Growth June 11, 2020

How do we find users for our SaaS?

Mattias Geniar @mattiasgeniar

After more than 2 years of building Oh Dear, I still struggle with the most fundamental question: how are users finding our application and where should we focus our marketing efforts to maximize that?

For the last few months, I've been contacting every new signup with a simple e-mail, asking them just one thing: how did they hear about us?

In this post, I want to summarize those findings.

Building a SaaS is no rocket science, but getting clients is a work of art. I hope these answers can help other bootstrapped indie developers as well.

Setting the scene: who are we?

The 1 paragraph summary of Oh Dear is:

Oh Dear was founded by Freek & Mattias, two passionate developers from Belgium. Oh Dear sends notifications when your site is down, when the SSL certificate is about to expire, when it finds broken links or when the site just generally slows down.

It's an uptime monitor, basically. But with a couple of extras.

So, where do we get our users from?

"Mostly from Twitter, yeah"

Both Freek (@freekmurze) and me (@mattiasgeniar) are pretty active on Twitter. We've spent the last few years building an audience, and it seems that is now paying off.

Roughly ~30% of our leads & trial users come to us because they follow either of us on Twitter.

Conclusion: start by building a presence on Twitter, it's priceless.

"I saw your open revenue on Hacker News, thought it was interesting"

For a few months now, I've been sharing our revenue numbers publicly. A bit scary at first, but quite rewarding now that it's all out in the open.

It was also a deliberate tactic.

How do you stand out in a world where most founders are all so similar? You do unconventional things. In our case, we share our revenue numbers.

While more & more founders are doing this, it's still the minority.

Don't be afraid to open up, you will attract readers and a new audience.

"I'm subscribed to your newsletter"

I run the cron.weekly newsletter (~11k subscribers), Freek runs his his own newsletter (~7k subscribers). Whenever we have good news to share, we'll generally do so in our newsletters.

Normally, we talk tech (PHP, open-source, Linux etc.), but our readers have come to appreciate some personal stories from time to time.

We've both been writing newsletters for well over 2 years now and have been able to grow our audience nicely.

Invest the time to start a newsletter and build a personal brand. Consistently delivering good value via your newsletter will let people come back for more.

"Heard about you via ProductHunt"

When we first launched, we added Oh Dear to Product Hunt. It made Product of the Day!

Even Ryan Hoover, who founded Product Hunt, commented on our clever name.

That post gained us a handful of subscribers on launch day, but more importantly still gets people talking. Product Hunt works!

Submit your idea to Product Hunt!

"Read about it on your blog"

Both Freek and I regularly blog. You're reading the blog right now. #inception

We both put ads at the top of our posts, we can blog/write about the technical underpinnings of Oh Dear, we can share snippets of code, ...

Over the years, we've also grown a following with RSS readers that mostly come for the technical articles we write, but they'll tolerate the personal articles. And that also helps us get the word out!

Your (personal) brand matters. If you have a blog, write regularly, share your thoughts, start building that audience.

"Heard about it on the Full Stack Europe Conference"

It's been a bit quiet on the conference from for me (irregardless of COVID-19), but I did speak regularly at conferences up until a few months ago. Freek still regularly does public speaking.

Every time you have a chance to speak, you have the opportunity to show your expertise and - subtly - mention any product you're working on. Either directly in the talk or afterwards, on social media, when sharing your slides/summary.

I'll grant that public speaking isn't for everyone, but it's a great way to help you build that audience and grow a loyal fanbase.

Public speaking works. Deliver value in your talk and you'll have enough credit to (subtly) mention your SaaS.

"Saw it mentioned in the Laravel News newsletter"

We tried a paid advertising in a popular Laravel/PHP newsletter called Laravel News.

The results were mixed, and I think it's mostly because we already are active in the Laravel space. What good would it do to reach the same users over & over again? We should probably sponsor other newsletters, outside our little bubble.

But, it did work! We got signups through it, even several months later, because a reader remembered it.

Consider sponsored content in newsletters. You can use the author's credibility to help promote your product.

