have stayed in marketing. Now I'm a former strategist that is converting to programming.

The problem is that there are a lot of s*s who go into marketing because it's easy to get away with being a bullshitter.

Unfortunately those are the types who are most vocal and up front, who you as technical founder always seem to meet.

I'd kill to meet a marketer whose skills of marketing (and selling) matched mine as an Developer.

Two sided matching is hard, and even more so in dating. Starting a company is both :/

My experience running a bootstrapped monitoring service (Cronitor) is that sure, very early on, code quality, test coverage, etc, is unimportant. We didn't write our first tests for 5 months after launch.

But low churn is a powerful lever for growing the value of your SaaS business. For the benefit of people who haven't spent time learning about this stuff: for any SaaS business there is a natural limit to it's size. Eventually your churn equals your growth and you stop growing. This is the struggle.

Ensuring that our product is highly available and relatively free of defects is an investment in low churn. Users are unhappy when things don't work, and unhappy users stop paying you every month. When you have a very small user base this isn't worth optimizing for, but I personally disagree that quality is not important and that test coverage does not have positive ROI. Like all things in a startup, the idea is not to neglect it, but to work on it just enough that it's no longer the most important thing to work on.

Yep. This was maybe the most valuable part of starting my own business years ago that went nowhere. I learned to appreciate the skill behind marketing and sales which I'd always put down. I had good tech, but completely failed to make sales, and in doing so learned a lot of skills I was missing.

As someone who is running not a Saas startup but a sideproject sell a fairly popular productivity app which I am making good money on I couldn't agree more.

I would even go as far as to say that your customer support is one of the key differentiators when it comes to establishing your product as a high quality one.

The difference between me helping someone right away and then being a little delayed (it is a side project after all) is huge.

People can have serious issues with the app but as long as you support them they will thank you for your great product.

Other can have less serious problems and if you ignore them too long they can turn really sour.

One thing I also do is ask people I interact with to go write a review about the app if they are happy with the support. That's something most are happy to do as long as you provided them with support and acknowledged their problems.

It goes both ways, but most SaaS entrepreneurs tend toward code for obvious reasons. I run a SaaS company now (ZenMaid) where I've focused entirely on the things listed and my partner focused entirely on code. Not everyone is so lucky though and most neglect my part.

We've started "outsourcing" more (hiring help really) but I intend to talk to all of our customers personally for as long as I can.

This really struck a chord with me. I spent the early career parts of my career as a developer and slowly transitioned completely to the marketing side of things.

When I start thinking about side projects of business ideas, the roadblock for me is actually getting myself onboard to code the thing so I can get to the point where I can start optimizing funnels.

You'll be lucky if users care enough about your product to send you an email. If they do treat it like gold!

Hey everyone! Clifford here, the author of the article. Just thought I'd jump in and say thanks to everyone for all the awesome feedback - you've all seriously made my day (and probably even year for that matter)!

Nice work Clifford. Any reason you used a fictional SAAS example rather than the real Tamboo story?

When I started out writing the guide, I actually didn't have any references to Tamboo - it was just me writing about approach using some fictional examples.

I posted Part 1 on Barnacles (https://barnacl.es) in October (I believe) and a lot of people gave me good feedback but one of the things they said was that it was really hard to find a link to my site and that I was nuts for not talking more about my direct experiences with Tamboo since that was something they really wanted to know more about.

So in the later parts of the guide I do talk about some very specific Tamboo things and went away from the generalized example in the first part.

I honestly wasn't planning for it to spread to a larger audience like HN (this is a total surprise that's just flooring me right now!), so I never bothered to go back and change Part 1 to use a more Tamboo-ish example.

Thanks for suggesting https://barnacl.es it looks like an HN for bootstrappers.

OK this makes sense. I would really encourage you to do another write up of the full Tamboo story especially all the nasty warty bits that all real business stories have.

Oh, and there are plenty of those! I've been trying to incorporate experiences as I go, and there's a good amount of nasty experiences I make mention of in this post: https://medium.com/@cliffordoravec/expect-everything-to-be-u...

But I will definitely look to put something together that incorporates more of what you're talking about - thanks for the input!

I just submitted that one since it was my favorite. Especially the image metaphor at the beginning. :) I just saw this comment but extra references can't hurt ya.

hey Clifford, inspiring work and great article!

