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EXECUTION Building & growing my SaaS tool

Discussion in 'Progress/Execution Threads' started by Mattsaas, Oct 3, 2018.

  1. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Hi guys,

    Loooong time lurker here, and I've decided I’m going to share some of my progress.

    Last year I started building a SaaS (software as a service) product. Essentially this means you pay a monthly subscription to access the online tool. For people new to SaaS, this about any online service you pay a monthly subscription for. Wix, Squarespace, Mailchimp, Hootsuite, Xero, Shopify, CrazyEgg, Buffer, Salesforce, Zendesk etc.

    I’m going to jump back 10 months, and share a post I wrote on my websites blog at the start of this year, summarizing my 2017 progress. Then I’ll bring us into October 2018 with another update below, and keep frequent updates going forward from today here.

    =============================
    Repost from earlier in the year....

    May 1st 2017 was when I had enough of Fwd: Please review the meta title on this page type emails from my manager.

    I was working in a large corporate environment, and was responsible for the websites content. There were multiple content loaders, and new content was being added to the website daily (press releases, blog posts etc).

    Whenever someone added a broken image, missed a meta title, or forgot about alt text, it was falling on me to a) fix and b) apologise for not ensuring our website was following every nitty-gritty bit of content loading best-practice.

    We were in a highly competitive industry (insurance) and everything needed to be A+ to compete for organic traffic.

    Here is what has been achieved from May to December 2017.

    1. Pitched the idea to a developer
    I was at work when I pitched the idea to a developer. After a few back and forths, I elaborated on why I think the world needs a better website auditor in the email below.

    [​IMG]

    What I didn’t explain was that outside of my day job where I had a budget in the hundreds of thousands to spend, I was frustrated by how expensive website auditing and SEO tools in general were. Most people can’t afford $99p/m for a site audit or keyword tracking tool! I wanted to create something 90% of website owners will be able to afford.

    2. Built a pre-launch website
    I purchased a domain for under $10 from GoDaddy. Finding the domain took about an hour of searching ExpiredDomains.net because I didn’t want to start from a brand new domain name, I wanted one that had a little bit of domain authority already. After searching through all words that gave the vibe of “keeping your finger on the pulse of your website” I saw PulseProduct.com.

    Not the catchiest of domains, but I didn’t want to dwell too long on picking one.

    Hosting was purchased from WPEngine.com because a) its simple, b) has a built in staging environment which will be beneficial for when the website grows larger c) has amazing support via live chat and d) is fast.

    WPEngine isn’t the cheapest host, but I hate changing hosts so I thought I would start with the host I want to be at long term. Godaddy, Hostgator, or Bluehost offer cheaper hosting if you don’t want to shell out the USD$29p/m for WPEngines smallest plan.

    I then threw up a one-page website that explained the concept, why it would benefit any website owner, and how Pulse Site Auditor would be different from competitors. I used the Startuply theme which I purchased for USD$49. Once I purchased, installed, and customized theme, I started seeing it everywhere! Not a surprise really since it has had 2,874 sales at the time of writing.

    [​IMG]

    After a lot of reading GrowthHackers.com and Indiehackers.com I settled on a design. This Hotjar.com blog post was also a wealth on information on launching a SaaS product. Little things like changing the landing page call to action from ‘Register’ to ‘Request an Invite’ can make a big difference.

    Once the landing page was up and running (via a theme purchased from Themeforest.net) I started a Twitter Account, and put the ad shown below live with a $50 budget.

    [​IMG]

    The result of this advert was 107 email sign ups on the landing page, which to me indicated that the idea I was pitching was of interest to others. 107 is of course a tiny sample size, and all I got was an email address, not commitment to purchase the product, but I figured if I could find 107 people to sign up to try the product from a quick Twitter ad on a sh*tty landing page, I could find 100 people to become customers if I spend more than $50 and a day on marketing.

