PageProofer

Derrick Grigg discusses the valuable lessons he's learned about launching quickly and developing a marketing strategy while growing his business to $1000/mo.

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

My name is Derrick Grigg. I have been doing web development for over fifteen years, the past ten as an independent web developer. PageProofer is my first attempt at a SaaS-based business. PageProofer is a visual bug tracking and feedback system. It lets people track bugs and problems and request changes right on their website.

Let's say you're a digital agency and you build websites. Each of those websites will have problems, things that need to get fixed, and content that needs to get updated. Normally all that communication is handled via email, spreadsheets, documents, and sometimes a bug tracker.

With PageProofer you can leave a virtual sticky note right on the website when something needs to get addressed — it's literally three clicks and done. No fiddling with emails and creating documents to tell people what needs to get fixed. With PageProofer it's as easy as putting a sticky note on a computer screen.

PageProofer is mostly used by digital agencies (big and small), marketing companies, and corporate web teams. It's used on over 1,200 websites and generates just over $1100/month in revenue.

Visual Bug Tracker

How'd you get started with PageProofer?

PageProofer started as a little side project in 2010. At the time there was not a good way for developers, designers, and clients to share feedback during website development, so I decided to do something about it. The idea was simple: give people a virtual version of sticky notes and let them leave feedback right on the website. Conceptually, it doesn't get any easier than that. It took me a few months working nights and weekends to get a working prototype built. I showed that initial prototype to a few clients I did a lot of freelance work with, and they all loved it. I knew I was onto something.

Unfortunately the first version relied heavily on Flash for the user interface, and in the spring of 2010 Steve Jobs posted his famous letter that was basically a death blow for Flash. I realized if my idea was going to survive it would need to be built 100% in HTML and JavaScript so it could work on as many websites and devices as possible. That rewrite took a lot longer than I expected. A lot of things that had been easy in Flash and ActionScript took a lot more effort and work in JavaScript. I also had a growing family, a wife, and four kids, so PageProofer took a back seat to work that paid the bills.

Finally in 2013 I had PageProofer ready to launch. The system was working as intended across all popular browsers and devices and I had finished the marketing website. I discovered creating content to promote your product is sometimes just as hard as building the actual product. In the fall of 2013 I flipped the switch and released PageProofer to the public. I quickly realized that the struggle had only just begun: marketing a product was going to be a larger challenge than building it.

You mentioned working nights and weekends. How'd you find the time and funding to build PageProofer yourself?

PageProofer is 100% bootstrapped by myself. It took a few months to go from "aha" moment to prototype and almost three years to get it launched. Thankfully I had a successful web development business that covered (and still covers) PageProofer development expenses. After showing the first prototype to some trusted friends and clients I was offered investments to help speed up the initial build out. At the time I didn't know how to put a value on what PageProofer was or what it could be, so I didn't feel comfortable taking an investment. Those same people have continued to be trusted allies that I could bounce ideas and questions off which has been very beneficial.

The best part about being an independent developer was that I had time between projects (in addition to nights and weekends) to work on PageProofer. Even with that freedom, it still took close to three years to get it ready to launch. Looking back now that time could have been much shorter, I let it sit for periods of time when I really should not have. I'm not sure I would have ever finished it if I was working full-time for a company. My wife has been a huge support. Being a solopreneur means there are days (and weeks) where you doubt what you are doing and why you are doing it. Having someone to encourage you on those days, to keep giving your best, is huge. She will probably never totally understand just how much her support has meant to me.

One of the side benefits to running my web development business while running PageProofer is that I'm using PageProofer with end users on a regular basis. Almost every web based project I work on uses PageProofer for bug tracking and feedback. This has been enormously beneficial in that I get to see what's working, what could use some adjustments, and what features would be helpful to add. It is contsantly being improved through my own use and feedback from engaged users. Because of the constant improvements it has grown from a pretty bare bones product into an extremely useful tool for web designers and developers.

How have you attracted users and grown PageProofer? I assume that marketing a bug tracker is tough given how crowded the market is!

Before launching PageProofer I reached out to a close circle of contacts and pulled together a list of companies, designers, and developers that fit the target market. I also spent weeks scouring the internet for people that fell into PageProofer target market, primarily web developers and marketing/ad agencies. I wish Product Hunt had been around at the time, as it may have made the launch a little more significant. Launch day was pretty quiet given it was a one man operation. I still remember going out for a nice steak dinner that night with my wife to celebrate the launch and toasting to whatever success might come.

