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How this Reddit marketing tool used itself to grow to $5k/MRR

Hey guys, after the SaaS TikTok interview, many of you asked me to cover more novel/interesting acquisition channels.

This one is interesting, with a tool that uses Reddit in a pretty novel way. Here's the interview with Nikola (the founder):

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey! My name is Nikola, and I'm the co-founder and CEO of Howitzer, the first Reddit outreach tool, made for entrepeneurs, startups and growth hackers.

Howitzer is the first direct outreach tool for Reddit, that allows you to find and target your ideal customers on Reddit and direct message them, at scale.

It works on two basic principles:

  1. Find and target your leads on Reddit (by specifying keywords, subreddits, time frame, positive/negative sentiment and more)

  2. Personalized direct outreach (by utilizing Reddit Chat and Direct Messages automation)

With average response rate of 40-45%, Howitzer has far more superior response rates compared to email outreach (3%) and LinkedIn outreach (10%).

So far, we've reached $5k/MRR before raising a seed investment of $500k this month. As a result, we've doubled down on the product development, just started with growth and started expanding our team.

What motivated you to get started?

Short: I couldn't find a way to successfully advertise my previous product on Reddit.

Long: Before Howitzer, I was part of the team that created Beermoney - a mobile application that aggregates the most famous microtasking platforms out there (Amazong Mechanical Turk, Microworkers, RapidWorkers, etc.).

The Beermoney's target group "lived" in 2-3 subreddits, and talked about their main pain points on daily basis.

Being part of those subreddits and actively reading their pains, desires for improvments in their work, questions for alternatives and product recommendations - the natural thing was to launch our MVP there, in those subreddits.

The first thing we tried were the official Reddit Ads.

That's the moment when we failed.

Besides the fact that the Reddit Ads weren't supported in all parts of the world, we didn't generate any conversions and we were spending money.

The second approach was to try to advertise our product through posting and commenting.

Most of the posts were instantly deleted, and most of the accounts got banned from that subreddit, because of the "No Self Promotion" policies.

I spent days and days reading about Reddit marketing tips & tricks and organic strategies, but couldn't find anything that actually worked without spending months on it.

That's the moment when I decided to go a bit "guerilla" on this.

I wrote a script that scraped all the users who were asking about "mobile application", "working on multiple platforms" on the relevant subreddits, and sent them an automated email where I personalized the username, subreddit name and the mentioned keyword.

In less than 2 weeks, we got over 2000 downloads on Google Play Store.

Few of our local friends from the startup community asked for this script, and used it for idea validation and growing their startups, and were extremely satisfied of it.

That's the point when we realized we have something here.

If it solved our own problem, and the problem of fellow entrepreneurs - it would definitely solve the problems of someone out there too.

We ditched the idea, gathered a team of 3, and pursued to turning that script into a real SaaS.

That's how Howitzer was born.

What went into building the initial product?

Everything started in the summer of 2020, with a simple script.

At the beginning I validated the idea with some local friends from the startup ecosystem, then launched a "fake" landing page where I was promoting "nearly ready product" and started posting it on Indie Hackers, and some Facebook groups.

We got decent traction, collected some emails, and then started building it into a full product.

The first commit was made on October 29, 2020.

Since then, we worked half time until the end of March, when we released a scrappy MVP in public.

The traction was beyond our expectations. We grew to $2000 MRR in the first month (with $0 spent on marketing), and left our 9-5 jobs to fully focus on it.

Our tech stack is mostly Angular / ASP .NET Core / PostgreSQL, and bunch of other microservices written in Node and Python.

How have you attracted users and grown Howitzer?

The best showcase for a marketing tool is using your own marketing tool to grow your own marketing tool.

That's what we did.

After we launched, we used Howitzer to grow it to $1500 MRR. You can read more about it here.

After this, we got approached by a tech journalist that did an interview for Howitzer, and published it on StartupsCrushing.

It got us some initial PR, landed us a meeting with Alexis Ohanian (the co-founder of Reddit) which went really well, and landed us few interested investors (one of them led our pre-seed/seed round).

In aspect of customer acquisition, we are doing it 100% organic.
We did a small LTD launch in a closed community, gained some feedback, knowledge and 200 users out of it.

Howitzer is mostly famous in the Growth Hacking and Crypto communities, and growing mostly through word-of-mouth.

We are just kick-starting with the growth right now, so I can give more details about this in the next interview.

What are your goals for the future?

Grow, grow and grow!

From product aspect, we are building Howitzer 2.0 version, which is an improved version of the current one.

We added built-in inbox (so you won't have to go to Reddit to answer messages), we implemeted Reddit Chat Automation (another communication channel inside of Reddit), and the most important - we made Howitzer 100% plug & play.

We aim to build Howitzer into full, simple to use, growth hacking tool for Reddit, that allows you to execute the most successful marketing strategies, validate your ideas and grow your business using Reddit.

Do you believe that making Howitzer more successful will get you in trouble with Reddit?

It depends.

From technical aspect, I don't really believe we'll have many problems without Reddit cutting down some of their own services, as we are using their official API for some of our own services.

We are a team of highly skilled engineers, and believe me - we have been thinking and working on this from the beginning of the service.

Regarding the ToS - Howitzer is not an official feature of Reddit, so we don't really take any responsibility regarding the practices and policies of Reddit, the same as all of the marketing automation tools out there (take Expandi or Dux Soup for example).

