Joining me is an indie hacker whose broetry post about how he hit $10K MRR went viral. I invited him here to walk me through how he got to that milestone and what his new challenges are as he grows his company Bannerbear toward the $1M ARR mark.
• Follow Jon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yongfook
• Check out Bannerbear: https://www.bannerbear.com/
• Subscribe to Jon's newsletter: https://www.bannerbear.com/open
What's up, everybody? This is Courtland from indiehackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers Podcast. More people than ever are building cool stuff online and making a lot of money in the process. On this show, I sit down with these indie hackers to discuss the ideas, the opportunities, and the strategies they're taking advantage of so the rest of us can do the same.
All right. I'm here with Jon Yongfook, the founder of Bannerbear. How’s it going, Jon?
Happy to be here.
very now and then I get someone like you on the show. You're kind of like a prototypical indie hacker. You are a solo founder, you're a coder, you're also a designer. I think you do all your design.
Yeah, I do my design, yup.
Your app Bannerbear is a software as a service app, and you're also transparent about everything. You're basically building in public, posting on Indie Hackers all the time and posting on Twitter and your blog. How well would you say Bannerbear's doing today in terms of revenue or whatever other metrics you think are important to measure your success?
It's exactly where I wanted it to be. I mean, my initial goal when I kind of became an indie hacker was to at least kind of replace my old corporate salary. I thought if I could do that, then that would be my kind of main sort of success metric.
Happy to say that just last month, actually, it sort of went over that point. It's currently on $16K MRR. I passed a $15K last month; that was the, that was the cutoff point.
Super exciting. So, $16,000 a month in revenue and it's growing pretty rapidly. I mean, right now it's May, I think you were at $10,000 a month in revenue in January? What do expenses look like as a one-person startup, how much of this $16,000 a month is profit?
It's funny. People always ask me that, you know, very cynically when they hear that you’re making X amount of MRR, then the next question will be, you always hear, but how much of that is actual profit?
It's a typical SaaS product. So, I have Heroku costs, and I have AWS costs and all in all, it adds up to a few hundred dollars a month, I think in terms of the running costs. Then in terms of my time, it's pretty much a full-time job at this point.
That's the dream of SaaS, right? It's super scalable. You can add more and more customers, but you're not really adding much to your costs. Theoretically you can grow to the moon without having to build a huge team, or without necessarily having to face a lot of expenses, right?
It scales, unlike physical businesses where you’re actually having to pay more money for every additional cookie that you sell or every additional widget that you create in your factory.
That's kind of why I think you're leaving the indie hacker dream. You're a prototypical indie hacker because you are a coder and because you are leveraging your skills. It's become a little bit more en vogue recently to, not to regress, but to almost take a step back and do content-based businesses where you, for example, you were writing a blog or a newsletter and making money that way. Not as many people in 2021 are building SaaS apps as I've seen in the past, it's not as popular.
I've noticed that, but there's nothing wrong with it. I think it's great that there's new ways that different types of people can create scalable businesses now. I think that's really cool. But as a developer, as a designer, I get a kick out of building SaaS apps, and I'd like to see other people also building SaaS apps.
So yeah, it's been strange for me to see kind of the community diversify over the last year. mostly in the last year or two years. But I think there's still a core of people who are looking to build SaaS apps and looking to live that indie hacker dream of building something that can scale hugely without too much cost scaling as well.
Before we jump into things, what is Bannerbear exactly? Who's using it and then what do they get out of it?
Bannerbear is an image and video generation API. It helps businesses automate creative tasks, such as, but not limited to banner ad generation.
The way it works is you or your design team comes into Bannerbear and designs a template that can be then reused multiple times, thousands of times, millions of times. Bannerbear then takes that template and turns it into a rest API. Then your developer team can push data to the rest API, and they get images back.
There's two types of customers. There's kind of low volume and high-volume customers. So, The low volume customers are social media managers who are looking to kind of automate some of their daily repetitive tasks. They've got social media posts of a certain design that they have to do regularly and Bannerbear will just help them produce those images on a daily basis.
Then on the high-volume scale, I've got customers like digital agencies who are using Bannerbear to generate tens of thousands of ad variations for various products that they manage for their clients.