> Some of it may seem simple. Don’t be fooled. There is complexity in simple things.

I've interviewed 80+ founders (mostly bootstrapped) for https://IndieHackers.com, and people sometimes come away from reading an interview thinking, "Well that person had it easy." We tend to underestimate the importance of the things we don't -- the part of the iceberg that's beneath the surface. In truth, the amount of work people are doing behind the scenes is often of staggering importance.

For example, Jason Grishkoff ran his popular music blog Indie Shuffle for 7 years before spinning off a successful SaaS app: SubmitHub. It's easy to look at that and conclude that he had it easy because of his blog. But Jason spent a grueling 4 months sending 1000 hand-crafted emails to his target customers in order to get SubmitHub off the ground. That's neither an easy nor an obvious path to take.

I see lots of people quit after a few weeks/months of not finding a magic bullet, so it's important to realize that there is no magic bullet for most companies.

Exactly. Its hard work. Really hard work. It usually fails. You have to begin from square one. People think the path the magic bullet exists. It doesn't. What exists is hard and educated work. The secret being that there is no secret. Just don't tell that to wannabes. They will talk about the magic of being an entrepreneur. Which is bullshit.

How ironic of you showing in the particular post. He's precisely referring to people like you and your illegitimate interviewees at IndieHackers who all claim to be overnight successes.

"How ironic of you showing in the particular post. He's precisely referring to people like you and your illegitimate interviewees at IndieHackers who all claim to be overnight successes."

This is a complete bullshit statement.

I've read every interview and Csallen has made on IH - it's a solid site with great interviews. I haven't read anywhere where he or any of the interviewees has claimed overnight success. Quite the opposite really. He's done a lot of hard work.

I don't think he's misrepresented anything and he built a great site. I wish him all the best!

Nobody on Indie Hackers has ever claimed to be an overnight success, and every interview is transparent about the details so that readers can see exactly how long it took.

To be fair, he has a point. The indyhackers Submit hub article is sub-titled:

"Jason Grishkoff built a $55,000/mo SaaS business helping musicians promote their music, and he did it in under a year. Here's how."

Well, he started his business in November 2015, started charging in February 2016, and hit $55k/mo by November 2016. I don't see any hyperbole/dishonesty in saying he built his business in under a year given that he actually did so. Sometimes rapid growth happens!

Of course him being able to accomplish this feat stems from skills/knowledge he acquired earlier (his blog, music industry experience, learning to code, learning to design, etc), but that's true of any business. Nobody starts from scratch, and the interviews cover people's histories pretty thoroughly.

No he started his original blog years earlier, he pivoted/made a new product and sold it to the same audience. That's like saying google built the macbook pro 16 in under a year.

This is misinformed on a number of points, unfortunately.

First, Jason didn't "pivot" from Indie Shuffle. It's a separate standalone business that he never shut down, and in fact continues to spend many hours running even today.

Second, SubmitHub's user base consists of hundreds of other blogs and labels, whom he spent a painstaking 4 months sending 1000+ personalized emails to trying to convince them to sign up. They're responsible for the vast majority of his revenue. He did not simply keep "the same audience".

This is exactly what I was talking about when I said that people read these stories and conclude that everything was easy.

No one belittling the amount of work he put into it, quite the contrary, where saying indiegogo attempts to make things look more successful in shorter periods of time when that's not the case.

The rapid success of submitHub is directly correlated to success of IndieShuffle, which he spent an immense amount of time building.

Success in any area is always directly correlated to some earlier knowledge or skills which took time to develop. The fact that SubmitHub's success is "correlated" with Indie Shuffle's is such an extreme standard that, using it, we could never assign a starting point to anything.

Everyone is quite aware that founders acquire domain knowledge, contacts/network, programming ability, business acumen, ideas, etc before the very day they start their company. I know you mean well, but this comment thread itself suggests the only people misled by the title were those who mistakenly believed that SubmitHub was a simple continuation of Indie Shuffle.

If SubmitHub's users had simply come from Indie Shuffle, or if Jason had simply pivoted Indie Shuffle into SubmitHub, then I would agree with you. But neither is the case.

I quote, directly from your site, from the Jason Grishkoff's own explanation of how he got his first users:

I always knew I was sitting on a great source of users with the ~300 daily emails, and sure enough, as soon as I started pointing them to SubmitHub they latched on...

