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106 Comments

Hi! I'm AJ, maker of Carrd and ... after 2.5M sites, $1M ARR, and a funding round, probably time for an AMA!

Hello again, IH! I'm AJ (@ajlkn on Twitter/elsewhere) and the maker of Carrd (carrd.co), a one-page site builder for pretty much anything. Since my first AMA over 3 years ago, Carrd is now:

  • Home to 2.5M sites (created by some 1.6M users)
  • Earning over $1M ARR
  • Growing by over 10k new sites daily
  • Its own company (Carrd Inc)
  • Partly VC-funded (preeeety sure there will be some questions about this :)
  • Entirely on AWS (as of earlier this month)

... and basically still just me (on dev/product) and Doni (on operations) -- for now :)

Mentioned some of this on Twitter recently and promised I'd elaborate so happy to do just that (or answer, well, anything because AMA).

PS: And of course, thank you Courtland for allowing me to do this!

    1. 7

      love this question! love the answer.

      :)

      1. 10

        It's a great question (and probably one everyone doing this should regularly ask themselves)

    2. 1

      The best questions of all !

  1. 13

    Could you talk about getting your first 10, 100, 1000 users?

    And also making your first $100, $1000, $10000 in revenue?

    In terms of what were the most impactful actions you took to achieve those increasing milestones.

    1. 11

      Sure, so the first 10-100 definitely came from Twitter. I'd been involved in a relatively similar space prior to launching Carrd (site template/theme design) so the followers I'd gained from that translated pretty well to Carrd. First 1000 (and then some) came from launching on Product Hunt and ... yeah, that was interesting :) Gave me a real taste of some of the scale issues I'd face months later.

      With respect to impactful actions, I guess there were three:

      • Making sure onboarding had as little friction as possible (which culminated in the signup-free flow you see at carrd.co/build). This really helped when Carrd launched on Product Hunt.

      • Going with free + paid upgrades. Not always an option, but I think this gives you a longer timeline during which you can "win" over users with a value-add they'll want to pay for (as opposed to a limited trial which is, well, limited).

      • Just being ... chill I guess? I've used products that come on way too strong in the user acquisition and especially retention departments (which was a major turnoff) so I figured not doing that would be the right way to go. So far I think I've been proven right.

      1. 1

        3rd point is a nice one and one that relieves some pressure from me trying to turn my landing page / marketing into what everyone else does.

        1. 2

          Yup, although IMO the signup-free flow is what enables me to go light on the marketing (since you can literally just go check out the product for yourself vs. have me try to explain it).

    2. 6

      Doh, my bad. Totally missed the revenue question:

      First $100 came from Twitter and mostly from folks who were already customers of mine from elsewhere (like HTML5 UP/Pixelarity) so that was a nice edge. Hit the $1000 mark during the Product Hunt launch (thanks to the sheer volume of traffic they sent my way), and post-launch it took several months of slow and steady growth to eventually get up to $10000 in cumulative revenue -- a milestone I probably wouldn't have reached had I not made the conscious effort to rapidly respond to any and all user feedback during that crucial period.

      1. 1

        thanks for the answers! Very insightful but also somewhat expected.

  2. 11

    What was your rationale for raising a fund despite already being financially successful?

    1. 7

      Guess you could say I was in denial about Carrd's growth and what it was becoming. I still thought of it as a side project even as recently as a couple of years ago, but a combination of events in 2020 (COVID-19 and protests in the US being the most significant) crazy accelerated growth and made it very, very clear that was no longer the case and I needed to treat Carrd -- and, more importantly, the users who relied on it every day -- with the importance it deserved.

      Which was all well and good, but WTF do I do next? Do I spin up "Carrd Inc"? Do I begin hiring? If so, who do I hire? What sort of business/legal shit do I need to know about given how much user content is being generated literally every second? Questions I was reasonably confident I could figure out in time, but as growth continued to accelerate -- we went from adding hundreds of sites a day to literally thousands within the course of just a few months -- I realized there was a good chance by the time I did figure it all out, it'd be too little too late.

