Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hi, my name is Alex Yumashev. I'm a full stack developer and the founder of Jitbit — my side project that eventually grew into a seven-figure ARR business.
Jitbit makes help desk software and we're pretty much the only self-funded company in this market.
We're intentionally staying small. The core team is just four people, but we're alive and kicking (as in "kicking the clumsy funded corps in their butts").
What motivated you to get started with Jitbit Help Desk?
I grew up in Russia, studied math and computer science, then got a boring software engineering job at a bank. Not exactly a dream come true. So I started a "shareware" project on the side (if you're old enough to remember what "shareware" is).
I bought a domain name, coded a little website, and started publishing small Windows programs to "download catalogs". After several months, something magical happened — someone bought my $19 network utility for sysadmins.
That was the biggest motivational kick I ever had in my life — "Holy shit, this stuff really works!" It was time to turn a just-for-fun project into a business.
I was working nights and weekends and still keeping a day job to pay for our crappy apartment in Moscow. I barely slept, drove a $500 car, and kept trying different ideas, releasing a new app every 4-5 months. Those were mostly shareware tools for Windows, with a couple of web-based apps — like a message board app for websites — but none of them really took off. The whole thing was barely making a grand a month, so I kept searching for the "right" idea. Then it finally clicked.
At my day job I had to wear many hats, including, of course, tech support. It's a bank, you know. No one cares if you're a senior-shmenior certified team-leading-architect-whatever. People still call you on the phone: "Hey, my Google is down."
So I knew a thing or two about helping customers and organizing a tech support team, and I even programmed a nice little ticketing system for myself. So I took all my knowledge and started working on Jitbit Help Desk. Even though the niche was already super crowded, I saw how huge the market was and how clumsy the existing systems were.
What went into building the initial product?
It took 6-7 months to write Jitbit from scratch. Even though I'm a huge fan of MVPing product ideas and the whole "ship fast" concept, it still took a lot of time. Nothing new: you take tons of coffee and turn it into software.
The product was "on-premise" (SaaS didn't exist), so people were supposed to install it on their own servers. And that's where my choice of technology came shining through — ASP.NET runs on Windows, and Windows was powering 99% of businesses in the 2000s.
3 years later, in 2009 or so, when I had enough momentum and cash from the "on-premise" product, I finally quit my job, relocated to the UK and started building the "hosted" product. It was really hard to convince clients to move to the cloud at first, but now it generates 65-70% of our income.
How have you attracted users and grown Jitbit?
First of all, SEO. I already had several products published on my website. I even made some of them free, so side-project marketing was working from day one. My desktop tools were those link magnets that boosted my flagship product.
We still use that technique today — offering great free apps, online tools, open-source components, heck, even Chrome extensions — to get people to hear about us. Since I'm a shitty blogger I figured I would just write viral tools instead of viral blog posts.
One other thing. I tried to target my B2B marketing and positioning towards the actual people who buy, install, and maintain the software, rather than the businesses they work for.
I believe that's the biggest mistake people make in enterprise B2B — thinking they're selling to business owners (people who actually care about "saving costs", "adding value", "doubling conversions", and other marketing yada-yada). You aren't. You're selling to hired people who don't give a shit. They care about their jobs, their bosses, their promotions, and their paychecks.
So I didn't sell on-premise help desk software to some faceless "ABC Insurance Inc." I sold it to a 45-year-old IT-manager with 2 kids and a mortgage, who loves his server room and knows a hell of a lot about Microsoft technologies. You know — Active Directory, Windows-domain, Exchange-server, Sharepoint. All the boring MS stuff cool kids don't want to hear about. Heck, I was one of these guys in the past.
So I found the right words, wrote convincing copy, and positioned the product next to these technologies. I also offered a free download and coded a super-smooth "setup.exe", so the 45-year-old manager was up and running in three minutes without all the stupid "schedule a demo" or "jump on a quick call" or "request a quote" maneuvering. (He's an introvert for Pete's sake, don't make him talk to you.)
