AMAs August 20, 2019

I'm Pat Walls, I built my side project StarterStory to profitability and quit my full-time engineering job.

Pat Walls @patwalls

Hey everyone!

My name is Pat Walls and I am the founder of StarterStory - a website like Indie Hackers that helps people start businesses.

With very little experience in blogging or starting a business, I bootstrapped StarterStory on nights and weekends to now $5k/month and 80k monthly visitors.

After about a year working on the project, I made the decision to leave my full-time job.

I also launched 24hrstartup - the largest streamed online hackathon of all time.

Nowadays, I'm working StarterStory and Pigeon - a CRM for Gmail to help bloggers, freelancers, and salespeople to spend less time on email and land more sales.

I also have a YouTube channel and make videos about being an indie hacker!

Happy to answer any questions about anything.

And if you're also working a full-time job as an indie hacker I'd love to hear how it's going.

I'll be here August 27 at 1PM EST. Look forward to your questions and comments :)

  1. 5

    You said $5k/month how does the money come from and what is your monitization strategy. I don't think you sell ads.

    1. 4

      Here's the breakdown:

      • Sponsors: 80%
      • Premium memberships: 10%
      • Affiliate Revenue: 10%

      My monetization strategy has been to find a long term sponsor (https://klaviyo.com) and work out a deal where they sponsor the newsletter + site for 6-12 months at a time.

      There are loads of ways to monetize a blog/content site. You can sell courses, sell datasets, build a community, use an ad network, write content optimized for affiliate revenue, and tons of other ways.

      The monetization that has worked well for me (and what I like the best) is finding a sponsor who is "on board" with the mission of the business. @harrydry did a great job with this as well.

      I focus on long term sponsors. I'd rather sign a 1-year contract for $1000 than a one month contract for $200, because the process of locking down sponsors sucks, is time-consuming, and can lead to lost time (i.e. you spend 2 weeks "unsponsored" and you essentially lost money. This also allows me to focus on growing the site which is a win win for your sponsor and for you when you go to renew the contract.

    2. 1

      Specifically, what % is subscriptions? (if you're willing to disclose that)

      1. 1

        See my response above!

    3. -10

      This comment has been voted down. Click to show.

  2. 4

    We need a Starter Story about Starter Story! 😂

    1. 3

      Well you're in luck!

      Founder Interviews: Pat Walls of Starter Story

      If you want to read a more personal side of the story:

      The Best Year Of My Life: In 35 Tweets

      ^^ This one really shows you I started from nothing!!

  3. 4

    How did you become so cool? 🤓

    Also, in the very earliest days of StarterStory, were you ever close to just giving up on it?

    1. 4

      Yes!! It's a great question.

      I've actually wanted to write a blog post/video about this.

      Although things are kind of blurry from that time, there are two instances that have documented when I was close to quitting.

      Mar 8, 2018, a month after launching, an old email conversation with @louisswiss:

      Starter Story is kind of on autopilot as I've exhausted all of my promotional outlets and now starting to work on some new ideas.

      And a monthly update blog post from around the same time:

      Overall, I felt pretty unmotivated this month. I found it hard to put serious time into the project, and found myself looking for new ideas (possibly starting another business).

      I started working on new ideas, but I never stopped posting new interviews. That's what always got me out of those funks. Just kept putting in work every day.

  4. 3

    I know you're currently doing a lot with Pigeon But I'm interested in what the future plans for Starter Story. I notice you have logins?

    1. 1

      Yes, I've had logins for a while now. You can do some basic stuff like upvoting and commenting.

      As far as future for Starter Story, the one big thing that I love is scaling out the content operation. I want to not only do more interviews, but do different content as well.

      This month we are on track to publishing 60 pieces of content, a record high. I have brought on a small team (outsourced) that is starting to run more of the day to day, publishing, and behind the scenes so that I can focus on rolling out new ideas. Pigeon is a big help with this, as well as a lot of the automation we're building.

      Some people might scoff at this - thinking it's too much content, blog spam, whatever - but I don't see it that way. As an "editor" - I try to not be too opinionated about that kind of thing as I know that the content is helping a lot of people. What you find useful may not be useful for someone else, and vice versa.

      My goal is that one day Starter Story is a big entrepreneur/business media company along the likes of Forbes, Fast Company, Hacker Noon, or Indie Hackers. That is sort of my long term vision, that Starter Story will have a big impact like that. Very high level, but that's the direction I plan to go with it, and it's like a 10-20 year vision.

      Some more short term things are to build more content around all of the structured data we have. For example, we have 500 tools and I'd like to expose those more on the site.

