Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hello, I'm Romaric Philogène. I founded MySocialApp with Pierre Mavro, Rémi Demol, and Aurélien Bocquet. MySocialApp is a SaaS that helps companies and communities build their own iPhone and Android social apps.
After studying electronics in France, I decided to move to the UK to continue down that path, but three months later, my identity papers were stolen (my bad), thus I needed to go back to France. Was it a sign? I have always been keen on computers, programming, and low-level systems; I like to imagine and build things. And this life event made me reconsider my professional future… I started working and studying at the same time to become a proficient systems engineer at Ullink (financial software company) and a software engineer at Sirdata (data marketing company) and MySocialApp.
MySocialApp (MSA) was launched on September 2017 and makes $8k a month in revenue. Our customers are mainly brands and associations (sport federations, motor sport, and forums).
What motivated you to get started with MySocialApp?
Before starting MySocialApp I launched Nousmotards in 2014, the top social app for motorcyclists in France. As a biker, I wanted an app that would allow me to meet other bikers to travel the European roads together. I love being challenged, and this was a serious technical challenge which we accepted.
We spent three years working nights and weekends to develop and improve this platform without earning enough to pay the operational bills. Nousmotards now has more than 70k users with 30% daily active users cost money. Sadly, in June I had a serious motorbike accident, so riding was over for me. This is the kind of event in your life that makes you want to move forward and create something new.
It was more than an intuition. Over the three years we spent working on Nousmotards, many people contacted us to find out if we were using a pre-made solution for its technical infrastructure, which got us thinking about MySocialApp.
What went into building the initial product?
We're all experienced engineers, and we built 100% of the tech for MySocialApp — a huge advantage for shipping fast. We were all working full-time jobs at the time. As we liked to say, we each took a second day job.
We decided that the bare minimum requirements to make this a useful product were:
- iPhone and Android apps (you would be able to customize the logo, colors, background, user profile, and features)
- Push notifications
- Account management functionality for the user
- Integration with third-party apps (Zapier, CRM, ERP, AWS, Google Apps, Twilio…)
- Full build and app deployments through Google Play and App Store
- Full build of client app back-end infrastructure
- Payment integration (thanks to Zoho)
- Support integration (thanks to Zendesk)
To minimize the cost we manage our own server clusters across data centers. This reduces the bill compared to cloud solutions like Amazon AWS or Google Cloud Platform, which are expensive for long-term use. When clients subscribe, they commit to a minimum of one year.
Here's the tech stack we use:
- Java / Kotlin
- Spring boot
- Bash ;)
We capitalized on the lessons we'd learned running Nousmotards for two years: the feedback we'd received made us comfortable building MySocialApp. Today, I think it was necessary to take our time building something that would be very hard to change once clients began relying on it.
The biggest challenge we now face is changing our focus from engineering to sales. We've seriously taken into account how large an effect product marketing has on business viability.
How have you attracted users and grown MySocialApp?
We launched MySocialApp on Christmas 2017 🎄 as a gift for our impatient clients. We'd started announcing it in September and dropped cold emails to partners and contacts we'd made from the motorcycle industry. 40% of these emails converted to mail exchanges, but just one converted to a sale.
I was annoyed at not being able to demonstrate MySocialApp's potential through e-mail, and I was afraid I'd overestimated the product. So I booked appointments with communication agencies and potential final prospects like mid-cap companies (around 500 employees).
Out of these new contacts, 100% were interested in giving MySocialApp a try.
How did we find prospects? Our premium LinkedIn account was the most effective. LinkedIn's filters allow you to search for people of any position, so it's a really good tool for finding and involving the right contacts. Marketing automation is our new main focus, and we invest in it to maximize sales conversions.
January 2018 revenue factors in 24-month contracts and 12-month contracts
Our comfort zone was staying away from the needs of the market and keeping our heads down in code most of the time. But SaaS businesses don't simply involve writing good code — they're meant to solve real-world problems. You have be close to your clients to provide the best solutions to their problems.
Listening to our customers has helped us improve small details that have been decisive for our sales. So listen to your clients, but don't forget to trust your metrics as well.
What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Our revenue model is based on monthly and yearly subscription plans. It starts from €59/month to €999/month, and there is around 23% off on the annual subscription.
Our costs are around €130 per server. Each server can host approximately three to five clients, and we backup each client's data, adding an extra cost but guaranteeing their data will never be lost in the even of a failure. Our margins are anywhere from 45% to 80%, depending on the plan and how customers overall use the app.
