Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Eldar and I’m the founder of Growave - the best all-in-one marketing tool for Shopify brands. I would like to share a little about my story. At first, I studied at the university as a computer engineer but did not complete my studies. From the second year of my studies, I started to work as a developer and began my journey to a programming career. For three years, I worked for an IT company and it helped me understand how IT products are being developed and gain hands-on experience.
Later on, I started trying to launch my projects, and a few of them unfortunately failed. Finally, my third project called ThinkLab was successful and market-oriented. ThinkLab was primarily focused on outsourcing and we developed programs and solutions for SocialEngine. This project gave us a better understanding of how to work with customers and build teams.
At that point, our team grew to 15 members, and our company was primarily focused on a small niche. We achieved success and we became one of the top developers in our niche. In our fourth year, we realized that we wanted to try something else and develop a new product. Then we started experimenting, analyzing different markets, and eventually, we stumbled across a growing e-commerce market. We realized that e-commerce has a lot of potentials, and we were interested in developing a product that combined a lot of features and is helpful to merchants.
After months of trying, we were finally able to create the product, which is how Growave started.
We are proud to be the leading IT company with over 70 full-time employees based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It seemed impossible to believe in from the start, as the company was not profitable for a while. We were pioneers in our field, and many people who came into our company gained a lot of experience and knowledge as we grew together. Now Growave earns over 110,000 USD monthly and has 12,000 merchants using the app worldwide.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At first, when we built ThinkLab, it was a successful, profitable, and growing company. However, it was very limited in its niche, and there were a lot of boundaries for us to grow. The project was a success, but after that comes boredom, and we knew what happens in a month or even a year. It was the right time to develop a new product that would be different from what we were doing then. We wanted to know how far we can go and how much we can grow with a new product.
Our team was interested in getting into a dynamic market with no boundaries of how big we can grow. We were researching how we can create something significant and valuable for the e-commerce market. At the same time, we had a fear that our new project might fail because we didn’t have any experience in creating a product for an e-commerce platform.
Also, in Kyrgyzstan, we had little information about developing products for e-commerce, and there was no prior experience in other companies. We had to gather information from different sources and had no one to reach out to in our country.
We started from huge steps and gathered a small team to start working on the product concept and coding, which is not advisable when developing a product. Our team was very comfortable for a while because we depended on profits from ThinkLab as it was a profitable company at that time.
For over six months, we were comfortably sitting in our homes without communicating with potential clients. Our launch was significantly delayed due to the lack of experience and understanding of this market. This resulted in removing many features in a final product as they ended up not relevant for e-commerce merchants.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
From the start, the code that we were using was fundamentally incorrect and had many bugs that could cost us everything. We started from primitive stuff such as analyzing the market, instruments and learning from the experience of other apps. We were mostly relying on successful companies that had a similar niche. At the moment, we had a tiny team and didn't have our UX designer, and it meant that we couldn't do detailed market research. Also, we didn't have a product manager, and I was responsible for this position. Our team couldn't invest as much time in research and gathering all the important information for a successful launch.
In such a situation, we had to rely on a simple MVP and start the market launch. We wanted to test our product on live websites and see if users would use it. The only problem is that we created a large MVP and the process looked like this:
- We wrote down the idea in text format
- Developed an interface that users can try and click on
- Separated the product by teams so they can create A/B test and tasks
At first, Growave started from a group of products and the development of each product took a significant amount of time. The team was split into three groups responsible for one feature and the third group was responsible for experimental features.
After some time we realized that we wouldn’t complete all the features by the launch and some products had to be suspended. Finally, we launched with 3-4 features that were very primitive and contained lots of mistakes and bugs.
I found our first customers primarily through Shopify Community and forums by offering them to try Growave for free. Once we acquired the first 20 customers, I saw that more customers started to find us through the Shopify App Store listing.
Since we did not have enough experience on the market, we launched Growave as a free app, making it easier to attract the first users. Growave remained a free app for more than one year, and we saw the first customers who started to use the app. In the early months, we could count our customers by fingers as we knew each of them by name, location, and type of business.
From their feedback and experience, we started to improve the app and its interface. However, most of the time we had to fix all the bugs and issues with the app. This lasted for quite a long time until we realized that we have to focus on certain products and improve them. We had to remove a lot of code and features that were almost completed because we realized they would not be usable in the future.
