How I Turned A Client Request Into My Own $5K/Month SaaS Product

$5,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
ConvertCalculator
from Rotterdam
started January 2017
$5,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
364K
alexa rank

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

Hi all! My name is Joris de Ruiter and I’m the founder of ConvertCalculator, a SaaS business that helps small businesses automate their sales processes and grow their business.

I started coding the project in September 2017 and launched the MVP in one week. One week later, I onboarded my first paying customer.

Since then 3500 businesses signed up which resulted in over 1 million calculator page views. Right now, the business makes $5000,- in monthly recurring revenue with 150 customers.

how-i-turned-a-client-request-into-my-own-5k-month-saas-product

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

I started my first business together with my roommate when I was at university; a creative agency. We started out doing social media and online marketing campaigns. We pivoted to web design when we were one year in. We mostly build simple marketing websites for small businesses, also doing SEO and online marketing.

So instead of quoting my client, I suggested they pay $30,- per month for it. They said yes. This was my first validation for the product.

Besides client projects, I started over 10 projects to get out of the “money for hour” trap. All of them failed.

After building websites for a couple of years, I realized my talent lay mostly in coding more complex web applications. I quit the agency to do web development contract work, all alongside my search for that one project which would take off.

In September 2017 a client approached me and asked if I could build a “calculator” for their website. I thought about all those times entrepreneurs approached me wanting a “price quote calculator” for their website. In nine out of ten cases it was just too expensive to build.

So instead of quoting my client, I suggested they pay $30,- per month for it. They said yes. This was my first validation for the product.

I just listened to Tyler Tringas’ podcast on Indiehackers, which suggested to check Upwork for the demand of a potential product. I did that by searching for “price quote calculator”, and yes, I found several requests for developers to build custom price quote calculators. This was the second validation for the product.

This was enough for me to get an MVP out. I created it in one week, launched my marketing website and showed the calculator to my client. They loved it, but the project was put on hold, so no paying customer yet. You can imagine that this really bummed me out.

I decided to promote ConvertCalculator on Quora and Help forums for website builders.

how-i-turned-a-client-request-into-my-own-5k-month-saas-product

An example of a Quora comment. Check it out here.

One week later I got my first user ready to start paying. The problem was I didn’t offer a way to upgrade yet. I remember I was at the airport and getting a third email from that customer “complaining” that he couldn’t checkout yet.

I was going on a surf trip and didn’t want to keep him waiting, so I started coding in the plane, pushing the update out when I arrived in Portugal. When I came back from my first surf, I got my first payment confirmation email from Stripe.

That was the validation I needed to keep going!

Take us through the process of building the product.

So I got my first paying customer in the door, followed by a second one a couple of days later, but the product was still very early-stage.

I learned from previous projects that the worst thing you can do is develop behind closed doors, so I started improving the product incrementally, with a lot of input from customers. In fact, I scheduled 2-3 calls a week to get more and more insights on my customer's real challenges.

I knew I needed months of coding to get to real product-market fit. I learned from previous projects that the worst thing you can do is develop behind closed doors, so I started improving the product incrementally, with a lot of input from customers. In fact, I scheduled 2-3 calls a week to get more and more insights on my customer's real challenges.

Two of my core values are freedom and independence, so you can imagine I am really big on bootstrapping. This meant that 2018 was a hectic year; building and growing ConvertCalculator and doing contract work to pay the bills.

End of 2018 I was on $2500,- MRR, and I decided to go full-time; hoping I had enough runway (with my limited savings). That proved to be successful and I haven’t looked back ever since.

Until today I do everything myself, development, design, marketing, and customer support. The only help I got (big help I must say) was from a startup advisor. He helped me prioritize, make better decisions and focus more on the customer. He is now a dear friend, and we created a side-project together called ContactBubble; a floating contact form for your website.

Describe the process of launching the business.

There is not a lot to say about my product launch. I don’t really believe in those “great moments that change everything”. In my view, it’s all about showing up every single day, making progress in small steps.

I didn’t really have a smart launching strategy, I just pushed my website and app to production and started talking about it online. I initially didn’t launch on websites like ProductHunt or HackerNews. I never felt my product was good enough. I did get a lot of customers via Google, product forums, Quora. A year into it I decided to launch on ProductHunt and HackerNews. My product performed reasonably well there, but I didn’t get a lot of actual customers via these channels.

When I “launched” I just picked a price that felt right and went with it. I had three plans (Hobby: €9, Pro: €20, and Premium: €60), but I hadn’t had time to build actual Premium features, so you can scratch the last one.

