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.
Plann — Instagram planning + scheduling + analytics app for iOS and Android
What's up, everyone? This is Courtland from IndieHackers. com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show I talk to the founders of profitable Internet businesses, and I try to get a sense of what it's like to be in their shoes.
How did they get to where they are today? How did they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives? And what makes their businesses tick? The goal here, as always, is so that all of us can learn to build our own online businesses.
Today I'm talking to Christy Laurence, the creator of an online software business called Plann. Christy, Welcome to the Indie Hackers podcast and thank you so much for joining me.
No problems. Great to be here.
Great to be here interviewing you as well. You are full of energy. It's like 8:30am there in Sydney. I am approaching the end of the day here in San Francisco.
I'm one of those really annoying people that wakes up at stupid o’clock to start work.
You're going to have to keep me awake. So let's talk about Plann. I actually didn't know very much about your business at all, until I sat down to prepare for this interview.
I won't judge you.
Okay, great. Somehow you've flown completely under my radar. I think probably because I'm barely on Instagram at all. But after looking at what you've done, I think everything you're doing and what you've achieved is amazing.
Tell us a little bit about Plann. What is it? Why do people use it? And how was it that you ended up building this business?
I'm going to go reverse order on those questions. So the reason that I built it was that I was working in corporate advertising, I am an illustrator. I’d love to come home and I would illustrate at night. I started to put my work on Instagram, and I started to make a little bit of money.
I was like ooh, there’s something here. My friends would ask me, what are you doing? I had started Consulting, that started to take over my life a little bit. Then I actually got the flu,and the flu virus went into my brain and it destroyed my vestibular function so I lost the use of my balance and I couldn't see. My entire mobility was pretty much gone for a year.
So yeah, it was pretty horrible. I fell down a flight of stairs and cracked my kneecaps and that was when I was like, okay Christy, you’re probably going to have to be at home and look after yourself now.
I was always one of those high achievers. So I continue to just be at home and paint and draw to get me through being immobile and the depression that comes with that. So I put my work on Instagram, and then I was like, I can subsidize the income that I'm now losing. I started making even more money doing that than from my other job.
Again, my friends would say, what are you doing? How are you doing it? For me, it felt it was obvious, because Instagram is a storytelling technique. It's not about putting your work out into the world and saying, hey buy my stuff. It's a really beautiful visual way of really communicating with other people about your story.
You take them on this journey where you inspire and educate, and people just couldn't grasp it. So I wanted to be able to teach people that, and the best way to scale my time was to build an app. I sat on the floor and I wireframed it up and I was like, you know what, I'm going to make it.
I want to ask you about that entire story and walk us through that in slow motion but can you give us a sense, just for some context, of how successful Plann is today in terms of revenue, and customers and what does it do exactly?
Okay cool. So what Plann is, it's an Instagram planning, scheduling and analytics tool. It teaches people how to generate leads to make money and build successful businesses using Instagram.
That's really it in a nutshell. It's really beautiful design, really simple but it's really a more intuitive teaching way. So organically, without any marketing spend we got over half a million downloads. And I've just started to put some spend into it so it’s growing really really fast now. So it like 650,000 downloads in 120 countries.
I was profitable within its first year, making over a million in annual revenue. Now we're underway building and about to launch our web app. So that instead of it being so B2C focused it now becomes more B2B and Enterprise.
What I'm trying to do is is grow with our users, so as their businesses grows and they need more team members and more features, I can offer that to them on desktop.
So this is a mobile app that you've built that people are paying for and you reached a million dollars in revenue in your first year?
And you guys haven't raised any money at all from investors. Is that right?
The cap table looks like, Christy, 100% ordinary shares.
This is why I was shocked that I hadn't heard anything about your business. Then I started reading about it and I'm like, whoa. Holy shit, where did this come from?
I've been flying under the radar, a lot of like heads down. Just work.
So I want to talk to you for a minute about yourself. I don't know exactly what kind of person is capable of starting a tech business from scratch, and bootstrapping it to millions of dollars in revenue in just a few years. What did you know about entrepreneurship and tech and code before you started?
I came from an entrepreneurial family. So I was that girl that stole grapefruit from the neighbors and sold them around the block. I was always doing that type of thing. I was super nerdy.
So I knew how to build WordPress websites and things but I didn't really have any tech background. I didn't know what on Earth was I doing.
So what I did is, I had worked in marketing and digital agencies. So I understood the concept of wireframing. So I drew out my wire frames and thought okay, so how do I actually get this built? I have no idea.
I don't have any friends and I actually don't know anyone who's built an app before so you jump online to do a bit of reading. I watched YouTube until my eyes popped out of my head. The first thing I really learned was you cannot keep your idea a secret.
The more people you tell, the more help that you're going to get. If it's a good idea, you just have to suck it up, that it's going to get stolen. It's all about the execution. So that was kind of the first piece of acceptance for me.
I jumped on Upwork and threw out these wireframes to these overseas app developers. I said what do you think? How much would this take for you to make and how much would it cost me? Because I don't know anything.
I thought it was like $5,000 and didn’t know anything. They'd come back and be like, hey Christy. It's missing X, Y, and Z. I'd be like, perfect, that's my next iteration. Then I've iterated and sent it back and then send it out to some new people.
By the time I had a product that I could actually get a quote from, I was in a pretty good space. I've been able to, in the meantime, teach myself UI UX and create the app myself. Then because I’m in Sydney and I hustled around a whole bunch of Sydney web and app agencies and said look, I have this great background in marketing.
How about if I do your marketing and your clients marketing. You teach me how to build an app and also coach me on how to become a CTO. I hustled a bit and one person said, yes. So that was how I built my MVP.
Yeah, that's nuts. I think most people that don't know how to code, who've never started a tech business before, don't exactly feel confident about just taking the plunge and saying, I'm going to get it done however I can.
I'm going to scrap, and I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to trade people favors for help. How did you get that confidence? Why did you think this is something that you could do?