...Given Indie Shuffle's prominence in the digital music industry, word spread fast.

> If SubmitHub's users had simply come from Indie Shuffle, or if Jason had simply pivoted Indie Shuffle into SubmitHub, then I would agree with you. But neither is the case.

That's exactly what happened, isn't it? No one is belittling it, no one is claiming he didn't work for it. We're simply saying, SubmitHub wasn't successful over night.

> That's exactly what happened, isn't it?

Not quite. I suppose I just know more of what happened behind the scenes than is apparent in the text-based interview, because I recorded a podcast episode with Jason afterwards. Two things:

1) Yes, Indie Shuffle's users latched onto SubmitHub, but Indie Shuffle is just one of 250+ blogs and labels whose readers use SubmitHub. It's a small percentage of the total revenue and users. 2) Yes, others in the industry knew about Indie Shuffle, but Jason had to spend months and months sending cold emails and doing sales in order to land other blogs and labels as customers.

I agree with you that it didn't happen overnight. And I also don't think you're belittling what Jason did, at least not intentionally. My only point is that it's easy to conclude that the surface level details of any business' story played a much bigger role than they actually did.

In this case, Indie Shuffle was crucial for Jason understanding the problem, coming up with the idea, and even beta testing the product. But the user acquisition responsible for the massive sales happened the hard way, and it happened in the last year.

Right, like the story from the other day where you claimed the logo site was making huge sum a year... Based on one or two weeks of sales!!!

There was no claim about yearly revenue. The figure given was $15k/mo based on $7k of sales in one week. Even so, that was a singular oversight on my part[1], not some sort of formula for all the interviews on the site.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13072326

Keep writing it's good stuff :)

> If you want to feel good about yourself, go listen to one of the startup gurus out there that will be more than happy to spoon feed you some entreporn.

I love it. Hope this stays on the front page for a while. It's both motivating as well as demotivating; that's how you know it's for real :)

Props to the author, fantastic read and echoes my startup experiences to a tee!

Echoes my experience as well! Frankly, I am getting tired of all the spruikers who tout the "Just get an email list together to make a bazillion dollars a day" type rubbish. Or the "just work really really hard and it will rain money" type posts.

Truth is, the grind (especially in the early days) is incredibly difficult and soul wearing. This article does a good job of articulating that.

Early last year, I was very actively working on http://www.gameref.io/ and I had never done any kind of early-stage marketing before. I remember sending literally hundreds upon hundreds of (hand-crafted) emails to bloggers, influencers, magazines, shows etc.

Even though the project is basically dead now, those few months of absolutely intense grind were very formative. I had always had the "business-y" co-founder before, and this was my first solo flight so to speak. It was SO MUCH WORK[1], but it was absolutely awesome getting interviewed by PCGamer, or Polygon, or having hardware manufacturers reach out for meetings, or being asked to speak at conferences.

Don't get me wrong, I love my day job as a typical run-of-the-mill engineer, but I'll always be addicted to that kind of start-up high :)

[1] I can't emphasize this enough!

> It's both motivating as well as demotivating; that's how you know it's for real :)

Haha. I like that line and off hand seems like a nice litmus test.

In Part 3 of the series[0] he hits home pretty hard. Often when I have an idea for something I also take that "opportunity" to learn something new or interesting, something I don't do at my day job

> Use Java/.NET/PHP/Rails/Perl/VB in your day job? Then Java/.NET/PHP/Rails/Perl/VB it is.

> I don’t care if you don’t know ASP.NET MVC and only know WebForms. Just use WebForms. Does that suck? Yes, it does. But do it anyways.

> Learn something else once you’re making money and you can afford to pay yourself the time to learn something else.

> I once spent three months learning production-grade Scala for a project I thought it would be awesome for. That project never got off the ground, and now I make $0.00 a year from having learned Scala.


> Take a lesson. Use whatever you know.

> The same thing goes for architectural concerns.

> Microservices? STOP.

> Crazy ass front-end stuff with ReactJS or Angular2 with TypeScript? STOP.

> How about some hot new NoSQL platform? STOP.

> What about going cloud with AWS or Heroku? STOP.

I've learned a lot, made little, and most of my extracurricular activities/skills have basically been funneled back into my day job.

[0]: https://hackernoon.com/make-it-rain-building-an-mvp-for-fun-...

