Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Alex Bozhin, founder & CEO at Postoplan, an automated marketing platform for social media and messengers that enables users to create content and plan its publication. We have more than 112,000 users in 147 countries.
Since launch, we have already reached $1M in revenues and an average annual revenue growth of +25% MoM. In 2020, Postoplan was named among Estonia’s TOP 5 most promising startups; it was a Finalist of the Global Business Owners Startup Awards in 2021; and won 2nd place at Seedstars Tallinn in 2020. We are a highly attractive startup among business angels and venture funds.
We are the world’s only marketing platform for content creation and publication that enables automated posting to WhatsApp. Postoplan is also the only platform based on a Freemium subscription model, enabling our startup to uphold its mission of helping small & medium businesses.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have 15 years of experience as a senior marketer, CMO, and Head of a marketing agency. I have worked with such international brands as T-Mobile and Mastercard, established and managed more than 10 companies. I have lots of experience with advertising on social media, as I’ve been doing it from the very start, as soon as the resources become available. In my own agency, we used all kinds of instruments to work with social media, and I always felt as if something was missing – and oftentimes, many things were missing.
Don’t work with things you don’t like. Work with things that make you happy, change your approach, and I promise you, you’ll be successful.
That’s when I thought that the way it’s done now doesn’t work, and I had an idea: if the other instruments don’t work, how about creating my own instrument to work with social media? With that thought came an understanding that I shouldn’t be doing it just for myself, but for all the users and companies, because I can revolutionize this market. That was my Aha! moment.
After two months of studying the market, the landscape, the market players, I realized that I wasn’t mistaken and that there is a big niche for our product on the market. That we may grow and become a very powerful and successful company. Two months later, I had registered a domain name and started the company-building process.
I already had experience in this area, so before putting the product into development, I personally polled employees of ad agencies and small business owners: “What is missing from existing instruments? What do you need there? What do you like very much?” Altogether, I did over 60 face-to-face interviews.
Later, even at the stage of product development, we were in constant communication with our first clients to confirm all of our hypotheses.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
It took us nine months to roll out the product’s first version, and we joke that it was like a baby for us. It was all very exciting and gave us lots of insights and a trove of experience.
It all began with a clear-cut plan of what we are doing and why. I quickly realized that the scope of work is so great that it has to be divided into several iterations. I know from experience that if you start to make a spaceship without building a car first, the results may be disappointing.
I know stories of teams that took six years to create a product, and by the time they rolled it out, the market did not need it. Keeping that in mind, we first focused our efforts on making the service of delayed social media posting. Of course, this stage was accompanied by constant market monitoring, polls, and research into business and marketing needs – this allowed us to create a backlog of features.
Nine months later, we had to decide: we either roll out an incomplete product for the users to try it out, or we spend many more months finishing the product, running out of money and motivation in the process. We decided to launch.
Right away, our first users pointed out the areas where we would have to invest the most resources. For example, we got rid of integration with YouTube and Pinterest, because our users didn’t have much use for it, and this work was taking away our resources. Through several iterations, we changed the monetization model, improved the service and its scope. MVP is scary for any founder, but these things have to be done. Without an MVP, you are working in a vacuum, and there’s no guarantee of future success.
Today, we have more than 10 software engineers on our staff, and we only had two at the start. Today, we have experience working with thousands of clients around the world. If you ask me now: “Alex, is your product 100% ready?”, I’ll tell you: “No, we have years of work ahead of us.” Because there are always ways to improve the product. In the beginning, it will be its features, then, you’ll have to improve your code, then, the speed of hiring, then, customer support – and so on.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We decided to do our launch via Product Hunt. We got over 1,000 users, including paying ones – and that’s super important. We still have users who joined us after that launch: we stay in close communication with them, and they constantly tell us the things we do right or wrong. We are always asking for their advice, and this enabled us to focus our efforts on things that the users really need. Turns out that not everything is as indispensable as we thought. Don’t be afraid to start, it’s not as awful as it looks.
After that, we began looking for investors and tried running a paid advertising campaign. We had our first 2,000 users without any ads. Right away, from the start, we began looking for money, and about a month later, we received seed investment from a good friend of mine. He believed in our idea and my entrepreneurial skills, and we are forever grateful. We had to grow fast, but we didn’t have the funds to support such growth.
We couldn’t enhance our team and invest in marketing at the same time – and at this stage, the bulk of our spending was on the team. It was a difficult time, very nerve-wracking, and with truly high stakes. I had to communicate with investors, while simultaneously managing the team, working with the product, and standing my ground. There simply weren’t enough hours in a day.
Two months later, we raised another 50,000 euros. It was then, after three or four months of this “all hands on deck” kind of work, that we had enough money for a paid advertising campaign. This is to say that you should start looking for investors way ahead of your launch.