I'm just wildly optimistic, I have a lot of trust in my ability and I understand that I am a quick learner. I learn fast, and I can learn and adapt very quickly. So I was very comfortable and my skill set, that whatever I put my mind to I'm able to do it. I played elite sports as a child.
I’ve always been highly career-driven, and I was always really disciplined in my approach. I felt confident my ability that I was going to to do it.
Wildly optimistic! I wonder how much your previous entrepreneurship experience plays into things. You mentioned that before you started Plann, before you did any of this you were an illustrator.
So I had a webcomic for a while, and taught myself how to run and manage a website. When I was working my day job, I seriously love learning so, I’d teach myself SEO. I did night schools when I came home on anything that I could. I just love learning.
So I knew that one day I was going to have my own business. I knew it. So I went and did all these online courses. I probably did like 10 Instagram courses. But just because I wanted to see if everyone else knew what I knew.
Then with SEO is like well, the best way to drive organic traffic for free is SEO so now we get over a million page views to our website a month from my knowledge from learning while still working. So it's all kind of pieced together.
That's awesome, because they don't often talk to people who go out of their way to specifically take courses, and sit down and say I'm going to learn this particular skill.
I'm going to learn that particular skill. Usually it's more organic. They learn it indirectly from a job they have, or they just throw caution to the wind and get started and learn it as they go.
So like SEO then came with SEO copywriting, and then there's a whole big pieces.
Then you learn how to optimize, and then you learn how to keep people, and reduce bounce rates. You just keep learning, and you realize Pandora's Box is open. There's just so much that you didn't know.
How do you balance learning and actually doing things in the early days? Because I know it can be frustrating to spend a lot of time learning, but your app isn't really getting anywhere.
Spend a lot of time building, but you really don’t know what you're doing. So it's time to learn. How did you balance those two things?
I mean, it was really, What do I need to know right now? And then everything else was just push away. So it's really that just for me, it was coming down to discipline. Because you can like literally startup, you can work all day and not be working on the right thing.
So for me, it's you know, what what do I need to do today? And for me personally and my bootstrap business, I would have to get up and say to myself Kristi, what are you going to do today that's going to make money? And then I would only focus on that, and everything else just got pushed.
Okay, so let's talk first about your illustrator business on Instagram. You're selling art on Instagram. How does one do that? How do you get followers? how to get people to buy? What was the process like there?
Oh gosh. Well, it's about being human. People know that on Instagram you're communicating with other humans, and your talent teaching people. So for me, for example, there's a bunch of different things that I understood worked well, so being vulnerable, educating, being inspirational ,and then you know saying this is available.
So the way that that. Illustrating be like, hey, I'm experimenting with watercolor and this and that. Here's where I want to make this, and then you tell people about the journey or the tools you use. And make jokes like I'm a bit of crazy. So people, you know, they find you based on the image, but they stay for the captions.
So you really have to inject some personality. Got a billion people you're competing with while you're telling the story, and that's again why I made Plann. Because you can just, it's got a strategy tool where you can actually create the things you want to talk about.
So, you know what you need to post next fall to create that whole well-rounded story. And I think that's why we've won four product Awards in the last year for that particular Unique Piece.
What was the story like here? Like, how did you go from being an illustrator who has zero followers on Instagram to getting your first follower, to getting your first hundred followers, to getting I don't know. How big did your Instagram account get?
Just like a couple of thousand. But I mean the thing with Instagram is that you don't need to have 20 to 30,000 followers or more to be able to make money.
It was understanding that the better your engagement rate is, and the more people that that feel you as an influence and their life or when they're wanting to buy or so. I kind of specialize in fashion illustration and it's very specific.
I have a very specific line-drawing, minimalistic look. And people that were drawn to that, were drawn to that. I didn't you know do an elephant, and then a wine bottle. It was always very, it was the same thing.
So people knew what to expect when I was consistently posting. Showing behind the scenes, and then showing about how that that kind of al merged together to build wires building this account.
And you just organically grow friends from doing that. I think the biggest thing for me to teach people about Instagram is that being social on social media is so important. And if you can change your mindset to I need customers to I need to make friends, i'll change the whole way that you interact with people.
One thing you mentioned earlier is that you realized that telling stories, connecting people, and having these themes around being vulnerable and educational. It's really important for selling on Instagram.
And I bet you a lot of people are trying to sell an Instagram trying to grow their followers there, and they don't think this way. How did you learn this stuff? And what is it about you that it allowed you to be so successful here others were not?
I think that for me personally, I'm a very visual person. Instagram, your follow button, if someone's going to have a look at your Instagram gallery, that follow button is right at the top of your gallery. So someone comes in they might scroll through your feed, one or two swipes.
They need to see, within those like two seconds what you're about and what you do. If you haven't been to articulate that there and match your bio, they're not going to follow you. Therefore not become part of your lead generation funnel.
Yeah, but you very few people on Instagram are thinking this way.
Exactly. So the way that my mind works is quite analytical, very marketing structured, very strategy focused, but I'm also highly creative. So I was able to kind of put the two together very easily. It came very natural to me.
And what was your life like at the time? Were you working? Were you at home without a job? Was this a hundred percent of what your focus is on, or were you doing this on the side?
So what I was doing. I had the idea when I was still in corporate, and when I left that to focus on my health, I was Consulting. I was doing SEO blog writing and Consulting, and building websites and just some illustrations for Red Bull. Like I was just doing anything I could to survive and then one day.
Well the idea for Plann the app was kind of just floating around in my head, and it just kept waking me up at night. And I remember having this Epiphany one day. I was walking around like buying a wine decanter in a shop. It was very random, and I was like Christy. You've always wanted a product. You've always wanted to build something that wasn't service orientated. Here's your idea, go.
If it's going to get made like this is a good idea, why can't that be you? And that was the day I was like, I'm all in I'm gone. And at the time yeah, I was at home full time. And then that's when I started hustling to get somebody I would work for so that they would build the app.
