AeroLeads

Pushkar Gaikwad talks about bootstrapping his business to $30,000/mo in revenue by identifying and helping to solve a difficult business problem: sales.

Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

My name is Pushkar Gaikwad. I'm the founder of AeroLeads, and I've had multiple stints in the past with product-based startups.

AeroLeads is prospect generation software which finds the emails and phone numbers of businesses. It helps customers find relevant prospects to sell their products/services, as well as the contact details for those businesses (e.g. name, phone numbers, email addresses). Customers can then export this data to sites like MailChimp, HubSpot, Salesforce, CSV, etc.

It's currently used by over 6000 businesses, including lots of startups, companies like IBM, and other Inc 5000 companies.

How'd you get started with AeroLeads?

I conceived of the idea in January 2015, and I began working on it as a side project. I had started various other ventures (such as WorkMonk and InBoundio) in the past, and these former entrepreneurial journeys taught me that it's easy to build but difficult to sell. So my initial vision for AeroLeads was to provide an intelligent solution to an otherwise cluttered sales process.

My team and I were three people in total, and we were working from Bangalore. We took the time to build out the product and test it extensively to ensure that the results were consistent across multiple searches, and in April 2015 we officially launched.

We got good traction in the first few weeks, and so we thought, "Let's pursue this product." It was a very intuitive decision.

How'd you find the time and funding to do all of this?

AeroLeads is bootstrapped and self-funded. I used my personal savings and profits from my other businesses to put the team together and build the product. (I've written about bootstrapping your way to profitability on our blog.)

It took us about 3 months to finish the first prototype, and few more months for the next versions and iterations. Since then we've continued to build new features and remove unnecessary features on weekly basis.

We have always used a good number of tools to speed up development and to automate our sales and marketing. For example, we use Basecamp, Streak (a CRM for Gmail), and of course own tool AeroLeads.

The product has come a long way since inception, as we kept learning what people are really looking for. Initially we had a very basic tool, but now we find phone numbers and addresses, and we offer integration with dozens of other marketing tools and CRMs.

How have you attracted users and grown your business?

We actually did a soft launch in February 2015 before our "real" launch in April. Initially I spent time hanging out in various sales and marketing forums and asking users to try our software for free to see how it works. We preferred this method of giving away the software in return for feedback/input/signups, so we didn't spend any money on sales and marketing.

We ended up getting 250 business users in our first 50 days, and I wrote a case study on how we did it. The first tip on my list of 7 things is to find targeted prospects:

You are better off talking to 200 specific people and converting 10% of them than just randomly spending all your energy and resources into doing everything and going everywhere. Way too many startups make the mistake of spreading themselves too thin.

For us, we learned this the hard way with some trial and error that if you are a small team with a niche product, don't do everything and just focus on 2-3 ways of marketing and sales.

We mainly focussed on LinkedIn, and since we have a B2B prospect and lead generation product, it makes no sense to talk to people who don't need it. Initially we targeted lot of "lead generators" and sales people on LinkedIn, and though we got good number of signups, I think the majority of them didn't became paid users, but still we were able to create some visibility, and I know a few paying users did come from LinkedIn for us.

In April we got IBM as a paying customer via an inbound inquiry. This was thanks in part to our SEO efforts:

The sales people of IBM found us through Google while searching for prospecting software and lead generation software, as we rank for such keywords. It took about 20 emails and many weeks to get the cost and work approved, but that was to be expected.

What's the story behind your revenue?

We started charging about 4 months after launching. Based on what I learned, I wrote a blog post about how to get the first 20 paying customers for your SaaS product.

We tried multiple iterations ranging from $27-$29, $37-$47, $49-$97, etc. We kept on playing with features and pricing to figure out what the most suitable pricing model was to fit our users' requirements.

Since there are other similar tools in the market, it is difficult to play too much with the pricing, unless you can offer something which just blows away the rest of the market. We haven't done that yet, but we're working on it. SaaS for small businesses will always be a cost-sensitive market, so getting enterprise customers really helps if you want to start playing with pricing.

Today, our average revenue is around $30,000/mo, but it fluctuates between $10k and $50k.

What are your goals for the future?

We certainly want to be a major player in the prospect generation and sales segment, and we will be building new tools to simplify that for small businesses. I believe that prospect, lead generation, and sales need to be looked at in different ways. They really need a new approach from a technology point-of-view.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I feel like it's been a pretty smooth drive up until now. Still, if given an option, there are three things I would undo:

  1. We lost track at some point during our initial development and started building another tool which was totally different. That never materialized, and we eventually canned it.
  2. We tried to build a mobile app even though there was no demand for it.
  3. We also spent lots of time building features which ended up never being used.

What has been really helpful to you?

Since we are a bootstrapped startup, we make sure we keep having fun along with work. This really helps!

What advice would you share with aspiring indie hackers?

  • Building is easy, selling is not.
  • Products which become startups often do well as compared to startups that become products.
  • SaaS is not a holy grail. It's an amazing business model if takes off due to recurring revenue, but there are also plenty of other viable business models in the software industry.
  • Here's the difference between successful and not-so-successful software companies almost 100% of the time: customers come to successful products of their own accord, whereas the not-so-successful companies have to spend lots of time and effort finding and reaching customers. See if you can build something for which people will come to you.

Where can we learn more?

I blog at AeroLeads.com/blog and gaikwad.in. Check out these posts:

You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!

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