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48 Comments

Bootstrapped my productivity app to 700 paying customers! AMA.

Hey everyone, I'm Marie 👋
(@threehourcoffee on Twitter)

I spent 10yrs in a career of branding/advertising and went from not being able to write a single line of html, to coding and launching my first product within a year.

To be clear you don't need to learn how to code to do this, but it was important to me as I'd set a personal goal to do so. Turns out I really like it! ❤️

I've since bootstrapped my productivity app, Llama Life, to over 700 paying customers and recently got accepted into the LAUNCH Accelerator, which is backed by Jason Calacanis.

Here's my website for reference: https://llamalife.co

Feel free to ask anything about the journey. Not going to lie, it was a hard slog, but extremely happy I did it.

PS - Llama Life is having a BFCM sale which ends today! 🔥

  1. 6

    Hey Marie,
    Congratulations on your achievement.

    How did you find your first ten paying users?

    1. 4

      +1 would love to know the story for this one!

      1. 3

        One thing to think about here is leverage.

        Often people think you get the first 10 and then it can snowball by itself (albeit slowly). But you have actively push it.

        Need to think about what you have that you can leverage based on your current situation. eg...

        • when you have no customers, think about where you can post to get the 1st customer eg Product Hunt.

        • if you do well on PH, say you get #3 product of the day, then you post somewhere else saying 'i got #3 product of the day'.. to get your next few customers. Maybe that post is on reddit with some learnings that you found

        • if the reddit post does well, then you might post it on twitter, saying reddit did well and what learnings you got from that etc. or even if it doesn't do well you can still post about it.

        Each step creates content, stuff you can use / leverage, to get the next customer and so on...

        The important thing is you create content and the beauty of it is that anyone can do that these days. There's so many platforms...

    2. 2

      I think the first 10 were still family and friends, which don't really count.
      But beyond that, hm I think it was from Product Hunt. And then rest was Twitter, reddit and word of mouth. No marketing $ spent, yet. But I do want to do a bit of $ marketing later.

    3. 1

      +1, I had the same question.

  2. 4

    How do you balance marketing against shipping code? Do you have a schedule, or system?

    1. 4

      I don't really have a schedule. I have heard some makers do one day marketing, one day shipping code. Others do one week on, one week off.

      It might depend on what stage your product is at as well.

      For me, since Llama Life is still stage, I try and focus on whatever I think will contribute toward some kind of growth. That said, it's super hard, because I like shipping code (as we probably all do).

      One way around that, is I've built a few side projects (www.fidgetpage.com, www.shhhnoise.com) which let me ship code, but also function as lead-gen marketing for Llama Life.

    2. 2

      I had this same question.!

  3. 4

    Being a branding/marketing expert must be super valuable. What would you recommend an early-stage Indie hacker do in terms of branding/marketing from pre to post-launch day and beyond?

    1. 6

      hey Jamal,

      So I like to think about Branding as your product's personality - if you think about your product as a person, it's like how someone would describe you - like your vibe, energy, characteristics.

      For an early stage company, I do think it's important to give some thought on branding - it doesn't need to be a lot of time because your product could be changing or your audience is changing etc. But spend a few hours thinking about what type of vibe and feeling do you want your product to have.

      When I worked in branding we used to do this for big brands.. we'd come up with a list of brand 'attributes', and you want to make sure that stays consistent in all the communication (ie marketing) that you put out. For example we'd write stuff out like this...

      Llama Life...
      ...helps me focus on one thing at a time
      ...helps provide structure to my day
      ...helps me feel productive, yet calm
      ...is fun to use
      ...is quirky in a good way
      ...is low pressure, not overwhelming

      When you have a list like that, it's really easy to check it off when you start doing your marketing efforts, to make sure you're consistent in how your product comes across.

      It also helps provide clarity when you get new feature requests on whether to build them or not. When I get a request, I cross check my brand attributes to see if the request actually fits with what the brand is trying to achieve.

      1. 2

        Thanks Marie! I'll definitely be putting this into play.

        Keeping the right "vibe" is difficult when you are not just speaking for yourself, but for a product/brand, I can definitely see this helping.

        Great point about getting clarity on feature requests too!

