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62 Comments

My bootstrapped SaaS hit $22k MRR, AMA!

It's been a while since I posted on IH, so I thought I'd do another AMA! Feel free to ask anything about tech, business, work/life balance, etc.

I last did an AMA at $15k MRR, after doing the IH podcast:
https://www.indiehackers.com/post/i-bootstrapped-my-saas-to-15-000-mrr-over-3-years-ama-2a81b59993

I have also written up a couple of articles on hitting certain milestones, one at $10k MRR:
https://www.bannerbear.com/journey-to-10k-mrr/

And another at $20k MRR:
https://www.bannerbear.com/saas-10k-mrr-to-20k-mrr/

Both are worth a look at if you're in the 0-$20k MRR range, as I basically have tried to capture all my thoughts / actions during those phases.

What's been interesting in this new phase, beyond $20k MRR, is now I'm doing a lot less coding:

Currently my biggest obstacle is trying to hire someone amazing, as full time customer support. It's my first time hiring someone full-time, so I might be overthinking it a little, but the process is quite exhausting. It's been 4 weeks of reading through applications and doing voice calls with people.

So don't ask me anything about hiring people, as I'm very much a n00b at that still!

  1. 5

    Congrats on 22k MRR Jon, I've been following you since the 12 startups in 12 months challenge so glad to see that you're doing well.

    I'm getting ready to launch an MVP in the personal productivity space, should I make it free to start out with, or immediately paid? I'm assuming free gets more users who are less serious while paid gets fewer but more serious users. I also have an email list of 1600 people who signed up for this product but I'm not sure how many are willing to buy.

    1. 14

      My unfiltered thoughts on this...

      The defense for "freemium" or launching as a free product, is usually that you will get valuable feedback from users that will help you improve the product.

      You'll get feedback, for sure, but IMO it will all point you in the wrong direction. People using a product because it's free, just have a different set of values from users who are paying for a product. It's like asking a bunch of people who ride free public transport, how they would improve a Ferrari. Different customers with different values.

      There's nothing inherently wrong with free, or freemium, but if you want to grow your business you'll need to quickly align yourself to the voices of customers who are willing to pay (or are paying). They are the ones with the critical uses cases, that you want to optimize for.

      I do think in some cases that free can be a red flag. Pricing can reassure customers that they are investing their time in a real business and a long term partnership. If it's free, you wonder whether the business will be around next week.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the response, appreciate it. At what point would you feel comfortable charging for a product then? As in how sufficiently complex should the MVP be? I have a super basic one that solves the user's problem but the target price I want to price it at is comparable to tools that have a lot more features. In that case would you recommend pricing it lower than the target price and build up to it, or price it at the target price and build features to "fill out" that value so to speak, or something else entirely?

        Also, unrelated, but I'm wondering how much complexity there was in some of the apps you built, like the drag and drop design editor Montage. Did you use off the shelf libraries for stuff like the drag and drop or was it all from scratch? I personally wouldn't even know where to start a project like that much less finish it in a month.

  2. 5

    This is BIG, congrats, jon! How did you find your perfect pricing?

    I've read from you that low-price is dangerous for indie-hackers. But any thoughts about when there's no choice (ie. my product in a low-price market). Thanks in advance and good luck with the hire!

    1. 5

      I played with my pricing a little bit in the early days but actually the pricing has been the same now for over a year. $49, $99, $399

      It actually needs tweaking, but I have so many other things on my plate - I want to address the big jump between 99 and 399, probably by increasing the prices of the lower two tiers at some point. (all existing customers will stay on the price they started with)

      Low prices are not necessarily dangerous for indiehackers - it depends on the product and you / your team.

      If you have a low-maintenance "set and forget" type of product then maybe you can make low prices work as a business. If you have a product that requires any kind of ongoing customer support, then low prices will eat away any profit.

      If you're a brilliant marketer, then you should have no issues getting to the scale where low prices make the business economically viable. If you're not a good marketer, then you will find it difficult to get to the volume of customers where you can make the business viable.