      And that's where the idea of the raise came in. As something of a solo bootstrapper I've always been pretty insistent on doing everything myself so the thought of getting others involved (let alone taking their money) wasn't exactly appealing especially since we were profitable and didn't actually need the money. However, I knew from talking to others there was a lot more to VC than just being cut a check, and that the network, expertise, and connections I'd gain would go a long way to address the issues I was facing at that moment as well as better equip us for taking Carrd into the future.

      ... which I guess is what it comes down to: doing what's best for the product -- even if it does bruise your ego a bit :)

      1. 1

        It's good to get something from the Vcs, but many of us IH-ers are scared of what they require in return -- no more chillin', you should be working hard to reach these KPIs, an obligatory next round in 1.5 years, etc. Your indie soul, in other words. Is it that bad, or is there hope? I've heard rumors that there's a Good VC somewhere who's coming only to the best of us...

        1. 4

          There's definitely hope, but it's important to clearly set your expectations with your investors to not only avoid misunderstandings but also ensure you're paired up with the right folks . In our case, Carrd was already established, profitable, and growing, and I made it clear my primary interest in VC was gaining the network/connections I mentioned above (and less about needing help with product direction, monetization, etc. though I obviously have access to that should the need arise). All of the investors we ended up going with knew this going in, and as a result the experience so far has been nothing short of fantastic.

          1. 1

            Great to hear this unique take on VC. Good on you for knowing what you wanted and communicating it clearly. Love Carrd and can't wait to see more people using it!

  3. 7

    AJ! You already know I'm a fan so I'll spare you the compliment here. ;)

    What's been the scariest moment for you so far while building Carrd?

    1. 10

      April 6, 2021, 12AM-3AM CT

      AKA the moment I migrated Carrd plus 2M live user sites to AWS :)

      1. 2

        Can you please list down the steps in short for a fair understanding of the sequence? It feels a really massive move.

        1. 4

          Can't get too deep into specifics, but my challenge was three-fold: 1. designing entirely new infrastructure that could stand up and work mostly flawlessly on day one, 2. figuring out a way to migrate over a very large amount of user data that literally changes every second (since sites are being added/edited all the time), and 3. doing all of this with no user site downtime and as little downtime at Carrd itself as possible.

      2. 1

        This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

  4. 4

    Hey @ajlkn!
    I read your earlier blog posts which shared about Carrd's journey! Still it's a true inspiration master piece!

    Here are me few questions. (I don't mind if you answer the real truth even if it hurts me badly ;))

    1. After once you see your product successful, what weightage you give to your tech stack?

    2. Ship v1 => very small feature set + fast to market
      or
      Ship v1 => awesome features + slow to market?
      Which worked for you and what actually you love the most among them?

    3. Rush for shipping with bugs or Fix everything and ship? Which worked for you and what actually you love the most among them?

    4. Do you copy interesting features from your new/old competitors? Did it work for you? If so how to make oneself motivate "copy/inspiration" isn't a crime?

    5. How did you balance your work and personal life during critical times of Carrd?

    Thank you :)

    1. 2
      1. Honestly at an early stage it doesn't really matter because if it works, it works. How much it matters past that point, however, definitely scales linearly with growth.

      2. Ship a small feature set to validate, and then if you gain traction be prepared to respond very quickly to user feedback so you can keep that momentum going (since much of it will be telling you all the important stuff you probably missed).

      3. Fix everything and ship (which is easier with a small feature set). You may miss some stuff, but it's a hell of a lot better than shipping something that's cool but routinely screws up and pisses off users.

      4. Nope, but not because I have anything against people doing that. I just make a point to avoid using or even looking at competing products so I can approach solving problems in my own way (vs. always falling back on what I remember from elsewhere).

