When Ryan Born (@_RyanBorn) first emailed me about becoming one of Cloud Campaign's early customers, I replied with a long list of reasons why I wasn't going to use it. Two years later, he's generating over $25,000/month in revenue and growing at 32% month-over-month! In this episode, Ryan shares he got out of his product-market fit rut by interviewing hundreds of people and learning more who is and who isn't his ideal customer. He also discusses the advantages of picking a niche, the ins and outs of running Facebook ads profitably, and how dipping his toe in the water of numerous marketing channels helped him discover which one was worth diving into more deeply.
What’s up everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com, and you are 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 do they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives, and what exactly makes their businesses tick?
And the goal here, as always, is so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own profitable internet businesses. Today, I’m talking to Ryan Born of Cloud Campaign. Ryan, welcome to the show.
Hey, Courtland. Thanks so much for having me.
Thanks for being here. Super excited to have you here. You are my favorite type of guest to interview, because I’ve seen you grow up on Indie Hackers. Two years ago, you were on the forum. You were emailing me with ideas. You were excited to get started on something. You were making approximately zero dollars a month in revenue back then. What’s you're revenue at now?
We actually just crossed $25k MRR, which we’re super excited about, and growing by about 32% month over month.
Thirty-two percent, that’s crazy.
Yes. It’s been a real exciting journey with most of our growth coming in the past few months here.
How does it feel to go from being a fledging Indie Hacker to being someone who’s actually doing it? Because I know in those early stages it can just feel like a dream. “One day I’ll have these kind of revenue numbers and one day I’ll work for myself,” but now you’re actually here.
Yes. It’s interesting. I think it feels fragile at times. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot and looking back to two and a half years ago when I first started the company, it feels like we’ve done so much. But at the same time, it feels like it could go away at any point. Hopefully that’s not the case but honestly, that’s how it feels.
Yes, the typical founder anxiety. It can all come crashing down.
Yes, you think of very worst-case scenario, not what hopefully is going to happen, which is you keep growing at the same pace.
I very rarely encounter founders who have that company worst-case scenario thing happen, where overnight their business is dead, but I so often encounter founders who have that fear and that belief that it can happen.
It seems like it never goes away. I listen to How I Built This, the podcast at NPR, and even folks that are interviewed on there that are valued at a billion dollars, it seems like they still have that same fear.
Totally. Stripe has a list of doomsday scenarios. What are the things that CEOs are worried about? And those are very real threats that can really tank and kill any business. You see it happen with these huge unicorn startups all the time. WeWork was going to IPO a few months ago. Now they’re worth very little money and trying to scramble and save the company.
So it’s real, but at the same time I think if you’re building, especially a bootstrapped Indie Hacker business off the back of hundreds of thousands of paying customers and you’ve grown at a healthy clip, which you’ve done, that’s a little bit of security, a little bit of insurance where you know you’ve built on the back of something real, and it’s not just inflated valuations and fake numbers.
I think so too, and I think it’s something that we’re trying to be deliberate about in terms of building a business that is being funded by our customers. And I think just for full transparency we’re in the process of raising a seed round right now, which isn’t very typical for Indie Hackers, but we see it as augmenting our growth. But at the end of the day we’re still trying to fuel our salaries and fuel the business based off our customers and our revenue.
Cool. So I want to talk about how you got here, because you first popped onto my radar way back in early 2017 when you were on Indie Hackers forum and in my inbox. But I don't know much about what you were up to before that point in time. So what were some of the most important events that led to you becoming a founder and wanting to be an Indie Hacker?
Super fortunate path. I graduated college in 2014 and studied computer engineering at that point. I joined an early stage startup. We were Series A funded, 14 employees and just got to see firsthand that whole experience of growing the company and getting to go in every day and make a pretty significant difference. And I think that was really exciting for me.
I was super fortunate to go through an acquisition there, join the acquiring company which had about 2500 employees, stayed there for two years, and at that point we took the company public. I think it was just very serendipitous and I was so fortunate to be able to join the company at that stage and have that experience. And I think that’s what really opened me up to entrepreneurship and wanting to start my own company afterwards.
Yes. You saw every stage of success from being a tiny, nascent company to being acquired to IPOing. Do you think that everything going so well there is what inspires you to do your own thing and maybe if things had crashed and burned more like a typical startup that you wouldn’t have done it?
It’s a big part of it for sure, just instilling confidence in myself to do it. But also, financially, any time you go through an exit, obviously it’s a good financial situation for yourself. So that helped, having a bit of savings and cushion to then take the leap to then start my own company.
I think another thing to note, too, is both my parents are entrepreneurial, so having that background and seeing that growing up and seeing that you can actually build a good business, where you set your own hours and whatever else, was pretty inspiring.
I think a lot about inspiration, because that’s the chief goal of Indie Hackers, to get people to want to start more companies and tell people that they can do it. So much of it just comes down to seeing relatable examples of people doing it and demystifying it so it’s not just these mysterious figures on TV and in books, but it’s actually people that you know and you can think, “This person isn’t that different from me. You know, I could have done it.”
So having parents who are founders or being part of a company that succeeds and talking to those founders is super inspiring. What was the first thing that you did to start down this path of being a founder after the acquisition happened and after the IPO?
First step was just creating side projects that I was really interested in. Never really - I knew I wanted to start a company, I just didn’t which project was going to turn into a company, which I think is almost a good way of doing it because it is low stress and it doesn’t have to necessarily work out. You don’t need it to be a huge success from day one.
I actually launched a few different projects while still working at that company, the acquiring company. I think it’s also a good test to then see when you actually do get some sort of traction, you have something to compare it against. You know, Project C got a ton of users on day one. That’s something I have seen before with Project A and B. Maybe it’s actually worth pursuing this with a bit more time and a bit more effort. The first step was just building these projects on nights and weekends.
My favorite approach to getting started is the scattered, shotgun approach, do lots of different things. Don’t go all in on your first project on day one and think it has to be perfect, because then you don’t get that perspective of seeing the differences between different projects. I think there’s a lot of value in just staring over from scratch and doing that whole beginning process again, because then you get to see what you did last time, what didn’t work, and how to refine it.
When you’re going through this process of starting projects, were you that deliberate and that conscious of having a strategy and how it was going to work in the long term, or were you just following your passion and seeing what happened?
Initially, it was just following my passion and seeing what would happen. Initially it was kind of scratching my own itch, projects that I wanted to exist in the market but didn’t. It’s funny, actually. One of the first projects I was working on was called IP No. It was an IPO notification service that would send you an email any time a company filed to go public, and I posted it on Indie Hackers. This was early 2017.
I remember you reached out to me, I think on the forum, and gave me feedback, and you were like, “Well, why does anyone care about this? Why does someone want to buy this? What’s the value that they’re getting out of it?”
