Bannerbear

Image and video generation API

No Employees
Founders Code
Solo Founder
Design
Marketing
SaaS

The Bannerbear API and #nocode tools help you auto-generate social media visuals, ecommerce banners, podcast videos and more

December 23, 2020 $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!

October 23, 2020 Reached $6000 MRR

Just hit $6k MRR roughly a year after launching.

Imgur

In between the launch a year ago and now, there has been a pivot, a rebrand, and a whole bunch of new features.

But you know what? In the last few months, going from $3k to $6k MRR, there's much less of a dramatic "startup" story to tell. I've pretty much settled into a routine of:

  • getting customer feedback (from paying customers)
  • building new features
  • blogging / tweeting / newslettering about new features
  • improving the marketing site

And that's it.

It feels great. It feels almost like a job, but a really awesome job where there's a sense of stability but also a sense of ownership.

Being an indiehacker: 10/10 would recommend.

August 18, 2020 Reached $3000 MRR

Feels good to reach this milestone especially in a traditionally slow month. But I had quite a few churned customers (including delinquent churn) in the last 30 days. So there's still a leaky bucket issue to fix.

My costs are also going up as I am strictly focusing my coding energy on building the core IP, which means if I need a SaaS service that's outside my core, I just buy it no questions asked. (whereas previously I might have duct-taped my own mini version together)

And here's my weekly bang-the-drum session on investing long term in your product 😅 off the back of some interesting analysis from another IH user @chr15m about the alarmingly small (as a proportion of total userbase) amount of verified solo founder products above $2k MRR on IH.

July 16, 2020 Reached $2000 MRR

Well that happened faster than I thought it would. I think there's a lot of truth to the adage that "the first X customers are the hardest to earn".

Insert whatever value for X you like - the point is that growth seems to get easier the more you grow. The first 20 customers took a few months to earn. The last 20 customers were all earned in a single month.

I'm not going to get complacent though, I know there are still tons of challenges to go, and growth can slow down at any time. But it was very nice to experience a few weeks of decent growth after a loooong time slogging it out.

While I'm on the topic of slogging it out... I posted this tweet which really highlights some of the realities of bootstrapping a product.

The last Quarter of Bannerbear growth has been really great. 500% growth.

But the story that you don't see is everything that has led up to this quarter. I started building SaaS products 2 years ago. They all failed. Everything began to change when (1) I focused on one thing, and (2) I chose a space I'm passionate about.

Focus, passion, and perseverance. Those are the 3 things you need to get your business off the ground.

I'm convinced more than ever that the primary advantages you can have as an indiehacker are simply a commitment to a long-term horizon and a personal, passionate fit with your product (also known as Founder-Market fit).

June 24, 2020 100,000 API Requests!

My product is an API service for generating images. A few days ago it blew past the 100k requests mark after about 4 months since launch.

It's kind of crazy to think that there are 100,000 images out there floating around on websites / social media that have been generated by Bannerbear.com!

Open metrics available as always:
https://www.bannerbear.com/open/

June 23, 2020 Added conversion funnel tracking

I've reached the point now where I have to start looking deeper into user behaviour and try to optimize the trial-to-paid conversion rate.

I was conflicted as to whether this counts as a "milestone" but I think it is - I'm no longer in the early stages where I'm just looking to drive any traffic into the top of the funnel and hope for the best.

Now I care about my conversion rate! That means I want better qualified traffic and I need to start making improvements to the individual steps in the funnel.

Huge improvements to be made in terms of getting users from step 2 to step 3... but actually my core focus for now is optimizing the funnel from Step 4 to 5 to 6, it feels like those users are already highly qualified so I have a better chance of converting them given the right signposting / messaging.

And of course, since I'm an Open Startup I've added the conversion funnel chart to my /open page. Hopefully this helps other early-stage entrepreneurs understand what sort of data I'm looking at in order to make my decisions. I am not looking at any private dashboards - the /open page is all that I look at!

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

June 9, 2020 Reached $1000 MRR

It is a little bittersweet, given everything that is going on in the world currently. But my SaaS product just reached $1000 MRR. Still not quite ramen profitable, but it's on the way there.

