1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
My name is Mike, I’m 33 years old and I live in The Netherlands. When I was in high school I already knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I started a side business, printing t-shirts and selling them online, and when I was a bit successful with it, other companies were asking me to help them grow their business online. So, I started my online marketing agency. We grew into a 6 figure business with 5 full-time employees. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled, however. I wanted to work on my own product and bring online marketing success to ourselves.
That’s when I started Vindy, a home improvement platform in The Netherlands and Belgium. We connected homeowners with local contractors. Our business model was simple: we charged a fee per lead.
We managed to grow this business into 7 figures. With growth, more users are coming into your platform. And with more users, the amount of feedback quickly grows as well. We needed a way to collect and manage all of this feedback for our product. And that’s when I started to work on Upvoty.
When I searched online for a proper tool to manage user feedback I couldn’t find one I thought was useful. They all were either too expensive or too ugly. I decided that I and my team needed to build one myself. I quickly saw the possibility and potential of selling it as a stand-alone app.
To validate the interest in such a product, we built a landings page and asked people to sign up if they would be interested in our feedback tool. Within 2 months we had a couple of hundred sign-ups. We released our first MVP in November 2018. The early bird users would get a free trial of 3 months but within 1 month we already had the first paying and committing users. This really validated the idea since users were willing to pay for it.
In February 2019 we launched publicly on Product Hunt. We gain a lot of new users and from here things were starting to happen. Within just a couple of months, we grew to the magical $1,000 MRR milestone. People were really blown away by this result, given the fact Upvoty was still a side project up till that moment. We even wrote a free eBook about it which has been downloaded more than 5,000 times already.
So, after this kind of growth, me and my team were struggling. We already had a valid business which was doing great. But we all loved working on Upvoty more. In August 2019 I decided to shift the whole company to Upvoty. Vindy is no longer part of our team (it’s still within the company but on a different team) and our main focus is solely on Upvoty. That was a great decision. We love working on Upvoty and our product. We crossed, as we speak, $2k MRR and we have big plans in order to grow to a $10k plus business this year.
Our business model is subscription-based. Companies, typically SaaS businesses, who are using our feedback tool are paying us a monthly fee between $15 and $99. We have solo founders with a single app who are using our smallest plan to bigger companies and teams who are signing up for the bigger plans. The big difference between our plans is the number of feedback boards and tracked users included. The bigger the plan, the more boards, and users you’ll get.
We gain users for our biggest plans, which obviously boosted our MRR, by adding the possibility to book a demo to our website. We also tend to focus on the right content for our ICPs. If there’s one thing I can recommend for growth: narrow down your target audience as far as possible. Start with a really small audience. Do it very well for them and only then expand to new audiences. The thing is: by focussing on a specific target audience, you can adjust everything you do purely for them. From content marketing to product optimizations and sales. Everything will be so much easier.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
When we launched in private beta we gain a lot of potential users via our email subscription box on our website. We advertised on a couple of websites to recruit beta users, such as BetaList, pitched the idea to my follower base on Instagram and via email marketing, and I even created a mini YouTube series on how we were building our startup. Unfortunately, it’s offline now, but you can still visit my YouTube page where I share some progress.
It was very important for us to gain some first users who were willing to test our product. This will give you valuable insight into who your ideal customers are, what your product really needs in order to gain traction, and what your product can become. The best thing we did was giving away our product for free for a period of 3 months to the early users. In those 3 months, we learned so much. We couldn’t have launched this successfully without it.
We learned that our ideal customers were working in the SaaS industry. From that moment on we focused on creating content for SaaS product managers and owners, such as creating this kind of blog post: “#1 Growth Hack for SaaS: Talk to your customers!“. This one is actually our top-performing blog post in terms of new sign-ups.
To retain our customers, we are focusing on the value our product brings to their business. I think this is always the necessary thing to do, but it’s a bit harder than you think. You will have to look very carefully at the data and how your customers are using your product. At first, we were purely a portal for their users to submit new feedback. But that wasn’t enough. Our users needed help with understanding what the feedback really meant and how they could decide what features to work on next. That’s when we built an awesome dashboard with feedback insights and data, emails that would remind them of feedback that is becoming stale, and better ways to work on feedback with teams. We introduced team assignments, tags, and even a handy Chrome/Firefox plugin which makes it possible to track feedback from wherever you are.The easier you make it for your customers, the more they enjoy working with your product.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
We started building our feedback tool because we needed a way to collect and manage feedback within our other company. The biggest challenge I would say was to not build it completely for our own needs. We knew there was room for a user feedback tool in a way we wanted it because we were scratching our own itch with it, but if you built it solely for your own specific needs, you’re building it purely for your business and not for the market. So, before we started writing a single line of code we needed feedback from the market.
This helped us built our product roadmap and decide which core features we needed to build.
Where our first business was focused on marketing (getting leads for the contractors), Upvoty is more about the product itself. This was new to us and especially to our development team. Quickly we noticed that building our product wasn’t even the most important thing. Teams want new products to fit in their current workflow. If it doesn’t, it will never work out. So we needed to build integrations with existing apps like Slack, Asana, Trello, Zapier, and Intercom as quickly as possible. This took a long period of time because besides building the actual integration, you do have to investigate why your users want the integration and how they’re planning to use it. This takes time talking to your users.
The biggest mistake we’ve made is also our biggest lesson learned: targeting too broadly. In the beginning, we thought our tool could be for almost everyone. Everyone needs feedback, right? While that’s true, not every company is keen to receive feedback or work on feedback with a tool like ours. We invested a lot of time in research who our ideal customer was and when we eventually discovered that SaaS companies would fit best, we started to focus on getting in front of them by creating content and campaigns specifically for them.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
What helped us the most was becoming part of a community with like-minded people. I’m active on Reddit, Quara, IndieHackers, Product Hunt, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. All of these channels helped me get in contact with people who could help me spread the word.
I read a lot of books, but I normally won’t recommend a book for building your business. It’s really all about getting out there. But in this case, since we’re building a SaaS, I have to name 1 book that really helped me with some parts of building our business: Intercom on Starting Up by Des Traynor from Intercom. It’s absolutely brilliant and I can highly recommend it if you’re building a SaaS.
5. What is your advice for those that are starting productized services?
Talk to your (potential) users. Until your product isn’t out there in the wild, it’s just an idea within your own head. Nothing more. And ideas are no valid businesses. You need to talk to users and see if your solution to their problems or needs is really viable. And even if they like your idea, just build a small prototype that won’t cost you a lot of time and money. One thing I’ve learned: the real validation comes from paying customers. Everyone wants tools, but up to the point they actually have to pay for it, it’s just opinions. Nothing more.
6. What are your plans for the future?
We want to be the best user feedback tool out there. Firstly we focus on the current product, but we’re most likely going to expand to more aspects within user feedback and customer success. This is necessary if we want to become the “go-to” tool for managing user feedback. That’s why we most recently launched our changelog feature for example.
Our revenue goal for 2020 is to get to $10,000 MRR. We are planning to accomplish this by acquiring more customers and giving demos. Once potential customers see the possibilities of our tool, they are more likely to try it out and become a client. It’s a relatively new kind of way to collect and manage feedback, so we really need to go out there and show product managers what it can do for them and how it makes their lives better.
7. Where can we learn more about you?
You can learn more on our blog (Upvoty.com/blog), or follow us on Twitter and Instagram. I share a lot of progress, such as monthly revenue data, on my Twitter and Instagram as well. So give me a follow if you want to follow our journey first hand 🙂