September 9, 2018

How I bootstrapped $0-79,000 MRR in 90 days (age 22)

Welcome! I’m Nathan, a 22-year-old Serial Entrepreneur. This is my story of how I grew one of my companies from zero customers to 13,800 sign ups, 3000 active users and $79,000 in monthly recurring revenue in less than 90 days.

Seems I can't display the full post here, so here's the original: https://blog.notifia.io/growth-hacking/bootstrapped-79k-mrr.html

So just before I start here are a few facts:

The Business was a SaaS Social Media Marketing Platform

I was the sole member of the team; I had no employees or additional help

The pricing started at €39 and came with a 3-day trial to test the service.

I already owned a startup in the same space which had around 300 customers, so I had an understanding of how to market a similar business giving me a bit of a headstart.

This post contains around 4000 words, so I decided to break things down into (slightly more) bite-sized chunks. Please feel through to Navigate through the article to whichever sections are most relevant to you.

Background

Jumping straight into this article, I had purchased a pre-built SaaS application, installed on a shared VPS hosted by Bluehost (not recommended, I’m now with Digital Ocean who are a million times better).

The app was built with LAMP, PHP 5.6 and CodeIgniter. After installing on my VPS and checking everything was working correctly my journey of growing the business and acquiring customers began.

Acquiring my First Customer

My first point of call was Adwords, I set up a marketing campaign for Instagram Automation Software and went live with my first Ad. I managed to acquire users, but 0 converted into paying customers. I lost around $200 and turned off my campaign feeling quite annoyed that had cost me $200 with nothing gained other than a few emails.

At this point, I moved on to Free Traffic Channels; I started engaging a bit in the Reddit community, and also admittedly did a bit of shameless self-promotion. I set up Google Alerts whenever someone was asking the question (“More Instagram Followers?” or “More Followers on Instagram”) I’d get an email alert and could instantly start pitching a product and offer them a free trial.

Again, this was pushing users to my site, but nobody was converting into customers or entering card details for the product. It was at this point, I hired a developer to change the signup flow where a user would have to enter card details in order to access the product. This was to filter out anyone who just wanted a free product, as much as I like helping people the purpose of my business was to turn a profit.

I reached out to some of my ex-customers from one of my other startups, offering them the services of my new business. I acquired my first ever paying customer who subscribed to a $5 per month plan. This is truly a great feeling; the fact it’s was only $5 didn’t matter. I think any other business owner can tell you one of the best feelings is receiving your first ever paying customer.

First 10 Customers

Seeing as I had acquired my first customer through a previous relationship, I continued reaching out to previous customers of another startup of mine and managed to acquire two other paying users through old relationships.

Now that I had changed the signup flow, I was also starting to see customers sign up via Reddit and was averaging about two customer signups per day through Reddit.

I’m also a very active user of LinkedIn and had previously grown my network to over 58,000 connections. So I knew the power of Networking, I set up Instagram Automation targeting “Business Owners” in the USA offering Social Media Management services, I was seeing out 600 connection requests per day with personalized invitation messages.

My personal Instagram account also had over 45,000 followers who were an excellent form of Social Proof. I automated direct messaging to invite users to sign up for a trial to my software, and also set up around 20+ other Instagram accounts targeting various users and offering free trials.

LinkedIn & Instagram Marketing was all 100% automated, so once set up this ran forever.

First 50 Customers

At this point, I didn’t make any major changes to the growth channels. I was receiving a few signups per day, and this was all being automated. My original idea for this business is that I wouldn’t need to oversee it much as SaaS doesn’t require much human input (I was wrong!), I would just let it grow in the background while I managed my other startups and it would bring in another stream of revenue.

Regarding the business itself, two changes I did make were improving the landing page; I picked up a cheap template of Envato market for $9. I edited the HTML and changed the copy and put this on the server, it really wasn’t anything special but actually doubled the conversion rate from 3% to 6%.

I also changed the pricing plan from $5 per month to $5 per week; I felt psychologically seeing $5 per week felt like a lower commitment than $20 per month - although this is purely based on my opinion and has 0 research behind it. It seemed to work as the conversion rate for the site didn’t drop off whatsoever, in fact, there was no change at all which I was quite surprised by.

