In this post I will talk about some of the skills I acquired to start and grow my product much farther than I ever could have imagined.
Getting to $20k MRR was not an accident, but getting to $1k was. When I started out, I only intended on generating ~$500 MRR to help pay the bills. But, I did too much right (without knowing it) and was a bit naive.
I’m writing this because I haven’t talked much about what has changed since getting to $1k MRR, or even $10k MRR. Technically, my product is at $18,300 MRR, but has done over $26k in revenue in the last month.
The punchline is this: I’m doing the same stuff I was doing two years ago. Except it’s a little more refined and focused.
I’m working on adding features that help my customers, writing helpful content that doubles as sales copy, and being an attentive and reasonable customer service representative. That’s what I was doing 2 years ago when I first made the product, and that’s exactly what I am doing now.
You’ve heard people say it before, “find out what works and just keep doing it”. Well, it’s mostly accurate. But it’s the “finding out what works” part that I think first time Indiehackers struggle with the most.
I think the effort required to get to $1k MRR was much greater than getting to $20k. The work is building marketing and distribution skills, building a product that helps people, and iterating until it matches what your customers want.
Once you’ve done that work, and have built out automated distribution channels to get in front of your potential customers, you’re well on your way.
Day-to-day I work less now than I ever have in the past. That’s not to say that won’t change, since I do have big ambitions to build more products and solve more problems. But, for now, as the business “matures” and my customer base grows on autopilot, it’s pretty chill.
My hope is for you to get to this place as well. It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me and my family, and I don’t take that for granted.
Distribution Automation Is King
I think this is the most valuable lesson I have learned over the last two years. It’s something I got right from the start, and it’s something that so many people get wrong.
I didn’t launch on Product Hunt. I didn’t submit my product to Hacker News. I didn’t use ads. I didn’t spam social media.
I talk quite a bit about what I did in the early days in this post. Basically, I posted a free version of my app to a specific Reddit subreddit and got ~200 beta users of my app in exchange for feedback. Then, I built out the app over the next month and emailed that list.
That Reddit post is just about the only non-automated distribution I have done.
From the beginning, I focused on writing SEO content targeting specific intent-based keywords. Most people will tell you that SEO is a long-term game, and most people would be wrong.
If done correctly, from both on-site SEO and content perspectives, when targeting low-volume and low-difficultly keywords, you can rank and get traffic almost immediately.
There are only a handful of blog posts that I use to attract new customers from Google searches. If I had more time I would write more. To date, over 55,000 people have come to my product’s landing page through Google search alone.
Of those 55,000, just over 5000 signed up for a free trial. A few thousand of those converted into paying customers, and now there’s a steady stream of ~600+ customters.
That’s my funnel. I don’t do retargeting ads. I don’t bait and switch. I don’t try to sell (too hard). I just write great content that ranks for relevant keywords and mention my product in those posts.
Every week or so I send out an email to the people who have tried out the app. Most of the time I am just updating them about new features and helpful tips on how to use the tool more effectively.
There are a few forms of distribution automation. One, like I mentioned, is SEO. Another is paid advertising. The last is some forms of social media (YouTube promotes your content and ranks it in Google search for you if it’s good).
Without an automated distribution channel, your product cannot grow automatically. You will end up spending time every single day promoting your product and trying to get in front of the right people.
When you’re a solo-Indiehacker you simply don’t have time to be doing that every day. You have features to build, bugs to fix, and customers to take care of. If you’re able to hire someone who can write content and promote on social media, then that changes things slightly.
Maybe I’m just speaking for me. I had a full-time job, a wife and two kids, and other obligations in my life. I didn’t have time to spend promoting my product.
Though at the end of the day it’s promotion that will grow your product. It’s so important to how your product grows and how it takes over the market you’re in.
Speaking of markets, let’s talk about markets.
Markets Dictate Everything
Distribution automation and a great product does not matter if the market is not growing.
You can still be successful in a dying market, it’s just way harder. If your market is growing, that means there’s fresh customers to get in front of. You can be the first product they investigate when they’re trying to solve a problem they’re having.
Especially if you’re a first-time Indiehacker, you want to latch on to a growing market. You can snag a small piece of a pie that continues to grow. Your piece will grow with it.
When entering a market, a good approach is to understand whether or not you want to be a platform, or an add-on to an existing platform.
Building a platform is much more difficult to get off the ground, but has better longevity. An add-on is easier to get quick success, but the long-term horizon of your product may change without your discretion.
My product is an add-on. It enhances an existing platform and allows customers to save time and make more money doing the things they were already doing.
Because of that, it was super easy to get started. The first reason being: the product itself is smaller. The scope of features and product vision are simple. It’s not a wild bet, it’s a refined process that has a clear purpose.
The second reason is it fit well within the flow of existing customers. It did exactly what they were doing before, with little friction, and it saved them time (and in most cases made them more money). That’s an easy sell.
It’s harder to sell a new platform to people. New platforms require time, effort, and investment from the customer’s perspective to gain value from them.
But, once that value is gained, platforms are sticky. Your customers will be faithful to your platform and continue to use it as long as it provides them value.
So, my recommendation for first-time Indiehackers is to get your feet wet with an add-on product in a growing market (or at least on a growing platform). My recommendation for existing Indiehackers is to try and branch out into a maturing and growing market with a brand new platform.
