27
32 Comments

How we quit our jobs to work on our startup, lost half of our clients, decided to pivot, and ended up building a no-code tool

TL;DR
🇲🇽 10/’18 — Idea to build a platform that connects hotels & travel influencers
🏗 06/’19 — Started building Hotspot
💼 01/’20 — Quit my job
🛫 03/’20 — Jumped on a plane to Asia to chase our digital nomad dream
🦠 03/’20 — COVID-19 hits
🛬 03/’20 — Flew back home after 2 weeks to go in lockdown
🩸 07/’20 — Lost half of our clients & realized COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere
💡 08/’20 — Decided to pivot and build Tally
🚀 09/’20 — Launched our MVP and gathered our first 1.500 users
🐣 12/’20 — Welcomed our baby girl
🐱 03/’21 — Launched on Product Hunt
📈 04/'21 -- 3.500 users & $1k MRR

End 2019, me and my partner Filip Minev decided to chase our dreams.

I was marketing manager at a Digital Product Studio in Belgium and Filip had left Delta, a crypto portfolio app he had built and was acquired by eToro. We wanted to build a product for the rising influencer marketing industry while traveling and working as digital nomads.

We got the idea a couple of years ago when traveling in Mexico, a hotspot for travel influencers and bloggers. Hotspot was going to become a platform that helps hotels to connect with travel influencers and set up collaborations. We were going to build the platform if we could find 100 hotels that showed interest in our idea. We made a landing page and reached out to hotels we found on Instagram. We used a Google form to collect data and weren’t really happy with the way it looked, but we didn’t want to spend too much time on it and moved on. In no time, we found 100 hotels that were interested in our product and noticed most of the traction came from Asia.

Beginning 2020, we had a growing number of hotels and influencers on the platform and we decided both to go for it. I quit my job, we rented out our apartment and booked a plane to Bali, with the first stop in Bangkok. Once we arrived in Bangkok, the pandemic hit and countries were going into lockdown. Customers started churning or asking to pause their subscriptions. Flights were being canceled, and suddenly going to Bali and being stuck on an island with limited healthcare facilities didn’t seem like the safest thing to do. Borders were closing and to be able to stay in Thailand we had to leave the country to extend our visas, without knowing if we would be able to get back in. We ran out of options and had to fly back to Belgium, bummer...

Imgur

We felt like Hotspot had the potential to grow and didn’t want to give up on our startup idea so easily. So we decided to keep building and prepare for better days.

Fast forward to summer 2020.

COVID-19 hit Belgium hard and hospitals were overwhelmed. We decided to organize a fundraiser and donated free hotel nights to healthcare workers. Again we needed a form for hotels and healthcare workers to register and again we struggled with finding the right one. Google Forms is very functional but doesn’t look great, and established form tools like Typeform, Jotform, Formstack make you hit a paywall fast and can be very expensive for early-stage startups or indie makers.

By now we had lost half of our Hotspot customers and with still no perspective on when the travel industry would recover we decided to pivot and build our own form tool. We wanted to make a simple, yet powerful form builder that allows you to create any type of form without breaking the bank. We set off building Tally, a new type of form builder for makers and no-coders.

We launched our MVP in September 2020 and started asking for feedback from makers, Indiehackers, and start-ups on Twitter and in Slack communities. Tally works like a document (you can just start typing and insert building blocks) and our first users seemed to love the form-building experience we offered. Our user base started growing, while we kept talking to existing and potential users. We went above and beyond to make our first users happy, offered instant support, and shipped new features every week.

In December 2020 we welcomed our baby girl Lucy and lost some speed for obvious reasons 🙃, but we were happy to close the year with a small, but very engaged community of 1500 users. By March 2021 we felt ready to share our product with a bigger audience and we launched on Product Hunt. We lost the race for #1 product of the day after being in the lead for 23 hours. A roller coaster for sure, but nevertheless we were really happy with the outcome of more than 1.400 upvotes, hundreds of positive reviews, dozens of investor calls, and +600 new users.

We can’t wait to see what the future holds!

How was 2020 for you? Did COVID-19 make you pivot? Would love to hear your stories!

Cheers,
Marie

  1. 1

    This is a great story. I admire your tenacity!

  2. 1

    What a journey! Congrats for the launch and your results (and for Lucy of course)! What would be the best piece of advice you could give to someone who has a project well prepared but doesn't know when the time has come to take the leap and quit their job to start their own business?

    1. 1

      Hi Jimi, thanks a lot!

      Good question, for us it was a combination of elements. I had worked for 10 years as an employee (and saved some money) and my Co-founder Filip has had a successful exit from his previous start-up, which gave us a bit more security to take the leap.

      We worked on Hotspot as a side-project for 6 months first, and we felt like we found the recipe to grow the product and find new clients, which helped us to make the decision. The idea was to give ourselves 1 year and if things didn't work out we could always go find another job again.

      So I guess it's different for everybody, but I would make sure to have some revenue already and an idea of what a good way is to reach your audience before taking the big leap. But that's just my 2 cents :-)

  3. 1

    Congrats! UX of Tally is nice. Clearly inspired by Notion? Did you draw the nice drawings yourself?

    1. 2

      Thanks! Tools like Notion, Ghost & Framer have definitely been a big inspiration to us. The illustrations are made by Carlos Peixoto (https://dribbble.com/carlospx).

  4. 1

    What a great story! good luck and thanks for sharing. I was supposed to go travel 2020 around the globe with my storytelling workshop. Found myself stuck (eToro is one of my clients) in Israel and had to restructure my business and adapt to the new concept of giving workshops from home. It has been a great journey.
    Again, thank you for sharing.