By the time I reached 50 customers, I was around ten days in and had a total of $500 in MRR. Each new signup was worth $20/month, and I was receiving 3-4 per day meaning $60-80 worth of new business per day which isn’t bad.

The cancellation rate was also very low, I only had ten days worth of data which of course isn’t great for making significant decisions, but I think only 2-3 out of 50 customers had canceled.

First 250 customers

Again, just sitting back and watching my customers climb. I went and met with a fellow entrepreneur for a Beer in Canary Wharf; we were both involved in Social Media although different platforms and often exchanged ideas on the industry, tips, tricks, and hacks. It was nice as we weren’t in direct competition it made no impact on us to share what avenues we were exploring.

I told him my new venture was acquiring a steady stream of customers and this was coming from free channels. He suggested scaling via Facebook Ads, having been burnt by PPC before I was hesitant but respected his advice and explored it as an avenue.

After setting up Facebook Pixel, Optimising for Conversions and hoping that Facebook's powerful algorithms were going to make me rich, I sat back and waited for the customers to come flooding in. They didn’t, I was picking up signups who claimed the free trial, but about 70% canceled straight after, and my CAC was around $70. I didn’t have enough data on my customer LTV, but a customer would have to renew their subscription for at least four months for me to turn a profit, and that’s before we even include taxes, expenses, support costs, etc. I soon after turned off Facebook ads (at this point I didn’t quite understand, you need to feed the algorithm data in order for it to understand the type of people that purchase on your site, then it will, and your CAC should decrease.)

Anyway, my main acquisition channels remained as Reddit, LinkedIn, Instagram and Email Marketing.

By this time I had made about $600 and decided to reinvent this in some tools to grow the business. I bought an Instagram Email Scraper, that would scrape a list of profiles based on a keyword and search for emails in Bio. It would also log the number of followers and account username so you could send an email to them saying “I saw you have 2,468 followers. Our average user gains 1200 real followers per month” and I received reasonable results, but as the scraper doesn’t pull the first name it is spammy, and I didn’t scale this any further.

For anyone who’s interested I used Amazon SES to send emails, it’s free to send 60,000 emails per month, so it’s a tool worth using and helps keep my expenses down as a bootstrapped founder.

I also explored Referral Marketing, I took a 30-day free trial of referral candy and installed their widget on my site. I didn’t see any improvements whatsoever; I don’t think I had a large enough user base for referral marketing to be an effective marketing strategy.

Given the success I had seen from updating my landing page, I turned my focus to improving our conversion rates and purchased a new theme for the landing page (which was miles better than either of the previous 2). I spent a day or two updating this and writing what I thought was fantastic copy, but really I was just sticking in the word “Supercharged” wherever it made sense!

I changed CTA buttons to all say “Claim Free Trial,” and overall the website looked FAR, FAR more professional. This pushed my conversion rate up to around 11%.

Now that I had a website that looked half decent, and I could say I was proud of owning I took another shot at Google Adwords. Many of my competitors were running huge campaigns, and of course, they wouldn’t be pouring money into Adwords unless they were turning a profit.

So this is where the real Growth began…

I set up about five different Ad types with some ad text like the #1 Instagram Growth Service. My first keywords were targeting when my competitor's customers were looking for alternatives for example “Alternatives to XYZ.” I simply said my target CAC is $20, this is the 1st month's subscription, and anything after that is profit for the business.

I kept a very close eye on the keywords, and the second they went over $20 Cost Per Conversion I would pause the keyword, so I was no longer bidding on it.

I started making a profit, but the conversions didn’t come in the masses. People searching for “alternatives to my competitors” weren’t exactly high-traffic keywords. However, I had now managed to make my first profitable Adwords campaign, which reassured me that it was possible to make a profit using Adwords.

I was acquiring these customers for about $10-14 which was below my target CAC, I researched even more competitors and added these as target keywords.

I created a free trial for Alexa.com and entered some of my main competitors, Alexa will then pull together a list of the keywords your competitors are bidding on. I simply assumed that if my competitors are bidding on them, and have been for a while, they must be making a profit.

