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59 Comments

I'm a non-technical founder who bootstrapped to $1.3m ARR. All while traveling to 30+ countries. AMA!

Hey Indie Hackers! I'm Amar

I co-founded ZenMaid.com with my friend Arun back in 2013. After 8 long years we've recently broken the 7 figure annual mark :-)

All it took was a little sweat, blood, tears, fights, horrible mistakes, money, sacrifice, and much much more. And we'd do it all over again if we had to!

We started out with a functional but ugly AF product that had 1 truly differentiating feature compared to the competition at the time - SMS thanks to Twilio

That MVP was just good enough to get us some traction and we grew slowly but consistently. And when I say slowly, I mean SLOWLY. It took us over 3 years to get to $10k MRR.

Our MVP got us to around $17k MRR at which point we re-invested almost everything we were making for 6-8 months to redesign the software. The launch of that redesign went absolutely terribly (we lost 30+% of our MRR due to it) but the redesign itself allowed us to go to the next level.

Since then we've 10x'd the business ($110k MRR at the time of posting) and are the perceived juggernaut in our industry (we're the big fish in the little pond)

I've personally always been focused on sales, marketing, and everything non-technical (so my partner could focus solely on building great product) - happy to answer any questions anyone has about anything

Everything we've accomplished has been done remotely (we worked remotely before working remotely was cool!) and I'm posting this from Koh Phangan, Thailand, one of 35 countries I've now spent time in since 2015.

I've gotten active on Twitter thanks largely to my IH connections and try to share openly about our challenges and that it's not all rainbows and sunshine. Here's a popular thread on my personal take home pay and what it's like when the CEO is not the most valuable talent in the company.

Drop a comment or question and I'll respond throughout the day :-)

  1. 7

    Your story is super inspiration and thank you for this!

    I launched a Shopify app last year as a solo dev and it's been growing nicely. Current at the stage to automate it and trying to launch saas outside of Shopify. I'm having trouble with delegation right now

    1. How did you manage your software after your split with your technical co-founder?
    2. How many team member so you have now?
    3. What is the key to move from $1k to $10k MRR, $10k to 90k MRR
    4. How do you manage to stay away from distractions on your day to day work?
    5. What is your daily schedule like?
    1. 2

      Thanks dude, meeting you randomly in Chiang Mai is one of my favorite serendipity moments of my travels 😂

      How did you manage your software after your split with your technical co-founder?

      • I was lucky to have a great co-founder who identified and groomed his replacement ahead of leaving. He knew his stake in the company would be worthless if he didn't :-D
      • Alex, our current CTO, took over and we've since hired a team under him
      • If you're looking to do this yourself, try hiring someone to help you with a part of your process (design for example) or to build out isolated features that allow them to get to know your codebase without slowing you down

      How many team member so you have now?

      • 4 full time if you count me (me + CTO, COO, head of support), ~20 part timers and contractors including 6 that are current or former maid service owners (we hire our customers)

      Will respond to your last 3 questions after lunch!

      1. 5

        What is the key to move from $1k to $10k MRR, $10k to 90k MRR

        • 1k-10k: This was mainly 1 to 1 sales
        • 10k-90k has a lot more to do with marketing systems
        • All growth has come thanks to marketing and sales, but the product could have limited us at any point. No feature we've built has actually driven growth in comparison to what we do on the S&M side of things - I focus on getting us in front of as many ideal clients as possible, as often as possible, and eventually our product will be right for them

        How do you manage to stay away from distractions on your day to day work?

        • I don't. I have ADD or ADHD so I've trained myself to get distracted by work, but I rarely stay on task. Rather I skip from work related item to work related item until it's all taken care of. Deep work is rare for me (recently happened with a strategy for a free plan and I'm spending a few days a week right now doing deep sprints into our UI/UX with our team)

        What is your daily schedule like?

