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AMA! I am a transgender entrepreneur, and I bootstrapped to over $40k MRR

Hey Indie Hackers!

I am Hana Mohan, and I co-founded SupportBee.com in late 2011. We launched in 2012, and since then, we have slowly grown to over $40k MRR.
I also happen to be a transgender woman, and I transitioned while working on my business. I have written extensively about my transition. One of the things I struggled with during that time was my inability to find other transgender tech founders to connect with and share my challenges. I hope that by posting my story online, I can be there for someone else in my shoes today.

Bootstrapping isn't always the easiest thing to do but is often worth it. It gets harder each year with more competition and higher salaries. I have written about my challenges as a bootstrapped entrepreneur and the opportunity it presented me to be able to transition while still working on my business.

I wrapped up my transition earlier this year, and I am launching a new product next week on ProductHunt - MagicBell.io. It's an idea I wanted to work on for years but had to put aside to focus on my personal life.

I'd be happy to answer any questions about my business, my journey as a trans woman in the tech community. If you want to connect with me privately, you can reach me on Twitter. I also did an video interview with Nathan Latka recently - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdA0jCGi52s

Fun fact: During the last decade, I lived for a couple of years at a time in Vietnam, Medellin, and Barcelona, amongst other places.

  1. 21

    Congrats to your success!! 👍🏼👍🏼 But what does this have to do with your gender? I’m confused.

    1. 26

      Thanks. Women, people of color, and other minorities find it much harder to find the resources they need to succeed as an entrepreneur. We are also not well represented in the tech startup ecosystem and so when things get challenging, it can be difficult to find the support we need. I strongly believe that being visible as a transgender woman helps my community. It reduces stigma against trans people and gives others a way to relate to us. That was my intention in mentioning my gender. You are right - in an ideal world, it should not matter and I hope some day it's true :)

      1. 5

        "Women, people of color, and other minorities find it much harder to find the resources they need to succeed as an entrepreneur." Can you explain this a little more? What resources specifically? Unless im missing something all you need here is an idea, some coding skills and a credit card for a cloud account. Outside of the wealthy elite and aristocracy aren't we all just humans struggling through life?

        1. 8

          I appreciate your question and your point of view. If you are talking about starting a business, then no, you don't need anything more than that. However, if you are talking of scaling it up and finding funding (and I say this knowing this is IndieHackers), partners, and other resources, then, unfortunately, the odds are against minorities.

          Let me ask you another way: Why don't you see a lot of women, queer, and black people in leadership positions at companies? There are plenty of articles on bias against women

        2. 7

          We are, but there are a lot of people who love to play the victim card to gain sympathy from people

      2. 5

        100% agree with what you said. Something many won't understand.

  2. 7

    Another successful long-term project... A decade! That's often what it takes. Congrats.

    1. 4

      Thanks!

      To be honest, it doesn't have to take this long (with the benefit of experience) but in the end, it's still worth it. One of my objectives, when I started SupportBee, was to create a workplace that I enjoyed working at.

      Since my transition, it's been to hire and work with more talented women. Over 70% of us in the team are women and it's awesome to create an environment where we can thrive. If you are interested, we write about women and queer led businesses on the High Touch Blog.

  3. 4

    Hi Hana,

    What is your strategy to get initial customers?

    1. 4

      @Anush870 The first ten customers are always the most challenging. Ideally, you want to figure out a channel (customer development) that not only brings you customers but also helps you validate that there is a big enough market and you can reach it. However, it doesn't pan out that nicely in real life. One thing that has worked for me many times is writing high-quality blog posts that describe the problem you are solving and your solution. If you have any search volume for the stuff that you are doing, you are going to find a trickly of early customers. This is what's brought us our first set of customers for MagicBell - https://magicbell.io/blog/building-a-user-notification-system/.

      In case you are looking for the backstory on SupportBee, many years back, we wrote about finding our first 100 paying customers - https://supportbee.com/blog/how-we-found-our-first-few-paying-customers.

      If you want to brainstorm about your product, feel free to reach out. Cheers!

  4. 3

    Congratulations @unamashana! I must applaud your vulnerability, as I've only recently started to share things about my own life in writing, and it feels pretty raw. But the "juicy" bits of my life are still locked firmly away in my head, waiting for me to grow some courage. I'm a middle-aged white guy from the Nordics, so I can't really relate, but I liked how you weaved your personal story with the success of the business. Never did I feel one overpowered the other. You have a knack for words.
    Look forward to see what you come up with next!
    Jóhannes

    1. 1

      Thank you. I'd love to check out your Medium but couldn't find a link in your profile. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you'd rather share it privately.

      1. 1

        I didn't want to link to it, so you wouldn't think my comment was meant for self publishing, which it wasn't. But since you ask 😉
        https://johannesthor.medium.com/

  5. 3

    As an aside, I wanted to say thank you for being there for others. I know it's extra emotion work to do that, but I am sure that it's helpful for others to see that they aren't alone.

    1. 3

      Thanks for dropping by and for your comment. I have gained tremendously from the wisdom and support of others in the startup and the transgender community.

      I am certainly rooting for better representation in the tech community and if I can help in any way, I want to.

  6. 1

    $43,000 is a huge achievement. Congrats!
    How big is your team? Do rent an office? Do you provide any other services to supplement your MRR?

    1. 1

      Thanks. We got to this revenue number with a four people team (including the co-founders). Since then we have a couple more people helping us launch our new product. No office since 2015 - fully remote :)

  7. 1

    It's the first $100K ARR that's always hardest they say ;)

    Here's to the new product getting to scale a lot faster!

  8. 1

    Well done, Hana! I'm also taking the long-term, boot-strapped view (rather than the VC-fuelled, "do-it-big-and-fast-or-do-it-never" approach).

