On starting over, staying sane, and the strategies that brought in 10K users: Marie Martens' story

Indie Hacker: Marie Martens (@MarieMartens)
Founder of: Tally.so
ARR: $60K
Zone of Genius: marketing and growth

@MarieMartens and her partner Filip Minev moved to Bali and went all-in on an idea that depended on tourism. A couple of weeks later, Covid hit. Instead of giving up, they dug deeper and within months came up with something new: Tally.so

And that’s what I loved most about this interview - hearing how they persisted. I hope you find as much value in this interview as I did.

On the birth of something new

I’d already quit my job, and we’d given ourselves the year to make our former business successful. Originally, our idea had been to live as digital nomads working on a start-up that already had 50 users and counting.

But when Covid hit, it effectively ended our business (which depended on tourism). After just a couple of weeks there, we had to leave Bali and return to Belgium. So we found ourselves having to create something entirely new, and that’s when we came up with the idea for Tally. (Check out the details on that process here.)

At that same time, we started thinking about having a baby. We always knew we wanted to have children. And we thought we’d start trying, thinking it’d take a while to get pregnant. The next month, I was pregnant!

We both imagined that after we had the baby, we’d resume the digital nomad lifestyle that we dreamed of, even though everyone was telling us it would be impossible. We were both like, “Oh, I’m sure we can figure it out.” So it was a bit of a reality check when our daughter was born and we realized it wouldn’t be as easy as we thought.

On staying sane when things got tough

When we launched on Product Hunt, I was literally replying to comments while breastfeeding. Working with a baby has been challenging. In the beginning, we basically worked in shifts where one of us would take care of her for four hours in the morning and the other would work on Tally, and then we’d switch.

I don’t know how we kept our sanity during it. But one thing that turned out to be helpful was that when either of us was with the baby we would shut off all alerts on our phones and just not have anything to do with it. We made the mental switch, like, “Okay, baby’s here now, don’t even open your phone.” And when we weren’t with the baby, we were totally into our work.

The other thing is that we just had to accept that sometimes things go very slowly.

We’re both in our early 30s and thankfully, I’d worked for ten years and saved up some money, and Filip had sold a start-up he’d been working on. So we had a bit of support. I don’t think we could have done this without that money.

On cold outreach and gaining early users

In the beginning, we reached out to over 500 makers and people who had upvoted products similar to ours. We mainly used Twitter and email to do this. It wasn’t a sustainable approach, but it was a good launch point — we heard back from one out of three people. The feedback was super helpful, and many of them became users. Here's an example of what that outreach looked like:

Tally reaches out to makers

On (no code) community connections

The no code community has been crucial in getting early feedback and exposure. We weren’t familiar with the no code movement as it is almost non-existent in Belgium, but through our cold outreach we were introduced to the NoCode France community. They cheered for us from the start and this has opened a lot of doors to other no code communities.

The creativity of no-coders inspires us a lot to make Tally as flexible and open as possible and integrate with lots of other tools.

It’s crazy to see what you can do without code and how we can help remove barriers for anyone who wants to create anything online, but doesn’t know how to code. There are literally no excuses left for non-technical founders that want to launch a business.

On crossing 10,000 users

Our early users became our biggest promoters, and this is what surprised me the most — the support from people who love using Tally is immense.

Besides promotion from people who love us, we have several other strategies.

We try to reply to as many questions about form builders online as possible so people get to know Tally that way.

We have a generous free tier, and free forms have a ‘made with Tally’ badge. At this point, more than 500,000 people have submitted a Tally form and seen our product. Around ten percent of our users discover Tally in this way.

We launched a startup program, discounts for students and NGOs, and an affiliate program. These channels are still small, but are starting to grow and contribute to our user growth as well.

We’ve also created content and help docs on our blog, and started with user-generated content (guides and tutorials made by our users) as well . We’re planning on focusing a lot more on content creation, which should result in a stronger domain authority and more organic reach.

Tally hits 10K users

On the art of persisting

What I've learned along the way is you just need to persist and keep on doing the same things every day. And then, you’ll get there. I think when people think of founding a startup, it sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. Every day, we're answering emails, answering questions on Reddit, and talking to users. It can get boring because there's a lot of repetitive jobs and if it doesn't go well that day, you just get so demotivated. But then somehow there comes a week when things go better and you're like, “Okay, we just need to keep doing it and have patience.”

You get so much energy out of the good weeks that you can handle a few bad weeks.

On what surprised her most about indie hacking

In the beginning, you think this way of working and living will give you the ultimate freedom. But for me, the stress of not having an income, no monthly salary, and having a baby on the way, was really difficult. There was no security. I had difficulty accepting that I just couldn’t know what the coming months would bring.

But every dollar you make is so meaningful. It brings so much more joy than a monthly salary ever could. Every time we have a new subscriber, it’s exciting and we really celebrate the victory, even though it’s just $290 dollars a year.

You just can’t compare it with an office job. Getting user feedback and hearing that people love your product is just so satisfying. I wouldn’t trade anything for that.

On what’s next

By the end of this year, our goal is to be able to actually pay our bills with Tally.

Wrap up snapshot

  • What I’m reading:
    Not a lot lately 🙈

  • What I’m watching:
    Squid Game

  • What I’m listening to:
    Parra for Cuva

  • Quote I’m pondering:
    “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

  • The task I spend the majority of my time doing:
    Replying to emails, Twitter DMs, and Slack messages.

  • One sentence of advice to new Indie Hackers:
    Don’t give up!

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  1. 6

    Thanks for the nice chat @teela_na 🙏🏼

    1. 2

      My pleasure! Your story is quite the inspiration.🔥 Looking forward to following as you grow.

  2. 2

    Awesome story. Glad to hear about your successes!

  3. 2

    This is such a great post @teela_na, 🙏 Thanks for sharing your story @MarieMartens!!

    1. 2

      Thanks for the support Solène!

  4. 2

    Indeed an inspiring post, Marie. All the best

  5. 2

    Thanks for sharing- Very inspirational that you were doing all this whilst expecting a baby 🙌🏾

    1. 1

      Thanks a lot Janinah!

  6. 2

    Great product. I have used myself for my work. How do you manage support and product development at same time with such high number if customers?

    1. 2

      Hi Ellen! We have a Slack community and a help center as a first line of support, but we do spend a lot of time on customer support daily. We try to block time for focus hours to get work done 😄

  7. 1

    I really enjoyed this Marie. We have a 3 year old and one on the way in December. I totally feel journey. As fellow nomads, this season in life has definitely felt crippling. When things get better I bet you guys will be back to nomadding, just a little slower. And there’s nothing wrong with slow travel.

    We have our eyes set on Portugal. For the location (to get to other EU places easy), weather, and a change. We love SE Asia, but with things as they are, feel it’ll be quite a while before us living in the region makes sense from a global health standpoint.

    Congratulations @MarieMartens on grinding your startup out during this time, let alone with a new born. Also with your partner as your business partner! You guys are more amazing than I bet you give yourselves credit for.

    Bonne Chance!!

    1. 1

      Thank you so much for sharing this Bernard! Nothing wrong with slow travel indeed, and Portugal is getting very popular right now in Europe, good choice!

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