So, yeah, what's been interesting growing Bannerbear is seeing those two use cases that are like opposite ends of the scale. There's like nothing really in between those two things as well.
Figuring out how to market to both of those end users, it has been pretty challenging, actually. There's always been this thing in my mind of like, should I be focusing on one or should I be kind of trying to target both of them at the same time?
No right or wrong answer to that, I think. At the moment I'm trying to target both, and that seems to be going okay. But who knows how things will evolve?
Yeah. I mean, in a sense you've quote unquote figured it out, or you figured out enough to be able to get close to $200,000 a year in revenue. Maybe you haven't hit on the perfectly optimized answer yet, but it's good enough for you to have gotten to this point.
You actually wrote a blog post last year where you talked about basically growing Bannerbear to $10,000 a month in revenue, which you've sensed eclipse by quite a bit. That's kind of like a flagship number for indie hackers.
$10,000 a month of revenue was the point where most people can start to see this eclipsing how much money they're making from their normal job. Suddenly it becomes worth it. I want to talk about how you got there because that's the point that almost every fledgling indie hacker wants to get to.
Every year it seems like the path that people will take to get there is a little bit different. You mentioned that you did have a corporate job and that Bannerbear is now making more money than your corporate job was. What were you doing before you even started on this path?
Previously I was working for a company called Aviva, which is a British insurance company, and they sell all sorts of insurance products for home, for motor, for life, that kind of thing.
I was part of the digital team. This is a big company; I think 30,000 employees. I was kind of responsible for mobile apps and websites and things like that in Asia for Aviva. Pretty early on, I realized that this is probably the last corporate job I’m ever going to be able to get, or this is the best one that I'm ever going to be able to get, because it was very obvious to me that the people who were more senior than me, I just did not understand their job.
There was no way that I was going to be able to do what they did because their job was way more about sort of relationship building and internal influence and all of these skills that I know nothing about. I know how to build things. You give me a design and I'll build the app, or you give me an app and I'll do the design. I know how to do those kinds of things.
The role that I was in at Aviva was sort of the peak point of that kind of role, where you're a senior executer kind of thing, anything beyond that and you're in much more of a kind of corporate political role. I just was not, I was just not built for that.
There's really no easy clear-cut path to get there, but that's also where a lot of the money is in the corporate world, being in those sort of hard to define, there is no real school to train you for that job.
It's just supply and demand market dynamics. If your job has a very clear and obvious title that many other millions of people could slot themselves into, that means that there's basically a lot of supply for hiring people for your job and, maybe not as much demand. So, it's harder to get paid as much.
But if you were some sort of weird executive, who's got all these relationships, then you're super hard to replace. The reason you’re rare is cause it's hard to do that job and it's hard for others to learn and get to where you are so I can see how it'd be frustrating to not be able to get there. Did you want to be able to do that or was it just that you didn't even care about it?
I mean, I'm 41 years old. I knew that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, basically. I knew that it was too late for me to learn all those skills and be good at them enough to sort of advance my career in that direction.
So, pretty early on, I realized, wow, okay. This is probably the last corporate job I'm ever going to get, or the best corporate job I'm ever going to get. So, what do I do? I mean, I can either just stay at this position forever and hope that they never sort of fire me or something, or I can start thinking about doing something for myself.
How did you get inspired to do something for yourself? Because I think a lot of other people might take the first option. They might say, well, there really isn't a way for me to do something for myself and in a way, talking about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, that is kind of a new trick going out and beginning being an indie hacker is not an easy thing to do.
Okay. I cheated a little bit because I had actually done it before. About when was it, maybe six or seven years ago now I started, I built my first kind of SaaS app and made a bit of money from it. It got up to like $3,000 MRR. That experience taught me that. Yeah, I can, I can do that. If I have it in me to, if I can get to $3,000, I can get to $6,000. I can get to $9,000, et cetera.
Tell me about that app because that's a lot of money. Why not? Why quit that?
Yeah, so that was called Beatrix and it was a social media, social media management sort of scheduling app of which there are now many, many. Very similar to Buffer, but my Beatrix his focus at the time was more about content suggestion.
It had a big library of content, and you could sort of pick and choose to schedule content instead of having to sort of go out and find content yourself to schedule. I launched that sort of right around the same time that Buffer launched. I think also maybe Hoot Suite launched. Buffer started to do really well.
