Charging From the Beginning to Grow to $3,500/mo in Year One

Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

My name is Manuel Frigerio, and I'm the founder of Maître. My background is in business and management, but my real passion has always been coding. I've been a self-taught developer since the age of 15.

In January 2016 I launched Maître to help businesses generate viral growth without having to write the code or hire the hosting infrastructure. In a nutshell, Maître is a viral waiting list where people are incentivized to invite their friends to get ahead in the queue.

Initially it attracted mostly startups that were launching a new product, but now it's really used by companies of any size. The main value proposition of Maître is that you can outsource your viral growth to a tool that has everything built-in. Copy and paste the snippet to your website in 1 minute, and then go back to what really matters.

In 10 months of activity, we've had over 500 paying customers, we've generated over 3 millions subscribers via our tool, and we're averaging $3,500/month in revenue.

How'd you get started with Maître?

The idea of Maître was born when one of the customers from my other business (EventNinja) asked me if it was possible to use some "growth hacks" to incentivize people to buy tickets for his events. He suggested having a waiting list with some sort of "viral mechanism" built in. It wasn't until December 2015 that I figured out exactly how to do it.

I started reading about the successful viral mechanisms built by companies such as DropBox, Airbnb, Robin Hood, etc. I wanted to know if one really needed lots of money to achieve that growth or if it was a matter of something else. It turned out that these companies were leveraging basic psychological triggers: artificial scarcity, curiosity, anticipation of the rewards, etc.

So I started developing, and in 4 days I'd created a rather basic MVP using Ruby on Rails. I must confess that the initial goal with Maître wasn't even to make it a business, but rather a nice side project that could hopefully make a little money. I asked a few friends to beta test it, and to my surprise they asked me if they could pay for it. This happened within a week of launching the beta. That gave me the confidence to know I was onto something people liked.

Maître has evolved greatly since then, but the idea has remained the same: to enable companies of any size to achieve viral growth easily and affordably.

How'd you find the time and funding to build everything?

As a self-taught developer I built the MVP (and continue building the product) myself in 4 days, between Boxing Day and New Years Eve. I should have probably rested but, hey, it's the startup world.

Since I've got another company, the biggest challenge for me has been juggling between the two for some time, and I'd be lying if I said I've succeeded in this. Eventually, I believe the secret will be to find a balance and automate, automate, automate. I'm very lucky my other business partner was very supportive in the early days of Maître.

It took me roughly 5 weeks to get Maître to a position where it was almost self-sustainable in financial terms, at least in terms of covering its own costs. Also, my early focus on automation made it easy for me to dedicate only a couple of days a week to the project.

One piece of advice I always give to fellow entrepreneurs is: focus on the big bits, forget about everything else. Especially in the early days, getting distracted by the details is the most common error.

How have you attracted users and grown Maître?

In the early days I did what seemed the most obvious thing to do: I asked my friends, most of whom work in startups, to test the product. Despite the product being rather basic (read: unfinished), they liked it and went on to recommend it to other people who actually needed it.

The pivotal moment, however, was when we got featured on Product Hunt on the 5th of February. We ended up being the #1 product for that day, and we still are in the top 30 of all time. I've written on Medium about that experience. Interestingly, Product Hunt still sends around 1,000 visits/month.

I decided from the very beginning to not offer the product for free and instead to charge for it, even if it was in beta. However, in the early days I offered very generous discounts. The rationale was simple: offering a heavy discount on a paid product is still better than offering it for free. The perceived value is higher, and you get more quality feedback.

Another thing I did was to use Twitter to find potential customers. Twitter can be an amazing source of leads, much more than Facebook. I created an account and started following people interested in marketing, growth hacking, startups, etc — basically my target audience. To automate the process, I used TweetFavy. Using Twitter I was able to find at least 30-50 customers.

I've never invested in paid marketing tools such as Google Adwords or Facebook Ads, because I consider them a big waste of time for early stage startups. These tools are much more valuable when you have reached product/market fit and know what you are doing.

Instead, I invested a considerable amount of time in talking to my early users. In fact, I think I scheduled more than 200 Skype calls. When you talk directly to your customers you get to know problems much quicker and develop a relationship with them that will hold strong for a long time. These people became the early ambassadors of the product and recommended it to even more people, generating a snowball effect.

In absolute terms, what we have found most effective for us is content marketing. We constantly write on our blog and on others, especially evergreen pieces that create a long tail of searches on search engines, which is good for SEO juice. This strategy has paid off really well, and in a relatively short space of time. After just 6 months, we rank in the top 3 results for competitive keywords like "viral waiting list" and "growth hacking waiting list".

Now that we have a bit more cash, we employ a freelance copywriter who writes an average of 2-3 long pieces a month, plus my co-founder and I write 1 or 2 a month. Some of our articles, like The Definitive Product Launch Checklist or Real Life Marketing Strategy Examples still drive thousands of visits every month. My small advice for content marketing is: start writing from the beginning, because at some point you will see the results.


What's the story behind your revenue?

Like I said earlier, I decided to charge for Maître from the very beginning. Having done the "give-your-product-for-free-and-monetize-later" thing a hundred times, I made the decision to take a different approach this time and force myself to ask money from day one, even if that meant more rejections. And that's exactly what I did.