So then I would have to work full-time hours, and then go home and teach myself how to build an app and Market it. And do all my website stuff at night. So those hours between you know, 6 and 2 a. m. became very important.
You’ve got a ton of options at the beginning of when you start any business. You've got to build the product. You've got to find customers. You might want to find a co-founder, teammates.
You might want to validate the idea to make sure it's good. Might want to raise funding. There is a million things you can do. How did you decide with the first steps were going to be for you right after you decided to work on this app?
The funny thing is because I had no experience. I don't know that investment was even a thing.
I had no idea. So I was just like I'm just going to build this app. And in my head, I'm like, okay. This is like running a business type thing. So I didn't even know that investment existed.
So I naturally ask my friends. Hey, what do you think of this idea and when they said yeah, it's cool. I would ask. Would you buy it? Now in retrofit, I know that I was doing user testing and product Market fit. Now there's a name for it, great. Then after I had kind of started to build the product with the tech team, I started to then move that process to online and build friends. And like I said before, being social and social media would quickly spread online what I was working on.
Then I decided to niche down in two female creative entrepreneurs, because I felt like they were the ones that would relate to me the best. And I could help them the most right now.
So I found out who they related to, which now is obviously influencer marketing, and I would turn on post notifications of maybe a hundred different influences. Mostly in the US, because I knew that whatever influences in the US did, it would then filter through other countries.
And then whenever these people posted, I would, no matter what time of the day or night. I would be awake messaging them. Itt wouldn't be like oh, this is great bicep Emoji. It was a real conversation that would make friends.
So the day that I launched the app and the App Store. I had a hundred influences talk about my product. And that first week I made $10,000 and it was enough for me to then fund my next month.
Wow That's crazy. I want to walk through all the steps. Because every one of those steps, I think there's something, really insightful that you did, that a lot of people might not understand how to do and want to hear more about. Step number one.
You got a tech team to help you build this product. You didn't have any funding. You didn't have any skills to actually code the product yourself. How did you go about getting a team to help you build your mobile app from scratch?
Well, if this it's obviously understanding how an edge build ,and what language it is. Because you need to understand all of the pieces of your business.
So tech learning was huge. I had been working for free at a web and app page agency. So these people had been building it and I'd been getting their help. But obviously because I didn't really know, I then asked a third party person to start reading the code and just make sure that everything was okay. And it was someone that I trusted, that I paid on the side to just check in and that's how I manage that side.
Okay, so I'm trying to get a clear picture of this. You're working for free for this agency. They've got programmers. You’re drawing up wireframes. The programmers are, I guess spending some percentage of their free time to build this for you. Then you're having other people check over there code to make sure that it's okay. Is that correct?
That's that's exactly right.
And how long did it take them before they actually have built something that was functional, that you were proud of, that worked?
I was never proud of it. The first MVP was horrible. Anyway, every startup found that, if they don't say that. They launched too late. So after about 10 months and this third party, which I'm very pleased that I'd made that decision. Looked at it and said Christy, they've got four different people working on it. It's really not working that well, you're actually going to have to rebuild this.
And so I had to go into work and say, Hmm this isn't working. And I had to leave that position, and remove these people from bitbucket and all the code. And then this was after it had been launched, so I had paying customers, and then walk away. and then hustle as hard as I could for the next month.
While I was doing all the customer support, people complaining about bugs and I just have to be like, yeah, we're working on it. And then the background, like the swan, like trying to float gracefully. And underneath the waters is piddling like crazy. Trying to find a Dev team to pick it up. Rebuild the app and relaunch it under the guise of an update on the App Store couple of months later.
And this Dev team, I take it you actually paid money because you're a person earning revenue by this point.
Okay, so that's that's stressful.
It is, oh my God. It was the most stressful thing I've ever done
Would you say it's worth it to have gone that free route, even though you had to replace the app eventually? Or do you think if you could have done it over again, you would have tried it differently?
I don't know. I think I would do that in hindsight. There are many things I would have done differently. I probably would have paid for it rather than work for free. Then I would have had more control over it rather than going, we'll get to it when we can. And I would have had real timelines rather than the bits and pieces.
I think it would have been cleaner. And then like a bartering system, I know it can work. But I mean if it goes on for 10 months, it can feel a bit like it's not working out. So if I did that again, I'd probably do it in a different way. For me, like I said, bootstrapping was the only option. I'm a female, solo founder with no tech experience.
I've never been in a start-up before. I had no connections in the industry. And offshore Dev team by this point. Investment for me wasn't really an option. So I just and I had already got that $10,000 in my first week.
So I thought you know what, if I just put my head down and I can get my product in front of more people, and really help them find success, on Instagram. Then I'm going to be okay. So I just kept going.
All right. So you got the app built. It's pretty shoddy. You're not that proud of it. It took 10 months, but you spent zero dollars. You got it built.
You said the second step was that you moved online, and that people heard about what you're doing and word spread. This is before we even move even launched. Its before you decided to pick a niche. How did you get word to spread about your app? And what exactly does that look like?
So one of the things inside my app, there's a workspace where you can drag and drop images so that you have a better control over that storytelling technique. And if you are in UI UX, you would have told me do not put your logo in the space because it's just taking up room.
But the more you know about the people, your people the more money you'll make. And that's something that I really really I say a lot to people. So for example, I decided to put my logo front and center in the workspace . Because social media comes with a bit of anxiety. And people get a bit worried. Does this look good?
What do you think about this have I got the right filter? So what they would do is they would use the app, and then they would take a screenshot and those send it to their friends, or their post it in Facebook groups a 80,000 people in it. So they were doing the work for me.
That's how it started to spread. Then because the product was working, and well I'm now proud of the product, people would talk about it. And as for example, I was in LA doing a workshop on how to take good photos of brunch when someone came up to me and told me about my own app.
So, I know, yeah, it was amazing.
Hey Christy, have you tried Plann?
