How A Non-Technical Founder Bootstrapped A $50K/Month Automated Webinar Platform

Melissa Kwan
Founder, eWebinar
from Vancouver, BC, Canada
started March 2019
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Melissa Kwan, I am the co-founder and CEO of eWebinar. I started this company with David Dawson, CTO of eWebinar and also my life partner.

eWebinar is the leading webinar automation platform that turns any video into an interactive webinar that you can set on a recurring schedule, or make available on demand. We save people from doing the same webinar over and over again for sales demos, onboarding, and training. To learn more about what an automated webinar is, see this article.

Our customers range from solopreneurs to publicly traded companies, mostly in the areas of sales, marketing, and customer success functions.

A the time of this interview, the product has been live for two years. Before that, we spent a year and a half building the product to get it ready for launch.

We are a bootstrapped company that works with a team of contractors around the world, with no full-time employees.

Our MRR is currently around USD 50k.


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

I had two startups before this. My last startup was in enterprise SaaS, and we were also bootstrapped. This meant that I was doing everything except coding. I was doing all the sales demos, onboarding, and training on a daily basis to bring in revenue, and to keep the revenue we had by making sure users were educated about our platform as soon as they signed up.

Get good at selling. You don’t have to be the greatest salesman in the world, but as a founder, you should know how sales work so you can at least get the business from 0 to 1. Nobody else can do that for you.

The way those demos and training were delivered was through webinars. The thing is, webinars work and people love them. But by nature, they’re not scalable because someone has to be there to run them live.

So I was the person who was running all of these webinars that were the same, multiple times a day, every single day for five years. I was living the pain of doing the same webinar over and over again; it was mentally exhausting and time-consuming – so much so that it didn’t allow me to do the things that needed my unique attention in my business.

Back then, I had dreamt of a product that would do my job for me, while I could go have fun. It didn’t make sense to me why anyone – let alone the founder of a business – would have to do the same webinar every single time, live, and be met with such a low attendance rate. There was no amount of webinars that I could do to make sure every new user would get educated on my platform.

When that company was sold in 2019, I decided this was a problem that I would solve once and for all. Through my time in startups, I realized I was not unique to this problem. A lot of my peers and friends were also living the same reality.

The options were that you either had a big support team that would run webinars around the clock, or you would find makeshift solutions like putting videos in your knowledge base. For demos, training, and onboarding, people don’t like videos, they much prefer webinars because they can interact with the host and ask questions.

I didn’t need to validate the idea because I was so close to the problem and lived it every single day. There were also other similar solutions on the market, but they weren’t built to the extent that I had dreamt of. The solutions that were on the market were almost designed to deceive consumers into thinking webinars were live when they weren’t, tricking them into purchasing by creating false scarcity and false demand.

I wanted to create something beautiful, professional, and, most importantly, which had integrity. And that became eWebinar.

Because I had just sold my company, I had the financial freedom to start eWebinar without feeling like I needed to raise a lot of money from the beginning. I was also working for my acquirer, which allowed me to work on a side project as long as it wasn’t conflicting with their business.

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

There were already other solutions on the market, even though a lot of them were live-first webinar solutions. We wanted to create something that was 100% focused on automation because there were so few solutions that focused on that. The problem of live broadcasting had already been solved by companies like Zoom. We didn’t want to compete in that space because it was so crowded. We wanted to create something that was solely dedicated to helping people run webinars without actually being there.

I hired a development shop to build the first version of eWebinar. We came up with a base set of features based on what we thought was important to have so that people would be willing to pay for the first version. It was really important to me that we didn’t go into a beta because it’s very hard to convert someone from a free user to a paying customer. I wanted the first version of eWebinar to be a version that people would pay for with their credit cards. That meant that we would spend more time building the first version, but for me, it was worth it because we would be revenue-generating from day one. That’s always very important for a bootstrapped company.

The other important thing was we needed to nail our 10x feature. That meant having a feature that no one else had that would make people sign up for us even if we had fewer overall features than our competitors. For us, that was a robust asynchronous chat system, a chat feature that would allow the host to hop in and respond live if they wanted to, or respond later through email. This is the same chat system that supports software companies like Intercom and Zendesk already have. So we weren’t inventing anything new, we were just putting in something that already worked into our platform.

From my 10 years of being in startups, I already knew that I was pretty bad at managing people. So coming into the startup I wanted to only work with contractors – no full-time employees. The fact that we work with contractors means we can hire anyone, anywhere in the world based on their passion for our project and their skills. It has also allowed us to keep our burn relatively manageable and low. We have worked with contractors since day one and we still use that model today.

