Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I'm Juan Pablo Tejela, CEO at Metricool. Metricool is an online tool that helps manage social networks and advertising platforms through analytics and from a single site. It’s directed towards a wide range of users from small businesses to social media managers.
From a business point of view, Metricool is a SaaS with a Freemium model. You can either register for free or subscribe to one of our Premium plans with more features and brands available. My wife and I started the Metricool adventure 4 years ago and now we have more than 400,000 users, over 5,000 clients and we have exceeded one million dollars of ARR (annual recurring revenue).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Both my wife and I are software developers. We decided to start building software that helps bloggers understand the results of their content and its impact on social media. My wife had experience as a blogger and for me, digital marketing is one of my passions, as well as Internet businesses. At the time, I had 14 years of experience in software development with different companies and I felt confident that it was time to build our own project.
My way of managing the business is quite conservative and prudent, I often question whether or not I should have taken a more aggressive path when it came to investments and funding.
It all started as a side project because we both had our respective jobs. Metricool was initially offered at no cost as an experiment. However, in a short time, between 4,000 and 5,000 people had signed up, which encouraged us to make the jump and test a new business model based on a Premium subscription. We included some professional features focused on social media managers and the results were promising. Six months later, we reached a monthly recurring revenue of $3,000 which was the final push to help us decide that it was the right moment to dedicate more time to the project, quit my day job, and start building a team to boost the growth.
The business started with $10,000 that we had earned during the first few months of Metricool. We contributed an additional $10,000 from our family savings and $30,000 that my mother lent us. We wanted to avoid external financing (such as Venture Capital or Business Angels) because with 50k and some recurring revenue we could proceed even if it was a little slower at first.
As we moved ahead, the idea was to build 3 teams: Digital marketing, customer support, and product development & programming.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In our case, product development presented several challenges:
The first challenge was the functionality. Understanding user needs and identifying the features that would suit them. Following my passion for digital marketing, I attended online courses and participated in face-to-face events in the sector where I networked with people in the industry and at the same time, acquired the knowledge that helped me define the product vision. I also learned how to start building a brand and gain our first users through guest posts, social media, and content and affiliate marketing.
The second challenge was technical. The product had to handle a high volume of data and be reliable while keeping the costs within a tight budget. This philosophy has allowed us to maintain a very high number of free accounts without the costs overwhelming us.
The business model and digital marketing operated smoothly, with free users giving us visibility and word of mouth since many of them were bloggers or influencers with broad communities. In addition, our presence at events, training schools, and content marketing benefited us greatly. We started writing on external blogs to introduce Metricool to third-party audiences and promoting reviews on affiliate marketing blogs. When our domain had some authority, we decided to create our own blog to drive organic traffic towards our site. We now publish content in English, Spanish, and French several times a week.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t say that there has been a product launch date because it has been a process of many small steps. During the first months, the growth of MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) was 20%. It is always easier to grow faster at first. Over the past 3 years, the growth has been leveling off and now it has stabilized at a monthly average of 5-6%. Still, there are better months which coincide with sales campaigns such as Black Friday with a 15-20% growth.
We have always financed expenses with client-generated income. Being a SaaS business allows us to forecast future revenue, so we can design a recruitment and investment plan that can be supported by actual income. Nonetheless, we decided that we needed more cash, specifically $100,000 to have peace of mind. To do this, we combined the family investment of $50,000 with a credit loan for entrepreneurs of an additional $50,000. Today this sum seems small for building a business that bills more than $1 million a year.
We are very proud to have built this business from our bootstraps (only with our own resources and the income generated from our clients). Sometimes I wonder if we could have built Metricool faster with external funding, but I have my doubts because the product and brand building process takes some time and can't be done much faster. That being said, our approach has reduced financial stress and boosted financial efficiency by not having external financing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Nearly 100% of Metricool’s new users are acquired through digital marketing and word of mouth. We don’t have a sales team and half of our employees are dedicated to marketing, acquisitions, and growth. We aim to carry out productive activities that generate scalable and cumulative results.