I learned an important lesson at that time: always be realistic in your assessments of the product launch, and keep things under control. I originally set the deadline of five months, after which we had to roll out for the general public. But when that time came, the team didn’t have the results I was expecting, and it was totally my mistake because I didn’t delve into the development process and didn’t ask the team whether we’ll make the deadline.
If your co-founder is the CTO, stay in constant contact with them and assess the feasibility of anything realistically, because the assessments are almost always out of touch with reality. The process of writing a code is quite flexible and that leads to frequent mistakes: the original assessment might’ve said the code will take 100 hours to write, but in the end, it took 180 hours. At the start, the founder must focus on all the details and keep all processes under control – that’s the only key to success.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We began our promotion at Product Hunt. Afterward, we obviously went on social media, joined discussions at various communities, drawing people’s attention to ourselves. We also did our own search optimization.
In the beginning, we wanted to grow very fast, seeing the potential of resources available to us, but we didn’t have a budget for proper promotion. Once the first investors joined us, we began to put money into advertising. First, we ran an ad campaign on Facebook, because our product is a social media instrument, and because small businesses and marketing professionals who are a part of our target audience are all on Facebook.
We ran simple ads on Facebook for different markets and in different languages. When we launched, our platform was already available in seven languages. Over the first two months, we added two more.
Then we noticed that our Facebook campaign was only effective for small-scale advertising and began to plan our campaigns with that in mind. Just as with our product, we decided to apply the practice of trial and error to our marketing strategy, trying out all the instruments searching for the most effective one.
We worked with professional marketing communities, tried Google Adwords, which had a good rate of conversion. We partnered with others, tried to send out PR newsletters. During this period, we were still working more closely with those who came to us on recommendation but kept the feedback loop even with those who joined us through marketing activities. Someone would pay for a month, and someone else wouldn’t – and I would write to them: “Why not? What are we doing wrong?” This way, I got information about the features we lack to make people stay. Keeping in touch with your users is actually a no-brainer, but few companies actually do it. The interesting thing is that even in the beginning we received tons of positive feedback despite our own expectations, and that was a pleasant surprise.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have over $1M in annual revenues, and our month-on-month growth is currently 25%. Each month, we spend about 26,000 euros on client acquisition through advertising, marketing, PR. Our partner network is growing very fast because we offer excellent terms for partners: we give them a greater percentage because our goal is to corner the market as quickly as possible and continue our growth. And even though we pay out a lot, we are not taking financial losses.
Our website’s monthly traffic is over 100,000 visitors. The conversion coefficient is 2.7%, and we are working on improving that number because we know that it’s only the beginning. People spend over 10 minutes on our site on average, but that’s just the special nature of our service: people don’t visit often, but if they do, they stay for hours.
We are constantly launching on new markets and we have plans for whole new regions. In early 2021, we made a successful market entrance in the U.S. Today, there are more than 30 people on our team, and we are actively hiring, with a view of having at least 50 people by the end of the year. This year, we expect our annual revenue growth to be seven times greater than in 2020.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Always carefully read the documents you are planning to sign. Investment contracts, for example, are quite difficult to understand. Some documents from different accelerators are available online, but every version has different terms, so you have to figure out what the documents say and how it all works. If you have no legal background, it will be very hard. Hire lawyers to help you with that.
Learn to regroup and to navigate new areas of knowledge quickly. For example, to choose the right jurisdiction for your startup, you have to select the top 10, then dive into each item, looking for pros and cons and the economic advisability of such a move.
Choose one, register your company there. You have to be able to dive deeply into the things you don’t know, but only for a short period of time. Entering new markets is also a challenge, as you have no expertise there. You have to figure out the market, determine what you should be doing there, and then do it either through outsourcing and local agencies or through hiring relevant experts and doing it in-house. But to do something, you first have to figure out how to do it. And that applies to any area: support, finance, software development.
Speaking of wrong decisions and mistakes, there were plenty of mistakes, and that’s normal, these are the points of growth. For example, at the start, we made some mistakes with our monetization model. We thought how convenient it would be for a business to buy as many accounts as it needs. If you need five accounts, you pay for five, if you need six, you pay for six. But it became clear that people don’t understand this arrangement. They thought that by paying for one account, they were buying a certain package. So, we had to leave this model behind, even though to us it was clear that this was a good thing, very lucrative for a business.
We thought we were generating value for everyone because our clients wouldn’t have to overpay. By the way, today, we have no restrictions on the number of accounts. How did we end up there? I think that’s a topic for a whole interview. Of course, I feel bad that we didn’t launch a year earlier than we did – we could become even bigger and have greater visibility, like our competitors. But I believe that the best is still ahead.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have a fully remote team working from 18 different countries. We are present on all continents. Obviously, to work efficiently, we have to discuss everything in one place, keeping track of our tasks, and monitoring effectiveness. In this regard, things are both simple and complicated: our IT department uses Jira, and everyone else, including me, uses Trello. We only communicate through Slack, but there are many finer points there.