      5. Still figuring that one out :)

      1. 1

        Thanks for the answers. Really enjoyed the answers and a better way to end my sunday :)

  5. 4

    Hi, thanks for the AMA!
    I want to ask about sales. How did you manage to get your first 200 clients and what changes did you make in sales strategy to grow afterwards? What's your biggest source of customer acquisition? Is it online ads?

    1. 2

      Hey! So Carrd weirdly gets by entirely by word of mouth. I've done zero advertising or marketing (outside of the occasional podcast or stuff like this AMA) and instead just focus on working on and improving the product.

      Having said that, I realize this strategy isn't for everyone and I had the luxury of doing this (as opposed to focusing on revenue) because I had other stuff going on to support me financially.

      1. 1

        Would you say that you began initially finding users 1 by 1, consistently, and eventually those users would talk to others, etc.. and that was the basis of the word of mouth?

        1. 1

          Pretty much. As I mentioned elsewhere, Twitter is basically what got the ball rolling (and Product Hunt booted it down field :)

  6. 3

    Hey AJ 👋🏼 You know I’m a big fan :)

    I wanted to ask what were your future plans for Carrd.co? :)

    1. 2

      Hey Madhuri! :) For now the plan is to catch up on all the features, fixes, etc. I had to backburner due to the raise, migration, etc. but once that's through we'll be working out our roadmap and how to tackle it (= probably hiring :)

      1. 1

        Sounds fun! I would love to be a part of roadmaps if possible. 🤩

  7. 3

    I'm interested to know what tech stack you used and if you had made any significant changes because of its large growth.

    1. 4

      Let's just say a LOT of JS :) But interestingly not a whole has changed stack-wise since Carrd launched, but as we just moved to AWS that's set to change since I'll finally be able to unload a ton of legacy crap.

      1. 1

        Thank you for the response, thats quite cool to hear. Expected some other stuff under the hood but I guess JS all the way!

        1. 1

          Yup, for all its flaws it's pretty damn amazing.

  8. 2

    It's quite surprising to think a product like this has 1.6 million users and 1million ARR.

    I'm saying that because I've worked on kind of a similar product like this one. It's been 4 months since I've launched this product, but still, it has no active user and 0 sales.

    Not quite sure where did it go wrong. Any thoughts?

    1. 2

      Happened to check out your site, just some initial thoughts -

      1. The GIF on your landing page that shows the site looks exactly like a Google Ad. When I first saw the page, before I realised what the GIF was showing, I assumed it was an Ad cause of the placement, size and look. You might want to replace the GIF for either a better one, or a good looking screenshot. I love the way https://plausible.io/ does it

      2. The site design itself looks barebones, and while there's nothing wrong with that, It doesn't seem like the site I'd trust with for keeping my site up, much less paying for it.

      3. Sometimes the load times were slow. If that's cause of something, you might want to fix that. If you're loading some data from the backend, show a progress indicator or something.

      4. Show examples of how I'd use it. My first thought was you're competing with Google Forms or Typeform, and if you are, you have a tough ask ahead. If you're not, then give some example sites or tell me what kind of a problem I would have that you solve cause at the moment I can't think of any.

      Just some of my thoughts. You definitely don't have to agree with them. I think you have an interesting idea, so feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter if you wanna talk

    2. 2

      Hard to say as the variables in my case may have been different from yours (eg. already had something of a following on Twitter so that gave me some initial momentum).

  9. 2

    Congrats AJ 🎉

    What distribution channel works the best for you? Twitter or elsewhere?

    If you want to hire, will it for dev or marketing?

    ❤️

    1. 2

      Twitter and other social platforms for sure as it's gained traction as an "extended profile" sort of thing.

      As to hiring: probably dev since I think bettering the product is marketing in itself.

  10. 2

    Thank you!