Yeah, pretty much. Hey, I've heard of this app that you can do like this drag-and-drop thing. It's called Plann. If you heard of it, I was like tell me more. What's your favorite feature? This is all knew that it was it was all organic.
This was after your launch right?
What about what about before you launch? How did you get that ten thousand dollars in your first week. I really want to understand the process that you used.
Because a lot of founders are nervous about their launch, and a lot of founders have no idea how to get the word out about what they built before they actually launched it. It seems like you had an entire pre-launch game plan that was going on, that involved influencers, and picking a niche.
That's exactly what was happening. So, I mean this it was a 10 month. I had ten months while this app was being built to focus on a pre-launch. So I was blogging I was doing you know, all the things that don't scale. So to scale you're going to do things that don't scale and it is so true.
So building that community, that was hand-to-hand combat for months. Like ten months. I was writing email newsletter. Helping people understand more about Instagram. Talking about the algorithm and then that email would get forwarded on. So a lot of people come to me and they're like, oh, you know, I've only got ten people on you my email list. Why should I why should I keep going?
I'm like, well, I started with like two, and I still sent out an email as if I was talking to a hundred. And then it just grew. And people would forward those emails. You don't know what where those emails are going. If you're providing value to people you can spread anywhere.
Give me an example of an email that you would send to people in these early days while the developer team is still building your app on the side?
Quirky comments to make. Like for example how to respond to people on Instagram to get a high engagement rate.
Or what's the best performing color palette for your niche versus your competitors, or how to know what's working. Just really really detailed, very actionable insights into how the platform works. Which now we've turned into a blog. We post three of those a week.
Yeah super smart because that the tips that you're sharing are perfectly aligned with the audience that would benefit from using a product like Plann. So you're building an audience that’s actually going to want to become your future customers as opposed to they may or may not, like it's exactly what they need.
Yeah, so you have to really understand your person. So a marketing background definitely helps with building out customer personas. So I had three customer personas that I built out and had them on the wall.
If I was writing an Instagram post, I'd be like hmmm and I look at one of them called Kate. I’d be like, what would Kate think about this post? Would Kate want to know about this? That's how I would write all of my posts on Instagram.
Yeah, tell us a little bit more about these customer personas because I imagine a lot of people have never heard of them and don't know how to use them or why you had Kate, and who else?
I can't remember their names exactly because they change so much. There’s a Kate, Sophia. So for example, so Sophia was a stay-at-home mum that built one of her side business and she was selling homemade crafts on Etsy and her husband could have been away or he worked really long hours which gave her the extra time to focus on her business.
So we would appeal to the human side of her and Kate might have been a social media marketer who worked but for herself and would manage up to five to seven different Instagram accounts for other people.
So really understanding who was going to be using the tool and why that would be helpful for them and then tailoring content to suit their needs and to teach them was just a huge focus of every channel.
That's so effective and it's so smart to do that because it's so easy as a founder to just assume that people will be interested in the things that you write.
People will like the features that you build but unless you put a lot of deep thought and to who your customers are what their lives are like what they care about what they ignore. Then chances are that you'll be slightly off the mark.
So I just goes to show how helpful it was for you also to have a marketing background and to really know this stuff before you even start.
Yes, I think so. If I could give any advice to those that don't have a marketing background looking at doing personas. If you have a think about what you're building and the problem that you're solving and then go further and go, who am I solving this for?
A lot of people say I'm solving it for people like me, which is a fairly common thing as a founder. So why can't you then pull apart yourself as a person and you can create yourself as the first persona.
One of the things you said you had is that by the time you launch you had 100 influencers. Talk about your product and week number one. How big was your email list by that time?
It was tiny.I think I sent like one email and I had no time after that because I was so heads down with customer support. I don't think I sent another email for six months.
Wow. How many people were on your email list by the time that you launched you?
A couple of thousand, it wasn't many. It was mostly word of mouth and then Facebook. That first week, I was really overwhelmed because I've been working so hard and it was finally out and then you realize that it's just beginning.
Yeah, you realize that the app that you built actually needs to be rebuilt from the ground up
That too yeah, so it was really scary and then it just spread through Facebook groups. I'd taught myself ASO so that’s App Store Optimization. So I understood the concept of creative testing.
How to do descriptions so that I was working on that behind the scenes so I was optimizing. Basically I'm a growth marketer if you put it down to it. So I would be doing all of the testing and all of the optimizing of the top of funnel and then the product funnel and then now I have a churn funnel as well to then optimize every single piece of all the different platforms to make sure they're all being tested. So I'd probably run like 15 to 20 test at any time.
Wow, and you're doing this right from the beginning or is this something you started doing recently?
Right from the beginning, that's my background. So I specialize in marketing the specialization I did was called direct response. So it's about action now and how to drive action now and then take that message, keep optimizing it and then use creative to optimize it again and you just rinse & repeat.
So you're never this always things are always changing like for example on my website. We have the download buttons some days some one week. We have the bright green one make me make the orange one hand. We have the word free and then they change sizes. So it's it's just continually optimizing to make sure we have the best piece of creative running at any time.
What's really cool about this whole story so far is that most of the people I talk to are developers and that's usually seen as an advantage because it's like you can build your own app and you know how to pay for it but in a way because you weren't a developer you had to create it.
And you had to outsource that part of your business for free which gave you all this free time to do all the marketing work that developers take typically tend to ignore. So I think it's really cool to see you do.
They do ignore it. I know it's really funny, but it's just about getting out there and telling your story and getting to iterate how you talk about it.
So when people do their first email funnel, so I'm at a point now where I now mentor on three startups like programs accelerator programs here in Australia, and then I've got a couple of San Francisco startups that I actually write their copy and their sales or so then come to me and say here is my.
My email funnel and that get really upset when someone would respond and say no thanks or it will give feedback and like no no, this is brilliant because this tells you can iterate an optimize it and keep going.