I fired up another campaign on Adwords and added in all of these keywords. Was I right? Yes, and no. Many of the keywords I copied did make a profit; however, my main competitors were charging $50-79 per month, meaning they could afford to spend far higher amounts to acquire customers. Plus they already had substantial user bases in the region of 10k+ customers, so they could afford to lose a bit of money on ads.

I monitored Adwords closely, being sure to turn off any keywords that went over $20/conversion. You also analyzed countries we were bidding on, and with higher than $20/conversion cost were removed, and also monitored, age, gender, device and applied the same principle.

At this point I was bidding on around 30 keywords, I had previously limited my Adwords campaign to $50/day, but now I was making a profit, and my confidence had grown this went up to $100 per day for several days, I kept analysing the data, and then put up to $250/day making sure I was still making a profit on all my keywords.

First 1,000 Customers

Now that I had a successful Adwords campaign running, my problem wasn’t acquiring the users; it was affording to keep my campaign financed. My business had made about $1000 by this point, but with a $250/day Adwords campaign running, I would be out of cash in 4 days.

The users received a 3-day trial, and then once charged the money would stay in Stripe and would take another five working days to process and hit my business bank account, after that, it would be another 30-days until I saw a profit.


  1. 7

    "I already owned a startup in the same space which had around 300 customers, so I had an understanding of how to market a similar business giving me a bit of a headstart."

    I generally don't try to undermine people's success but the "bootstrapped in 90 days" is a bit misleading. yes this particular saas may have been 90 days which is still impressive but the bit about you having done something similar before is a key factor here. If you had started from scratch without any previous industry connections/knowledge, the 90 day thing would be a hell of a lot more accurate. Congratulations anyway but just wanted to highlight this point

    1. 6

      If you put in 20K in your startup should you also account for the time you made 20K? Or how about you learned a new language from your previous startup, should you include that time too? Seems fair enough to me as long as you’d mentioned it. Which he did.

      1. 1

        Yeah, and do you include the time you spent learning to code? And if you were a salesperson in your day job, the time you spent to get over the fear of cold calling etc etc

      2. 1

        Great points.

    2. 2

      Yes, agreed that's why I made sure I put it in the post :)

      I did have an understanding of the marketplace which meant I could hit the ground running with this product.

  2. 4

    I actually read this on reddit a week or so back. I remember you got pretty roasted in the comments which was pretty unfair and kind of a tough break...

    I had 2 questions:

    1. What was the SaaS exactly (new and old)?

    2. What got you got banned from Facebook and threatened with legal consequences?

    1. 1

      Sorry, I missed question #2.

      It's a breach of Instagram & Facebooks ToS, I had performed about 2 million actions on Instagram and I was threatened to be prosecuted for about 4-5 Californian Data/IT laws.

      Given that I don't have the resources to fight Facebook and would be bankrupt in 5 minutes flat if I even attempted I was left with no choice but to shut down the platform.

      1. 1

        Thanks for answering

        Unfortunately, from my brief reading of /r/entrepreneur it doesn't seem like a very pleasant place. The culture here is a lot nicer but don't tell them that!

        I assumed that what it might have been the case (Instagram automation platform). I saw in another comment, you said that it was MassPlanner. Do you think they came down extra hard because you were offering it as a platform for other people? Or do you think they would have come down equally hard if you were just using it for yourself?

        Also, are you banned from Facebook entirely (even from legitimately using their ads or pages or your personal account etc)? How did that effect your future venture?

        Finally, congratulations on your new SaaS! I think the area you're in now is going to be much more fruitful for you and you won't have to worry about someone kicking the legs out from under your business

        1. 2

          Sorry slight confusion - massplanner is just a product I was using to market the business myself on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Massplanner isn't my product.

          Yes, that's the only reason they came down hard, because thousands were using the platform and I was making money. If it was just personal use then I highly doubt they would ever have contacted me.

          Yes, I'm banned from Facebook & Instagram for life. I lost my personal Instagram with 45k followers and my solicitor initially said I could have been looking at prison time (worst case scenario would have involved extradition to the USA and 10+ years).

          Regarding Facebook Ads, it's not something I'm too worried about. I guess if I really needed too I could outsource the work to a PPC agency or something along those lines.

          Thanks! Believe me I've learnt my lesson - Don't build a business that relies on somebody else's platform, because they have control over you at the end of the day!

