We’ve been asked a lot by our clients over the years why Kinsta was born, how we started it, and how we got to the level at which we are now. Each company and startup has its own unique story, and personally, I love to read them because I always find a few hidden gems, tips, and how-tos we can use and apply to our own business.
This article is about the lessons we learned during our bootstrapping journey, and how we turned our startup into a 7-figure business. Some of our decisions turned out to be great, while others cost us a lot of money and time. But I want to show you that it’s possible to build a profitable SaaS business even if you don’t have any connections, resources, or money.
For those of you who have successfully bootstrapped a business from the ground up, some parts of this post will sound familiar and you’ll probably relate to what I’m talking about. For those of you who are just looking to start your first business, I’m going to try and show you the pros and cons of bootstrapping, what it looks like, and what worked for us. Hopefully, you’ll find something that is applicable to your business.
What is one of the most critical thing startups lack? Time.
To be clear, don’t expect any secret growth hacks that nobody has ever used before or silver bullets that will earn you instant big media mentions and thousands of signups. We’re not smarter or more clever than you. Your success really all depends on you and how much you want to succeed.
Achieving millions of annual recurring revenue (ARR) from zero feels good. In fact, it feels great. 😉 But once you reach this you’ll quickly move on and start thinking about your next steps, your next product, service, add-on or marketing channel that will bring you a buttload of new leads and customers. Your next goal suddenly becomes the 8-figure revenue mark and how to get that.
But it’s important to note that running a business is not just about the money or X figures of revenue. It’s about building a team, solving problems continuously day after day, driving innovation, hiring and firing, responsibility, self-learning, self-management and so much more. It’s something that cannot be learned in school or taught by anyone. You need to do it, practice, solve problems, make mistakes, learn from them and improve.
I hope this post will shed some light on bootstrapping and will inspire more of you to start a business.
Alright, Shall We Begin?
First, let’s start with a little background that might add context to this story.
Kinsta was founded by four of us; Mark, Anita, Peter and myself. Back in 2013, we provided web development and online marketing services for small and medium-sized businesses. It was fine but wasn’t fun and most importantly we discovered that business model wasn’t scalable. We had to find new clients each month to maintain the revenue, but due to the limited resources, we couldn’t start more projects which were required for growth. We knew we had to change this.
At the time, we were working exclusively with the WordPress content management system. Why? Because it’s free, has tens of thousands of extensions (plugins and themes), and you can relatively quickly build any type of website using it. However, after we finished a project the client usually asked the following:
Can you provide hosting for my website? I’m not a sysadmin and don’t want to deal with it.
And we replied no, we don’t provide web hosting. 20 similar cases later we clearly saw that this was a business opportunity and after several discussions between us, we finally decided to give it a try.
Now, 4 years later, Kinsta provides web hosting for thousands of WordPress sites. Our clients range from small businesses and blogs up to large Inc. 500/5000 enterprises. It’s a managed solution, meaning we take care of the infrastructure, server updates, protection of your site, analytics, make sure they load blazingly fast, and provide 24×7 support.
What I can tell you is that we never ever imagined how hard it would be, how many issues we would face on a weekly or monthly basis, and how much sacrifice would be needed to make it work. We’re a 100% bootstrapped company. When we decided to give Kinsta a try back in 2013 we didn’t have any money in the bank, just what was in our pockets.
Previously we’ve written about the benefits of bootstrapping and not going the VC route. Since Kinsta was founded, many VCs have reached out (and keep reaching out) for a potential partnership. But in the first few years, we wanted to own 100% of our business and were absolutely fine with slower growth that’s more controlled. We’re not against VCs at all! They’re great and necessary in a lot of cases. Many businesses in the IT sector (and many others) wouldn’t even exist without them.
But when it comes to raising money, you have to weigh the pros and cons and prioritize things that are important to you. We stuck to our original idea and so we’re a self-funded (I like the term client funded) and bootstrapped business.
