Business

How I launched a 1100+ user SaaS business in stealth mode as a sole founder with zero marketing budget

 Pushkar Gaikwad is the founder of inBoundio.com a software as a service startup that provides the Wworlds simplest Inbound Online Marketing Software for Small Businesses. 

We formally launched inBoundio last week, I kept it in beta for eight months and kept working on it. It was slow going since I was the only one working on it — sometimes there was no progress for days. There were times when I got stuck and had to wait for people to reply on stackoverflow and answer my questions so I could finish the coding. Lot of things went wrong or didn’t work out. But some did, and in this post I want to share what I have learned.

InBoundio is just starting. It is in no way a finished product nor a mature product, but I feel I should share my knowledge and experience right now. If I wait until I’m done, I may forget many of the smaller things. So here is the complete story. If you want the TL;DR version, scroll to the bottom where I have put everything in points.

How I Began

I stopped thinking too much, stopped planning, and just started doing the things I wanted to do and which I loved. I love technology, internet and marketing, so the product I built aligned with all this and I never had to look at where I was going. Failure looked acceptable as I knew I was going to enjoy the process and the final product.

I also didn’t set any deadlines for myself, and didn’t care about making money or setting targets. This took time out of the picture, which made me more comfortable and reduced any anxiety about getting it done. I wanted to be sure I made as few mistakes as possible, and I wanted to fully understand the market and user requirement. I continued to work alone, and it was only last month that I opened an office and hired two awesome developers (who in just five weeks have become a big part of my life).

How I funded inBoundio

Since inBoundio started as a one-man company, the expenses were negligible. I got one year of free hosting from RackSpace , which saved some money. I got the logo done for $3 and the dashboard was a $12 template. That was all the initial expense. I did use freelancers later on, as I wasn’t able to code some features. I paid them primarily from money earned by selling software packages and offering services.

Offering services also helped me understand client needs and wants. Because InBoundio is still in the early stage, I will keep on doing this for at least this year.

The experience with freelancers was hot and cold. Overall, I felt I wasted a lot of time. Many features never got shipped and I probably overpaid on a few, but I have learned my lesson.

Where We are right Now

inBoundio is still in its very early stage, and I am still working on finding the correct business mode. Still, I felt I should write this post now, as I want to share my experience and journey so far (posts like “How we sold our business for 20 million dollars” suck, right?)

Right now I have a small team working from our office, both of which give more structure to the business and make things move fast. For example, we are shipping new features on a daily basis, something which was not possible earlier. We just launched our chrome plugin and waiting for our WordPress plugin to get approved.

inboundio_screenshot

My Learning while bootstrapping as a single founder

I am splitting my learning into 2 section. Startup and Business/Life.

Startup Learning

1. Use freelancers wherever you can, but be careful. I had mixed experience with freelancers. I met some nice people but I felt I also sometimes overpaid. Sometimes the freelancer just wasted time and did nothing. There is a huge cost involved in finding the right freelancer, plus there is a cost involved if something goes wrong. You can use freelancers for small tasks like testing—for example, I hired a freelancer from Vietnam on oDesk for $5/hour who did a great deal of testing and found lots of bugs. I also got the initial logo for $3 and bought the user dashboard template for $12.

2. Do not hire people unless you need them. Do as much as you can by yourself and understand the technology stack of your product as well as marketing. Find your first paid user by yourself. Find new marketing channels by yourself. Do sales and support by yourself. Take all the phone calls yourself. Do the site support chat by yourself. All these tasks are part of building your business.

3. SaaS businesses don’t grow fast and there is nothing great about them.  InBoundio is growing 15% month to month, which I think is on “faster” side of growth, although most of the SaaS businesses grow very slow. In fact I don’t even think SaaS are the best business model on the web for making money; the unit economics don’t work and most B2B products don’t spread by word of mouth. This means higher cost of marketing and no viral effect.

4. The best feedback you will get is from your product users. The best feedback I have ever gotten is from inBoundio users. I have asked questions on various web marketing forums like warriorforum, as well as on Reddit and Hackernews, and received helpful replies. But the best real feedback I got was from current users. Aimee, my first paid user, has replied to many of my emails telling me what was broken.

5. Building is easy, marketing is not. Marketing will always take more resources and time than building. Most founders put all their energy into building and then run out of steam and ideas. Products fail because they hit the wall of “How to Market and Sell” and the founders have no answer.

