Growing My Service by Reaching Out to One Client at a Time

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi, my name is Erik. I created Find-me — a database of content creators actively looking for sponsorship opportunities. I've also tried and failed to launch a number of projects, including shift work scheduling software, a weight tracking app, and plenty more.

Find-me is used by advertisers looking to market their product through native content. We provide contact information and key stats (# impressions, cost) for creators across a range of mediums (blogs, email newsletters, podcasts, etc.).

I update Find-me regularly as I continue to add new creators, and I send out a free weekly newsletter, a la Scott's Cheap Flights, so that potential users can get a sense of what's in our site.

I launched Find-me in September 2017, and ~2 months in I'm seeing around $250 in MRR.

Find-me website

What motivated you to get started with Find-me?

As I mentioned above, I've started a few side projects and have found getting my product in front of folks to be the most difficult part. In fact, you could say I was hoping potential users would "find-me" ;). But I've had a terrible time marketing through the classic online channels (Facebook, search ads, etc.).

At the same time, I've always been a fan of podcasts, email newsletters, and blogs — I find myself paying decent attention to the native advertisements they push. The process for advertising in much of this space is 'Company A' happens to know of and like 'Creator B' so they sponsor them. Or, 'Creator B' has to email 'Companies A-Z' seeking sponsorship, in the hopes they get lucky and have an email land with someone in the marketing department.

In both cases, the two parties still need to talk back and forth re: impressions, pricing, etc., before coming to an agreement. This is a lot of friction for what seems to be an effective advertising medium.

After realizing this was a pain point, I decided to create a product to organize these creators, along with the key information advertisers need, with the goal of making things easier for both parties.

What went into building the initial product?

I am a data analyst in my full-time job, but enjoy hacking things together on the side. That said, I didn't have the expertise or the time to make a complicated product — I was sort of forced to go the MVP route. The whole build took me about three weeks, working a few evenings per week and on the weekend. I also used the Hackathon Starter boilerplate, which I would highly recommend for speeding simple products along.

At its core, Find-me is a database with a paywall in front of it. A lot of the value comes from manually reaching out to content creators to get their information added to our database.

I developed a pretty good system by scraping reddit, Hacker News, etc., for potential creators, organizing/filtering the information in Google Sheets, scheduling refreshes of scripts to dump into sheets by connecting them to Python, and soliciting family to help with some of the manual identification and outreach.

How have you attracted users and grown Find-me?

The initial launch was on ProductHunt, where I accidentally "hunted" Find-me myself on a Sunday evening (around 8 or 9 EST), instead of reaching out to someone with more reputation on the site to submit at a proper time.

Fortunately I lucked out, and things still went OK. I drove about 10 paying sign-ups and about 25 email newsletter sign-ups (at time of the PH submission I hadn't yet set up the free newsletter on my site) of which three have converted to paying customers.

The rest of my customers have primarily come from cold emails. I leveraged my approach to finding content creators (scraping reddit, HN, etc) to build a list of potential founders that may be interested in my product. I then sent a personal email to each prospective founder and pitched the paid database while also highlighting that I offer a free newsletter if they'd like to try things out first.

Overall, direct sales have worked out pretty well and further validated the idea, but are time consuming.

Some other things I'm currently doing that have yet to gain significant traction:

  1. Blog posts: I'm planning to get some inbound marketing efforts going. I just wrote my first blog post last week and have plenty more content I'm confident I can churn out. I'm not expecting to realize much from this channel for several months though, so this will be a slow and steady effort.
  2. Reach out to startup checklist sites: I reached out to Karl, who runs Side Project Marketing Checklist, and was able to get one paying user plus a few other users added to my email list. I plan to keep reaching out to folks I can find in this space, but so far I've had trouble finding maintained lists with decent traffic.
  3. Use Find-me database to find cheap/relevant advertising: Now that I've come full circle and have a product to address my original problem with side project/startup marketing, I am excited to sponsor native ads with some of the creators in my database!
Find-me blog

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Right now, I charge a flat $9/month for complete access to the Find-me database. I began charging from the onset, using Stripe for payments.