Did you know that nine out of ten startups fail? This is the trend and perhaps the nature of the business. If you’re a bootstrapper many of the lessons below will sound familiar to you (hello soulmates). If you’re just planning to launch your new project, keep reading and learn how to help your startup survive and grow. Below are the most important lessons we’ve learned bootstrapping Kinsta from a startup into a business.
1. Build a Brand From Day One
I’m sure you’ve heard the term blue and red ocean strategy or blue and red ocean companies. Red oceans are the industries in existence today where companies try to outperform each other and grab a greater share of the existing market. Cutthroat competition turns this ocean bloody red – similar to a nice playground of sharks. But you know what? A crowded market with lots of competitors means people need that service or product and they are willing to pay money for it.
Then you have blue ocean companies, which operate in an untapped market space and create demand while having the opportunity for rapid growth. The competition is low or non-existent.
If your new venture is a blue ocean company that’s great; you can be an industry leader and dominate your niche. However, blue ocean often means the customer pool is low and sometimes it’s a completely new field. There might not even be a need for your service or product yet.
Chances are a lot higher that you’ll find yourself in a red ocean environment among established companies with years of advantage on their side. They have revenue, a large client base, established social media presence, and big marketing budgets. So how can you compete with them in the long-term? The only way is if you have a brand and you consciously build it from the beginning. A brand that your potential user base can recognize and remember.
You can only differentiate yourself from your competitors if you have a brand. I see so many companies out there using non-brandable names (general terms/location+keywords), such as michigandesigner.com, denverdesignagency.com or bestwphosting.com.
Even if these generic-branded companies provide a great service, I probably wouldn’t spend money with them as there is a lack of trust. If you do business, do it as a brand and stand out from the crowd by having your own brandable name.
I remember we spent several weeks coming up with the final name “Kinsta.” We weren’t sitting 24/7 staring each other’s eyes, we were just thinking about it while working on other tasks. You need to find something unique, short, and brandable.
2. Getting Your First 100 Customers Is the Hardest Journey of Your Life
Your website is ready (actually it’s never ready, but good enough to start) and you’re waiting for your first clients to come and pay for your service. The sad reality is that they won’t come unless you make sure they know about you. Your business is brand new, you don’t have any clients, testimonials, or company history, so why would they trust you? I’m sure you have heard of Moz, they have some cool SEO tools. Their founder and content marketing wizard, Rand Fishkin, said the following in one of his Whiteboard Friday presentations:
It takes them 7.5 visits to convert someone into a free trial. Not into a paid customer, just sign them up for a free trial. And Moz has a crazy strong brand and is a well-known player in the SEO industry.
We faced the exact same situation in our first few months in late 2013 and early 2014. Leads were coming in each day asking the following:
Could you show me some of your current clients, or any clients from XYZ industry?
It was hard and frustrating. Even if you’re a very well connected guy with hundreds of friends and business contacts, it’s hard to get your first paying customers. Crazy hard. Here are a few things we did to go about getting our first customers:
- Give away a lot of value, like free content and show that you are an expert – Kickstart your blog section and provide some badass content. Blog often and make sure that what you write is top-notch and useful for your target audience. Content marketing really works and converts when it’s done right. See more about this in the content marketing section below.
- Give away some free accounts – We did this and it worked out pretty good. We were able to partner up with some big publishers and in exchange for free hosting, showcase them on our client’s page along with their awesome testimonials. Plus, being early users, they provided us with some invaluable product feedback!
- Email is free, don’t be afraid to use it – In the early days, I was responsible for our marketing efforts. I’ve built a lot of relationships with other WordPress business owners and bloggers just by reaching out with a cold email to start a conversation. I connected with a lot of people and am still doing this today. I remember we got many of our first clients this way. For example, I reached out to Matthew Barby, a very well-known SEO expert. He’s now the head of Growth at Hubspot.com. I found one of his case studies extremely helpful and reached out to him just to thank him for the post. It turned out he was looking for a new hosting provider as he had outgrown his current environment.
And 3+ years later he’s still our honored customer. See? It all started with a simple email.
