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98 Comments

Hit $100K ARR after 9 months grinding as a solo founder. AMA!

Hey IHs,

I'm Damon, founder of testimonial.to.

After 9 months of grinding, the project just hit $100k ARR. I made a tweet about the milestone.

A few timelines 👇

Dec 2020: launched on PH, started by selling LTD
Jan 2021: stopped LTD, and only focused on the subscription model. I hosted an AMA about the transition
Mar 2021: quit my job after hitting $1k MRR #QuitInPublic

May 2021 got funded by Earnest Capital, now Calm Fund
Sept 2021: hit $100k ARR

A little bit about myself 👇

  • 8 YoE in Cisco as an infrastructure software engineer
  • got bored, and tried to find a new job at FAANG, but failed all interviews
  • pandemic hit and couldn't have a work-life balance from WFH
  • tried to explore other excitement, found IH community
  • started learning web dev from a Udemy $9.99 course at the end of 2019
  • started building many side projects in 2020, here is a thread

That's all about me and my projects. The ARR is just a small number, but I'd love to share what I learned from my journey. AMA! 🤗

  1. 5

    Respect man, really glad to see what you‘ve built there!

    My questions:

    1. What is your honest thought on the impact the funding had on your business & revenue? What did help the most with that, the network or the money? If you had to pick one…

    2. what is your design secret? The landing page looks so clean. Using any tailwind libraries / templates, or designing from scratch?

    3. Did you „scratch your own itch“ with testimonial.to? Did you just think it was a good business opportunity? Or was it just one of the ideas you wanted to build? I saw that you‘ve shipped quite a few projects in a short time.

    Very inspiring man. These stories are what got me to find IH.

    Thank you!

    1. 4

      Thank you!

      1. I accepted Calm Fund mostly for getting their help & advice whenever I need it. They don't have a direct impact on my revenue, and they don't have a duty for that. But solopreneurship is a lonely journey, having someone to back you up is crucial.
      2. I use TailwindUI and some template from cruip.com
      3. I answered it in another reply, I just pasted it here:

      Sell a product after building it is always painful. Getting testimonials as social proof is always on top of my mind. I didn't seek any external validation. The MVP of it was made within a week after re-using lots of code from my past projects. After I launched it on PH, and got a few sales from the LTD, it also validated the idea.

  2. 5

    Congrats Damon! Your story is awesome—so cool to see you take a few swings and then immediately realize the opportunity with Testimonial.to.

    A couple of questions:

    1. How much did you raise from Calm fund, and how did you decide on that number?
    2. What have been your most productive customer acquisition channels?
    3. Did you experiment with pricing at all?

    Geoff

    1. 4

      Thank you Geoff!

      1. It's under $100K with very little equity loss. Money isn't my top consideration, the top thing is to get the entrance ticket to the Earnest community
      2. So far it's Twitter, then the SEO, then the affiliate program
      3. A lot! Price was doubled twice in the past 6 months.
      1. 1

        Congrats on the progress. I'd be curious to learn more about your pricing experimentation. What did you try and what worked / what was painful?

        1. 2

          The biggest experiment is changing the pricing model to subscription only. It took a while to get the first few subscribers. I need to add a good onboarding flow (product tours, onboarding email campaigns, paywall for premium features) to make the growth product-led. Of course, good landing page copies help it too! Nothing is really painful, but increasing the price is a bit scary, I think most founders do feel the same 😅

          1. 2

            That's fantastic. I worked in pricing strategy as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies for 5 years...I can tell you founders aren't alone in being terrified of increasing price :)

            We used to say you don't want your customers happy with your price, if they are, raise price until the are "tolerant" of your price

            1. 2

              Haha, exactly! And when you keep adding more value props to the product, you should always consider increasing the price whenever possible.

  3. 4

    So proud of you, I love that you kept hustling, what an inspiring story. I am curious to know more about what you mentioned in response to @GeoffRoberts & @JimS about product onboarding and increasing conversions.

    You mentioned "product tours, onboarding email campaigns, paywall for premium features" brought great success. Something I am working on at Motionbox is adding upgrade levers and improving our email outreach.

    How big of an impact did adding an upgrade lever make?

    How big of an impact did adding drip emails make on revenue? What tool are you using for emailing?

    GREAT WORK!!!!

    1. 3

      Thank you Michael!!!

