Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
My name is Ervin Kalemi, and I'm an entrepreneur and software developer currently located in Tirana, Albania. I got my bachelor's degree in computer science in 2012 from the University of Texas in Austin (Hook 'em Horns!). After graduation, I worked as a software developer for a startup in Houston — Onit, Inc. — for 3 years before deciding to quit my job, leave the big American Dream, and move back home to tiny Albania to build a virtual superhero named Publer.
He doesn't save lives like the rest of the superheroes, but he saves you from the time you spend on Facebook, which is probably the same thing. Publer allows users to easily schedule and plan their posts for their Facebook Profiles, Groups, Pages, and Events all in one place. Besides basic scheduling, users can schedule their posts in bulk (using a CSV file, RSS Feed, or the built-in multimedia uploader) or even let Publer do the all scheduling for them (AutoScheduling).
The most notable "superpower" to date is the ability to automatically watermark your photos & videos (with your own logo) before publishing them to Facebook.
Publer's currently helping more than 11,000 users (social media managers, Page admins, independent consultants, business owners) from all over the world, 200 of which are paying customers. This past quarter, the number of users grew by 150%, notably including Being Latino and Boredom Therapy in the US and Geniale Tricks in Germany.
We're making $3,000 to $3,500 a month.
What motivated you to get started with Publer?
Five years ago when I was a senior in college, my brother had just started his own travel agency business and lacked the resources and time to publish content on his Facebook business Page. He basically needed a publisher — hence the name Publer — which I agreed to build.
In a couple of weeks I had a prototype up and running. It immediately started gaining traffic and a couple of paying customers. People loved it, mostly because my competitors were limited in number and also just starting out. The market was as fresh as it could get.
Publer had potential, but I didn't have much time to put into it because of school and, later on, my full-time job. After working this job for two years while maintaining Publer in my free time, some health problems forced me to pick between the two. Maybe it was a mistake, but I chose the safe route (my full-time job) and abandoned Publer.
Eventually I started missing my side project. I couldn't get used to the idea of not having something of my own. When I turned 25 a few months later, I realized that if I didn't take action in my twenties, I probably never would. The day after my birthday I was at work debating whether I should leave everything behind and move back home to give Publer another shot. It was frightening to consider leaving behind a secure, well-paid job, a great company, and, most importantly, the life I had built. I literally asked the Universe for a sign. (Yes, I'm very superstitious.)
While going through my emails, I saw a birthday wish from Mr. Eli D. Mercer, a professor I took an entrepreneurship class with back in college. Nothing special about the wish, but it reminded me of myself at 21, full of dreams and excitement, having just written my first business plan. It was the sign I'd been looking for!
What went into building the initial product?
The first prototype took me a month or two, mostly because I could only work on it on the weekends and after work.
I didn't need any funding or other resources (other than time) to get started. Luckily, I had enough full-stack experience in web development (including graphic design), and we live in a time where you can learn about anything simply by getting on the Internet. My full-time job helped me with the living costs and with putting some money aside — money I've used to set up an office space and a team here in Albania.
I focused solely on supporting Facebook, because at that time it was the biggest social network and therefore the biggest market. And it still is.
To scope out what Publer would offer, I sought feedback not only from my brother and the early users, but also from my competitors' feedback pages, and I started taking notes on what their users were asking for. If your competitor doesn't offer it and users want it, why not build it and offer it yourself?
How have you attracted users and grown Publer?
We've attracted users through direct contact on Facebook, sponsored ads (on Facebook and Google), and promotional sale campaigns via email. Additionally, Publer is listed on every single site dedicated to startups including (StartupRanking, CrunchBase, Owler, AngelList), and every other social network we know of.
In addition to external links to Publer's website, SeoSiteCheckup has helped me keep a good SEO score, which is very important for bringing users from search results on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.
I also paid a service $50 to list Publer to 50+ websites for statups, but the return on investment was negligible. Posting it on ProductHunt didn't create a buzz either.