Since Growave was only a startup at that time and our employees were registered under our other established company ThinkLab, we didn’t have to file and documentation or register a new company. We didn’t want to lose out time on paperwork because Growave was only in beta-version.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since the beginning, we split our team into three groups responsible for individual roles. I was responsible for acquiring new customers and customer support. Other co-founders and team members were responsible for the development part of the product. My role was not as significant since we did not have as many support inquiries at that time.
I spent most of my time looking for potential customers on various platforms and persuaded them to try Growave. I reached out to potential prospects through forums, Shopify Community and Quora to explain to them the benefits of Growave. Mostly I answered their questions and discussions if they faced a problem on which we can provide a solution with our app. I found our first customers primarily through Shopify Community and forums by offering them to try Growave for free. Once we acquired the first 20 customers, I saw that more customers started to find us through the Shopify App Store listing.
Once we hit the mark of 100 users, we saw a surge of new installations, although some users would delete the app after a couple of days. The app’s description was not correct at that time, and it did not meet some users’ expectations. However, we saw many brands that decided to give a shot to Growave and agreed to collaborate with us.
In the app description, we wrote down that the product is still in the beta version, and we kept it that way for quite a long time. This helped us warn our users that the app is yet being developed and some issues might occur, taking off some responsibility from our shoulders.
Once we reached the customer base of over 500 merchants, we started introducing paid plans and moved from the beta-version. From our side, we worked hard to make sure that the app is stable and functions well in merchants’ stores. By providing a free plan for our product and satisfy our customers’ needs, we managed to gain a snowball effect and increase installation rates.
One of the lessons that we learned from the Growave launch is that we took over six months to launch the product, costing everything. Thanks to profits from ThinkLab, we managed to pull it through. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to release Growave to the market. The app itself was very complicated and included many features that were hard to understand for our users. This complicated the launch as many features had to be removed at the end.
Although Growave was the only app in the market that included such features in one app, we faced a lot of competition from apps launched after us. This was primarily due to the delayed development of the app and trying to fit complicated features in one app.
Lastly, our team was heavily imbalanced since most developers focused on the tech part of the app when only one person mostly managed the support, marketing, and product development. All these responsibilities mostly lay on my shoulders. It was a significant mistake because it is essential to invest a lot of time into research, analysis, and developers’ time wisely.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When we launched the product, we did not use any paid ads and didn’t utilize paid channels. We solely relied on Shopify Community and our app listing as it was effective at that time. Later on, we started to be active on Facebook groups, Quora and Reddit. We mainly invested our time into optimizing our Shopify Store App listing to be visible to more potential customers.
After two years, we started investing in our marketing efforts once Growave began generating profits and saw an opportunity for growth. Since then, we have significantly improved our marketing and retention strategies and continue working on them.
One valuable skill that helped me at work is the ability to listen to others. When you're stuck on a single point of view or idea and do not accept any feedback from colleagues it really creates boundaries for growth.
In 2019 we established a marketing department, and since then, we have started working on our strategy and launched the first campaigns. Our marketing team has begun to work with partners such as Shopify agencies and other Shopify apps. Then we launched our first co-marketing campaign with our partners and saw great results. Also, we worked on content creation and started writing blogs on our website, primarily focused on announcements and news within our company.
Later on, we started testing paid ads on Facebook, Shopify App Store, and Google. At that time, we were one of the first apps to try ads in the App Store, which helped us create brand awareness and increase customer base. We collaborated with various bloggers and content writers to feature Growave in their blogs or Youtube channels. Since then, we have expanded our efforts in content writing, partnerships, and co-marketing. However, we are still testing various channels where we see an opportunity to scale up and grow.
Since the launch of Growave, we didn’t pay as much attention to our retention strategy as it was mostly a manual process. We did not have a large customer base during this time, and our customer support efforts were limited. However, as we saw more merchants installing Growave, we decided to improve our retention strategy since many users would delete an app without trying all the functionality.
Once our team grew we started to automate the process and reach out to the clients who deleted our app or retain our most loyal merchants. Also, we analyze and automate simple tasks to make sure that our merchants do not have to wait too long for a response through tools like Intercom or our CRM.
Our team worked on an improved onboarding process, so merchants can seamlessly install Growave and integrate features that they want. For Shopify beginners, we developed a Knowledge Base where our merchants can find all the relevant information regarding the app or features 24/7. This significantly reduced our customer support team’s load as more merchants can reach out to the available resources and clarify all their concerns. Also, we have a dedicated onboarding representative that can help merchants set up the app or call them if there are any issues or questions.