Describe the process of launching the business.

There was no magic to launching the business, it was just a lot of hard work and grunt work. We asked for a lot of favors, and there were a lot of direct selling and rejections.

Two weeks before eWebinar launched, I made a list of everybody I could think of in my network that could potentially benefit from the platform. Then I went down the list one by one to set up calls with them and tell them about what I was doing, to see if they would have any interest in trying the platform.

From there, anyone who wanted to try the platform would know that they were going into a trial period for a paid version in 30 to 60 days. If they wanted to try the platform, I set up an onboarding call with them where I would watch them sign up and create their first webinar, so we could also fix any UI/UX issues. When you design and build in a silo without any customer feedback, a lot of things that are obvious to you aren’t obvious to the user. When users are seeing things for the first time they interact with your product very differently than what you could’ve imagined. So watching them onboard was super valuable in the initial days, because it allowed us to also automate the onboarding process.

If you understand what makes you happy in your everyday life and find a business that fits that criteria, you can always acquire the skills to make that business successful.

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

Since then, we’ve tried different marketing strategies including digital marketing and more direct methods like mass outreach. I can’t say that we’ve found the magic bullet. I can say that our best user acquisition channel is still word-of-mouth and referrals. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that we’re at the point where people love our solution so much that they want to share it with their friends. The bad part is that we haven’t found something scalable that we have complete control over. But this is also part of having a startup, to experiment with new things and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

The way we retain customers is by focusing on building the best product possible and delivering the best experience with everything that we put out there. We’re the company that’s willing to go the extra 2% that no one else is. After a while, customers start taking notice of that. The act of delivering a software platform that “just works” is extremely underrated. But if you can achieve that, not only do you lower your support, you’re delivering a great experience to your customers.

Because we’re a very small team, we’re able to stay on top of support pretty quickly, and customers seem to love that because it’s very hard for them to get a quick response from larger companies. This is also how we build direct relationships with our customers, even though we never speak to them one-on-one. They feel like they have an impact on our product because we listen to their feedback. When it makes sense for the product, we implement their feedback and let them know afterward. This is something only small companies can do. And that helps with customer retention.

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

Honestly, the only thing we’re doing is staying focused on delivering the best interactive video consumption experience possible. We’re not profitable yet, but we’re very close. And that’s exciting to me. The thing is, you can’t make people stay. Customers leave for different reasons. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your product and everything to do with their circumstances.

The only thing you can do as a software provider is to make sure that your product experience is the best your customers can have, better than the competition. The rest is up to them.

The future for me is to make this a highly profitable company that has a high revenue per team member. I don’t have the ambition to build a $100 million company or a publicly traded company. I don’t have the patience or desire to have a very big team. My dream is to build a company with friends. Everybody on the team right now is my friend. These are people that I would have over for the holidays and that I’ve traveled with.

There are so many things in my life that I enjoy that aren’t related to my business or my career. This startup allows me to do more of the things that give me meaning in my life. Work is a small part of what I enjoy. I love doing what I do, and while it takes up 80% of my time, it only takes up 20% of my life, if that makes sense. Over time, I would love to spend much less time on my business and much more time just living and having fun.


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

I think the one thing that I learned after starting three businesses over ten years is you have to start with what makes you happy. I think a lot of people start something based on their experience or expertise, then build a career on top of that, and then try to find happiness after that. I did the same thing for my first two businesses, but as a result, I was never that happy. I was always living for evenings, weekends, and holidays.

The only thing you can do as a software provider is to make sure that your product experience is the best your customers can have, better than the competition. The rest is up to them.

If you understand what makes you happy in your everyday life and find a business that fits that criteria, you can always acquire the skills to make that business successful. That’s what I did with eWebinar. Even though things are hard today, I know that I’m serving my happiness, which makes this journey so much more meaningful.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Of course, eWebinar is something we use every single day in our business. I don’t do any live demos. The only way to get a demo is to come to our website and join a demo that is delivered via eWebinar. All of our onboarding and training is also done through our platform. This means I only hop on a call with a prospect or customer if something requires my unique attention at that moment.

The other tools I use are Monday and Slack.

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

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo and Secrets of Question-Based Selling by Thomas Freese.

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

The best advice I have is to start with something that makes you happy, and know that everything else can be learned.

Also, get good at selling. You don’t have to be the greatest salesman in the world, but as a founder, you should know how sales work so you can at least get the business from 0 to 1. Nobody else can do that for you.

Read The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

Melissa Kwan, Founder of eWebinar
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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