      I want to build a better tagging system so I can build content around "10 successful jewelry businesses" - a lot of ppl ask me to build a search, favorite stories, etc.

      I wrote this pretty quick and might go back and edit some stuff.

      Love what you're doing with Marketing Examples.

      1. 2

        Awesome - 60 pieces a month is incredibly impressive. And yeah, not "blog spam" in any way haha! All the articles are wrote by others people who put several hours into writing each one, all telling their story!

        And now given you've got a good Domain Rating, it's so good from an organic search standpoint.

        Really impressive. Thanks for such a detailed answer :)

  5. 2

    How would you compare your work/life balance from salary to indieman? Maybe work/life balance is not what I'm aiming for, maybe lifestyle?

    1. 3

      It's amazing.

      I never did consulting and always had a job my whole adult life - so the feeling of freedom I had after I quit was pretty unreal. I went from full time to free time overnight basically.

      Every day, I get to work on my own shit. I make my own schedule. I'll work in the morning, then go for a run/exercise for a couple hours, midday.

      I don't really think in terms of 'the weekend' anymore. I can take a day off when I want. I can travel to New York and live there for a month, or overseas.

      But also, I have a lot more stress. I feel that it could all fall apart tomorrow. The lows are really low and the highs are really high. Rejection stings harder.

      Wouldn't trade it for anything.

  6. 2

    Hey Pat, love your YouTube videos - keep up the great work 👍

    Curious how you find companies to interview. Do you reach out to them? Do they come to you? What's your sales pitch?

    All the best

    1. 2

      I don't have exact numbers but I would say it's about 80% outbound, 20% inbound/referral.

      How have I found companies to interview? I've sent cold emails to over 6000 businesses, found them by scraping websites and directories like the Mixergy podcast. Then I find their email with Email Hunter API.

      But I no longer really do that by myself - I have some outsourced help on this. Some people helping with lead research (finding great businesses to interview) and some people finding names and emails. I'm working on scaling this it's fun!

      Here's a screenshot of my cold email.

      I do get some inbound because I advertise the opportunity to share your story in as much places as I can, and I ALWAYS ask every interviewee if they know anyone else who wants to share their story.

      Thanks re: YouTube - what do you want me to make videos about next?

  7. 2

    How do you balance the amount of time you're spending on each project?

    1. 1

      Good question.

      I think the balance between projects just happens based on my goals/todo list. I set monthly goals, weekly goals, and then each day I do some high-level time blocking.

      So if I want to get X and Y done for Starter Story next week, and Z for Pigeon then it will just happen naturally.

      I guess that's sort of obvious and probably doesn't answer anything. Maybe better answer is about how I determine what to work on for each project?

      I don't really have a great answer for this.

      I try to dig deeper into what absolutely NEEDS to get done. I read this book called 'The One Thing' which basically just says do the most important thing now, and only that until it's done so you can move on to the next 'one thing'.

      I really try to internalize that but obv get sidetracked a lot. It has really helped me though. It has helped me become better at finishing what I start, and overall just feel really productive with that mindset.

      For example, it inspired me and helped me to hire on a small team of outsourcers to take on the day to day work at Starter Story. At the time, that was 'the one thing' I needed to do to free up 2 hours of my day and idk how I could live without that now.

      Sorry, this answer is sort of contrived as I still need to work on this a lot tbh.

  8. 2

    Hi Pat! Have you ever considered dedicating 100% of your time on growing Starter Story (which is clearly a winner) instead of launching other products?

    Also, why don't you add a podcast or a YouTube channel? I’m sure they would be an instant hit 😀

    1. 1

      Yes, I think about this all the time.

      There are a lot of reasons:

      • I've always wanted to build a SaaS. To prove myself that I can do it because I failed at it before.
      • I love the process of learning to build a SaaS product. It's new to me.
      • I want to diversify my income streams with an MRR model.
      • I get bored with one project.
      • I'm really passionate about Pigeon, maybe moreso than Starter Story. Maybe Pigeon was the product I should have been building the whole time.
      • I think the time constraints are a good thing. Building Pigeon essentially forced me to bring on help for Starter Story, and that has been an amazing learning experience and will grow the site even more down the line.

      I'm sort of self-conscious about this because @csallen asked the same question to me on the podcast and I didn't give a good answer.

      I don't know, it just feels right to me and I don't know if I could do it any other way.

      I once saw this question asked to Gary Vee (cringe I know) but his answer is that as entrepreneurs we are just crazy and do irrational things, and that's OK. That always stuck with me!