> Use Java/.NET/PHP/Rails/Perl/VB in your day job? Then Java/.NET/PHP/Rails/Perl/VB it is.

Another way to put this (that I've seen on HN a handful of times so bear with me) is that it depends what the product is for?

If you only know C# but want to learn Go:

- Do you want to make money? Write it in C# - Do you want to learn a new language, struggle, (most likely) produce little value, and scrap the whole thing a half dozen times in two months? Write it in Go

So much truth in this series. A lot of what he talks about I can back up with my own experience building and running SaaS apps. "I want you to understand first hand that building a SaaS startup is mostly a marketing optimization problem — not something that you can just code your way out of."

Part 2 & 3 can be found here



I especially appreciated this:

"Think of building your SaaS app like a game of chess. You want to win the game with the least number of moves possible, but you have to think about how each of your moves potentially affects the overall game (and your chances of winning)."

The analogy is even better with a one-person SaaS startup because you really can only make one move at a time (you can only do one thing at a time). The value in this series of articles is to get you to think strategically about those early moves and not to waste too much time thinking about the moves in the future that you currently have no visibility into.

The whole series is painfully accurate; glad to see someone telling it like it is.

That aside, article is actually not as anti-establishment as the author makes out -- unless your source of prevailing wisdom is from click-baity 4 Hour Work Weak style articles. But I doubt any serious founder puts any stock in that stuff. There's a lot of valuable info to be learned from high quality sources like Steve Blank's articles, or even a good MBA entrepreneurship class.

I have mixed feelings about this. The 4 Hour Work Week created my "why" for me that's kept me going through thick and thin. I definitely realize that it's a ton more work than it's made out to be (and while Tim Ferriss simplifies what it takes, he doesn't downplay the amount of work involved).

My company is also at a point where my business partner and I could reasonably step away and spend 4 hours a week literally running the business but of course, that's not what business is about, it's about helping our customers and we work hard every day to do that.

Think my "issue" here is I was one of the people who only had that source of prevailing wisdom for a long time and while I can't say it helped me create the business, it did create the dream that led to me starting, and powering through, what I currently do.

(also, while my partner and I both work hard on the project we both happen to be on a tropical island in Thailand at the moment ... but it's 8 am and beautiful and I'm sitting here on HN :-D )

In my experience, that "tropical island" trope goes hand in hand with the "4 hour week" BS.

I lived in tropical Thailand for 2 years (wife had a job there; now we live in Korea). And let me tell you, you'll get bored out of your mind sooner rather than later, and find yourself "sitting here on HN" more often than you'd like to admit.

Creative people live for the thrill of being "in the zone", utilizing their potential to the max. Tropical surroundings or "4 hour weeks" have surprisingly little to do with that.

It's not my first time here. I can't say I'd stay here long term but it's good for focusing for a few months with high quality of life and good balance.

Can you send me some links to good authors or books, or whatever you recommend? @misterhtmlcss on Twitter Please and thank you.

Steve Blank's Udacity course is a great starting point:


> This might be going a little too far, but at the same time it’s probably not going far enough: Code is the least important thing about a SaaS business.

This is true about software businesses in general, not just SaaS businesses. Arguably more so for enterprise products where all that matters is smiling faces.

None of your customers care about your beautiful build-test-CI-deploy pipeline and unless it's actually saving you time to add new features[1] it's not worth it.

[1]: Shocking twist: It does save time!

"Start Small, Stay Small" is a great book that really goes into detail about this. Highly recommend it!

(No affiliation, just really like it)

Good article on the dangers of starting a business without actually knowing anything about how to do business. I've been reading "The E-Myth Revisited" and it's been really incredibly helpful in showing all the common pitfalls that folks fall into when trying to start up their own business, usually using the same logic of "These jokers don't know what they're doing, I'm gonna start my own thing and do it the RIGHT way!"

Highly recommend everyone check it out before starting a new business. I've been helping my father with his own small business, which is a bit of a total mess. Some of the advice in this book has been incredibly illuminating, regarding why so many small businesses are structured to fail, rather than aiming for success from day 1. Between that and a book like "The Personal MBA", I think that would be a solid background before getting anything off the ground.

I don't work for any of these folks or the authors, they've just made a big positive impact in the way I think about business.

'Startups for the Rest of Us' seem like a decent podcast in that area.


Most of your "heck yes" people will disappear or forget anything about having that conversation within a few days as well.