    1. 1

      Happy to hear you were able to adapt to hosting remote workshops, must have been quite challenging!

  5. 1

    Wow what a journey! I decided to quit my job in July 2019 and follow the digital nomad dream, I was in the Philippines when the pandemic hit. It's been a bumpy but so rewarding road!

    1. 1

      Wow Solène, that's great! Are you still in the Philippines or did you have to return home?

      1. 2

        I traveled quite a bit since then :) Went to Mexico, France (to visit family & friends), San Francisco (where I usually live) and I'm now working from the Dominican Republic!

  6. 1

    honestly, this is maybe one of my most favorite in product hunt.

    1. 1

      Thank you so much, that's so nice to hear!

  7. 1

    Gaaf @MarieMartens en Filip! Cool to see you thrived after what appears "only" one big shift 👏🏻

    A couple of questions, if I may:

    During your first days, how did you reach the right people? Was it the obvious PH, Show HN, .. stuff? Or did you actively search out communities on social platforms?

    And how did the interaction with, let's say, your first 100 - 200 users shift your product. Or was it largely the same and only tweaking here and there?

    Congrats with the birth your little precious (dad of 3 here :) ) and keep it lit over there!

    1. 2

      Thanks a lot! Dad of 3 during a pandemic, that's worth a medal :-)

      During our first days we focussed on makers, Indiehackers & freelancers. So we made lists of the top 500 makers and people who upvoted similar products on Product Hunt and reached out to them to ask for feedback on our MVP. Outreach was mainly via Twitter & email.

      We also actively engaged in several no-code communities what lead to a very engaged early user base. We made our own slack channel and received lots of feedback from our first users. People loved the free form building experience from the start, but their input definitely had (and still has) a huge impact on how we prioritized our roadmap & which integrations to implement first for example.

      1. 1

        Thanks for your feedback and insights 🙌🏻.

        I missed your product entirely, so your post helped getting it under my attention. Really impressed with the feature set and really awesome to see such full-featured free tier.

        The free tier really makes a differences in my (non income) stage as a maker trying out product ideas.

        Take care, keep safe and keep up providing value with your cool product!

  8. 1

    Tally is gorgeous! What was the design process like? What tech stack did you end up using?

    1. 3

      Hey Bilal 👋

      💅 We design everything in Figma.
      🏗 Tally is made with React, TypeScript, Styled Components, Next.js, Express, and runs on GCP's Cloud Run.

      Let me know if you have other questions!

      1. 1

        Interesting. I have a similar stack, but curious to hear how your Next + GCP combo has been. Ideal? Do you need background jobs?

        1. 1

          Next.js + GCP Cloud Run works smoothly! But if you just want to host a Next.js app, there is no easier and quicker way than Vercel.

          If you need background jobs, you can always spin a new instance on GCP to run cron jobs or use their Cloud Functions, for example.

  9. 1

    Thanks for the post. It seems you still have Hotspot, are you planning to continue working on it?

    1. 1

      Hi @lukzett 👋

      Hotspot is still alive indeed, we haven't done any active outreach since we launched Tally and haven't developed new features. So it's kinda on maintenance mode now. We still accept new travel influencers and give hotels a longer free trial. We're waiting for travel to pick up again, and are focussing on Tally in the meantime.

  10. 1

    Congratulations! How did you go about getting your first 1500 users?

    1. 1

      Hi Prateek,

      We started by talking to (potential) users and asking for feedback on our MVP via channels like Twitter and Indiehackers. We try to be active and answer as many questions as possible on forums like Quora and Reddit and Slack or other (mainly no-code) communities.

      We also started building our own community with early users joining our own Slack channel and growing our Twitter followers by building in public and sharing regular updates about new features.

      This brought us to our first 1.500 users, after that we launched on Product Hunt & Betalist, added our first integrations with Zapier & Airtable and also started getting referrals from our "powered by Tally" branding on our forms.

      In the future, we want to focus more on (user-generated)content, and show the variety of use cases Tally serves through templates and tutorials.

      1. 1

        Thank you so much for the breakdown Marie! This is super helpful. Congratulations on all your success!

  11. 1

    Well done! Congratulations on your baby girl, and on your tenacity sticking with Tally through some clearly challenging times. Great job!

    1. 1

      Thanks for your support Keith!

  12. 1

    Thank you for sharing, Marie! This reads like such a ride. It must have been so stressful - but at the end you have a beautiful baby and thousands of happy users.

    More power to you!

    1. 2

      Thanks Rahul! It was quite the ride indeed, but we're very grateful to have come this far.

  13. 0

    Absolutely love your story. Can you talk a bit more about the investor conversations. Did they approach you and how did it go?

    1. 1

      Hi Neil,

      We've had a couple of investors approaching us after we launched our MVP, but after our PH launch we definitely saw a big spike in interest. We are currently bootstrapping Tally and not looking for investment, so they reached out to us and we did introductory calls to get acquainted if we would change our minds in the future. The calls were mainly exploratory, us sharing our story, business model, and our goals and learning more about what type of investments would be possible.

Trending on Indie Hackers
Case Study: How We Grew Pixelied from 0 to 24,000 Monthly Organic Traffic in 8 Months [Step-by-Step Blueprint] 13 comments I make $200,000/year through WordPress' 'add order notes' field 11 comments I wrote a MASSIVE guide on how to test your startup idea with a market research survey. Graphs, diagrams, videos — it's all here for free. 6 comments Acquisition is easy, retention is hard. 6 comments How do interruptions/context switching affect developers? 4 comments How do you store waitlist signups? 2 comments