Growing Our Small, In-House Side Project into a Powerhouse Business

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

Hi, I'm Dale Vink, and my co-founder is Nathan Carter. We built Quotient, a way for any business to create great looking quotes and proposals. It works best for small teams that provide some sort of professional service.

How did you get started with Quotient?

Nathan and I came together in 2003 to work on a single web project for a mutual client. We continued from there to build hundreds of websites for others people's businesses.

We had a few core beliefs in our design and development practices that worked well for us, such as never participating in free design pitches, and specifying fixed prices for projects upfront. We believed estimating time before any real work is done is a golden opportunity. Getting everything laid out on the table defines mutual expectations. Clients know what they're getting, and it just makes doing business easy.

At the time this worked well, but we just needed a way for clients to accept our pricing that was better than a verbal "go ahead" over the phone. So we created our own in-house tool where clients could view and accept their quotes. Our clients loved what they saw. They often told us how innovative and professional our quotes looked, which helped us stand apart from our competitors. We were frequently asked if we could build them a similar system to use in their own businesses.

It wasn't until late 2010 that we decided to do something. We knew there could be some demand here as a standalone product, so we crunched the numbers by weighing up the loss in time from actual paying clients vs the number of customers we'd need to be "winning". Needless to say, they just didn't stack up.

But we bit the bullet anyway. This was an opportunity to create something great for ourselves. When someone else isn't paying for it, you don't need to justify anything. You can be an artist and design exactly what you want. So we started development of our quoting system from scratch. A year later, in December 2011, we launched Quotient.

What tech stack did you use to build Quotient?

We use PHP, MySQL, Redis. We also use AWS a lot — our user-data is replicated around 5 data centers across two continents. AWS makes this easy with their existing push-button tools (S3, RDS, etc).

How'd you find the time and funding to do all of this?

We were really lucky to already have a steady income. Initially, Quotient was just one project of many amongst paying client work. It was just a matter of sacrificing a little of our client time.

As time went on and as the numbers grew, we could justify spending more and more time focused on Quotient together. Two years later, Quotient's passive income had outgrown our client work.

Financially, we did alright during the transition period, too. We had some of our biggest client projects happening at the same time that we were spending more of our own time on Quotient. We relieved some of this pressure by charging a premium for it. As we say, quoting is where you can make your money :)

How have you attracted customers and grown your business?

From the day we launched, we had a handful of clients lined up that had been asking for Quotient. We signed them up straight away with a hand-held walkthrough. At that time the onboarding wasn't automated. We didn't even have a sales website, so we manually created their accounts.

Integrating with Xero Accounting Software got us some great traction early on, as they were growing in certain regions. To generate an invoice directly from an accepted quote was a nice seamless solution to many. We've also used other integration channels. Since the beginning of 2016, Quickbooks has been great, and we've seen a steady flow of referrals.

AdWords is not so relevant for us today, but we used it before we had any real organic Google traffic. As a result, we'd see people on the other side of the world find our website and sign up. We still remember watching live (real-time Google Analytics) as the first person created an account. Today, now that we've reached a certain level of momentum, organic Google traffic dwarfs all other channels.

We also hear from many new users that they found us from a quote they'd received. If they had a good experience as an end customer, they're likely to do a little Google-digging and find us. We see around 6% of our paying customers find us this way. This is actually one of our hopes we had that sparked us to build Quotient, so it's good to see it happening. The old word-of-mouth referrals are still golden. Do good things, and people tend to tell others.

Quotient Pageviews

What's the story behind your revenue?

We charge a monthly subscription fee with a one month free trial. We keep it simple (and transparent) with two pricing plans.

Our revenue has been constant. It increases every month without fail, even taking into account our volatile fluctuating NZ dollar. That feels like we're winning!

Quotient Income

As a side note: In the early days we put off building a billing system to actually charge our customers. We used to joke that it wasn't a feature our customers were crying out for. It took us 8 months to finally start charging credit cards. Not sure if we'd recommend this approach :)

Our biggest change happened last year when the revenue of Quotient outgrew our web design business. We ended up selling our other business, and now we focus fully on Quotient. In other words, we don't sell time anymore. We work 100% on the product.

What have your biggest challenges been so far?

A daily challenge in this business is knowing what to focus on and when. Particularly when you're a two-person company, this is critical. With every major release of the product, we can see a direct impact in general "activity" that flows into gaining new customers.

As our customer numbers grow, so does our risk. Over time we've added redundancy to our hosting infrastructure, but we know at some point we have to do the same with the two of us and grow the team.

What resources have been helpful while building your business?

We use Trello for making lists, prioritizing, and checking things off. For app support and a knowledge base: Zendesk. For everything else: Google Apps and Dropbox.

We use AWS for servers and use many of their core services, such as S3, RDS, and Elasticache. Using these now is cost-effective and allows us to focus energy elsewhere.

We automate everything we can, such as push-button deployment. These processes and checks can save a chunk of time and unnecessary errors.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

We've experienced two very different versions of being your own boss. Running a web design business was all about selling time. At the end of the day, you still have a boss and it's your client — they own you, because they're paying.

But building and selling a product is very different. In the beginning, you're creating something for yourself. And then you get customers who are willing to pay for it. But ultimately it doesn't change: You get up in the morning and create exactly what you want to create. If you're making money, you always have the option to sell or get out.

Where can we learn more about you and Quotient?

You can check out the Quotient blog, our Twitter account (@QuotientApp), or better yet, visit the site. You can also leave a question below.

dalevink , Creator of Quotient

Want to build your own business like Quotient?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

We're a few thousand founders helping each other build profitable businesses and side projects. Come share what you're working on and get feedback from your peers.

Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

Be the first to comment, or check out other discussions that founders are having.