Also, discount anyone who has any reason to please you. Their responses are often biased and not helpful towards validation.

This is true. They can still be useful if you can interview them in depth to determine why they are saying "heck yes". When doing this make sure to ask them about other services, especially failed ones. This will help you work out if they love your service or are just the type to say yes to everyone.

And this is why, mom and dad, I don't start a company just because I know how to code. None of this stuff interests me.

This is really honest and I commend you for saying it. I think too many people don't think about all of the things that are involved before jumping into starting a company. I sure didn't.

It is not as sexy as the tech blogs, gurus and mainstream media make it out to be. Bootstrapped or not. Seems like there is this uptick lately with promoting bootstrapping. Don't get me wrong, it is the way I started and grew my businesses but it is hard. It is also soul crushing when something that you invested huge amounts of your own time into and most likely your own savings fails. You can't really blame anyone else but yourself.

I always felt that those of us that go down this path are a little crazy ;)

I chuckle as I read these comments. Seems like you guys just needed a Marketing Monkey! ;) I could replace the word "marketer" and insert "developer" and that would be my experience. I've been bootstrapping a startup and thought it would be easy to hire a developer - a code monkey - who could knock out some code. But I ran into a few BSers who took me for quite a bit of money - hard learned lessons. More than anything, I want to find a co-founder with complementary skills and who shares the same vision and passion. But then, if this was so easy, everyone could and would do it. Therein lies the rub. I see many amazing ideas generated from developers that fail due to a lack of skilled Business Monkeys. And, likewise, until I found a few good devs, I was not able to get my idea to the market. But now that we got our SaaS startup to market, I concur with the other comments here about how a majority of time is spent with customers, engaging in support functions. It sucks, but it's very instructive. Those interactions add value to our business and make the product stronger. Keep up the great work and don't give up the fight. Success won't come quickly, but it will come to those who are persistent and who persevere.

Hey Clifford,

I just read your blog posts regarding real SaaS experience. I'm a fellow side project sole founder bootstrapper. I launched linkpeek.com 4 years ago to Hacker news and earned the number 1 position and had exactly 0 sign ups. The struggle is real.

I'm sort of intrigued about tamboo, and I want to see what I would get if I signed up. But the urgency of the 24 hours makes me afraid to sign up when I don't have downtime to tinker with your tool.

What you should do for tamboo:

    * create a couple quick animated gifs of your UI and recordings. Put them on your homepage  / landing page.

    * create a couple youtube videos showing what the recordings look like, a prime example would be the video which helped you debug the sign up flow and then a follow up with the fix!
I have some example UI/UX gifs on remarkbox.com and I used licecap on the mac, but there are linux alternatives.

PS: you should remove this part - it smells like bullshit -

"That's why I'm giving you a free 24-hour pass to use Tamboo on your website - but only if you try it out today."


Your contact form is busted and won't post, and it takes like 1m for it to reply that "something went wrong. please try again."

This article is spot on and just so timely for me. I just signed up for adwords after finding it tough to reach my target customer segment on FB. Never under-estimate the challenge of reaching your target market and convincing them to buy.

Is your target customer in the small and medium size market? If so you will struggle finding any scalable pay per click method that is cost effective if your lifetime customer value is under $2000.

If your LCV is over $2000 then you can support a direct sales model which works really well in the SMB market - the only problem is few SMB targeted products can support direct sales.

My service is for medium to large enterprise customers and lifetime value is probably much higher than $2000. But I am still validating if they would even value it or pay for it. Reaching the buyers (VP/Director Software Engineering) to validate is in itself an art form and an exercise in careful tuning. I cannot afford to be at conferences or get highly targeted lists. If you are interested - my landing page is http://opensourcebay.io

The LCV is over $2000 then your should go down then direct sales route. I know it is the nastiest, most unpleasant thing to do (cold calling), but it works and it is scaleable. You need to put down your keyboard and pick up the phone (and/or shoe leather) and get in contact with your potential customers. Once you get to $1 million ARR then hire a sales guy/gal and let them take over.

One thing that will help is to get an keen intern to help you with the direct sales. They won’t be able to do the selling, but they can help you out and make the inevitable rejection and rudeness you will face much easier to deal with - having a wing wo/man there to experience the abuse with you really helps.

