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.
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.