          P.S. I also agree, it seems IH community is far better than r/Entrepreneur ;) I'm pretty new hear and was introduced to the platform by a business partner on another venture, but I like what I've seen so far!

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            You're both right that building upon someone else's platform is a risky thing.

            @benm You already know my business, findbetterquestions.com, which builds upon Quora. I have to admit that it's an additional stress factor

            Do you guys have any advice for me on how not to be banned by Quora?

            1. 1

              To be honest, I think you will be fine. Just look at Buffer for example, they completely rely on other platforms and do very well because it's used in a legitimate way.

              However, my product was a direct breach of Instagram's Terms of Service which is why they came down on me like a tonne of bricks.

              1. 1

                Thanks Nathan

                I might not break their ToS directly, but I’d assume that they could still go after me, and if they wanted me to, I’d have to shut down

    2. 1

      Hi Ben! Yes, it was an interesting response to say the least. Once I sent over evidence to verify the post it was a much warmer welcome, but it seemed a lot people felt it wasn't a true story.

      The one described in this post was an Instagram Automation platform (Auto Follow, Auto Like, Scheduling Posts etc)

      My latest product is a suite of website plugins to boost AARRR metrics :)

    1. 1

      Thanks! Sorry, I didn't see it got cut off.

  3. 2

    Great! Share the url of the site

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  4. 1

    Thanks for sharing this in such detail. It's really helpful to hear how others are automating marketing on a budget.

    Would you be able to elaborate on how you automated the Instagram DM process? Do you use a service for this or build something on your own? I haven't been able to find a public API for instagram DM's so I'm wondering how you did this.

    Also, how did you set up the 20+ instagram accounts targeted towards specific audiences and automate those too?

    You seem to have a knack for this kind of marketing and I'm really interested to hear how it's done.

    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Used a service for it, my own product was an Instagram Automation service so I just hooked up 20+ accounts to my platform and had them sending DM's 24/7.

      There's plenty of DM tools you can find though online. Instagram's official API is very limited, everyone tends to use this: https://github.com/mgp25/Instagram-API

      I did target specific audiences such as bloggers & business owners as I felt they were more likely to spend money.

      For this I was targeting followers of Entrepreneurial accounts, as well as a few hashtags related to blogging & business.

      Hope that helps!

  5. 1

    Awesome story!

    So much detail on the parts that really matter including the very cool description of each tool.

    All in all, from the start to finish did you make money? Or did you have to pay fines / salaries / ads / etc that dried up all the profits?

    1. 1

      I didn't have any fines or salaries to pay, I was the sole member of the team :)

      For Ads, I spent about 50k on Ads but overall made about 3x ROI.

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        Hey, I am developer who is learning to grow/scale. Would you be willing to answer a few questions regarding your strength growth hacking?

        1. 1

          Haha, sure happy to talk anytime :)

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            What is the best way to contact you?

            1. 1

              Nathan@notifia.io - ping me there and I'll send over Skype details :)

  6. 1

    Who did the design for your website?

    1. 1

      shortcute.xyz - Ask for Alex and say Nathan sent you ;)

  7. 1

    What does Notifia actually do though?

    1. 3

      It's an Automated Growth Hacking Toolkit - it's a variety of tools & widgets to boost Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention and Referrals as well as collect Feedback.

      Where as previously you would need 7-8 tools to cover each of these areas, I built all of these tools internally initially and have now released them as a service at a fraction of the cost.

      In terms of features we have currently.

      Automated Messages (for Onboarding and Communication)

      Email Collection Cards (Exit Intent, Time Delay, on-Scroll etc)

      CTA Cards (Trigger special offers on Exit Intent, or drive traffic to specific pages)

      Exit Intent Survey (Self explanatory)

      Social Proof (Live feed of recent signups/recent sales)

      In the Pipeline

      NPS Scores

      Feedback Widget

      Failed Payment Notifications

      Onboarding Checklist

      Triggered Videos (for onboarding)

      Offboarding Widget (Triggered Targeted offers to customers when they attempt to cancel plans)

      Host Giveaways

      Refer a Friend widget

      I'm trying to focus as a tool for startups and SMB's that cover all of the essential areas that drive growth, and can be setup/integrated in seconds.