And I am pretty sure, I broke all rules about landing pages mentioned in the article :-)

Yes. If you are going to direct sell it is not so critical, but if you are going to try to use PPC then you need to get the value story front and centre.

I’ll get to spend all of my time writing code that I could finally be proud of. I’ll get to code things the right way — not the jank ass way these ass clowns do things. I’ll have a build server for continuous integration and have automated unit tests for everything and I’ll use that cool new framework I just saw the other day on HackerNews

You caught me.

This is very similar to what Jonathan Blow is telling about programming games as Independent devs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjDsP5n2kSM

That is an amazing talk by Jonathan Blow, never seen it before, thank you for posting it.

This is a good read, but I'm a bit concerned by his product Tamboo[1], which lets site owners track exactly what their users do on their sites. I was looking at competitors and found Smartlook[2], whose website asks "Is this super-awesome service even legal?" A better question might be, "is it ethical?" and generally when you're asking is it legal the answer to that question is no.

[1]: https://gettamboo.com/ [2]: https://www.smartlook.com/

In my opinion, the legal aspect is unclear too. In case of brick and mortar stores, AFAIK, most jurisdictions require a noticeable sign revealing surveillance/videotaping. The law hasn't quite caught up online though.

Regardless, I'd say it's ethical if they clearly tell users they're being watched. I bet no one would use the service if it was required.

Yeah, I'm not totally against the idea, but I know a lot of people have concerns around privacy online and how data about them is collected. I agree that you should let your users know you're tracking them in this way if you use something like this.

I have a hard time with hit myself. Mixpanel is another competitor here and, when properly integrated, it can show some pretty shocking details about app usage. Great for optimization, poor for user privacy.

Right in the beginning:

The stone cold truth of the matter is that most of the people pandering this advice are only doing so to build up their “guru” status ... They do this so that look up to them. They do this so that you talk about them (getting you to help them grow their audience). They do this so that you’ll feel like you’re somehow less than they are ... I promise I’m not going to do any of that to you.

Really? Just a couple of paragraphs down:

First off, you should know that your idea probably sucks ... It doesn’t matter what you think ... we’re not going to refer to your precious game-changing idea as “your idea” anymore. We’re going to refer to it as “your guess”.

Ok, so first he's telling you that he's the honest guy who would never bullshit you and really would never try to make you feel less than him. Then goes on to do exactly that.

To me that's an immediate red flag. I don't know the author personally and can't tell what his intentions were when he wrote his essay but I've had the past displeasure of dealing with sociopaths who showed the same kind of behavior.

(Edited for less drastic choice of words)

Wow, I'm really sorry if it came across that way.

Where I was coming from with this was that I was sick of seeing all of these posts and podcasts where they were saying things in a very humblebraggy way like "Yeah, I only got something like 3,000 signups for that but was able to launch anyway" or "Yeah, I did a soft launch to $25K MRR just to my Twitter followers" or "I spent a weekend ranking #1 for this keyword and it took off from there" or "I've never spent a dime on advertising and I've never done any marketing and I don't spend more than 10 hours a month on this thing, but it pays for my awesome lifestyle."

I was referring to that kind of attitude when I wrote about how they do that to make you feel like they have some secret knowledge you have to pine for.

My approach was to say "That's total bullshit. Let me show you what it's really like." Because in my experience it's been nothing like that. In my experience, that was fairy tale land.

So I tried to write the guide as if I were the one it was written for - I wanted to put something out there that I wish I could have read 5-10 years ago that would have given me a brutally honest view of what was involved, just how bad it could be, and that would have shown me what the most important things to focus on were. And most importantly, to get me to think critically about everything I was doing. Hence the strong tone. I wanted to write something that would have gotten my attention and would have made me stop and think and avoid wasting time. So that's what I wrote.

> I wanted to write something that would have gotten my attention and would have made me stop and think and avoid wasting time. So that's what I wrote.

And that exactly what happened for me as a reader: I've read it because of this introduction. It was really eye-opening in a way ‑ it is so easy to forget how much work is behind the non-code side of a start-up project.

I totally understand your intention behind it. And it's ok to use strong tone. But as a matter of fact:

a) Say you're not going to use strong / condescending tone.

b) Use strong / condescending tone.

c) Express yourself in an honest manner.

Pick two.

