Slack bot business tutorial: From zero to $25,000/mo
How Standuply grew into a profitable business on Slack
Wondering how to make a Slack bot that drives revenue? Yes, it’s possible.
In this article, we’ll share how we built Standuply, a profitable Slack bot that runs asynchronous standup meetings via text, voice and video, and tracks team performance.
In this piece, I’ll talk about our ups and downs building and promoting a Slack bot from zero to 700 customers. Being bootstrapped, we were able to reach $25,000 in monthly revenue and become profitable.
Marketing channels used: The Slack App Directory, content marketing, Product Hunt, social networks, conferences.
Pricing strategy used: Started as free in beta, then rolled out prices, plans and restrictions smoothly step by step.
Two years ago Artem and I took our savings and went “all in” to create a bot on Slack: Standuply. We blindly believed we could make it. However, chances were against us:
- We’re both non-technical co-founders who can’t code a bot;
- We didn’t raise funding and had no advisors or connections with Slack;
- We’re based in a small town 12,000 km away from Silicon Valley.
But in contrast, we had motivation like there was no second chance. After two years of hard work, stress and fear, we made our first step toward success.
In May 2018, Standuply reached $25,000 in revenue, meaning we’re now profitable! And it’s just the beginning: we’re adding $3–4k in MRR each month, looking to hit $100k in 2019. It all proves that a $1M business can be built entirely on Slack.
Reaching profitability was damn hard, but now we have the time and experience to pause and reflect.
Building a Slack bot — our challenges
During 2016, we were building our MVP and experimenting with Slack APIs. We changed concepts three times, and at some points, we were almost ready to give up.
Later, we were lucky to find focus, and thus, Standuply was launched in December of 2016. (It’s too long a story to put here. Here’s a dedicated blog with all the details.)
At the beginning of 2017, we were running a beta that was serving ~200 teams. However, it was far from being perfect, regarding features and stability. Our Slack bot went down several times within two weeks. It was so embarrassing that we sent this photo to our users to save the day. (They liked it!)
Our website didn’t work properly in Safari, and Standuply lacked a few features our users were constantly asking for. Some teams left as a result. It was painful, but we couldn’t do much with two developers on the team. It’s the price you pay when bootstrapping.
One of the popular feature requests: Adding answers if a user misses reporting an update in time at a Standuply meeting.
In 2016 Slack announced message buttons. Buttons allow people to easily add standup answers in Slack. It was a great addition to the functionality of our Slackbot.
However, our tech infrastructure wasn’t ready for that, and guess what?
We decided to re-write the bot entirely to deliver the new, additional feature. Ouch! Don’t do this at home! Instead of nearly two months, it took us four months. After the release, adding answers wasn’t gaining traction with users. We would’ve been better off spending time on improved stability or core integrations (such as, Trello or JIRA).
We learned that additional features are not as important as core features that bring the most value to a user. In our case, it’s the standup meeting process.
Everything takes time, especially in SaaS. We learned valuable lessons along the way. Some of the most insightful learnings came while we were building our MVP:
- Customer interviews may not reveal new features
- Internal statistics are your radar
- Two developers are better than one
- Technical foresight may save the day(s)
- Mobile web layout matters a lot
- Vague marketing taglines didn’t work
I go deeper into details in a dedicated blog post.
Growing a Slack bot to 15,000 teams
We leveraged several marketing channels to speed up our growth. Here are the major ones that drove us traffic and (sometimes) leads.
Slack App Directory
Someone at Slack decided that our Slack bot was worthy and Standuply was featured on the main page of the Slack App Directory in March 2017.
In two weeks we got 750 new signups and reached a milestone of 1000 teams. Even after our feature spot ended we were still getting a steady stream of new users from Slack. Being listed in the Slack App Directory is the number-one driving factor for an early stage Slack bot.
In addition to the Slack App Directory, we leveraged other channels to attract more teams. We relied heavily on content marketing in 2017 and continue doing so in 2018
I put out several long reads; it helped us to improve our SEO and led to decent traffic to our blog. Overall, my posts received 150k views in 2017.
The result, though, was far from what we expected: Very few new signups came from those posts. People were reading and passing by.
Based on a survey of 200 respondents, no one mentioned our blog as the source how they discovered Standuply and our UTM tracking confirmed that. Something was wrong. Later we discovered the reason — Medium.
As a company, you can’t create a story with unique visual identity on Medium. Also, there are fewer ways to convert readers into subscribers and visitors. So we decided to switch to WordPress. It provides us unique visual identity for the blog and full control of the content we publish.
We launched Standuply and related products eight times on Product Hunt over the past 18 months. We love Product Hunt, what about you?
Our initial Product Hunt launch brought in our very first users. We only ended up in 7th place, but it brought us ~150 teams.
Our second time on Product Hunt was for a web page listing 1000 Slack groups. It was the number-two product of the day, brought us ~5k visits, and … a couple of new sign-ups.
We launched Standuply 2.0 on Product Hunt when the product matured enough. We got some traction — 6th place of the day, a mention in Product Hunt’s email list, and about 100 new teams.
In the meantime we shipped our major features with various results: Top Daily Hunts in Slack (#5 product of the day), Slack Video Messaging (#2 product of the day), Slack Voice Messaging (#3 product of the day).