The first few months were slower than I had anticipated. Trying to draw website traffic was and continues to be the biggest challenge. The conversion rate from trial to customer has hovered around the 9% mark, which has been great. Customer aquisition and revenue has been very linear, no hockey stick growth here. I have experimented with Google Adwords, Twitter Ads, and also banner ads on some targeted sites, all without much success. The spend vs aquisition and customer value was not in my favor.

One of the the main hinderances to growth has been the lack of volume for targeted search terms and the cost of ad words on Google ("bug tracking" is an expensive term). People know they need a solution, but they don't know what to look for. I just had a conversation with a new customer who said he searched on Google over a period of a year to find the right solution. In his words, "I knew exactly what I wanted, but there are a lot of services that came up that weren't it."

Cold calling has been successful (both phone calls and emails), but it takes a lot of time and energy to generate potential leads. Lately I have been doing more work on Twitter, looking for people who are tweeting about feedback and bug tracking problems they're having or even just website feedback. Striking up conversations has done two things. First, it's generating interest from that particular person, and second is the ripple effect it has in their social network. It's not very scalable, but at this point it is helping to drive traffic which will hopefully have some long-term benefit. When you get tweets like these it certainly makes the effort worthwhile:

Tweet from Happy Customer

Recently I have increased my focus on generating content for the marketing website, honing in on very specific keywords and topics that I think will generate interest and traffic. A few months ago a prospective customer emailed to see if PageProofer was still in active development and support because the blog posts were old. That was a wake up call that I needed to do a better job of getting fresh content on the website. People notice. In the past three months website traffic has more than doubled from what it was to over 2,000 pageviews per month... not tremendous, but thankfully it's trending in the right direction.

At the end of the day it boils down to simple numbers: visitors to trials and trials to subscriptions. The visitor to trial conversion rate is 5%, and trial to subscription is 9%. Churn is less than 4%. Anything I can do to increase pageviews and website visits ultimately helps the bottom line.

Site Visits

How does your business model work? What have you done to grow revenue? And what are your expenses like?

PageProofer is 100% subscription based with monthly and annual plans. From day one I charged for subscriptions. Within a month of launching I had three paying customers. It was only $45/month total, but it felt amazing. To know that someone was paying for my creation was validation of all the hard work. It also made me realize that people were now counting on my service to help run their business, that was a very sobering thought. Today PageProofer is generating almost $1,100/month in revenue and has generated just over $25,000 total.

Monthly costs are very low. I pay for site hosting, server monitoring, and a few other minimal monthly expenses. I don't currently draw any income from PageProofer, I rely on my web development consulting business to cover my family's living expenses, hopefully that will change in the future.

Initially I offered a free 30-day trial. Over time I have scaled that back to the current 15-day free trial. I have found that people who are on the trial see the usefulness of PageProofer very quickly or not at all. Thirty days was delaying a decision that most people were ready to make around the two week mark. I am very flexible with the trial period though — if someone needs more time to evaluate PageProofer I will gladly extend the trial.

The pricing started at $15/month with limits on the number of users and websites that customers could add in PageProofer based on the subscription plan. Originally there were no annual plans. I have used Stripe for the subscription and payment processing from day one. After researching the available payment options, they had the best overall solution for what I needed. It makes life a lot easier knowing that I don't need to worry too much about credit card security.

A little over a year after launch I added annual plans at the request of users. Around the same time I increased the prices about 30% across the board and changed some of the plan limits after reading some different articles, especially this one by Patrick McKenzie. The net result was zero impact on conversion rates, a noticable increase in revenue, and a big increase in customers moving from the lowest plan to the middle tier (because of the revised user limits). Even though the pricing and limit adjustments effectively meant a 100% price increase for new customers, the conversion rate before and after the change remained equal.

One thing I struggled with when making price changes to the subscriptions was how to handle existing customers. I went back and forth with the idea of grandfathering old plans or pushing everyone into the new ones. I settled on grandfathering the old plans with the caveat that customers had to keep their plans active, if they cancelled or halted their subscription and then restarted, the new pricing would kick in. Surprisingly, I had no complaints.

In 2015 while on holidays I had a customer contact me with an urgent request to upgrade their subscription to allow more users. At the time the highest plan allowed 50 users, they expected to need 150 users. After some conversations to determine what they needed I scrambled to setup some additional plans to meet their current and future needs (that was one time I didn't mind having a vacation interrupted for business). There are now subscriptions that run from $20-$400 per month.

Over time I found that having limits on websites and users didn't make sense to our customers and prospects. They could see the rationale in paying more as the user count went up, but didn't see the correlation with how many websites PageProofer was used on. Digging into the system activity and data volume I could see it was driven more by the number of users on the account than by the number of websites PageProofer was installed on, so I decided to drop the site limits and give all plans use on unlimited websites.