I actually use Kinsta for all my hosting (no affiliation to them at all) and couldn't recommend their tech and team more. Amazing service. https://t.co/6sbfI2z0pA
— Matthew Howells-Barby (@matthewbarby) September 14, 2017
The point is that even without any resources, you have options and there are always some creative ways to make some waves and get that ball rolling. As soon as you have your very first paying customer it gets easier to get new ones on board. But getting your first 10 clients takes the same amount of time as getting your first 100!
3. Find the Best Talent Globally (and Even Save Some Money)
We have a distributed team of awesome people all around the world. We have team members in the US, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Nicaragua and so on. Below are a few reasons why we went with a distributed team for Kinsta.
Due to the nature of our service, we have to provide 24/7 support 365 days a year. Not only that, we have to be very responsive! We have clients from all over the world, meaning we need to cover all time zones. If you only work with a local team and need to provide 24/7 global coverage, it could be difficult to manage. However, if you don’t need to provide this level of support, searching globally for your next employees can still be a good idea.
Let’s say you are looking for a developer, DevOps, content marketer or sales agent. The reality is that you probably won’t find the most talented people in your local hometown or even in your own country. And even if you found one or two, there probably aren’t many of them. This tweet below pretty much sums up the benefits of having a partially remote team.
Why we’re 100% remote:
1. No office =💰saver
2. Talent pool ⬆️
3. Our users are from all over the 🌎 only makes sense that we are too
4. Team lives wherever they feel best
5. ⬆️ tools to make it easier
6. Visas in 🇺🇸 are hard
P.S. We’re looking for a designer to join!❤️ https://t.co/Omfii2ZRYW
— Cat Noone (@imcatnoone) November 8, 2017
Many jobs in the IT industry can be done from home and working remotely is now very common. Talented people can manage their time and can be very productive working from a home office. You can also save a lot of money by not renting a huge office downtown.
And did I mention the savings on salaries? A good back-end developer from the West Coast in the United States would cost you 2x or even more than someone from Central Europe. Salaries are the biggest part of business expenses. If you add up these amounts you’ll quickly realize how much money you can save on a yearly basis and invest that money back into hiring other people, or spend more on marketing and product development. Hiring remote workers can have a huge financial implication.
Another piece of advice is that you should hire people smarter than you if you want to succeed. You can be good in coding, sales, and hiring, but you’ll never be excellent. Don’t be a control freak, let someone who can do it better than you, take it to the next level.
4. Build MVP, Launch and Market Early
MVP (minimum viable product) is a common term when it comes to launching your product. Essentially it is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers. If you’re a perfectionist, you probably hate this idea, but let’s move on and get familiar with it. Otherwise, you’ll never launch, and will continue to have more delays and other deadlines. You’ll also miss some early invaluable customer feedback, ability to gauge the market, revenue, and early customers.
We were faced with the same issue and first, it was hard to accept that our product would never be perfect or completely ready. Or that we wouldn’t be able to deliver all the features that we wanted in the first 6 months.
So we built an MVP, which was lacking many features compared to our competitors, but it was good enough to start and market. We didn’t have a staging area, automated SSL, 1 global data center locations, premium DNS integration, or a detailed analytics breakdown in the admin dashboard. But step by step we added all of these. And while we were working on these new must-have features, new clients were signing up for the service each day. We’re really happy that we decided to go this route and launched early. If we had to do it over again, we would approach it the same way.
My advice is to start marketing early. Test the market. Get early feedback and learn from it. Adapt, change, and make improvements. As Steve Blank said, MVP is not a cheaper product, it’s about smart learning. Also, this advice from Hiten Shah below is spot on. In SaaS, you win by continually solving the problem better.
Remember, you’re in the long-term game. So launch early and keep solving the problem your users are paying for.
5. Follow the “Hire Slow Fire Fast” Principle
This one sounds obvious, but not many people follow it. Your employees are the heart of your company. Without them, you couldn’t have the best app or best software. They interact with your customers, they represent your brand, and are responsible for the continued growth of your business. Make sure you treat them well.