So then when you get down to like maybe the 7th or 8th version of the email series one of them has like a 78% open rate and a 60% response rate and they're like, how did you do this? I'm like, well you did it. I just helped you craft the test.
Which of these two things do you think was more effective? Like if you had to only choose to do one of them building a product that really targeted a specific customer and help them with their problems or doing all sort of the growth marketing techniques and tests and experiments that you were running.
Well to be honest if I if I hadn't have done the marketing and they would never found a product to know it was any good and then when they came into the product, like I said, I was embarrassed of it. So I was iterating there as fast as I could so I would probably say the marketing is more important than the product at the very beginning.
You know, I don't know what other answer I could have expected from a growth marketer.
So let's talk about the time period after you launched Plann, what was the first thing that you you did after your app launched you saw that you're going to make $10,000 a week?
I opened a bottle of champagne and I sprayed it everywhere.
That's life-changing stuff. That's huge.
Oh, I was just like I've spent a year. So, you know the idea I've had for five months and that took 10 months to build and then what I launched it, I knew that it needed to be rebuilt.
So I was like, you know what I'm going to celebrate this milestone. I got it out. I know I'm one of the two million people with an app in the app store and I just opened a bottle of champagne.
I went crazy and then I just went heads down again because I think I'm one of those people that climb the mountain. You’re always looking for the next one and sometimes I have to actually really force myself to stop and look backwards.
What was motivating you at this point where you're like, I want to be a millionaire and I'm not stopping till this app is huge or you know, what was keeping the fire going.
No the fire for me was I'd always wanted my own business, but I never had my idea and I finally had it after like 10 years or just wanting one so bad. I never wanted to go back to an office.
I wanted to choose what time of the day I swim in the ocean. So I'm a big swimmer and I love being in the ocean and I’d look out the window on a beautiful day at when I was at work and be like, oh, I wish I was at the beach. I wanted to choose.
You want that freedom.
Yeah, it's mostly freedom and opening a bottle of wine when I wanted and I'm taking the team to Bali next week, and we're going to go and work from Bali for a week and you just need a laptop and Wi-Fi.
So it was just that lifestyle of freedom. So it was never really about the millions and millions of dollars. It was about, you know, being successful and having a successful business, but really enjoying it.
And yet here you are today making millions of millions of dollars. How does a business model look like? What does it mean when you say you made $10,000 in the first week is this people, you know, making a one-off purchase.
Yes. I when I first started the first six months were a one-off purchase because I needed the cash up front. Like I said, like bootstrapped I needed the revenue as quickly as possible.
And if you are going to choose a bootstrap route, you need to know how your business is going to make revenue straight away. So you I think one of the best things that you'll have to do is understand what your revenue model will be before you launch.
So my first six months was that one off purchase and then I moved to SaaS model which is a monthly subscription and depending on the needs of the person. There's a couple of different plans. And so I launched Seth model where you could then bring in team members to help you share the load with your Instagram.
So as I said before like as your as our team or as our users are growing then I wanted to give them the options that we would grow with them. And so from launching access to tall of months later, we had a million era.
I want to hear about that transition from hey, just pay once and the app is yours to hey, you got to keep paying us every month. Did that go over? Well with users and how much are they paying before and how much are they paying after.
when I first launched was like $10? And then it was like hey instead of loving me once you have to love me every month and I grandfathered in I grandfathered in everyone that had already done the one-off purchase because they were really important and I think especially when people are trying to raise or in Silicon Valley from the experience I have with working with startups there.
They're really engrossed and how much money they can make immediately to get money traction quite quickly, but for me, I saw more value in them in those people being early adapters, so I just Grand. That all the people in that had bought the app as a one-off purchase and send them all a message and said, thank you.
Please help me share the word your grandfather didn't forever. Please send me your feedback like a very personal message to all of them. And then when I relaunched as the assess the people finding my website, they didn't know it was a one-off purchased before I had no idea.
They didn't have to know.
No, so I mean I've done some messaging through my email list. And so I got as many people to pay up front as possible before I switched but it was pretty hard to go from making that much money a month to them, you know thousand dollars a month because now everyone was only paying three dollars.
Then Apple take their cut so it took a while to kind of build up again and then it just took off which is amazing and just like 25% growth. Every single month hasn't stopped yet.
That's absolutely huge. Let's talk about your team. You mentioned you've got a team now. You're going to Bali. Hmm. At what point? Did you make your first hire?
So it was me and a dev team for probably a year and a half and I started to suffer from burnout pretty badly. And there was one time that I mean, this is the part of being a non-technical founder.
You don't really understand some of the complexities. You just think that the developer does all the developing things and whip and I worked myself into an ambulance. It was time to get hired. So I put out virtual assistant calls and obviously I don't have great amounts of cash.
So what I would do is I would hire someone to build out the blog post and just wipe the right the skeleton frame. So it basically gave me back some of my time. So most of them were virtual assistance for blog writing for admin assistant and. It was really it to start with I don't really have any ideas for like two years
It seems like we just skipped over a whole story there. You work yourself into an ambulance.
So the app was doing really well. I just moved it to Seth product and it's starting to really build and I think I had like maybe 10,000 people a day in the app by this point and I'm my developers had accidentally hard-coded the IP address. Into the app, so when Amazon servers went down in March last year and then they reset themselves the IP address no longer matched.
So here I have this 10,000 people every day open the app and they just got a black screen. So here they are all these people that I'd been training you need to use this at every day. It's going to help you grow your Instagram suddenly not available. So we got it fixed as quickly as possible.
It cost me $5,000 to then find an Amazon specialist to redo my architecture and then push it through Apple the Apple Store and their review process. So this is a week right of black screen of death really really hard lesson to learn about being a non-technical founder and needing help.
And what had happened is all these people were now like we can't use the app. So the reputational damage where people because it's a social product would jump on social media be like I hate this app, it just broke and really bag it out like that was heartbreaking and then I got seven thousand emails within a couple of days saying what's wrong it's all broken. And like I said, it was just me.
