$8000 MRR - Here are my top 3 lessons of the year

My MRR is currently hovering around $8000 so it's a little early to call it - generally I wait until the mid 00s before I declare a new MRR milestone (because churn can bring you back under!) - but I had some time to write an update on IH today so here it is :)

It's been an awesome year but if you've been following my journey you'll know that it started slooowww. See bannerbear.com/open for more data on the trajectory.

And although my growth clearly picked up in March / April, all you can really see is the smoothed out growth line from one month to the next. You don't see all the ups and downs in between: the periods of no signups, the churn, the sudden bursts of payments (whoo!), the launching of new features that sort of fall flat... and so on.

It's a daily battle. The one thing I can say for sure is that I have learned a LOT over the last year. I've tried to share small learnings along the way in the milestones below, but I thought it would be useful to summarise the more impactful lessons for Indiehackers.

So here it is! These are the top 3 things that I think have been most impactful to my startup over the last year.

Understand your startup's "Job to be done"

Google "Jobs to be done". I'm not going to put any links as I don't think there was one single resource that helped me with this. It's just a concept you need to read up on. But once I understood this, it changed the way I marketed my SaaS and I think that has had a very positive impact.

In summary, it's another form of "talk about benefits not features" but in a way that is easier to grok and visualize. Imagine your customers are hiring your startup to do a certain job. What is that job? How do you position yourself as being the right startup for that job?

In the beginning I was talking about my product as an "image generation API" but that is too much in a feature-driven space. The job that my SaaS actually performs is something along the lines of "automating your marketing", which is the language I have begun to use more and more. This seems to be working well for me.

Another variation on this theme is the excellent We don't sell saddles here memo by Slack founder Stewart Butterfield.

The money-quote takeaway from that article is that nobody is out there looking for "group chat software" - Stewart plainly says none of their customers are searching for that. Slack sells "organizational efficiency". That is what their customers are buying. That is the "job to be done".

Create the best documentation you possibly can

If I could go back 6 months and change one thing about the way I was working it would be to build less features and spend more time writing better documentation and tutorials. The more time I invest in this area, the more conversions I get.

As founders we think that our UI is intuitive or that people fully understand what our apps can do, but they just don't. You need to show them, again and again, through blog posts, API portals, videos, etc - the more the better.

I think the pivotal moment for me was listening to the Indiehackers + Ahrefs podcast with Tim Soulo, CMO of Ahrefs. I'm paraphrasing here, but I absolutely loved his point about a common misconception we have as SaaS founders. We wrongly believe that a signup is the start of the funnel, and then from that point onwards there is some magic combination of onboarding tricks and emails etc that will cause a customer to convert.

He thinks this is all wrong. The approach they take at Ahrefs is to provide a ton of information up front (their blog is a treasure trove of useful information on SEO, in addition to tutorials on the Ahref tool itself). Tim wants users to be so well informed before they sign up that by the time they are asked to convert, it's a total no-brainer. This philosophy makes so much sense to me, so I have adopted it for Bannerbear.

Raise your prices

I know, you're tired of hearing this. But it really works. It has the double-whammy effect of:

  • Growing your MRR faster
  • Positioning away from risky customers

"Risky" customers is a bit of a euphemism, I'm trying to be nice. But it's well-known startup lore that when you price your product low you tend to attract customers who demand way more than they are paying, churn faster, and incur other operational problems like higher rates of deliquent payments.

I know, I know. You are in an early stage and you can't mentally justify charging more than $9 per month. That's fine, I was once like you. But every time you improve your product or tweak your positioning, always reflect on "should the price increase?". Don't stay at $9 forever.

Happy Holidays everyone!

  1. 16

    oh and also: add confetti animations to your app 🎊

    1. 1

      I almost thought you completely forgot about this!

    2. 1

      Thanks for sharing Jon! Confetti FTW 🎉

  2. 2

    Wow, I aspire to be like you Jon! The fact that you had a slow start and I'm in the same place right now, gives me hope. Keep sharing your journey - we really appreciate it!

  3. 2

    Congrats! Thank you for sharing your story, I really like your idea, your landing page, product page, good job!