6. Win-Win partnership works on Internet. The best businesses on Internet are the ones where your user also wins. If you are just focusing on yourself and how you can grow and make money, you will find yourself alone. This is not what the Internet is about.

7. Bootstraping is not easy, and doing it is as a single founder is even more difficult. Bootstrapping sounds great when you are able to pull it off; when it don’t work out, it can do lot of damage to your personal finances. Being a single founder also means you are taking the risk and will burn out fast. So far, though, things are looking fine for me. I will keep on doing what is working. If I feel I am burning out or need funds for additional growth, I will look at alternatives– though personally, I will always chose Freedom over Money.

Business and Life Learning

1. Success and Failure are meaningless terms. Don’t waste your time judging yourself from others parameters.

2. Don’t look at other startups and how they are doing. There are people who started before you, and others have already finished the race before you even started, so it is stupid to compare your startup with others.

3. Don’t waste too much time thinking about company vision, disruption and denting the universe. You will end up doing what you want to do anyway, no matter what your earlier vision was.

4. Use your own software. This is the best way to understand the limitations of your software. I only use inBoundio to market inBoundio. Yesterday I sent 1,000 emails and today I made some social media postings. When you use your own software, you can take better action on your user feedback and learn what you want and what you don’t.

5. There is nothing wrong with doing services to fund your company product. I personally feel a business is a business, so it doesn’t matter if you are doing services or product. The end goal is to build a business.

6. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, don’t do it. It is just not worth it.

7. Only do things which make you happy. I don’t think I need to explain this.

8. Don’t chase money; it will always be the byproduct of your success. If you do well in life, you will make money, anyway. If you start chasing money, you will cut corners, compromise on quality, and become mediocre and unhappy.

9. How big you get, how big your business becomes, and how much money you make is NOT in your control. It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing team, a great product, big funding and work 18 hours a day, you can – and possibly will — still fail. Don’t waste your time on thinking things which may or may not happen. Live in the present, build your company in the present.

10. Don’t plan too much. Most of the plans are just wishful thinking.

11. Money will solve only one problem, money. The rest of the problems of building business have to solved by you only.

inboundio.com has a 30 day free trial for their in bound online marketing service

Trump, Mondrian Hotels, Abu Dhabi and Brunei Peninsula Hotel Representatives join “Global Real Estate Crowdfunding Conference II” in New York #CrowdFundRealty

New York, April 22, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — It’s a #CrowdFundRealty day this Thursday, April 24, in New York!

What better way to usher that day than to gather the top honchos of the real estate industry and realty-focused family offices from all over the globe in a VIP cocktail party at the Big Apple.

Nobody would want to miss out on this swanky cocktail happening on Wednesday night, 23 April 2014 at The Soho Loft penthouse in NYC. Grab a last minute ticket and hobnob with no less than the representatives of Trump Properties, the owners of the Hudson Hotel, the Morgans Hotel Group and largest minority owner of the Empire State Building, just to name a few.

Think about the success stories churning right off the bat from the leading realty crowdfunding players as they discuss about their remarkable progress in the industry. Chances are there will be an explosion of ideas among the guests.

To pump up more excitement in the real estate arena, these companies will be joining the “Global Real Estate Crowdfunding Conference II” the next day, Thursday, 24 April 2014 at The Players Club in 16 Gramercy Park South. The conference gathers the new class of crowd investors as well as traditional and institutional investors in one big platform. Once again, this conference will serve as a vehicle to share the opportunities and new approaches that will energize and sustain the burgeoning and promising real estate market and industry.

Register now. For details, check:

http://thesoholoft.com/conferences/global-real-estate-crowdfunding-conference-ii-new-york-city/

David Drake, chairman and founder of The Soho Loft says, “Crowdfunding is rapidly changing the real-estate investment market, offering developers new ways to finance projects, giving small investors a way in, and the socially-conscious an avenue to support their local communities.”

Count Erik Wachtmeister, CEO and founder of BestofAllWorlds.com, a by-invitation-only social navigator, located in Stockholm, Sweden is giving its full support to the conference, being an ardent believer of crowdfunding himself. The Best of All Worlds is setting its  sights to become the ultimate discovery and matching platform for people as well as products and services online. It is also  providing an intimate web environment to  link global influencers and relevant connections who have the same interests, passions and backgrounds. Wachtmeister says, “So much of social media is about focusing on other people’s past. Best of all Worlds is about paying more attention to our own future.”