My plan was to have a subscription model for more stable revenues, but that would have taken longer to build, so I chose a one-off business model instead. In hindsight, that was a good choice. Most users, as I've discovered later, run campaigns for 1-2 months maximum. Most of the campaigns are as short as 1 week, actually. A monthly subscription wasn't the right thing for them (or for me).

As for the pricing, I had no idea how to charge for it, so I did what a great entrepreneur once told me: "When you don't know how much to charge, pick what seems a reasonable price and multiply by 3." This seems rather counterintuitive, but the logic is simple: When you don't know how much to charge, you default to a "soft spot" that is usually much lower than what people are actually willing to pay.

Over time my co-founder and I have brainstormed other ways to earn extra dollars, and we came up with a marketplace of add-ons that you can add to your campaign. These add-ons sell for between $9 and $19, and they've increased our total revenue by 25%. More recently we've also added two extra plans: a "Pro" plan that includes all the add-ons and a "Premium" plan designed for agencies or people who want a higher level of support. We rolled out these two plans 6 weeks ago and have already seen +40% in revenues. The bottom line is: don't be afraid to experiment with pricing.

Our revenues have grown steadily at +30% month-over-month and, needless to say, part of this growth is due to our brand being mentioned in many blogs/websites that talk about marketing and growth hacking.

In fact, another strategy we have adopted from the early days was to partner with products in similar categories to ours. That wasn't simple, especially in the beginning when we were small and unknown, but we were lucky to find people who believed in us. A great way to win over these relationships is to show social proof. We put a lot of effort in the beginning to create a reputation and asked many users permission to use their stories with Maître to write case studies.

We now make around $3,500 per month and are growing rapidly. We keep 30% in the business and split the rest between myself and my co-founder. We try to reinvest as much as we can into the platform, whether it's marketing or expanding our infrastructure.

Our costs are around $600/month. One way we found to lower our costs was to switch from Heroku to AWS. Heroku is a terrific platform, but it was getting very expensive very quickly. AWS offers a great infrastructure for a fraction of the price. Obviously, the migration is not simple (you need someone who knows what they're doing), but it was definitely worth it.

Revenue Graph

What are your goals for the future?

We like to set ambitious goals for ourselves. Right now we have two. The short/medium-term goal is to became the de-facto top-of-mind product for growth hacking in the world. The long-term goal is to transition Maître into a growth platform, which is a place where you can find any tool that can help you grow your business.

To achieve these goals we're going to build a suite of tools around the same topic, but dedicated to other aspects of growth and not necessarily just emails. I know that that will mean increasing our revenues and hiring at least a couple of people. We have set a goal for ourselves of $10k/month for Q2 of next year.

The biggest personal challenge for me will be to balance my two companies, whereas the business challenge will be to maintain this growth and find smart people to accelerate it even further.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

To be honest with you: absolutely nothing. Not because I think I did everything right (quite the opposite), but the mistakes I made were essential to my personal and professional growth.

There are, however, two lessons I've learned the "hard way" and perhaps I would do differently. The first one is to hire people who are really committed to the long-term success of the project. In the early days of Maître I asked a friend to help me out with partnerships. He wasn't committed and eventually did more harm than good. That was quite painful and did cost the business some interesting opportunities. My advice is: choose carefully who you work with.

The second thing is about the platform migration (from Heroku to AWS). I'd do that much earlier. I could've saved lots of money and prevented many headaches.

What do you think your biggest advantages have been?

From the very beginning we made it extremely easy for non-developers to use the product. Compared to other solutions, Maître was ridiculously simple to install. Literally as simple as copy and paste. That early focus on user experience was the key to winning our first customers, along with a superior customer support.

I regard customer support as being one of the most important activities in any company. After 10 months of activity I still personally reply to almost every support email. It gives me an idea of the real problems my customers have, and it's like having your finger on the pulse all the time.

A more random advantage was our successful launch on Product Hunt. It's no secret that without that it would have probably taken us much longer to get to where we are. Being in the right place at the right time was probably pure luck, but we did well in capitalizing on our launch.

Finally, we found ourselves riding a trend created by others. The growth hacking trend has made lots of people curious about tools like Maître. People like Vincent Dignan have done an amazing job in educating people about Growth hacking and growth tools.

What advice would you share with aspiring indie hackers?

Ohhhh, advice. I'm not usually good at that... Let's see.

The first advice I'd give readers is to start charging early and don't wait until "the product is ready". The reason is that when you put yourself in "monetization mode" you have to think differently. You also attract a different type of user — the one that usually sticks around longer. Surely, you will get more rejections, but it pays off in the long-term.

I see too many young entrepreneurs who don't charge, because they are scared to annoy people. What they don't get is that you want to annoy some people. That's when you find people who love you. That's when you know you have something worthwhile.

The second advice I'd give readers is to be brave and don't be afraid to experiment, whether it's with pricing, features, design, whatever. I honestly believe the best university in the world is the entrepreneurial life, but the only way to learn is through mistakes, and you can never be wrong if you never do things differently.

Lastly, don't wait until you're "ready", because... you'll never be ready. If you wait too long, you are out of the game. If you wait until your product is perfect, you are out of the game. Put it out there and be ready for the harsh critics. You'll need them, anyway.

Where can we go to learn more?

Our blog is the best place to start. I'm also quite active on Twitter at @mnlfrgr. Our company account (@maitre_app) is where you can find the most up-to-date info about Maître.

If you want to talk to us, send us an email to [email protected] or leave a comment below.

Manuel Frigerio , Creator of ReferralHero

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