How We Bootstrapped A $72K/Year Online Acquisition Marketplace [With A $0 Marketing Budget]

Published: June 10th, 2022
Laurits Just & Jan-Philipp Peters
Founder, BitsForDigits
from Berlin, Germany
started September 2021
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey guys! We are Laurits Just and Jan-Philipp Peters, the founders of BitsForDigits, an acquisition marketplace for internet startups and online businesses with $100K+ annual revenue. Our platform makes it anonymous and free for owners to exit their business fully or partially.

We see more and more profitable businesses like SaaS, eCommerce, and mobile apps get started every day - and founders of those businesses seek liquidity.

At some point in a business's lifecycle, owners will likely want to take some chips off the table via a minority or majority buyout to buy an apartment for example. Others will look to sell their company off fully to finance their next project.

On BitsForDigits, business owners can meet acquirers and negotiate a full or partial acquisition. Best of all, the platform is completely free for founders to use. We only charge acquirers.

So far, we have completely bootstrapped the venture and currently make $6,000 / month with steady growth in the number of new signups. Our biggest initial driver of growth was our launch on Product Hunt, adding more than 300 users to our platform which we could later monetize.

BitsForDigits marketplace

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

We met in college in Copenhagen, Denmark, back in 2016 and have been friends ever since. While studying, we always discussed starting a business but felt like we needed to gain some more experience before doing so. Laurits moved to London, the UK to work for BlackRock, while Jan-Philipp worked for Facebook and Google in Dublin, Ireland. In the summer of 2021, we finally dared the jump into the deep end, quit our jobs, and started building BitsForDigits.

The idea originally came from a fascinating transaction, in which the founders of Basecamp, David and Jason, sold a piece of their business to Jeff Bezos. With this transaction, they managed to get some liquidity to secure themselves financially while maintaining enough ownership to continue running the company.

The last piece of advice in starting a business is “just get started”. Many people think they can research a problem forever, but the real product-market fit is created in customer interactions and not in a Google Doc.

Seeing more and more of these partial acquisition deals being made all across the world with no centralized marketplace for founders and investors to meet, our idea was born. More recently, we started allowing full acquisitions on the platform as well, due to incredible demand from business owners and acquisition entrepreneurs.

Our collective backgrounds in finance, tech, and startups also seemed like a good starting point for us to tackle developing and scaling the platform. To initially validate our market, we conducted countless interviews with founders and investors, slowly narrowing down our core target group: owners of bootstrapped internet businesses and sophisticated micro private equity acquirers. From there, we built a simple MVP platform with LowCode tools, sent it out to potential customers - and were overwhelmed by the positive feedback.

Coming from fairly high-paying jobs in finance and tech allowed us to bootstrap BitsForDigits by initially relying on our savings, a privilege we are very much aware of. Having a good safety net secured us the time to build out the platform and turn down venture capital investors in the early days.

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

Neither of us is super technical when it comes to programming, so we built the initial MVP with a few simple NoCode tools. As a base, we chose Webflowas it allows for beautiful website development and integrates very seamlessly with many other software solutions we would need down the road.

To authenticate users and create a real login experience, we chose to partner with MemberStack. This tool plugs into Webflow, allows users to access member-only content, and also handles subscription payments.

The last key tool for the MVP was MemberChat, a messaging integration that enables our users to chat with each other.

With these simple tools, we managed to build a marketplace that owners and acquirers could sign up to, post businesses and investor profiles, and chat about a potential acquisition. All in all, the MVP cost us around $90/ month in subscription fees - so super cheap.

We partnered with the international law firm, Hogan Lovells, as an early-stage startup partaking in their Fintech Mentor Programme. They provide us with legal advice on all our jurisdictions to ensure we stay compliant with regulators in this space.

BitsForDigits’ MVP website

Describe the process of launching the business.

After an initial “beta” launch with a few waitlisted customers (mostly buyers and sellers we had interviewed), we launched on Product Hunt in December of 2021.

Launching on the platform did not only help us validate that there was demand but contributed immensely to seeding our marketplace with initial businesses and acquirers. In the end, we managed to become #2 Product of the Day and became a finalist in Product Hunt’s annual “Golden Kitty Awards” fintech category.

Building a business is a ride of ups and downs, so don’t stop just because you hit your first down.

From there, we especially started engaging in communities like IndieHackers and met relevant users on Twitter to continue growing BitsForDigits.

Because of our bootstrapping approach, we did not spend a single cent on marketing. All users came through organic channels like Product Hunt, SEO, direct outreach, etc.

The lessons learned can be summarized into three things: listening to users, trying to help them by sharing what you learned, and giving without expecting anything in return.

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

Our biggest two insights along the way of growing BitsForDigits were twofold: test out different traction channels and don’t worry about marketing budgets.

From Gabriel Weinberg, we know that there are 19 channels through which startups can acquire users and gain traction. The key is to test which channels work best and focus on those. Us, we noticed that these 3 channels worked the best for us:

  • Community Building
  • Content Marketing
  • Sales

So, that is where we put our focus.

Community building became an important point of focus as we started to speak to founders and acquisition entrepreneurs. It started by joining existing communities and then from that creating our following of people in the space. In summary, solving their problems is how we grew.

Moreover, those channels can be leveraged for free. We did not have to spend thousands on Google Ads every month to acquire customers.

Resource articles for Content Marketing

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

Today, we are focused on two subjects: growing the platform and new product features. Keeping up with both priorities can be difficult from time to time, but it helps. We managed to hire one full-time employee to join our Berlin office, as well as two part-time remote assistants. They help out tremendously.

In the short term, we seek to make BitsForDigits profitable so we can continue growing the business sustainability and organically. In the long run, we seek to expand our product offering immensely, as there are much liquidity needs founders face today that are still not being met.

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

A big learning likely all founders have to make for themselves is the focus. In an early-stage startup, there are always 1,000 things you could do, and sticking to only one or two at a time is easy. Everyone gets this advice, but it is likely more of learned skill to laser focus on one area at a time in such a dynamic environment.

The best decision we have probably made is choosing each other as co-founders. We have seen many other founding teams break up as quickly as they assembled because of different working styles, visions, or other reasons. Having known each other for a long time has helped us work together effectively.

The last piece of advice in starting a business is “just get started”. Many people think they can research a problem forever, but the real product-market fit is created in customer interactions and not in a Google Doc.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Website: Webflow

Memberships: MemberStack

Messages: MemberChat

Live chat with customers:

Integrations: Integromat/Make

Filtering: Jetboost

SEO: SEMrush

Email: Woodpecker

Data gathering: Hexomatic

Newsletter: Campaign Monitor

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

Creating a business: Rework by Jason Fried and DHH(book)

Growth: Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg (book)

Technology: Acquired (podcast)

Interviewing customers: The Mom Test

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

First of all, you don’t need to be a programmer to build an online business. Everyone knows that is the case for eCommerce, but there are NoCode tools for many use cases out there today. It is incredibly easy and cheap to get started.

Secondly, don’t reinvent the wheel. There is an incredible amount of founders out there on sites like Indie Hackers that share every day how they build and grow the business. Just see what works for them and apply it to your startup.

Lastly, don’t get discouraged. Building a business is a ride of ups and downs, so don’t stop just because you hit your first down.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for both onsite and remote folks to join us. All open positions can be found on our careers page.

Where can we go to learn more?

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