    You're pretty close to getting one triumph 1200 XE / month!
    This brand makes such nice bikes, my favourite is the Thruxton RS.

    See you on the road!

  4. 2

    Great lessons.

    Especially the one on maintaining good documentation.

  5. 1

    Your postings at IndieHackers about your experiences was the reason why I signup here... and it was the right decision!
    This article remember me not to focus only at technical features and selling technical Functionality, but keep the user in focus... What issue can he solve, which benefit will he have and how can he easily archive this.

    I've at a very early point in my Project... means I'd like to finish some technical stuff here and will start with a small Product page to show users what kind of service they can expect from.

    To read your article today (in front of generating my product page) is exactly the right moment and motivate me to set the focus at the right things.

    Thanks Jon!

  6. 1

    Hey! I tested your tool literally yesterday!
    I really enjoyed this reading, all useful tips.
    The pricing advice is really great, it's hard to do, because there is always the fear of losing sales, but it's actually the right move!

    Are your subscribers all on the basic package? (looks like so by the subscribers/price ration)
    Any plan to improve upsell?

  7. 1

    This is such a quality packed post. "We dont sell saddles here" was a great read also. Respect Jon

  8. 1

    A good one.
    However, I never search for "organizational efficiency". Usually I know what I need to be more efficient, and I'd search for a "group chat software". Some people follow your first advice blindly, and one can't really understand what the product is about from their landings.

    1. 2

      Arguably, Slack is not interested in selling to you, an indiehacker.

      Slack wants to sell to large companies, places with 100+ or 1000+ seats. And those companies are definitely looking for organizational efficiency.

      1. 1

        Oh, sorry. I thought your advises are for indie hackers like me. They are for the ones who are convinced they are building a next big thing for corporates, actually. You'd better state it clearly in the post.

        1. 7

          I think a well rounded entrepreneur should observe lessons from both the big business world and the bootstrapped world.

          You are free to pick and choose the advice you want to be influenced by. No need to be sarcastic about it, really. Good luck on your journey 👍🏻

  9. 1

    I'm finding the first one (Understand your startup's "Job to be done") quite challenging.

    How did you pick marketing automation between the different use cases?
    Were you able to do it before you had a lot of paying customers who were giving you feedback and showing you market patterns and trends?
    Marketing automation is pretty broad. Do you have highly specific target segments?

    In my case, data extraction and monitoring on the web has SO MANY different use cases that it's incredibly hard to pick one area, unless I have a large enough pool of paying customers that gives me reliable market insights. I ran dozens of discovery interviews but couldn't find one type of use case or market segment that would be much better than the others (this comparison is a challenge in itself, because there are a ton of factors I need to consider).

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. 4

      a Job to Be Done is different from a use-case IMO.

      Jobs to Be Done are in a more macro level space. Use cases are more micro level. You should probably be using both, which I do.

      The Slack example is the easiest to understand. Imagine a CEO/COO of a big company with 1000 people, who has never heard of "group chat software". Their org is a mess as everyone is jumping on calls / meetings, not getting any work done. They are sitting in front of google looking for a solution - what do they search for? What's the job they need to get done?

      Now think about your customers. They are sitting in front of google, what's the job they need to get done? Maybe a small fraction of them are cutting edge enough to know what a "no code web scraper" is... but that's a tiny, tiny amount of people. You will reach many more people if you know what the fundamental Job to Be Done is.

      If the concept doesn't work for you then I would just park it for now and come back to it. I'm not an expert in it, I'm just saying that taking a step back and looking at things from a more macro perspective about what my customers are trying to achieve, has definitely helped me.

  10. 1

    I would 100% ask people for their email to use the Twitter to Instagram demo. I would have given it to you in a heartbeat to download the images (for example): https://www.bannerbear.com/demos/tweetagram/#generate

    Great product Jon!

    1. 2

      Nah just enjoy using it. I’m not looking to harvest emails.

  11. 1

    Great post full of actionable insight!! Happy Holidays and Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  12. 1

    Thanks Jon for the quick share. It reminds us the good hard lessons!

  13. 1

    Very good real advice from someone facing SaaS problems.

    Congrats! 🎉

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