As I said, it got up to $3,000 MRR, but I just kind of ran out of steam a little bit. I think it just, it wasn't going beyond $3,000 and I saw that Buffer was doing really well and kind of every feature they launched, I was like, oh man, I was going to do that. Either I was going to do that, or I should have done that.
Eventually I think they kind of just, they just wore me down a little bit and I thought, okay, they they've won this battle. I, not I shut down, but I put the app into kind of maintenance mode and just kind of let it run.
That's the end of every startup I think is when you lose steam as a founder, because you can run out of money and then say like, okay, I'm going to keep this going and find other ways to make money.
I'll work a job and work half a week or something, or your competitor can crush you. You can say, okay, I'm going to pivot and go in a different direction and try something different. No matter what happens, you can always keep going. But when you decide my heart's just not in it anymore, that's the true moment that your company's dead.
That's why I always say now to anyone asking me about validating ideas or is this idea good or whatever? I always say the number one thing that I think is most important is are you passionate about this idea?
Because it doesn't matter if it's a good business idea, because if someone else comes along with the good, with the same good business idea, and they're more passionate about it, they will win because they will outlast you.
When you're tired, they're going to be still working. That’s why I think that, I think that's been quite fundamental to why I've stuck with Bannerbear and why I think I'm still really enthusiastic about Bannerbear’s because it comes from a personal pain point that I've experienced in the past.
I just love the idea of automated design. That's always something I've been interested in. Whereas if I compare that to my previous SaaS app, Beatrix, I wasn't super passionate about social media scheduling. It's not really something that I could go deep into and feel like I'm changing the world by helping people to schedule their social media calendars. There are other people who will be super passionate about that, but I wasn't
Back to the corporate job, to the corporate world until eventually you hit the ceiling and you realize why like this is not the life for you. What did that transition look like leaving a corporate job? Or did you stay at a corporate job and work on Bannerbear on the side?
No. I really envy people who are able to do that. I think that's a great way to start your indie hacker journey is by doing it alongside your corporate job. If number one, your contract allows it, and number two, you have the energy to do it.
I didn't have either of those things. I’ve either had a very strict policy about, I mean, I think also because I was at kind of a senior management level, so they don't want you working on anything else, basically other than Aviva stuff. That was in my contract.
Even if it wasn't in my contract, I just did not have the energy. Every day I was working until kind of 7:00 PM, 8:00 AM to 7:00 PMish. There was no place for me to fit in a side project. I would have liked to do that, but unfortunately, I couldn't.
I had to begin after I fully sort of left of Aviva. Then I just had this glorious blank slate in front of me with, literally a blank. I didn't even plan anything beforehand because I thought, oh, even that would be a bit risky if I'm like planning a business before I leave my job, they might, that might come back to bite me in the butt, like 10 years later.
I deliberately started with a complete blank slate as you may or may not know, I tried to do the 12 startups challenge at that point. I started right away doing kinda launching a product every single month.
Doesn't that blank slate period feel so good where you can basically do anything you want? You quit your job; you've got some savings. How much time and savings did you have?
I managed to save up quite a bit of what'd you call it, a runway. I had about $200,000 in the bank and I also say to people, you need to be realistic about what your burn rate is and how much time you're going to give yourself.
You can't do this if you've only got three months of runway. I don't think you can do it if you have six months of runway, I think even that's a bit tight. I had about, I think that would have given me comfortably three years of runway of earning nothing to try and build a business from scratch, which I thought was doable.
It’s super smart that you decided to do the 12 startups in 12 months challenge. This is something that was kind of pioneered by Pieter Levels. It's literally exactly like it sounds, you do 12 different startups in 12 different months.
I think one of the challenges that people run into when they quit their job and they have all this runway, they've got, you know, two, three, four years to just live and do whatever they want, is Parkinson's law.
The work you have expands to fill the time allotted. So, you're like, oh, I've got multiple years to work on something. Then you work on something, and it takes you eight months to get your prototype out.
But if you have the set goal I'm going to have my business launched, built, and launched and marketed and ready in under a couple of weeks, cause the next month I have to start a completely new one, that's kind of a time limit that keeps you honest and prevents you from just taking years and years and years to figure out what you want to do.
