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35 Comments

9 months and 3000 hours later, I finally reached $60K ARR, AMA!

Hi indiehackers 👋

This is Leon, and I've been working on my side projects full-time for 9 months, since leaving my big tech job early this year.

I've worked in the tech industry for a while, most recently a senior manager of machine learning at Apple before I left to work independently.

I've always enjoyed building products, especially data science and machine learning products, that solve real business problems.

What am I working on?
I am currently focusing on two projects:

  1. sqlpad.io: a one-stop-shop to achieve SQL mastery for data science professionals.
  2. instamentor.com: a platform to hire a mentor for tech job interview preparation.

Both projects are profitable and are growing quickly. If the current pace holds, I should reach $100K ARR by the end of the year.

Happy to share what I learned and the mistakes I've made so you can avoid them. : )

Cheers!

  1. 4

    Congrats! Pretty impressive.

  2. 3

    Thanks @rmondo, you are absolutely right.

    As you pointed out, there was no silver bullet, but I just go out every day to grind it out, doing boring things repeatedly.

    Here are a few among my daily tasks ( in priority):

    1. Post something or answer questions on social media (LinkedIn and Reddit mainly) that are related to my products;
    2. Adding more coding questions to keep people stay interested;
    3. Writing articles for SEO (takes a long time to see the effect);
    4. Talk to our customers and my friends for feedback, and create a sprint plan to execute them one by one;
    5. Iterating on pricing every couple of months;
    6. Looking at other successful founders on indiehackers and see if there is anything I can reapply to my products;

    Once in a while, I also think hard and iterate in retrospect on who are the ideal target customers, how I can serve them better.

    Final thought, the indie journey is long and lonely, it took me months to get the first handful of paid customers, but when you receive the Stripe sales notifications, it made all the effort worth it.
    Stripe sales notification

    1. 3

      How has changing your pricing impacted your customer acquisition?

      1. 2

        Thanks for your question.

        The price changes did very little on customer acquisition, to be honest, approximately kept at the same conversion rate after I raised the price multiple times.

        I think the customers who urgently need to use our products really don't care much if they have to pay $30 more, as long as our products solve their problems.

        One example, we've got customers who landed jobs at FAANG companies, after using our job interview services, the new offer literally is about twice as much of their previous package.

        Spending $100+ on our websites is probably a very good return of investment .

        1. 1

          What is the churn rate like? It looks like a service you might subscribe to during the interview process. Do users tend to drop off after that?

          1. 1

            Hi @BitGonzo, this is a great question, our churn rate is higher compared to other SAAS because people tend to cancel after they found a job. I kept adding more coding questions to keep people motivated, in addition to that instamentor.com also provides career coaching, e.g., how to gain more visibility, how to do weekly 1:1, win trust, etc. Some continue using our 2 services after even getting a job, some don’t.

  3. 2
    1. Is there any conflict of interest for engineers in tech companies for helping candidates to pass interviews and getting paid for that? 2. I assume you started with mentors and what was the process for finding qualified mentors? 3. How did you get the initial traction in terms of attracting mentees? Thanks
    1. 2

      Good questions.
      #1. not really, we focus on the long term and don't share anything confidential or anything that is governed by NDA.
      #2. Lots of hustling, reaching out to my personal network and beyond.
      #3. SEO, answering questions on social media like Reddit or Linkedin.

      1. 2

        Thanks for answering the questions. If you were to choose between your two startups, which one would you pick?

        1. 2

          Ha, interesting question.
          Launching both products happened naturally, so I probably won't be able to pick one from the other.
          What happened is that I launched sqlpad.io first, but once people finished those coding challenges, they reached out and ask to get more help with their job search and career growth (how to become more productive, etc.).

  4. 1

    Are you alone all in this?

  5. 1
    1. How did get your first users?
    2. What are your current main channels of acquisitions vs what were the ones at early stages of each project?
    3. How was your MVP? Full working shining products, or more rudimental?
    1. 2
      1. First users are from reddit, answered questions there and make my product know in a subtle way : )
      2. Right now mostly SEO and word of mouth, also wrote a bot to auto-respond questions on reddit;
      3. Very rudimental MVP, launched a video course to teach SQL first, had it hosted on Teachable, made about $1000 bucks, then realized people needs a place to practice SQL online, built the entire websites in a few weekends. Migrated everything out of teachable and started using Stripe for payment processing 3 months after the initial launch.
  6. 1

    How do we find good idea to work on?

    1. 2

      Solve your own problems? I launched SQLPad.io because I've seen so many fresh graduates, entry-level data scientists at work struggling with SQL, which is a must-have in the industry but you don't get to learn all those form a formal college education.

  7. 1

    How has innovation helped you reach these goals?
    What is your biggest barrier to generating new ideas, new directions or trying new things?

    1. 1

      It helped tremendously, would say it's not just innovation, it's really should be coined as "innovate and simplify". Which is a leadership principle I learned from my Amazon days.
      There are so many different options and shining tools to help with your creative solutions, but the most important part is to pick the simplest ones and execute, implement the solution quickly.
      Launch quickly to try out.

  8. 1

    So cool! With instamentor how were you able to scale to that much ARR with a product that involves a lot of scheduling? How do you handle mentors and customers wanting to change their schedule a lot? Do you see a lot of refunds and canceled appointments or does that not happen much actually?

    1. 1

      Thank you Chaunce. Those are great points. You are absolutely right, scheduling takes a lot of time and very often have to make updates and changes manually. All requires spending time but good thing is it actually is a good opportunity for me to work with the both sides and get to know them better more personally.

      People do cancel but 99% of time it’s legit reasons, so we usually just refund them fully.

      I am still in the stage of “doing things that don’t scale” , so completely fine without worrying too much about scaling yet.

      Will be a good problem to have one day though. 😃

      1. 1

        Awesome, you're killing it! The only reason I bring those up is because I'm also working on a service-based marketplace (in a different vertical/industry) and I'm thinking about those same problems too XD. Would love to discuss specifics and compare how we approach them sometime!

        1. 1

          Thanks, those are absolutely great points and I wish I have a better answer for you. : )
          Feel free to ping me on Twitter and we can go from there? DMs open.

  9. 1

    Hello Leon 👋

    First, congrats on these two projects!

    What is your go to advice to stay motivated ?

    Cheers!

    1. 3

      Hi @IndieHugo, that is a great question.

      The most motivating thing for me is to get sales, when people buy my product it feels insanely great.

      But it took me a long time to get paid customers, when there were no sales, I just stay disciplined, telling myself that this is a job, and I have a good vision, and I just show up and do the boring things repeatedly every day.

      1. 1

        Thanks for your reply :)

        1. 1

          You are welcome, thanks for your great question!

  10. 1

    Love it. Great job, Leon :)

  11. 1

    That is super awesome Leon! Way to 100k

  12. 1

    What have you been doing to experience this gradual growth? Doesn't seem like you had an inflection point necessarily, but good, steady, growth. Congrats.

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