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EXECUTION [Progress] Starting another SaaS (travel industry this time)

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devbe83

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Let's start with the non-fully-related :)

Did you sell the SAAS company or the app itself? How was that process of selling? What valuation multipler did you get? did you use a business broker?
The company. Being bootstrapped and thus not having a team to go along with the sale, we landed at a multiplier of 2.5. That process was pretty smooth actually. The purchasers reached out to us and we worked with our and their legal + our accountancy firm to work on all documents required.

So for your designer job post, how did that work out?
Good! The site promises 3 designers, in the end I got 45 designs for ~100 EUR. Enough choice to pick one (from 3 that I thought were good and clever) to my liking and have its designer fine-tune a couple of things. Very pleased with the result, and having the choice to visually see alternatives was great!

Also did you have a demo ready for customers to view? If so did you use Youtube? or something else?
I wanted to show "the real thing", or something as real as possible. Visually see what it looks like. So started off building everything and once I had a couple of screens, showed those and asked for feedback. A few weeks ago I had them try on the staging application and got good feedback out of that: a couple of things they really wanted, and made a lot of sense for others as well.

This was a good process not only for customers, but also for myself. Building it required a deeper understanding of the API's I would have to call and the data they need/return, which in turn also influenced a little bit of the flow and design.

Where are you hosting the web app ? VPS ?
Microsoft Azure, on their App Services service, in a Docker container. App Services because it's their only model where you can pick a dedicated hosting plan (as in, you get a full "VPS" in terms of CPU and memory), and host multiple containers on that plan.

Do we get a link to see how it looks ;)
Not yet :) Want to get this first customer use it, process feedback and get that landing page up. Once that's done, will share it here.
 

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devbe83

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Still awaiting the person at the GDS to flip the switch to be able to book actual tickets. The intermediary seemed annoyed as hell that this took so long, so that is good.

But in the meanwhile, made things a bit better by integrating SEPA Direct Debit (via www.gocardless.com) so I can immediately request a payment for every booked flight. Not that I don't trust my first potential customer to pay me afterwards, but this is a good step forward again!

(And GoCardless was the first API that I was able to integrate in less than two hours, pretty slick! Next one will be Stripe to support US-based customers as well.)
 
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devbe83

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A week has passed, time for a status update!

Let's start with the one thing that was still pending... the GDS has fixed a blocking issue on their end, which means I can now (finally) book flight tickets! That also means go-live for the application, which happened yesterday.

While waiting for that GDS issue, I have been working on the landing page. A first version of that is online now as well and can be found at SpeakerTravel - any feedback would be very welcome! Although right now I'm not expecting much traffic there yet (going for a bit of a dark launch for now)

The TL;DR pitch: when organizing a conference and inviting speakers from abroad and covering their travel, manually handling booking preferences and invoices is time-consuming. SpeakerTravel makes this process a breeze.

My first customer is... me! For an event I (and a couple of others) are organizing, I've invited a few travellers. And of course, the first feature request already came in which is to allow booking flights for the invited traveller as well as their partner. Sometimes conference travel is a bit of vacation, so that makes sense as a feature... Let's get that implemented :)

My next customer is on vacation right now, I do plan on keeping them very warm and get them into the app as well. Fingers crossed!
 

dawp

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My two cents: too much text.
Mobile navigation elements are not centered correctly.
Besides that it looks really nice.
You planning to run some cpc adds on facebook or google soon?
 
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devbe83

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My two cents: too much text.
Mobile navigation elements are not centered correctly.
Besides that it looks really nice.
You planning to run some cpc adds on facebook or google soon?
Thanks for checking! Will take a look at the mobile view. And see whether text can be condensed.

No ads planned yet, still want to iron out some kinks (in both the app as well as the landing page). Contacting folks I know that may want to use this as a first round of marketing, as I can work with them closely on whatever kinks they run into. But the plan is to get to ads around September-ish, after a couple of run-throughs. I do want to put a rough timeframe there. Rough because things can be slower than expected, but a timeframe to keep myself from enthusiastically adding an infinite amount of features and never getting traction.
 
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devbe83

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It's been a while, time for an overdue status update.

In August, I've had several passengers booked by my first customer (myself), and now working with the second customer (an actual customer) who has already booked 10% of their number of passengers/tickets. Number three is also lined up and should start in the coming 2-3 weeks.