What some people expect from the 12 startups challenge, by the way, I didn't launch 12. I only managed to launch seven and then I got kind of a bit burned out, but seven’s still pretty good.
I don't think anyone's got the 12 so far, but everyone always expects that the reason or the number one thing that you get out of the 12 stops challenge is one of the things is going to turn into a massive business. But I don't think that's realistic to expect that.
I think the number one thing it can teach you is, as you said to, to keep yourself honest and to learn how to time box yourself and to just to know how to draw a line and ship something and get it into customers' hands. I think that's the true sort of number one learning you get from that exercise.
I think that really has built a foundation for how I work with Bannerbear. Now I'm very strict about time boxing. I'm very a ship very frequently. I don't go into sort of weeks and weeks and weeks of development without shipping something. So yeah, that's kind of built a foundation for how I work.
I think the other lesson or learning that you can hope for from the 12 startups challenge is kind of giving you a compass bearing of what you're passionate about. If you do the 12 startups challenge and you try a bunch of different things, you're going to see which of the areas that you're actually really interested in.
You're going to have some ideas that you think are just good ideas and you think, oh, that's going to be a million-dollar business, but then it turns out to not be. It also turns out that you're not interested in it, but then there'll be other things that you're like, oh, I want to kind of pull on this thread a little bit more.
Those are the things I think that you should be pursuing. One of those areas for me was automated image generation. I was doing kind of an image generation related products in the 12 startup challenge.
That was a space that I was interested in. I was like, could I make this like 10 times faster? Could I make this 10 times more useful? Can I make this 10 times whatever? That was the thread that I was putting on and then eventually I kind of had the idea for Bannerbear.
It's kind of fascinating to hear about you going through this process because so many people don't get started because they find it difficult to come up with just one idea. They're like, I would start something, but I have no idea what to build.
Whereas, if you're doing a different startup every month, you’re routinely coming up with ideas. It's probably ideas that you had that you didn't even have time to build. You kind of faced the opposite problem, which is this choice paralysis thing where, in the modern world, especially if you're an indie hacker, trying to decide what business to build, you've got an overwhelming number of choices.
Even if you pick a particular business idea, there's an overwhelming number of ways that you could take that. You can make it mobile, and you can make desktop. You can make it web, you can make it red, and you can make it blue, you can do whatever you want. What was your process, if you remember, for coming up with these ideas and figuring out which ones were worth working on and which ones to sort of leave on the back burner?
I actually had an Excel sheet or a Google doc just full of ideas. I had the ideas on the left-hand side. I had various columns of criteria that I was scoring these ideas on, and they were things like how hard it is to build, how defensible is it? How easy is it going to be to get my first customers? Kind of based on do I have access to those markets already.
In retrospect, I don't think that was the best way to do things. It's one way to do things. If you have analysis paralysis, then just do that, just assign, a score and pick them and be done with it.
But if I had to go back and do it all again, as I said, I think I would add a sort of a passion school that I would weigh more strongly above everything else, which I wasn't doing. I think I was more focused on at that time, I was more focused on I'm going to build a million-dollar idea and it's going to be so clever and it's going to be so defensible and all of those things that are a bit unrealistic. I think when you're first starting out the best compass bearing is just what are you passionate about?
And it turned out that you were passionate about basically automated image generation. Probably not something many people would predict that they're going to be passionate about.
What was it that stood out to you about that? Was it the work style or the revenue, or the business prospects and the market?
I had worked at a company previously where we would have desperately needed this product and it didn't exist at the time.
I used to work at an e-commerce company a long time ago, where we were a pretty typically e-commerce company. We, every day we would have some new products to put on the store and those products would get photographed and then those photographs would go onto the website.
But then after that, we would have to turn those photographs into banner ads for various different platforms, different sizes, different aspect ratios, and different words in the banners because you know, the marketing team would want to test this message versus that message.
At the time we did all of this manually. I was running the design team at that time. We had this kind of little conveyor belt style process every day, where we would get the images in from this side and out that side, we would spit, you know, a dozen or so banners for each product.
It was so labor intensive, and we were all just kind of drained at the end of every single day. It was really repetitive and there was no kind of automated solution for this at the time. Now there is, there's these kind of big enterprise products you can plug into, but I thought, oh, it'd be, it would be so cool if there was just a self-serve SaaS product that I could just sign up for, get an API key and then boom, I can just automate this.