We have a lot of guidelines for working with certain instruments. For example, when a new person is added to the team, they are given access to the corporate Wiki that holds separate guidelines on working with Trello, Jira, or Slack. Or with some other instrument that we also use. We try to streamline all the elements of our work to make it calm, measured, and familiar. This helps us avoid force majeure and situations when we don’t know what to do.
This corporate Wiki is an important instrument in itself. It holds instructions for all departments and has different levels of access. When a person joins the support team, for example, they are given access to company-wide information and the section on user support. They see all the information there. The idea is that this corporate Wiki accumulates all of our know-how and best practices. From time to time, we update all this information, because we are all humans and we all forget things from time to time.
You cannot be effective 24/7, nobody has been able to do this, and nobody will in the future. Our instrument enables us to cut the number of mistakes we already know about. A new hire told us a week after joining the team: “Wow, this is the first time in my career that I see a place where everything is done in such a convenient way. I am shocked.” And he wasn’t the only one to give us such feedback.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
It’s the book called The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt. He talks about a business that experiences certain difficulties, and the main character resolves them with the help of different instruments and a certain mentor, reaching various conclusions in the process. I actually could go on forever retelling it.
What was my takeaway? How to work with bottlenecks. Bottlenecks appear at different stages of your business, and often you simply don’t see them because you take a bird’s eye view of things. The first task is to find this bottleneck, and the second is to expand it in such a way that it’s no longer a bottleneck.
For example, the book talked about a factory that had a high rate of production, but there were constant bottlenecks at its kilns. Their performance capacity was below the volume of goods that had to be baked there. This bottleneck was expanded. Then, they found another bottleneck in the process of paint jobs. So, this is the way it happens: you find a bottleneck, expand it, the problem goes away, but a new bottleneck appears somewhere else. And that’s how it’s all the time. The idea is to learn to work with this.
I think we are learning to work with bottlenecks. Here’s an example from our experience: our IT department is growing very quickly, it already has more than ten people. We are looking for another six and will be hiring another seven by the end of the year, at the very least. But we are also looking for a project manager. We have one, but his available resources stand at 20%. We need the time to find the right product manager and train them so that they’ll be ready by the time we hire new developers, and so our original product manager isn’t overloaded with work. This is our bottleneck, but we know it’s there and we are expanding it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The most important thing is to have a market for your startup. Sometimes, entrepreneurs can create a whole new market, but such people can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are hundreds of thousands of startups that failed. You might have a genius idea, but if it’s a totally new market, you’ll need a lot of resources to create it. You’ll also need plenty of resources to work on the existing market, but your chances, in this case, are greater. So, please, look at the existing market. You might be doing the same things as everyone else on this market, but better and in new ways – and that will be your key to success. Postoplan is a great illustration of this point.
Postoplan operates on the social media content management market. It’s a big market with an annual turnover in the tens of billions of dollars. There are several unicorn players valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. There are hundreds of strong performers and hundreds of thousands of small companies. But we looked closely and we saw that this market could be improved. And not just improved, but revolutionized. We are offering the market things that no one else has offered.
You open Postoplan and you see that we have free-to-use options. Very few of our competitors offer this, and there are many restrictions anyway, such as the 10 free posts a month that Buffer offers. We have an unlimited number of accounts, users, and projects. We got rid of all these restrictions. There is a free-to-use tariff with lots of options. If you need improved features, you pay for the Pro tariff. If you need teamwork, you buy a Team tariff. But none of the tariffs limit the number of messages, the number of users, the number of accounts. This enhances the product’s use. It enables people to make choices that depend only on their needs. It doesn’t force them to pay more.
Are you an expert in one of the markets? Take a close look. If you like working in this market, don’t invent new ones, just think about what you can offer to the existing ones. Think about things you can do better than others. Not differently, simply better. When I talk to investors, many tell me that Uber changed people’s consumption and that they are looking for similar startups.
The thing is, Uber is doing the same thing I talk about – just like Airbnb and Booking. They are not creating new markets. Did Uber enter the market with flying taxis or unmanned vehicles? No, they improved the existing market, and today they are an iconic example. So, to reiterate: study your niche. If you like it, analyze it closely, even if it seems that there’s little money there or that competition is too strong. Don’t work with things you don’t like. Work with things that make you happy, change your approach, and I promise you, you’ll be successful.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Developer: The development and support of the service functionality. Modernization and improvement of the service.
DevOps engineer: To build a pipeline for the software under development. Building a platform for a highly reliable, scalable service.
Designer: To create layouts and graphic elements. Development of the interface design concept for new products, improvement of the design and style of existing sites.
Project Manager: Project management, tracking the progress of tasks. Product breakdown to components.
Manager assistant: to help the operations manager in solving current problems and issues.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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