Revenue growth has been quite flat over the past year. As mentioned above, I'm starting to increase my focus on attracting people to the PageProofer website. I have spent a lot of time in the past few years adding new features hoping that would draw in new customers, but I have learned the hard way that content and advertising will have more bottom line effect than any new feature.

Monthly Recurring Revenue

What are your goals for the future? Are there any big challenges on the horizon?

My goal is simple. Grow. Grow awareness of PageProofer in the web design and development community, grow website traffic, and grow revenue.

Specifically, I want to double the number of customers over the next year and consistently increase month-over-month website visitors. I want to grow PageProofer to a point where it's a viable business to support my family and ideally a handful of employees. I'm realistic, and I don't forsee it growing into a large company, but I think it can be a successful small company that offers a great product and excellent service.

The biggest challenge I see is being heard and seen. The internet is a massive space, and getting anyone's attention is very difficult. In the end any SaaS business boils down to three simples numbers: website visitors, conversions (visitors and customers), and churn. Keep the first two up and the last one down and you win. The more visitors I can get, the more I can grow PageProofer. For me (and most developers) that's a huge challenge, because generating content to grow traffic and awareness is very different from writing code. It's not binary.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently? What lessons have you learned on your journey so far?

Two things. First, speed to market. I spent almost three years going from idea to launch. In 2010 there was nothing comparable to PageProofer on the market. If you Googled "visual bug tracker" or "visual feedback tool" the search results page had zero exact matches. In 2013 there were a few competitors backed by VC funding. That was a significant change to the playing field. That delay is something I will regret for a long time. What could be different if I had not delayed and slowly tinkered with my little side project? C'est la vie.

Second, marketing. I graduated from university with a degree in business marketing, but I did not recognize the importance of marketing my own product from day zero. I put a lot of time and energy into product development and features instead of focusing on marketing and growth. I underestimated how difficult it would be to attract website traffic and trial subscriptions. Having spent a lot of time post-launch reading and researching on SaaS and developer forums I know I'm not alone in that mistake. It's the classic "if I build it they will come" mentality.

Unfortunately I can't turn the clock back to 2010 and launch sooner, but I can make sure I do a better job of focusing my energy on marketing PageProofer and not just building out a great product. A great product with no audience is just a dust collector. My plan going forward is to leverage content marketing and organic search. I know I can't compete right now on monthly ad word spend with the bigger players in the market, but I can compete on a fairly equal ground when it comes to content creation and organic search results.

What do you think your biggest advantages have been to help you succeed?

Determination and customer service. By nature I am a very determined person. Once I set my mind on something it will take a lot to make me move off that idea (ask my wife). I'm determined to make PageProofer the best visual feedback and visual bug tracking solution available. I think I have a good balance of development and business skills that, when properly focused, can help me achieve what I set my mind to.

More than determination is my willingness to offer superior customer service (I received an email from a customer offering to buy me a superhero costume for Christmas). I know from experience that customer service is the biggest differentiator between similar services and products. Having done web consulting for a long time I know the power of a good recommendation from a happy customer. All things being equal, people prefer a positive customer experience over a negative one. Listening to PageProofer's customers, actively asking how I can make it better, and replying to people in a timely fashion — those sound like simple things, but a lot of companies don't seem to understand how valuable those practices are.

I think the biggest advantage I have is that I use PageProofer on a regular basis for my web development business. I can quickly see what is working, what needs to be improved, and what new features would be beneficial. Since I'm using PageProofer in real world projects with teams, it's not just my ideas that drive development — it's suggestions and feedback from people I am directly interacting with that shape what PageProofer becomes.

What advice would you share with aspiring indie hackers?

I know it's a bit a of cliche, but there are no overnight success stories. Look through the list of interviews on Indie Hackers. It takes hard work, failures, and perseverance. You need to enjoy the little victories and build on them. Get one customer, get ten customers, get one hundred.

Learn how to learn. There is a very little chance you know everything today that you will need to know to make your product or service successful. You need to be able to learn quickly, from your mistakes and from others who have travelld down the path before. Bootstrapped.fm has been a great resource to me for learning, sharing and asking questions. Amy Hoy, Garrett Dimon, Patrick McKenzie and Rob Walling are all excellent resources that I have learned from.

Where can we learn more? links to other relevant things you've written, links to your personal/business blog, website, Twitter account, email, etc

You can follow PageProofer on Twitter (@pageproofer), visit the website, or drop me an email derrick@pageproofer.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @derrickgrigg or leave a comment/question below.

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