Content and SEO
We rely heavily on effective content and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This is a strategy that begins to bear fruit in the medium and long term and for this reason, my advice is to begin as soon as possible. As I mentioned with Metricool, I think it is important that a domain has some authority in order to start writing content geared towards organic traffic, otherwise your efforts might be in vain. We believe that content marketing is most effective when it relates to affiliates of your brand or domain. The publication of content or guest articles published on other blogs ideally navigates readers back towards your site. Media press releases are also an interesting and effective way to reach people. All of these activities can help generate links to your website and enhance the authority of your domain.
Collaboration in sector events.
There are so many types of collaborations out there: own talks, expert panels, event sponsorship. Some of these activities are scalable and others are not (like our own talks) but they help give you authority with the sector.
Social networks allow us to be in contact with other professionals from our sector as well as users and clients who might be geographically distant from us. In our day and age, social networks are mandatory in a business like ours in order to build trust and keep relevant. For example, we use Instagram to allow users and followers to get to know our team, see the office, and understand our working environment a bit better.
There are some common strategies that others use frequently that we only use sparingly, such as PPC, Social Ads, and SEM campaigns. Generally, these methods are too expensive for us and don’t work with our budget and business model. However, with some objectives such as branding and retargeting, they have been useful.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Metricool has been a profitable business for 3 years now. We always try to reinvest our profits into activities that help us grow. Some examples might be the development of new functionalities or further marketing efforts.
Building quality software is something that requires a lot of effort, knowledge, and experience. It is important to associate or surround yourself with highly experienced technical profiles.
Despite the business maintaining profitability, we are always concerned with sustaining our momentum and the long term value of our product. We have found that our clients tend to move on after two years and from the beginning, we have been working to extend this period of usability progressively. In our minds, the best way to do this is by providing exceptional customer support and constantly increasing the functionality of the product by listening to the needs of our users.
Another of our main concerns is containing our operating costs while continuing to be profitable as our volume of users increases. We control operating costs by continually improving the software in 2 ways:
- Maintaining efficient software that consumes fewer resources and contains infrastructure costs.
- Maintaining high usability to limit conversations on customer support.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When you manage a team and a business, many decisions are made in a continual process and it is inevitable that you will make countless mistakes. However, I don’t regret any part of it because it is part of the learning process. I have learned over time that if you have good intentions, even the most serious mistakes can be repaired and there are always new opportunities to improve.
My way of managing the business is quite conservative and prudent, so naturally, I often question whether or not I should have taken a more aggressive path when it came to investments and funding. I always end up thinking that I should have hired someone sooner or taken a financial risk on executing certain marketing investments but in the end, the profits of the business end up supporting these moves in due time.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The truth is that at any given time, we are unaware of how many tools are being used until we stop and take stock. Globally we use Slack (with its internal threads), Asana for task management, and GSuite. Our marketing team uses many more tools: Mautic for email marketing, Pipedrive for CRM, Metricool, of course, for content planning and analytics, amongst many others.
Some of the lesser-known tools that we use but that we have been very happy with are:
- Crisp Chat to support customers and users. It is an online chat similar to Intercom, but easier to use and much more accessible.
- Gtmhub is a tool that allows us to manage the progress of the team's OKRs in a very visual and transparent way.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am very fond of listening to podcasts that help me learn about the different topics that interest me but also to keep myself updated and connected with influencers and professional leaders since many of them are in an interview format. Podcasts allow me to learn and stay up-to-date while doing other tasks like when I play sports or when I walk from one place to another.
I listen to entrepreneurship podcasts where I learn how other companies with different models work and I listen to marketing podcasts that allow me to connect with the professional environment of our clients.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
When it comes to software product companies, I see many entrepreneurs who don't really understand the complexity of developing and operating a software product on a daily basis. It is true that software allows us to experience a business hypothesis fairly quickly, but building quality software is something that requires a lot of effort, knowledge, and experience.
I see many startups having to redo the product from scratch multiple times because they have not chosen the right technology or because they have encountered scalability difficulties when they start to grow. It is important to associate or surround yourself with highly experienced technical profiles.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
In the next 2 months, I hope that a design person can be incorporated, both web and product. Also, I would like to be able to add one more senior developer to the team, but it is a fairly difficult profile to find, so it will take us a little longer.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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