Whenever we are about to hire a new team member, we always craft a very detailed job description, post it to several portals, online groups, forums and then wait. Wait to receive 50, 100 or even more applications. Make sure you have a big pool of candidates because that’s how you’ll find your next dream employee.
After that, we start narrowing down the list to the top 5 or 10 candidates. We have multiple rounds of job interviews, usually 2 or 3. Thanks to this we are able to narrow down our list to the top 3 candidates and make the final decision. Yes, this process takes time, usually weeks. If you’re not in a hurry you should follow this slow method, trust me, it’s worth the time.
Like most companies, we’ve also had a few bad hires, but we know why. We didn’t follow the hiring process mentioned above. We were short on time and had to hire someone quickly and couldn’t wait weeks or months to find the perfect candidate. If you’re in a hurry you are more likely to make a mistake.
Once you find out that particular person doesn’t fit into your team and company culture, it’s better to say goodbye as soon as possible and move on. When I say ASAP, I mean within a few days after you realized it’s not going to work. First of all, you don’t have much money and you don’t want to spend it on an employee who doesn’t fit into your team. Second, it doesn’t make any sense to talk about things over and over, trying to change their attitude or personality. Say goodbye and move on.
6. Know Your Numbers and Focus on Profitability
This step is really crucial. If you’re self-funded then you must always know your most important financial metrics. You can only spend the money you made last month, as you don’t have any outside money to invest back in. You’ll quickly learn the importance of cash. Spending money that depends on revenue you generate is a lot different than spending someone else’s money (like VC dollars).
Or think of it like this: “As a kid, you spent your summer job earnings more wisely than the “easy” money your grandma gave you, didn’t you? “
As a bootstrapper you need to generate revenue, otherwise, you won’t survive. You’re naturally more careful. If you keep operating from your hard-earned revenue, in this case, it also means that you’re profitable. And now that you have profit, you can start thinking about it how to distribute it.
In our case, we re-invest as much as possible. We keep hiring new team members all the time and spend more and more on content creation + promotion and paid customer acquisition. The great news is that what you do with the extra money is up to you.
As our MRR grows we can re-invest more and more. Make sure you know the basics of simple financial terms. If someone asks you how much your churn rate is, you shouldn’t answer. Instead, you should ask them “Did you mean revenue churn or user churn?” You’d be surprised how many founders and entrepreneurs don’t know the difference between these two metrics.
At Kinsta we use Baremetrics. These awesome guys provide analytics for Stripe. They built a very intuitive dashboard for processing all of your data from Stripe (and from other sources) and turn them into charts and metrics you can understand, and then make business decisions based on the data. Here’s a demo, make sure you take a look. Another tool I use and recommend is Profitwell, created by Patrick Campbell. It’s completely free!
I carefully watch and try to keep our expenses as low as possible. It’s one of the keys to making things work. We use a lot of SaaS products to power our business. From time to time we review them and make sure we pay only for those we actually use and need to run the business. Regardless of your size, I’d advise you do the same, cancel everything you don’t use or that doesn’t provide any value for your business.
When you’re just starting your business you’ll have a very tight budget. If you really need a service to run your business, don’t forget to ask for discounts when possible. You shouldn’t be ashamed, it’s just a question and you’d be surprised how many times companies say yes. Remember, it’s business and everything is negotiable. If you cannot pay for it, you can offer them some level of co-promotion or a partnership that’s beneficial for both parties.
Having a limited budget will make you use your money smart, and develop the ability to solve issues in a creative way. It’ll force you to operate profitably from day one. Focus on profitability, otherwise, why are you building a company?
Also, we have a detailed post on pricing make sure you take a look: How a Race to the Bottom Hurts Your Business’s Bottom Line.