    3. Designed & Built the Product
    Building the product consisted of lots of hacking around in Notepad++ to try to get the actual tool looking like how I wanted it to look. I’m not a developer, so this was lots of frustrating trial & error, and copying and pasting from tutorials and purchased admin themes to get the service looking how I wanted it to look.

    The main theme I used as a base was Limitless, which was also purchased from Themeforest for USD$24.

    [​IMG]

    These designs were then sent to the developer, who made it all actually work.

    Once the service was up and running I started using it for my day job, to alleviate the frustration that is shown in my email at the top of this post. I used Trello.com to report bugs & request features, and new versions of the site were pushed to production by the developer once or twice a week.

    [​IMG]

    4. Launched Free Beta Version
    Linkedin Founder Reid Hoffman once said the quote below, which we followed when making Pulse publicly available:

    If You’re Not Embarrassed By The First Version Of Your Product, You’ve Launched Too Late

    The first launch of Pulse wasn’t the most polished product, but if solved the issue that I wanted solved: affordable & automated crawling of a website.

    Our goal during the beta period was to iron out all bugs, and get real user feedback on what people liked and didn’t like. We actually added a feedback tab into the main navigation, so any beta user could submit a comment directly into our development Slack channel, which could then be copied/pasted and prioritised in Trello.

    [​IMG]

    It total we had approximately 100 users sign up to use the beta version of Pulse, and all of them were invaluable in shaping what the product is today. They not only reported bugs, but they let us know what was important to them, and also provided some testimonials that we could use on our website.

    5. Turning on Paid Subscriptions
    Literally within 12 hours of changing our Pricing page from directing people to the beta sign up form, to the paid registration form integrated with Stripe, we had our first account created (thanks, Tharshan!) He found us via the Indiehackers.com forum in one of my introduction posts there when I first joined the community.

    As of December 31st Pulse has under 100 paying customers. Our basic plan is just $USD19per month, so we don’t need hundreds or thousands of customers to make Pulse a kick-a$$ tool. We just need enough to cover costs, and provide a bit of beer and coffee money.

    Our slow growth is expected, as we have spent under $100 on marketing (which was all during the beta phase) and both myself and the developer work long hours in full time jobs.

    6. Next Steps & 2018 Goals
    With little marketing budget (blame the expensive housing market in Auckland, New Zealand, and saving for a wedding!) we aim to grow Pulse through two main channels: content marketing and affiliate marketing.

    Content Marketing is effective, but takes a lot of time. Ideally I would be adding at least 1,000 words of well-written valuable content to this site each day, however I don’t quite have time for that at the moment. Content marketing is a super powerful way to get free organic traffic to a website, so any articles I can write on “content audits” or “SEO reviews” will generate organic traffic, which will eventually lead to account trials.

    The thing with content marketing is that your content has to be better than all other content on Google for it to be worthwhile. There is no point writing a 1000 word guide on a topic, if there are already in-depth 5000 word guides ranking in google for the same target keywords.

    Once my day job gets a bit quieter, I’ll aim to get some quality guides and tutorials published! In the meantime, if you know (or are) a writer and understand technical website optimization, flick us an email.

    Affiliate Marketing is when other website owners refer there visitors to PulseProduct.com and if they buy a subscription to Pulse, the referring website gets a percentage of the sale.

    Affiliate Marketing is common within this industry, with many of our competitors offering incentives to promote their products.

    A big 2018 goal is to reach out to any website that has an audience that may be interested in Pulse, and offer them a free account to review. They can then share their review (hopefully a positive one!) with their audience, and collect some additional revenue from their website.

    We also plan to keep adding features that we would like to use ourselves (as we use the tool daily on other websites!), and features that our customers request.

    Our ultimate 2018 goal is to get enough customers to hire an additional developer that can keep pumping out these new features.

    =============================

    So that brings us up to January 2018.

    Update to follow. Feel free to hit me with any questions about anything.