One of the most effective resources for attracting new users has been Quora. I would go on Quora and search for questions my potential users would ask. I would then answer them while mentioning Publer at the end.
Here's a quick look at our user growth since last year.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Publer comes in three versions. The always-free plan, Publer Argentum (starting at $9.99/month), and Publer Aurum (starting at $19.99/month). Both paid plans are customizable at a small extra monthly fee. The free plan gives you basic functionalities with some limitations, but it also lets you try the paid features for free up to 5-10 times. This way interested users can see in advance what they will be paying for.
The subscription-based model, which I believe is the most effective business model out there, is automated using PayPal's API. A user can decide to purchase any of the paid plans and they will be instantly upgraded once the payment goes through without the need of a human interaction. I love PayPal, but we are considering other alternatives since not everyone wants to create an account with them. Paddle is an alternative to consider simply because they support payments with credit cards and PayPal at the same time.
There have been ups and downs just like in any other business, but in order to have more ups than downs, we're constantly innovating and adding new features while keeping the prices untouched. We're making around $3,000 - $3,500 a month and the revenues are steadily growing each month.
What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?
Feature-wise, the main goal is to support all major social networks and have an Android / iOS app by the end of the year. In order to achieve that we've started expanding the team. Currently it's me and two other developers, but we're still hiring and hope to reach seven in the next few months.
Business-wise, the main goal is to reach 100,000 total users and 1,000 paying customers by the end of the year. We just launched an ambassador/affiliate program that I strongly believe will boost usage. In less than 24 hours, 65 people have already signed up as ambassadors which translates into 46 new users, two of which are now paying customers. Users tend to talk more about you when they have an incentive for doing so.
My own personal goal is to put Albania on the map. And why not with Publer? I see plenty of software development companies here, but most of them don't actually develop their own products. They outsource — develop products for clients outside of Albania — leaving Albania with nothing to be proud of and future generations with nothing to look up to.
What have your biggest challenges been? And your biggest advantages?
My biggest obstacle has been people's negativity. When you live in a poor country, people don't get this entrepreneurship thing, especially as it relates to the tech industry. The everyday questions are, "Why did you leave America? Are you stupid? Have you found a job yet?"
In the beginning I kept using my father's office as a working space. One of my father's friends once asked me, "I see you all the time working on a computer, but what do you actually do?" I explained to him in a few words what Publer does. He asked how many paying customers I had. I had only 5 at the time. "That's it?" he asked. "That's what — 50 bucks a month? I thought you were making big money!"
Trust me, that's the last thing I wanted to hear, but I kept going, non-stop, day and night.
A few months later I was invited to talk about Publer and my story in front of a group of CS students. An informal presentation. During the presentation I told them about the paid plans and how many clients I had (26 by then). At the end of the presentation there was a Q&A session and one of the students asked me how much I was making. Before I could answer, one of the organizers basically took over (not in a mean way) and said in an unimpressed voice, "He already said it: 20 clients. Suppose they pay an average $10 a month, you can do the math." Again, it hurt. But I kept going, non-stop, day and night.
Currently the biggest challenge is finding and recruiting the right people. Albania has a small supply for developers, and the good ones are already taken.
My biggest advantage was the low cost of operation in the beginning. With my background and skills, all I needed were time and a computer. On top of that, the low living costs in Albania, especially when you move back in with your parents, helped me "survive" during the months Publer was not profitable, and helped me put money aside once Publer became profitable.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Believe in what you're building! If you don't, people's negativity will rip you apart more than anything else. Rome wasn't built in a day, yet people expect to see your 'Rome' at the first sun rise.
Instead of trying to make everyone support your product or idea, focus on getting your first real customer. This person is the deal breaker. If you can get one, you can get a thousand. But once you do, don't be afraid to take risks. You won't always have second chances getting that first customer!
Where can we go to learn more?
If anyone has questions, or would like a coupon, just ask in the comments below. I would also love to hear your feedback, even if it is bad! ;)