Over time the product became more valuable, so I decided to increase pricing. That’s the best thing I could have done! Not only did revenue increase, but conversion rates did go up as well. My advice to anybody is to “raise your prices”.

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

The single most important thing related to growth to date is SEO.

In my opinion, It’s the only truly sustainable way of growing a SaaS business that you can control directly. Another one is word-of-mouth, but that’s something you earn with creating a solid product and doing good customer service.

how-i-turned-a-client-request-into-my-own-5k-month-saas-product

My main strategy for SEO was creating landing pages for every single use case of the product, such as lead generation, quote building, and order forms. This way I could focus every page on a small set of keywords, that all flow to the homepage, which is optimized for, the more general, term calculator form.

Although this strategy worked, I realize I need to focus more on creating blog posts to cover niche subjects and provide my customers with valuable information on how to run their business online. Another opportunity is link building, on which I didn’t focus at all.

I haven’t explored a lot of other growth areas yet (besides launching on ProductHunt and Hackernews). The reason being that I do customer support myself and I want to remain sane and grow calmly.

Actually, The second part of 2019 will be the perfect time to explore other growth channels, especially advertising and content marketing. So exciting times ahead.

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

I can’t complain! ConvertCalculator is profitable and growing at a steady (but small) pace. The down-the-line conversion rate is 1.1% (from visitor to paying customer), which is ok and the customer lifetime value averages around $700,-. I would say that I’m ready for the next phase: growing the business.

I have two goals for 2019. The first one is growing too $ 8000,- MRR. As I mentioned earlier I can achieve this by experimenting with other growth channels and spending more time on marketing in general.

The second goal is to phase myself out of the day-to-day operations, meaning that I can spend all my time on product development and strategy. To make that possible, I will need to (1) improve documentation and UX and (2) hire customer support and marketing specialist.

I have a long-term goal as well, although not directly related to ConvertCalculator; I want to live a more balanced life. That means that I want to spend 3-4 hours a day on work, and leave enough time to spend on things and people that bring me true happiness.

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

Yes definitely! I’m a person with a lot of imagination and I’m always thinking and dreaming about big and crazy things. This is great for creativity, but you can imagine I have had real difficulty with productivity / sitting down and getting things done.

The absolute number one is “do fewer things”. Focus on the truly essential stuff, and do this right. Don’t put all that other stuff on a todo list either, maybe write it down somewhere if that helps, but I don’t do that either.

Starting a business means you’ve got to carry your own weight. This pressure kept me in work mode and learned me to stay grounded. From the success of ConvertCalculator in particular, I learned that grit is the number one derivative for success.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For customer support, I used to use a chat app, but I didn’t like to be in “support mode” all the time, so I created my own tool called ContactBubble, making it easy for people to reach us and easy for me to answer questions. Because customer requests are just sent to email, I need a good email client/customer support platform to follow up. I use Front and I love it!

For hosting, I use Heroku and MongoDB Cloud. The dev stack is based on MeteorJS, with React and TailwindCSS (love this!).

For email marketing, I’m using MailterLite, but I’m going to try out EmailOctopus. I haven't found any good (and reasonably priced) tool for email automation, so this is all hard-coded in the platform.

For productivity I use Trello.

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

The IndieHackers podcast helped me a lot! I remember countless times when I was in my car to go surfing and listening to another podcast and thinking: Yes I need to do this!

Regarding books, I got a lot of guidance from Essentialism; this especially helped me to not do things, in order to focus on more essential things. I also get a lot of inspiration from reading books about eastern philosophy, especially Zen.

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

The absolute number one is “do fewer things”. Focus on the truly essential stuff, and do this right. Don’t put all that other stuff on a todo list either, maybe write it down somewhere if that helps, but I don’t do that either.

Another important lesson I learned is that “done is better than perfect”. So let go of your inner perfectionist and get the work of the door.

The last one, and I think that’s the major reason why all my other projects failed, is ** to talk to customers**. You don’t have to do everything (or anything) they say, but you will learn a ton. I scheduled 2-3 calls per week for a full year now, and I still get valuable insights from customers sometimes.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I’m about to fill the first position, so no. I want to be careful with hiring; I want to hire when it really hurts.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about ConvertCalculator via our website. If you are interested in ContactBubble, you can find it here.

You can find more about me and the other projects I’m doing, you can go to Stay Bold.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Joris de Ruiter,   Founder of ConvertCalculator

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