Developers March 29, 2020

Bootstrapping A Side Project During A Recession

Landon Roddenberry @LandonR

Introduction:
As the markets currently stand, we are likely headed into a national, if not global, recession. Many economists have been suggesting this impending doom for weeks now, and having a degree in economics myself – I tend to concur. While we are not there yet, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about what I’m doing with siterack.io and give some suggestions (and even encouragement if I can) to my fellow bootstrappers and Indie Hackers out there.

A Quick Note On Economics:
“Everyone should take a class in economics” – Yours truly. I’m not kidding, most of the panic we are currently witnessing could be easily mitigated with proper enlightenment of basic economics. Here’s the truth, things are bad — but not that bad. As a whole, the economy ‘was’ (and still can be) in good shape. The virus and its effects are what we call a black swan event, random and unpredictable. However, this black swan has some white spots on it. Why? Because it’s a ‘natural’ problem, not a fiscal or economic one. Most of the historical black swan events were, at their core, fiscal problems propagated by poor decisions being made by much of Wall Street. The virus? Not so much. The only real fiscal problem during this downturn is banks being “over leverage” — they loaned out too much. (Note: It is not a bad thing to be highly leveraged in strong economies as it promotes growth… sorry, I know I’m digressing). To sum it up, the unemployment and contraction we are seeing is temporary. Most companies will resume to full capacity when we finally defeat the dreaded COVID-19. So, hang in there.

Current Status Of Siterack:
Here’s the no-BS-what’s-going-on with Siterack. Lots of coding, lots of bugs, several beta testers, and of course no customers. As a self-taught developer and this being my first real SaaS app build, I’ve likely spent too much time under the hood. Why? I love coding. I hate marketing. Simple. (I can already feel Rob Walling and Arvid Kahl shaking their finger at me)

While that’s true, I know marketing and sales cannot be ignored. So here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Tested multiple paid advertising channels to find the best. (Google PPC is the
    winner)
  2. Compiled a list of communities where WordPress freelancers hang out.
  3. Attracted several beta tester and asked for referrals
  4. Started writing articles and posting them on multiple blogs, forums, and
    community websites.
  5. Attempted to build an email list (how do you do that anyway? – help wanted)

All of this was achieved in about three weeks and costed around $100 (Google PPC testing was free – I’ll talk more about this in another post). Realistically, I have another two weeks of back-and-forth with some beta users to iron out some of the bugs and features and then, hopefully, I’ll give Siterack a go on Product Hunt.

Until then here’s my plan:

  1. Write at least 4 more blog posts and post them to the aforementioned
    mediums.
  2. Post regularly in several Facebook groups / forums talking about Siterack
    (trying to get emails)
  3. Run ‘cheap’ PPC ads at least 5 days per week – but not enough to break the
    bank.
  4. Talk to beta tester – a LOT

If anyone reading this has more suggestions I would love to hear your thoughts.

What To Do During The Downturn:
If you’re about to call my bluff, I’ll call it for you. No, there isn’t much I’m changing in regards to the pending recession, only minor tweaks. The reason is twofold.

One: If you are truly a bootstrapper working on a side project you have the advantage of no or low capitol – yes, you read that right.. advangate. Larger, funded startups with many stakeholders are forced to take drastic measures to preserve cash, cut expenses, and hopefully extend their runway. Bootstrappers, on the other hand, have flexibility and very few stakeholders to keep happy. Most of us are building these projects to fund themselves and ourselves, so they are inheitly profitable and self correcting (side note: read Profit First to learn more on this subject).

Two: Products like mine (Siterack) and Arvid’s (Feedback Panda) are built to help users both save time and make more money. Also, our prospective customers (WordPress freelancers and online English teachers) are those who will likely continue their workload during a recession / quarantine. Lucky? No. Wisely chosen niche? Yes – for Arvid at least, I still have no paying customers, lol.

Smart Tips Nonetheless:
Now, regardless of your products category these are my personal recommendations for any bootstrapper in a recession. I will be doing them all:

Spend time talking to your users, both free and paid if you have them.
Be helpful to your users. Find ways to solve more of their problems.
Focus on retention, not acquisition. (given you have already acquired paid users)
Spend free time publishing focused content… i.e. what I am currently doing
If you’re a technical founder, debug, document, and clean your code.

Conclusion:
Hang in there. Truly. I hope this has been encouraging and helpful. If you have any feedback or suggestions, I’d love to hear it. Also, if you would like to give siterack.io a try let me know and I’ll make sure you get a discount!

All the best builders!

  1. 2

    I'm a designer, not a WordPress guy, but what's your hunch as to why you haven't aquired any customers? The offering seems pretty solid.

    1. 1

      Thank you I appreciate that! If I’m being honest, most of my efforts have been towards testing and development using feedback from my beta users.

      I haven’t put a lot of time into customer acquisition yet, but that is now the forefront of my workload.

      Also, the simple fact that I am not the best marketer / salesman may have a lot to do with it.

      If you have any suggestions, I would be more than happy to hear them 😊👍