How I Launched A Payment Software Side-Hustle [With Over $1M In Transactions]

Sander Visser
Founder, Checkout Page
$1.2K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
Checkout Page
from
started April 2018
$1,200
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
1.24M
alexa rank
274
followers
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How I Launched A Payment Software Side-Hustle [With Over $1M In Transactions]

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey! My name is Sander and I’m the founder of Checkout Page, a checkout and payment software for independent businesses. I started the company 4 years ago as a side project to make it easier for people to accept payments online without code. I’m in the process of teaming up with a co-founder, Andy, to grow the Checkout Page past the side project stage.

Last year we processed over $1 million in transactions with $13k in annual revenue. People use our software to sell products and services on their site and with payment links via chat, social media and QR codes.

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

When I started Checkout Page I was working as a freelance front-end developer and just started traveling as a “digital nomad”. Freedom of location and schedule are very important to me. I’ve always pushed for that in freelance work, but the ultimate freedom seemed to be in running my own software business that I could run from anywhere in the world. Most importantly I wanted to work on something that would allow me to go surfing when the surf’s up.

During this time I connected with other early-stage entrepreneurs in Megamaker and Work In Progress. There, someone mentioned that there wasn’t an easy way to take payment in Stripe, and I was captivated by the idea. It seemed like a valid use case, I couldn’t find anything like it, and it aligned with my interest in helping people independently make a living on the internet.

So I decided to build an MVP and launch it on Product Hunt. It became #5 on a busy day with over 700 upvotes and a lot of traffic, more than I had seen with other ideas. The response on Product Hunt and the signups over the following days were enough validation for me to keep working on it.

At the time, I was new to backend development and still a junior in frontend development. That meant I wasn’t able to quickly develop new features and I didn’t have any expertise in the product space. Instead, I put a lot of effort into customer support, to try and understand what people were looking for and what was missing in the product and the market.

I added a chat option to the website to make it easy for (potential) customers to ask questions. I think working solo is a real advantage here — customers will always be talking to the same support agent. Remembering customer’s names, how they’re using the product, previous issues they ran into, allowed me to build relationships with customers, which I haven’t experienced in other services I’ve used.

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

When starting Checkout Page, I found it most important for the product to be easy to use and to only contain the most important features. This would allow me to launch it quickly and validate the idea, as I didn’t do any validation beforehand.

I sketched out what the product should do: let people create one-time checkout pages to sell anything on, that can be shared as a payment link. Each payment link should contain a title and price, and users should be able to add custom form fields to collect customer information such as email addresses, shipping addresses, and custom notes.

I went for a distinct brutalist design look that was easy to understand and easy to implement; I was trying to save time here to get the MVP out. As the checkout would be added to our potential customers' websites and communications, I realized the brutalist style of the checkout would likely be very different from their branding.

Considering how important it is to keep a customer engaged throughout the payment process, I changed the checkout to a less opinionated design style while keeping the dashboard and onboarding in the brutalist style.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

At the time, Product Hunt was a great way to launch a software product like Checkout Page. A good launch could attract thousands of visitors. The goal was to get the product out there and validate it based on the attention it would receive.

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I put a lot of effort into preparing the launch: I decided to launch on a Thursday, the busiest day on Product Hunt, wrote a launch message and collected screenshots and examples beforehand, timed the launch at exactly midnight in San Francisco as this is when the Product Hunt leaderboard resets and contacted friends to help upvote just after submitting it to Product Hunt. This helps to get you to the front page quickly, from where other Product hunt Visitors can check out the listing and upvote it.

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In my pragmatic and inexperienced approach here, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The product got a lot of attention on Product Hunt, with about 2500 visitors to the website, and over 60 signups. I shared launch statistics publicly on Twitter:

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As Checkout Page’s revenue model is based on transaction fees taken on payments, I knew it wouldn’t make any revenue during the launch. I think it’s important to realize what you’re looking for at this stage. My goal here was to get it into the hands of potential customers, collect feedback and validate if the product was worth spending more time on. The attention on Product Hunt and the number of signups were enough validation for me to continue working on it.

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

The stage after launching the product was incredibly hard. Working up to this one moment came with a sort of high: it was very exciting to have found something that people seemed to care about.

But then the traffic dropped, the new signups stopped coming in, the people that signed up didn’t start using the product, and all I found in the launch was potential. This is where the long slow SaaS ramp of death starts.

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Product Hunt & Quora

The best two channels to attract customers since its launches were Product Hunt and Quora. The Product Hunt listing still brings a large amount of traffic to our site up to this day. I started answering questions on Quora that were related to taking payments online, in which I listed the options and mentioned Checkout Page as a potential solution.

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SEO + Content Marketing

I believe in the value of SEO and have seen it work many times for my freelance clients, but we haven’t been able to make it work for Checkout Page so far. We get a decent amount of traffic on our name, Checkout Page. It’s a generic keyword which means a lot of people search for it but the quality of traffic is low: we don’t know what people are looking for when they search for “checkout page”.

We’ve tried content marketing last year and started a blog, but haven’t found the right content yet. The hardest part here is that Checkout Page is such a generic product at its core. This makes it difficult to write content for a single audience and we will likely have to start targeting audiences separately.

