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

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.

  1. 11

    Hey, I really empathise with your post. You're high on the empathy spectrum, just like I am.

    The tone of your post reads a lot like an old article that must be legendary by now, "Teach yourself programming in 10 years". I write about language learning and I often want to write the same thing, like "Teach yourself a language in ten years". Basically, a gentle suggestion that some people's quick successes aren't predictably repeatable.

    It's funny how success feels like failing, relatively. $1000 is very cool. That's like a whole new phone A MONTH! Or like 200 guilt-free coffees or ice creams!

    But would it be MORE money if it came in one month rather than one year? No! Meanwhile, there are 1000 other slower businesses looking at yours thinking "if only I had $1000/month in one year!", or those thinking "I got to $1,000 but it was way too early and I ended up having to refund everyone", and then those that got to $1,000 but gave up, who are now thinking "if only I stuck with it after $1,000/mo instead of getting discouraged, it might be $10,000/mo by now!"

    And 40 happy customers, let's not forget. I bet since you are high on the empathy spectrum, waking up to emails/comments/reviews like "this is so cool!" must be one of the highlights of your day.

    1. 5

      Meanwhile, there are 1000 other slower businesses looking at yours thinking "if only I had $1000/month in one year!"

      I think about this a lot! Except it's me thinking about the 1000 business that got to $10k/month in the same timeframe, and those thoughts can be dangerous! Have to put things into perspective.

      Thanks for the nice comment. I don't think I'm very empathetic though, I try to work on that...

  2. 6

    Many congrats, and I just want to reassure you that you are not alone in this. It took me just over a year to get my startup to $1K MRR, and then it STAYED around that point for another year or so before another surge. Now, the momentum has kicked in and we are growing at a great rate, but there were many times during those 2 and a bit years where I was wondering if it is all worth it (spoiler alert: it IS!). Well done, and keep going!

    1. 2

      Yes! "Is this all worth it?" A question I feel like I ask myself way too often, haha.

      Thanks for the kind words and congrats on all your growth!

  3. 3

    Great work @patwalls, you stuck through so many different challenges and barriers that most wouldn't, and that's why you're coming out on the other side.

    Keep up the good work 👍 many great things in your future.

    1. 1

      Thanks Jordan. Couldn't have done much without your help and encouragement :)

  4. 3

    Love love reading your updates. Very insightful. You are a true inspiration for me.

    1. 1

      Thanks man! You too!

  5. 3

    Thanks for the post! Really interesting to hear

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

    I'd really love to see you expand on these, as I'm looking to level up my marketing right now, but I'm not sure how I would even start going about direct sales, for example.

    1. 1

      Hey! I didn't want to include the entire post here in this milestone (it's a bit long), but I go over each of these in my daily journal entry here. Hope it helps. Email/DM me/leave a comment here if you wanna chat about direct sales - I'm no expert but I can try :)

      1. 1

        Ah, I have more questions after your blog post than I did before!

        Once I got their email there, we would have a small chat over email, and then I would ask them if they would be willing to jump on a 30-minute meeting (through Calendly) and have a face to face video conversation about their use case and give them a demo of the product.

        1. Was the main goal selling, or customer development? In hindsight, would you have gone this route if Google hadn't limited you?

        2. What percentage of people you emailed agreed to a call? How did you handle those people who didn't want to get on a call but were still interested in the product?

        Just put a chat popup thingy on your site and chat with them over email - it doesn't even have to be about your product.

        1. Were you initiating these with customers, or did they reach out to you first?

        I have a lot of customers tell me they found me through Quora as I did a bit of posting there in the early days.

        1. What was your strategy with Quora? Did you only answer questions where you could link to your product, or did you link only occasionally?

        Thanks a bunch, I know these are a lot!

        1. 1

          Good questions :)

          1. The main goal was to sell. But if no sale at the time, to learn more about the customer and maybe build a connection and learn something. I probably would not do this if Google limited me.
          2. Don't know exact, but probably 50%. If they didn't want to do a call, I would offer "self-serve" and use our tutorials. There were a few customers that went this route.
          3. On the chat popup? Customers land on the website and then start a conversation. I don't have any custom popup stuff that asks them a question.
          4. You can check out my Quora page (just Google it)

          Hope that helps!

          1. 1

            Thanks, this is great info :)

  6. 2

    Congrats Pat. So, so well said. Keep grinding bro!

  7. 2

    Nice article. I look forward to reading the longer post (when I get a chance!). Well done.

  8. 2

    I love that you've shared your process and story! Keep going! You're inspiring a lot of us to do the same!

    I love your thoughts on being empathetic with the customer... most of the time, churn is completely out of our control!

  9. 2

    damn good read. enjoyed this one!

  10. 2

    Thanks for the update and the product looks great. The graph is going the right direction. Congrats!

  11. 2

    Great product! Keep moving forward

  12. 1

    Congrats! Happy for you.

    Now on to your first 1k MRR!

  13. 1

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing! Your market validation document is inspiring, and I'll keep it in mind for my own projects in the future.

  14. 1

    Congrats on your success mate!
    I know it hasn't been without plenty of challenges,
    I am particularly intrigued by your choice to go with a chrome extension rather than say a gsuite/editor add-on is there any limitations? what's the difference?

  15. 1

    Thanks for sharing your story! I am recommending pigeon to our business development guy who was complaining how overwhelmed he was with email. Goodluck!

    1. 1

      Thank you for recommending, means a lot!!

  16. 1

    Lol 4 years ago I attempted to make an open-source chat widget before intercom called Pigeon https://github.com/bluematter/pigeon I always believed chat would be big. Wish I had finished that project. I have learned through all my uncompleted work to follow through and finish. Which is exactly what I am doing now. I wish the same for you and thanks for sharing the raw story. Not the glamourized IG polished BS that most people are sharing.

