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Bootstrapping to $1 Million in Two Years as a Non-Technical Founder with Christy Laurence of Plann

Episode #071

When Christy Laurence started designing her mobile app, she knew nothing about building tech products or launching startups. In fact, she didn't even know that fundraising an option. Driven by her optimistic nature and love of learning, she traded web agencies for development time in exchange for her marketing skills to get an app built from scratch, and went on to make impactful connections with dozens of influencers who helped her spread the word. Plann generated over $10,000 in sales in its first week, and today is at an impressive 650,000 downloads with growth showing no signs of stopping.

Show Notes

  • Plann — Instagram planning + scheduling + analytics app for iOS and Android

  1. 10

    I really like the IH podcast in general, but this episode in particular resonated with me. A genuine bootstrapper with no connection to SF/YC/VC money.

    Thanks for the great episode, Courtland. I'd love to see (hear?) more like this in the future!

    1. 3

      I'd love to have more like this! Companies like Christy's aren't easy to find.

      1. 3

        Someone should build a community where people like her can hang out and learn from each other!

      2. 2

        I’ve got a few intros to make for you @csallen!

        Two I can think of right now are Joshua, founder of Wild Zora who bootstrapped a food Ecom business and the Koplins — scientist husband wife team who built Costa Rico guide. Both are doing million+ arr.

        1. 3

          That's awesome! Feel free to make intros whenever :-D I'm [email protected]

      3. 1

        Here are three for you, then:

        Paul House built My Food Data from barely being able to cover rent in Beijing in 2010 to a million uniques and 10k USD a month just from adsense. Then after moving to SF, it scaled much larger, moved to Google DFP and eventually became what it is now.

        David Lancashire taught himself to code in Beijing as an English teacher, made a free annotation tool and database for readings and translations of Chinese phrases, built a profitable language learning site (Popup Chinese, built a two-sided marketplace on the WeChat platform (WeSecretary) and is now building a VC-funded blockchain tech company (Saito).

        John Pasden built AllSetLearning as a quasi-technical manager of tech teams and content producers into a premier provider of both in person Chinese language instruction in Shanghai and published resources.

        None of the three bootstrapped with no connection to SF VC, all three were earning under 1k/month for a time in their 20s and none had technical skills when starting out (though David in particular became a formidable engineer).

  2. 7

    Awesome interview and product. @csallen, I've noticed that a lot of podcast episodes never link to the product. Sometimes it's in the transcript, but that's annoying to dig through and isn't a real link. Can you add a link to the product in the podcast's description? I like to check out the product before listening.

    1. 3

      Hello! You can find out more about Plann at www.plannthat.com

      Thanks for your lovely comments!

    2. 2

      Added a link!

      1. 2

        nice

  3. 5

    This is not only a great startup story but a story of human determination to succeed. I love it!

  4. 5

    Christy is SO nice and "human". I loved this episode.

    1. 2

      Nawwww; thanks Pablo! Confirming I’m a real person hehe 🙃

  5. 3

    Really great episode. Best I've listened to so far. Thanks a lot

  6. 2

    Hey @csallen great interview. How do you record these. She's really crisp!

  7. 2

    Is this revenue number verified some how ?

    1. 1

      The app is ranked in the top 1100 grossing apps of the world if you need anything tangible, would be silly of me to not tell the truth on something so public as this podcast 🙃

  8. 2

    Awesome story! Especially knowing the service is built for the social network which still (what a shame) does not have API for publishing (except the private beta which is still barely available to few)

    1. 1

      Absolutely! They denied my first attempt and now closed applications for BETA partners. Cannot wait until it’s open I’ve had to strip back the product slightly to accomodate.

      However in saying that. There are many bugs in the new API and we get heaps of people coming to us for that reason.

      Fingers crossed they sort themselves out soon!

  9. 2

    Please provide a link to the product or company! Thanks!

  10. 2

    Awesome interview. Even as former software engineer (now MD) I still get intimidated by the technical aspect of building a software product- impressive to see a non-technical founder with so much hustle will her idea into existence.

    1. 1

      Thank you Gerald, it was a very eye opening experience and I take my hat off to you - working in tech is much harder than I ever thought!

  11. 1

    My Main Takeaways:

    • Plann is an Instagram planning, analytics and scheduling tool. Her app got over half a million downloads without any marketing (at the time of this interview). In its first year it was making over a million dollars in annual revenue.

    • Christy used to work in corporate advertising. She was also an illustrator and liked to put her work online, and from this she started to make some money. Her friends noticied, and asked her what she was doing on her Instagram to grow it, so she started consulting.

    • Christy says she came from an entrepreneurial family. When growing up, she stole grapefruit from the neighbours and sold them.