    1. What were some of the ways you stood out in a crowded market
    2. How did you go about finding your first few customers that eventually led to this super growth
    3. How important are testimonials?
    1. 1
      1. Went into this a bit in my original The Making Of post but it was 50% intentional (I figured there was enough room for my particular take on this problem) and 50% accidental (the one-page thing came from me realizing I couldn't build a Squarespace so I had to reduce my scope, which ended up being one of Carrd's biggest differentiators).

      2. Twitter for sure. I already had a bit of a following on there in the early days so that helped give me a bit of a boost. Following that, I got a massive boost from Product Hunt when I launched on there.

      3. With respect to I guess "formal" testimonials I'm not sure since I haven't really sought to collect these. However, Carrd's growth has come entirely from word of mouth so I'd say person-to-person testimonials are a huge deal.

  11. 2

    Hi AJ,

    1. 3
      1. Not really a pseudonym, but I suppose the underlying question is what are the pros/cons of sharing nothing vs. sharing everything online, in which case I don't really know since being a relatively boring person renders it moot :)

      2. Varies depending on what's going on, but usually 8-10hrs/day.

  12. 2

    Love the simplicity of Carrd. Beautiful aesthetic, simple premise, simple pricing... just make sense.

    How did you find product/market fit and how did you gain your first customers?

    1. 3

      Product/market fit was pretty much guesswork based on my previous gig (which was basically just designing site templates and themes). Saw quite a bit of uptake on the one-page templates I'd designed, and since I couldn't solo a full-fledged site builder I figured focus on those would make my job easier.

      As to gaining my first customers: much of my initial traction came from Twitter (on which I already had a decent following for the template/theme work) and then Product Hunt.

  13. 2

    Hey AJ! How do you manage customer support? You always respond to my emails super quickly and looking at these numbers I find it incredible. Do you have an army of bots pretending to be you? 😂

    1. 1

      Haha, I wish :) For now it's just Doni handling the basic/intermediate tickets and me handling the advanced stuff (eg. shit that's broken that I need to fix). I suspect we'll outgrow this in the coming months, at which point we'll look to hire someone in-house to run that (and likely other things like community).

      1. 1

        How many tickets in a day? I am still wondering how can 2 people provide support for 1.6M users. 😲
        We have chatted on email about my domain being blocked by the registrar. You were so patient, though it was not Carrd's fault.
        I guess good help documentation is very useful to reduce the support load.

        1. 1

          100-200/day but most are fairly easy and routine to deal with (eg. pointing folks to where they need to go in the UI to do something, or pointing them to documentation that walks them through what they're trying to do).

          1. 1

            Have you thought about any automation you could add in to reduce the unnecessary support tickets for UI pointers etc?

            1. 1

              Yup, already have some of that in place and have other ideas, but only to a point as I don't really want to lose the human touch.

  14. 2

    Almost was a user of carrd but that project failed.
    I will definitely use in the future. I loved how darn fast you and your team answered inquiries. Your pricing is pretty damn good. Question 👇🏼

    Do you think your brand name and the TLD is a bit confusing?

    Card with two "r" then we have a ".com " without the "m".
    I was dealing with a small business ran by two older persons and they were pretty confused by it.

    1. 1

      Sort of, but per my Making Of picking a name for this very specific use case was ... not exactly easy.

  15. 2

    Hey AJ, how long did it take you to build the version of the app that got you your first sale?

    1. 2

      More info here but I recall it taking about 9 months in all (from concept to launch).

  16. 1

    No one could be more late here than me. Aside from the fact that I'm thankful to you for building Carrd, I just have 2 questions.

    1. What's with this profile picture? Is it you in some cool gear + bit of Photoshop?
    2. What was you initial hosting platform? You said it was a flat fee and didn't charge you for usage. I could something like that for development/low traffic sites.
  17. 1

    I'm pretty late to the AMA, but hoping you see this @ajlkn, but I have a two questions if you have the time to answer them:

    • How has your back-end changed since you started carrd? (i.e. how many servers then, vs now, are you on a single server or many, that kind of stuff)
    • When you started, you had a lot of non paying customers. How did you keep your cost down? or was that even a concern.
      --
      Thanks for the AMA!
    1. 1

      No worries!