    Marketing methods I have explored are: content, SEO, paid search, Outbrain, Facebook, Quora, Twitter, Betalist and no doubt a few extras I have missed.

    Edit: Sorry a lot of links above! None of these third party providers are related to me in anyway and none are affiliate links :smile2:
     
  2. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    As of October 2018, there are only a handful of customers, and MRR (monthly recurring revenue) hovers around $250 to $500.

    Why such a low income, after all this time? Here's what I blame..
    1. Myself, for lack of marketing.
    2. Myself, for not caring for customers enough. Emails took days to reply to, if I replied at all.
    3. Myself, for not getting features fixed when I noticed that they were broken
    4. Myself, for not ensuring site uptime was 99.9%
    How have I changed this in the past month?
    1. Turned on paid search and Facebook ads. Paid Search targets competitors via "alternative to competitor" type searches. Facebook ads include both prospecting ads, and retargeting unconverted visitors.
    2. Customers now get a reply within hours. Customers who request features have recently had the featured scoped, coded, and released that same day (for all other customers to enjoy too)
    3. Dozens of bug fixes have been completed in the last month.
    4. Uptime now hovers close to 100%
    I'm now annoyingly nice and accommodating to new customers. I want to know why they joined, and how I can keep them. They submitted their credit card details to try my service, so it's the least I can do.

    Up until recently another problem I faced was having hundreds of competitors. You may have heard of some of the big names: MOZ, SEMrush, Majestic, Ahrefs etc.

    I couldn't compete with them, so I approached this in two ways:
    1. Kept my price low, and my product focused. My competitors sell a product with all the bells and whistles covering SEO, audits, backlinks, paid search etc etc and package it up from $99 per month. I just wanted to do site audits really well, and aim for closer to $19 per month.
    2. I differentiated my product. The competitors mentioned above cater to experts in this field, or at least people who know all of the basics. I pivoted my product to cater to the newbie who needed a clean clutter-free interface, and lots of hand-holding along the way. I wanted my tool to appeal to the small business owner who can't afford a digital marketing or SEO expert, and want's to do it themself, or ask their marketer or website content manager to look after all this sort of stuff.
    Below is something I wrote last month about this "pivot" from trying to build a hardcore tool for experts, to catering to the wider audience of "website owners who want to be told what to do".

    =============================

    "For the past year or so I've been working to build a website auditor, but found there were WAAY to many already available. So I've now decided to make it primarily an educational tool, which is wrapped wrapped with a site auditor so people can learn "hands-on".

    We are still at MVP, with much more work ahead (damn day job)!

    Essentially, instead of overloading the user with SEO metrics that they may not understand, we'll now identify what could be improved on the site, explains what the issue is, why it is an issue, and how to fix it. This new educational-approach is where I want to head in the future with this product.

    I'm creating it not for SEO experts, but for small site owners, independent bloggers, and small to medium businesses who don't have a digital marketing specialist. Perhaps they have a website administrator, or marketing generalist. With Pulse, they are empowered to look after much of the website optimization themselves.

    =============================

    Next update will be all the marketing channels I've tried, and what I've learnt.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2018
  3. therealmark
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    therealmark Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER

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    Great update. Keep pushing. SaaS products are a lot more difficult to maintain then people realize.
     
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  4. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Thanks for the motivation. Yes, it isn't easy!

    I'd love to hear Fastlane members feedback on the landing pages and overall product proposition.
     
  5. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    I'm focusing a lot at the moment on taking customer requests and getting them implemented ASAP.

    I have one customer in the US who keeps sending through requests as his web design agency. In the past few weeks he's asked for:
    1. All external links to open in a new tab (change made within 24 hours)
    2. Issue with the 'alt tag' report in our tool having a bit of noise (fixed within 24 hours)
    3. Site analysis not working for a hidden site via robots.txt (change made within 24 hours)
    4. Ability to rename reports before exporting them (added to our backlog)
    I'm stoked to be able to turn around changes like this quickly, and his suggestions are improving the product for all customers. This isn't something any of the competition can do, so it gives me a good advantage over their large marketing budgets.
     