      Product tours and email onboarding campaigns are for instructing users to get familiar with the product. If customers don't know what to do, those feature upgrade levers won't even come into the picture. The product-led growth really made a big impact. One growth hacking I implemented is to allow freemium users to continue to collect video testimonials even when they exhaust the 2 free credits, but if they want to access the 3rd video and beyond, they have to upgrade. I think this is the ah-ha moment that customers find value, and it's the best moment to convert them to be paying customers. Your product scenario may vary, but try to convert your freemium users at the ah-ah moment.

      For email campaigns, I haven't set up anything else yet except for the onboarding one 😅I use Mailchimp.

    2. 1

      I think @GeoffRoberts has a tool for you to use for the emailing...

  4. 4

    Congratulations Damon! ;) Inspiration for me. I saw your journey from the start.

    1. 2

      Indeed you are 👊 Thank you Fajar!!

  5. 3

    Damon the shipping machine, congrats man! So happy for you and just glad to know you early on! The sky is the limit, I have a feeling this is still the "early days" ;) Go get em man!

    1. 2

      Likewise buddy! Fortunate to know you since my day-1. We are both just getting started 👊

  6. 3

    Posts like this help me to keep going. Thanks for sharing.

  7. 3

    Amazing work 🎉 Well deserved!

  8. 2

    Hey @damon , Incredible work!
    Just a quick feedback: the link for ToS in the Sign Up page is redirecting to the wrong address.

    1. 2

      Oops, thanks for pointing it out ❤️

  9. 2

    Congrats Damon! Your product is great and it even inspired me for some design 😅
    Good luck for the 200k ARR 👉

  10. 2

    NIce! You mentioned that Twitter, then SEO, then the affiliate program were your top 3 channels.

    1. How big was your Twitter following before starting testimonial.io? Did you do anything particular to get customers directly using Twitter?

    2. How long did SEO take for you to notice that it starts to bring user?

    3. How did you seek out affiliates?

    Thanks!

    1. 1
      1. My Twitter follower count was < 1000 end last year
      2. My own SEO took a while. But in the early days, some organic traffic came from the PH post. PH did really a good job on SEO for daily featured products. I do have some early users who told me they found Testimonial from PH.
      3. I mentioned the affiliate program in the new user onboarding email campaigns. If someone is interested, they can sign up directly
  11. 2

    Very inspiring @damon, congratulations for your incomes 👏 and thank you for sharing with the community !

  12. 2

    I'm a big fan of testimonial.to, lately I've seen this on many websites. At first, I thought it was a brand new start-up with a team of 10 people. I would never have imagined that it was a solo founder in the shadow. Huge congrats !

    Here's my question : what would be the step beyond video testimonials ? I'm thinking about augmented reality for example or maybe you believe that it should stay within a human format because it is more relatable ?

    1. 1

      Haha thanks Arnaud 😅

      I think people love the video testimonial because of its authenticity. I would never think about any AI solution to make a fake one 😅

      1. 1

        @damonchen Sorry for my english, I was actually not talking about fake ones :) I was thinking about upcoming apps like https://genies.com/ where people can have their own avatars ! So basically, I was suggesting avatar's testimonials from real people although it sounds a bit crazy !

        1. 1

          aha, got your point! But I don't think there is such a demand out there 😅

  13. 2

    Congrats Damon! I can see how hard you've worked for Testimonial, especially with you sharing the journey in Twitter.

    Let's go 20k MRR!

    1. 1

      Appreciate your support Welly 🙏

  14. 2

    Hi Damon, been seeing how you grow and what an amazing journey now that you don't have to find a job (the promise with your wife 😆).

    Curious about which sites/channel works for your LTDs at the beginning?

    1. 2

      Thank you Hieu 🙏 Mainly PH and a MarTech group on FB.

  15. 2

    Great milestone Damon

    • How are you marketing your product
    • How are you upping your SEO game
    • How does your day look like when you were building products
    • 3 people you would recommend everyone to follow
    • 3 books that helped you in your journey
    • Do you feel stuck sometimes, if yes how do you overcome that
    1. 1

      Thank you!

