February 24, 2020

$1,000 MRR! (harder than I anticipated)

Pat Walls @patwalls

Some of you might know my story, but I’m the founder of Starter Story. Over the past year, I’ve been working on a product called Pigeon.

Anyways, Pigeon just hit $1K MRR, and for me, it’s been a pretty crazy and unexpected journey, and I learned a lot.

Not all revenue is created equal, and for me, building a SaaS was a new type of challenge and I feel like $1K is a good milestone to reflect! And not because it’s $1,000, but because it equates to about 40 paying customers, which feels like a lot (for me).

DISCLAIMER: If you’re looking for a case study about how to grow a SaaS fast, this is probably not the one. This is mostly a look back at how I slowly reached 40 paying customers, what worked, what struggles I faced, and what I learned.

It also feels like a big milestone because I worked so damn hard to get here. Every customer felt like a big win, and every churn, lost opportunity, etc felt like a loss.

So, I wanted to write my thoughts while they’re still fresh and show you the real truth & honesty behind the last 10 months.

Here's a few takeaways, maybe it helps someone else building a similar product and just getting started:

Anticipate very slow growth in the early days

Growth was a lot slower than expected.

In the month after I launched (June), I only added 1 paying customer!! 1 CUSTOMER!! It’s pretty crazy to be working so hard on something and you only have 1 person sign up in 30 days.

And the next month after that? 2 CUSTOMERS!! Haha!

Churn is real and it sucks

I've never built a SaaS before, so I never really experienced churn first-hand.

Personally, every churn felt like a gut punch, especially in the early days, when things were less validated and I associated the success of the product with my own self-worth (I do that less now).

Eventually, I got better at dealing with “rejection” though (mostly). Some things that help:

  • Often, churn is completely out of your control, and can be due to something happening for the customer, like their business idea not working/pivoting in a new direction, etc.
  • Don’t assume anything and try to get the answers. When a customer cancels, knowledge is power. Try your best to learn WHY.
  • Be empathetic and put yourself in the customer's shoes - if they are churning because they aren’t getting enough value from your product - that can be an opportunity. When I lost customers in the early days because I didn’t have XYZ feature - now that feature is a selling point!

Discouragement and self-doubt

Mentally, I also went through some hard times. Not all bad though, but there were definitely some days... Being a solo founder certainly doesn’t help here either.

I got a YC interview that completely sidetracked me, and getting rejected from that felt like a gut punch because of all the work I put into prepping. I didn’t expect to get in, nor do I regret applying, but the interview process consumed my mind for a 2-3 week period back in October. Not much work on the product got done during those weeks, and when I look back at that "YC time" I remember feeling very stressed and unhappy.

In general, the “slow growth” got to me, at times. Compared to Starter Story, it felt like I was working double overtime to make a nickel.

But I did find some coping mechanisms for this self-doubt, here are a few:

What worked:

Don't want to bore you too much in this milestone, but I wrote a bit more about my journey, and also what worked, such as:

  • Direct sales
  • Building an email list and announcing features constantly
  • Quora
  • Using a chat popup thingy to your advantage
  • The Google audit
  • and more.

You can check out the full post here.

Thanks

I want to thank everyone that helped me along this journey - looking back it's amazing how many people I've met through this IndieHacker community over just a couple of short years.

If there's anything I can do to help you guys, please don't hesitate to ask.

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