I was like, “I don't know. It’s something I want so I built it. I’m not sure what the value is.” I think that’s a great lesson, though, is like if you expect people to pay for it, they have to be getting value out of it and it actually has to solve some sort of problem.
It’s cool that you’re so floored about sharing what you were doing. You weren’t just building in isolation. You decided to come on Indie Hackers and share your ides with people, which led to you getting valuable feedback and learning a little bit more than you would have if you just did it in isolation. What do you think were some of the more valuable lessons that you learned from that early phase of just trying lots of different ideas?
I think from the early days, things that I learned were really pitching the value, just around messaging. I think it’s something I’m still learning today. If you just tell someone what the product is, no one’s going to buy it. They’re not interested in the product. They’re interested in the sizzle, right?
You don’t sell raw meat. You sell the burger that someone’s going to eat. I think that was one of the big things I learned in the early days, is what’s the value that you’re selling, and the whole pitch needs to be around that whenever you’re talking to a customer.
Your background is in software engineering, right?
Yes, that’s correct.
This is not something they teach you in your computer science classes. This is not something you learn on the job when you’re writing code.
You’re very product focused. You’re building features. It’s all very concrete. And then when you start to wear the hats that a founder has to wear, you’re doing marketing and sales, suddenly it’s all about how do you communicate with people? How do you transfer a message and a vision that you have in your head into their head? How do you even predict whether or not that’s going to resonate and that’s something that they want?
Yes, marketing’s tough. I actually gained a lot of respect for some of these other job functions through starting a company, because I just never really realized how difficult and how hard it was to measure the success of these different roles. And to your point, you’re a hundred percent right in that in engineering you’re taught to remove all the fluff and be very direct and say, “This is a table,” not, “This is a gathering spot where you eat dinner with your friends.” It’s just a different way of approaching it.
Yes. I think another thing about being an engineering, especially in a high-tech startup, is you end up being prized above the other roles. People exalt engineering. It’s all about the programmers. They have the highest salaries. They’re what make Silicon Valley work, and I bought into this for a long time.
Coming to the other side of things I realized that a lot of companies say this because it helps them hire engineers. It’s very difficult to hire engineers and so you really need to do that. But the other functions at a company are just as important if not more important. What the marketing department does to get the product in customers’ hands is extremely crucial. It’s easy to lose sight of that as a founder and say, “Well as long as I build a good product, that’s all that matters, and all this marketing and sales stuff is just BS.”
Yes. No, it’s so true. Ultimately the only reason you’re working on the project is to generate more sales, right? If the product’s selling and selling like hotcakes, then don’t focus any more effort on engineering. Just keep selling it until it gets to the point where it’s not selling anymore and then start working on the product again.
I guess anecdotally within our company, I’m the only engineer working on the product today. Everyone that we’ve hired has been within sales because the product sells fine. It’s relatively good compared to the rest of the products on the market, so we just focus all of our effort and our revenue on growing sales.
Tell me a little bit about your product and your team. You’re doing $25k a month in revenue. What is Cloud Campaign exactly and how many people are working on it alongside you?
Cloud Campaign is a digital platform that helps marketing agencies scale social media management. To give you an idea, most of the big brands that you’re familiar with today, 84% of enterprises actually hire a marketing agency or freelancer to then manage their social media.
We’re building a product that allows these marketing agencies and freelancers to manage social media at scale, just making them more efficient, really focused on both the front of the house and back of the house, making them look a lot better and have a white-labeled product that they can present to their clients, but also making them more efficient so the account managers in some situations can even double the number of brands they manage, which obviously affects the bottom line of the business. It’s a pretty compelling story when it comes to selling these marketing agencies on our product.
It’s funny because this pitch that you’re giving right now is so different than the way you described Cloud Campaign to me over email two years ago. Back then when you had the initial idea it was nothing like that. You were reaching out to founders or at least me, trying to get us to use Cloud Campaign. You were basically saying, “Hey, this is a way to automate all of your social media. This is the best. You’ll use this instead of Buffer, use this instead of MeetEdgar,” etc. How did you come up with the initial idea back then?
It was a different product at that time, and we’ve since then pivoted. The thought was - it was a race to the bottom, if I’m being completely honest. We were like, “Oh we can build a better mousetrap and we can sell it for $5.00 rather than $40.00,” or whatever it was.
What we realized is no one really wanted to pay for it. There were enough solutions out there today that had respected brand value. They were name brands that people were familiar with, so we had a really hard time breaking into the market, even at our lower price point.
My thought was, okay, let’s take a step back and let’s actually do some customer research, which is something I didn’t do from day one. I think that was my biggest regret was just building the product once I had some people expressing an interest in it and not actually talking to those folks and saying, “Hey, what are you hoping to get out of this product?” I’m just like, “Oh, they said they were interested? They saw my landing page? All right let’s build it,” the engineering mindset.
I started reaching out to some friends that worked at some larger enterprises that were in the marketing space, and asked them, “Hey, what would it take to get you to use my product?” They were like, “Oh, it looks awesome, but we outsource. We hire a marketing agency that does our social media.” That was the light bulb moment.
It was like, okay, if we sell one marketing agency, that opens the door for maybe 30 enterprises. That’s the route that we want to go, and really pivoted. That was about six months in to being fulltime on the product.
I want to rewind a little bit and talk about some of the logistics behind going from being a fulltime employee to being a fulltime indie hacker. At some point, I assume, you left your job. How did that happen exactly?
Left is a nice way of putting it. They actually shut down our entire office, so technically I got fired. We were operating as a satellite office at that point. This was about two and a half years after we got acquired. They decided that they were going to move our product up to a different office in Vancouver. They gave us the option to either move to Vancouver or quit, or get fired essentially, which was a blessing in disguise.
This was the day after I launched the website for Cloud Campaign, and it’s a pretty funny story. I show up to work and it’s pretty abnormal for HR to be in our office, just the way we operated. And HR is in our office. They call everyone to an all-hands meeting in the conference room.
I go in there and I had a feeling this was coming. Sure enough, they’re like, “Hey, guys. We’re super impressed by everything you’ve done but at this point we’re moving our product to this other office,” and yada, yada, yada.
Meanwhile, my phone is just going crazy, because I had set up email notifications. Every single time a new customer - or not a customer at that point, but someone expressed interest in the product signed up, and so I keep just getting all these notifications on my phone.
I was like, “What? What’s going on?” I’d slyly pull it out underneath the table, and I’d see oh, this person is interested. This person is interested. This person is - maybe this is what I needed, like this is the push to go fulltime on it.
I was like, all right. I’m off payroll in a couple months. We had a couple months to move the product over, and at that point I was just working tirelessly nights and weekends to get something demonstrable and MVP out there that we can start selling. That was really, the first step was getting fired.