7. “I Can’t Solve This” Is Not an Option
I’d suggest you to delete the phrases “I can’t,” “I don’t know,” and “I give up” from your dictionary. It’s not an option. No matter how hard and unsolvable a situation you are facing seems, you’ll find a solution. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or a half year to get it fixed, but you’ll come up with a solution. After you put countless hours of hard work into your company, failing is not an option.
How many times were we faced with a hard situation? Many many times. And you’ll find yourself in the same situation no matter what you think.
Just to mention one example. We were already operating when one day without any notice our Stripe account was suspended due to some fraudulent activity which was out of our control. Stripe’s support replied to our case with a scripted response saying our account was closed permanently and there is no way to reactivate it. You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
We weren’t able to charge credit cards or collect our revenue. We quickly started looking for a solution, however, integrating a new payment processor into your existing system is not a 5-minute job. Despite that, we started to work on it and in the meantime, we crafted this blog post telling our story to the startup community. It was soon trending on HN and Reddit. Stripe then reached out to us to solve the case, because no one likes bad press. You see, first, it looked there is no way to get it solved and within 48 hours we were back in business.
8. It’s Not a 9 to 5 Job. Prepare to Work Crazy Hours
Don’t have any misconceptions, success doesn’t come easy. You’ll have to work your a!?*^£%^ off to get results. It often means sitting 16 hours a day in front of your computer, replying to support tickets, talking to leads, and closing deals. At the beginning, it’s better if you forget about weekends or holidays. I remember back in December 2015, one of our server providers experienced a huge DDoS attack resulting 2-3 days of downtime for our entire data centers. And it happened during the Christmas rush.
Best Christmas ever…
We were sitting in front of our computers 24×7 replying to customers and moving sites all day long to other providers to get the sites back online as soon as possible. You can imagine this wasn’t the Christmas gift we were hoping for, but we’ll never forget it that’s for sure. And most importantly we learned a valuable lesson, and it confirmed our decision that we needed to move our service to the cloud.
For bootstrappers the first few years are tough. Countless entrepreneurs are out there stating that you can build a business from scratch just by working a few hours a day or a week. BS, I don’t believe them and you shouldn’t either, it’s an illusion. We personally know how hard it is to build your business on your own and I’m sure many of you can attest to this.
When I head to the bed at 12 a.m. or later I still have emails I should have replied to, 5+ tabs open with industry news, articles, and tutorials I didn’t have time to read that day, and Trello cards to contribute to. And there is always something else I should have taken care of.
It doesn’t mean my productivity is low or I cannot manage myself, this is the result when you wear several hats at the same time and you don’t have enough time to finish everything by the end of your workday. But that’s fine and let’s say fun as it keeps challenging you each and every day.
If you’re not willing to work crazy hours at the beginning, well maybe you shouldn’t start a bootstrapped business. If you prefer a 9 to 5 day that’s fine, I completely understand and respect that. It has its own pros. But when it comes to bootstrapping and building something from the ground up you have to go the extra mile and work twice as much and twice as hard as anyone else.
9. Dedicate All Your Available Time to Your Business
My advice would be, if you’ve found a good market fit and you truly believe in your idea, dedicate all your attention and resources to it. Don’t treat it as a side project or weekend hobby. What could happen if you fail? Nothing, but at least you won’t regret in the future not giving it an honest try.
Back in 2014, Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit also had to make this decision. ConvertKit is an email marketing solution for bloggers. Nathan had some early success, he had paying customers and some early MRR but ConvertKit didn’t deliver the results he was hoping for. He treated it as a side project, which wasn’t an option anymore. It was decision time. He had two choices, shut it down or focus and work 100% on it.
He decided to give it a try and he dedicated all his attention to ConvertKit. Every other project became secondary and he started working full time on the business. What happened, did he succeed? Well, today they are growing at a very good rate and having a whopping $800k MRR. Not bad.
10. Invest Heavily In Content Marketing and SEO
If you’re a bootstrapped company you probably don’t have any marketing budget at all, unless you belong to one of the lucky ones (congratulations btw!). Either way, your budget is probably very limited.