Our best launch was the latest one — Standuply 3.0. It became #1 product of the day and #4 product of the week. We made it to both Product Hunt email lists, both daily and weekly.
See how it affected on our registrations.
Product Hunt is the great source of new leads. Here is what we learned.
- You can ship features and major releases as many times as they are deployed. Product releases tend to attract more attention and bring more registrations
- It’s a matter of luck whom you compete with on a launch day. Tuesday and Wednesday are the tough days. If you’re not 100% sure when to launch — go for Monday
- The overall result is about how appealing the product is and how many external supporters you bring
- Usually the #1 product from Monday to Thursday makes it to the Weekly Newsletter, while #1 product from Friday misses it
We spread the news about Standuply, Slack bots and our blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, Hacker News, reddit and on smaller sites.
In all, it brought us ~20k visits over the last 18 months.
I hope we’ll learn how to leverage social in the future. If you know good tricks or well-written guides on using social media to promote a Slack bot, please let me know in the comments below.
Chatbot Summit was a failure in terms of new leads and partnerships for us.
Slush was a great event, more like a party. We enjoyed it a lot. Also, Slush provides an ability to book coach sessions with speakers.
We talked to Des Traynor from Intercom (which we’re using daily for customer support). His strategic advice to us was to stick with Slack and do some tactical moves.
Later Des commented our progress:
The reason I advised you to go deep on Slack was that it was the riskiest part of your bet from my (limited) viewpoint. I was encouraging you to really test your core hypothesis before accumulating more risk with more features, or by going multi-channel. I’m happy to see to your core hypothesis proved itself, and $25K is a great start! Well done.
— Des Traynor
Also, we talked to Robin Wauters from Tech.eu. He advised us how to pitch press (something we haven’t approached yet):
- How is your product the best?
- Who is using your product and why?
- Learn how to tell your story: mention facts, choose an appealing angle
- Build lasting relationships, and keep the pitch informative but not long
TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin can’t compare to the same event in SF; we didn’t get enough value from the conference.
As a result, we had at maximum the same number of signups from the three conferences as on a regular day with zero marketing budget.
However, seeing how people react to a message on our roll-up was priceless. We even asked people to explain what do we do just by looking at the roll-up. That was insightful. I wish we had a LED roll-up to change the tagline on the fly. :)
Eventually, we decided that startup events aren’t worth our time and money at the current stage. It takes a lot to travel from Siberia.
All of the activities above generated some buzz, and so we ended up with 15,000 teams signed up by June 2018.
Slack bot pricing — scaling payments
Some people advocate starting charging from day one. We didn’t follow that practice — during beta our product was free to use. That decision had its advantages and disadvantages.
We attracted more signups, but we also had users who weren’t ready to pay at all. Sometimes their feedback was distracting and demotivating. Next time I would start charging earlier.
We rolled out the pricing very smoothly. At first, we put out a notice saying a trial was going to be over with a link to pay. No teams were switched off or limited in features. Sales started to come.Later we implemented advanced notifications within our Slack bot and in the web app. It resulted in more sales. Our users weren’t switched off or limited in any way. And in six months we went from few hundred to $6k in MRR.
Later we rolled out two additional pricing plans with more features. Some of them were delivered after we presented plans. Those features were marked “soon” so that customers kept informed. It worked really well. We started seeing purchases of new plans, thus increasing our average check.
The next step was the most significant in terms of revenue growth. We deployed a system that was limiting our customers to what they purchased. Remember, at the time we didn’t have any limitations in place. Customers were choosing a plan and number of users but had no limits whatsoever. We were focusing on the product and not on the billing side of it.
Once we rolled out the system, our sales and expansion skyrocketed. We were a bit worried how customers would treat it. But it went smoothly. An eBook called The Anatomy of SaaS Pricing Strategy Pricing Intelligently was very useful to us during that process. Compare our MRR before and after. The system became fully operational in April.
We learned that there is no need to be afraid to play by the rules with your customers. Sometimes being too nice can hurt your business.
Things we haven’t touched yet — future plans
As a startup we have so much to do, but resources are very limited. Thus, we haven’t touched some areas that are on our radar.
Customer Success is one of those areas. Even though our average check isn’t that high we believe helping our customers understand a new way of managing a remote team will drastically improve engagement.
Being profitable feels amazing. It means you will survive while other 90% of startups around may not. That’s why I’m advocating B2B startups reach profitability as soon as possible to set the ground for your company (read — business).
We set a short-term goal to reach $100k MRR which is a turning point for a SaaS that proves out real business potential. But, looking long term, I wonder whether a Slack bot is capable of getting to $1M MRR. Want to see how we’re getting there? Subscribe to our newsletter and follow our story as we go.
- The Slack App Directory is an amazing source of new leads
- Slack users are willing to try new bots and pay for solutions that solve their pain point
- The Slack app ecosystem is growing at a rapid pace, providing business opportunities for niche products
But competition is getting stronger. Standuply has 20+ direct competitors on Slack. So if you’re considering building a Slack bot, don’t wait too long.
Want to increase productivity in your remote team? Check out Standuply — it improves communications in both Fortune 500 companies and tiny startups.