I'm not too actively chasing new leads yet. The app was build as an MVP. An MVP is not Minimum, but Minimum Viable. So both myself, as well as customer one and two have something that works and does most of what they want. However, both are giving me great feedback, feedback that validates the actual needs. Some of that feedback I had already in my backlog, and a few other things are trickling in from their usage. Executing on those remarks while they are working with their passengers, so they also see progress is being made and their feedback is being implemented.

After these two customers complete their entire journey through the app, I should be break-even (barring my hourly development costs). All of the Entry costs will be zeroed out at that point. Pretty nice :)

On a side note, I also ran into the daily developer reminder of the Commandment of Control. As mentioned in an earlier post, I'm working on the .NET Core stack, and more specifically, the bleeding 3.0-preview8 version for which the proper release is planned end of September. Great! As right now there is a blocking bug that I can't work around and prevents from implementing one specific ask. Not a blocker, but if I would have had my own programming language and platform this would not be a blocker :) (joking - I would have hundreds of other problems, but found it interesting to see that "giving up control", even at that technical level has an impact)
 

Erico123

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Make your website more personal and humanize it. I know it's just a MVP and this business idea has some huge growing potential but the way it is now is in my view not practical for trying to sell a service. Remove some of that plain text and maybe minimize the information the customer reads when he first loads in. By the way, if you want to make of use a certain element, then make it worthy for the customer to look at it. Right now, all elements are like kind of equal and do not draw the attention of the customer which therefore results the customer skipping maybe crucial information at the bottom of the page. Just remember, 80/20 applies to webdesign as much as it does to business and any other areas.
Other than that, keep on the grind.
 
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devbe83

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Been a while since the last update, so here goes!

Service/application
Adding several features I had thought of, but are now requested by first users. Feels good to validate those ideas, but must be careful not to fall into the "build trap". We'll see, for now all requests seem useful and I can see them being used by all customers over time, so that's good.

Website
After feedback from @Erico123 and @dawp, made a few changes to the main (marketing) website, making it less dense and fine-tuning the main message. Probably will need more iterations but much happier with it now than with the first version. Thanks, both!

Business
Still going slow, intentionally, to gather customer feedback one by one and be able to be there for them. That said, I've started e-mailing some folks I know would be interested, of which one showed genuine interest.

As a test, I also did 10 cold e-mails this week (following up next), as I want to see whether that could be a channel that works. Will see and finetune where needed.

Stupidity (and undoing it)
On the website, there's a chat button to get in touch quickly. Unfortunately, I had notifications disabled on that and missed a 100 travelers conference reaching out there. D'oh!

One month after that request, which is when I saw it, I did reply to them apologizing for the late reaction, and offering them a demo over Skype. Which we did this week, and they seemed happy with functionality (plus some feedback of "nice to haves"). Hoping to close this one soon.

In summary, is this fastlane yet? No. But it's starting to prove its value, and that's step one.
 

dawp

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Were you got those first users from? Ads?
 

bdb

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It's been a while man, how are you doing ? Hopefully good :smile2:
 

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devbe83

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It's been a while man, how are you doing ? Hopefully good :smile2:
Yes, time flies :smile:

So far have 7 conferences who handled (and are handling) flights through SpeakerTravel, good for 50 travellers now.

Marketing-wise collecting logo's and testimonials I can put on the website, should go live in the next week once I have all approvals.

Sales-wise, trying to attract some more conferences by exploring my network. Also talking with a company that has similar needs, but in a different vertical. They should have news on a go/no-go early January. If that lands, it will be a bigger one that will scale into a few thousand travellers at once, so very excited about what that will bring :)

Also in touch with a company that organizes events for third parties, and SpeakerTravel seems like a potential fit there as well. Meeting them in January.

In the meanwhile, happy holidays!
 
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bdb

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Sounds amazing.

Is your site prepared to handle that kind of scale once you start getting a few thousand users in ?
Also have you thought about combining lodging with your service? maybe with an established API ?

Happy holidays.
 

GatsbyMag

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Service/application
Adding several features I had thought of, but are now requested by first users. Feels good to validate those ideas, but must be careful not to fall into the "build trap". We'll see, for now all requests seem useful and I can see them being used by all customers over time, so that's good.
I'm also in the midst of building a SaaS, what do you mean by the "build trap"?