      That said, if I was in your situation I would be looking for a way out of that "no choice" scenario by differentiating in a way that allows me to charge much higher prices. Easier said than done, I know, but I think support guarantees are a good place to start. Cheap prices attract solo tinkerers who may not need much support, but if you attract business customers using your app for mission-critical stuff, then charging more and offering them world-class, responsive support is a no-brainer for certain customers, especially if it's just an additional $20-$50 per month compared to competition.

  3. 4

    Congrats on the 22k!!! It's been very interesting following your blog and watching you grow over the last year 😎

    Two questions:

    1. Who is your biggest inspiration in the indiehacking community?
    2. What task do you currently like the least / is the most annoying while working on bannerbear?

    Thanks and see you at 30k.

    1. 6

      Love this question!

      I was fortunate to spend 2020 surrounded by a lot of indiehackers and I think that was very inspirational - we were all growing our SaaS companies at the same time. Some were super established already, some were just going full time, some were still balancing freelance and indie SaaS work. I'm definitely going to forget people by accident (sorry!) but in no particular order:

      https://twitter.com/JamesIvings
      https://twitter.com/dinkydani21
      https://twitter.com/jamespotterdev
      https://twitter.com/razvanilin
      https://twitter.com/chrisdengso
      https://twitter.com/pierregillesl
      https://twitter.com/Kamphey
      https://twitter.com/itsjustamar

      I also previously met:
      https://twitter.com/levelsio
      https://twitter.com/JohnONolan

      Who are of course way, way ahead of me in their business journey - super inspirational. I saw them both start from IH life to where they are now, running multi-million dollar businesses.

      To answer your 2nd question, what do I like the least... well one of the great things about being an indiehacker is working on your own time. So I dislike any situation where my time is dictated to me. For example scheduling a call. Sometimes it's necessary, and I enjoy the calls in the moment, but it's still a disruption to my day. I'd love to be able to do them async, but honestly for some things nothing beats a live call.

      1. 5

        Thanks for the list! Gonna check them out and follow them.

        As someone who has freelanced for a long time, I can definitely relate to the time issue, especially related to calls. They can be really valuable but can also ruin your flow / become a time sink.

  4. 3

    Hey Jon, congrats on the milestone and thanks for doing AMA. I have 2 questions:

    1. On a high level how do you decide revenue allocation when it comes to paying yourself vs company reserve and/or expense? And how has this changed as you progressed from 0 to 22k MRR?

    2. I am sure you still have other product ideas than BannerBear along the way. What do you do with these ideas especially those that could be potentially better (whatever this means) than Bannerbear?

    1. 3

      Interesting questions!

      1. I didn't have a regular "salary" until very recently. For the last year I was just doing drawdowns every few months, or when I needed it. Since around $20k MRR I now have a monthly salary. At a high level I just decided on the number based on how much I need. After my salary and company running expenses, around $13k goes into the company reserves each month which sounds fine to me - leaves enough to hire if I need to, and pay bonuses etc at the end of the year.

      2. I actually don't! My mind is 100% focused on Bannerbear. I do occasionally have an idea that I think might make a cool "supporting" app for Bannerbear (can't think of the right word?) where I could release it as a standalone app, and it has its own pricing, but still has something to do with image / video generation. I'd love to work on some of those at some point, but for now I think it would mean spreading myself too thin.

  5. 3

    Hey Jon,

    Congratulations on reaching this milestone.

    Few questions on the technical side:

    • how to represent all your templates in your database? I can imagine you have something like a JSON like structures to map images, its customizable fields. To a certain extent your service is similar to a website builder like webflow or wix.
    • Which technologies, packages do you use for your builder?

    Thank you for time and congrats again!

    Andrew

    1. 2

      yup everything is JSON.

      the schema for a template is actually pretty simple, it's just an array of layers and each layer describes an object - height, width, color etc.

      how you render the JSON is maybe the more interesting part, and that's what I've worked on a lot for the last year. there's a lot of edge cases with something like Bannerbear, for example waiting for external images to load before you render the image, resizing text to fit a certain size textbox, waiting for fonts to load etc etc.

      what do you mean by builder?