Starting a PPC campaign and targeting your money keywords or your competitor’s keywords with a 10k+ monthly budget is not an option. Neither is spending thousands on Facebook ads or purchasing a few million banner impressions on industry-leading blogs. But it doesn’t mean you can’t spread the word about your products, services, and knowledge.
There is this thing called content marketing. I’m sure you’ve heard this at least 3x today and probably 95 times this week, but the reality is that this stuff truly works and converts when it’s done the way it should be.
Since day one we took our blog section very seriously, as we didn’t have any other options. Here is a screenshot from our Google Analytics showing how the traffic grew over the years. As you can, see it takes some time to build up your “content reputation.” And building an audience takes even more time and commitment. But after the first 12-16 months, the traffic will grow at a faster rate. Getting good organic traffic takes the longest but pays off the most over time.
The sooner you begin the sooner you’ll see results. We love to publish in-depth, very detailed guides because we believe in quality over quantity. 2 million blog posts are published every day but the reality is that most of them are never read, shared, or linked to by anyone. They are just too general, short, and low-quality and don’t provide any unique value. These posts are a waste of time and resources.
So what should you do? Instead of writing 5×500 word posts a week which take up a lot of your time, research the topic and write a 5000-word bad-ass guide that’s share-worthy and provides real value for your readers. Or publish just 2 posts per month but make sure they’re really in-depth and the best resource in your industry. By following this principle we were able to improve our organic traffic by 571% in 13 months!
To show you what I mean here are 3 well-performing posts on our blog:
WordPress SEO Checklist – 45 Tips for 2017, 10,007 words
You can see these guides get a lot of social shares, acquire links, and drive a lot of organic traffic each day as they rank for dozens of keywords. These posts are very detailed with a lot of visual elements, they are easy to understand, and you can implement the tips immediately. They provide real value for the readers. This is what makes you an authority in your industry. And most importantly this traffic converts readers into customers, as well as newsletter and push notification subscribers.
If you don’t give up your content marketing efforts too early your Google Analytics live overview will look like this throughout most of the day:
Content marketing is a long-term game but it can drive you a crazy amount of quality, targeted, and free traffic which converts into paying customers.
If you have money, ads are great as they can drive you instant targeted traffic, but these are one-time clicks and you have to keep your wallet open to maintain the level of the traffic. Having a great blog or resources section which is up to date and you add new content to on a regular basis can have a huge impact on your business. Buffer, Copyblogger, and Moz have all built an empire based on nothing but content. If you would like to learn more on how to get started, take a look at Bill Widmer’s Seo case study.
11. Sit Down And Get Sh>?! Done. Focus on Important Things
The best way to get things done is to simply sit down and start working on them. There will be always excuses to do something else or you tell yourself that you’ll start working on it tomorrow. But the truth is that no one will do your work for you. Often it’s boring as hell when I need to spend months to figure out our new pricing model, server costs, profit margins, but it’s my job to get it done as soon as I can.
I would advise you to focus on things that really matter as well as applying the 80/20 rule. Let’s take an example, your website design. In the early days don’t waste any time to change the Buy Now button colors on your pricing page from green to pale green, changing your background image, or spending hours to add 3 more icons to your homepage.
Why? Because NO ONE CARES. We did this several times and nothing changed. And we know why.
When your site gets 100 visitors a day making changes like this won’t have any impact. Why? Your sample is too small, tiny, and insignificant. You’re better spending your time driving 1000 daily visitors to your homepage and make changes when it makes sense. When your sample becomes big enough, then that’s the right time to make some CRO tests.
12. Your Weakness Can be Your Biggest Opportunity – Adapt and Move Fast
As an early stage startup with a small client base and lack of resources, you might think that you’re weak and your competitors will eat you alive.
Wrong. You being small compared to them can be a huge advantage. What do I mean? Your competitors have thousands of customers and a robust infrastructure. But they also have a lot of corporate regulations and steps to follow before making any changes.
