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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But I will definitely look to put something together that incorporates more of what you're talking about - thanks for the input!
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.
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!
"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."
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.
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.
The rapid success of submitHub is directly correlated to success of IndieShuffle, which he spent an immense amount of time building.
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 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.
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.
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!
Truth is, the grind (especially in the early days) is incredibly difficult and soul wearing. This article does a good job of articulating that.
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, 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 :)
 I can't emphasize this enough!
Haha. I like that line and off hand seems like a nice litmus test.
> 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.
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
Part 2 & 3 can be found here
"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.
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.
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 )
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.
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 it's not worth it.
: Shocking twist: It does save time!
(No affiliation, just really like it)
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.
Also, discount anyone who has any reason to please you. Their responses are often biased and not helpful towards validation.
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 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!
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."
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.
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.
You caught me.
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.
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)
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.
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.
a) Say you're not going to use strong / condescending tone.
b) Use strong / condescending tone.
c) Express yourself in an honest manner.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you can't deliver the features your customers need because of shit code, that really does matter.
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).