  9. 2

    Hi Pat, congrats! I'm not surprised you're doing well, you really made the StarterStory interview process clean and easy.

    1. 1

      Thanks Joe!

      For anyone interested, here is Joe's awesome interview.

  10. 1

    Hi Pat. Thanks for sharing all of this. I posted a description of my situation earlier today, here's the link:
    https://www.indiehackers.com/post/struggling-to-get-off-the-ground-a56be44125

    Not sure if you can help me. I've sought out a lot of advice and now days I feel that I've got a hard problem that nobody really knows how to navigate. Definitely seeking help though.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  11. 1

    Hey Pat - i'm looking at starting up a blog/newsletter myself. What platform do you recommend for newsletters? And have you found newsletters to be effective in reaching/growing an audience?

    1. 1

      I'm going to go against the grain on this one.

      I think newsletters are less important than people make them out to be. Traffic from my newsletter accounts for like 4% of my overall traffic, and my newsletter is over 8k.

      I saw open and click rates decline like crazy as well as the list grew.

      Having a newsletter is still important though. But I would focus more on the blog side.

      This is just my personal experience tho. There are many examples of the opposite.

  12. 1

    Do you ever get worried that the business will get pulled from under your feet? This is something I always worry about with SnapShooter and its high vendor lock-in with DigitalOcean, in theory, they could wipe me out.

    1. 1

      Yes of course, every day.

      I think this is sort of a fallacy though.

      Only more and more companies are going online and even when crazy stuff happens, we are all smart enough to figure it out. Might have to live with Mom for a few months at times.

      1. 1

        Haha you say that, but I have a daughter and a pregnant wife, moving in with mum is not an option. Half our family income is a SAAS and it's a worry

        1. 1

          I certainly can't put myself in your shoes then.

          I was just trying to say that after talking to many entrepreneurs, a lot of them say the same thing. They feel it could fall apart tomorrow. I feel like that all the time.

          Maybe I'm not the right person to ask this question.

          1. 1

            Oh no no, I wanted to know your answer. It's a real stress of mine at times I think it comes and goes with how well monthly growth is doing

            1. 1

              Sometimes I think of "what's the worse that could happen?"

              For me, that's losing my website sponsor or Google banning my site from search results. That would be rock bottom. But I would figure it out. Some savings, new business, idk - it wouldn't be that bad.

              For you, maybe this is your business goes to $0/month overnight (that would never happen) and then you have to get a "real job" with your high in demand software eng skills and go back to the drawing board.

              None of this would happen, but if it did, we would be fine right?

              You said you're growing and you have MRR model! I have a feeling you're going to be fine after looking at your revenue graph, dude you went from 1k to 5k in a year! I would put my money on you :)

  13. 1

    What's most appealing to you about building your own product instead of working for a big company/startup/freelance?

    1. 2

      It was like pulling teeth to code a simple feature at my full-time eng job. I was so uninterested that it likely affected my job performance and could really only get a couple hours of true focused coding work/day.

      Working on your own stuff is the exact opposite. You need to careful about how much you want to build it that thing because you might not be eating next month.

  14. 1

    Am I missing something? This is taking place here, right?

    1. 3

      Yes.

  15. 1

    Hi Pat, I loved your recent article about how you automate social media posting!

    How do you determine what types of tasks are best suited to automate? I know a lot of indies (myself included) have spent time prematurely automate all the things vs spending time in other areas of the business. How do you strike the right balance?

    1. 2

      That's a good question which I don't know if I have the right answer but I'll say what's worked for me.

      I do everything manually at first. Literally no automation. My 'automation' to start would be as simple as setting a recurring calendar event or email reminder trigger to do something.

      I don't mind doing the manual work. It's fun for me to learn a new 'thing'.

      I also think manually doing the task is important because (1) you learn smaller nuances that are important and (2) you realize if it's even worth doing.

      So, for example, I manually posted to reddit for probably months. That helped me figure out titles, the angle, the copy, more subreddits I could post to, etc.

      Automation is really complicated and often you need to build dashboards/process/people around that can only be learned through the manual pain.

      And as you see things working, then you get to automate it which is really fun to watch "the work fall off your plate" and watch robots run your startup every day.

      P.S. Great to hear from you man. We need to catch up.