Still a big leap to from working fulltime for another company and having a cushy salary and knowing there’s going to be a paycheck every couple of weeks to suddenly being on your own. I guess you had savings, right, because your company had IPO’d and you’d done well.
But at the same time, now your savings, instead of being increasing, they are now dwindling every month. How did you plan for having a runway psychologically and financially?
I think the big thing was just, step one, figuring out how much money I had in different stocks and savings accounts and whatever else, and mapping out where that could potentially get me. I think my estimate was off pretty significantly but it’s all right. I have a car payment. I have rent. I have whatever else. These are my must-haves I need money for to pay each month.
And then I can probably reduce my variables quite a bit if I eat in and don’t get coffee and whatever else. Step one was mapping out where I could get to with my savings. But then the next step was figuring out how I’m going to afford everything else. Obviously, there’s a lot of benefits that come with working for an employer, like healthcare, and you mentioned payroll and whatever else.
Step one was figuring out all those different logistics. I think this is something that a lot of folks struggle with making that transition. What I ended up doing, just because at that point I didn’t have payroll anymore, I went onto Cover California, which is Medicare. It’s for low income people to get government funded healthcare. So I moved onto that.
First step then was to get the company off the ground and make it legal. I was going through Stripe Atlas. They had just launched at the time. For 500 bucks you can incorporate your company. They connected me with a lawyer to then go and do up the legal docs. So that was kind of the first step, was just getting all the ducks in a row and making sure everything was legal and I could move forward with it at that point.
That makes a lot of sense. A lot of people struggle with these early decisions, and I think it’s easy to not get started because it sounds so overwhelming. But the fact that people like you figured it out, you’ve shared your story, the fact that things like Stripe Atlas exist to make it significantly easier to get started with at least the boring business, healthcare side of things.
The rest of it’s still pretty confusing. What kind of ideas should you work on? How do you get your architecture set up for your code? What are the first things you’re going to do? How are you going to find customers? Did you have a plan for all that sort of stuff when you started Cloud Campaign?
The nice thing is a feel like the day and age that we live in, there’s lot of different resources that didn’t exist 10, 20 years ago. So for getting feedback initially, I leaned on the Indie Hacker community quite a bit. At that point I think it was a bit smaller than it is today. But folks were super, super helpful and giving me feedback on the website and the product and why it would even matter.
That’s where I got initial feedback. When it came to other parts of the business, in terms of trying to get it out there in front of customers. I used BetaList, and Product Hunt and all these other sites where you, “launch” a product. It’s some place you just put it out there in front of a big mass of people and just see how people responded. From those first couple months, we had about 400 users sign up. Then the next step was, okay, let’s try and make some money.
One of the cool things about you having done this all on Indie Hackers is you have a product page on Indie Hackers. I’m scrolling down your timeline. You’ve got hundreds of posts on here, and I can see April 19, 2017 you set up your landing page. June, you went fulltime on Cloud Campaign. In September, you first started charging. It was the first time you let people pay for Cloud Campaign. How much time after that did it take for you to get someone to agree to pay?
I think we might have gotten one customer in that first month, but in terms of an actual number with some significance, it was a very, very long time. And I think that goes back to what we were talking about earlier, which is I just was targeting the wrong people. I was really just trying to get anyone to pay for it. It wasn’t niched down enough to one particular target customer.
I think a good way to think about it, and at this point back in the day I was thinking about it like, well, you know, I want to make sure it appeals to everyone so then everyone can use it. But I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. I think the way I think about it now is, if you go and tell someone, “Hey, Courtland, I’m building this social media marketing tool for marketing agencies.” What you want them to say is, “Oh, I know a marketing agency. Let me go refer you.”
So I think it needs to be specific enough that they think, “Oh yes, my buddy Jeff does that. Let me connect you guys.” Otherwise it’s just, “Hey, we’re building this tool for businesses.” Okay, yes, I know tons of businesses but why would I connect you? It’s just too generic.
Yea, you have to make it easier for your customers to spread what you’re doing, giving them a very concrete value proposition for who this is for and what they’re going to get out of it. But obviously, it’s hard to figure that up front because you don’t know. You’re innovating. You’re building something new. And that process, I think, is one that a lot of founders never get out of. It’s super easy to get stuck in that hunt for product market fit.
What should I be building? Who’s going to use it? How much are they going to pay? You could spend years just doing that and never figure out the answer. I know you spent many months doing it. When I look back at our early emails, I think I didn’t want to use Cloud Campaign because social media and marketing wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. It was maybe fifteenth down the list of all these other things I wanted to work on. I didn’t even have time to try it.
I think I had signed up for Buffer and I had not Buffered any tweets whatsoever. So I was like, “I can’t really try evaluating another tool.” How many people were you talking to back then to try to sell Cloud Campaign to, and what was your technique for reaching out to them?
At that point I was talking to just a handful of people. It really wasn’t enough. Just people that had interacted with the product or with me at some point previously. And to be honest, it was the wrong people now that I know. So I think I missed a step in the journey which is doing customer discovery and figuring out who the product is for and really defining that.
It was right around that time when I realized it, and it was a post that Patrick McKenzie wrote, which was find people that are used to paying for your product. And I think that, exactly what you said, I had tried selling the product to you and you were like, “Yes, social media is not important to me. I don’t want to spend money on this right now. I’m using Buffer. It’s free. It’s great.”
So I read this post from Patrick McKenzie and I was like, okay, let’s go find people that are used to paying for it. That’s when I started talking with enterprises, realized that they outsource the agencies, and realized this is the number one most important too for an agency that does social media management. They run their entire business on this thing. This is the right target market to go after.
At that point, that’s when I started going a lot deeper into having these customer interviews and cold calling this list of about - there are 12,000 agencies on this list. And starting alphabetically, just going down the line saying, “Hey, I’m building this new tool. What’s your biggest problem right now with marketing, with social media management?”
It was also right around this time where I found a cofounder which was great, because as we talked about it, I’m an engineer. My skill set is not sales. It’s not getting on the phone talking with people. It’s something I just wasn’t comfortable with at the time. I called the first 10 agencies that we talked to. My cofounder, Ross, called about 490 of them.
And that’s really where we started then figuring out what the right product is, started seeing early signs of product market fit and actually started generating some revenues when we started having those conversations with our target customer.
There’s a lot there to unpack. The first question I have is, why didn’t you quit? It’s so easy when you’re talking to the wrong customers. They’re not giving you positive feedback. You built this thing that you’re hopeful for but then you suddenly lose that optimism because you’re not getting any sales and no one’s saying yes. Why not completely pivot, build something different?
I just felt – I knew my savings was running out, one, and I felt it - sum cost policy. I feel like I had dedicated so much time to building the product that I had today, I was like, “I need to make this work.” And then another really big driving force for me is just fear of regret. If I look back ten years from now, am I going to regret that I didn’t try hard enough, or I didn’t push hard enough with this one product that I’m trying to sell?