        • This question is better answered with what my schedule has been at various points throughout my journey (because my schedule now is a 'do as I say, not as I do' type situation) :

        • ​Years 0 - 2.5: I was working a full time job in SF so my daily (weekday) schedule was wake up at 5 am and cold call maid service owners on the East Coast.
          Hour long train ride to work at 7:15 am where I would do more work or listen to podcasts.
          Day job until 6 pm.
          Then back home to work on marketing stuff.
          Some nights I'd meet my co-founder at his place in Palo Alto to talk about stuff and hang out.
          Saturdays I would pop a modafinil and spend 6-8 hours cold calling maid service owners everywhere I could.
          Sundays off.

        • Years 2.5-7: World travel while full time on ZenMaid - my daily schedule varied a lot during these years but I worked a lot. It mainly depended on where in the world I was as the time zones would affect my calling hours and when I could sync up with our team. Hours would vary from 25 on a rare slow week to 70+ when things were busy or on fire. Late night and early morning calls were regular things.

        During this time I'd mostly spend 80% of my time working in the business and 20% working on the business (systematizing what I was doing 80% of the time) - this shifted more and more towards the end until:

        Year 7 - present: You probably don't want to know this lol. I wake up without an alarm clock most mornings (I'm an early riser though so that's still between 5:30 and 6:30) and usually work out (lift, BJJ, yoga recently). I'm in front of my computer checking slack and email and taking care of the few items that need my attention there (usually 2 hours max). That's usually all I'm obligated to do but I'll oftentimes have my hands in various projects across our teams so I'm always challenged and learning. Some days I work those 1-2 hours and that's it, others I'll be in a mood and work 10 (not often).

        • I also have 2-3 calls a week I have to be on but beyond that everything I do is optional
        1. 1

          Wow thanks a lot for your detailed answers

          It has been quite a journey and I been following your posts and twitter here and there. Congrats with your milestone.

          I don't ever expect myself to be lazy and felt the need to do more. Think the key now for me is systematize

          I'll also learn to distract myself with more work 🤣 after all I also have ADD and ADHD

          If you ever plan to visit Vietnam, let me know. I am happily trapped here by covid and Vietnamese gf

          1. 1

            Ping me on Facebook or Twitter and we can jump on a Zoom call - it's been awhile :-)

            It's definitely hard to fight the urge to always do more, I spent months fighting that as I felt obligated to be in front of my computer working most of the day. It was a real challenge getting to where I am now where I can just leave stuff if I'm not needed. Takes a surprising amount of self control, at least in the beginning.

  2. 3

    Your company is such an awesome case study of gradual growth. I'm relatively new to IH, and the expertise here has been nothing, but eye-opening.

    My question for you is, when would you say that your product switched from more outbound leads to more inbound leads?

    1. 3

      Great question - I would say we stuck with outbound until we were closing in on 100 customers, around that point it began to switch to more inbound from content, Word of Mouth, and general industry reputation. We probably stopped cold email and cold calling altogether around the 200 or 250 mark because we had enough leads at that point I didn't need to find new ones and could just focus on those already interested in us :-)

  3. 3

    to which countries you traveled? I am more excited to hear that

    1. 2

      I'm just going to list as many as I can off the top of my head here:

      England
      Thailand
      Indonesia
      India
      Sri Lanka
      Malaysia
      South Korea
      Italy
      Spain
      Germany
      Austria
      Switzerland
      Portugal
      Croatia
      Serbia
      New Zealand
      Mexico
      Colombia
      Iceland
      Morocco
      Scotland
      Singapore
      The Netherlands
      Poland

      Most of my time has been in Thailand where I'm back now after a long wait during the pandemic but clearly I get around a bit :-)

      1. 2

        no Greece yet??? come on man, gotta get here soon!

        1. 1

          Greece is on the future list! ;-)

      2. 1

        was India fun to visit?

