I went from idea to paying customers in less than a month
I think I’m on my tenth startup.
It’s kind of hard to keep track, and what really counts as an attempt at a startup? Does researching and building a marketing site but never launching, does that count as a startup?
But I’ve worked on a lot, over the past ten years now.
Most were bootstrapped. One had a significant seed funding round. A couple had friends and family rounds. Some were built on the back of credit card debt, and the credit card debt outlived the startup.
Almost every startup I launched, or was a part of, at least made SOME money. Maybe it always existed in the red, but it at least had someone pay to use it.
It took forever, sometimes, to get to any profit. Or what felt like forever, in the startup world. Six months. Or a couple years.
My most recent startup, and the one that is my current focus, got to revenue in less than a month, and I’ll tell you how in this post.
I had been working for over a year, teaching myself Bubble.io (a fantastic no-code platform that you should check out if you want to build your own app but you don’t know how to code) while building out an email research tool, one that could often find more email addresses per company than other email-lookup services had in their databases.
That startup definitely has some UX issues and it’s slow and a bit buggy, and it never got traction.
And I had been thinking for months, “is this startup’s service the thing that I sell, or do I just use its research capability to create another service that I sell?”
So I thought a bit about building niche databases of employee profiles at different companies. My screen printing company that I’ve had since 2006 likes to print shirts for breweries, for example, so maybe I could build a niche database of everyone who works at a brewery in America, so that companies like my own knew who to pitch their service to and could get in touch directly with them.
(And I did the indie hacker thing of buying a few domains of course, after thinking about what niches I could offer.)
While driving to the beach with my family for Thanksgiving, I had plenty of time to think. Late night drive, wife and kids asleep, 478 miles, truly a lot of time to think about business.
It was on that drive I decided to build out a business that provided monthly data packages of recently funded companies and all their employee profiles I could find, and eventually would offer research on SaaS companies too. We spent a week at the beach, and I didn’t work on this idea, or anything really, just tried to be on vacation (plus the wifi situation was lousy!)
We get back home and I work on my startup, not the new idea. I have someone interested in custom research using my email lookup tool, and I focus on that, and build out some bulk research tools to make the work I do for her easier and faster.
It wasn’t until December 2nd that I crack the surface and build a waiting page / landing page for saasyDB.com, using yep.so to get a page up really quickly (in the past, I would build a site from an HTML template, which takes way longer, or build something with Webflow, which isn’t super cheap).
On December 4th I started researching the companies whose data would be included in the first monthly packages.
Now, granted, I had spent a YEAR building tools that let me do this research, so it wasn’t like I started from scratch and got to revenue so quickly. But you can always use someone else’s tools to build something, research something, whatever, to get to where you have something to sell quickly.
The point is that it just needs to resonate with a market need, regardless of how you made it/compiled it/researched it/repackaged it, but I’m getting ahead of myself here…
On December 12th, I had something ready to sell, the first month’s worth of information on recently funded companies, with data gathered from various sources, and employee profiles, found with my own unique algorithm from my startup.
So I set up Gumroad, as I had used it before, and it did what I needed it to do. Hilariously, this was the week before Gumroad raised all their pricing and caused a small revolt. But it was easy to integrate with yep.so and easy to get going.
Now to try to get the word out…
I had built a small following in the #buildinpublic Twitter world (come follow me there at @whoworksthere and say hi!) and I announced it there, but that’s definitely not the audience for this sort of service, as its more for email marketers and VCs and agencies, and that wasn’t who I was hanging out with on Twitter.
I mentioned it in Slacks that I was in, kept mentioning it on Twitter, wherever I could, and a brief offhand mention on LinkedIn of it.
On December 20th, we were about to travel again, heading to my in-laws for Christmas vacation. I saw a notification on my phone. $99!
I was blown away. Floored. Totally rejuvenated in my startup projects… not having any revenue after trying to promote a startup for months will definitely break your heart, and seeing this alternative business model built with that startup get a paying user so quickly changed everything.
Over Christmas, I actually got something like the flu and was completely wrecked, so I didn’t work on it much, but I was very eager to get back to work full-time. Over Christmas vacation, I researched more companies so I had a lot more data for the second month’s package.
After New Years, I promoted it on Reddit, in r/sideproject and in the “share your startup” thread on r/startups, and got three more paying customers! It felt validated. I felt great.
Now I’m having a ton of conversations with potential customers, and getting feedback from people who in my target spaces, to better refine my offer, and how I present it. Soon, I’ll add an additional monthly package of SaaS companies and their employee profiles.
Currently standing at $272 MRR as of late January (an early user bought an annual package, and I was giving out plenty of half off discount codes like EARLY50, which still work at saasyDB if you want to take advantage!). Goal is $10k MRR by the end of 2023.
Midjourney AI generated image for the prompt "cold email in the style of Lisa Frank"
Take away lessons:
- Save time by using something like yep.so to build a site that presents your idea and either lets people get on a waiting list or actually buy it from a simple site. If the offer is good enough, and especially if the buyer already knows who you are, they’ll buy from a super simple site.
- If you’re a serial startup builder like me, connect with customers on LinkedIn so that they can see your future projects, because you never know if they will buy something entirely different you build later.
- If your startup isn’t working as a business, but it produces something you think is valuable, figure out how else you can package it.
- You can promote on Reddit and get users without getting your head ripped off, if you know where to do it.
- Payment is the best validation. If you can find four people willing to pay for whatever you are selling, you can probably find forty, or four hundred.
Are you an Indie Hacker / startup founder? Connect with me on Twitter @whoworksthere where I'm pretty active
Need help with anything cold email marketing related? Email me at email@example.com and I'm happy to help, for real.
Thanks for reading,
Stuart, founder of saasyDB