It was just me at the time and I was actually a way for a wedding. So it just completely overwhelmed and I was like, oh my God everything I've just worked for is down the drain. I quit. This is horrible. How do I come back from this? Then I started having these horrendous panic attacks and someone thought I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance
you literally work yourself into an ambulance, but that's a tough situation that deal. I talked to people who get bent out of shape because they get two bad comments online. They don't have an entire business down for a week with thousands of emails. How do you how do you psychologically bounce back from that?
It took me awhile. I'll be honest. So I went I was staying with my little sister and she took me to a Justin Bieber concert.
so just take it take you out of the day-to-day and my husband would come home from work and he I couldn't physically I couldn't handle opening the support inbox. So he and the va's would jump in and they would they thought of that might involve. So when I'm I was mentally ready to come back which took like two weeks. Everything was clean. I didn't have to deal with most of that. So I was very very lucky that I have a supportive partner.
You know, there are I think two schools of thought that I see around working a lot on your business and most people, you know sort of traditionally believe you have to work all day every day in order to succeed because the startup is just that hard and then there's I think an increasing number of people who say the opposite that working hard is not only unnecessary, but that it's counterproductive. What do you think about this based on your experiences with Plann? You have to work as hard as you were.
Yes, I did. It does. No, I didn't really have another option at the time. And I didn't I wanted to pour everything I had into it because I knew how many startups fail there's such as the high 90s. This is how many fail and even after launch like you never really in the clear.
So I feel I felt to me like I'm going to give this everything. I've got to make it a successful as possible and then I probably got a bit obsessive and a bit manic. Had I not have done that then I wouldn't be where I am. Now where I'm able to create that balance and that lifestyle now. So now I go roller skating. I swim all the time I illustrate again. So those first two and a half three years of you know, really getting it out. I don't think I would have changed it.
What's different now because I know a lot of founders who were two or three years in their business and they're very successful and they're still working 80 hours a week.
Yeah. I mean, I think I'd say I still do 80, but I'm not doing 16 hours 7 days a week. I was literally working that much.
Yeah, that's an insane workload. I think one of the things that's interesting that you've talked about is how much Plann was growing in the early days and I assume still is you're getting thousands of downloads a week here. Why were people downloading it.
we're acquiring just over 15 thousand a week at the moment.
Wow. Yeah, that's that's that's just an insane amount of growth. Why do people like Plann so much? Why aren't people using your competitors?
I mean there was this some of the traditional Instagram marketing tools that really clunky they don't I didn't feel and the reason that I built this because I had to look at them when I went. Yeah, these are these are horrible. I hope they're not listening.
They're just clunky and old and they were not. I would've and I just felt none of them understood the platform and I think as soon as you open Plann, and and you get the sense of what it's about and what. Trying to becomes very clear the differentiator like this.
For example, I saw so many people posting pictures of cocktails late at night in a bar on the Instagram feed and I just slapped my forehead and let what are you doing those photos never work? And I just wanted to be able to find a way to teach someone this type of photo does not work.
Please stop posting it. So I created this feature inside Plann where it tells you your best performing color palettes. So it tells you you're in base. Your engagement rate your likes or your comments that you're getting on this photos combined over like the last 12 pitches. What were the best color palettes that you used and I guarantee 99% of the time that color palette will not be dark brown or orange.
So it shows people even these used to Bright lighter colors or maybe the muted colors and then you can then search your competitors and see what colors are you using? And then we try and teach people. So inside that you get a message and says try not to search for your competitors find people that share your target audience and your peers so then your mind is open to the possibility and with those such Advanced analytics. You can just optimizing grow so much faster.
Yeah, that's it's cool to hear because I think a lot of people are afraid to enter. A market where there are already competitors. They say I've got an idea.
They look out into the world to see someone's already doing that and they say, oh, it's too late for me. I've got to go work on something else. What gave you the confidence and the launch Plann? And how do you think about the competition nowadays? It's still just about the competitors sucking or do you feel like people are copying what you're doing you need to defend.
Yeah that they did copy me now like some of them even sign up with their work email address to my email list, and I'm like, no really and then when I came out like I know I'm on their radar but I just this still like 1 billion people on Instagram the markets so big and none of them were doing it properly and I still don't feel that they venerated correctly. It just gives me more motivation to keep going.
What about funding you mentioned that when you first started you don't know anything about the tech industry. You don't know anything about Catalyst. And so you fell you happy at this point.
You got editors trying to copy you you've got 15,000 people joining a week. I'm sure there's a million things on your to-do list or still working 80 hours a week. Have you considered raising money or are you going to keep bootstrapping
I'm like I have I have considered it. So I've got people now, so I wanted to learn what pitching was like and as a founder or something, like I said, I love learning so I put myself. Not school for a cut is a organization in Australia called Ella Varco and it's for female their Tech businesses with mentors that teach you how to pitch and really understand what that process is about and I was in the top three of my cohort and then got to pitch to a couple of like them.
Tthey gave me some really great feedback and that was kind of my open my eyes and to what venture capitalist would look like. So I started to meet with a few and I did pitching in real life and I got a few offers but the more I thought about it and how fast Plann has grown was like do I really need this do I really need this?
And then I kind of put it on the back but back burner again. I just kept building. I moved to San Francisco for like between last year. I was living over there for six months. And then came back and the growth was still happening. So I'm at a point. Now where angels are reaching out and offering money, and I'm. Working out whether or not that's my next move because to be honest.
It's the apps profitable and now it's funding a web app launch. So once that's up, I'm just like well do I need it's just it depends on what you want is a Founder because for me personally like that freedom like had I had got investment and said, I'm going to take my team to Bali. I doubt that that would have been a good idea.
So I think another offer that you've gotten besides his fundraising is an offer to acquire Plann and you turned it down. What's the story there?
I did and so when I was living in San Francisco, I had a company approached me for an acquisition and we had a chat over a few months and I just felt like I hadn't I hadn't finished.