  16. 1

    I'm a big fan of your YouTube channel ❤
    When's the next Vlog post coming out!?👀

    1. 2

      Also, I wanted to share that I do have a full-time job and I do indie hacking on the side.
      Watching your videos on YouTube inspired me to wake up extra early and dedicate my first few hours of the day to indie hacking. That has been a major improvement to my IH'ing productivity 💪🏽
      Other than that, I work on my biz idea during the weekends. Monday's are the worst cause I get super in the zone during the weekend and then coming back to my work office feels like getting a slap in the face from life. 👎🏽
      I'm not happy at my current job (mostly because of management issues), but on the other side my side biz is still at zero MRR... So I'm considering finding a new job while I continue my IH'ing journey, but I do get worried that the transition will become a diatraction from making progress on my Business. Would love to hear your take on this. 🙏🏽

      1. 2

        Hearing that my videos inspired you to wake up early is like the coolest thing, man. Lately, I haven't been uploading for reasons I can't really put my finger on, but you saying this inspires me to make more videos.

        First of all, if you get giddy about working on your side project on mornings and weekends, then you already won. That's how I was, just totally in the zone when I had time to put in the work on the side project. Most people can't even motivate themselves to do that, yet they still want to build an indie business.

        I also left a job (for another job) because of bad management. I had to get out of there. The new job was a way better situation, and it helped me a lot. Starting a new job might be worthwhile, but, like you said you might have 1-2 months where you gotta prove yourself.

        I didn't make any money on Starter Story for 4 months after launch, so I wouldn't worry so much about 0 MRR.

        Launch your shit if you haven't already, keep documenting your journey, and most importantly have fun.

        I often reminisce on those times when I had a full-time job + side project. It's really badass to have a successful side project, and like you said, you will learn to become a more productive person for it which will help you a lot down the line when you go full-time indie hacking.

  17. 1

    Wow that's awesome!! Something I'm dreaming of for https://trackmylift.app !

    1. 2

      I think there is a lot of money to be made in fitness apps. Literally everyone in the world wants to lose weight in be more fit.

      All you need to do is get your app in front of people and they will pay you (not sure your exact situation tho).

      I met some people in Bali that were making a casual $10k/month on some Chinese fitness app. Super random and below the radar.

      1. 1

        Thank you so much. Yes I have post-launch plans in place to get my product and brand out there in front of people so this is very promising to hear!

  18. 1

    Hey Pat
    Misha Here. Funny story to tell you:

    I was meaning to reach out to you to let you know about my new venture https://womenhustlers.com where I interview women building profitable businesses.

    But let's maybe e-meet through this thread itself :)

    Long story short-> You got inspired from IndieHackers - and I got inspired from both Indiehackers and StarterStory(I'm aware my self hacked website on wordpress looks so much like yours, only, yours is better. But that's what I managed without knowing code :O) .

    I've been on it from around 6 months now, have around 80+interviews lined up, and launched the website in June 19.

    I hope to connect, and share learnings. But my question right now is:

    I sometimes have a feeling that creeps in - that it is such a longgg journey. Did you ever feel this way, and wanted to drop off ? Is it worth it in your opinion(apart from the money) ?

    Best
    Misha

    1. 1

      Your website looks great! And I think it's a great idea / good niche.

      When I launched Starter Story, I literally copied the Indie Hackers layout and the tiles to a T. Since then, I've slowly tweaked stuff and now it sort of has its own feel.

      I sometimes have a feeling that creeps in - that it is such a longgg journey. Did you ever feel this way, and wanted to drop off?

      This is a great point. In another answer here I talk about quitting and show you that I was pretty close to doing so, so I've definitely been there. Def check that one out.

      Re: the long journey. Over the past year, I've changed my mindset on this. Nowadays, I get excited about how long the journey will be. Learning to love the process every day and the painfully "slow" growth. I get excited that this might take 20 years.

      I'm not really interested in the "end" or any short term outcomes anymore. What happens when I hit $10k/month? Absolutely nothing. You just keep failing, learning and growing. What happens if you sell your business? You just go start a new business.

      If you're feeling this way, I'd recommend reading the stories/biographies of other successful entrepreneurs or even looking at successful creators and how long they were working before they got "big". It's really inspiring and helps put things in perspective.

      Is it worth it in your opinion?

      It is 100% worth it. Keep doing those interviews.

  19. 1

    Hi Pat, I'm writing my first cold emails and I think you have experience in that :D
    Currently, I'm happy with the copy, but struggling to find leads. It's very slow. Do you know a good way?

    1. 2

      There's another answer in here where I talk about how I find leads. Since you can code, think of some fun ways to scrape the web to find leads. Make it kinda fun.

      Selling a SaaS through cold email is certainly harder than getting interviews through cold email, but that doesn't make it impossible.

