I booked a 1-hour consultation with Arvid Kahl of The Bootstrapped Founder (who built FeedbackPanda) and I got a ton of value from it.

It’s often said that you’re the average of the five people you spent most time with. I wish I could spend more time with Arvid.

I could easily fall in the category of “fanboy” of Arvid since I started reading his blog, thebootstrappedfounder.com where he shares how he bootstrapped, built and reached $55k MRR and then sold FeedbackPanda in two years, with his business and life partner Danielle Simpson.

Truth be told, he’s the reason I’m on Indie Hacker. It’s after reading one of his many blog posts that I joined Indie Hacker to hack back on my founder isolation (which is mainly due to my living in a van).

Arvid is in a place where I want to be in the future.

He has met business success through his hard work, lean approach and persistence. I’m sure many of us would love to get the level of success he has—or to rephrase that—impact so many lives with the value he delivered.

It made a lot of sense to me to book some consultation time with him, as he offers on his website (https://thebootstrappedfounder.com/consulting/). It’s not something I do often, but I recently understood the importance of investing in mentorship and it was clear to me that Arvid is exactly the kind of mentor I need.

I was waiting for a strong enough reason to do it and I found it fast: I’ve never built a recurring payment system and I wanted some guidance.

With this inquiry, I sent an email to him, we set up a time comfortable for both of us and the we connected on Zoom for a one-hour video chat.

(By the way, he lives in Berlin which is perfect for my time zone, and his English is absolutely spotless [contrary to mine haha].)

The one-hour consultation

It was absolutely perfect! We started with some small talk but he nicely steered us toward business and asked for how I would define my problem. He had prepared the interview by researching my specific problem for my specific use case, understanding what was my project about, where my company was based, what problems I could encounter with international clients. He shed some light on things I was simply unaware of.

He helped me understand the three solutions I had for creating a recurring payment system for a SaaS business with international clients:

  • Use a payment processor (ex: Stripe) and handle the worldwide tax computation, collect and declaration yourself. It means creating a whole system to take into account legislation around the world, like differentiating corporations and people, and collect VAT in one case and not in the other case... But each country has different laws. Welcome to hell.
  • Use a billing processor (ex: Quaderno) on top of a payment processor and delegate the complexity of the tax computation, where you still have to declare the tax yourself (but it’s now an easy process). You can relax and be sure that you collect tax where you should be collecting it.
  • Use a Merchant of Record (ex: Paddle) which acts as a reseller of your software. There lies the minimum level of action you have to take as an indie developer, but it comes at a cost (which I could not get a quote for just yet).

Wow! You mean I can’t just plug Stripe and forget about it?? No one had actually told me about it before, I never read about this anywhere. Right there he already justified the cost of the consultation (which is 100€ + VAT by the way).

Next we talked about several topics around my project and his experience on FeedbackPanda. It was so awesome to be able to expose to him my project and vision and to have it gone through the filter gained by his experience. He saw everything with the right angle because he has been through it.

Here are some other topics where he blew my mind

  • Thinking of your pricing as something that should be aligned with the goal of your product. The more your client achieve what they’re supposed to achieve with your product, the more it is expensive for them. Now you have to understand what key metrics work for your customers and how you can measure it. He mentioned https://twitter.com/Patticus on this subject.

  • Using customers as writers for the content strategy. Even though I love writing, I’m not an expert in the field where I operate (I know about the imposter syndrome and its consequences—to me it’s more about not being inspired to write which is a huge blocker) and its advice was to find members who want to share, either for also talking about themselves (promote a service or something) and/or for some money.

  • Use your customers to find communities where your product makes sense. Whether it’s a good old phpBB of a Facebook group, expand your communication channel by asking your customers where they talk about their activity and go there!

  • One thing he struggled with before selling FeedbackPanda was taking some risks with the business strategy. This project was his single source of income and it prevented him from experimenting with new pricing for instance. One possible solution is to sell a small percentage of your business (something like 20%) while you still operate it and use this cash to generate passive income and diversify your revenue source.

  • Thinking of hiring part time to help you with what you hate most doing. With FeedbackPanda, they went from zero to $55k MRR without hiring a single employee. But it cost Arvid his capacity to innovate during the last months. Reflecting on it, he explained to me that he could have hired someone part time (like two hours per day) to handle customer service at the busiest hours.