Usually, it takes them months if not more to implement a feature request, make a UI change or implement an add-on which is crucial for many of their customers. But your hands are not tied by corporate policies or large infrastructure, meaning you can move fast and roll out changes quickly.
When the first production-ready version of PHP 7 was out we made it available to our clients within days! The industry news was all about the benefits of upgrading to PHP 7 and it was already available on our platform. For most of the big guys in our industry, it took 1+ year to make it available for their clients (many still haven’t added it or have made it available only for higher enterprise plans which is nonsense).
I can tell you that by implementing this little change, where you can switch your site from PHP 5.6 to 7 by clicking on a single button, generated us a lot of new business.
This small feature drives a lot of business. Web agencies with big portfolios switched from our competitors to us. Why? Because we were able to move fast and made this feature available. Long story short, being small has also benefits, you just need to look at this in a different way.
13. Network. Make Friends. Help Others. And Hustle.
No matter which industry you operate in, I bet there are a lot of experts, influencers, and bloggers you should, want and need to connect with. You need to be part of this community and make as many friends as you can. You can discuss the latest industry changes, help to solve problems that perhaps one of you has already faced, recommend tools, marketing techniques, services or people to work with and so on.
Unfortunately, we don’t help others as much as we could. We all have personal goals and busy schedules filling out every minute of the day. But building relationships by helping others is very important. Share your knowledge and expertise, give advice on topics you are familiar and comfortable with, share your resources and data if possible, share others content on social media or include them in your newsletter. These little good deeds will come back to you tenfold.
Every man is the architect of his own fortune. Perhaps you’ve planned to send 20 super customized and targeted cold emails this week? Send 30. Send 40 next week. Connect to +1 influencer on social media. Improve your overall productivity just by 1% each week and at the end of the year, it will have a huge impact. Be active on Twitter, and reach out to all relevant blogs in your industry and make sure they know you exist.
Gary Vaynerchuk could have retired many years ago but he’s doing the opposite. He is super active on social media, runs a daily YouTube vlog and podcast, actively gives out advice, tweets you back, leads his media company and other X ventures. And hustling on a late Sunday night is not a problem for him. So what’s your excuse?
Here's one of the secrets … it's 10:59 on a Sunday and I'm hustling
— Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) May 1, 2017
Should I add any comments to his tweet? I don’t think so.
14. Automate, Automate, And Automate Some More
When it comes to scaling your business to the next level one of the key points is how you can handle the increased interest in your service and support requests. The good thing is that there are a lot of great tools, apps, and services you can integrate that makes it possible to manage a huge user base with a relatively small team.
At Kinsta we use a lot of SaaS tools to make our lives easier, and we’ve integrated many third-party services to handle different tasks which help free up the human workload. Machines are perfect when it comes to monotone tasks, because they rarely make a mistake and can complete tasks in a much faster and more cost-effective way. But first you need to solve these tasks and issues manually to get crucial insights about how they should be solved.
Over the years, we’ve automated so many things that it would be hard to mention all of them in this section, but here’s a few of them:
- Thanks to Intercom we automated most of our welcome and onboarding messages
- We send automatic emails when your payment failed
- You get an email when your credit card is about to expire
- You’re automatically notified when your annual plan is about to renew
- Our system checks the volume of outgoing transactional emails so if something is going on and it notifies our sysadmins
- Server load is checked automatically to maintain maximum performance
- Automated and simplified the most support heavy tasks, like website staging creation, staging push to live, SSL creation and renewal, querying error logs on the dashboard, etc.
- And 42 other tasks just in 2017
Users love to interact with real humans, especially if they pay money for your service. So that also means you shouldn’t automate everything. But you should automate all the tasks that can be completed by a code-based or programmable solution. If you don’t, your user base will grow faster than you can hire new engineers and support people to maintain the quality of your service.
15. Shiny Headlines Don’t Reflect The Reality
When you follow Techcrunch, VentureBeat or TNW you might think that building a business is easy. Countless headlines stating “X” raised millions, “Z” has been acquired by “Y,” and XZ doubled their revenue/userbase/customer base in the last 12 months.