So at this point, you're probably what, like eight to 12 months into your journey, you haven't made a dime from any of your products I don't think. Were any of these projects making money?
I actually had not built a business model into any of these.12 startup products, which is probably dumb.
I think going back to the topic of runway, I think I had a bit too much runway. It's Parkinson's law again, because I thought I've got three years to figure this stuff out, so I don't really need to make money in year one, which I think is a stupid thing to think, but that's how my brain was sort of processing it.
Yeah, which is a pain because having that revenue incentive, having to make money from your products or trying to charge money for your products will be kind of a signal in the right direction. When people might say, I'll pay you 10 bucks a month for this, but I won't pay you $30. Or people will say, I like the product, but I'm not willing to pay for it.
You find out, okay, well, what am I going to build that people actually will pay for? It's really hard to figure that out or iterate your way there if you don't have a price tag on it.
I think I was just also afraid because the moment you put a price tag on something and people don't want to pay, then it's like a personal rejection and it hurts. I think I was just kind of subconsciously avoiding that.
After the seven products that I launched, I had a bit of a break. I was a bit burned out. Then I launched one more thing, which was a video conferencing tool for remote companies, which I thought was a good idea. But again, I wasn't super passionate about it.
That I put a price tag on and. Nobody paid for it, and that was really painful. That that was my rude awakening into now I'm seeing how difficult it is actually to get people to pay for something.
Well, at this point, you've got what, a bunch of different projects. Some of them are dead. Some of them are shuttered. Some of them are probably still running.
One of my favorite pieces of advice for indie hackers is, generally speaking, you should be trying lots of different things. If any given idea doesn't work, you should probably just drop it because it's a waste of your time. It's not working. You don't want to, if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
But if your journey isn't working, overall things aren't working, don't quit your journey, keep going. You want to keep starting new ideas. You want to resurrect the ideas that seem to have promise. What did you do when you look back and you figured out that all of your different ideas hadn't really worked out the way that you wanted them to?
This was probably around August, September 2019, where my seven products from the 12 startup challenge, they were basically all gone. Then I kind of went back to, went back to the roots and just thought, okay, what am I actually really interested in?
I spent two months working on something that I'm not really interested in, and that was just agonizing. I ended up launching something, not called Bannerbear, but it was a similarish product.
It was an image generation tool for your website. It would help you generate Instagram posts from your website pages. Basically, it would, it would sort of scan your website and take your cover images or your article titles, that kind of thing, and then it would generate a whole bunch of Instagram posts.
That I put a price on. That I was really interested in, personally interested in the actual problem that it was solving. Some people paid for it. That was a good, a little bit of reassurance, a little bit of things were heading in the right direction.
But I made the classic indie hacker mistake of charging $9 a month for it. Obviously, revenue growth was super slow because it is excruciatingly slow to grow business off $9 subscriptions.
You need something like almost 2,000 people basically to get to the revenue you're at today. You need almost 2,000 customers. That is a ridiculous number.
It takes years if you're, if you're nailing it. If you're not nailing it, it'll take you a decade to get to 2,000 customers.
People don't realize conversion rates on the internet are usually around like 1%. 2,000 customers means like 200,000 users, assuming you have a freemium product or something.
That means you have to be, like you said, you have to be nailing it. You have to be a ridiculously good marketer, probably a team of marketers working for years and years and months, and months and months, which is why it makes way more sense to charge way more so you don't need to get 2,000 customers to get to your revenue goals. So, you only need to get to like 200 customers or 20 customers or something. That's way easier to get to.
The only companies I know, the only sort of small indie hacker type companies I know who are getting to 2,000 customers with kind of $9ish subscriptions, they're killing it on their marketing.
One of those is Plausible. I think they do an amazing job of their marketing. They're everywhere. I see them pop up on Hacker News. I see them pop up on my Twitter feed. If you're not them, then you're not going to get to 2,000 customers at $9 a month. So yeah, it's better to charge more and aim for a lower volume of customers, I think, unless you're a marketing God.