      Backend = Dramatically. Started out as a single bare metal server at IBM Cloud for everything (Carrd itself, hosted sites, etc). Now the whole thing is spread out across a number of different services at AWS (with some Cloudflare sprinkled in there). So, quite the evolution :)

      Cost = Aside from Carrd's built-in constraints (which kept and continues to keep costs down), in the very early days I opted for relatively inexpensive servers that came with a flat monthly price tag as opposed to a usage-based one. Kept costs low, predictable, and IMO most importantly came with a high enough ceiling to where when things did begin to take off, my costs didn't skyrocket along with it.

  18. 1

    Do you regret building it with JQuery instead of frontend frameworks like Vue / React etc?

  19. 1

    Any chance that your loyal users can have probably a one-time free upgrade to the next plan up or at least get a discount?

  20. 1

    how do you deal with spam and abuse? Bad actors seem to love website builders with free tiers. We had to build a moderation system to catch that kind of stuff.

    1. 2

      Same (mix of automation and actual human moderation).

  21. 1

    Hey @ajlkn, you probably get this a lot with 1.6M users, but just wanted to say that I really enjoy using Carrd, have 20+ sites on my dashboard (and more maybe) and it's allowed me to make a small profitable side hustle. So thank you.

    1. 1

      Really appreciate that, thank you 🙏

  22. 1

    Thanks for all the answers. If you're still answering,

    What kind of customers are the types that purchase a pro plan? What is your view on freemium models VS people insisting on "charging more" while you offer free and cheap options.

    1. 1

      It used to be fairly straightforward (ie. more business-oriented use cases went Pro, more personal-oriented generally didn't) but lately it seems to be happening across all use cases. Not quite sure what to chalk that up to other than perhaps reaching the point where Pro adds enough value across the board to justify it.

  23. 1

    Where did you migrate to AWS from? Why?

    1. 1

      Good chunk of resources were at IBM Cloud and while that worked (mostly) well in the early days, it became apparent over the last year our scaling needs necessitated a move to something more conducive to that (and it's hard to beat AWS in that department).

  24. 1

    I love your landing page. Clean and simple with no wasted messaging.

    1. 1

      Thanks! Credit that to my general dislike of writing copy :)

  25. 1

    Thanks for the AMA, So, what did you do to get your first set of customers?
    Any particular milestones set, paid or unpaid... ?

    1. 1

      I pretty much just launched it on Twitter and figured by at least offering an upgraded (paid) experience, some of the folks who'd take to the product would decide to go that route. I honestly didn't set any milestones beyond the thing being able to pay for itself since it really was just a side project back then.

  26. 1

    What does your backend infrastructure look like when you started and now. Do you just store the JSON config for each site in MySql or Postgres with a REST api? Why and how did you choose your backend infrastructure?

    1. 1

      Dramatically different. Carrd originally launched with just a single server hosting everything (app, sites, etc) but very quickly traded up to a (fixed) pool of servers and later (ie. now) a flexible pool of instances we can easily scale up/down as needed.

      As to the why/how: both were previously driven entirely by immediate scaling issues, but lately it's been more about predicting our future scaling needs and actually getting ahead of it.

  27. 1

    Hey AJ,

    Happy customer here :)
    What would you do completely different if you could go back and start from scratch?

    1. 1

      Definitely would have given scalability more weight in my decision making. Some of my choices turned out to be very conducive to scale (static sites ftw) but others ... not so much. I guess some of that came from not knowing Carrd would eventually gain traction let alone grow to millions of sites, but I think having just a little more confidence that maybe this thing might end up going somewhere would have made a world of difference.

  28. 1

    Ha, i was looking into renewing my personal website yesterday and Carrd is definitely on the list. Very elegant design, easy to use interface and relatively cheap.