If I got back to a cushy engineering job, I’m always going to think, well what if? What if I stuck with it? What if tried this? What if I did that? I think that was the driving of, I think this can work. No one’s selling directly to these marketing agencies although they’re a very large part of the market. Let’s just push through this and let’s see what happens.
The second question I want to ask about your early days is about hiring a cofounder. That’s not a common thing that people do after they already get started by themselves. They think, “Okay. I’m the founder. I’m a solo founder. If I hire anybody it’s going to be an employee, but I’m definitely not going to bring on a late cofounder. If I hire anybody it’s going to be an employee but I’m definitely not going to bring on a late cofounder,” which I think is an oversight, because it’s kind of cool to bring on a late cofounder.
You're the one still in charge. You’re setting the direction, but you’re bringing on somebody who ideally you don’t have to pay a fulltime salary like you would a normal employee, but also who is incentivized the same way that you are, who can complement your weaknesses and who has full responsibility for making this business a success and can wear a lot of hats. How do you evaluate the right person for that kind of role though? It’s nerve wracking to give up a huge chunk of your business to someone you haven’t worked with.
It’s so hard. I think there are ways of doing it that aren’t as risky. There are two different friends I was talking to, to become the cofounder. The first one it just ended up not working out, and I think part of the reason was a difference in risk tolerance.
He was a bit older. He had a - starting a family, has a mortgage he needs to pay for. We had that conversation early on, and I think it’s important to have that conversation, so you know if we don’t hit these benchmarks it’s just not going to work out.
The way we structure our contract was reflective of that. I didn’t want to just say, “Here, you get 30% of the company. Hopefully it works out,” and then it doesn’t work out and you’re in the situation where you have a ton of debt equity and it makes everything else really hard. So the way we structured it is, let’s start off by giving you a little bit of equity because I want to compensate you for your time. If we hit this benchmark and it seems like we’re making progress and it’s going to work out, then you get more equity. If we hit this benchmark, then you get even more equity. It’s earning their way to become a cofounder.
The first situation, that one ended up not working out. The second one eventually did work out, and it was clear. Initially, the way we structured the deal was he didn’t get quite as much equity, but after the first month and a half it was pretty clear that it was going to work out and we were a good fit together.
So it was like, okay, here’s the equity that you deserve to make us more even partners and have more alignment, because that’s a big thing. You mentioned why don’t you just hire someone versus bringing on a cofounder. I think alignment is super important and you’re both striving towards this vision of making a really valuable company, because you have some sweat in the game, some skin in the game to then see that through and make it happen, rather than just trying to increase our salary or something that is a bit more short term.
So now you’re armed with a cofounder who’s in the same sort of situation you are, the skills complement yours. He’s an expert in sales and talking to people, you can focus on what you do best, and that’s coding, and you have this huge list of marketing agencies who you’re just going down and calling. How do you find a list like this, number one, and what do you say once you get on a phone call with somebody who’s a potential customer?
Fortunately for us this list was just public and very easy to find. I think it’s because it a directory, like White Pages. These agencies want to be found by potential customers so they’re actively putting their name out there with their phone number, their address, their email, so it’s easy to get that information. Getting them to actually talk was a little bit more difficult, and this was something that was just through trial and error to figure out what worked, but what eventually worked for us was doing an agency spotlight.
We’d get on the phone with them and say, “Hey, we want to write an article about your agency. We think it’s great what you built, and we think a lot of other folks can learn from it. Do you have 30 minutes to jump on the phone with us and we’ll take about what’s the biggest problem that you’re facing,” which is what we ultimately wanted to learn so that was a bit selfish. But “What’s the biggest problem that you’re facing and how did you get to where you are today? How many brands do you work with?” et cetera, et cetera.
That was pretty compelling for them, because they were trying to get their name out there the same as any other business. And they’re like, “Oh, sure. You have how many people visiting your website?” We’re like, “Oh, it’s like a thousand. It’s not a big audience.”
But they’re like, “Okay. It’s fine. It’s 30 minutes of my time. Best case scenario I get a couple customers from it. Worst case scenario there’s another link that’s pointing back to my website for SEO.” We would write about one article a week doing these agency spotlights just transcribing our call into a blog article.
That’s super clever, because usually if somebody reaches out to an agency, either they’re either a customer or they’re somebody trying to sell them something. Very rarely is it somebody who’s like, “Yes, let me help you get the word out. Let me help you do what you’re trying to do.”
Even if you don’t have a ton of traffic to your website it’s a pretty compelling offer. Why would an agency say no to that? It’s just free marketing for them, and then you get to learn and now you have a relationship that you can potentially turn into a paying customer.
Did any of these agencies end up signing up for Cloud Campaign after you did your spotlight on them?
I think that’s the downfall. If you go into the initial conversation and you’re saying, “Hey, we have this really cool product that solves this problem for you,” then they’re like, “Okay, we’ll evaluate it as if we’re buying the product.” When we go into the conversation saying, “Hey, we want to learn from you and do this, write this article about you and it’s going to be great,” then they’re like, “Okay, let’s write the article.”
Then as soon as you try and shift the conversation to like, “And this is what we’re building. Do you want this?” they’re just like, “Uh, this isn’t why I got on the phone with you.” And so we eventually realized that pretty quickly, so we didn’t even try selling to most of the agencies. It was more of like, okay, let’s just use this for feedback to inform our marketing and our product, and then let’s try and sell other agencies in a more scalable way, which was advertising eventually.
There’s so many different channels you can potentially sell through. If content marketing and cold outreach isn’t working, have you tried to go to conferences. You maybe try ads, as you just mentioned.
And at the same time you’re testing all these different channels, you’re also tweaking your product to figure out what features resonate with customers, what actually works, and that’s what makes it challenging to find product market fit is that you have these two moving targets at the same time that you’re trying to align, not just one. What were some of the first successes you after some of these failures?
I think just to hold out one of the key points you mentioned there is trying to get everything to align correctly. I think those initial conversations with those 500 agencies did that for us. It informed our product in terms of you ask them, “What’s your biggest pain point and they tell you.
You’re like, “Okay, we can build that in our product now,” but also it informs sales and marketing because you might mention something and they’re like, “Oh, yes, that sounds awesome.” You’re like, “Okay, we need to put that in our marketing efforts because that really resonates with this particular audience.”
Do you have any examples of something that you learned that changed how your product worked?
Yes, absolutely. There’s quite a few. A really big one which is still fueling our growth today is white labeling. Most of these agencies want to have our product branded with their logo and their subdomain.
They want to be able to show it to their clients as if they’ve built it because they can charge significantly more if that’s the case. That was something that we got from very, very early feedback, built it in a couple hours and launched it. It’s still one of our biggest features that’s driving growth today.