The conference is also proud to have the Stock & Fund Managers on board as one of its sponsors. S & F Managers has its roots in investment banking and asset management. It is the vanguard in structuring, developing and managing upscale hotel and real estate projects in the Galapagos Islands and Mar de Indias in Colombia. S & F will make its entry as the main developer of Delano Cartagena and Galapagos Villas  & Resort in South America. This amazing project features an 18-hole golf course, residential units and many other up-to-the-minute amenities operated by the Morgans Hotel Group. Alexander Oppenheimer of S & F  Managers, is excited to unveil these amazing projects and spectacular opportunities to the public during the conference. For the past years, S & F only had private exposure to investors.

The Carlton Group Real Estate Private Equity Bankers is also fully supporting the conference and its ideals. The Carlton Group specializes in raising equity and debt on big complex transactions. It also provides investment sales services for large commercial real estate assets and loans held by banks. Recently, this international real estate investment-banking firm entered the space of accredited equity crowdfunding.  It offers accredited investors the opportunity to invest in large commercial real estate assets.

Patch of Land‘s support to the conference is noteworthy. It is  establishing strategic partnerships with the leading players in the real estate, Right now, they are working with Wealthforge, the foremost crowdfunding broker-dealer network, and Kingdom Trust, the leading provider of alternative assets. AdaPia d’Errico, Chief Marketing Officer of Patch of Land says, “We embrace the opportunities for building wealth and growing communities by working together to promote crowdfunded and crowdfinanced investments.”

Other conference sponsors are Times Realty News, the only online news and publishing site that focuses mainly on real estate crowdfunding firms, projects and happenings; Global Crowd News, another media news and publishing outfit that redefines capital formation; and LDJ Capital, a New York-based private equity advisory firm that offers consultation services on fund management and business development for the energy, infrastructure and real estate industry, and strategic access to capital markets.

Just like the first conference last November 2013, the Global Real Estate Crowdfunding Conference II on 24 April 24 2014 will present tremendous opportunities to its participants. Up for discussions are the trends and growth of real estate crowdfunding, real estate investments by family offices, crowdfunding strategies for real estate, and global platforms and international crowdfunding investors. There will be plenty of time to network with the speakers during the networking lunch and the after-event cocktails.

Big and small players in the industry are sharing, tweeting, writing about this highly exciting event of the year. Use the hashtag #CrowdFundRealty to join the conversation among the real estate people and our media partners:

Equities.com, CrowdsUnite, Crowdfund Beat, Real Estate Investors Beat, Inman News, Bankless Times, and CoAssets

To register and for more details on the conference:

http://thesoholoft.com/conferences/global-real-estate-crowdfunding-conference-ii-new-york-city/

Watch for more conferences happening across the country and around the world by The Soho Loft. The next one may be in your city.

Visit www.thesoholoft.com/upcoming-conferences for more information.

About The Soho Loft  (www.thesoholoft.com)

The Soho Loft – The Voice of Capital Formation – is a global financial media company with three divisions in Corporate Communications, Publishing and Expos  & Events.

TSL Corporate Communications division handles Public Relations, Investor Relations and Social Media Marketing for its clients. TSL Expos & Events division organizes up to 200+ investor-focused events annually and TSL Publishing division produces financial and entrepreneurial content that is published and syndicated in  100+ leading online publications and growing.

As The Voice of Capital Formation, The Soho Loft Media Group  is your global communications partner for your equity and investment strategies.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Victoria Global (www.victoriaglobal.co)

Victoria Global is your leading content and communications marketing partner with expertise and network in both institutional investing and crowd financing. With a history deeply intertwined with financial innovation, Victoria Global offers an integrated approach to cutting edge public and investor relations using balanced and multi-tiered systems and strategies.

The Victoria Global integrated approach is a balanced approach: Combining thought leadership and  targeted engagement to drive a positive, sustainable and long-term impact to building brand awareness and loyalty.

The Victoria Global integrated approach is a multi-tiered approach: Linking traditional media channels and strategic optimization of new media like  blogger outreach, social networks, platforms and technologies to propel a creative, organic and solid growth to customer and audience engagement.

As your leading content and communications marketing partner, Victoria Global is all about knowing and connecting with your crowd.