  9. 1

    This has been an inspiring Journey! Looking foward to your next product :)

  10. 1

    Hi Hana,

    Good to see you here! We were one of the early users of SupportBee when we were starting InstaScribe. :-)

    All the best for your next project!

    • Abhaya
  11. 1

    I love this! You’re such an inspiration. Xoxo

  12. 1

    Wow ur amazing....

    I am just an solo developer I can't even understand your product....LOL

    Who are your clients ?

    What is your tech stack ?

    How did you get your first 100 users ?

    1. 1

      I am sorry that the landing pages aren't clear. Can you please tell me if you are referring to SupportBee or MagicBell? SupportBee is a shared inbox for collaborating on customer support. MagicBell is a notification inbox for SaaS products that lets you add a Facebook/Trello style notification bell to your product.

      I have written about finding the first 100 customers for SupportBee at https://supportbee.com/blog/how-we-found-our-first-few-paying-customers. Times have changed so much of what's in there might no longer work. I am always happy to discuss this with you 1-1 too. Thanks!

  13. 1

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I'm really happy that you get to live your truth while being an inspiration to many queer folks.

  14. 1

    Hi Hana 👋

    What steps did you take to build a community and launch on PH?

    Thanks :D

    1. 1

      Hey @BraydenTW! I am still new to engaging with the community on PH. However, my co-worker @chriscollinge is on it :)

  15. 1

    Hey there,

    Can you share a simple timeline of most important events? I am especially interest in time of idea, first MVP, first customer, did you have a job, when did you leave it, when did the revenue cover the expenses, when did you feel comfortable with the income, when did you feel it's going to work out? Sorry for so many questions in one. Just really curious how much time goes by (or doesn't go by) between these events :)

    1. 3

      Sure! Happy to take a trip down memory lane :)

      This wasn't the first business we worked on. Before SupportBee, worked on Muziboo, a Flickr for musicians from 2007-2011. Towards the end of 2011, it was Ramen profitable and helped us work on SupportBee. We still had to supplement it with some consulting income for the first year or two. Once we launched in late 2012, we started making some revenue but I had to borrow some money from friends and family to keep going. I felt comfortable doing that because from the momentum it was obvious that it would scale. To be honest, being able to raise a small seed round then (much like Zapier and Helpscout did) would have been a game-changer for us. But that's another story :)

      It wasn't until 2013 that the business was break-even, without a salary for me. I was able to start drawing a comfortable salary in early 2014. 2015 was the first year we were able to make a profit and build a small cash reserve. That pile has just about doubled in the last five years.

      It is quite expensive to scale companies. If you look at most funded startups, it takes about $100M in funding to make $100M MRR. In our case, it has taken us about $2.2M (in customer revenues spent) to get to $43k MRR :)

      1. 2

        Muziboo! Haven't heard that word in a long time :D

      2. 1

        Thank you so much for the answer. It's the first time I hear of the relation between funding and MRR like that. 3 years from start to salary is faster than I would have guessed but slower than I hoped :D

  16. 1

    Hana,

    Amazing! I have some questions:

    1. Were there pivotal moments in the SupportBee product journey that made a big difference?

    2. Did your transition affect your work / product vision in any way?

    1. 3

      @nish234 It took me a while to truly embrace the importance of marketing, especially content marketing. I always believed that blogging needs to be driven by the team since they have the most domain expertise. Unfortunately, the way SEO works these days you need to push out a lot of high-quality content and need to collaborate with external writers. We started down that path a couple of years back and have seen our traffic improve.

      Another thing that helped is Increasing prices over the years. We switched from a ticket volume-based model to a per-seat model, which allows for more expansion revenue. I have written about it at https://magicbell.io/blog/5-valuable-lessons-learned-from-building-a-b2b-saas-business/.

      To answer your other question: Yes, my transition did affect my work and we couldn't grow as much in the years that I was busy with my transition. It is inevitable given the complexity of gender transition and I wish I had cut myself more slack all those years. I am very grateful to my team for their support during that journey.

      1. 2

        I think people (specially me) like to categorize themselves as either builders or sellers, not realizing that you need both.

        People often talk about the importance of not under-pricing oneself. Valuable lessons.

        Taking personal time should be more encouraged. If not, why do we do what we do? I am glad you did.

        Thank you.

      2. 1

        Thanks for sharing this.

        Did you manage the SEO strategy or did the external writer help? How did you measure that you were successful with your SEO work?

        1. 1

          I worked with and highly recommend MeasuredSEM. They managed the whole process once I worked with them on the initial strategy.

          They helped us increase our traffic 5x in one year. We are now working on better converting that traffic to leads (via lead nurturing). The traffic is for relevant keywords so we are hopeful :)

  17. 0

    @unamashana Thank you so much for doing this AMA post! I really appreciate the efforts you have taken to reply every person who has commented below.

    Something I would love to know from you is how did you start out in your intial days of building the business? My product ruttl is all set to get launched very soon and I have been looking for ways to getting new users on board.

    I would really love to derive insight from your opinions on this topic!
    Thanks!

    1. 1

      Hey, Harsh! First of all, congratulations on Ruttl. It's a great idea coupled with solid execution. I signed up for your product (haven't had the time to try it out) but I think you are doing the basics well - like sending emails to people at a good cadence.

      What has the feedback been so far? Do you understand your ideal customer is? Is there a search volume for how they describe their problem? Is there a place where they discuss this problem? I wish I had more concrete advice for you but I do believe one thing - the search for early customers is pretty chaotic. Always happy to chat 1-1 (just DM me). Good luck!

      1. 1

        Thank you so much for this valuable and detailed answer @unamashana!

        I will make sure to keep all these parameters in mind during the product launch. Will surely DM you if I need some advice!

        Cheers!

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