We love reading and sharing success stories. But let’s not forget that these stories usually only focus on the results, the great numbers achieved. They almost never mention the years of hard work behind that success. The countless number of working hours, all the profit that has been reinvested, personal sacrifices, sleepless nights, burnouts, health issues and so on.
What I want to say here is that media is often one-sided and we could get the impression that building a business from scratch is easier than ever. It’s true for starting a company but turning it into a business is where the work starts. You will have ups and downs all the time, but hard work pays off and gets rewarded. This image below perfectly illustrates how the life of an entrepreneur looks like:
The road to success isn’t straight. This is another great tweet by a well-known marketer and online entrepreneur Noah Kagan. The point here is not the get rich section, rather the years of hard work needed.
Here's an easy way to get rich. Pick ANY idea. Work on it for 10 years. Done.
— noah kagan (@noahkagan) September 10, 2017
16. Get a Hobby. Seriously.
If you spend the majority of your day in front of a computer you can burn out pretty quickly. Just a few long months later you will find yourself unmotivated and less effective. If you’re passionate about your business you know the feeling because you’re thinking about your next move, feature, marketing campaign 24/7. You’re excited and don’t be surprised when your startup is a frequent performer in your dreams.
But don’t forget that occasionally you need to turn off this type of thinking and spend time with a totally different activity. Your brain needs downtime.
It will help your brain recharge, stay sharp, and the best ideas usually come from a different environment (yeah, the shower effect).
If you already have a hobby that’s awesome! If you don’t, I’d advise you to find one. It doesn’t matter what kind of hobby is it, just make sure you can practice it on a regular basis, it’s fun and can help you disconnect from the business. Mental breaks increase productivity, attention, and encourage creativity.
For example, I have collected antique books since the age of 16. I know a lot about them, I’m in touch with a lot of collectors and it’s pretty challenging to find a 120-year-old book which has only been printed in 100 copies. But it’s fun and a really good feeling when you can build up your collection with a rare volume.
We’d like to say a big thank you to all of our customers! 👏 You’re all awesome and without your support, Kinsta wouldn’t be here.
And to the creators of WordPress and members of the community; without you, it wouldn’t be possible to create outstanding websites. And to our primary partner, Google Cloud Platform, for the awesome global platform you have built over the years and keep improving day by day. Every new data center and feature you release immediately gets passed down to our clients.
We also want to give a shout out to our friends at Stripe for collecting our recurring revenue and providing an awesome payment processor, it’s a dream for our devs working with your code!
And thanks to the folks at Intercom which has powered our support/live chat system since day one. You’re the direct link between us and our customers 24×7.
Finally, I’d personally like to say a huge thank you to all of our team members. You’re the best team! Our clients can always count on you and you’re the ones who turn Kinsta into a service that users love.
What Would We Do Differently?
I’d only mention one thing. We should have launched our affiliate program way sooner. Having a referral program could have a huge impact on your growth. Our program was in beta over the past year and was invite-only. We were working closely with top bloggers to gather as much feedback as possible.
The reason we didn’t launch it publicly, in the beginning, is simple, we didn’t have the time to develop it. We had to focus our efforts on building our infrastructure and features.
If you don’t have any special requirements you can use any 3rd party affiliate solutions and set it up quickly. We do have a special case because besides the one-time affiliate commission we also provide a lifetime recurring commission as long as the referred client stays a client. This is something that none of our competitors do! And finally, the program is live.
If you enjoyed reading this post please take a look at the second part: Growing a SaaS Company – How We Reached the Magical First 1,000 Customers
If you’re still with me, I’d like to say a big thank you for reading this post, as it was 7,000+ words. 😄 Bootstrapping will teach you and force you to operate profitably and innovate constantly. You’ll be faced with countless issues during your journey, but with hard work, consistency, and creativity nothing is impossible.
Have you faced any similar situations to ours? If so, how did you solve them? What has been the hardest thing you have experienced while building your business? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!