        1. 1

          Honestly, no. It's easily my least favorite place I've visited BUT I've never been outside the major cities so my perspective here is very warped. I also didn't know anyone in India other than family where as now I plan to visit quite a few Indie Hackers and spend time with younger folks the next time I'm there.

          So no, it was not fun to visit in my experience, but I'm genuinely looking forward to the next time I get to go so I can experience it differently :-)

  4. 3

    No questions, just wanted to say "Congratulations!". Your early years closely resemble ours. I am a technical founder, but still it took us a year to get our first paying customer and a couple more years to get to $10K, but now we can see that momentum building nicely.

    Personally, I think too many people focus on the "I made $100K in 30 days..." type stories, which are great, but is definitely the unusual minority. Most businesses are a long grind, and a slow and steady road towards profitability and sustainability. I think the more we share stories like yours, the better prepared everyone will be. Keep up the good work.

    1. 2

      The amount of time it's taken us (you and me) really emphasizes to me that SaaS is the ultimate flywheel business - we had to push so d*mn hard to get things moving for very very little money in the beginning but now we're getting to a point where it's almost effortless to grow at a rate that was unimaginable just a few years ago

      I've been enjoying following you on Twitter!

  5. 2

    Very inspiring, thanks for sharing! Maybe I missed it, but can you share more about the period where you redesigned the product (what, why) and the fallout that ensued, and then how you recovered?

    1. 1

      My friend Monique interviewed me about this entire sh*tshow - it's an interesting listen for sure, and I very much hope you learn from my mistakes!

      https://www.theamaricandream.com/blog/podcast-efficiency-on-demand

  6. 2

    I’m curious about how did you obtained your very first customers. Can you please explain that a bit?

    1. 2

      Cold email and cold call - I would wake up at 5 am on the West Coast to call maid service owners on the East Coast. That hustle, plus a lucky partnership, carried us to ~100 clients :-)

  7. 2

    Congratulations! I wish you the best for the future.
    Just an easy question: which tools do you use to manage your business? E.g. From where the graph with the "MRR Overview" comes from?

    1. 1

      That would be ProfitWell :-)

      We use a lot of other SaaS in our business, main ones that come to mind I couldn't live without: ActiveCampaign, Intercom, & ProfitWell

  8. 2

    How did you stay motivated and more importantly kept your partner motivated for first 3 years?

    1. 2

      From another response elsewhere:

      Freedom motivated me. Working a 9-5 job sounded like a surefire way for me to jump off a bridge before I'm 40 - I saw ZenMaid as my best opportunity to avoid that.

      Also, despite our slow growth, it was very consistent (we've had maybe 5 months in company history that we went down in MRR) so there was some traction, enough for me to believe.

      I wrote more about this a bit in this article:

      https://www.theamaricandream.com/blog/freedom-is-worth-it

      For my partner: we were both on the same page about what we wanted when we started the company. For me it was to earn enough money from anywhere in the world that I wouldn't need a job. My co-founder was interested in that a bit but he was more focused on being able to do his research (to cure cancer) without being reliant on anyone else's funding. ZenMaid didn't do that for him (he left in 2017) but Crypto did!

      Funnily enough he left after fully vesting his equity because he was frustrated we were only at 17k MRR after 4 years, as soon as he left we started skyrocketing which we both still laugh about to this day (it had nothing to do with him leaving)

  9. 2

    No Q. Just calling in to say Congrats!

    Also, your @handle remark in that Twitter thread (nevermindsheblockedme) was hilarious.

    1. 1

      I try to insert humor and lighten the mood where I can ;-)

  10. 2

    ZenMaid looks really good, friendly, rich, and inviting. If it works as well as it looks I am not surprised by your success. Also, congrats on your patience and confidence, sticking to your guns. People are so impatient these days.

    1. 1

      Thanks! I keep saying I'm only successful because we found the smallest bit of traction and held on for dear life. I'm sure there's more to it, of course, but not giving up is shockingly underrated :-)

  11. 2

    Hey Amar, this is amazing. Love reading about your journey on Twitter.