I've done a few projects where I released for free initially, spent way too much time working on features for free users, and then was unable to get paying customers on board. With this project, I wanted to validate the idea in the truest way — having people pay for your product — at the very beginning.

Right now I have ~$250 of MRR from our subscriptions with no churn yet. As I mentioned above, I'm only a couple months in, so things are moving around quite a bit.

I recognized I wasn't going to make significant money early on, but I just love building products and seeing them actually get used.

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As far as expenses, here is a current breakdown (with the caveat that I'm sure there are some ways I could cut these, but haven't had time to dig in yet):

  1. Github - $9/month
  2. Domain - $60/year
  3. Namecheap SSL - $9/year
  4. Heroku Dyno - $10/month
  5. Planned advertising (using creators in Find-me database) - $100/month

So, including planned advertising I'm making about $125 in monthly profit, but when I factor in my own sweat equity against any sort of rate, then I'm pretty far negative.

Biggest takeaways here would be:

  • Charge early. This is the best way to fully validate that your idea is worthwhile.
  • Enjoy little victories. I recognized I wasn't going to make significant money early on, but I just love building products and seeing them actually get used. I get plenty of satisfaction from the small, individual sign-ups to both the paid database as well as my email newsletter, and I think that's key for sticking with it.

What are your goals for the future?

At this stage, the goal is still pretty simple — continue to grow. I want to consistently grow the list of creators on Find-me, the free email newsletter, and the number of paying customers. I'm confident I can grow the database itself, and I'm hoping the latter two will continue to come along.

I will continue to use my scrape -> filter -> outreach system described above to add content creators, and will begin experimenting with inbound marketing along with advertising to try and get a consistent flow of paid sign-ups.

The biggest roadblock for me, like a lot of individuals, is staying focused and sticking with the idea. I know that things may be slow moving over the next few months and have plenty of other commitments outside of this project, so staying consistent with blog posts, adding creators, and testing and iterating on advertising will require a good deal of discipline.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The Indie Hackers interviews and podcast, HN, and Product Hunt have all been very helpful for getting an idea of the general steps one takes to bootstrapping a product, learning about common pitfalls, and sort of grounding myself in the reality of how things really shake out for successful founders.

Along with learning from others' experiences, accepting imperfection and taking an action-oriented approach to screw stuff up on my own has helped me a ton.

A little over a year ago, I had never created a web app. I had experience in data analysis (using SQL, python, R, D3.js, etc.), but actually building a software product seemed like a very far reach. I'm now able to spin up an MVP for simple SaaS ideas in a matter of weeks — something that seemed nearly impossible only a year ago.

I didn't have the expertise or the time to make a complicated product — I was sort of forced to go the MVP route.

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These skills are not something that I would have picked up had I been stuck in the "reading/knowledge gathering phase", plotting my eventual perfect product. So I'd definitely recommend those interested to just get started. Talk to people, validate an idea, and build something. Don't worry about doing everything the exact right way, or being able to scale your product to one million users when you don't even have one.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I have advice scattered through the above, but here are two top tips:

  • Validate your idea as early as possible. this may consist of throwing up a landing page to get an email list going, talking to potential users on forums, or sprinting through an MVP to see if you can get a few paying customers.

  • Have discipline in what you're doing. It's too easy to drop a product as soon as you launch and move on to the next one. It feels good to build something, but it doesn't feel good to struggle to get your product in front of potential users.

Have a plan with some objective metrics as gates to hold yourself accountable through the less exciting marketing and sales phase of the product.

For example, commit to doing X, Y, and Z to market your product upfront, and if you don't get >A paying customers, or >B people added to your email list, then allow yourself to pivot or move onto a different idea. If you do hit your metrics and are seeing traction, keep going!

Where can we go to learn more?

Also, feel free to ask questions in the comment section below!

Erik Rood , Creator of Find-me

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