At around double this amount I'll be just barely ramen profitable, which is the next milestone I'm working towards ☺️

I'm continuing with the marketing activities that seem to be working so far - none of it is rocket science:

  • writing tutorials on how to use my product to do cool things
  • designing more templates for people to use
  • increasing the footprint of the marketing site

More details at:
https://www.bannerbear.com/open/

May 18, 2020 Reached 25 paying subscribers

2 months ago in March (which seems like 10 years ago now) I launched a major new product positioning, turning my product into an API.

In universal product language, my original product served one particular use-case. By turning it into an API it could not only serve that one particular use-case, but also serve a bunch of other use-cases... arguably turning it into a more valuable product.

In March I saw quite a bit of churn. I attribute this to the double-whammy of the COVID19 media peak putting lots of people into disaster-prevention mode, plus the effect of the API repositioning alienating some of my existing customers. (btw, the entire original product is still available to all previous customers, I haven't sunset it, it just lives under its own section of my app now)

The good news is, I made back the loss in MRR shortly after, and have been growing since. Bannerbear now has 25 monthly subscribers and has taken in 17 "one time payments" which is an option I introduced shortly after launching the API.

So I'm pretty happy. I think repositioning into an API has been a really positive move and it's also given me as the product owner a really clear path of where to take things going forward to provide the most value to customers.

What's been the most interesting in the last 2 months has been the response from the #nocode community. I launched a Zapier integration about a month ago and that has been quite successful, as not only are customers signing up and using that integration to automate parts of their business, but people are also out there writing tutorials and giving me a bit of free marketing, which I did not expect at all.

So that's definitely an area I'm going to explore going forwards.

Although 25 subscribers might seem small I've definitely noticed a positive mental boost from reaching this milestone. Honestly getting here was harder than I thought, but now I feel it's easier for me to rationalise the journey ahead - if I can get to 25 subscribers, I can get to 50. If I can get to 50, I can get to 100. And so on.

April 8, 2020 Airtable integration + new price plan

I'm still having fun building things on top of my API :)

But at the same time, I'm bringing my product to new markets. Today I launched the Airtable integration which is more aimed at individuals, as opposed to the API product itself which is aimed more at businesses.

Airtable + Bannerbear enables social media managers to generate beautiful graphic assets using just an Airtable spreadsheet.

https://www.bannerbear.com/nocode/airtable/

I know quite a few social media marketing managers and one aspect of their work is producing visual assets for posting on places like Instagram, Linkedin, Newsletters etc. It's time-consuming stuff as often there is an expectation of daily content from clients.

Now they can automate this process!

For the indie hackers following along, I've also introduced a new price point, $39 / mo for the low-end plan, aimed at individuals.

I do get the odd inquiry asking me why don't I have a $5 plan or a $9 plan etc... but I'm standing firm. I said a while back that I don't think price points like those are sustainable, I still believe that, and I'm hoping through providing enough value to the right segment, I can prove myself right!

March 23, 2020 Created API demo for Medium.com... but...

Built another quick demo over the weekend to showcase the capabilities of my API.

This one takes a medium.com article url and auto generates some social media assets for it, within a couple of seconds:

https://www.bannerbear.com/demos/mediumformat/

Try it out with any medium.com post you like! (p.s. it doesn't work with medium articles on custom domains, unfortunately - it's just for articles on the medium.com domain or subdomain)

This demo is strategically important as I would love to sign up some publishing platforms or media portals to Bannerbear. So this is a pretty relatable demo for business folks at those kinds of companies.

But...

...I don't know about you guys but I'm sure there's others who feel this way. This past week I've been feeling some existential conflicts. So many people are falling sick, so many people are losing their jobs, the world is slowly falling apart...

I feel like I should be doing more to help. I'm super happy with my product and its new direction, now I'm just trying to think if there's a context / application for it that can be more helpful to people who might be looking for new sources of income.

Note that I'm not looking to build anything directly Covid19 related. Frankly I've felt uncomfortable as a member of the maker community in the last week as I see 18 different "corona tracker" sites pop up. The intentions behind these kinds of things are probably genuine, but personally I don't think they help, I think these mini projects at best distract people from getting information from official sources, and at worst just oil the wheels of panic.

The space I'm in right now is, how do I help some one who is out of work put together a little bit of income.

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The Bannerbear API and #nocode tools help you auto-generate social media visuals, ecommerce banners, podcast videos and more