Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hi! My name is Stefan Des, and I'm happy to share my story with you guys.
I started working at a very young age as a door-to-door salesman, where I learned some key principles about selling. Later on, I got intrigued by the digital world, and as soon as I could I became an online entrepreneur, starting several digital businesses that gave me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge about this reality (and allowing me to earn a living, to boot).
After many years playing the online business game in all of its forms, I found my interest to be particularly sharp around the martech (marketing technology) environment, so I started a few embryonal startup projects, among which LeadsBridge grew to be the biggest and most successful to date.
LeadsBridge is an all-in-one lead generation platform mostly used by small business owners and digital agencies to save a lot of time and struggle in managing their lead generation and email marketing strategy. Thanks to the bridges it creates, it allows customers to optimize their marketing funnels.
LeadsBridge's monthly revenue today is around $150,000 per month. Since we started in 2015, we have experienced a steady 52% revenue growth rate quarter by quarter.
What motivated you to get started with LeadsBridge?
I've always operated in the digital marketing world — it has been my passion for ages.
The idea for LeadsBridge came up a few years ago, when Facebook Lead Ads was pre-announced to the advertising world. At that point I had been in the market long enough to understand that there was going to be a pain point for the users to sync their leads to their CRMs, so I saw the opportunity to solve that problem before it even arose.
LeadsBridge was initially a side project of another, bigger project that was already generating $10k/month, but it soon became our main focus of interest. Since we had traction from the beginning, we kept investing in it accordingly.
Concerning the economic situation, before LeadsBridge — honestly — I was making more money. But I was looking for a change. I needed new challenges in my life, and bootstrapping this project has definitely provided me with plenty of them!
What went into building the initial product?
Well, we actually dedicated only our Saturdays and Sundays for three months to work on this project. During that period we developed a very basic MVP to launch on the market as soon as possible. Besides our time and energy, we only invested a few bucks in advertising, but that money came from the other project we were already running, so overall we could say that our initial investment was of $0, and we bootstrapped LeadsBridge from "day one" (and we still do).
In the beginning, it was just me and Alex, the other founder, but as soon as we grew a bit we started hiring people.
How have you attracted users and grown LeadsBridge?
Our first sale happened on our first day, so we started off on the right foot! Then we snowballed into more customers by creating content and by using Facebook Ads and Google Adwords.
The reason it worked is simple. Even if our MVP was really basic (it only offered seven integrations and very few features back then), we showed up to solve a real problem. That's what really made a difference. I'm not saying that if you don't solve a real problem you cannot build a business in general, but it's probably going to take more money and more time to make it work.
Offering something that will make people's lives easier, and which they crave for that reason, is the key to success here.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
We've only had one business model from the beginning: a recurring monthly subscription to our online platform. We started by offering our MVP for $7 per month, but as soon as our project grew we increased the value offered to the customers and raised the pricing accordingly. To come up with the best plans we've tested over 70 pricing options! And we're proud to say that our customers have always considered our prices to be "fair".
Initially, the metrics we focused a lot on were monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and churn. We stressed so much over churn because we wanted to have an extremely high customer retention rate. We put all of our efforts into converting customers from a "free" to a "paid" plan. Many of them entered through the free trial, so to encourage them to stay we built a customer happiness team that would really stand out. We took care of our clients by helping them with anything they requested, at just about any cost. This made a huge difference with keeping them faithful to us.
The high retention rate we managed to score helped us in two very important ways: first of all, it gave us a reliable estimation of the real cost per acquisition and secondly it allowed us to more accurately predict future customer acquisition growth.
Despite the steady growth of our business, we must mention that launching our product on AppSumo gave us a fundamental boost in scaling our project, increasing our customer acquisition rate by over 165% per month.
What are your goals for the future?
Our goal at the moment is to help companies collect one billion leads within Q4 2019.
We're also working to launch revolutionary native products for the lead generation market in the near future. They are patents pending now, but on their way out. We truly believe that the lead generation market is going to grow at scale in the following years, so we are investing a lot in it.
We don't just want to participate in this market but to lead it forward. In doing so, we are trying to crack the code to scale the business from seven to eight figures.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
I know it might sound a little bit arrogant, but honestly our main concern during the first year was finding a way to make our startup become a seven-figure business.
We didn't realize how valuable our asset was to the market until after we'd launched it. Only when the numbers validated our business did we start to invest more and more time and money into it.
Anyway, of course we faced many challenges, one of the biggest of which was to transform a side freelance project to a "company" of more than 25 people. Throughout my entire career as a marketer I've collaborated with many people, but for most of the projects I worked on I was on my own or with a few partners.
Not only has it been difficult to build and manage such a large team, but there's been the added challenge of doing it through a remote application — Slack.
That said, by sharing our corporate culture and our values, we've managed to attract many talented people to work with us and grow bigger every day while remaining flexible. Having a structured organization with more resources to count on has helped us better serve our clients and continue to kill the churn.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
If I had to start over, I'd start with more confidence and determination that my idea was solving an important problem that people were willing to pay for.
And although I would make sure to solve the problem for a niche market first, I would try to be more mindful about having a plan to expand to a larger market. This would help prevent us from operating in a market too narrow to scale, and it would also protect us from being shut down by one of the platforms we operate on.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I would recommend that everyone read "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries, which is very practical and inspiring. The other thing I would suggest is to have an approach completely opposite to that of enterprises — be agile. This is absolutely critical.
For example, a few months ago we had to make an important managerial decision that would significantly impact our working environment. We analyzed data and metrics for about 40 days, then my co-founder and I had a call to discuss the matter. Two hours later the change had been implemented.
This quick pace of decision-making is usually not possible for big enterprises, and I cannot stress enough how critical it is. Timing is key, and a lack of responsiveness can really compromise the whole project, especially for startups.
Where can we go to learn more?
To the Indie Hackers readers, I make this offer:
Tell me about your biggest pain point right now, and I will give you the best straight-forward and brutal advice I have. I'll be the guy that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
I love to help other startups, and I'll be super happy to give my advice based on my real experience, whether it's a high-five or a kick in the ass! Cheers!
Want to build your own business like LeadsBridge?
You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗
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—, Indie Hackers founder