    • Christy didn’t have a tech background. So she drew out a wireframe of her app, and got feedback from overseas developers on UpWork. With this feedback, she managed to build the User Interface of the app herself. She then “Hustled” different agencies around Sydney asking if they could teach her to build the full app, in exchange for her Marketing expertise, and one agency said yes. So she began working for free for that agency, while they built the app for her.

    • If you want your app built, you shouldn’t keep it a secret.

    • Christy is a quick learner, and is very optimistic. She believes she can do anything if she works towards it.

    • Always Be Learning: Christy loves learning. When she had her day job, she’d do night schools in the evening after work. She ended up using a lot of the lessons she learned from these night schools in her business.

    • She knew she would one day have her own business, so she used to take a lot of courses on business, marketing, etc.

    • Focus on the money-making activities of the business. When she started her business, christy would ask herself every morning: “What am I going to do today that’s going to make money?” And she’d focus on that for the day.

    • On Instagram people find you for your image, but stay for the caption.

    • When it comes to making money on Instagram, it’s not about the quantity of followers, it’s about the quality of your followers (engagement).

    • On Instagram, change your mindset from trying to make customers, to trying to make friends.

    • Work hard: Christy would work from 6pm to 2am on her business after working full time from 9am to 5pm to fund it.

    • Influencer marketing: Before launching her app onto the App Store, Christy defined her niche as female creative influencers. She then scanned instagram for influencers that were in this niche, and turned on post notifications for every single one of those influencers, so when the influencer posted, Christy would immediately post an authentic comment on that post. So when Christy finally launched her app on the App Store, she had 100 influencers talk about her product. And she made $10,000 AUD in the first week.

    • In hindsight Christy would not have worked for the agency for free in exchange for them building her app, because the app that they built turned out to be bad. So, she decided to leave the agency 10 months in, and actually PAY people to re-build it since the app had already launched and was profitable, so she had money.

    • Do things that don’t scale: 10 months before launching her app, Christy hustled to grow her email list. She’d put as much effort into talking to an email list of 2 people, as she would if there were hundreds of people in her email list.

    • Use persona’s of your target customer, to tailor marketing copy to speak to them specifically.

    • The marketing is more important than the product, in the beginning.

    • Christy always wanted a business, but didn’t have an idea, so when she finally got the idea for Plann, and succeeded, she was ecstatic.

    • When bootstrapping, seek to make revenue upfront, with upfront purchases.

    • Hire before burning out: Christy didn’t hire soon enough, so she worked so hard that she ended up in an ambulance.

    • Christy does not regret working really hard in the beginning, despite her burning out, because she understood that it was necessary especially in the beginning phases. Now that she’s established, she can relax much more. She still does about 80 hours, but before it was significantly more.

    • Christy hasn’t raised money, but now she’s at the point that Angel investors are offering her money.

    • Christy had an acquisition offer of a couple of million that she considered for a long time but turned it down.

    • Be consistent.

    • Business has never been “smooth sailing”, and it never will be. Christy says “If there’s not 7 fires burning your business, then you’re not close [to a successful business] enough”.

    • Help yourself by helping others.

    • Advice for beginners: Don’t stay silent. Go out there and tell everyone what you want to do, share what you’re working on, so that when you launch, all your supporters will talk about it. Leave your house and enter the world, serendipity will allow you to meet amazing people (Christy met her first mentor at one of her night schools).*

    • Have your revenue sorted out. Ask yourself: Will people pay for your product?

  12. 1

    Good podcast, thanks Allen

  13. 1

    Courtland do you have a self podcast, woudl be very interested in hearing your store

  14. 1

    Super inspiring and I’ll definitely be checking out the app because Instagram is solely how I market to my users, who are all young adults. As a developer, marketing is the weakest of my skills, so I was literally looking for something to help me “get better at IG”, stumbling upon this podcast right when I needed it.

  15. 1

    @Christy @csallen this was such a wonderful episode! I have a feeling I’ll listen to this one more than once. Thank you Christy for sharing your story!

  16. 1

    Wonderful! Is there a link for Ella Varco? Is it spelt right?

    1. 1

      Hey Kirsten, hmm you’re right not quite. Elevacao.org

      1. 1

        Thanks Christy. I loved your story!

  17. 1

    Instantly my favorite episode.

  18. 1

    Great Interview and Christy seem like a great Founder.
    I Wish Courtland Asked her about revenue split between Android and iOS during the interview. Wouldn't that be a good question for App Founders?

    1. 1

      It’s definitely skewed much higher towards iOS!

      1. 1

        Thank you for response. Congrats on your success. I am sure you will do even greater things in future with your Zeal and smarts.

        Is it 70/30 or even higher than that?

        1. 1

          Higher!

          1. 1

            Thank you Christy.

  19. 1

    This comment was deleted 2 years ago.