    1. 2

      I know the feeling of starting projects on GitHub from cool ideas and then never following through and finishing, that's pretty much what I did for years...

      Good luck with your new project and appreciate the kind words :)

  17. 1

    Thanks Pat for sharing. Big fan of the Starter Story newsletter and really appreciate you opening up about Pigeon. Keep up the great work.

  18. 1

    Great post and great milestone!

    We are in the first MVP interviews, going slow and the milestone you mention seems still very far away (1 customer, 39$ MRR)

    Keep up the great work and thanks a lot for sharing here, it’s inspiring 🤩

    1. 1

      Good luck with the new project and great start with MRR! :)

  19. 1

    Awesome stuff Pat! Congrats on $1k MRR. I have no doubts that you will hit $2k in a much shorter timeframe 😁

    1. 1

      Haha, hope so. Thanks boss!

  20. 1

    👍👍 Pat, thanks for an open and honest post about the challenges and victories on the way to $1K MRR.

    I can't agree enough about talking with churned customers to find out why they churned. Like you said, it's an excellent opportunity to learn.

    Bill Gates has a saying "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning".

    They truly are.

    I hope you'll continue the practice of talking to customers as your company grows -- both churned and retained ones. Both groups give invaluable insight into value, product, and their expectations when they signed up.

    Thanks again @patwalls.

    1. 1

      Agreed! I try my best to connect with churned customers - they don't always want to talk!

  21. 1

    Pat, you're an inspiration.
    SaaS is super hard... I'm stuck at 400 MRR.
    I'm reading now your "what worked" post.
    Thanks for writing and keep up the good work!
    I hope soon I'll be one of your customers.

    1. 1

      Sounds good! Yeah, what worked seemed to be the classic startup advice. Talk to your customers and work hard to improve the product. No growth hacks here...

      Good luck with it keep me updated!

  22. 1

    Hey Pat, I totally feel what you are saying. I'm on the same stage currently and the mental pressure and churn are keeping up, a lot of uncertainty around, but I think about the market and our fit to inspire myself to move further. I think it is a place when most people give up.

    1. 1

      I also think this is where most people give up! Sometimes maybe for good reason... But I'd rather work hard on a good idea than flail around for years looking for that A++ idea.

      Really it's just a measure of showing up every day and doing little things. It all adds up I guess.

  23. 1

    Really nice and I look forward to getting there myself one day. The nice thing is you are making $1000 with a genuinely useful product. I wonder if some of your customers would have paid more than $19/month though. That seems quite a steal for business software. I wonder if $19/month for a solo plan and then $49/month for a business plan, and have a POA plan too would get you some more revenue in future even if you grandfather the current customers on their plans. Clearly you will know a lot more than me about how feasible this would be, but it seems like a way to bring in more revenue without needing so many customers to achieve it.

      1. 1

        Sorry for the jargon! It's "Price On Application", you could also say "Custom Pricing" or "Contact Us" which are probably betters things to say.

        I think the idea is then that they call you (or leave you their number and you call them) and discuss their needs. It would be an opportunity to find out the value to them, and suss out if they would pay.

  24. 1

    Hey Pat thanks for sharing your story on the struggles on how things can move slow. I've been stuck on the same thing, and seeing you had a whole google doc for putting yourself back on top of the "mental roller-coaster" was a mental relief for myself.

    Also, do you have any articles on how posting a lot to social media/starter story/here has been useful for you as a founder?

    Thanks again for making your whole process so public.

    1. 1

      Tell me a bit more about what you're looking for in terms of articles / what questions you have?

      1. 1

        Has blogging, tweeting, and sharing your journey as a founder directly led to business opportunities (eg) find customers, leads, mentors? I'm sharing my own founder journey more, but I'm not sure what the value of doing so will be.

        1. 1

          Short answer: Yes.

          Long answer: Building an audience has been huge for both Starter Story and Pigeon. For me, that was sharing my story and being honest, sharing the numbers, etc.

          The value of doing so? An incredible way to stay accountable (because it's public), have a big impact and inspire others, get better at telling your own story and storytelling in general, learn a lot about marketing and distribution of content, build great relationships with other entrepreneurs, the list goes on.

          However, it's not a silver bullet, you still need to have a great product. My "story" is always secondary to the business & product.

          1. 1

            Interesting, I had never thought how accountability could be an advantage of that.

            Really appreciate the reply, I think you're an extremely inspiring entrepreneur that had made a lot of people's lives better from sharing your stories. Have a good one!

  25. 1

    $1000MRR is still great! I don't even have a product built yet. Good luck and celebrate the wins!

  26. 1

    Nice work, congrats! 🎉The product looks sleek, I especially like keyboard shortcuts for power user productivity.

    1. 1

      Thanks!! It really does save a ton of time and the new templates/snippets feature is super slick!

  27. 1

    Congrats Pat! Thanks for sharing your story.

  28. 1

    Great article, thank you for sharing. I think 1000 per month feels like you definitely have a viable product, so an excellent milestone to celebrate!

  29. 1

    I'm there with you, every day is a flood of emotions and anxiety. Will this work? am I wasting my time?

    1. 1

      Agreed. Not sure if you saw but have some coping mechanisms for that! Also I built a document for this https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ld-BZ4UNMgUGzZe6srOMtwpQH70Vh6bYhFb38-g0xDY/edit

      1. 1

        Yeah I read that. It's a great doc. I should build one for myself too.

  30. 1

    Congratulations! Your tool looks very useful, who is the perfect customer of your tool (persona) ?

    1. 2

      Anyone who runs a business with decent email volume (inbound and/or outbound) and wants to scale & automate, but stay inside Gmail to keep things lean and email communication still personal!

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