May 20, 2019

120k+ in First Year Of Business, Twice!

Jeremy @Grendorf

#fyi

We have just hit 136k in revenue in the first year of our startup, Rogue Tech, which is awesome in its own right. But the much cooler thing that happened is that I used the same system of building a company as my last startup, Walkthrough, which netted 120k in revenue in its first year.

There are many ways to build a company and this one doesn’t work for all types of companies, but I figured this one might have some merit to it and so it just might be worth sharing. The process is very simple, it’s about being very customer centric and doing things that don’t scale until they are proven worthy of scaling. So, here goes.

The system is this: Before ever building anything, sell it first. If you want to add a feature to your product, sell the concept and get money/contracted for it before building it every single time. And keep repeating that by taking on the ideas and features that either the most people are willing to pay for or few people are willing to pay the most for. One more part for this, if the feature is going to take a long time to make or is too complicated to know how it will work in the moment, do it manually first. Then repeat over and over again.

Pros: Make money right away. Great for bootstrapping. Constantly talking to customers so you know you are building something people want. You have to hold off on doing the fun stuff and focus on getting the market on your side.

Cons: Slows down your product timeline drastically. You don’t know if you’re vision is possible yet. You have to hold off on doing the fun stuff and focus on getting the market on your side.

So, that’s the overall plan, but I figure it’s easier to break it down into real life stories.

Before ever building anything, sell it first.

Walkthrough, making professional photography easy.

Our first professional photography shoot was just myself and my co-founder trying to figure out how to shoot professional photography at all. He had sold a realtor for us to take photos for his new listing. Neither of us have any experience taking professional photos in our lives. I don’t even take photos casually. But there we were taking photos. And guess what, they turned out terribly. But we looked at our photos compared to other houses on the market and started to understand what we did wrong. We also asked what they didn’t like about the photos when we gave them a full refund… It took us two years to win back that customer, but what we did know is that we could sell a realtor on taking photos, and how to improve. So, we did those two things a lot.

A couple weeks later, we had some professional photos that we could showcase. We learned how to set up the camera, what angles everyone was looking for, and how to edit photos after the shoot and before delivering them to the client. This was all done by selling realtors on us being their photographer and us spending hours and hours of our time figuring out how it all worked. But people paid us for photos and more importantly, they paid us to develop our first program of how to take a professional photo, the entire point of the business.

Rogue Tech, enabling anyone to build their own SaaS website.

This one is a lot smoother. But we knew there was a way to make any SaaS/marketplace/social media site buildable by anyone, developers aren’t needed for simple web tasks anymore. So, it was simple, we got our freelancer accounts up and running and sold a website build. 

We documented all of the things that could be easier or that are going to be done over and over again and once we had sold another site, we took the time to automate a couple of the steps and yet again noted down what was repetitive and how long everything took. Sold another website, repeated.
Now, here we aren’t necessarily proving that people want to make their own SaaS website. That’s an important note to have nor with these sales are we proving that anyone can make a SaaS website. But that’s because it’s a difficult feature and we need to work up to it by making things simpler as we go. And I’ll dive into that later in the post.

If you want to add a feature to your product, sell the concept and get money/contracted for it before building it every time.

Walkthrough, making professional photography easy.

We thought that drone photography had a great way of attracting more customers because we heard about it so many times from people asking if we do drone photography. So, we sent out an email asking if people were interested in drone photography and the response was huge. After a month, we had a developer with a drone pilots license. We started doing drone shoots, and within a couple weeks we were doing 10 of them a day. Why did we have a developer do it? Because we knew we wanted it to be an automated shoot that anyone could do. A few weeks after that, we had a simple drone shoot that you just set in your driveway, hide behind a tree and hit launch. The software would take care of the rest. Unfortunately, drone flight laws were in a pretty gray area, so we backed off so we didn’t get sued/fined/shut down. 

Rogue Tech, enabling anyone to build their own SaaS website.