Looking at your website, cloudcampaign.io, I see the headers text. “We help marketing agencies scale, onboard more social media clients and charge a higher retainer with a leaner team.” I think that’s the kind of statement that you can tell has been crafted as a result of talking to customers and figuring out exactly what will resonate.
Help me dissect that. Obviously, “We help marketing agencies scale” is a result of you figuring out who your best customer is. What about “onboarding more social media clients and charging a higher retainer and having a leaner team”?
We’ve tried to figure out, what does our product do? It does a lot, obviously, but you’re not going to say, “We do content approvals and we help you create content and schedule content and report on it.” That’s just very wordy, and that’s also what everyone does. So what makes us different?
Thinking about it more, we have a lot of automation built into our platform. We have a lot of streamlined workflows. Why does that matter? That makes the agency more efficient. Why do they want to be more efficient? They want to manage more clients.
It’s like taking it a few layers back and say, why does the business owner, who is ultimately who we’re selling to, why do they care and why do they want to sign up for our product? It comes down to, they’re trying to make more money and they’re trying to increase their bottom line. We can make them more efficient, which translates to onboard more clients with a leaner team.
At the same time, they want to make more money so we would tell them, “You can charge a higher retainer,” and that comes through the white labeled product that makes it look like their own and community management and content approvals, all these different features that allow them to charge more to their clients.
One of the interesting things about being a solo founder versus having a cofounder and having employees is, as a solo founder you have everything in your head. You know exactly what conversations you’ve had with customers. You know exactly what’s going on in the code and your roadmap for developing certain things.
The second you add other people into the mix you have to communicate. You have to figure out, okay, well what do you know? What do I know? How do we reconcile those two things to make sure we’re going in the same direction?
It’s an especially stark contrast if you’re a developer-founder, you’re building the product, and your cofounder is the one talking to all the customers. because you’re trying to figure out what you should build, but all that information is in your cofounder’s head. How do the two of you work together to figure out what to build and translate the things that he is learning by talking to customers into things you’re building?
I think it’s even more difficult because we’re remote, or I should say I’m remote. I’m in San Francisco and then we have an office up on Portland which is where the sales team is at. It’s not as easy as just looking over across the table and asking them, “Hey, what did you hear on phone calls today with sales?”
So we had to be pretty deliberate about setting up some structures in place that allowed this open communication and that feedback loop. A big part of it is just staying in communication, hopping on the phone a couple times a day, being on Slack all the time. But we ended up using just a public Trello board, that any time a customer requests something, he’s able to then throw it into the Trello board or anyone that’s on our sales team can just throw it in the Trello board, saying, “Hey, this customer requested this.”
I can then go through once and say, “Oh, this is a good idea. Let’s move it to coming soon or considering or whatever else. And then the other things that’s really cool about it is we put it out there for our customers to interact with. Now we’re at the point where customers weekly, if not sometimes daily, will then add new feature requests directly to the board.
That’s extremely powerful, because it makes them feel like they’re contributing to the product and they’re part of the team. They’re helping you go from this fledgling startup to a growing business. Then they can tell their friends, “Oh, I told them they need this feature. Here it is.” So that’s been just huge for us in terms of getting ambassadors and customer buy-in.
Yes, they’re part of the story. Some of my favorite products to use are ones where I know the founder or it’s a super small responsive team and I can make suggestions and see them happen. I have a lot of trust. This product will never be that bad because worst case scenario if I don’t like something, I can email them.
And in your situation, you’re in a pretty crowded market. You’re not the first company to offer tools to social media marketing agencies or to help people grow their social media campaigns, so I think being able to differentiate in any way that you can is helpful. I’m not super confident I can email a much more mature company and get them to change a feature because they have their whole roadmap out already.
But you, as a fledgling company, could use that as your advantage. What are some of the other things you did to stand out among the competition? because I think it’s both a blessing and a curse to be in an industry where there’s tons of competitors already selling something similar to what you're doing.
Niching down is obviously the biggest thing, going after marketing agencies specifically. That was the largest one, for sure. Another way to stand out for us was just really focusing on the features that matter the most to this particular audience.
There are some competitors that have similar feature sets but they are not actively advertising them because they’re mostly selling to businesses and then maybe some agencies will sign up as well, because they’re like, “Oh, yes, I’m familiar with -“ whatever it might be, Sprinklr or Sprout Social. So we’re directly advertising specifically to these agencies, saying, “Hey, you can be more efficient. You can white label your product. You can get more clients by using us.”
And I think it just stands out and resonates with them. All of our customers right now are inbound. It’s people requesting a demo saying, “Hey, I want to learn more about your tool and maybe sign up for it,” and that’s been huge for us, is getting all that inbound interest.
It’s funny because this is exactly when you're emails to me completely dried up. “Courtland is not a social media marketing agency. I’m not talking to him anymore.”
But I think it’s so powerful to be able to say, who is your customer and who’s not your customer, because you know exactly who is your customer, you can do what you’re saying and build features that are specifically tailored to them, and have language on your landing page that’s specifically tailored and appealing to them.
Maybe that means you’re giving up some percentage of the market that you can’t sell to anymore, but there’s still a ton of agencies out there who have plenty of money who you can sell to. Now you’re much better than the competition, so I think niching down, as often as it’s talked about, it’s probably still not talked about often enough, as so many Indie Hackers start off by just targeting literally everybody.
Who’s my customer? Everybody who could use it. But I think you did such a good job narrowing it down.
Yes. This is the perfect example. The space is so crowded. I remember, this is a super funny story. I had the idea for about a week before I started, before I put up a landing page, and I was listening to the Indie Hackers podcast back then. I think it was Episode No. 10. I don't know. What are we on right now?
Hundred and thirty-two this will be, I think.
So this is a while ago. It was Episode No. 10 with Laura Roeder of MeetEdgar, who some people might see as a competitor, but we’re selling to very different markets. But anyway, she has a social media management tool as well. I was listening to the episode and she starts talking about water bottles.
I think you asked her a similar question. You’re like, “Is this a crowded space? How did you think to go after it? Why weren’t you more hesitant?” She was like, “Look at your desk right now. How many different water bottles do you have? There are so many different brands of water bottles. Everyone has different preferences.
Some appeal more to different group, so there is room for everyone to still thrive within this market. It’s funny, because that was the moment where I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.” If she says there’s enough room for everyone, go into that same market and we’ll figure out what our niche is and carve our way through it.
It’s so easy to have doubt as a fledgling founder, when you just have an idea but you’re like, “Other people are already doing this. It’s not that unique. It’s not that revolutionary. Should I really work on that?” I think her message resonated with a lot of people, who were like, “Oh, just because other people are doing this doesn’t mean I can’t make it my own, make it unique, find my own niche, figure out a way to make it work.”
