Shogun

Finbarr Taylor talks about the challenges his team faced building and marketing a $4500/month business, and his goals for the future.

What are you working on?

My side business is Shogun. It's a drag/drop webpage builder that plugs into any back-end. So it's kind of like Weebly, but you can use it for your Rails site. The product is used by marketers, designers and developers to make web pages quickly. It's very easy for non technical people to use — they make up the majority of our user base.

How did you come up with the idea for Shogun?

We came up with Shogun to tackle our own problem. Every company I've worked at ends up having an issue where non technical people want to edit parts of a website. If you've built the website as part of the web app, like most people do in the beginning, the existing options aren't great — you can either write a custom CMS for your stack, or you can subdomain your website and use something like WordPress for your marketing pages.

Shogun is drop-in. It uses your existing domain and integrates with your existing stack, so you get all the power of Weebly (and more with reusable custom templates, etc) combined with all the power of your existing tools.

How did you get started building Shogun?

Along with 2 co-founders, I worked on Shogun for most of 2015, about 6 months part-time and 6 months full-time. We went through several iterations of the product and tried lots of ways of selling it. We found that Shopify was lacking a decent page builder, and it was really easy to build a back-end integration of Shogun for Shopify.

The way it works depends on which platform you're using. For Ruby on Rails, we have a gem that intercepts incoming requests that match up with pages you've created in Shogun, serving them up in your theme like any other Rails response. For Shopify, the pages are published into Shopify through the API.

Whether you're using Rails, Shopify, or some other platform, the Shogun editor is the same. You see your own site in the editor and when you build pages you see exactly how they will look when you publish them. The only difference is in how we handle the back-end integration into whatever stack you're using.

What's your tech stack?

Shogun is built in Ruby on Rails, React, Postgres, MongoDB, and Redis, and hosted with DigitalOcean.

What have you done to attract users and make sales?

When we launched on Shopify, sales began to trickle in and have been growing ever since. We've been attracting users in the Shopify app store from the beginning with very little marketing, and we got featured by Shopify fairly early on, which gave us a good boost. Now most of our new customers are through word of mouth or the Shopify app store.

We also used tools like BuiltWith and Datanyze to try and find companies with CMS systems and reached out to lots of them via email. We then tried reaching out to a number of software agencies to see if any of them would be interested in using our tool with their client work. So far we haven't managed to close any of the companies or agencies, but some of them have started to reach back out to us, and we may get some of those projects in the near future.

What's your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The thing that has helped the most is getting the first few customers. I would say try and launch as quickly as possible and see if you can sell. We launched too late and it took us longer than expected to get customers — a bad combination. By the time we finally got people paying, the founding team had all moved on to other projects and Shogun was part-time.

If I could go back and do it over, I think I would have stuck it out. We definitely gave up too early working full-time on Shogun.

Despite that, Shogun still makes money. What are your goals here?

Shogun is profitable and growing every month. Getting to $4500/month in revenue has totally changed the way I look at the business. Our revenue goals are: as much as possible.

Where can we learn more about you and about Shogun?

You can learn more about me on Angel List and on my own site. Shogun is all on https://getshogun.com.

You can also reach me in the comment section below.

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