        1. 3

          Yes it definitely helps with the feature requests - you've got to balance it with listening to what customers want (because sometimes that could shape it and change the direction in a good way) and staying true to the intention of the product.

          I had a lot of feature requests when Llama Life first started, which would have essentially pushed it into a time tracking product, like Toggl. But that's not the problem I wanted to solve, so having the list really helped me stay on track.

  4. 3

    What are your recommendations for audience building and building in public? What have been your biggest learnings on this topic?

    1. 3

      I joined Twitter when it first started, but never really used it 'properly' till maybe a year ago. Building in public has been awesome for me because it keeps me accountable and as a solo founder, it has provided a lot of support via the indie maker community.

      Everybody has different styles, but I tend to tweet like I'm just talking with friends and sharing things which I find interesting, or milestones that I've achieved. I typically don't do threads or schedule tweets, it's more in the moment for me. I also have a rule for myself that if I spend more than 2 minutes writing a tweet I don't post it because I feel I'm overthinking it 😂.

      Also post less, and engage in conversation more. Just like you would in real life - say you were working at a larger organization - you'd be chatting with your colleagues, you wouldn't just be shouting stuff out and expecting people to actually respond. It's a two way thing.

    1. 1

      haha thank you! Almost didn't include that because was worried people wouldn't get it. It turned out ok though, and tends to be quite a talking point.

      1. 1

        Yeah, I thought it was unusual but it makes total sense.

        You just have to think a bit more 😏, so definitely depends on how motivated people are to do that when they're on the page.

  5. 2

    Argh missed the AMA because timezones.

    Just came here to say thank you for building Llama Life, I use it every day 💖

    1. 1

      I'm still here frand :)

  6. 2

    Hey, Marie!

    Congratulations🎉🎉🎉

    Just wanted to know more about:

    1. MRR and ARR
    2. The Tool you use to talk/discuss with your customers
    3. How did you get backed? Any tips?

    Thanks

    1. 1

      hey!

      1. ARR is around 10k at the moment
      2. I just use Twitter DMs and email to talk with customers
      3. Got noticed by Jason's team by building in public on twitter :)
  7. 2

    Hi Marie. I've been using Llama Life for the past week. Thanks!

    There are so many options in the world of personal productivity apps. I'm curious when/how you gained the confidence to enter a crowded space.

    Did you have a big idea for your unique approach right from the start? Or did you discover your "true purpose" along the way?

    1. 1

      hey Ryan! cool, thanks for checking out Llama Life.

      Yes it's crowded space, but I look at that as a positive thing...in that people haven't quite found the app that works for them.

      Llama Life started off as something I just built for myself. I got confidence to put it out as a product when I shared it on Twitter and got some great feedback. Plus for me, part of it was a learning exercise - so there was a lot less pressure to succeed at the beginning, because I'd framed it in my mind as a win from a learning perspective no matter what.

      We often talk about product/market fit, but I also believe there is problem/founder fit. And for me, I've been trying to solve this problem for myself for a long time and I always come back to it. So in some ways, this is what I was supposed to build.

      I also built several products before this (at the time as a non-technical founder) and found that they all failed for 2 main reasons :

      1. money
      2. motivation

      And I know I'll always have motivation on Llama Life because it's such a personal problem to solve for me.

  8. 2

    Did you have any point in your journey where you thought about giving up? Or at least, pivoting to another product/idea? If so, what was that like and what made you stick with it?

    1. 2

      Yes, so many times. In fact Llama Life was born out of one of those times 😂. The reason I stuck with it is because two reasons:

      1. I had support from 2 good friends who took me out to lunch and basically told me I need to give it a better shot and that I hadn't given it enough time (this was about 6 months in)

      2. I realized that the problem it solves (helping people find mental clarity, focus, and get through their to-do list) is something extremely personal to me. And although I've had many other startup ideas, I kept coming back to this problem in one form or another.

      1. 2

        Thanks! Super interesting. Sounds like you have some good friends. 😊

        Curious, what do you mean it was born out of one of those times? Were you working on something else previously and Llama Life was the pivot?

        Would love to hear more about that!