The other thing to note, too, is if you’re bootstrapping a company, you don’t need that many customers. How much money do you need to be generating if it’s just you or if it’s you and one or two other people? You don’t need that much of the market.
I think it’s different if you’re going VC-backed, and I think at that point you might need to find the bigger market that you can move into by being vertically integrated and going after that, or maybe finding a whole in that new market that hasn’t been explored yet.
But if you’re just trying to generate $10,000.00 a month for yourself and have a nice little business, there’s no issue with going after a crowded space. I think if nothing else, it is proof that there is a market that’s willing to pay for it, and there’s customers. Trying to educate a new market is super expensive and it’s really hard to do, so why not just go after a group of customers that are already familiar with paying for it?
That makes perfect sense. There’s a laundry list of other advantages to choosing a niche. It’s kind of a moat for one. There are bigger companies who your competitors can’t really afford to focus on, super tiny niches because it doesn’t make any sense to them. They’re trying to make a billion dollars. They don’t want to go after a million-dollar market, so you don’t have that much competition.
There’s probably more than enough money in that market for you and so you don’t need to go bigger, but you can also go bigger gradually. If you start at a tiny niche and you work your way up and customers love you and you suddenly dominate social media marketing as a customer set, well now you’ve got a bunch of testimonials and a bunch of revenue and employees and a lot of power and brand and name recognition.
If you want to expand a do a bigger niche or a different customer segment, it’s much easier to do that now with all these advantages than just trying to do that right off the bat. I think one of the issues people have is, they say, “Well I want to sell to everybody.” Maybe you can eventually, but that’s not where you should start.
I think that is a huge mistake that a lot of folks make, is they look at these large companies that they admire today and they’re like, “Oh, look. They sell to ten different verticals. I must do the same thing.”
But if you dig back and go back to their origin story, a lot of them started by just focusing on one small niche, and then really owning that space and then expanding the product to other verticals, or going deep with that niche and doing a land-and-expand model which is what we’re doing.
So we’re trying to gain trust and build up this large customer base of marketing agencies and freelancers with our existing product, our beachhead market. But the goal is to then expand to these other offerings. Obviously, social media marketing is not the only problem that these freelancers and marketing agencies have, so we want to be the one-stop shop where they can come in.
They can build their clients. They can prospect new clients. They can do everything from here. It’s almost like, a good example would be Shopify and how they democratized ecommerce. As long as you have a credit card you can start an online store. As long as you have a credit card you can be a freelancer and start up your digital marketing agency.
Very cool. At this point in your story, your sales machine is rolling. You’ve gone from many, many months trying to figure out product market fit to the point where now suddenly you have customers and there’s rays of hope and you’ve got a cofounder working with you.
How did it feel to make that transition? What changes in your mind as a founder when you’re trying to figure out what to build versus when you know what to build and now it’s just time to execute?
It’s exciting at times. I think at other times it’s also, I’m not going to say painful. Painful is a bit of a stretch. But one of the reasons why, as an engineer, you start a company is because you like to build something that is really innovative and fun and cool and whatever else, something that really excites you.
A lot of times, you’re writing boilerplate code. You’re just building what the customer wants, and what the customer wants is what they saw from a competitor. They’re like, “Oh, competitor X has this. We’re used to using this. We need this within your tool.” That stuff isn’t as fun, but I think I just keeping thinking back to, well this customer’s paying for me to work on this project so that’s cool, the fact that I get to work on my own product and we’re making enough revenue that our customers are paying our salaries, which is pretty cool.
What about the financial perspective of going from your bank account dwindling every month to suddenly you’re able to save money and spend money hiring. How did that transition feel?
It felt great, honestly. I’m still at a point where I was making a good bit more money at my engineering job than I am now. But it’s cool to be able to create these job opportunities for other people.
Right now it’s just three of us full-time, and we have three interns. We’re in the process of hiring a fourth full-time employee right now. It’s exciting, giving these folks the opportunity to join an early-stage startup and pay them better than myself but that’s fine. It’s just - I don't know.
It’s cool. It’s cool being able to create new jobs for people and see them have the same passion that we do and seeing our culture develop in that way, too.
How do you hire somebody good at an early-stage startup, because when you’re hiring early employees, you want them to wear a lot of hats. They’ve got a lot of responsibilities. Your company’s not this finely oiled machine where everything’s in its place. People have to figure out how to put things together and work with you. How do you hire someone who’s well-suited to that kind of role?
It’s difficult. We’ve definitely made bad hires in the past and we’ve tried to fire quickly. Most recently, we hired an account executive and a manager and he’s just absolutely killer. He’s doing a great job. I think what we noticed from his interview process versus others is he came from a startup, so he had been at an early-stage startup that got acquired and grew. He understands the role of wearing different hats and having that responsibility.
I also think there’s just different skill sets that are well-suited for startups, someone that’s a self-starter. There’s not going to be a lot of hand holding. You need them to be motivated to get in there every day and do their work and work autonomously. Someone that’s organized and can stay on top of the tasks without you constantly hounding them for it.
There’s obviously a lot of soft skills as well and I think it’s hard. I also think I’m not the right person to give advice on this because we’ve only hired one person well. Maybe talk to me in a couple years and I might have some better advice.
What are some things you would say not to do? Because if you’ve made some mistakes, I’m sure you’ve got some theories in your head for why those mistakes were made.
Follow your gut. It’s so hard. You might interview someone and your gut’s telling you this probably isn’t the right fit, and you’re like, “Yes, but I think they’ll figure it out. We can train that out of them. We’ll make it work.” And that’s not right.
Your little optimist on your shoulder.
A little bit, yes. Hiring friends is hard, too. You always need to be comfortable firing someone if you hire them. Unless you feel really, really confident about them and how they’ll fit in the role, I would typically recommend not hiring friends.
One of the challenges, and I brought this up briefly earlier, is that you’re trying to grow and sometimes the things that work for growth stop working, and sometimes you need to discover a completely new channel. Earlier on, you tried all sorts of different things and you mentioned that ads really worked for you.
I know you’ve increased your ad spend tremendously since you first started, so it seems like it’s continuing to work. How did you hit on ads as a channel for growth, and what are some of the things you did in the early days?
We tried all sorts of things. Initially we didn’t have much money, so it was whatever was cheapest to get our name out there. So that was posting on forums and attending free events that we think our customers would be at. Eventually, we started, as you mentioned, running some ads, being in Google SEM, and then various social media ads.
We started sponsoring trade shows and we just tried a slew of different things with as little money as possible, which is hard because you can’t really get significant statistical results unless you spend a good amount of money. But you obviously have a tight budget so you’re just trying to see not necessarily is this the wrong channel, but can I get some sort of result from a little bit of money?
Those are some of the things that we tried, and even with the social media ads, which is where all of our customers are coming from today is from social media, but even with some of the early ads we didn’t have any success. We’d throw it out there and it would fail for whatever reason. But I think what’s important is just learning why it potentially didn’t work.