      1. 2

        Hi Jon,

        Thank you for replying.

        By builder I mean the front-end app where you can customize the banner visually.

        Best,

        Andrew

        1. 2

          oh right that's all custom at this point. a lot of jquery.

  6. 3

    Congrats.

    Simple question: How does it feel like to be at this point?

    1. 6

      Interesting question - there was definitely a point at around $10k MRR++ where I was like "wow, I'm free! now I can live life on my terms!"

      But at $20k MRR things have become a bit more business-y. I'm thinking about how to spend the money to grow faster, who to hire, how best to spend my time, what's the big vision - where is this going to be in the next year, 5 years etc.

      I'm still having loads of fun and wouldn't change anything at all - but it's been interesting to see how my personal priorities shift over time.

      1. 1

        Thanks - expect the same question once you hit 50k MRR :)

  7. 3

    This is amazing. Been following you / banner bear for a while.

    Congratulations.

  8. 3

    Congrats man ! Very impressive 👏

  9. 3

    Congrats Jon , have been following you on Twitter. If you do not mind me asking, how much is the server cost per dollar MRR? It seems that it is very resource intensive.

    1. 4

      Good question - and yes, I think that my costs are probably higher than other SaaS projects at this scale.

      Currently, at $22k MRR my monthly server costs are around $1200. This is split between $800 on Heroku and $400 on AWS.

      I think my Heroku costs will stay mostly static for the foreseeable future. I have a LOT of space to scale there. The AWS costs will go up over time.

      Interestingly, the biggest AWS cost is simply bandwidth. All of my Lambda, S3, etc various other services are a fraction of the overall AWS cost, the majority is just Cloudfront outbound transfer (I host images and video).

      This can be offset, though. Currently I allow customers to use a certain amount of bandwidth as part of their plan. If they go over that (and some do, by a lot) I will start charging overage to pass these excess charges onto the customers that incur them.

      1. 2

        $800 on Heroku

        That seems like a lot. Why don't you use another solution? Or is moving from a heroku not worth it?

        1. 11

          There might be cheaper ways to do this, but at $22k MRR I'm not looking to save a few hundred bucks or so on a massive migration project to somewhere cheaper. That has zero customer value :)

          After a point you frame everything in terms of "what value is this bringing to my customers?" if the answer is zero, you move on to the next thing in the backlog.

          I'm happy with what I'm paying because I don't need to worry about infra. I git deploy my app and it just works.

      2. 1

        Congrats on the milestone!

        I'm on $10k MRR, and my server cost is about $60, serving about 700k unique visitors per month. I use Ruby on Rails and AWS. So you could say that our stack and scale is close enough. I'm not from dev background too, but found a good solution to deploy a Rails app without Heroku. The deployment flow is also just a command line, and run like Heroku: https://github.com/mina-deploy/mina

        Here's a deal: I can help you setup and deploy your app on $10 Digital Ocean, or Vultr VPS, your choice, you can try out that instance first, without committing to full migration. If you like it, then you can give half that saving to me 😂 If not, also fine. I don't have anything to gain, but just sharing what works well for me.

        1. 5

          I'm very happy with my current solution, thanks.

    2. 2

      Good question! Server costs are so unpredictable, I am always amazed how it changes between people.

  10. 2

    Congrats! Couple of questions.

    • How is a typical work day like for you?
    • What's your favorite food in Bali?
    1. 2

      Recently my day looks like (in chronological order)

      • answer support tickets
      • write some code
      • tweet a bit ("it's marketing!")
      • take some calls with people I'm looking to hire

      Fav food in Bali... hmmmm if we are talking about local Balinese food then I'm a sucker for a good babi guling. Otherwise, I usually eat very plain food as I'm trying to maintain my health in middle age (I'm 41) so a lot of my meals are just chicken and broccoli... on my cheat days in Bali I go straight for pizza, usually from Luigis or Fucina!

  11. 2

    Hey Jon, congrats on the new milestone and good luck with any future endeavours.

    I’ve been following you from the early stages and I wanted to ask, when did you realise that this product had potential? Any specific event that you can share? ( For example, gained 10 users in the first week etc)

    1. 2

      I had experienced the pain point in a previous company - we had to make lots and LOTS of banner images manually.