        1. 1

          yes you're one of those friends 💗

          I was working on other products before Llama Life - it wasn't exactly a pivot but I jumped around from several ideas that I'd started...

          1. 'freshly cooked food for dogs, delivered direct to your door',
          2. 'IMDB for podcast to help with discovery'
          3. 'Google maps for dogs' - find the best place to hang out with your mate
          4. A tool to organize all your bookmarks
          5. mood diary, habit tracker

          So many, lost count haha.

          1. 1

            Did you release the tool to organize your bookmarks, if so what is it called?

            1. 1

              I did not - that one ended up just being a mock up, but never created.

  9. 2

    How do you manage your day as a solo founder? How do you determine what to work on (marketing, product, customers, etc)

    :)

    1. 2

      Preshhh!

      Yeah this is super hard. I don't really have a schedule. I have heard some makers do one day marketing, one day shipping code. Others do one week on, one week off.

      It might depend on what stage your product is at as well.

      For me, since Llama Life is still early stage, I try and focus on whatever I think will contribute toward some kind of growth. That said, it's super hard, because I like shipping code (as we probably all do).

      One way around that, is I've built a few side projects (www.fidgetpage.com, www.shhhnoise.com) which let me ship code, but also function as lead-gen marketing for Llama Life.

  10. 1

    What's your tech stack? Would you mind sharing your opinions and experience around using that?

    1. 1
      • ReactJS
      • Express
      • Netlify and Heroku for hosting frontend / backend, respectively
      • Firebase database
      • bit of Bootstrap for styling but mostly custom
      • bit of animate.css

      It's worked really well for me so far, costs are minimal. Mostly on free tier except sometimes go over on hosting, which then becomes $20 a month

      1. 1

        Why not firebase hosting?

        1. 1

          no reason, when I started was just going off recommendations from others and Netlify and Heroku were what came up.

  11. 1

    It's a really nice product, congrats!
    How much time did you spend creating the v0? And you created it by yourself?

    1. 1

      hi thank you! yes created all by myself.
      For v0, hm, honestly not sure. Because part of it was a learning exercise for me. Was just starting to learn to code and this was my first project, which slowly evolved over time. Also depends what we mean by v0... it started off as a simple todo list (as we all do when learning ha).

  12. 1

    How do you get anything done with that cute pup around? You'd think your hands would be busy petting non-stop...

    1. 1

      hey Gene!! I know it's quite hard to resist him! His names Homer.
      If you click the llama on the website 6 times you'll find him... #easteregg

  13. 1

    All the very best for 1k. Congrats.

  14. 1

    Congrats Marie! Really like the app UI.

    I was wondering what tech stack you are using and how you approached learning to code after coming from a non traditional tech career?

    1. 3

      Thank you!

      Tech stack is ReactJS, Express, Firebase, Stripe. Hosted on Netlify (frontend), Heroku (backend).

      Approach to learning to code - do it every day! Even if just a little bit. I found if I skipped a day I'd forget really quickly.

      Also find a learning style that works for you. This is the 3rd time I've tried to learn. The first two times I failed because I tried reading books, and I'm terrible with books. But I'm great with audio and video, so I watched a LOT of YouTube videos.

      If you like video, I learned from these channels. I spent $40 total.

      Youtube - Wes Bos, Traversy Media, Dev Ed, Academind, Net Ninja, Web Dev Simplified

      Udemy - Jonas S's html, css, javascript course

      These days people are so generous with their knowledge, you really don't need to spend a lot of money to learn stuff!

      1. 1

        Thank you for the info Marie, much appreciated! Great point about the learning style, I think that is something often overlooked.

        Its an amazing achievement that you self taught and brought your vision to life!

  15. 1

    congratulations @threehourcoffe! 🎉🎉🎉

    one question... What do you plan on focusing on next?

    1. 1

      hey Miguel!
      I'll be focusing 2 things :

      1. integration with other productivity tools (because Llama Life is part of a workflow. Typically people use another tool to hold all their to-dos, then transfer them into Llama Life for daily focus)

      2. adding more animations when people complete a task, to give them maximum dopamine effect ✨

      1. 1

        love it! thanks for sharing what you plan on working on next!

        keep it up! 🎉

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