Like I think it might sound crazy because a lot of people say you need to sell when it's the right time meaning just before it hits that curve. I felt like I really I put so much work in and I'd sacrifice so much and I'd been so unwell, and here was everything just coming and coming to fruition that if I gave it up I'd be always thinking what if and the web app was you know, half built at the time and I just felt like I wasn't ready and obviously it wasn't enough money for me to give up all of those dreams.
How much money was it? Can you share?
No, but t was a couple of million, more than that. It just wasn't wasn't right.
How do you what goes into making a decision like that? I mean, I assume it's more than just got feeling. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about it was like an instant rejection.
I spent months months and months when the talking like talking through with friends advisors family. Just talking through what it would look like and try to visualize.
What would my life would look like had I had been acquired and what my life would look like in this other person's company and in their culture instead of the culture I had built in my team and was that an environment for me that would work.
Well it was obviously the money. They like a having a found a bit with a sale under your belt would be a great achievement. But at what price to me wanting to see out my vision? So I just decided to halt we still keep in touch. It's not as I was a straight. No, but just not right now.
right? So I think one of the coolest parts of your story is that this is really you doing all of this as a first-time tech founder. Do you ever feel like that's a disadvantage and if so, how do you compensate for coming into this with no real experience at all?
Well, I compensate by being wildly optimistic. Obviously, I think one of the benefits to it is that I'm I don't have preconceived ideas. I don't have knows. I'm just like this is what I want to do.
And I'm going to do it. I don't have I don't have any experience to go on that like this this type of company did that and I didn't work or like I just don't have any of those roadblocks in my mind, so I'm able to just keep pushing.
Do you ever feel like there are things that you know, you maybe learned later than other more experienced founders learn and that's a disadvantage or things that you don't know that you feel a little impostor syndrome over.
I'm definitely like when I'm asked to speak about being a tech founder. I'm like, there's so many people that know more about the tech but then I'm like, you know what I've learned so much and I've got to where I am that I am able to have the confidence that I do know what I'm talking about.
And when I talk to other people that we know as and Silicon Valley and working in living out of there the people that I'd meet. Would be able to actually hold proper conversations and give them ideas and hold my own and I was like, you know, I do know what I'm talking about.
So it gave me being around peers gave me because I was at home on my yoga pants for a lot of the time gave me the confidence that I really did know what I was talking about. I had learnt that much.
Yeah, it's crazy when you're working by yourself. You don't really it's hard to Benchmark yourself against other people and it's always it always seems like they know more because you're looking at the Internet.
We're of course, everyone's got the answers to everything our expect. Yeah, but do you actually talk to people in person? Yeah, it's not so bad. I'm not you know, I'm right there with them.
Well sometimes yeah, sometimes it's scary thing can be that a business can only grow as fast as the founder can and so I did feel like it had if I did this again this so much I would have done so much faster and I wouldn't have to have researched.
You know, how much something like Intercom might cost a bit where I wouldn't need to go. Okay, and the analytic stack. What on Earth is that and what? What goes in there?
Like I just would know what products to use now, so it's those types of things. Yes. I did have a disadvantage, but I got to learn from complete scratch and now I get to mentor other people so I don't know.
what are some of those things because I'm sure a lot of founders listen again. Would love to know what they're missing out on right now that you know future them would look back on and say do this differently.
Mmm. First of all, the non-technical thing you really need to have people that can help you with the different pieces. So who does what like what's the difference between a back-end and front-end developer and why your choose vue. js over react, so that's getting pretty nerdy, but it's understanding why your product. Works how it does and getting the right people to make it.
So for example my website because we have so many visitors it kept crashing and I didn't have enough storage space I couldn't work out what on Earth is going wrong. And now I have a complete devops team that live in Canada that have to check in on my website all the time to make sure it's not down and Google's not upset that it's going down and D ranking my search listing.
So that's one thing I would have done differently is understand that more about what the developers do faster and then. A website you don't just grow traffic and it just works. There's like an entire maintenance piece. They're being consistent and being just can't keep putting your feet in front of each other because when you look back you realize just how far you've gone.
what are some of the things that you've tried and the course of building and growing Plann that haven't worked like you thought they would or is everything just been smooth sailing.
No, it's definitely not been smooth sailing. There's always if I think there's if there's not seven fires burning you business and you're not close enough. There was there was one thing I tried to do to make more cash because I needed more money to get better stuff.
So what I was doing was yes, I had VA's but they were just writing the skeleton and then I have to go in and write the entire blog post so I couldn't afford a copywriter. So it's like okay. I need to find a way to make more money faster the build my team. So I created a side service with a retoucher in Russia where people would send me. Study images for their Instagram and he would professionally retouch it and send it back.
And then someone would have an entire month's worth of content and it sounds like a great idea but the market that I had didn't want to pay for it and it became very manual and I had to do so much customer support back and forward because when someone says I want blue tones, it's so subjective. So that in itself is a product. In itself, so trying to do two products at once didn't work.
That's when I was like, okay. No Christy you actually really need to focus and I just abandon that still sitting somewhere on my website hidden and just focus and that was kind of what taught me just even if it's going to be a bit slow. Just keep going this way
What about the flip side of things? What are some things that you've tried to do to help you grow Plann and that of ended up working really well.
Yeah, so after I had taught myself the SEO and our website was starting to build a also learned in that process that people were searching about Instagram very regularly and it was a very hot topic and my audience most of them have blocks and I knew that about them because of doing the personas and everyone needs traffic to their website.
So I went out with an email that said hey guys, I know how you can get traffic. Here's a trendy. Here's the title. Here's the meta tags for your images. And here's some rich imagery that you can use go and buy them telling Their audience how they built their Instagram feed and the filters. They use created 1500 backlinks for me in the first six months. Which pushed me the number one in search for Google.
It's remarkable to me how consistent this is. What's your story that? You sort of bootstrapped every process by figuring out how you could help people accomplish their goals as much as you possibly could it was very nice. Selfless was what other people need. How do I help them? Get what they're trying to get.