Unlike what is usually done in SaaS, our pricing is not directly per user but based on the type of usage.
- Starter: Up to 5k users (small community)
- Growth: Up to 50k users + 10k API calls/day (medium community)
- Pro: Up to 200k users + 500k API calls/day (extended community + pro usage)
- Enterprise: more than 200k users + unlimited API calls/day + custom features (pro usage)
Subscribers have seven free trial days to test the app. Every step in the onboarding process is automated, from app creation, to payment, to the building and deployment on the Apple and Google stores.
We use Zoho and Stripe to handle payments. Once we receive payment confirmation, MSA proceeds to the app creation. Subscribers can upgrade and downgrade their subscriptions at any time… automation is gold!
A great rule of thumb: Do you have to do any tasks more than twice? Automate them!
Automation allows us to invest the extra free time on tailored customer onboarding. We don't hesitate to contact each client individually. This makes a huge difference in sales conversion.
To make it easier for the customers to decide whether or not to continue using our platform, we allow them to download and create their own "preview version" of MySocialApp right after signing up. This is a really important feature! It takes two hours to publish apps for Android and up to a week for iPhone. Our new clients don't want to wait so long.
You have 5 minutes to convert your customer — use this time wisely!
Most of our customers subscribe to our Growth and Pro yearly plans. We also have two "Enterprise" subscribers, which gives them the ability to add custom features and has no limit on API calls.
Why isn't the starter plan more popular? In fact, clients love to try the starter plan at first, but once they grow they want more stuff like metrics, marketing automation by using webhooks, and access to the API. This is where they upgrade to Growth or Pro.
What are your goals for the future?
One of my favorite stories in tech involves the WhatsApp team, which serves 900M users with only 50 engineers. I have to admit that is something that I personally target — providing and managing apps for clients at a large scale without the need to scale out our team. Is it really possible? I like to think so.
Aside from the above-mentioned product goal, all of us have had the goal of having a steady income stream that would pay our bank loans. I live in the heart of Paris, France, and although it is very expensive it is also pretty amazing in terms of opportunities. Getting to this point has made the extra hours and continued hard work well worth it.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
As a developer, I thought once you had a good product it would sell itself. I was terribly wrong! This is a classic engineer mistake. In fact, we have to spend as much time marketing the product as we did developing it.
Today, I know that a viable product needs to be defined, designed, and sold even before you write a single line of code. This is the best way to save time in advance and deliver only what is truly needed!
Defining our SaaS business model was not as simple as we wanted. "What features will the customer pay for? Out of all the features available, which ones should we explicitly market to our customers? Should we go with a freemium or premium model? Should we provide a trial period? If so, for how long?" All o f these questions need to be asked, and answered. Take your time question every decision you make about your business model, and don't hesitate to change it even if you already have clients. This is how you will adjust and find the best formula.
On the technical side, we had to rewrite a new API version for performance purposes. The problem we had was keeping retrocompatibilty with previous versions. I spent 30 full days rewriting this new version and migrating old data to a new database while preventing any downtime for our customers. I figured that to avoid upsetting our users, I had to make sure that we ran multiple versions, synced data, and maintained the previous version in "read-only" mode.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As I mentioned before, I think my motorbike accident gave me a chance to start MySocialApp. It helped me answer the question of how to make all these years of development profitable. And today I continue draw positive lessons, because our growth increases month by month.
Living and working in the center of Paris (where most of our partners are located) helps us grow faster than if we were living in the Parisian suburbs. I do not know how it works in others countries, but in France most of the head offices are located in Paris.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Tip 1: set your personal objectives
What are your goals? Concerning myself, I have concrete objectives that help me focus on what I am doing and give me the best chance to succeed. This approach also helps my wife to be very supportive of my daily tasks. Trust me, do not underestimate the power of objectives!
Tip 2: play sports
Take care of yourself by practicing sports and outdoor activities. It's important for your mind and creativity. I train three to five times a week, and I also have sporting objectives to achieve. ;) Challenge yourself no matter what…
Tip 3: determination
This completes the first tip. It's easier to be determined when you have specific objectives. I really think this is the difference between success and failure. People who never give up are intent on increasing their chances to succeed. I like to think that one day or another, all of my effort will pay off. Never give up!
Where can we go to learn more?
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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