David Drake + 1 917 578 9069

+1 212 845 9652

The article originally appears at: http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2014/04/22/628547/10077649/en/Trump-Mondrian-Hotels-Abu-Dhabi-and-Brunei-Peninsula-Hotel-Representatives-join-Global-Real-Estate-Crowdfunding-Conference-II-in-New-York-CrowdFundRealty.html#sthash.qiSdn3uv.dpuf

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Syndicated Equity Crowdfunding for Startups takes off in UK & Europe

David-Drake-CEO-LDJ-CapitalThe following guest post is by David Drake, founder and chairman of LDJ Capital, a New York City private equity firm, and The Soho Loft, a financial media company.

How does one become an angel investor?

There is no university where one can learn angel investing. However, crowdfunding is creating a unique path for learning through a system calledsyndicate funding. A growing trend in the U.K. and other parts of Europe, such as Belgium and Italy, this system allows professional business angels and crowd investors to participate on the same deals.

Syndicate Room (SR) and the Cambridge Capital Group (CCG) joined together third quarter of this year to leverage crowdfunding for the first time. CCG, an ultra-exclusive by-invitation business angel group of around 50 investors and private venture funds that annually invest £1-2 million each to its current portfolio of more than 30 high-tech start-up companies, became lead investors to Syndicate Room’s member investors.

Cambridge Capital Group

Cambridge Capital Group

“Membership in Syndicate Room is free,” says its founder and CEO Goncalo de Vasconcelos. As an SR investor, the member can invest as little as £500 ($800) directly into real business angel investments.

The site launched its online presence last August and recently closed its first deal with a £590,000 ($960,000) investment in Eagle Genomics. The lead investor, requesting anonymity, led the round with £300,000 ($480,000). Syndicate Room’s requirement is that a lead investor, or investors, puts in a minimum £50,000 ($80,000), or 25% of the company value, whichever is lower. Ideally, its focus are on firms in need of £500,000 to £1,000,000 ($800,000-$1,600,000).

While Syndicate Room investors will not be able to influence a startup company’s direction and strategy, they will get exactly the same economic deal, as well as make the same profit pound for pound, as the experienced and larger business angels of CCG.

Knowing that these angel investors only invest their own money into businesses they believe will give them a great return, it’s only smart for the crowd to follow where the angels lead. With their professional guidance, due diligence is done and deal quality is increased with proper valuations in place.

Angel networks benefit from this setup as this allows them to invest comfortably in a single deal while having a crowd of small investors to fill up the rest of the amount needed for seed funding.

The platform also allows the angel networks to find and train new angels from the crowd. Investors from the crowd will eventually learn the ropes, become angel investors themselves, and join the angel networks.

When angels get involved with crowdfunding platforms and in systems like syndicate funding, they take a proactive step in growing the angel network globally.
Are you joining to become one?

You can reach Drake directly at David@LDJCapital.com.

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More insights from launching Cloudherd.com- Alex Stamp

This is the third article in a series of articles from entrepreneurs that have been through Incubate, the University of Sydney Incubator program. Alex Stamp launched Cloudherd.com along with Mike Titchen and Luke Fries in 2012 as the first group of businesses in the Incubate program. Cloudherd is trying to solve the problems that farmers face when trying to sell their cattle, it’s a very inefficient market that seems to be stuck in the 1900s and Cloudherd is trying to drag it into 2013 with an online Auction system and cattle inventory application. The first article is here Launching Cloudherd.com and the second article is here Start-up execution @Cloudherd.com

 

So the third article in this series slipped. I suppose that as a hard charging, networking, all-singing, all-dancing entrepreneur it is a bit hard to finish three long form articles in three weeks.

I’ve also been having chronic laptop overheating problems with the recent warmer weather, so much so that I couldn’t even watch YouTube the other day unless I wanted my computer to turn into a kettle. The reality was that although I may have had the spare hour or two I would have needed to get this article out, I just didn’t. I’ll try to make up for that.

To round off my series of articles, which some have described as “bad”, “confronting” or somewhat favorably as “a sledgehammer of honesty to the face”, I thought I would talk about what not to do.

Lots of entrepreneurial articles essentially consist of generic buzzwords and lists and end up being “The four things about big data you have to know” or some equally banal piece of outsourced tripe. My list is better, maybe, since I wrote it myself and there are substantially more than four points, though some of them may be elegant ways of restating what I said in previous articles.