  • The tools and options you choose initially can be reevaluated after time. He talked about reevaluating his docker hosting provider, or managed PostgreSQL instance, or the fact that they didn't start with Intercom because it was too expensive, but switched to it after a time. Start with what’s affordable and switch to the superior service later.

Are you on the same path?

There you can begin to understand the gift you get by talking to someone who dedicated two years of his life building a bootstrapped business as you’re getting through it.

Arvid is very smart, he understands SaaS business and is an amazing source of knowledge on the topic.

If you’re on this path yourself, I strongly recommend you subscribe to his newsletter and/or his podcast.

And if you want to spend one hour with someone who will help you take one big step further in your journey, book a consultation with Arvid, I promise you will not be disappointed.

  1. 3

    I am fan of his writing, too. Arvid is a great communicator and judging from the diligence he puts into his articles I bet his consulting is worth every penny, too. (Admittedly, much more than reading his articles I would like to see him put all his experience into practice and "do it again".)

    Since you're based in France, I would like to add one note regarding the different options for recurring payments: this concerns B2C, in B2B VAT is typically reverse charged within the EU and also many third countries, which makes matters significantly easier.

    1. 2

      Let’s a create a fan club! Just kidding ;)

      Good point, can you elaborate a little bit?
      In France I’m supposed to collect VAT for all my customers, C or B.
      If someone from Germany pays for my service, if they have a VAT number then I don’t collect tax; otherwise I do, right?
      If someone from the US pays for my service, what happens?
      If someone from India pays for my service, what happens?

      I agree that sometimes it can be easy, but right now I feel very comfortable delegating this 100% in exchange for a percentage of my revenue.

      That makes me think of another nugget of wisdom I forgot to add in the post:

      • The tools and options you choose initially can be reevaluated after time. It’s silly and I know it, but if, for instance, I choose to go with Paddle for my peace of mind, I can always reevaluate it later when it makes sense to do so. He talked to me about reevaluating his docker hosting provider, or managed PostgreSQL instance, or the fact that they didn't start with Intercom because it was too expensive, but switched to it after a time.
      1. 2

        I'm not sure about US, India, etc. but in the EU you should collect local VAT if you are selling to a "private citizen" but you don't need to worry about VAT in B2B context, though you have to issue a valid invoice with company name, address, VAT number.

        To make it simpler: if the company is registered in the VIES database and their VAT number is valid (see http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/vatRequest.html) then you should not charge VAT, otherwise you do.

        If you are working in B2C or a mix of B2C and B2B, then Paddle and 2Checkout go a long way in helping you, they act as a reseller and do invoicing, accounting and tax collection for you (on the client side).

        1. 1

          Thank for your answer Paolo. You're right, that might be easier than I think with a narrow customer target.

  2. 2

    Hey Conrad! 👋 I'm Carlos, founder of Quaderno. If there's anything I can help you with, just let me know. Glad to lend a hand.

    @arvidkahl Thanks for the reference! ;)

    1. 1

      Hey Carlos!

      Right now I'm leaning toward going full-service with Paddle for the billing of my customers. It solves a number of current and future problems quite elegantly I must say, but it comes at a cost (5% + 0.5$ per transaction) which makes sense in my context.

      I'll look at switching to Stripe+Quaderno later in the game, as a way to reduce cost while staying sane tax-wise.

      Thank you for coming here directly!

  3. 1

    This completely reads like a sales pitch.

    1. 1

      Thank you... I guess 😂

  4. 1

    Thank you so much Conrad, this is so kind of you to say. And even more, thank you for sharing your learnings with the Indie Hackers community. Nothing makes things clearer for yourself than teaching them to others, I know that feeling too well.

    It was a really interesting conversation for me as well. I learned a lot from you about your approach to validating your business idea (both the audience, their critical problem, and your solution), and it is always interesting to take a peek into an industry that I've not worked in (much) before.

    I wish you the very best for your startup, it's a solid concept with a clear path ahead. Thank you again for all your kindness.

    1. 2

      You're welcome and I thank you as well for your kind words!

      It's really great that you decided to become available on MentorCruise, I'm definitely considering to join you there. That will be on my mind for the next few days I think ;)

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