      1. Build in public on Twitter, kinda like flywheel marketing, keep shipping new features to make existing customers excited and get more exposure to potential customers
      2. Just started SEO, mainly write blogs, nothing special
      3. Nothing special, but be extremely focus and timebox everything
      4. @levelsio, @yongfook and @KennethCassel, and many more
      5. I don't think any book helps me. The key is to start doing it, learn by doing.
      6. It happens, just take it easy and relax, there is always a solution.
  16. 2

    I dont have any questions, just wanted to say @damonchen is a G 👊👊👊👊👊👊

    1. 2

      Tom, I will never forget you ❤️

  17. 2

    Congratulations Damon! -- great inspiring journey.

  18. 2

    Really inspiring stuff Damon.

    Here's what I'd like to ask...

    1. Did set out to raise funding, or did they find you? Why/How?
    2. I'm interested in (but not experienced with) handling video, any pointers or libraries you can recommend?
    1. 1
      1. I got cold reached by Calm Fund from Twitter. They probably saw my build in public updates 😅
      2. You can check out mux.com or Cloudflare Stream
  19. 2

    Really inspiring stuff!
    Roughly how long does each project take you to build and launch? I have a bad habit of biting more than I can chew, instead of going for the simple projects.

    Also, any recommended dev tools/technologies for solo makers?

    1. 2

      I think knowing what's the core feature of your project is important. Anything else can be treated as a feature request in the future. You do it only when your users asked for it.

      Btw, tech stack for me is reactjs for the frontend, and firebase for the backend.

  20. 2

    That’s an awesome milestone! Congrats!

    How did you decide on your apps? Was this a “solve your own problems” situation? And how did you seek product validation?

    1. 2

      Kind of! Sell a product after building it is always painful. Getting testimonials as social proof is always on top of my mind. I didn't seek any external validation. The MVP of it was made within a week after re-using lots of code from my past projects. After I launched it on PH, and got a few sales from the LTD, it also validated the idea.

      1. 1

        Thanks for sharing! Where did you come up with the idea for your projects?

        1. 1

          The first one indielog.com is just a hobby project to solve my loneliness problem. The second one backlogs.co is to create a system to track feature/bugs for indielog.com. The rest influenswer.com and testimonial.to are just pivots from indielog.com because I want to make some money 😅

  21. 2

    Congratulations Damon! 🎉

  22. 1

    Hey! A bit late to the party here...

    1. May I ask if you had to give up a lot of stake in the company for the funding?
    2. What did your funding help with most? Did you need for the company or yourself after you quit?
    3. What was this 9 months like in terms of hours worked, social life etc?

    Congrats!!

  23. 1

    Do you have a team or you are doing every business activity by yourself ?

    1. 1

      I don't have a team.

      1. 1

        How do you manage to do both development and marketing ?

        How much time in a month do you put on marketing ?

        What marketing channels are you making use of ?

  24. 1

    I love the way you shared this, very factual and personal as well.

    Congrats on the amazing milestone 🙏🙌

  25. 1

    Congratulations🎉 So inspiring, thanks for sharing!

    I wanna know about LTD marketing.
    I'm wondering if I should do LTD for my SaaS app.

    So

    1. LTD worked for you?
    2. How so?
    3. Is there a darkside of LTD? ( ex: AppSumo fee is too high )
    1. 1
      1. Yes, LTD helps bring initial users, which helps validate the idea and demand.
      2. Have LTD as an option in your pricing table, launch your product on PH and other channels, Twitter, Reddit, Slack channels, Facebook groups, wherever your potential users are
      3. I never partner with any 3rd-party to promote my LTD, and I get 100% revenue. Can't comment on AppSumo, but I heard people ran good campaigns on it
      1. 1

        Thanks a lot!
        I think I'm gonna do LTD!

  26. 1

    WOW! This is really a great achievement. Congrats Bro!

    BTW, how is the revenue distributed across Premium, Ultimate, and Enterprise customers?

    1. 1

      No enterprise customers yet 😅 Premium/Ultimate are like 7/3

      1. 1

        All the best for getting your FIRST enterprise customer. :)

  27. 1

    Congrats!! You're an inspiration to many indie hackers here :)

    Your ARR is fantastic, but can't help but wonder what all your server costs and also expenses are for third party API's ?
    If I'm correct you use Mux, and their costs can skyrocket quite fast.

    1. 1

      Thank you Ian! Total cost is around 15%-20%.

  28. 1

    Inspiring to see you shipped again and again despite $0.

    One question: when did you decide to throw in the towel on those other products?