Similar to you I've been getting feedback and a number of ideas sent my way. I'm investing a lot of time and money into adding additional features for my next version, but I'm also cautious in implementing some of these ideas because I know to focus on the core USP and to see how much of the target market can validate it through $$$ - is this what you're referring to when you mention "build trap"?

Thanks
 

Xavier X

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@devbe83 Since it appears you're primarily targeting conferences, is there any reason the emphasis is only on speakers? Other than speakers, conference organizers might be responsible for people in other crucial roles. Moderators, judges, performers etc.

You might cast a potentially wider net with a conference approach, rather than focusing only on speakers.
 

francevalue

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Hey!
Your journey has been amazing!
How do you plan to monetize your website?
 
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devbe83

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Whoa lots of replies! A bunch of quotes and responses coming up...

Is your site prepared to handle that kind of scale once you start getting a few thousand users in ?
That should be fine. Most of the real work like search/ticketing is done using a messaging system which is easy enough to scale horizontally. Of course, that's what I say now, although proof is in the pudding. I guess we'll see, past adventure has thought me a lot in terms of scaling things on the technical side.

What I am more afraid of in terms of scaling is the support requests this might bring, the fact that my vendor might not be able to scale along, etc., etc. The Control aspect of CENTS :)

Also have you thought about combining lodging with your service? maybe with an established API ?
Yup, but not doing it yet. My vendor has loding (hotels) and rental cars in their API as well, but for now this doesn't seem needed for this niche.

I'm investing a lot of time and money into adding additional features for my next version, but I'm also cautious in implementing some of these ideas because I know to focus on the core USP and to see how much of the target market can validate it through $$$ - is this what you're referring to when you mention "build trap"?
Exactly that :) Don't build it if nobody is using it or asking for it! Of course, do build the things that are your core USP.

Since it appears you're primarily targeting conferences, is there any reason the emphasis is only on speakers? Other than speakers, conference organizers might be responsible for people in other crucial roles. Moderators, judges, performers etc.

You might cast a potentially wider net with a conference approach, rather than focusing only on speakers.
Absolutely agree with that, this is very niche on purpose. There are a lot of ancillary traveler types, potentially. Speaking with a number of bigger conferences, those usually have an event management firm taking care of travel and all that. Might need to go after those as well, and see whether they can offer SpeakerTravel to their customers.

The app itself is not as niche as the marketing front, so could be used in many other scenarios where "a third party is paying for your travel". The potential 10k travelers I mentioned are not in my current niche, so would be good to see how much is needed to fit the current app's flow onto that new market.

How do you plan to monetize your website?
Right now there's a fee per traveler, or a fee per event. More info on the website under pricing.

Also thinking of a community version for marketing purposes, where events with only 1-2 travelers would essentially be able to use the app for free (but of course still pay for the actual travel fare).
 
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francevalue

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Hey! I've read again all your thread and it's really interesting.
Have you started to run some ads?
Have a nice day.
 
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devbe83

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Status update time!

In the past couple of weeks, I've been chatting with a company that is doing something very different, but essentially could use the workflow of having a "third party payment for travel". It could have been a good fit, but I decided this might not be the best thing to pursue. From a business point of view, short term, this could have been interesting to ramp up sales, but long term I'd be creating a job - a job of being "the person doing the travel stuff that we integrate with". This company decided to put the idea in the fridge for a while (restructuring), so that kind of solved itself. We still are in touch and keeping each other up to date (both startups), but no active partnership.

On to the next thing: I'm onboarding two big conferences, or rather two big organizations each running 4 big conferences a year! They are a bit different from earlier users, in the sense that they need some additional automation so they can run travel booking almost hands-off. Great! Because now I have two parties that had the same question, which means it's time to also build it.

Regarding pricing, I've been making some updates...

Right now there's a fee per traveler, or a fee per event. More info on the website under pricing.
The fee is now per traveller, and the more of those you require, the cheaper the "unit price" becomes.

Also thinking of a community version for marketing purposes, where events with only 1-2 travelers would essentially be able to use the app for free (but of course still pay for the actual travel fare).
That idea got canned! The app provides value, and even for one or two travellers the fee is not extraordinary high. Also wanted to avoid 10-speaker events creating 5x 2-speaker events to circumvent the pricing model.

Regarding ads, @francevalue, I wanted to do those pretty soon, but seeing a bunch of events being cancelled now because of the well-known pandemic, decided against those for now until the panic settles a bit and organizers start looking at the future again. In the meanwhile, working my network.
 

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