Yeah. So it's always intrinsically about helping and making other people basic cessful and that's what's been driving the whole product.
What do you think is is your favorite part of running Plann as a founder?
Because I've been an inventor and I'm an artist I get to have a product that I've personally designed in the hands of that many people and it's helping you know over we should be at A million by the end of the year and I get to help that many people.
Build their own Freedom like I have and that's and then I also get to hire creative people to have freedom in their own life. So for example, the people that I hire I say work from home some days or if you worked your own rhythm and you work like me at five in the morning then go home at night and had the days off a few working the weekend take Friday. So I'm able to give that freedom to other people like for me. Yeah. I wish that I had.
Yeah, bet that feels good.
Yeah, it's really nice.
Okay, so your plans for the future Plann? I mean you've got hundreds of thousands of customers going on a million. You're generating tons of revenue. Where you go from here and how do you get there?
So I'm launching my web app very very soon. And I think with a product that's a tech. That's also latched onto social media. Your product roadmap can't really be any longer than six months because it changes so quickly. And I have my ideas of where Plann's going.
I would love to build on some AI and I’m working with a data scientist at the moment about how we can work on particular scatters to get people more of the help they need and eventually I'd like it to not be just Instagram and have it more of a strategic coach for markers so that you don't need a graphic designer. Or a social media manager. It does my product should take over all of that. So ideally I'd love to go run in that direction. But time will tell.
Yeah, it's a lot and it's funny because you said you can't really Plann more than six months had an advance that makes it really challenging because you probably have a hundred different ideas for things you want to work on. How do you prioritize? How do you know which one's the right one? Which one should wait for me?
It's a little bit easier. Just like what to my people need. What are they telling us that they need listening to their feedback and understanding where in our product they're having the most trouble with or what? That's what their challenges are and Instagram.
So one of the questions I'll ask is what is your purpose on Instagram? And what is your biggest roadblock to getting there? And then I spent a lot of time coming up with creative ways to solve that problem because what when they ask for something it's usually not what they actually mean.
I think that's great. A lot of founders don't understand that your customers are expert product designers. They're not going to do the research. They're not going to figure out what the features should be. It's up to you to put in that work and to find out exactly what their goals are and their obstacles are.
yeah, then how can and then I'll usually I'll go back to more like four options and we like would any of these solve it and that's when I work out how to keep go forward.
What's your advice Christy for other first time founders out there or for people who are maybe just thinking about starting a business? What can I learn from your story and your experience?
Do it. I think that I would recommend just getting out there and telling everyone what you want to do because the more you talk about what you're working on and the problems you solve the more people that you draw into your life that can help you and will be your cheerleader.
So when you do launch Iran that you know that love and cherish you will talk about it on your behalf. So the biggest thing for me is that you don't know who's going to come into your life because the magic happens when you leave your house or when you talk about it
So for me personally, I'd be working from my yoga pants in my spare room, but it wasn't until that I went to night school instead of going to meetups that I met for example, one of my first mentors who was lived in Silicon Valley and she invited me to live with her for free for three months.
And that's how I got my foot in the door then go and experience Silicon Valley. So you never know. What's possible had I have thought that my life would be there swallows two years ago sitting typing away and my corporate desk job. I couldn't even imagine what my life would be like now, so my biggest thing is just go.
I still can't get over the fact that it's only been two years. I mean that's such a blazingly fast. Amount of time you mentioned earlier that you also are a mentor yourself and the mentor other startup founders. What kinds of advice do you find yourself repeating often? And what do you think people need to hear?
Repeating very very often is will the people pay for your solution? So understanding if the problem that you're solving people will pay for is literally like I just repeated that three times then but like it's literally the first thing that comes to mind having your revenue model sorted out.
Knowing that it is floating that can be changed but people a lot of the time just think and in Silicon Valley again, it's you know, unicorn or basket as many users as possible. But I think for here in Australia, we more push towards starting to make revenue quicker.
So there's a lot of that and then for me because for me personally because I'm so visual like there's no excuse for something to look bad and not function well.
Okay, so to summarize everything number one get out there and do it. Don't be afraid to tell people what you're working on and share your ideas. Make sure you're solving a problem that's valuable enough for people to pay for it and make sure you actually have a business model. So when people want to pay you they can.
that's all great advice. Thank you so much Christy for coming on the show and sharing your story. Can you tell listeners where they can go to learn more about Plann? And also what's going on and your personal life?
Definitely, so we post three blog posts a week that will really help you grow your Instagram with really tangible tips, and that's that PlannThat. com, and then on Instagram are also at Plann that where we do heaps of many tutorials and lots of great coaching over there and me personally on Instagram is Christy lady Laurence.
All right Christy. Thanks so much.
If you enjoyed listening to this conversation and you want a really easy way to support the podcast, why don't you head over to iTunes and leave us a quick rating or even a review?
If you're looking for an easy way to get there just go to IndieHackers.com/review and that should open up iTunes on your computer. I read pretty much all the reviews that you guys leave over there. And it really helps other people to discover the show, so your support is very much appreciated.
In addition if you are running your own Internet business or if that's something you hope to do someday, you should join me at a whole bunch of other founders on the IndieHackers. com website. It's a great place to get feedback on pretty much any problem or question that you might have while running your business.
If you listen to the show, you’ll know that I am a huge proponent of getting help from other founders rather than trying to build your business all by yourself. So you'll see me on the forum for sure, as well as more than a handful of some of the guests that I’ve had on the podcast.
If you're looking for inspiration we've also got a huge directory full of hundreds of products built by other Indie Hackers. Every one of which includes revenue numbers and some of the behind-the-scenes strategies for how they grew their products from nothing. As always thanks so much for listening and I'll see you next time.
Did you know Indie Hackers has a newsletter?
Sign up to get insights, takeaways, and exclusive content from each new episode, directly from the host, Courtland Allen.