How I Quit My Job And Launched A SaaS Company From Spain

Published: April 24th, 2019
Mitch Colleran
Founder, Join It
Join It
from Seattle, Washington, USA
started January 2017
Discover what tools Mitch recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Mitch recommends to grow your business!
Want more updates on Join It? Check out these stories:

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

Hi there!

My name is Mitch Colleran and I’m bootstrapping Join It -- a SaaS platform that helps organizations sell and track their memberships.

Previous to starting Join It, I spent 6 wonderful years at Eventbrite -- where I got a broad ‘tech education’ through roles on the Sales, Marketing and finally Product Management team.

At the end of 2016, I left to start Join It, ‘moved’ to Spain for 3 months, and have been working full-time on Join It since then.

As of March 2019, Join It is making $20,000/month and growing!


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

My last role at Eventbrite was the Product Owner of Eventbrite’s API and Developer Platform. While looking after the platform, we built integrations with 100s of popular SaaS applications like WordPress, MailChimp, SurveyMonkey and more.

[Working from Spain] was a pretty intense 3-month period, but it was fundamental in building the service. And the end of this phase, I finally had a product that I was confident in and our first 10 paying customers.

During this time, I identified an opportunity to serve customers of Eventbrite by creating a Membership plug-in for the Eventbrite platform.

Initially, I tried approaching several incumbent membership platforms to build the connection with Eventbrite, as this was my primary goal. But after being turned down by all of them, I decided “this needs to exist” and started the work of building Join It myself. And eventually leaving Eventbrite before the completion and launch of the MVP.

Take us through the process of building the product.

I used to build basic websites when I was in High School, but when I decided to start Join It, I knew nothing about developing web applications.

So I started teaching myself how to code (JavaScript / Node.js) while building the initial product.

It took about 9 months of late nights and weekends to build a simple service that allowed folks to sign up an Organization, define their ‘membership levels’ and sell memberships.

The length of time to build the product is probably a really poor signal for folks hoping to learn from my experience. It’s worth noting that again that I was a beginner dev teaching myself to code and had a full time job -- if I were to re-build this today, the initial product would take about a month to build. That’s more representative of how few features were in this first version.

My personal belief is that you only start learning once you launch, get your product in front of customers, and start getting feedback. Everything else is just guessing.

In hindsight, I was right to launch the MVP because I was so wrong about so many other features that I initially included / excluded. And the quickest way to figure that out was by putting a product in front of customers.

After launching the MVP and going full-time on the product, it took another 3 months of incorporating customer feedback to get to something that I could really sell and be confident about putting in front of customers. This feedback often came in the form of incremental improvements, rather than anything radical. A lot of feedback centered around how our Organization’s (our primary customers) members’ interacted with Join It. I had developed a solid understanding of the organizations that would use Join It, but I needed feedback to get us to a point where I understood how Organization’s wanted us to handle their members’ experience.

This was the time that I spent in Spain -- and a typical day would be 10-hours building the service and 2 hours talking directly to customers (phone, chat, or email).

Two massive benefits from moving to Spain:

  1. Longer runway because my money went further (my Airbnb was 1/4th of my previous monthly rent in San Francisco)

  2. Easier to focus without social distractions

This was a pretty intense 3-month period, but it was fundamental in building the service. And the end of this phase, I finally had a product that I was confident in and our first 10 paying customers, so I felt like it was time to focus on growing the business.

Describe the process of launching the business.

In my case, the launch was more of a ‘phase’ than an ‘event’. As soon as I had a product that was hosted and publicly available, I started trying to drive traffic to the service using Google AdWords.

At this early stage, there was consistent feedback that the Product wasn’t ready -- but this feedback was invaluable because it allowed the potential customer to define what needed to be in the product.

I’ve found that a lot of folks don’t start a journey until they think they have the entire route mapped out. Which often means they never begin.

