How I Created A $3K/Month Customer Survey Software

$3K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
product
Refiner
from Paris, France
started March 2020
$3,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
621K
alexa rank
197
followers
market size
$917M
avg revenue (monthly)
$534K
starting costs
$37.4K
gross margin
26%
time to build
9 months
average product price
$500
growth channels
SEO
business model
Advertising
best tools
Twitter, Slack, Basecamp
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
28 Pros & Cons
tips
3 Tips
Discover what tools Moritz reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Moritz reccommends to grow your business!
Develop An Online Survey Tool

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Moritz Dausinger and I’m the founder of Refiner.

Before Refiner, I successfully bootstrapped two SaaS companies from zero to exit, went through an acqui-hire by a venture-backed startup, and launched countless other web projects which didn’t really lead anywhere.

Refiner is a user feedback & customer survey tool for data-driven SaaS teams. We help our customers better understand the needs of their users, track customer satisfaction with NPS survey widgets, increase retention rates, and research what to build next.

Refiner officially launched in March 2020, right when Covid-19 struck. A couple of months later we had our first paying customer and we are seeing great traction since.

Last month, we increased our monthly recurring revenue (MRR) by 30% and hit our end of the year goal of $2K MRR.

how-i-created-a-2k-month-customer-survey-software

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The initial idea for Refiner was born when I was still working on my last startup Docparser, a document processing software for SMEs.

This was in 2019. I had just sold Docparser and I was transitioning out of the company that I’ve built. I worked a couple of days per week only. Life was easy and relaxed.

As I love building stuff, I quickly felt the urge to tinker around with new ideas and building something new from scratch.

I was looking into a couple of different ideas, most of them related to what I know best: B2B SaaS.

I finally settled on an idea that would lead to what Refiner is today. A tool for SaaS companies to easily survey and profile their users.

embed:tweet

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The idea for Refiner stemmed from a need we had at Docparser. We were growing rapidly and we were looking for a simple tool to survey and profile the users of our SaaS app.

I made the mistake of building a product for too long without any real user feedback. Start small, get user feedback as early as possible, and iterate!

My plan was to scratch my own itch and built the tool that I wished would have existed.

Before starting to code, I spoke about my plans with a couple of SaaS founders I know. However, I didn’t go through an extensive phase of idea validation.

I strongly believe that you can’t entirely validate an idea unless you have something real to show. Mockups and user interviews are a first step, but ultimately you want to give a real product in the hands of your potential customers.

In hindsight, I should have done my homework better.

I started with a quite fuzzy road map, got derailed on the way, and spent 12 months developing a product nobody actually asked for.

At the end of 2019, I decided to go back to square one.

I deleted most of the code I had written and set myself the goal of publicly launching three months later.

As a lean self-funded startup, our monthly burn rate was quite low and we still had a comfortable runway thanks to my previous exits. What was in the end just a slight detour for us would have probably meant the end for many other startups.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I launched Refiner on Product Hunt in March 2020. I had prepared the launch for a couple of days and it went pretty well. Refiner landed on place #4 for that day.

As expected, the launch on Product Hunt didn’t lead to any paying customers though.

I experienced this with other projects before and was not too surprised. My goal for the launch was to get the word out, acquire some early adopters, and receive a good chunk of user feedback.

The following weeks were obviously quite chaotic due to Covid-19. Launching a new product while going through a lockdown with two young kids at home is not something I want to experience ever again.

A couple of weeks in, I had a couple of happy users that loved the product. This already felt like a huge success.

In the beginning, I generously handed out free accounts. The time felt right though to finally ask users to upgrade to a paid subscription.

In July 2020, Refiner had its first paying customer. 18 months after starting the project. Much longer than anticipated.

Luckily, going from one paying customer to ten only took a couple of weeks.

embed:tweet

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Right from the beginning, I knew that I wanted to grow Refiner through inbound marketing.

Part of this decision was based on the assumption that the average revenue per user (ARPU) would not be high enough to make sales outreach work.

Another important factor was that I just felt more comfortable growing a company that way. I grew my previous two companies through inbound marketing and I’m finding my way around.

We doubled down on SEO and content creation right from the beginning and we knew that it would take time to build up meaningful traffic. We started publishing one high-quality blog post every couple of weeks even before the product was launched.

Today, nearly two years later, those efforts are paying dividends.

We get a constant stream of free trial sign-ups through our blog every day and organic traffic is our main acquisition channel these days.

how-i-created-a-2k-month-customer-survey-software
Diagram showing our organic search traffic slowly compounding over time

Next to organic search traffic, we also run a couple of ad campaigns. Our strategy is to fill in the gaps with paid advertising whenever we don’t rank for a keyword organically. We are thinking about stopping with paid advertising shortly though.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Things are great! We see double-digit growth numbers each month and it feels like we are just getting started. The following tweet sums up quite nicely how I feel about Refiner today.

embed:tweet

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

When I just got started with Refiner, I made the mistake of building a product for too long without any real user feedback.

I believe that the key to entrepreneurial success lies in the execution. Showing up every day and pushing your idea forward one step at a time has been my recipe for success in the past.

I think it’s a classic beginner mistake. And even though I’ve built several companies before and talked at length about the importance of having a feedback loop, I fell into the trap once again.

Advice to future me: Start small, get user feedback as early as possible, and iterate!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Refiner was built with Laravel and Vue.js. We run on the AWS cloud and love how easy it is to scale up our platform if needed.

For day-to-day operations, we are using Slack, Gmail, Google Drive, Trello, Hubspot, and Customer.io.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

If you are looking to bootstrap a software company that you eventually want to sell, I can highly recommend Zero to Sold by Arvid Kahl. The book is pretty much a step-by-step guide on how to validate your idea, build your MVP, and structure your company.

I also enjoy listening to the Startups for the Rest of Us podcasts, Rogue Startups, and Bootstrapped.fm.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

I believe that the key to entrepreneurial success lies in the execution. Showing up every day and pushing your idea forward one step at a time has been my recipe for success in the past.

One good thing about entrepreneurship is that even small efforts compound. It’s crazy how much you can achieve, even as a solo founder, if you just stick to something over time.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, we are always looking for exceptional talents! We are a small team of Doers and our goal is to stay as lean as possible. Right now we are looking for a senior developer (Laravel, Vue.js, AWS) who can ultimately take the lead on product development.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Moritz Dausingerr,   Founder of Refiner
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

Discover the best strategies of successful business owners

Join our newsletter and receive our handcrafted recap with the best insights shared by founders in Starter Story each week.

Useful, convenient, and free:

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published.

Want to develop an online survey tool? Learn more ➜