    Thanks for being so real 🙏🏼 and inspiring people to live a wholesome life

    1. 2

      Thanks for reading 🙏🏾

  12. 2
    1. Your primary target audience, I assume, was never active on the internet. Maybe you were competing with Excel when you started selling Zenmaid. How much of hand-holding did you have to do to your customers?
    2. It is impressive that you run this show with just 4 full time people and then part-timers. How do you transmit your "culture" to these people who spend limited time with you? Or is there an operating manual for everything in the company?
    1. 2

      Love these, thanks for asking 🏖

      1. Your primary target audience, I assume, was never active on the internet. Maybe you were competing with Excel when you started selling Zenmaid. How much of hand-holding did you have to do to your customers?
      • We started the company in 2013, not the stone age - our audience was definitely active on the internet 😂

      I know what you mean by your question though and there was no much community for maid service owners online, so we created that ourselves and then added people it (the ZenMaid Mastermind on Facebook) as they found us through other channels. That's become one of our best assets over the years.

      Regarding hand holding: we had to do A LOT and we still do it all, and more, to this day. It's what sets us apart from our competition - everything is designed so that our grandmothers would succeed with the program in a no-man-left-behind type way. We offer unlimited 1 on 1s with our team to help folks get started, no matter their price point!

      1. It is impressive that you run this show with just 4 full time people and then part-timers. How do you transmit your "culture" to these people who spend limited time with you? Or is there an operating manual for everything in the company?

      I've always found it easy to create good culture, it's just come naturally to me, so honestly I'm probably not the best to answer this question. We have a wonderful slack with all our team members, no matter how little they work for us, and we try to involve everyone in different ways. It also helps that we hire our customers so a lot of our culture seeps into slack from our Facebook groups and vice versa.

      I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt though that no operating manual is going to set your culture. That has to come from someone with a strong personality within the company, at least initially (it's me in our case but it doesn't have to be)

      1. 2

        Regarding hand holding: we had to do A LOT and we still do it all, and more, to this day. It's what sets us apart from our competition - everything is designed so that our grandmothers would succeed with the program in a no-man-left-behind type way. We offer unlimited 1 on 1s with our team to help folks get started, no matter their price point!

        This is amazing. How many customers do you have? How does it work out for you on scale?

        1. 2

          1500 customers are on the platform daily and we have 10-20 of these calls each week (20 would be a very busy week!)

          We realized that most people need a ton of help in the first 30-60 days but after that they're easy on our support. So we've gotten busier with these calls as our growth as increased, not as we've grown, if that makes sense (how many trial users we have at any given time affects our booked calls more than our total number of users)

      2. 2

        The bad thing about being a founder is that your bad habits spread across the company! :)

        Thanks for all the insights @itsjustamar !

  13. 2

    Impressive story, congrats for the growth! What did you do during the 3 years it took to get to $10k MRR? Were you already thinking of redesigning the business?

    1. 1

      Redesigning the *product, not the business - they're not the same. We've never considered redesigning the business, just parts of it ;-)

      During the 3 years we were slowly moving the product forward (we were both part time) and building relationships across the industry as we could. And of course we were building systems internally around support and operations where we saw the opportunity, which set us up nicely to scale when the market decided it was our turn!

  14. 2
    1. Do you think the ad money you spent early on in the journey could have been used for something else?
    2. What motivated you to keep going for the first six years? Was it conviction in the idea (emotional attachment) or you could see light at the end of the tunnel?
    3. When your cofounder left, how did you manage the equity split? I'm assuming all the vesting would have been done for him as well. :)
    1. 2

      Great questions!