    Even with competitors as feature rich as Wix, you're doing pretty well. It just shows how much room there's for innovation in this space.

    Great job!

    1. 2

      Thank you and I agree wholeheartedly! The space is HUGE.

  29. 1

    I come here to say THANK YOU @ajlkn

    I run 4 side projects, of which 3 are hosted on Carrd!

    You made everything so easy for me.

    1. 1

      That's awesome! Thank you for using it!

  30. 1

    I've no questions, just a massive congrats on your success. I've used Carrd as part of my stack over the last year to bootstrap my way to freedom - it's such a great product. Bravo!

    1. 2

      Thank you and that's super cool!

  31. 1

    After spending $25 on a yearly membership, I just want to say - Thank you! Carrd is hands down one of the best website building tools out there!

    1. 1

      Really appreciate that, thank you 🙏

  32. 1

    Personally, I haven't use a card site, but you are a true inspiration.

    I remember joining IH and listening to your podcast, by now I have probably listened to 8 times, in case I missed something...

    Here is my question.

    How do you feel when you come across one if your sites?

    Have a great day.

    /Mike

    1. 2

      Pleasantly surprised! Like I played a small part in answering my own question.

  33. 1

    Thanks for doing this!

    1. What company or person was the biggest inspiration for Carrd early on?

    2. What/who is the biggest inspiration now?

    1. 3
      1. Interestingly it wasn't any one person or company, but rather the daily onslaught of cool shit I'd see on Product Hunt. I'd fallen into something of a rut doing site template/theme design and figured it was time for something more challenging, and seeing the insanely cool stuff popping up on Product Hunt really inspired me to give it a shot myself. Turned out alright :)

      2. This

  34. 1

    Just wanted to pop into your AMA and say thanks. I'm a power user (I think) got like dozens and dozens of sites. I'm absolutely astounded at how focused you've been on carrd from when I first heard about it and started using it. Have you felt focused?

    1. 2

      You're welcome! And yes, much more than I have in the past now that I have a clear understanding of what it is I'm actually dealing with now (per my reply above). Also I suppose literally taking someone else's money has a way of forcing you to focus :)

  35. 1

    What are your profits and losses?

    1. 3

      Mostly profits, fewer losses :)

  36. 1

    Thank you for making Carrd ♥️♥️

    I created 10+ good-looking websites in a matter of hours. That's just a life saver.

    (I know that's not a question 🙂)

    1. 1

      You're welcome, and that's totally fine :)

  37. 1

    First of all, congrats! I have two sites running on Carrd.

    How do you promote your service? Have you found a formula that works consistently?

    1. 1

      Thank you! Relied almost entirely on word of mouth although that wasn't really intentional. Carrd was just a side project when it started so the thought of turning it into a business wasn't exactly on my radar, and I figured if I did a good enough job on the product, it would (over time) gain traction.

  38. 1

    do you use your own website?

    1. 1

      Yes! It's actually made me a bit lazy.

  39. -1

    This comment has been voted down. Click to show.

    1. 1

      Thanks for that Steve! 🙏 I touched on this above, but I really went out of my way to approach solving this particular problem my own way, and while that was obviously a risky way to go feedback like this confirms I might have gotten this one right :)

      PS: I suspect we haven't seen the last of flaming logo gifs ...

      1. 1

        We probably made a six figure sum just from people paying £20/yr to put a coming soon page on their domains, with really terrible "under construction" gifs.

        I wonder if there is an add-on product for you to support those who don't want to do any work at all to get their holding page up. So run the user through a 10 minute wizard asking a few pertinant questions, and it outputs a fully made holding-page.

        http://www.animated-gifs.fr/category_transportation/roadworks/58587062.gif

  40. -2

    This comment has been voted down. Click to show.

    1. 1

      Pretty much entirely based on user requests so if enough people request something, I'll research it and see if it's a good fit.

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