Rogue Tech has a bit of a different twist to it. But essentially, I had an idea that most SaaS websites have a CRUD style to them, aka you have some data that you are creating, reading, updating or deleting. For facebook those are posts, for airbnb those are listings, and for Salesforce that’s customers. But before I can add this in, I had to make a sale and prove that whatever this next app was going to be would require those features. Sure enough, I was building a site similar to groupon but working with direct mailers instead of the companies themselves. And what do you know, companies and their deals need to be created, read, updated and deleted. And I was able to automate the creation of all of the basic pages to do that by reading what data they use from the database. And voila, now you don’t have to worry about creating forms, etc. if you don’t know how to code because they are just de-facto available. But it also provided a lot of value for us and every project we’ve done since. As it takes away a lot of basic set up work!

If the feature is going to take a long time to make or is too complicated to know how it will work in the moment, do it manually first. Then repeat.

Walkthrough, making professional photography easy.

When we first started doing photo shoots, it would take me 2 hours per home to get the pictures we liked, edit them and send them back. We need speed of delivery was important so we would deliver photos same day. And that worked great while we were doing 2 to 3 shoots a day or less. Later when that became me doing 6 shoots and staying up past midnight to deliver the photos it became a problem. 

At that point we worked on building in some automation and we were able to get photo post processing down to 30 minutes a house. We could start scaling on the number of houses we were doing. It took 6 months of this before we were able to get post processing down to 5 to 10 minutes and done once again by someone who was just choosing the best looking photos without doing any photoshop themselves.
But the whole point was to get the automation done while having more and more demand and every time delivering to a client so we could get feedback on how we were doing. If I had sat down and automated post processing before doing any photoshoots, it wouldn’t have turned out the same. And we wouldn't have had customers for a couple months while I solved a problem we didn’t have yet.

Rogue Tech, enabling anyone to build their own SaaS website.

When on sales calls for Rogue Tech, I do always hear customers wanting to be able to change things later without a developer. I constantly remind them that with a custom site that isn’t on wordpress, you are going to lose that ability and it’s an obstacle to cross every time. 

I know that it is something that people want, but the question is how valuable it is to them. And it is valuable to them, but more like $500 valuable, not $5000. And our software is just getting there.
In multiple cases, we’ve set up the ability for that by using something like wordpress so they can change the marketing pages around themselves without us, or I’ve got one customer who changes the html for words himself. People are definitely willing to go to lengths to make it happen, so I know its a need, it’s my job to just keeping getting customers to make that a reality. And it finally is becoming one. We had someone with build their own site with just a little guidance just a couple weeks ago.

Wrap Up

That’s it. Of course there are many more stories of how we’ve executed on this strategy and some where we deviated, but taking this stance will get you customers, money and a proven business pretty quickly.

I’d love to hear from anyone about their own businesses and how they’ve been able to make it work or anyone who is still figuring out how they are going to build their own! Or what you liked/didn’t like about my post so I can make it better.

  1. 1

    What exactly is rogue tech?

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      Rogue Tech is a no-code platform to build complex websites. Think anything from SaaS, marketplaces, ecommerce to things like a live luxury watch stock market, a platform to analyze and give metadata tags to music etc. Right now, we just use it as an internal tool while we iterate on it to make it easier to use. Next year, I'll probably look at making it into a SaaS website builder.

      1. 1

        Nice, I'm unable to look it up on google though.

        1. 1

          Very true. We are a profitable company, but I don't have a website yet. Since all our sales are direct, I haven't had a good reason to build one yet.

          Once I do, then I have one more thing on my plate to monitor and improve, so I decided against it.

          1. 1

            Cool. Is it something like webflow which I think is more flexible in terms of making complicated websites? Or is it like those page builder plugins on wordpress like WPBakery or elementor?

            1. 1

              More like webflow. But while webflow is much more focused on design, I would say we are more focused on providing templates and functionality. So, incredibly flexible. So much so, we include an export button so you could just start coding if you couldn't do exactly what you needed.

              1. 1

                Amazing! I look forward to it.

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