That's exactly what I did. I started charging more and the revenue went up a little bit. But then I think I just realized that a point, the use case that I was targeting at that time was way too, there was too many criteria basically to be my target customer.
I thought, okay, what's the way of massively expanding the use cases and having a few more types of target customer. Then the idea for an API, basically just turning the whole thing into an API so that you can do whatever you want to do with Bannerbear. I’m just the provider of the technology. Then the actual kind of use case is up to you.
Very quickly that idea made a lot of sense because I realized that a lot of the companies that I look up to or are big fans of are also API products. Like Stripe, for example, there's a good fit, I think, between indie hackers and being an API product provider, because it keeps the product simple, and it keeps your scope of work simple.
You're just the technology provider. You do the hard work in the background and then what the customer uses it for is kind of up to them. I always say that indie hackers are good fits for building API products.
Yeah. I think there’s several advantages to it. In addition to what you're saying, one of the good things, also for people who don't know what an API is, it's an application programming interface. It's just a way for one program to talk to another. The fact that you have an API company means that instead of people coming to your website and having to drag and drop and fill out forms to make an image, they can write code that talks to your website, and you'll give them an image back.
What’s cool about this is that usually when people write code to talk to an API, they write the code and then they're done with it. They go on and do other things and they might take years to turn that code off or decide they don't need it anymore, which means you have a very low churn business.
Most of your customers keep generating images automatically in the background. Isn't that a little bit scary to make that transition, though, because if you're building an API company, it now means that your users have to be software engineers. Not only that, but they have to read probably a bunch of guides and documentation to learn how to use your product and then code something. It's just the process of somebody using API product is so much harder and so much longer than learning how to use like a drag and drop interface or fill out on your website.
I think what helped was I love the sound of all of that. So, I thought, oh, okay, my new goal now as a company is I've got to have the best documentation.
I've got to have some cool API console in the dashboard. I've got to have all these things. All of that sounded like that, that all sounded magical to me. I was like, I really want to build that, that this is the product that I want to build. Totally different direction, different challenges.
But as I found out later on, the target was not just developers. It was also this whole new no-code space, which at the time of building Bannerbear, I had zero inclination that it was growing so fast, the no-code space I mean. I had never touched Zapier, I think at the, you know, when I first launched Bannerbear, but after a few months, it became really obvious that that was a massively growing space that I needed to kind of tap into.
What was your strategy for you're doing all this building, doing all this coding, how are you actually getting people in the door? I mean, there are these waves, no-code and sources of users where people might be interested in what you're doing, but how do you let them know, I have this app, I have this API and it will solve this problem that you have, please come sign up?
My whole strategy has just been to create momentum and create a sense of gravity. I do that through, I post on Twitter pretty frequently. I have an open startup page. I have a newsletter that like clockwork I send every two weeks, even when I don't want to, even when I'm super busy, I still send it every two weeks and it has a full update and it's not copy pasted from anywhere else. It's me sitting down writing this thing, usually with some kind of like helpful nugget of story at the end. I get a lot of people saying that they like, they like the newsletter and they're not even my target customers. They're just people who like the content that I'm writing.
All of these things and a bunch of other things, you add it all together and yeah, the right people will find you. It may be, it sounds like a messy way to do it. It's not very kind of targeted. It's maybe not very efficient either, but it's the only way I know how to do things. That's been my strategy.
Creating things like flagship content, where yes, I do my bi-weekly newsletter and I do regular blog posts, but every now and then I'll also create some kind of piece of flagship content that I want people to share. That was the $10,000 MRR post, which is this big timeline of telling the story from the beginning to end. I think that got put on Hacker News and that went a little bit sort of viral quote unquote.
All of these things added together creates the audience around you. Again, the important point is it's not like those people are your exact target customers, but they can help to connect you with your target customers.
They have a friend who says, I need to generate images, like, oh, I've been following this guy, Jon on Twitter, you should check out.
Exactly. Then also very often I'll see in my Twitter mentions someone who I don't know at all is saying, I'm trying to do this thing. Then someone who follows me is replying, you should check out @yongfook, @bannerbearhq cause I think it does what you want. And I'm like, oh, well, okay. That's cool. That's exactly. This whole thing is working.