Team

Investors are always obsessed with the team, here is what not to do,

  • No one loves your idea as much as  you. If the idea is kind of your baby then don’t necessarily expect your other founders to work as hard as you or be as passionate about the business as you. They may not necessarily care about organic dog food, or whatever it is you are doing, but they’ve still agreed to work for no money and the Russian roulette of compensation known as equity. Respect that.
  • Glossing over tech issues. I see a fair number of young founders doing this particularly grievous sin. They get one guy on the team to learn PHP and they then brand him as the tech guy and gloss over all technical issues. You will get found out if you do this and it is embarrassing, admit what you don’t know and at least try to start your tech guys off from some tangentially related field, like embedded systems.
  • Your history probably doesn’t count. Don’t think that anyone will think you are a red-hot startup founder just because you did an internship at PwC, Deloitte or Random Professional Corporation #528. Everyone knows that your job was close to that of a monkey’s, except monkeys cost more to feed and house. If you weren’t a monkey then don’t expect anyone to believe that, you unfortunately have to prove yourself when you are a young entrepreneur.
  • Create a learning team. Your team’s skill base will affect how long it takes you to execute a given set of tasks but in the end what will determine the most valuable members of your team is how much they are willing to learn. Always be learning, and not selling. If you’re selling, you’re not learning anything about your customer, investor or partner. Socratic dialogue can be very powerful.

I’m also assuming that most of my audience is people thinking about starting a tech start-up, not organic dog food, and as such I’d like to also present some points about the small amount of technology implementation that I know and participate in.

prototype  inventory module

 

Tech

  • Patents.Don’t say your technology is patentable as you are lying in an obtuse manner. Anything is patentable in the US, including Amazon’s stupid one click shopping cart, put enough claims in and you can probably get a patent. If you invented cold fusion, or a way to stop cows from emitting methane, then maybe you can patent it but it will end up costing you a lot of money to protect it.
  • Algorithms. Stop running around like a parrot who has drunk a coffee, clucking about how your advanced analysis and algorithms will give you an unassailable competitive advantage. Not only do your competitors likely have the same data, if not more, they also have smart people working for them who can probably reverse engineer your algorithm or features. Furthermore your advanced algorithms which are likely to be slightly more complex versions of existing common algorithms,so you should use standard deviation to figure out outliers and then throw them out. I know a civil engineer who just wrote a GPS tracking algorithm to get rid of junk data; if he can do it, so can your competitors. All of which begs an interesting question, why do so many people use all the same statistical models?
  • No one will understand for a long time. If your technology is actually valuable no one outside the industry, nay maybe even a few people inside that industry, will actually understand what you are doing and how you are doing it. Expect lots of blank looks as you tell people about the complexities of serving genetic data from databases and that being why you had to partner with another company. Most people will never even bother to learn about this stuff even if you tell them about it.

Investors

I’ll finish on investors, as most startup founders will talk to them many hundreds of times during their lives. Investors give you fuel to burn and can bring a lot to the table; that said there are lots of things that you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t spend too much time talking to investors. Outside of certain investor markets capital availability can be very poor and as such you should spend a lot more time executing than you should trying to hustle investors. If you can get a few paying users then you will be in a lot stronger position to talk to them; not that that is easy. Without any seed funding it can be extremely difficult to launch to certain markets.
  • Trust & Alignment. Don’t necessarily trust investors that don’t make their living from the startup scene. They won’t think twice about screwing you because their reputation isn’t their way of putting food on the table. Break out the NDA. (ed not sure I agree with this one, it just depends on the individual)
  • Persistence. Don’t think that investors will understand or even be interested in your idea based off one pitch session. There can be a lot of brutal, hour-long discussions about the ins and outs of the business on a microscopic level which will leave you exhausted before they even think about term sheets. That first pitch might even be a disaster, but don’t write things off as you might still have a chance to impress.
  • Do your own due diligence. Don’t be afraid to look into potential investors, you might be surprised what you find…..

Anyway, thank you for reading through my series of articles and I hope you found them amusing and useful. Though at times I may seem harsh I just wish to dispense with this American entrepreneur style of things that seems to affect some young entrepreneurs; they think that they will pump out a few weeks of code and then get funded to the tune of several million dollars.

This is not likely to happen in Australia and I encourage those thinking of starting a business to be realistic about what they hope to achieve. If you would like some more advice there may be a few more articles in future, and I’m always available to help if you connect with me on LinkedIn http://au.linkedin.com/pub/alexander-stamp/44/582/917/

 

 

 

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