Launching my first SaaS product in 54 hours, 20 minutes, and 5 seconds

I’m looking for about 25 early users for my new SaaS product, written about here, which provides easy FAQs for mobile apps. Early users will help dictate the future roadmap, will get direct support from me, and will get a steep discount in exchange for their feedback. If you are interested use the following 50% off (forever) coupon to sign up, https://appfaqs.co/?coupon=50percentoff and then send me an email at matt@appfaqs.co.

Success!

AppFaqs.co is officially live! I’ve never successfully built a SaaS product before, but oh have I tried. The number of zombie projects littering my hard drive is large (> 15). It always starts in some insane burst of motivation that fizzles out faster than a banana with a santa hat thrown at the sun (theoretically). After that insane burst, I usually feel slightly guilty the week after I started it, but I push that little voice down inside my head. Then I forget about it.

Doing things differently

Startup culture seems to be an insane treadmill, in which you are supposed to launch a product, raise money, and then become the giant company you hated in the first place. Given my troubling past with co-founding an externally funded startup (see this post, although I am happily employed at a funded startup currently), I’ve recently been discovering the bootstrapping community. The thing I like most about the bootstrapping community is that it’s less about valuations and vanity metrics and more about lifestyle. Last week I listened to an episode of BootstrappedWithKids in which one of the speakers rails against just how much shit we have materially that’s useless to us. Taking inspiration from the bootstrapping community, I decided that I would build a SaaS product with the goal of making it a virtual small business. In doing so I also set forth several rules for myself.

1. Building the product should not interfere with my life. I would much rather spend time with my girlfriend or grab a drink with my friends than be staring at a computer.

2. I am happily employed. Building the product should not impact my performance at my day job. Rather, it should improve my effectiveness at my day job by allowing me to experiment with technologies I might not otherwise have used.

3. I don’t care how long it takes to build. As stated before this is a lifestyle business, not a twisted horror flick where I have to code my way out in under 1.5 weeks.

4. In the future, I would love if the product became my sole income provider. I’m also happy if it brings me a few hundred extra a month and allows me to tinker with tech and marketing strategies I find intriguing.

What did you decide to work on?

One of my iOS apps, Reverse Phone Lookup+, was causing 3-5 support emails to hit my inbox a week. Not a lot, but enough that I was doing a bad job replying to them. From there I decided that I should build a tool that reduced the number of support tickets I received, so that this newly born SaaS product would have at least one happy customer.

Alright you nutter, how’d it go?

I would introduce this with some grand flourish, but really… it’s just a chart. It shows the number of hours I worked on the initial release, including coding time, time spent reading technical books related to the project, setting up ssl, exploring hosting options, etc.

Created using Caato Time Tracker and Excel
Created using Caato Time Tracker and Excel

Some interesting factoids:

  • I started work May 16, 2015 and pushed the first version live to Heroku on August, 13 2015.
  • Total time spent working on the product was 54 hours, 20 minutes and 5 seconds.
  • There are often long streaks where I don’t work on the product at all. For example, I didn’t work on the product for 9 days between May 20 and May 29th.
  • The largest chunk of continuous time I spent working on the project was 3 hours.
  • I often have multiple entries on days I work. I use a modified Pomodoro Technique in which I take long breaks often, and whenever I feel like it.

How did you stay motivated this time?

Following the ground rules I set out above, I was able to focus on enjoying the process rather than racing my own ghost down into a lonely hell of my own making. Tortoise, not that egotistical Hare.

I also decided that I should read any technical book that would improve me as an engineer and could be applicable to the project. I worked through Mastering Modern Payments and Rails 4 Test Prescriptions. Mastering Modern Payments was great at providing confidence in the recurring billing system I built on top of Stripe (really Stripe did all the work, and I’m some sort of parasite). Rails 4 Test Prescriptions reinforced the pseudo-not-quite-purist-TDD process I like to use, and provided a fantastic base for building out every sort of test I needed. Highly recommended, and it made me much more confident with RSpec at my day job.

Another motivation booster was my ability to axe launch features. I use Trello to organize my tasks, with product features going into a ‘V1 release’ list and a ‘should be done someday’ list. If I found a feature boring me, and it could even feasibly be cut, it got cut. The initial version launched with everything I needed to personally add it to my own apps:

  • Support for multiple subscription price points
  • Standard user registration functionality
  • A decent landing page
  • Ability to add Apps to your account
  • Ability to add Questions to your apps
  • A CocoaPod for easy integration into iOS apps
  • Tracking for the iOS integration
  • Analytics (GA and Mixpanel from the wonderful Segment)
  • Good test coverage
  • Some decent legal docs from RocketLawyer

Things I didn’t launch with include:

  • Ability to cancel or change a subscription. I manage that manually.
  • A free trial (although I’ve since added a 14 day free trial).
  • A sexy logged in UI. It’s functional, but it’s not going to win any awards.
  • Any sort of pre-launch functionality or waiting lists. Since this is a long term virtual small business that I myself will use, I found it more exciting to market a fully functional SaaS app than a landing page to collect email addresses.The pre-launch hype boggles my mind a little bit, why are we in such a rush?

How was ‘launch’ day?

I hate that day. Launch days for people without pre-launch functionality is like throwing a grain of sand into a lake and hoping somebody notices. It’s usually not fun, and it’s usually dead silent.

I posted a show HN since that felt like the closure to my ‘V1 Release’, and promptly went to bed. The next morning I awoke to an email saying it had been added to Product Hunt, and it did surprisingly well by finishing in the top 10 for the day. Didn’t generate as many paying customers as I was hoping for, but it still felt good to see some positive encouragement and warm leads.

I should also mention that if you happen to change DNS providers the night before you ‘launch’, you should probably make sure your MX records get transferred over. In my infinite wisdom, I totally forgot and was unable to receive emails for most of ‘launch day’ which probably resulted in a few lost leads. Oh and DNSimple is awesome, especially for Heroku SSL configurations.

What’s next?

The next Trello board of mine is called ‘Get 10 Paying Customers’. Any marketing or product enhancements are being viewed through that lens, and I’m reading Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. I’ve been reading Gabe Weinberg for a while, and enjoy following his progress with DuckDuckGo.

I’ll be writing a followup post with my current thinking on the best way to get those first ten customers, so if you want to hear about it please sign up for my email list in the side bar. My leading theory, is to build out a core group of early users from my own social circles and the first few people to sign up and offer them special features like a ‘featured’ spot on the home page, VIP support, and some ability to dictate the future feature roadmap.

If you’ve got thoughts about how to get those first ten customers, or just want to share some love (or hate? But that seems mean) I would love to hear from you in the comments!

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