Either the messaging is wrong, the audience is wrong, or you’re sending them to the wrong spot. It’s the wrong objective. So that’s what we eventually realized is it’s a mixture of those. Once we got the right objective and the right copy, which again the copy we learned from talking to all these potential customers over all those phone calls. The audience, we already knew from day one - or not day one but once we started running ads. But once we got those, all three lined up, then we started seeing significant results, and it’s continued to deliver tremendously for us even up until today.
One of the difficult things about this search for, how do you grow you company, is that you have two choices. You can go broad or you can go deep. I’ve been practicing chess a lot recently and trying to learn. My chess coach, I complain about this all the time. He’s like, “Oh, look at the different moves.”
And it’s like, “Well there’s 30 different moves that I can make. Then for each one of those I can go 10 moves deep and try to analyze what’s going on. It’s really hard to figure out, should I go deep on this move if I haven’t even tried looking at another one?”
It’s analogous to figuring out growth channels. There’s 10, 15 different channels you can try, but then if you try one it’s not guaranteed to work. Ads didn’t work for you up front, so it’s like, “Okay, well, do we keep investing in ads and try to figure out why it’s not working, or do we just try something else and hope it works first or second try?” How did you decide to go deep on ads rather than just giving up and trying some other thing?
I think when we first tried ads it didn’t work so then we kept trying other things, but we never checked anything off the list. It wasn’t like, this doesn’t work. It’s like, this didn’t work this time. We’ll try it again later.
It’s a rough first search, so cycle through all the possible options and then go back to the start, and it’s like, all right well nothing worked. We know one of these should work, so let’s try again. The nice thing with social media ads, there’s so many different variations you can try.
I think initially we had the most success with Google AdWords and with Facebook and Instagram ads. It wasn’t successful but we had the most relative success there compared to other things that we tried. The thought was, we know other people in the same space have had success here.
We know our customers are on this channel. Let’s just try running a few different tests and let’s go a bit deeper on it. I think the main reason why we chose social media is because we knew our customers were there and we saw a little bit of success from early on.
So it was like, in theory this should work, so we just need to figure out how to make it work.
How much money are you guys spending on ads nowadays?
We just ramped up our ad spend to $10,000.00 a month, which I know sounds like a lot, but our ROI is great. Our LTV right now or lifetime value is about $4,400.00 and we acquire a customer for $450.00, fully burdened, counting the sales salary and everything.
You’ve basically built a machine where you can pour as much money as you want into ads and you’re pretty confident that you’re going to get a profitable customer at the end of it.
For the time being. I’m sure it’s going to change, and we’ve seen some shifts within our ad results. Our cost per lead is starting to go up. Fortunately we have an account manager at Facebook that we work with, so this isn’t good. It’s rising pretty rapidly and it’s not sustainable for us. What can we try? And they have a very clear answer.
They’re like, “Oh, your ad is stale. You need to refresh your ad and put a new creative Facebook is charging you extra because it’s so old.” Changed that, went back straight to normal, how it is today. But I’m sure there’s a ceiling to it. We’ll just see how far we can go with this one ad channel.
If somebody is listening in to this and they’re thinking about getting started with Facebook ads, what would your advice to them be based on what you’ve learned going from spending $0 a month on ads to $10 grand a month on ads?
Run a bunch of different tests. If you’re using Facebook, Facebook is pretty good about self-optimizing if you give it up bunch of different options. You can have one ad set that has, say, ten different creatives and ten different placement spots. Facebook will then figure out where it’s getting the best results from and start to optimize that itself, which makes it really nice.
I would say the other thing is just go through the process yourself as if you were that person that’s scrolling through social media and you see the ad. What does that process look like? Are you clicking on the ad and is that taking you to the website?
And then what’s ultimately the goal? It’s really hard to drive someone straight up to sign up and have them put in their credit card from a Facebook ad, but for us what works really well is getting someone to request a demo.
It fills in that whole education piece of, why do they need this product? What is the product? All they have to do is go on Facebook, say “Yes, this looks interesting. Maybe I want to learn more about it.” They put in their info and then we can get the opportunity to get on the phone with them and sell them.
Let’s step back for a second and look at this overall picture of you running this business. Would you say that you’re having fun? Is this what you expected it would be, and do you enjoy being a founder?
Yes, I would say now I am. I wouldn’t say that was always the case.
When wasn’t it the case, and why not?
Oh, man. I would say the first six months were fun. It was liberating just being able to work 24 hours on a startup. You don’t sleep. You just keep working. And that was super fun. It’s something I had always wanted to do.
I think around that six-month mark was tough, just because it’s like, “Okay, something’s not working. We don’t have any customers. We’re not generating revenue. I’m having fun building it but that’s not going to pay my bills.” I think that’s when it started dawning on me, well maybe this isn’t as fun as I was expecting it would be. I’d say that probably continued through until two to three months ago.
I think there’s obviously a lot of fun in doing the task that you like doing, coding, and the liberation of not having to work for the man, being able to set your own schedule, work on your passion. But there’s also a lot of fun in making money, having a business that works. Is that what sort of kickstarted the more recent spurt of enjoying what you’re doing?
That and also seeing the bigger vision. It’s something I struggled with a bit. I think we kind of flopped around. Do we want to build a big business? Do we want to stay bootstrapped? What do we want to be when we grow up, essentially, in terms of the business?
I think we have a lot more clarity on it now. We’ve put a lot of thought into it and have been much more deliberate in terms of planning. I think that’s just been super exciting. I think it’s gotten us to a fun spot.
What is the vision that you guys ended up with? Ryan Born: [00:53:23] Building the multipoint solution that we talked about, being the all-in-one platform for marketing agencies and freelancers that are either just trying to get started or they’re trying to grow their book of business.
How do you end up with a vision like that? Because there are so many different things you can do, so many options and roads you can travel down. What factors go into deciding what you want to be when you grow up?
One part’s the market. We talked about the market. It’s extremely crowded. If try to do what everyone else is doing, which is expanding from marketing agencies to then selling direct to brands and selling to enterprises, I just think it’s too crowded and there’s not enough space for us. But I think the other part of it is just listening really closely to our customers.
A lot of them are saying, “Hey, you guys are killing it on social media. I love your tool, but any chance you guys could help us with billing or help us with email marketing or whatever else?” I think there’s a pretty large opportunity there.
Honestly, it’s a fun customer segment to serve because it’s small business owners. They’re trying to earn back their day. It’s really relatable. I think going deep in that and just better serving them is exciting.
I was reading a little bit of Jason Lemkin, the founder of SaaStr which is a conference and also a community and publication for people running SaaS businesses. He had a good post about, what’s the hardest thing of running a SaaS business? It wasn’t just one thing. It changed depending on the phase that you were in.