However, we are trying to stay on the good side. We aim to build Howitzer into a serious marketing tool and also protect Reddit from spammers and malicious users, so that's why we are in the process of building and automated 'Spam Checker', so we can verify accounts that send spammy messages.

At the moment, Howitzer is compliant with the Reddit API's guidelines and limits.

The Reddit API has an endpoint for direct messages, but we are utilizing the chat in a completely different fashion.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Would have started with content writing and growth much earlier.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Customer support.

Having strong customer support, and treating your customers in an exceptional way is the best way of doing business.

It costs you some time and may seem like a loss, but treating each customer as you would like to be treated can be extremely beneficial on the long run.

I can say that it's one of the main factors that build your brand, and sometimes is make it or break it for your business.

I tend to become a friend with as much of our like-minded customers as I can, and truly help them grow their businesses.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find more details on our website.

And can read about our case studies and successful stories on our blog.

Get a founder interview like the one above to your inbox every week:

  1. 4

    Pretty interesting that you had a conversation with the co-founder on Reddit. Curious what he said about your SaaS.

    1. 4

      Hey Molly!
      Actually he really liked the idea and told me that he had the exact same idea while he was in the Reddit's board (but for some reasons, it didn't pass).

      The meeting gave us a ton of motivation (especially to me, because I had read his book few months before that), and it was extremely important thing for us, especially in that early phase of the product/company

  2. 3

    Looks like an interesting tool, especially for subreddits where the mods are "anti-don't-post-links-here-or-we-remove-you-immediately".

    For what sorts of companies did you find Howitzer to work the best Nikola?

    1. 2

      Thank you Mark.
      Our target group are mostly startups in the early growth stage and growth hackers.

      Our biggest (most paying) segments are the growth hackers, the 'community builders' and crypto/NFT startups.
      These groups utilize Reddit in it's core segment - the value from the communities.

      We also have bunch of indie app developers and solopreneurs trying to validate their ideas, startup companies that are trying to get their first customers, SaaS companies that operate in some specific niches and creators.

  3. 2

    I can definitely vouch for Nikola on him putting customer support at the core of his operations. I remember texting him about a bug I found while setting up a campaign at around 1am his time and in like an hour he fixed it then responded: 😎 Fixed!

    I'm like.... dude don't you sleep🤣

    Keep doing good man, love the growth🚀🚀🚀🚀

    1. 2

      Thanks a lot Romaine!

  4. 1

    Good story. Appreciate it - Venkat

  5. 1

    Would we run the risk of getting banned by Reddit for mass messaging users? What are the thresholds

    1. 1

      Hey.
      At the moment, there is a possibility to get your account banned only if you get reported by users for spamming. We handle the proxies and the "smart limits" for you, so you won't be detected by the spam filters.

      Next week, we are enrolling a new version of the tools, where we'll provide the Reddit accounts for you and you won't have to worry about them - completely plug & play solution

  6. 1

    Look good, I’ll take it for a test run later this week.

    1. 1

      Thanks!
      Let me know what you think of it! :)

  7. 1

    How hard was it to raise the funds for Howitzer?

    Have you had any communication with Reddit yet? (not sure how involved A. Ohanian is with the company anymore)

    Great job with the company so far! You guys seem to be "in the zone".

    1. 2

      I will say not extremely hard from technical aspect (as I have read on the internet).
      The process was kind of a hard process from the mental aspect of it. Stress, overthinking, etc.
      The job was done in 3.5 months (from the initial meeting to the 'YES' from the investors' side).

      No, we haven't established any communication with Reddit so far (Alexis is not involved with them anymore).

      Thanks for the nice words Emil!

  8. 1

    Very cool tool! Reddit is a gold mine to validate your idea and get users. I was wondering within the 40% response rate, do you have details on the sentiment response. Were people, positive, neutral or annoyed about cold messaging?

    Best of luck in your journey!

    1. 1

      Thank you!
      We haven't measured the sentiment of the responses to have any information about those.
      Although, from the campaigns we've run for our own needs, the sentiment is positive in general (because we are targeting people that we believe we can provide value to).

  9. 1

    Awesome!

    I feel like we should help one another as « on top of Reddit » founders 🤩

    1. 1

      Would love to, Ben!
      Please shoot me an email at: [email protected]

  10. 1

    Wow!! Howitzer is seriously everywhere!!

  11. 1

    I can imagine a single bad actor easily ruining this acq. tactic. Do you have ways to prevent this (from someone "over-using") your tool?

    1. 1

      I agree with you on that, and that's why we've implemented background monitors for each of the processes (if they reach a given threshold - we look into it manually).

      Another thing is the Spam Checker we are working on.
      After implementing it, I guess the chances of having 'bad actors' will be significantly reduced.

      Also, feel free to share any tactics you have in mind, regarding protecting from cases like this

      1. 1

        Congrats on your success so far.

        Good thing you already have checks in place - spammers of all kinds are interested in any ways they can exploit messaging systems. You would think that only free plans give you that exposure but pro spammers actually use fraudulently obtained credit cards so the price tag alone will not stop them.

        At BigMailer.io we were happy to lean on Stripe's Radar configs to adjust fraud tolerance to alert us to transactions that may need to require manual review. It would be harder without automated checks like that.

  12. 0

    Reddit will shut this down as soon as it becomes big enough for them to notice, it breaks ToS and users will get suspended. How did you find someone dumb enough to invest 500k into it?!

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