      It took a while to circle round to the idea of it being an API, but I think as soon as I had that idea, it was quite clear (at least to me personally) as I was constantly thinking "this is the product I wish we had".

      That was personal validation.

      Customer validation came a lot later I think - maybe months later, when I got my first customer with a very similar use case to the pain point I experienced, and they took a higher level plan. That's when I thought ok, there's gotta be more people like this out there!

  12. 2

    Hey Jon,

    Congrats on the milestone, I've been following you for quite some time and really like all the good work you did on Bannerbear.

    I'm myself trying to bootstrap a product, I launched a failed one 4 months ago and now I found an idea for a second SaaS product that looks very good but I'm running out of money.

    I need to rebuild before the end of the year, I have a lot of knowledge about programming, data and business but got no connection to find freelance work.

    Do you have any advice for that kind of situation?

    Thanks a lot

    1. 2

      Hmm there's definitely a sweet-spot when it comes to runway (aka money left in the bank)

      Too much runway and you're not motivated enough.

      Too little runway and you're way too stressed to do your best work.

      I don't have any concrete advice except to say that things kicked into gear for me when I had between 6-12 months of runway left. That's when I really got focused.

      If you need freelance work, tweet what kind of work you're looking for, ping me on twitter and I'll retweet it.

      1. 3

        Definitely agree with that, I'm targetting 1y runway. As I spend 1.5k a month I'd need to work 2-3 months to recover it.

        Thanks a lot for your offer about retweeting my message ! Yes for sure I'd love that would be really helpful, I'm tweeting it today.

        Thanks a lot for the help mate and all the best for Bannerbear :D

  13. 2

    There were other players in the market but you did great job
    Initially when you started were you afraid? What strategies did you use to win the competition?

    1. 2

      There were other image generation services yes, but I think I was the first fully REST-based one with developer-friendly docs.

      So I wasn't really afraid as I knew I had something a little bit different.

      There's always a way to spin existing ideas into something new.

  14. 2

    Hey Jon, been following your journey for a while - congrats, and well deserved.

    I have recently sold my business of 10 years (software agency), and looking to devote some time to testing the waters with some product ideas.
    My question to you is: Do you regret the 12 startups approach?
    If you could do it over again would you do anything different in your 'product ideation' phase?

    Thanks mate,

    Chris.

    1. 3

      I think I spent far too long overthinking what would make a good SaaS business.

      I was thinking about things like market size, defensibility, etc etc - all the stuff that you're supposed to think about. It's good to be mindful of these factors yes, but now I think that probably the most important thing to think about is what are you really interested in? What big hairy problem do you get excited about solving?

      Because if you tackle that, you'll do your best work - and if you do your best work I think it's a lot easier to pivot slightly around the same problem space, to find the area with the customers who are willing to pay the most, that will allow your solution to become a real business.

  15. 2

    Congrats. Cool story!

  16. 2

    Congrats on reaching $22k MRR 🥳

    I'm currently at $450 MRR with Postpace and trying to figure out marketing and sales.

    What is your marketing and sales strategy as a solo founder?

    1. 4

      For a recap of basically everything I did from 0-$10k MRR you can refer to this article:
      https://www.bannerbear.com/journey-to-10k-mrr/

      I think if you're below $1k MRR I wouldn't waste time overthinking strategy. You're in the early stages, so try many different approaches (social media, newsletters, content marketing, outreach, partnerships, affiliates etc). When you're past $3-4k MRR you can take stock of what's really working and then double-down on those things to form a strategy.

  17. 1

    @yongfook congrats on the milestone!

    Have you had any major outages along the way, where some bug caused your API to break for some time? If so, do you use any kind of api monitoring or testing tool?

    Eg like an uptime ping health check, but actually asserts api response payload etc

    1. 1

      It's rare, but yes it happens sometimes. I have two monitoring services in place, so I get hammered with notifications the second that the API stops responding :)

      1. 1

        Do you just check the API is still up or are you checking that request A will get response B?

