Harry and I have now spent 2 years working together. During this time we've been working remotely, completely bootstrapped, and focusing on revenue.
We've now built and launched over 10 products - and 2 years into our journey seems like a good point to reflect on what we've learned. In this post I want to go over our 4 main products we've launched, and one significant take-away that came from each one.
Side note: if you're interested in our other products then leave a comment below. We're happy to share what we built and why it didn't work out - it's just that some of the products are a little random and don't fit nicely into this story.
Hey Press is a searchable database of startup journalists - and a product that came from our own need (so we got one thing right at least ;)).
We wanted to find relevant journalists who'd be interested in covering our new startup launches - so we thought we'd build a media database of startup journalists, but one that was different to other media databases in 1 key way: we would index the articles that journalists had written like a search engine!
Whenever you search Hey Press for a topic or keyword, it will return the most relevant journalists from the top tech/startup publications that write about that subject.
It remains very popular (at the time of writing it has 1483 upvotes on Product Hunt, and thousands of people use it for free).
However, it was quite tricky to build (several months for an MVP) and our conversion to paying customers was pretty damn low (PR professionals needed a much larger database, and startups love the free tier but don't do PR regularly enough to justify a paid subscription).
Combining our low conversion-rate with a high churn rate meant Hey Press was pretty much a no-go financially, so we had to start looking at new ideas
Main Learning: Move faster. 4 months is too long to spend on something that ultimately doesn't work out. We now know that we're often wrong - so when we're wrong it's better to be wrong in a week instead of 4 months. Over time I think we've gradually become wrong less frequently... but even so we still try to minimise the time to our first paying customer (ideally a week or 2 and not 4 months!).
By the time we started working on JournoRequests, we were beginning to run low on cash.
Although we had offers from investors (no idea why - I guess they must've really liked us...), neither Harry not I wanted to go down that route. To this day we're happily bootstrapped, and I think we'll remain that way at least for the next couple of years.
Anyway, I digress...
We had no money and needed it for luxuries such as food.
We made it our target to reach $1000 in monthly recurring revenue, and tried to think of the fastest way to get there. Given that we had thousands of people using Hey Press and we knew about the PR industry, sticking to PR software made sense - and JournoRequests was the best idea we came up with.
JournoRequests flips the PR model upside-down - instead of startups pitching journalists, journalists put out requests for businesses to feature in stories they're already writing.
After a couple of months, we reached our target of $1000 in monthly recurring revenue.
Main Learning: focus on revenue. Conventional startup wisdom is that you should work on passion projects and worry about making money later. I think the opposite is true (at least for bootstrapped companies). Focus on revenue, and you'll become increasingly passionate about your project as it evolves.
Growing JournoRequests was a slow and steady process. It wasn't a home-run, but it certainly wasn't a flop either and meant we could pay ourselves enough to live off.
Profile Hopper, however, was the opposite of slow and steady. Originally it was just for our own use, but in the space of a few months it blew up to $12k in monthly recurring revenue, and then we received legal threats from LinkedIn so decided to close the doors.
It was a wild journey, and we've done a whole post about it here, but it made us realise that actively growing JournoRequests might not be the most profitable use of our time (after all, we're focused on revenue!)
Main Learning: building on top of other people's platforms can help you grow - but it's also risky! Profile Hopper was essentially an extra LinkedIn feature that people already wanted. It grew virally and conversion to paying customers was good too. However, Profile Hopper only worked with LinkedIn - so when LinkedIn took a disliking to us, it was a big problem.
If No Reply
As a founder, you probably have the itch to build new products all the time. The difficulty is knowing when it's ok to do so, and when you're just getting distracted from what you really should be working on! In our case, we let revenue guide us - and because Profile Hopper was growing vastly quicker than JournoRequests, we think it's ok to scratch that itch once more. We've now handed over the responsibility for growing JournoRequests to Louise (so far she's doing a better job than us!), which has given us time to create what we think is our best product yet.
If No Reply is a Gmail extension that makes sales automation simple. You can schedule follow-up messages that are only sent if you don't hear back from a contact, so the core idea is that it saves you time following up with prospects and helps you make more conversions.
Sales automation is a crowded market, but we know the industry well and think it's generally lacking a) simplicity, and b) personalisation. Our goal with If No Reply was to create the tool we wanted to use - simpler and more personal than anything else on the market... and now that goal's achieved!
You can use If No Reply for inbound sales and cold emailing direct from Gmail, or you can hook up to our API to send new user welcome emails. It's the exact product we wish existed.
Main Theory: having competitors can be a good thing. It's too early to give any actual learnings from If No Reply yet. However, on the face of it, building a sales automation tool might not seem like a very good idea - it's a highly competitive space. Our theory is that this doesn't matter - and competitors are probably a good sign! If there weren't any competitors, it would probably mean that it's not a very profitable space to get into.
Take Buffer or Slack as an example - they're doing very well now, but when they started they had lots of competitors. They were just much better than their competitors in at least one key area.
We've tried out countless If No Reply competitors, and we've even been paying customers for some of them. Although paying for a sales automation tool was completely worth it, we thought we could create something better. So now that's exactly what we've done.
Thanks for reading — if you found this post useful then it's always good to know, so please do get in touch. Also, if there's anything else you'd like us to write about we're always open to suggestions.