    1. 1

      Easy answer, no more motivations. It could be because of no users, no revenue, no engagement.

  29. 1

    Great work! Love the hustle and your product looks sweet.

  30. 1

    Congrats Damon, happy to see someone succeed!!! Also great questions in this thread. So mine goes like this:

    • will you now stay with Testimonials or are you thinking about new projects already?
    1. 1

      Thank you Igor! Of course Testimonial is my main thing, and I am going to devote my full-time on it. But I do have some side projects going on during my spare time. There will be another one launching soon 😉

      1. 1

        I admire your energy!

  31. 1

    Hello! my question is pretty easy (maybe I got answer of it too), I live in india and every thing is 6-7X cheaper here than US, do you think I can charge SAAS service in dollars instead of my currency(Rs.)?

    1. 1

      Why not? You can earn US dollar anywhere on the Internet.

      1. 1

        thanks, because even 2k MRR here can be really count as luxury!

  32. 1

    Really cool and inspiring story! Super happy for you Damon! Keep up the hustling and building product(s) what people want.

    Q: You said you "started learning web dev from a Udemy $9.99 course at the end of 2019" What courses did you take to start, and what provided lot of value? Any you can recommend?

  33. 1

    @damon I have been creeping on your twitter for a while now. NICE work 🤜🏼🤛🏼

    Question, what are you using for the video capture and recording? Tokbox? Twillio?

    We just added a similar streaming feature to Median using Tokbox but I am an EX Vonage guy so I felt obligated.

    PS: If you used Jitsi and designed a cost free solution we need to talk ASAP!!!!

    1. 1

      I use some open source solution.

      1. 1

        Does it have streaming capabilities?

  34. 1

    Congrats @damonchen. Very inspiring! Bookmarked to re-read when wallowing in the trough of sorrow! I've got a feeling that Neil Cummings over on Udemy may has seen a sharp rise in his React/Redux/Firestone course today too!

    1. 1

      Haha, that's him!!!

      1. 1

        Yep. Signed up to his course directly after reading your threads. Congrats again!

  35. 1

    Congrats Damon! That's a big milestone! Here is my question

    How did you get your first 10-100 customers? Any strategy that worked for you?

    I have a MVP currently and looking to get initial customers to validate and hopefully find product-market fit.

    Thanks and congrats again! :)

    1. 1

      No specific strategy, but launch the MVP early, build in public, listen to your users, evolve your product quickly, keep doing the same for at least 6 months.

  36. 1

    Great inspiring journey mate. I wish i could hit same ARR, we launching soon. Suggest best roadmap for coming into market

    1. 1

      I don't have the best roadmap for you, but better to find where your customers are and talk to them.

  37. 1

    How did funding happen? Did you reach out to them or vice versa? How much equity did you need to give up?

    1. 5

      I was reached out by them. I gave up 6% when my MRR was just $2k. They use the Shared Earnings Agreement, https://calmfund.com/shared-earnings-agreement, I can buy back my equity after I started sharing my revenue with them. Eventually, the 6% will become 2%.

  38. 1

    Thanks Damon for answering my questions earlier! Next one,

    What has been the biggest value add to you from joining the calm fund community ?? Customers ? Mentor ship? Introductions ?

    1. 1

      Mentorship, workshops, warm introductions 👍

  39. 1

    Congrats Damien! Really enjoying your story and journey so far.

    Was testimonials.to a solution to a problem you faced? How did tut come up with your app ideas?

    1. 1

      I replied above, but here you go

      Sell a product after building it is always painful. Getting testimonials as social proof is always on top of my mind. I didn't seek any external validation. The MVP of it was made within a week after re-using lots of code from my past projects. After I launched it on PH, and got a few sales from the LTD, it also validated the idea.

  40. 1

    Congrats Damon! How did you manage to create 5 apps in one year? I'm guessing you have a good skeleton framework, or something like that.

    1. 1

      hmm, I don't have any specific framework, but one thing I always stick to is to minimize the scope of the MVP. It helps launch the product fast.

  41. 1

    Congrats! What was the story behind getting your very first paying customer? What did they spend, and was it monthly or annual?

    1. 2

      Oh, the first paying customer is from Twitter, and he bought the LTD. There was only LTD when it's just launched. A month later, the pricing model shifted to subscription.

      1. 2

        Nice. The first allybot.io customer also came from Twitter. Good early customer acquisition channel!

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