  18. 1

    How did you learn to code?

    1. 1

      Over a very long period of time (20 years)

  19. 1

    Congratulations Jon! It's gratifying to see an OG IHer doing so well. I loved your tweet about doing the boring work of putting in consistent hard work for several years. It's the advice the rest of us need to hear (myself included 🙉). Thanks for sharing.

    Hiring is so difficult. You probably know this already, but my one piece of advice from CTO experience is to do some kind of time limited trial to begin with so you can see how well you work together first. Best of luck with the next phase!

  20. 1

    Jon, great story pal, one quick question (not sure if this data is on the previous posts), what is the size of your current audience, AKA, how many customers you have in total?

    1. 1

      that's displayed in real-time on my /open page :)

      https://www.bannerbear.com/open/

  21. 1

    hi Jon, if you start a new project today with all the knowledge you acquired during these 2 years, will you build in Rails or other technology? and why?

  22. 1

    Congrats 👏👏👏

    Have you done any other products before?

  23. 1

    Hello Jon, congrats on 22k MMR.

    How did you validate that banner bear was a good ideia?

  24. 1

    Really cool stuff, Jon.

    Two questions if you have a moment:

    Why a monthly fee vs a pay per request? The guaranteed income maybe helps protect against the customer service costs that could rise up that you mentioned elsewhere?

    Your marketing page looks great. But with the demos integrated it's more than just a flat page. Do you use any kind of framework for the marketing page?

    1. 1
      1. I don't think it's possible to run a small business on the "pay per request" model.

      The minute you get users paying, say $10 for a small amount of requests, while simultaneously tying up support with questions, you're basically losing money.

      Maybe big companies can get away with it, but I can't. It also works as a filter - I'm not really looking to do business with users who have very casual requirements, I'm optimizing for companies with use cases where they really need my software on an ongoing basis.

      1. It's mostly just plain HTML / CSS
  25. 1

    Hey Jon,

    Distribution is key for a SaaS, and you are doing an awesome job on Twitter, IH, and pretty much everywhere solo, when it comes to building your personal brand.

    But why ignoring the few invitations to contribute to one Episode of "My SEO Journey":
    https://seobuddy.com/blog/my-seo-journey/

    We have published 32 Episodes so far and have 44 episodes ready.

    It's free, no strings attached (besides producing content), and you get to earn a lot of relevant backlinks to your best performing article, on a DR45 domain related to SaaS Industry in general and SEO.

    And it's a good way to promote the power of BannerBear Generated OpenGraph picture from an SEO Perspective :)))

    You will find all perks & guidelines for My SEO Journey in this Google Docs:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LHrHWcU-AX51Y-QPbwYu8Wc67ZBLcL_7bhYsyhAKtn4/edit?usp=sharing

    Hope this time I'll get your attention as I would love to have one episode with you.
    my email: [email protected]

    1. 2

      Not sure what you mean by "ignoring"... maybe you have sent me something and I didn't respond. I get a lot of emails, DMs, constantly asking me for things and honestly the moment I can see it's someone asking me for a chunk of my time, I kind of switch off. Most common is people asking me about startup stuff that I have very clearly documented in other places (e.g. "how did you grow Bannerbear"), which shows that they haven't done any research. It's frustrating TBH.

      Brutal, but I have so little time these days, the only way I would participate in something like a podcast or a blog is if I personally know the brand, or if a trusted friend said they did.

      Also, I don't think I'm doing that great of a job with SEO so I'm not sure what I would contribute to your blog :)

      1. 1

        I did a few touches (and follow up) on that topic and got the ghost treatment that's why I said "ignoring", but I never give up :)

        And I'm glad I finally get an answer in this AMA, because NO is the second-best answer I could get. Thanks for that today!

  26. 1

    No questions, just congrats and admiration! Keep up the great work and thanks for continuing to share your journey.

  27. 1

    you keep reaching milestones weekly, good job!

  28. 1

    Congrats!!
    How to do marketing? What marketing channel can I use?
    Could you give some advice please?
    I know its basic question but really want to learn because its so hard.

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