How I Grew to $21k/mo by Targeting the Right Niche

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

My name is Tyler Tringas, and I'm a former consultant, self-taught developer, and occasional digital nomad.

I built Storemapper: SaaS for brands to help their customers find out where to buy their products in real life. It's a store locator app that can be embedded on any website, with an analytics suite to inform retail distribution decisions.

How'd you get started with Storemapper?

Storemapper was built during a time when I was struggling to get a different startup off the ground. My background was in cleantech, and I was building an MVP and trying raise traditional VC funding for a business in the solar energy market.

Through that process, I taught myself to code and started doing freelance development for businesses on Shopify to earn a little money on the side. These clients were the ones who originally asked me to build them a custom store locator, which gave me the idea to productize it instead. I go into the origins in a lot more detail in my first blog post about Storemapper.

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

I have no idea how I found the time at the very beginning, since I was already spending 80% of my time on a startup and 40% on freelancing. But I built the first version of Storemapper from nothing to live-and-accepting-payments in one 30-hour flight. From then on time management was huge, but I was happy to grow the business slowly since my focus was mostly on other things.

I never put any money into Storemapper. It was cashflow positive the entire time, mostly because I stacked my SaaS business on top of a lot of other SaaS products that typically had a free or very cheap starting tier, so costs grew linearly with revenue. Here's the full list of services I used.

When did you transition to Storemapper full-time?

I had been running Storemapper for about a year on the side when my other startup finally failed completely. I turned my attention to growing Storemapper into a real business. I was able to find the time and money by leaving New York and its expensive rent and heading first to Southeast Asia.

For the next few years I spent a lot of time as a nomad living in pretty cheap parts of the world. The combination of reduced costs and distractions has a big multiplier effect on your ability to focus and be productive. During that time, I built Storemapper into a full-time living for myself (about $100k in annual revenue), and started focusing on how I could add a team to help me get back some free time.

What've you done to acquire customers?

Almost all of our new customers are inbound. A good chunk is straight up organic Google, and another big portion come from searches inside the app stores of various e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce and Magento. I think this is a function mostly of choosing the right niche. If a decent group of people need a niche solution and you build the best version of that, you have a very good shot of getting to the top of Google results without doing anything clever.

How'd you kickstart all of this inbound interest?

When getting Storemapper off the ground, growth was the opposite of inbound. I'm not precisely sure, but I would guess it wasn't until around customer #50 that someone passively found us on Google and signed up without interacting with me. I go into this in a lot of detail in the ebook I'm writing, but the tactics I used (roughly in order) were as follows:

First, I had been doing freelance work for e-commerce businesses, so I already had a small email list of people I had done work for in the past. The first 5 customers came from just emailing every client I ever had about Storemapper. After that I started crawling the forums on various e-commerce platforms, answering questions and — when appropriate — pointing people to Storemapper.

Later, I searched job sites like Upwork for people looking to hire a freelancer to do a custom build, and would swoop in and pitch them on Storemapper instead. Later, I built integrations with e-commerce platforms which would allow the app to be found through their app store search functions. It was only after that point that we started seeing pure inbound growth.

Did you hire lawyers to incorporate?

I ran all the legal stuff through LegalZoom which is pretty straightforward. I found the bigger time sink was accounting and bookkeeping. I'm super happy now to use Bench to run all my bookkeeping. A good accountant is super valuable, but nobody — including me — seems to have a good methodology for finding one besides just asking around a lot.

How'd you monetize Storemapper?

I charged for Storemapper from the beginning (just $5/month) and gradually raised prices and added plan tiers over time. Definitely the most important metric was churn. By having a niche product with reasonable prices and a "set it and forget it" kind of product, I was able to get very low churn — typically less than 1%/month, where many young SaaS companies might be at 5%-10%. This allows the recurring revenue to really accumulate and not put so much pressure on you to keep up user acquisition.

In Q1 2016 we hit $200k/year, which is basically an "internet small business" to me. It's enough to pay me and two remote employees well and still turn a profit. By August 2016 we hit $21,000/month, so we're still growing with the same sized team.

Has Storemapper's success changed things for you?

Lifestyle-wise, Storemapper has been a big success for me. It allowed me to spend the entire last year traveling around the world with my girlfriend, pay off about $60,000 in debt from my failed startup attempt, and earn a good living with about 10-15 hours/week of work at this point. I'm in a really fortunate position right now that I'm able to spend the majority of my time and energy working on projects that I think are important and valuable to the world without worrying about getting compensated.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

The biggest challenge and worry I have is around dependencies in the business. The upside of all these new SaaS components and APIs is that you can spin up a really valuable product and business by stringing together even just a few of them. The downside is that your business can be critically dependent on another startup. My heart stops every time Google Maps updates their terms of service even a little bit. But it can be managed by proactively developing back-up plans and alternative options, as well as rolling your own solutions once your product gets off the ground.

What's worked in your favor during your journey?

It's absolutely an amazing time to be building Micro-SaaS businesses as I call them. As a business model, recurring revenue software blows everything out of the water, and there are still so many niches for products to fill.

Since I started writing about my business and Micro-SaaS more broadly, a surprising number of entrepreneurs have introduced themselves and told me about running their own small profitable SaaS businesses. I think there's just a lot of momentum in the right direction on all fronts: lots of new entrepreneurs getting online that need to buy various SaaS products, new products/tools/APIs every day that you can integrate into a packaged solution, and an overall pretty high willingness to pay for software that saves time or generates an obvious ROI.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

If you're still struggling for a good business idea, I would really recommend doing some consulting work in an industry/market that you think might be a good target customer group. That will let you really get a solid understanding of their needs and can be the inspiration for a good product.

Where can we learn more about you and about Storemapper?

The best place to learn more is on my blog where I've shared a ton of the details about building Storemapper, and to get on the email list for my ebook about building Micro-SaaS businesses.

You can also contact me via the comment section below.

tylertringas , Creator of Storemapper

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