Treat Customers Well
At the end of the day, you make your product for the money it provides you. Most people would not start businesses if it didn’t make them any money. There is a lot of satisfaction in helping other people, but that’s not everything.
With that in mind, the money a customer pays you is not as important as your relationship with that customer.
What I mean is, if they ask for a refund, give them a refund. When they ask you to cancel their subscription, cancel it (or make it very easy for them to do it on their own). You reap what you sow. If you don’t treat your customers well, then get used to them not telling other people about your product. Or worse, they will leave you bad reviews.
Word of mouth has been a powerful driver of growth for my product. I don’t know how many people I have given refunds to, or helped out in a moment’s notice, or bent-over backwards (within reason) to help out as fast as possible.
Every time I do that they get a better, more positive feeling about using the product. They trust that it’s going to be reliable for them, and they know if they need help I will be there.
This turns into people becoming advocates of the product, and ultimately leads to more customers for me. I created a referral program because my customers wanted a way to tell other people about the product (because they wanted to) and be compensated for it.
Treating customers well is a great long-term strategy to growing your business. It doesn’t always turn into sales immediately, but it puts a great foundation under your product as it begins to grow and get in front of more eyes.
Just Keep Shipping
If you’ve run a business for any amount of time (especially as a solo-founder), you know that there’s always work to be done.
Whether it’s product features, content, customer service emails, finances & taxes, refactoring code, writing documentation… the list is endless.
This can be daunting, and sometimes it’s hard to sit down everyday and know exactly what to do.
Rather than knowing exactly what to do, and exactly when to do it, it’s best to approach the work in a wholesome and disciplined way. Just. Keep. Shipping.
A general tip would be to work on whatever you feel like working on, as long as it’s productive and it’s not in avoidance of something that is prohibiting the business from functioning properly.
For instance, you probably shouldn’t be writing content if your billing integration isn’t working. But, if everything is going well, you can build features, write content, or do whatever.
Customer service has a timeline. You don’t always have to respond immediately, but responding quickly is nice. People like that. So customer service will be a small part of everyday.
Another tip for what you should be working on: things that lower your support requests.
The more you can automate away support requests, the more time you have to keep building features and writing content and working on things that add value to the business (not just keep the business afloat).
And no, I don’t mean just write more documentation and FAQs about how to do things, I mean make the product more friendly, intuitive, and stable so that people don’t have to ask you questions in the first place.
When I first started my product, every day there were different requests I had to perform manually. Changing people’s card information. Sending change password emails. Canceling subscriptions. Letting people know exactly when their free trial ended. Etc.
But, over time I built all of those things into the tool in a way that allows even the least tech-savvy customer to be able to perform them for themselves.
These days I get 1-2 emails a day from existing customers, and 1-2 chat support requests from potential customers. It’s so nice to not spend all day talking to people, and being able to spend my time working on things that grow the business.
So, is adding the ability to change a customer’s account password growing the business? Not necessarily. But, you not getting support requests gives you your time back. And as solo-founders, that’s all we have is our time. We can’t offload the work to others.
It’s best to approach shipping (features and content) in a small, consumable way. You can build big things, but with smaller steps that trend in the right direction. If you have a clear product vision, you will know what direction to head in.
You build your app one line of code at a time. It won’t happen in one day, and it might not even happen in one month, but over the years the thing you will have built will be bigger and more valuable than you could have imagined.
The Price Is Right
I’m not a pricing expert, but I do know one thing: charge more.
Here’s my rule of thumb: charge high enough so that people who are cheap and don’t want to pay complain about your price, and low enough so that people who understand it’s value think it’s a steal.
Especially when I first started, I got so many responses that $30/month was way too much to pay for an app. Now, the app just grows on autopilot. I don’t even have to attempt to convince the people who don’t want to pay that it’s worth it, because I can just get good customers who appreciate the product for what it is.
Bad customers will suck the life out of you. I would probably not charge less than $30/month, but it depends on the market and the product. Good customers will leave you alone, and they will pay you without complaint.
One of these days I will follow my advice and actually charge more for my product. As it is, I have never increased the pricing, though I have shipped 10x in value in added features for the customer. This has made it easier to sell (as of late) but there are larger fish in the pond that have deeper pockets and want more powerful tooling. Those are the customers I want.
Your pricing matters because as a solo-founder, you don’t want a million customers. You don’t want to handle the support requests from that many people, and be responsible for a service that number of people depend on everyday.
You want to have ~1000 customers to be able to make the money you want to make. If you want to make $1000/month, charge $1/month (just kidding. Never do that.) At over 600 active customer’s I’m making $18k/month, which is plenty for me an my family to be able to do just about anything we want.
If I was charging $100/month, I would be at almost $60k/month (but who knows if I would have been able to get that many customers).
So that’s the game. Generally, you can charge more than you think, and if it solves a strong enough problem people will pay for your solution.
So, the basic gist of this post is to say that getting from $1k MRR, to $10k MRR, to $20k MRR, is just more of the same.
There’s definitely things you can do right, and things you can do wrong. But when you find out what works, you just end up doing it over and over again to drive growth.
I firmly believe if what you are working on genuinely helps people and provides value, you can build just about anything in 5 years. It might take more time, it might take less time, but helping people is always good in the end.