Building in Public November 20, 2020

10 years to ramen profitability

Tim Badolato @timsayshey

Back in 2010, I got a job as a developer with no idea how to code. I taught myself on the job. Soon I fell in love with coding and started reading Hacker News. I was hearing about SaaS and recurring income. I wanted in! I read Start Small, Stay Small by @robwalling. I was inspired. I realized that you don't have to raise funds and try to hit it big. It can be a lifestyle business.

I had a friend that needed a way to add sharable ecards to a website. There was no solution at the time, so I threw together an MVP. It was buggy, the emails landed in the spam folder half the time, but it worked! I decided to fix the bugs and turn it into a SaaS product. I got a ton of users initially but had to grind to keep it going, reading about how to promote it, reaching out to bloggers, running google ads, etc. I struggled for many years to position the product and then I struggled to find time to sink into something that seemed to be dying and unwanted. I kept paying for hosting but the product was on life support for years as I lived my life, raised kids, advanced in my career, bought a house, etc.

In 2019 I decided to relaunch the product as EcardWidget.com by taking everything I learned and implementing it into a new product with a simple and clear message. It's an Ecard Widget, no fancy marketing double-speak. It is what it says. I refocused hard on user feedback and delivering no matter what. I launched a Wordpress plugin that was basically a wrapper for my web app to help tap into that market as well. I'm now considering launching plugins for other platforms like Magento and Shopify when I get time. Add that to the pile of 1000 ideas and todos.

The re-launch wasn't an instant success though, I actually almost forgot about it after doing all the work and getting back to my day job and family. Then March 2020 hit and a bunch of new Stripe subscriber notifications started hitting my inbox. Because of COVID, businesses were looking for ways to share cards of gratitude and encouraged in a way that fit with the new remote working situation.

Through this I found out that most employee recognition software is expensive and a lot of these people just wanted the ecard functionality anyway, not the whole package so it turns out my product was really hitting that spot. While my product is kind of a shotgun in regards to the many niches I could target, this generalist version was finding it's own market fit, it seems this employee recognition niche was really latching on. I've since launched a new brand targeted at this niche called EmployeeRecognizer.com as an experiment to see if it starts catching on like EcardWidget has. I even threw together a terrible explainer video that I'd like to redo when I get time (ha!)

Looking forward to what happens next. The product is growing, income is growing consistently, up 180% in the last 8 months, just hit ramen profitability, currently $520 MRR, I have tons of ideas on new markets, I'm getting 5 star reviews from users on Wordpress, happy emails, etc. I wish I could do this full-time, it's super exciting to help people and see how they are sharing gratitude and encouraging each other even with everything that's going on today. But I can't go full-time yet without it being wreckless. I've got a mortgage to pay and a family to feed so it will stay a side project until the MRR grows to a point where I can live the dream and do this full time :)

  1. 2

    Congratulations, Tim. It's a long journey and these small wins along the way will serve well to keep you motivated. Thanks for sharing your journey and best of luck, sir!

  2. 2

    Thanks for sharing, Tim! This reminds me that sometimes there are discontinuities between putting in the work to build something and it really taking off. I have a few projects limping along on life support and I've always wondered if it's just kinder to shut them down, but this gives me some food for thought.

  3. 2

    Great story, thanks for sharing. This is remind us if momentum can happen anytime in our projects.

  4. 2

    That's awesome, congrats! Did you make any other projects in that time period?

    1. 2

      Hey, thanks! Yes, I launched a free real estate landing page builder but I couldn’t get any traction, it’s hard to get realtors attention and the market is crowded so I shut it down. I also created an open source CMS which I built my product on. Ran a Wordpress consulting business on the side. Sold shirt designs on Spreadshirt. Built some free mobile apps and a meme community. I’ve always had at least a few irons in the fire :)

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