All of this really helped in the early days.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Jitbit makes around $1.7 mil a year, about 65% of which is recurring subscriptions, and 35% comes from "on-premise" licenses. Which are also recurring, I guess, since people come back for version-upgrades and bug fixes anyway.
We also switched the SaaS product to "tiered" pricing instead of charging "per-user". This is a nice psychological hack, since people tend to overestimate their size. Like, when they look at the pricing table and see "Tiny, Small, Startup, Enterprise", their ego doesn't want to be "small" — everyone wants to be "an enterprise". Especially if they're spending someone else's money.
The "on-premise" version is even unlimited. Buy and use it with a million users. We don't care.
We don't have sales. Everything is inbound.
We don't do demos.
We don't have phone support. (But if you email us, you get to talk to one of the actual developers, not some call center guy who barely speaks English.)
We don't use any paid acquisition channels. Everything is organic.
We do experiment with email sequences, trial "hand-holding", A/B testing, referral programs, and other "funnel" stuff.
What are your goals for the future?
We really love what we do. So I guess we'll continue to grow Jitbit and all, but my #1 goal is to keep my existing customers happy. We truly want them to be a part of the family here.
I guess I picked that up from Peldi Guilizzoni (founder of Balsamiq Software) who also positions his company like a nice Italian family restaurant where people feel at home. I'm even thinking of creating a closed discussion group for paying customers, so we can hang out together… We'll see.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
Starting a software business 12 years ago was nothing like starting a software business today. There were no "startup blogs", no books, no message boards. Not even StackOverflow (whaaat). There were no conferences for bootstrappers and no "Bootstrap" web design toolkit. Not to mention accepting credit cards on your website was a HUGE problem. Stripe? Didn't exist. PayPal? I was still based in Russia at the time, and there was no PayPal there.
The only place for self-funded software entrepreneurs to hang out and share their pains was a tiny discussion board on Joel Spolsky's website called "business of software". Patio11 was a moderator there, and he was just about to launch his "Bingo card creator" thing.
So I guess the biggest challenge was: you had to learn everything on your own and build things from scratch. But this, in turn, became the biggest advantage. Because when there's no Stripe and you have to actually go and code a payment gateway, then integrate it with your website's CMS which, by the way, you also have to code for yourself, you tend to just get the ball rolling out of necessity.
The good thing about being overwhelmed with all these roadblocks, in other words, is that the whole "no product idea" thing stops being a problem. Who cares about stupid "product ideas" when there's a chance I won't be able to charge credit cards anyway?! I need to deal with that first, then I'll worry about ideas.
It changes your mindset. And when the time comes to find a product idea — you're already in that "get shit done" superhero mode. You've been through hell and back already, so you just do it.
What's been most crucial in helping you to succeed?
For Jitbit, SEO. There's room for SEO even in a highly competitive niche. Sure, if you Google for "help desk software" my company is somewhere on page four, but there's the long-tail search you should focus on.
And by SEO I don't just mean optimizing your website for search bots. You also have to gain publicity and backlinks, so search engines recognize your authority in the niche.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
If you're struggling to find The Product Idea — start working on shit even before you have one. Work backwards. Come up with a brand name. Start designing a website, then actually launch a website and start blogging about your journey. Build backlinks, work on SEO, build a personal brand, establish yourself as an expert, make connections, speak at conferences… It's not the lack of ideas that holds you back; it's procrastination.
In a software business, most of the "non-coding" things you do every day are product-agnostic anyway.
Also, I heard this brilliant phrase from Joel Spolsky at some meetup: "You can teach a software engineer to do marketing/management/business-stuff, but you cannot teach an MBA how to write good code."
Where can we go to learn more?
Check out my website (https://www.jitbit.com) and my blog there, or leave a question in the comments. I'll try to get back to you.
I'm also @jitbit on Twitter and Medium. And feel free to simply shoot me an email to "alex at jitbit com" — there's nothing I like better than chatting with a fellow entrepreneur.