"We previous worked together at company $X"

Professional networks are powerful. When I was working as the support lead of a hosting provider, I came into contact with a lot of our clients. Both happy and unhappy. The way those conversations ended has largely shaped my professional network.

If you can turn an angry client into a happy one, by understanding their needs and providing a proper solution, you've made a professional relationship that lasts for a long time.

Now, whenever I share updates for Oh Dear on LinkedIn, I get to reach hundreds of former clients, colleagues and suppliers that I've spent years building a relationship with. This trust is earned and often well-received on the other end.

Networking works!

Every time you interact with a client or a supplier, you're building your professional network. Think of every interaction like a job interview for your product in the future.

"I found a blogpost when searching for $X"

Oh Dear also has a blog, where I write as many blogposts as my little hands allow. The following posts have directly contributed to new signups and conversions.

What I'm not showing are the 50+ other posts that didn't convert anything. They are shorter, more product-focussed (ie: "we launched feature $Y, it's great!").

It's hard to say what posts will attract and convert users. In our case, it's the more technical ones that help users, even if they're not a customer of ours. That's what gets noticed.

Write helpful posts, both for your customers and your potential customers. Don't be afraid to share some of the internals of your organisation. Opening up might seem scary, but that's what a reader wants to know.

Conclusion

I wish I could say "spend all your energy on Twitter" or "only sponsor newsletters".

For us, what works is a very wide approach to marketing: be in as many places as you can afford to be.

It's the combination of our Twitter audience, newsletters & blog posts that have consistently brought along the most value for us.

Paid acquisitions have been meh, mostly. Lots of money spent, very little value gained.

Compare that to writing proper blogposts, and that return is always greater for us.

Your mileage may vary, but for us the content marketing strategy will be our main focus going forward. Write quality blogposts, newsletters & tweets. 🔥

  1. 3

    "For us, what works is a very wide approach to marketing: be in as many places as you can afford to be." - Love this, speaks to my current strategy as well.

  2. 2

    This is a great post @mattiasgeniar. Great to see some insights from your journey over the past while. Thanks for sharing!

  3. 2

    Haha, so precious information, taking into account that I'm building uptime monitoring service :)

    1. 2

      Good luck, there's billions of sites in the world to monitor, plenty of room for extra monitoring businesses! :-)

      1. 2

        Thank you ! :)

        To be honest OhDear is the app I was checking a lot, since it looks great and you had some articles like Laravel queues and such stuff which I used :)

        Let's ship 💪

  4. 1

    Great Stuff.
    Thanks

  5. 1

    Is your revenue still at $1.5k/month? It seems it was last updated over a year ago, I figured it should be quite a bit more..

    1. 1

      It was quite a bit more now, we've just breached $8k/month and are well on our way to make it to $10k/m by end of year.

  6. 1

    How often did your users respond to your emails? I'm at that stage with CoderNotes.io right now... we just launched on the 7th and are in full-swing "learning mode", but I'd love to see a bit higher of a response rate. Any tips in this area?

    1. 1

      At the moment, about 30% of the new trial signups reply to my emails.

      What worked for us;

      • Send from a personal address (not your corporate one)
      • Send in plain text, no HTML markup (make it look like an original Gmail reply)
      • Send about ~2 hours after signup
      • Speak the user's language, where possible. We have very simple rules about the language of the email (if the e-mail address ends in .NL or .BE, send it in Dutch, otherwise in English)

      Here's the copy we use for sending that followup email:

      Hi $firstname,
      
      Just saw your trial account for Oh Dear and wanted to reach out to ask if there is anything I can do to help out.
      
      If you have a minute, I'd be very curious to learn how you found out about Oh Dear? 😀
      
      Take care,
      
      Mattias
      Co-Founder of Oh Dear
      

      Hope it helps!

  7. 1

    Great writeup, thanks! Curious — do you have any numbers around being an open startup and how it has helped you grow?

    1. 2

      Nothing I can measure, but I've received feedback more than once that it's because of our revenue sharing that users got on board (or at least heard about it).

      An educated guess: less than 3% of our current signups come via that route.

      1. 1

        Awesome, thanks! I think it's the right way to go regardless but it's interesting to hear about the impact.