Lastly, we have a dedicated campaign to get back customers who have uninstalled our app. We reach out to every merchant who uninstalled our app to get feedback and resolve any issues they faced with our app. Also, we analyze their feedback to improve our app, so more merchants stay satisfied with Growave and turn into loyal customers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Since its launch, Growave grew from just three founders to over 70 full-time employees. Our customer base increased from a dozen merchants to over 12,000 brands that use Growave as their marketing solution worldwide. It took quite a long time to become a profitable company, but now we manage to get over $110,000 monthly.
Since 2020 and the start of the pandemic, Growave grew by more than 100% in our merchant base with YoY growth of 105%. Currently, our monthly traffic is 21-27k without ads for our website, with an average time on site 1.33 excluding ads. Thanks to the responsive customer support, we managed to get over 53% customer lifetime value.
We are active on our social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Since February 2021, our reach increased by over 2,000%, thanks to the effective Facebook ads and content. Also, our post engagements increased by over 1,400% due to successful partnerships and content planning. I believe there is still room for growth, and we are constantly testing new channels where we can scale up.
Customer acquisition cost varies from $0.6 to $353, depending on the channel and our tracking ability. Ad cost ranges from $1,000 to $2,000 depending on the platform we are advertising. For now, we can track ROAS for Shopify ads and the all-time average is not performing well. But there are spikes for certain campaigns. Growave’s conversion rate varies depending on the channel and averages from 2% to 10%.
Find a small segment of your customers and create a dedicated product for them. It will help you in the future because you will be able to make uncomplicated products specific to your niche.
Currently, we are working on optimizing Growave’s speed on merchants’ websites and improving our admin panel. In long term, we plan to double our merchant base, increase CLV and test new channels where we can scale up. Our goal is to become the best all-in-one marketing solution for Shopify brands and get a Shopify Plus certification.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
First of all, when you start a startup you will have to sacrifice many things such as time, health, hobbies, and family. You end up working 12 or more hours a day with no free time left, affecting overall well-being and relationships. At this point, you understand that it is crucial to maintain work and life balance. Unfortunately, I realized it only when I started having issues within my own family. Also, relationships with my friends weakened, and I decided that it is time to change things.
Then one by one, I implemented boundaries on how much time I can spend at work or set limits on how much I can stress out about work. This helped me be more productive at work since I got much more energy and became optimistic about life. My life started to improve significantly in all aspects, such as family, friendships, and hobbies.
Second, the circle of people that you work with because colleagues become part of your family. If people around you don’t make you happy or you don’t get along with them, it becomes hard to work in such an environment. I tried to work and find common ground with everyone I work with, but soon I realized that it is not correct in some cases. It is essential to understand what benefit a person can bring to the company. Surrounding yourself with people that you can learn from is the key to a healthy work environment.
I realized that work doesn’t end with the office walls, and many colleagues become very good friends you can rely on. We spend a lot of time at work together, which helps us to build relationships and it makes work feel like a place where you want to go to every morning.
One valuable skill that helped me at work is the ability to listen to others. When you're stuck on a single point of view or idea and do not accept any feedback from colleagues it really creates boundaries for growth. By giving your employees or colleagues freedom to do things on their own or bring new ideas to the team, your company will succeed. Once our company reached over 20 full-time employees, I realized that we have to split into teams and let everyone work individually and be responsible for their tasks. It has become way easier to navigate our departments when each team has their own team lead that can reach out to.
Another important skill when starting a startup is being flexible and finding a compromise with everyone I work with. It is not hard to change my opinion and if I see that someone has a better idea, I will consider and go along with it. This allows all team members to make decisions on their own and find solutions if any problems occur.
Lastly, I’m open to working with people for quite a long time if I see talent or potential in them even if this person does not have the necessary skills. If I see that a person has a passion for what they are doing, I would give them a shot and help them grow within our team.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Y Combinator
- Product University
- Peter Thiel “Zero To One”
- Malcolm Gladwell “Outliers”
- Resources from Intercom
- Laszlo Bock “Work Rules”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
In simple words, learn to understand your customer and it will help you a lot. Find a small segment of your customers and create a dedicated product for them. It will help you in the future because you will be able to make uncomplicated products specific to your niche.
Also, having a product with all the elements for a particular niche will help you stay ahead of the competition. Nowadays, many app developers want to fit a lot of complex features in one app and sometimes their apps fail. They fail to understand customer needs or do the research first, rely on success, or copy ideas from other companies.
Focus on creating a solution that is easy to use and does not have complex functionality or features in it. Creating an all-in-one product is very complex and time-consuming. If you focus on one functionality and build around it then you can succeed.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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