      My advice would be to block out 1 hour per day to send 20 cold emails. Do it every day. Tweak your copy as you go, research cold email tactics as you go, you will learn a lot. Send follow-ups too.

      @louisswiss is really smart with this kinda stuff.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the shoutout Pat, that's good advice you gave!

      2. 1

        Yeah! I found that fullstory sends a custom video for each cold email to get attention. I'll start with something similar to that.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N9kz42DZoA (starts 4:50)

        Yeah, consistency will be key, i'll do it every day :D

        Will start scraping lol

        Thank you, Pat !!

  20. 1

    I just got kicked from the r/learnprogramming sub even though I added other posts etc.

    Is it worth creating my own sub-reddit for www.nocsdegree.com ?

    1. 2

      You wanna know something funny, Reddit accounts for about 3% of my overall traffic, so I wouldn't worry about it so much.

      Your site looks great btw. Keep posting interviews.

      1. 1

        If newsletters account for about 4% and Reddit accounts for about 3%, what's the main source of your traffic. I see you are doing super great

        Could it be that people read your posts on Reddit and manually visit your site learn more?

        1. 1

          Mostly organic search and direct traffic.

          And yes, that definitely happens, people remember the name. You start to build up a brand over time, people remember the name, share with their friends, etc.

          For example, people search 'starter story' in google over 1k times a month!

      2. 1

        Thanks man! I guess it's easy to sweat the small stuff sometimes.

        Where is post of your traffic from? Organic?

        1. 1

          Yeah, that and direct traffic.

          1. 1
  21. 1

    Did you know from the start who the ideal audience for Pigeon is? If not, how did you decide who to listen to?

    1. 1

      No, I don't. And that's a problem.

      I'm trying to figure that out. A lot of people that find it are indie hackers, startups, agencies, but it's still all over the place.

      But that's OK. I want to build something flexible and one day along the likes of Streak/Airtable. It will be harder and take longer, but I'm OK with that. Learning as I go.

  22. 1

    Loved your Reddit automation & Hacker News semi-automation threads. What kind of other stuff have you automated till now?

    1. 3

      Loads of stuff:

      1. 1

        Woah, gold stuff. Also, nice AMA :)

  23. 1

    Hey Pat, congrats on your success so far!

    Would love to know if you're using a third-party service like Baremetrics or ProfitWell to analyze your revenue data?

    1. 1

      No, tbh at my size that doesn't make sense for me.

      I know my exact revenue data/customer situation off the top of my head because I only have ~15 customers for Pigeon and how they are doing.

      Once I get bigger I could see that being useful tho.

  24. 1

    -what does your back end/CMS stack look like?
    -how did you grow the initial audience for Starter Story outside of Reddit? And on that note, how do you deal with the hate you get on Reddit or HN?
    -what advice would you give someone as they build a content/community site from scratch without much of an audience? (With the goal being to have a sponsor someday)

    1. 1

      what does your back end/CMS stack look like?

      Starter Story is built on Rails. I use Pigeon as the main CMS as most of the interview and content work is over email.

      how did you grow the initial audience for Starter Story outside of Reddit? And on that note, how do you deal with the hate you get on Reddit or HN?

      Other than Reddit and HN:

      • Email newsletter
      • Google search
      • Direct (word of mouth)
      • Twitter
      • Indie Hackers
      • Facebook and IG
      • Quora and Pinterest

      I think I just got used to the hate.

      Back then, the haters did really affect me! I was so self-conscious… I used to reply to every negative comment and construct long, thought out arguments with trolls on Reddit. That was such a waste of time!

      But through that, I learned that if you have haters it means you’re probably doing something right because people are noticing you.

      what advice would you give someone as they build a content/community site from scratch without much of an audience? (With the goal being to have a sponsor someday)

      I had no audience when I started! Literally less than 100 twitter followers.

      Focus on content, both quality and output and how you can scale. It's the only thing you can personally control. You can't control how many subscribers / visitors / users you have. Don't spend time in Google Analytics.

      If you want a sponsor, build something great that has a good 'mission' behind it. When companies see that, they see potential for growth and want to slap their name on it, I think.

  25. 1

    Congrats Pat and big inspiration, I will launch this week a website specifically on interviewing productized service founders.

    Will sign up for Pigeon tomorrow as well as it will be super useful for the interview outreach!

    1. 1

      Thanks :) Let me know if you need anything re: Pigeon. Look forward to you trying it out!

  26. 1

    This comment was deleted 10 months ago.

    1. 1

      I talked about how I came up with the idea on the Indie Hackers podcast if you want to check that one out.