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Landing Pages

We’ve made landing pages focused on integrations for Checkout Page, such as “Adding payments to Unbounce” and “Take payments on Instapage”. These bring in higher quality leads but the volume is much lower. I’ve heard comparison landing pages can do well, such as “Alternative to Gumroad”, and will likely try those in the future.

Most of our customers use Checkout Page for an extended period. Some run short campaigns, but will often run multiple campaigns over time. Our focus is to make it easy to start taking payments for all sorts of industries, which makes us experience two types of churn: customers growing out of the product and customers needing niche functionality (they often discover this later).

I believe our most effective way of retaining customers is the way we do support. We are personal and try to help a customer solve the issue they experience, not just answer their question. Many of our customers have mentioned they appreciate that.

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

Up until spring last year, I ran Checkout Page as a side project. Our revenue started growing in the first months of 2021 and I decided to invest more time into the business but wasn’t successful at growing it further. In autumn last year I was on the verge of taking a full-time job when I reconnected with a good friend, Andy, and we discussed the possibility of working together on the Checkout Page.

In business though, you need the determination to believe that what you’re doing is right, to be able to keep doing it

I value Andy as a friend, as a designer, and couldn’t be happier to hear he was interested to work together. He has an eye for detail and is an incredible problem-solver and decision-maker. We’ve decided to join forces and become co-founders. Our focus is now on making Checkout Page the easiest way to take payments for non-technical people via payment links.

Our current revenue is around $1200 per month with around $200 in costs. We’re not paying ourselves salaries. Our goal is now to 10x the business to $10k monthly revenue. We are confident that by combining our efforts and investing a lot of attention into user experience and marketing, we can grow the company; something I simply wasn’t able to do on my own.

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Transaction volume from customers

Because our revenue is transactional, it fluctuates month over month. The main thing I look for in our revenue is how it stabilizes over time. The above graph shows the transaction volume processed via the Checkout Page by our customers. The fluctuation is apparent, but over time the floor rises. Our main focus has always been to increase the total volume processed by customers, as this forces us to focus on making our customers successful, which ultimately leads to more exposure, more customers, and more revenue for the company.

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

In working alone, I found it difficult to determine what’s most important at any given moment. I don’t know if the answer to that ever becomes clear, in business and life. It could be something you only find out in hindsight. In business though, you need the determination to believe that what you’re doing is right, to be able to keep doing it. Having a partner to back each other up is making a big difference on that front.

Another difficulty when working alone is making decisions. I can fall into the trap of leaving things undecided. Now when working together, I notice we want to conclude at the end of a conversation. Even just to know that we’re on the same page. This seems to decrease uncertainty and creates actionable next steps.

Find people to look up to, have goals and idols, but more importantly, find people who are at the same stage as you. Connect with them, share your learnings and inspire each other.

Over the years it’s been hard to consistently invest time into Checkout Page. By approaching it as a side project and needing money to live off, I often had to let other projects come first. In hindsight, I feel like when I launched the product, there was more opportunity in the market than there is today.

This will be our hardest challenge going forward; to stand out in a more competitive market and perhaps shift gears towards something more innovative. During the pandemic we’ve seen people embrace technology: QR codes have become widely adopted and even expected in some regions in the world and by stores being closed there has been a large uptick in online Direct to Consumer (D2C) sales via social platforms. We are embracing these changes by focusing on making it incredibly easy to share payment links via these platforms and as QR codes.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our main tools of choice are Github (especially Github Projects) for managing development, Telegram for notifications and Figma to design interfaces. To keep track of SEO we use Ahrefs, which gives great insight into keyword rankings and gained or lost backlinks.

Since working together we use Slack and Trello to communicate and plan. I love Vercel for hosting our frontend; it’s super fast and makes it very easy to deploy staging environments to test and collect feedback.

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

One book I loved was How to win friends and influence people. Despite its cringy title, it taught me that in one way or another, everyone is looking to feel valued. Growing up in an individualistic society and spending a lot of time by myself behind a computer, as I grew older I became more self-conscious and started to struggle to connect to others. This book taught me that by asking people questions, remembering people’s names, and by being interested in others more than in myself, it’s very much possible to connect with others.

I reflect a lot on how I want to live my life and the following two books have taught me a lot on the topic. Siddharta by Herman Hesse is a book I’ve read multiple times and every time it leaves me feeling wiser and more understanding. My favorite quote from the book is:

What you search is not necessarily the same as what you find. When you let go of the searching, you start finding.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes there are three ways to find meaning; by having a goal to live for, by having a partner to live for, and ultimately by finding meaning in suffering itself. For me that connects with the stoic philosophy I’m fond of. To take life as it comes, find peace in the bare minimum, and see hardship as an opportunity.

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

Find people to look up to, have goals and idols, but more importantly, find people who are at the same stage as you. Connect with them, share your learnings and inspire each other.

When building software products, I think people give up too early. There are many overnight success stories, but in reality, it will take months (if not longer) to see the slightest sign of revenue or growth. Pushing through those sluggish, demotivating times is the hardest part of building a software product.

Lastly, reflect often on how things are going and change course when necessary. I find reflection through writing and through talking with peers, friends, and family.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

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Sander Visser, Founder of Checkout Page
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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