So in a way, all of these marketing efforts are almost like little startups in and of themselves. Just because you write a blog post doesn't mean anybody's going to read it. Just because you have a newsletter doesn't mean anybody's going to subscribe or just because you're tweeting doesn't mean anybody's going to follow you.
What's your strategy been for making these channels succeed? Cause so many other indie hackers are trying all of these things and they're just sort of tweeting or writing or blogging into the wind.
You do have to do it well. You can’t just write a newsletter. You do have to think about, am I trying to teach people something? Am I trying to get people excited? Am I trying to, there should, there needs to be kind of a fundamental goal of any of the content you create?
To give you an example, the $10K MRR timeline that I made, my fundamental goal for that was not really to tell the story and not really to be informative. The fundamental goal was I want it to look cool because I want people to look at this and then say, oh, I'm not going to read any of this, but this looks really cool and I want to share it with my friends.
That was the main goal. If you do read the content, it is actually informative and it does tell the story, but the primary goal was, I just want it to look cool so that people within 10 seconds are like, oh, I got to share this with someone.
And to get shared, you have to literally write stuff that's remarkable. As in, people want to remark on it to their friends. People generally only tell their friends about things that are really interesting or surprising or new.
If you made this blog post look like every other indie hacker, who's gotten to some revenue milestone and it was just black texts on a white medium page, you know, blog post background or something, that'd be completely unremarkable.
Why would anybody share this? It's already been shared a million times, but yours is just so different that even if people don't read the content, you're right, it's worth sharing because it's like, look at this cool thing.
Yeah, I think understanding a little bit about basic human psychology is really helpful. If you're going to learn one thing or if you're going to have one assumption, just assume that everyone has incredibly low attention span.
If you hold that assumption in your head as you're creating content or as you're writing a blog post, I think that's a really helpful belief to have, even if it's not true for everyone, but it's quite true for most people.
Yeah. Your font size in this blog post is like 30 pixels tall. It's only either bullet points or just one sentence at a time. The next paragraph is one sentence, so it's written for people who are just briefly scrolling.
I'll admit the first time I saw this blog post, I didn't read it. I skimmed through it. I was like, oh, this is pretty cool. I skimmed through a few of the points. Cause people just, when you're on Twitter, you're not really in a state where you want to sit down and read 10,000 words.
I'm the same. So yeah, it was created with that intent. All of the sentences are super short. I wrote them and then I took out a bunch of words. All of the bullet points have little emojis because if people don't read the content, at least they can look at the picture and get a sense of what you're talking about.
This kind of stuff also, there's a way to write on Twitter as well. You know, you don't, if you write all in one sort of paragraph as a single block of text, people will just skip over it. But if you write in, I think it's called broetry, bro and poetry.
Every single sentence is a different line.
Yeah. Every sentence is a different line. If you write like that, it makes people stop in their feed because they think, oh, this guy is saying something important, or this tweet is easier to read.
What’s smart is you are learning these tricks and practicing them because you built it into your schedule to do marketing every other week. I think I read this on your journey to $10,000 a month blog post that you did a week of coding and building features. Then a week of marketing and then a week of coding and then a week of marketing.
You just never got off of that track. You always made sure to force yourself to sort of batch the marketing work, which is really smart because most people who are coders and designers never get to the marketing stuff.
They don't put it on the calendar. It's at the very bottom of their to do list. They've always got one more feature they're going to build, and then eventually they'll do all this other stuff.
Going right back to the start, your initial question was how did I get up to the 10K milestone. If I have one kind of lesson to give, or one big takeaway from the journey from $1,000 to $10,000 MRR, it was consistency of balancing 50-50 product and marketing.
I did that for basically seven months straight. You can see on the timeline, the $10K MRR timeline, the point where I start doing that it's just this almost this straight line going up. There's no up and down or not a lot of it. It's just all going up because I'm building new things, but I'm also telling people about them and they're telling other people about them and there's just this constant cycle of that.
I think that was probably the most important thing I did from $1K to $10K MRR was just keep that really consistent.
What did it feel like to actually hit that $10,000 a month goal? I mean, that's the promised land. That's where you really want to get.
It's funny with SaaS because there's also churn as well. You can reach a revenue milestone, but then a few days later you could go back under it because people have churned or whatever.