      1. Do you think the ad money you spent early on in the journey could have been used for something else?
      • Absolutely not. If I could have spent more I would have. We needed traffic and consistent eyeballs on our site so we could get feedback and make sure we were on the right track. That money spent on ads was almost a product investment vs a marketing one (that changed at some point, now it's definitely a marketing investment) :-)
      1. What motivated you to keep going for the first six years? Was it conviction in the idea (emotional attachment) or you could see light at the end of the tunnel?
      • Freedom motivated me. Working a 9-5 job sounded like a surefire way for me to jump off a bridge before I'm 40 - I saw ZenMaid as my best opportunity to avoid that. Also, despite our slow growth, it was very consistent (we've had maybe 5 months in company history that we went down in MRR) so there was some traction, enough for me to believe.
        I wrote more about this a bit in this article:

      https://www.theamaricandream.com/blog/freedom-is-worth-it

      1. When your cofounder left, how did you manage the equity split? I'm assuming all the vesting would have been done for him as well. :)
      • He was fully vested and kept it all. Since that time I've started earning some of his equity, as has our CTO who took over from him but my initial co-founder is still the second largest shareholder after me. Without him I never could have gotten to where I am today so while it's arguable he got a killer deal (he's literally been getting a monthly paycheck of $2400 since 2017 without doing any more work), I would make the exact same deal over and over again :-)
      1. 1

        That's fantastic! Hope you wouldn't mind a follow up question.

  15. 2

    Very impressive story Amar, and much kuddo's for all the stuff you share of your journey.
    But we both know, all these accomplishments are in the past now.

    So ....

    ... what mayor things are you aiming for in the future? 😎🚀

    1. 1

      Someone asked me recently what it would look like if we doubled the business in 6 months and now that's my goal 😉

      Really I'm just enjoying the journey and want to see how much we can grow ZenMaid without losing our culture or my current lifestyle 📈📈📈

      1. 1

        So, what do you imagine your business, life, or your impact in the world looks like when you double your business?

        1. 1

          Ideally it won't change my day to day life much, but it will give me a lot more optionality to acquire other businesses or 'upgrade' my lifestyle (we'd like to move to Europe making a little more money than we are)

          Would also like to plant more trees via my wife's project which doubling the business would help me do! ;-)

  16. 2

    hey there, few of my questions 4 u
    1 how do you come up with an idea to build a product?
    2 what is the purpose of life?
    3 how do you manage your time and money

    1. 2

      Thanks for the questions 🙏🏾

      1 how do you come up with an idea to build a product?

      • I ran my own maid service as a side project for 14 months, a friend approached me to build out our back end systems and sell them to other maid services

      2 what is the purpose of life?

      • I don't think there is a purpose to life, or rather we choose what it means to us. I just want to be happy, to make those closest to me happy, and beyond that, we'll see as I get older. IMO it's hard to be happy if you're worried about money so financial independence has always been an important goal along the way :-)

      3 how do you manage your time and money

      • My time management at this point is very different from what got me to this point, I'll write more about that shortly in response to this question and another that's been asked
      • Business money management: Profit First
        Personal money management: I'm not the person to ask. I've always believed I was going to make enough money that I wouldn't have to worry so I was willingly in debt for 14 years while building up my income and assets. I paid that off in January of this year and consider myself to be at the starting point of my financial literacy journey
      1. 1

        On time management:

        • This question is better answered with what my schedule has been at various points throughout my journey (because my schedule now is a 'do as I say, not as I do' type situation) :

        • ​Years 0 - 2.5: I was working a full time job in SF so my daily (weekday) schedule was wake up at 5 am and cold call maid service owners on the East Coast.
          Hour long train ride to work at 7:15 am where I would do more work or listen to podcasts.
          Day job until 6 pm.
          Then back home to work on marketing stuff.
          Some nights I'd meet my co-founder at his place in Palo Alto to talk about stuff and hang out.
          Saturdays I would pop a modafinil and spend 6-8 hours cold calling maid service owners everywhere I could.
          Sundays off.

