How Moonlight grew to be a $55,000 per month business in 3 years

@philipithomas is the founder of Moonlight, a unique community of freelancers and forward thinking companies which is redefining what it means to work together. Before exiting the company in an acquisition by Pull Request, Philip and his co-founder @emmalawler had reached more than $50,000 in GMV.

We invited Philip over to Indie Worldwide for a Q&A where we dug deep into the origins of Moonlight, the future of work, and how founders can build better products and companies.

Watch the full interview on YouTube

Before founding Moonlight Philip founded a company called Staffjoy which was backed by Y Combinator among others. Ultimately Staffjoy strayed from it's original goals and failed to have a venture-scale exit. This lead to Philip leaving San Francisco, CA and becoming a digital nomad. First stop: Mexico City. He began to work online as a freelancer with his partner which eventually lead them to the idea of starting Moonlight.

Moonlight began as little more than a Squarespace landing page. Philip and Emma already had a strong network of founders and freelancers from their time in San Francisco, which became the initial users and customers of Moonlight. Even though they were both technical engineers with the skills to build an over-engineered app from scratch, they decided to test the idea with a no-code prototype.

As the website grew, they built more and more custom tooling, eventually culminating in a full platform for hiring freelancers and finding jobs. They found their users by always being open about what they were building and by being active in places where their users and customers were hanging out, places like Hacker News, Indie Hackers, and Twitter.

The supply side was easier, many freelancers found them through their frequent posting. Because they were building something freelancers needed, they got plenty of initial attention. One 🔑key insight they had was capturing the intent of freelancers even if they didn't yet have a job for them. When freelancers would come to the page searching for a job, they might bounce and never return if they didn't find a job in their initial search. By asking the candidate what they were looking for and collecting their email, Moonlight was able to re-engage those users later and keep them in the Moonlight network.

The demand side was harder to crack and lead to many revisions of the business model. What started at first as an Upwork like freelancer hiring platform, eventually became a subscription model contract-to-hire service. This came from the 🔑key insight that companies had relatively small budgets for contract workers but very large budgets for hiring even a single engineer.

Throughout the development of the Moonlight platform, the co-founders avoided building full automation, instead focusing on power-user tools that made them more effective without sacrificing quality at any point in the acquisition or matching funnels.

One place this strategy proved particularly effective was with their cold-email strategy. While typical cold-emails might result in 2-3% response rates, Moonlight consistently achieved response rates of 25% or more. 🔑They were able to do this by tying a job-post scraper directly in with their freelancer-matching algorithms. For example, if they found a job posting for a Ruby on Rails engineer with 4 years experience, they could easily search their own database to find an exact match, and automatically send an email to the hiring manager which solved their immediate hiring need.

Philip's advice to anyone pursuing email marketing is to be as specific as possible and try to solve that person's problem in the email itself.

Once they made those changes, the business took off. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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  1. 2

    The response rates of <25% is excellent. I'm learning about cold emailing and their strategy is noteworthy. Thanks for sharing this Q&A.

  2. 2

    Nice, I watched the video. Cool that he had previous successes, most people try to make their first attempt their main success.

    1. 3

      Always worth trying to make your current attempt a success I think! But odds are it will be try number two or three or ....

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