So during this launch phase, we were prioritizing the next feature based on conversations with actual customers. A lot of times, these features were very incremental rather than revolutionary (e.g. “I wish the purchase ended with a confirmation page, rather than a notification”) -- and we ended a lot of customer conversations with “Great! If we built this, would you purchase a subscription?”.

And by the end of a short launch phase (~3 months), we had a small handful of customers paying for our service.

Talking to customers as early as possible (even before what some would call an MVP) was incredibly valuable to shipping a product that customers will pay for as quickly as possible.

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

As of March 2019, we have about 700 paying organizations that use Join It and we’re still in the phase where it seems like we have to individually fight for every single customer.

Our price point is relatively low (our most popular plan is $29/month), and at this price point, most SaaS companies won’t engage directly with customers on the phone/chat because it’s not profitable at this value of customer. So for us, engaging prospective customers at our price point is a classic example of “ do things that don’t scale ”.

And if you assumed that by $XX,000 in MRR, you’d have customer acquisition/onboarding/success figured out … Not. Even. Close! We're still trying to build our acquisition channels.

To date, our acquisition is spread relatively evenly across multiple channels: Google Ads, Organic Search, and Word of Mouth.

Three channels that specifically **have not** worked for us:

  1. Paid referral program - way more folks come from *old fashioned* word of mouth, rather than using our referral program

  2. Cold emailing - in our experience, it seems impossible to convince someone to change membership systems if they aren't actively evaluating.

  3. Social Ads - we might try this again in the future, but Facebook/Twitter ads have previously led to low-quality leads.

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

Our customers consistently affirm that we’ve reached Product / Market Fit -- but I think we’re still looking for our ideal Business Model / Market Fit. Essentially, this means that we have a product that customers want to use and we’ve found our market -- however, we’re still searching for the ideal economic fit in that market (which could come from changes to existing pricing, changes to service model to reduce overhead, changes to monetization, etc.).

As I mentioned, we’ll be changing our pricing with the goal of charging more for larger organizations that use our platform. By increasing the average value of customers, we’ll be able to invest more into customer support / customer success and grow faster.

However, even at our current price and growth rate -- we’re on a sustainable and healthy path.

We just added a full time hire to the team and we’ll be expanding further before the end of the year.

More broadly though, my goal is to build a sustainable company that's around for the next 25 years. I'm having a lot of fun and feel like we're just getting started. :)

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

When it comes to SaaS, it’s been incredible to see how product development and revenue compound.

With respect to product development, it’s been so powerful to observe how much value we’re constantly creating by continuing to build the right features for our customers. Our customers are still using the features that we built in 2017, and years later, we’re still adding new functionality.

Similarly with revenue, because we have a relatively low churn rate, we’re able to benefit from compounded revenue growth. Jason Lemkin summarizes this a lot better than I do: Want to Understand SaaS? If Nothing Else — Understand That It Compounds

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My favorite platform/tool has definitely been Stripe.

We incorporated our company through Stripe Atlas, we sell our subscriptions using Stripe Billing, and our organizations sell their memberships through Stripe Connect -- my business literally wouldn’t be around today without the folks from Stripe.

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

Twitter has been a huge resource for me. It’s where I’ve found a community of other folks who started their own companies, and are rewriting the rules of SaaS (especially when it comes to bootstrapping).

A few of my favorite follows:

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

Get started today!

I’ve found that a lot of folks don’t start a journey until they think they have the entire route mapped out. Which often means they never begin.

If you’re trying to go from step 1 to step 100 -- just focus on how to get to step 2.

And only once you’re on step 2, figure out how to go to step 3.

And again, just get started already!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We don’t have any active jobs postings at the time of posting, but if you want to check -- our future listings will be posted here:

Where can we go to learn more?

If you’re interested in chatting more about SaaS, bootstrapping, or non-profits -- then definitely slide into my DMs on Twitter: @Colleran

To learn more about Join It, check us out:

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