Up until the point where you’re making about $10,000.00 a month in revenue, he said the hardest thing is just how little money you make from each customer. You put so much effort into a sale. You’re calling people. You’re in the phone. You're on email. You’re adding features, and then they end up paying you something like 10 or 15 bucks a month. Is it really worth it? Would you agree with him that that was the hardest part of growing your business in the first 10K a month?
Absolutely. It makes your time just feel worthless. You spend so much time working on this new feature that this customer’s - given, you probably should do this unless it’s a feature that everyone wants, but maybe in the early days the customer’s like, “Look, I would sign up if you have feature X, Y, Z” or whatever, and you’re like, “Oh, man. I could build it. I’m an engineer. I’ll build it tonight.”
You spend hours building this new feature to get, whatever, a hundred dollars a month. You’re like, “This is not worth my time. Why did I leave my job? I was making so much more money and I didn’t have to work 24 hours a day.”
When I started Indie Hackers, which was never a SaaS business, I didn’t have that problem because I was selling ads, so people would just pay me $5,000.00 for an hour-long phone call for ads, so it felt very much worth my time.
But on the flip side, before I started selling ads I was constantly comparing to my hourly contracting rate as a developer. It was like, “I’m making this many hundreds of dollars an hour as a developer, whereas this week I just worked 80 hours at Indie Hackers, I got paid zero.” So it’s really hard early on to not do that mental calculus and wonder if you’re not dumb for giving up your job and starting a company.
It think it’s why it’s important to do something that you enjoy. Folks always say this is, get into a business that you’re going to enjoy because those early days are tough. You’re definitely not making much money and you’re having long nights and customers are complaining about things and you’re stressed out the whole time. You’re just like, “Why am I doing this?”
Is there anything you can actively do, after you’ve already started your business and you have paying customers in a trajectory, to modify your business and make it something that you enjoy more?
Yes. I think there’s a lot of things you can do. I try to be better about planning my day at this point. I try and focus on parts of the business that I like doing, and then not necessarily neglecting the parts that I don’t like but maybe delegating those out to other folks that are hiring for them.
I think you can really build a business, even no matter how far along you are you can start shifting the business to be more enjoyable and just spend your time doing what you want. I think it’s important to be deliberate and just make a list. What I did is I made a list and said, “You know, these are the things that make me happy at the end of the day.”
If I build something, I’m really happy. If I get recognition for something, I’m really happy. Whatever it might be. So make that list and then figure out how you can structure your day around that list and make sure you’re at least doing one thing per day that makes you happy and makes you enjoy building the business.
I love that approach because it’s so deliberate. It’s very easy to fall into a habit or a cycle or pattern where you’re just carried forward by momentum and you’re just doing whatever you did yesterday. But if you’re a little bit more deliberate about what you want and what makes you happy, then you can actively rearrange your day and your tasks and then make sure you do those things.
I should probably have a list like that for Indie Hackers because there’s definitely lots of stuff I don’t like doing, lots of things I do like doing. It’s pretty liberating to realize that you’re the boss. You can therefore decide what your day’s going to look like and no one else can really tell you what to do.
It doesn’t always feel like it early on. I think that’s the hard part, is when you’re not generating enough revenue to hire other people, you are wearing every hat. You have to do every single thing you can to please your customers and get more customers. But as the business starts growing you can hire more people. It’s just a bit more liberating.
What do you think the future looks like? You’ve laid out your vision for Cloud Campaign, but you’re also going to be raising money. That’s a really big decision to make. It might change the entire nature of how your business grows, what’s expected of you and the direction you’re going in. Where do you hope things end up for you, not just as a business but personally as founder?
It’s a very big question, Courtland. You’re making it hard for me. I think a big thing is just building a culture and an office that I really enjoy working in, putting good people around us, people that believe in the mission, people that are excited to go to work every day and work on the problem that we’re doing.
Ideally, in terms of where the business is at, we’re solving this problem for this rapidly expanding industry. There are about 9.12 million freelancers that currently offer marketing or creative services, which is massive.
I think it’s somewhat of an overlooked industry, and the gig economy is just growing. I think if we can be that solution, that one-stop shop that makes it that much easier for them, I think that would be really compelling. It’s almost, in some ways, similar to Stripe’s mentality.
Stripe is trying to make it easier to start a business no matter where you are in the world. I think it would be cool if eventually, one day, we could be something similar but very specific to freelancers that are trying to start up a marketing agency.
Well listen, Ryan, it’s been cool watching your journey, and to watch also your ambition expand from, “I want to be an Indie Hacker,” to “I want to be one of the leading platforms for marketing agencies.” There’s a ton of people listening in who are basically where you were two, two and a half years ago. What’s your advice for somebody who’s just considering becoming a founder, someone who’s just started?
It’s Tim Ferris’ advice and it’s suited me well so far, which “Just in time, not just in case.” Don’t go learn some new framework or go set up Docker to auto-deploy some servers if you have two users. There’s no point. You’re very limited in your time when you’re starting a company, especially if you’re bootstrapped and don’t have anyone else to help you.
My advice is just focus on things as they come up. If you have to stay up until 2 in the morning the night before to get something finished for a meeting the next day, do it. That’s I think the best way to do it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting so much time on effort that will never get used.
I love that advice, because it also means that you need to learn on the job, and you don’t really want to spend a ton of months or years reading in advance how to start a startup or how to get a business off the ground. You need to try it out. You’re going to learn more by doing than you will by reading.
You’ll retain so much of it more, too, if you’re actually in the moment. You’re reading a book and they reference something, and you’re like, “Oh, yes. I went through that last month.” Now you will remember it and you’ll know how to fix it or how it pertains to you.
You have real experience to hang this knowledge on rather than just hoping it sticks in your memory for no real reason.
Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the Indie Hackers podcast. It’s been my pleasure having you. Can you let listeners know where they can go to learn more about what you’re up to with Cloud Campaign and what’s going on in your personal life as well if you share that sort of thing online?
Of course. Thanks for having me. I blog on Medium if you want to keep up with me personally. I’m also on Twitter, @_ryanborn, and then if you want to get in touch, you can email me directly at [email protected] And then you can visit our website, which is cloudcampaign.io to see what we’re up to, if you want to sign up for a trial. We’re also hiring, too. You’ll see a link on the website.
All right. Thanks so much, Ryan.
Thanks for having me.
Listeners, if you enjoyed hearing from Ryan, I would love it if you reached out to him and let him know. He is at @_ryanborn on Twitter. If you learned anything or appreciated hearing his story, take a second and say thanks.
I’m also now releasing a weekly newsletter for the podcast, so if you go to IndieHackers.com/podcast you can subscribe and get my thoughts and notes on each new episode as it comes out. Once again, that’s IndieHackers.com/podcast. Thanks, and I will 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.