Last summer Harry and I were essentially broke. We’d spent 5 months working on Hey Press, a searchable database of startup journalists. It proved to be very popular with startups, but we had very few paying customers and a dismal monthly recurring revenue of $55.17.
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Before we go into details, let’s have a quick recap.
Rewind to last summer. Neither Harry nor I were particularly keen on raising investment. We liked the freedom of being able to work from anywhere in the world and not having to worry about making a profit for someone else… but 5 months in with $55.17 in revenue, we were on a trajectory that would be the death of our startup.
Although Hey Press was a challenging and rewarding project to work on, we realised we had to make something new in order to reach our $1000 target.
We spent 2 weeks hacking together JournoRequests — an email service that delivers PR opportunities from Twitter to your inbox. We used a freemium subscription model — it was free to receive a daily digest of all opportunities, but if you wanted to filter down to topics of interest (e.g. just Tech opportunities) or receive opportunities ahead of our other subscribers, you had to pay.
We gained our first paying customer within the first day, and within 3 months we’d hit $1000 MRR.
Since then JournoRequests has been growing steadily — by word-of-mouth, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Fast Forward to December.
We continued to use LinkedIn to grow JournoRequests (in fact we wrote a blog post on how we’re growth-hacking LinkedIn). Since it’s a business network, we found it remarkably easy to pinpoint new customers (for us, UK-based PR companies).
Cold emailing prospective new customers turned out to be a good sales channel for us. We had a product people wanted to use, and we knew exactly who those people were, but they didn’t know about us.
The problem with cold emailing is that it takes a long time. It requires you to do your research, read up on the company on their website, work out who’s the right person to contact at that company, see what they’re posting on Twitter, and finally compose and send an email. It’s not a simple copy + paste job… at least not if you do it right.
Making Profile Hopper
Through LinkedIn we had unearthed a goldmine of 80 000 prospective new customers, but being a team of 2 we could only reach out to a handful of these each day by email. Getting the word out to these 80 000 people by email would have taken a very long time… but we were sure they’d want to use JournoRequests if they just knew about it.
So how could we reach all these people?
The answer was to just visit people’s profiles. Whenever you visit someone’s profile on LinkedIn, they get notified that you viewed them. So rather than emailing prospects we started to just view their profiles… and they started to view us back… they started to sign up on our website… they even started to email us.
In the first week of using Profile Hopper, we doubled our weekly sign-ups from 75 to 150 users, and the best part was that it took almost no time on our part.
Profile Hopper’s First Customer
We were fortunate to already have an existing user-base. Although Hey Press hadn’t made much money, it remained extremely popular with startups (we had around 6000 users), and around 3000 PRs/marketers were also subscribed to JournoRequests.
To launch, we emailed our subscribers and linked to Profile Hopper from Hey Press. Shortly afterwards we gained our first customer (we offer a 14 day free trial — so there was a bit of a delay).
Reaching $1000 MRR
Since then we’ve continued to grow with no marketing effort whatsoever. We made product improvements and gave the same high standard of customer support we’re known for with JournoRequests, but we spent practically zero time promoting Profile Hopper.
However, the sign-ups kept rolling in.
FYI, you can track our progress on Open Baremetrics — we’ve made all our stats publicly available here.
We can thank our users for referring their friends, as this is clearly where most of our growth to date has come from. However, without the right product we wouldn’t have reached $1000 MRR… we know this because we’ve tried and failed with several products before JournoRequests and now Profile Hopper.
So for other founders wanting to build a bootstrapped company and reach their first $1000 MRR, what can be learned?
- Build something that solves a valuable problem.
If you’re not solving a burning problem, then your product is nice-to-have. People will be less willing to put up with any imperfections in early versions of your product, they wont give it much time/learn how to use it (you’re low priority), and chances are they’re not going to pay much for it.
- Know how you’ll make revenue soon.
There’s no time to raise rounds of investment and figure it out later — you need to know how you’ll make money in the next couple of months, because without it your efforts to bootstrap a business will most likely fail. Charge for even the first version of your product (maybe with an introductory offer), and work out as quickly as possible what people are willing to pay for.
- Don’t give too much away for free.
It’s easy to feel embarrassed by the first version of your product, and be ashamed to ask people to pay for it. We gave far too much away for free with Hey Press, and even with JournoRequests I’d now consider our free tier extremely generous. However, with Profile Hopper we’ve been much more restrictive and it’s working very well. Don’t believe us? Take a look at some other bootstrapped companies and you’ll notice how restrictive they are — e.g. Buffer, MailChimp, Freshbooks.
- Just ask!
Either way asking your users to pay is a useful exercise — you’ll either make a sale, or you’ll find out why they didn’t want to buy and gain some insight — e.g. how you can make improvements, or whether the problem you’re solving is really all that valuable after all. For everyone who signs up to JournoRequests and Profile Hopper, we automatically give them a free trial of our Premium plan, and when their free trial ends we ask if they’d like to pay for it. This sounds simple, but we didn’t previously do it, and surprisingly few people do.
From all of this, we’ve found that small/medium-sized businesses make good early customers. It seems easier to solve a valuable problem for businesses compared with consumers, and with small businesses the sales cycles tend to be much shorter than with large enterprises — so you’ll be profitable sooner.
Aiming for $10k MRR
With $1000 MRR under our belt (almost by accident this time), we thought it would be an interesting challenge to dedicate more time improving and marketing Profile Hopper to see if we can reach $10k MRR.
If you’d like to follow along, please sign up to our blog here — we’ll keep you updated.