Doorbell

Philip Manavopoulos reveals how he's worked nights and weekends to grow Doorbell to $1400/mo in revenue while still working his full-time job.

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

My name is Phil Manavopoulos, and I work full-time as a full-stack web developer while building Doorbell.io in my spare time.

Doorbell began 3 years ago as a simple (and free) tool for businesses to gather feedback on Android apps. I kept on working on it and adding new features, SDKs (web and iOS), and lots of integrations, and now it's actively used by just over 1,000 customers, big and small.

How'd you get started working on Doorbell?

In June 2013 I started working on Doorbell as a tool for a different project of mine (Sprinter). At first, I was using Zendesk to gather user feedback, but when it came time to renew the subscription, I realized that I'd only had one message come through it. And since Sprinter was a free app, it seemed like an unnecessary cost.

The combination of not wanting to renew Zendesk and itching to start a new project led me to start working on Doorbell. The irony was that this obviously cost me more than the Zendesk subscription would have cost, at least at first!

The original idea was to just gather feedback from users' apps and email it directly. There were no user interfaces for managing the conversations — nothing fancy.

Once I had the first version working, however, it wasn't much work to build an interface for managing the feedback. And since part of the purpose of Doorbell was to try out new technologies, I continued adding features. I launched Doorbell on August 5th, 2013, although calling "writing a blog post with no audience" a launch is a bit generous!

How have you find time to work on Doorbell?

I've only ever worked on Doorbell during evenings and weekends. That's definitely a challenge when you have a full-time job as well. You just need to find ways to motivate yourself, and over time the things that motivated me have changed several times.

When I did struggle to motivate myself, I started using an app called Lift (it's now pivoted to Coach.me) to keep track of how many consecutive days I've worked on Doorbell. Some days, I would just fix a typo. Other days, it would be a whole new feature. But I tried to do something every day (no matter how small), to keep momentum going!

Did you incorporate? If so, how?

Living in the UK means that it is very easy to register as self-employed alongside my full-time job, so there hasn't been a need to register a company just yet. If/when I take the plunge to work on Doorbell full-time, I'll probably take the time to work all that out!

What's the story behind how Doorbell makes money?

At first the excitement of working on something new was more than enough for me. There wasn't even a paid plan — I was just happy to be hacking away on Doorbell. When I ran out of my first list of features, however, and still didn't have many users, my goal became acquiring users.

Once I started acquiring free users, I realised I should have a paid plan as well to help cover the costs. Free users were adding a strain on the server, so those costs started increasing. It was only about $15/month, but I still didn't like the idea that Doorbell couldn't even cover that.

The first paid version of Doorbell just asked for a donation. There were no extra features or restrictions on existing ones. From there, I got my first ever upgrade, and made my first ever dollar online! Unfortunately, Doorbell still didn't generate enough revenue, and I didn't spend too much time trying to improve it.

Around September 2015, I had a conversation with Damian Nowak, a Doorbell customer who has given me lots of great advice. Based on that, I re-evaluated which features are more useful for teams rather than individuals. Doorbell's current pricing structure still has a free plan which is useful for side-projects, but certain features are only available on paid plans. (For example, the Slack/HipChat integrations are now restricted features.)

Since then, Doorbell has grown from about $60/month to almost $1,400/month in revenue. There's still more work to be done, with 24% of trials leading to an upgrade, and with 5.5% of users upgrading (84 out of 1,205 active Doorbell installations).

What've you done to grow your user base?

To be honest, I've hardly done any marketing! In addition to the "launch" I mentioned above, I submitted Doorbell to comparison sites such as AlternativeTo. That led to my first few signups.

In 2014, near the end of September, Doorbell was randomly submitted to ProductHunt. That alone is quite the rollercoaster of an experience, but since then things have really started growing!

A surprising source of users for me was Quora, where Doorbell ended up as part of an answer someone posted. Since then I've tried to increase Doorbell's exposure on Quora, without posting the usual self-promoting type of answers. I'm happy to say that it's working really well so far!

In September 2015 I signed up for Baremetrics and decided to make Doorbell an "open company". Part of this was inspiration from getting to meet the Buffer folks in person earlier that year. I'm not sure if this qualifies as a marketing effort or not, but it has definitely drawn some attention to Doorbell!

Currently the main sources of signups are organic Google searches, Quora, and word of mouth recommendations. Also, a pleasantly surprising number of people who have previously used Doorbell (at their job or in a side project) recommend it at their jobs!

What are your plans for Doorbell's future?

My plans are to focus on increasing revenue for Doorbell, which means doing all the things other than code that I'm not as comfortable or familiar with: Look through my analytics. Create landing pages. Talk to customers. Set up lifecycle emails. Those sorts of things. As a founder who's a coder, it's always easy to ignore these in favor of adding new features!

How do you think about the competition?

There's obviously a lot of competition in this space, but I try and ignore that. I was lucky enough to meet the people behind Hiut Denim a few years ago, and was really inspired by their "do one thing well" philosophy. So I'm focusing on making Doorbell exactly that: a tool that does one thing well.

What are the best decisions you've made so far?

I'd say the best decision was to start Doorbell. Even if I couldn't see it at the time, it has been an amazing learning experience having to deal with all sorts of issues I never anticipated!

My next best decision was in September 2015, when I decided to change Doorbell's pricing plans, as described above. You obviously read in many places people saying "charge more", but there's never much of an explanation why that is.

Where can we learn more?

You can keep up with Doorbell's blog (mostly feature announcements) or Twitter (@doorbell_io), or find me on my personal Twitter handle (@manavo).

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

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