Your response logically follows, however it is my belief that the inconsistency you point out is too nit-picky. What I mean is that HN generally follows the Principle of Charity [1] where we should seek to understand the authors strongest possible conclusion rather than tear down an entire article simple due to a relatively minor inconsistency.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity

There's only hypocrisy if one is to assume the author doesn't start his projects with the mentality of "lets check out this guess that probably sucks".

If the downvoters please could provide just a couple of words of explanation why they think I'm wrong. Thanks.

Because I read it far more as "This is going to be fucking hard, it sucks. Welcome to the trenches." That's considerably different than "I just did this simple thing and then money fell from the sky."

That, and the rest of the article goes on to focus on validating why your idea might not suck, or can at least be refined.

Your point is valid but if you read my comment I'm not arguing why the author is better or worse than the people he criticizes.

My point is that the author is using questionable rhetoric and is not being honest with his audience at best (and manipulative at worst) in his article. He could have easily made his point while not being any of that.

Disagree. His rhetoric is a necessary antidote to the rhetoric of the real snake-oil salesmen who speak from an assumed position of authority and present their entrepreneurship as a matter of blind will and charisma, when in fact - as he openly says has happened to himself - the real process is much much harder. You seem not to be able to read tonal nuances: he is clearly not placing himself in a position of greater success than his readers in order to sh*t on their ideas; he is deploying a generalised "reality-check" rhetoric to try to disperse the stench of nonsense emitted by the other "entrepreneurs". For you to take it personally kinda makes me chuckle.

Oh I can read "tonal nuances", as you put it, perfectly well. On the contrary it's you who's not able to spot typical manipulative patterns.

he is clearly not placing himself in a position of greater success than his readers in order to sht on their ideas;*

He is. Just read the article or the quotes that I've extracted from it.

This is sharp written, voice of truth and reality. I know of on my own, running Reblaze for the last five and a half years.

Almost nothing comes in easily, and you end up every day with more open tasks that you have started with.

Teams, Dev, Ops, BusDev, partners, legal, HR, taxes, you name it. And all in all, you got to keep the product and production in their path, keep your customers and employees extremely happy, and the cash flow!

As we all know:

    Cash-flow does not matter, until it is matters, 
    and when it is matter, it is the only thing that matters!
I guess we could have take Reblaze to the VC path at start, but hey! Would they ever let keep the product the way we believe it should [1]

[1] https://www.reblaze.com/using-the-cloud-for-web-security-wha...

What a refreshing read, it came across as authentic advice with actionable points - I feel that the "value your own time above all else" and "prepare to be wrong" are all too often missed in the more glitzy & glamorous "I make n$$$ per month" posts.

If you like that, then check out his Expect Everything to be Unexpected write-up. My favorite reality check. I posted it in its own thread:


Thanks for inspiration, I'm in! Will try and put something out by 8 Jan!!

There's lots of good stuff here, but while your code might not be the most important aspect of your SaaS startup, your code can't be garbage either. I've seen lots of startups and early-stage businesses rot from the inside because of bad coding practices and not being able to deliver features in a timely manner or what they do deliver is broken and buggy, driving customers away.

If you can't deliver the features your customers need because of shit code, that really does matter.

His "interlude" article on the same topic is epic:


I agree with almost everything except advertising on FB and Twitter. I have worked at several startups that had ZERO return on thousands of advertising on FB. Our Google ads cost more but had an actual return. There is a reason that they cost more.

It's easy to waste money with Facebook. It's also easy to make money with it when using the right process.

Any tips on what the "right process" entails?

I feel like a legitimate "disruption" of SaaS would be a company that has an easily adaptable, well tested, and smartly engineered code base...

Just curious, how many new visitors/sign-ups author received for his service using this content marketing? ;-) (Totally no offence.)

Nice write-up! Note to the author: Your website is really slow! Try to use live text instead of images, also use progressive images.

(That's Medium, a blogging platform. It's very fast for me at least, mabye your internet?)

Shameless plug, I want to share an online course I'll be teaching mid-Jan 2017: http://wiradikusuma.com/

It's more like "an opinionated step-by-step guide to bootstrapping a startup, so i can use it myself", with "study case" of actually building one (as the course progresses).

This is a really good read for anyone interested in starting a business or side gig.

If you're interested in bootstrapped SaaS writing, https://startingandsustaining.com/ from Garrett Dimon is really good as well.

Never head of Garrett, and I'm always looking for more material. Thanks for posting that.

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