      Hope that helps :)

  8. 1

    Hi @NathNotifia, first congrats on your success :) I have a question about your previous customers? Do you still in contact with them or you just let them go after the product got shut down? Thank you!

    1. 1

      I still have my customers details and have had email contact, but I cannot sell anything related to Instagram to them.

      as there are 13,800 users I've considered writing a guide/eBook on Social Media Marketing that I could sell.

      1. 1

        I see. :)

        Good luck with your current product. Looks promising! :p

        1. 1

          Thank you :)

  9. 1

    Next Post like? :)

  10. 1

    Hi Nath,

    How did you do this. What are some of the tools and what functionalities did you automate.

    "LinkedIn & Instagram Marketing was all 100% automated, so once set up this ran forever."

    1. 1

      Everything was automated using Massplanner and I also use LinkedHelper on LinkedIn, these days I run multiple accounts across multiple VPS'.

      1. 1

        Is Linked Helper how you grew your connections on LinkedIn to 58k? And what happens as a result when you do that??

        1. 1

          Initially I was using a different product to LinkedHelper as it was a few years ago I started growing my account, but now Linked Helper is my go to tool.

          Well in the end my account was banned when I cancelled my premium subscription. It seems LinkedIn are okay with automation (to a point) as long as you are paying for a premium subscription.

  11. 1

    Hi Nathan,

    In anticipation of part 2 a couple of quick questions:

    1. Was/is your journey taking place this year?

    2. Where did you scout and bought SaaS?

    3. Did you touch/ made amendments to the actual SaaS codebase?

    1. 1
      1. The company shut down in late Feb 2018

      2. Nowhere, it was something I came across by coincidence on CodeCanyon.

      3. Yes, I asked customers for CC details upon signup, rebuilt landing page, made some backend adjustments to auto add proxies to Instagram Accounts and hired a PHP engineer to make some other adjustments.

      I wouldn't buy SaaS from a marketplace again though, it was very buggy and not build to be used at this scale.

      1. 1

        Where were you getting your proxies?

        1. 1

          Luminati is really good but starts at $500/month. I was spending about $2k/month with them.

          On a smaller scale, I would just use Lime Proxies.

      2. 1

        Hi Nathan,

        Thanks for prompt&detailed reply, appreciated.

  12. 1

    I also run a SMM service for Instagram and I am currently at $10K MRR a month for a few months now, but only through free marketing. I spent the last couple of weeks building a good looking website to further grow my business with PPC (https://www.growthstore.io). What do you think about the site? I am about to launch and test things. Do you have any advice for me?

    1. 2

      Hi Chris, nice service I actually worked on building something similar in the past. I saw a service here: http://www.growthgeeks.com/ which is white label and I planned to drive all my customers who canceled there.

      Nice website and I'm sure PPC will serve you well.

      1. 1

        Thank you! I could setup an affiliate account for you, if you'd like to drive traffic to Growthstore at some point. Just email me using the email I have on my IH profile in case.

  13. 1

    Wow, Congrats. Nyc post. Best of luck

    1. 1

      Thank you

  14. 1

    "I was seeing out 600 connection requests per day" - LinkedIn is limited to 5000 invitations so you spent them in less than 10 days?

      1. 2

        That page says "Also keep in mind that withdrawing invitations doesn't return them to your balance of available invitations."

        1. 1

          I have spoken to LinkedIn support before and they suggest withdrawing pending invites when you find you are unable to send connection requests, so I'm surprised to see that.

          Anyway, still to this day I send out around 600 requests per day.

          1. 2

            You seem to say that you didn't know about the limit at LinkedIn. This is very surprising. Sending 600 requests per day and getting say 100 accepts, you would reach your limit in 50 days even while counting only accepted invites.

            1. 1

              I know about a limit, but simply withdrawing the requests solves the issues for me.

              Like I said, even to this day I send out 600 requests per day across multiple accounts and whenever I run into issues just withdraw requests.

              Are you using LinkedIn premium plans?

              1. 1

                Yes. I am far from the limit but the rules seemed quite clear about it.

                1. 4

                  I'll take the person who is actually doing it over a the rules that say you can't do it lol

                  1. 1

                    Yes but make sure that person is actually doing it.

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