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  6. eliquid
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    eliquid ( Jason Brown ) Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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  7. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    I started reading that last week! Really valuable information.

    Next on my to-do list is to integrate Refersion for managing an affiliate program, and then reach out to as many websites as I can asking them to review my service for XX% of recurring revenue. Do you have any advise before I set off down this path?
     
  8. lowtek
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    lowtek Platinum Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass Summit Attendee

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    Great thread, love the execution. I'll check out the linked article on growing an early stage SaaS

    Maybe @Andy Black can provide some insights on Google Ads to get you some more traction.
     
  9. Andy Black
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    Andy Black Any colour, as long as it's red. Staff Member Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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    I have a thread called “Video SUCS”. Might be worth trying?
     
  10. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    Thanks, just took a look, and researched bonjoro.com. I'll add it to the to-do list to sign up for and hook into our CRM!
     
  11. eliquid
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    eliquid ( Jason Brown ) Read Millionaire Fastlane I've Read UNSCRIPTED FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass LEGENDARY CONTRIBUTOR

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    Yes, vet the affiliate before you let them go live.

    Put in restrictions like no bidding on your brand name, etc.
     
  12. johnp
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    johnp Gold Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    Very cool story! I always been itching to build a SaaS but have yet to find something.

    My day job is marketing for a SaaS. Paid Search is by far our biggest channel. We recently ramped up from $12k/mo to around $50k/mo just on AdWords. If you can afford it, I'd really press hard on Paid Search with cross-channel remarketing. I track all funnel stats and everything right now shows that paid search makes the biggest impact for us (aside from organic).

    We're also in a very competitive industry (competing against companies like Mailchimp). Yet we're experiencing 300% growth month over month. Don't let competition get to you. If you can put yourself in front of the traffic, it's just a matter of tweaking your funnel, product, experience, etc..
     
  13. Mattsaas
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    Mattsaas Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane

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    That's awesome to hear. I've only dabbled in paid search for my own tool, but should really focus more on it. I need to get the conversion tracking 100% sorted first though. Cross domain tracking (app is on a subdomain), and lack of a clear "Thank you" page was making it a little tricky but I can figure that out.

    What keywords are you finding work best?
    1. Generic such as "email software"
    2. Competitor such as "mailchimp alternative"
    3. Buying intent such as "cheap email tool trial"
     
  14. johnp
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    johnp Gold Contributor Read Millionaire Fastlane FASTLANE INSIDER Speedway Pass

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    I would definitely make it a priority to conversion tracking setup in there so you can start tracking this stuff. There are other ways to do it by firing off events if you can’t actually get a thank you page. But a thank you page always seems the easiest, especially if using Tag Manager.

    Great question about keywords.

    Targeting high conversion intent keywords tends to work best. Example: Buy Email Server (and long-tail versions of that).

    Generic keywords also work great for us. Typically keywords that are 2 or more words. I personally like to take a generic keyword and load it up as modified broad then let the data tell me where to build out my campaigns.

    We tend to avoid keywords that use the word cheap, free, etc..

    As far as bidding on competitors goes, we do this and we are seeing traction here. Yes, keywords like, "{Competitor} alternative", "{competitor} pricing", etc.. The key thing with this is you have to be ready to go in with a really good landing page to show why your service is different/better. I’m not the biggest fan of competitor bidding, but it works.

    Another thing that may surprise you is that branded terms perform great for us. I think our branded campaign is in our top 3. We get a ton of people who find us via paid or organic, then google search our brand name.

    At the end of the day, one of the things that has made the biggest impact for us was getting setup on a landing page platform like Unbounce. Not sure if you’re using a tool like this or not, but it really makes a difference.
     

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