        • Years 2.5-7: World travel while full time on ZenMaid - my daily schedule varied a lot during these years but I worked a lot. It mainly depended on where in the world I was as the time zones would affect my calling hours and when I could sync up with our team. Hours would vary from 25 on a rare slow week to 70+ when things were busy or on fire. Late night and early morning calls were regular things.

        During this time I'd mostly spend 80% of my time working in the business and 20% working on the business (systematizing what I was doing 80% of the time) - this shifted more and more towards the end until:

        Year 7 - present: You probably don't want to know this lol. I wake up without an alarm clock most mornings (I'm an early riser though so that's still between 5:30 and 6:30) and usually work out (lift, BJJ, yoga recently). I'm in front of my computer checking slack and email and taking care of the few items that need my attention there (usually 2 hours max). That's usually all I'm obligated to do but I'll oftentimes have my hands in various projects across our teams so I'm always challenged and learning. Some days I work those 1-2 hours and that's it, others I'll be in a mood and work 10 (not often).

        • I also have 2-3 calls a week I have to be on but beyond that everything I do is optional
        1. 1

          thank you so much , really appreciate you taking your time and answering my question 😊❤️

  17. 2

    Amar, well done. Your thread on take home pay was a major success.

    As someone who is non-technical, still employed, running a service orientated business & ideating a viable SaaS business, what advice would you have in order to find a technical co-founder?

    1. 2

      As a tech guy, I gotta say a lot of IHers would be totally down to pair up with non-tech. I did with someone on IH, and it has made everything easier and more fun!

      Building a SaaS takes a ton of work, so a non-tech co-founder would help make it more likely that the work will pay off.

      • Brings marketing and product skills
      • Can contribute a lot to non-tech stuff: finding potential customers and talking to them, website and seo, etc
      • And if it's your idea, some good proof that it's likely to succeed

      Other than that, it's just a matter of getting along, both being interested in the industry of the app, and meshing with each other :)

      1. 2

        I wish more technical folks thought like you! (I know a lot do, but a sizeable chunk still don't)

        1. 1

          Oh, maybe I'm assuming too much!

          I always thought the hardest part about indie hacking was staying motivated, and finding the time to do the work that doesn't come naturally.

          A non-technical cofounder might mean you make half as much, but I think it at least doubles the chance of success :)

    2. 2

      The hardest thing about landing a technical co-founder is convincing them you're more than just an idea guy. The fact that you're already running a service oriented business means that you bring to the table a lot more than most folks looking for a tech co-founder.

      I'd say you also want to be working on/developing the complimentary skill set that a tech co-founder likely won't have, and doing so in public will make it easier to show that off.

      For me I did tech sales prior to starting the company, had some experience running my own maid service (14 unprofitable & stressful months) and my co-founder was convinced I had what it took to learn marketing and deal with the other challenges necessary so he could focus on product :-)

  18. 2

    Huge congratulations on achieving success as well as traveling 30+ countries while doing so :)

    1. 1

      Thanks Preetam - looking forward to meeting the next time I'm in India!

  19. 1
    1. What was your strategy when your growth phase started? Was it tactical like, acquire X users. Have Y% conversions on landing pages etc? Or was it more generic?

    2. Looking back, what were the actual needle moving things that you did and got it right?

    1. 1
      1. Way more generic. I don't believe in made up goals which is what most results based goals are. We've always focused on process and consistently improving. I'm interested to know where on the graph you consider to be our 'growth' phase because in my opinion we've always been growing consistently and if there was a growth phase it would actually be right now (we're trying to see if we can double the business in the next 6 months!)

      2. Everything. Not kidding. There's no magic bullet here. Everything we've accomplished has come from incremental improvements and taking a few bigger shots of which some paid off and some did not. A big winner for us was the Maid Summit (maidsummit.com) but we've also tried things like webinars that took us weeks to put together that fell flat on their faces :-)

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