I actually, I never really celebrate revenue milestones that much these days anymore, because I know that it's going to be super embarrassing if I say, oh, I got to $10K MRR. And then a few days later, it's back to $980 and $9,800 or something.
When I do celebrate a revenue milestone, it's because I've gone, I've blown way past it. I've got to $10.5 or $10.6, but then by that time, the euphoria has already gone. It's like this weird, I don't know, now it's just numbers basically.
How do you feel about it if you think about it from a logical perspective, not the emotions, but what can you now do now that you have the stable company and then how have your plans changed, if at all?
Initially, I thought I would run this thing solo until the very end, but especially after hitting $15K MRR, it I'm like really, really busy at this.
As I said, it's a full-time job for me, more than a full-time job. I pretty much start at 8:00 AM and then finish kind of at 6:00 PM, 7:00 PM. Its's pretty full on. After $15K I was like, I got to get someone to help me. I can't do all of this by myself. I've got way too much on my backlog.
Also, by that point, the business had reached a point where I knew that I could delegate, that I can delegate, this I can keep for myself kind of thing, which wasn't so obvious in the beginning. That's the next step really is just kind of bringing some help on board. Initially just kind of part time, but if they can grow into full-time roles, that'd be great.
Yeah. I saw your post on Indie Hackers last week. It says I'm finally hiring. Taken a year to get Bannerbear at this point. But finally, as you just said, you're getting overwhelmed with work, but you know what you can delegate, and you've got enough cash to help you hire.
What's your strategy? I mean, how did this Indie Hackers post go? Where do you think you're going to find the people that you want to hire?
I had a chat with one of my Indie Hacker friends, Adrienne from Simple Analytics. He's gone through this process.
I asked him how he did it and I'm basically copying what he did. He did the exact same thing; application process, homework assignment, I think maybe he had one more step, and then an interview. You're basically just kind of whittling down the number of candidates at each stage.
He said, the purpose of the interview was really just who do I click with? Because it's all about personality by that point. He said for this role that he was hiring, he had two or three applicants. One was an instant connection, so that's the one he hired.
Very cool. Well, you've come to not the end of your journey, but definitely a turning point. What do you think the future looks like for Bannerbear? This, do you foresee yourself staying interested in Bannerbear? Do you think you'll switch to other projects in the future? What do you do as an indie hacker or once you're making more money than you're making as a normal job?
Wow. This is like the indie hacker existential question.
I don't know. I think it would be awesome to try and grow Bannerbear to a million dollars in ARR. I've got a long way to go, but I think that that's the next goal in terms of the financial goals.
Honestly, going back to what I said about my corporate life previously, I miss working in a team. There are some indie hackers who want to always work solo, and that's fine. I think I did, too, in the beginning, but now I think the next goal would be in terms of the kind of company that I want to build, I actually wouldn't mind growing Bannerbear into a small company of say maybe 10 people, for example, fully remote.
That would be really cool, especially because now I can see, okay, there are very different specializations. I could have a whole little team of template designers. Then I can have a small development team of the API guys who make sure the API is running correctly. That kind of thing, who knows if it will change. But I think I, from the very beginning, I've always had that feeling that it would be cool to have, to work in a team again.
A million dollars in revenue and a 10 person squad. It's the perfect team size for the elite crew of the people that you really want to hang out with, who add a spark to your day and who are sort of pushing in the same direction as you and they're good at their jobs.
Why not, if you're gonna start a company, why not use your company to basically hack your way in surrounding yourself with the people that you actually want to spend time with every day?
Well, listen, Jon, we've walked through the entire Bannerbear story. I know earlier you said that if he gave one piece of advice to indie hackers trying to get from zero to $10,000 a month in revenue would be sort of do this 50-50 split between coding and marketing, I think that's sage advice and hopefully people will take it to heart and learn more than just a thing or two from your story.
Jon Yongfook, thank you so much for coming on the show and telling us about the story behind Bannerbear.
Thank you very much, Courtland. It's been awesome.
Can you let people know where to go to learn more about what you're writing about, what you're building, how to sign up for your newsletter and maybe where to find you on Twitter?
Yep. So, on Twitter, you can follow me @yongfook. Bannerbear’s at bannerbear.com. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, it's at the bottom of my open page. You can go to Bannerbearer.com/open.
All right. Thanks again, Jon.
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