QuickDraw

Heath Bertini explains how a problem at work led to a product idea, and how he partnered with a developer to turn it into a profitable side project.

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

My name is Heath, and my background is in affiliate marketing. I got into the space back in 2008 working for a startup comparison shopping engine called Shopwiki. We were later acquired in 2010, and it was during my time there that I met Bill, my colleague and future QuickDraw business partner.

QuickDraw is a SaaS product that aggregates affiliate network reporting into a single, easy-to-use interface. It was designed specifically for affiliate marketing managers to save time spent compiling reports from numerous sources, and its #1 value proposition is that users can gain deep insight into their affiliate program in a matter of seconds vs hours.

We've doubled our revenue year over year, and we're happy to say that our revenue is almost entirely profit!

What motivated you to get started with QuickDraw?

After leaving Shopwiki, I began consulting for an affiliate OPM (Outsourced Program Management) agency, preparing their weekly reports for clients. While there, I thought to myself that there had to be a more efficient way of aggregating the data.

At Shopwiki we previously had an internal reporting platform which did this on the publisher side to help us measure advertiser performance across multiple affiliate networks, and I had the idea to turn the tables and create something similar for advertisers to report on their publishers.

I presented this idea to the agency, and they jumped at the idea of a reporting platform that not only did the aggregation for them, but also normalized different KPI's from multiple sources.

Next, I reached out to Bill, who I'd kept in contact with over the years, to get his thoughts. Bill had been a software engineer at Shopwiki, and he had extensive knowledge and insight into what it would take to build a reporting platform of this kind. He ended up becoming interested enough to pursue this idea with me as a side project.

How much time and money did you put into building the product?

Upon initial research, Bill and I learned QuickDraw was a first-of-its-kind solution. An initial proof of concept came together rather quickly since we were already familiar with the space.

Launching the live site was a bit more of a challenge, since Bill had to learn a lot of the systems and dev ops along the way. Finding time was a bit of a challenge, too. We both only had nights and weekends available. Some weeks we could accomplish quite a bit, but other times we would struggle with outside commitments.

Additionally, QuickDraw is entirely self-funded. We both pitched in here and there. Luckily our costs were almost non-existent. We started with a domain name and AWS's free tier for the first year. Over time our AWS free tier expired, and we hover around $50 per month in AWS costs.

The biggest roadblocks we are facing are available time and resources.

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Our primary costs now are hiring contractors to help out with the programming. We try to follow a very simple approach for scoping features and tech to keep things as simple as possible. We don't build custom one-off features, for example. If we don't think it will help multiple clients, we won't build it.

What's your tech stack look like?

Our tech is simple and boring. Bill knew Java and MySQL, so we went with that.

The Java side is a little less conventional, using lower level libraries instead of the larger well known Java frameworks. The Java web server is running an embedded Undertow web server and using jOOQ for SQL. (A quick shout out to Lukas Eder for such an amazing library, also check out his very informative blog.)

For more details on the tech stack, take a look at StubbornJava. Bill created this site to show a less conventional and highly opinionated way to build embedded Java web applications.

How have you attracted users and grown QuickDraw?

We were lucky enough to have a beta partner OPM agency as our first user, which helped us through the initial MVP (minimum viable product) right up to our first major release.

After a number of months running relatively bug-free, I began to slowly introduce QuickDraw to my network of contacts in the affiliate marketing space to gauge interest.

I thought to myself that there had to be a more efficient way of aggregating the data.

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Acquiring new users was slow, mostly because we made a conscious decision not to roll out any kind of marketing initiative until we reached a certain point in the product roadmap. The idea behind this tactic was to ensure we had a product that was compelling enough to have a solid value proposition and make as big of a splash a possible when we took it to market.

At the beginning we started a monthly email to existing users and other leads. It wasn't successful at generating sales, but it did have educational value in keeping our existing users updated with the latest features.

Our first big push came after launching our official landing page for QuickDraw and gathering testimonials from our users to highlight. We began sharing updates and highlighting Quickdraw via LinkedIn, which proved to be a productive approach to generating qualified leads. As of today, Bill and I have not expanded our marketing efforts beyond this, mostly due to time limitations with our full-time jobs and other projects.

Our advice to those following the same path as us would be to take the time to have a solid product and marketing plan in place before taking the product to market. Luckily, Bill and I had the help of our former CEO and mentor who helped give us early guidance and feedback.

How does your business model work?

QuickDraw is a SaaS product, and users are billed each month for access to the reporting platform. Luckily for me and Bill, our beta partner was willing to pay for monthly access once we finished our MVP.

Our current pricing model and payment system is one of our biggest challenges at the moment, and deciding how to price our service is still something we are working to finalize. At the moment, each new customer is given a unique price depending on a number of variables, including if they are an individual advertiser or agency.

At the moment our average price per merchant integrated on the platform is our main KPI which we are trying to grow.

What are your goals for the future?

Aside from introducing new reports and UX improvements, we hope to add features useful to affiliate managers including automated report delivery, performance notifications, and more.

The biggest roadblocks we are facing are available time and resources. Currently, Bill and I hire junior software developers who are often in college pursuing a career in the tech space. This gives us an opportunity to act as mentors and teachers while giving them real-world experience through the development of QuickDraw.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced?

Our biggest challenges were launching a product with a beta partner and managing their expectations along the way. At times we had to work with them around bugs that involved some features or reports not working as intended, which caused frustration on both sides.

Quite possibly one of the best decisions we made was to invest in a development server for us to internally do proper testing before deploying a new feature or report. Although this might seem trivial to those well-versed in project/product management, it was something we deemed unnecessary at the beginning to cut down on cost, but in hindsight it would have saved us a lot of time spent answering questions.

My other advice to aspiring indie hackers is to have your pricing model completely figured out before launching and stick to it.

Where can we go to learn more?

Visit our landing page here: https://quickdraw.onsightdigitalsolutions.com/about

We would love to hear from anyone interested in learning more about QuickDraw, and we welcome conversations about our experience and how it might help others planning to launch a SaaS product focused on reporting.

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