How I Turned My Teenage Hobby Into A Profitable Static Web Hosting Service
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi everybody, my name is Philip and I’m the founder of Tiiny.Host - the simplest way to host & share your web project online. It’s perfect for prototyping, demos, testing, learning to code, and small web apps.
The majority of our users are designers, freelancers, agencies, and students. We make it super easy to host your website on the internet with no prior hosting experience needed and it’s the reason why we’re so popular.
I started it around 2 years ago and to date, over 40,000 websites have been uploaded. We’re currently at $2,000 MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and doubling every 3 months. It’s been a rollercoaster couple of years, we were making less than $100 MRR for about the first 12 months but revenue then skyrocketed. It just goes to show the trajectory of SaaS businesses on the internet.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
During my teen years, I taught myself how to develop websites. I was always fascinated by having a presence online. Something that you’ve created, visible for the world to see. I eventually started building websites for other people and did a small amount of freelance work. I loved graphic design & programming so web design was the perfect combination.
Naturally, I later studied Computer Science at university and finally learned how to programme the correct way with all of its related intricacies. My first job was at a very large US bank, a career sought after by many. However, I quickly realized that I wanted more of an entrepreneurial journey through life and so had a few side hustles on the go. I eventually left to work full-time on a startup. Unfortunately, none of them grew to become very successful but I learned so much from them by the time I started working on Tiiny Host as a solo founder.
I didn’t necessarily know whether Tiiny Host was the right idea to work on and neither settled on it based on market analysis. I knew I wanted to work on a SaaS project and so I considered what would be the best intersection of my skills as well as personal interests. I foolishly did very little market analysis but chose to fix a problem I wondered about myself: “why is it so difficult to host content online today?”. With the modern-day cloud, it’s very easy to do so - if you know-how. I previously had a lot of experience with web hosting and so decided to make it more accessible for the world.
It turned out that Tiiny Host wasn’t the only product in the space of easy web hosting. There were a handful of other products on the market but they all tackled the same problem differently. To be honest, if I realized how many other competitors there were already in the space, I may not have settled on this idea. However, the combination of luck, my unique take on the problem, and my background resulted in a successful business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
With Tiiny Host, I wanted the product to be as easy to use as possible to use and require the fewest number of clicks from the point of landing on the website to having your content hosted. And so whilst designing the product, I made a conscious effort to place the upload flow at the front and center of the design. Unlike other products, the product was not designed to be “sticky” and entice the user to spend the maximum amount of time possible using the tool.
The very first version of Tiiny Host was deliberately very simple and basic. I had a hypothesis that the internet needed a simpler way to host a website online but I didn’t exactly know who wanted such a product and for what reasons. I gave myself a deadline of 1 month (part-time) to build it and launch it entirely by myself. There wasn’t much to the product. It was just a single page that was completely free to use, that was not even scrollable where you could drag and drop a zip file to host your site. For once I wanted to spend as little time building a product and more time marketing it.
It later became clear that the simplicity of the product was its greatest strength.
I’m a big believer in how you gain your first 100 users is different from how you will gain your next 1000 users and which will also be different from gaining your next 10,000.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched quietly with a soft launch. I marketed the first version on Reddit, a channel I previously used for feedback and early users. I got my first 200 users this way as well as posting on other early adopter channels such as Indie Hackers and entrepreneurial slack communities. I deliberately didn’t have a product development strategy or roadmap. I wanted to crowdsource that from my users instead of wasting valuable time adding features that users didn’t want.
It’s easy to spend all of your time working on your business but it’s important to understand that you need to schedule downtime the same way you schedule work.
And so the most important part of the early days was listening to users, reading comments, fixing bugs, and analyzing what type of content was uploaded. I used a simple strategy to prioritize what to build. I only considered features that multiple users requested and then determined whether they aligned with the mission of the product. For Tiiny Host this was to make web hosting simple.
Following this strategy, I learned that Tiiny Host eventually needed a login system, a control panel to manage sites, the ability to upload large zip files, the ability to link custom domains, and also password protect websites. This then made it very simple to figure out a monetization plan - I simply released these features to users who upgraded to a paid premium plan. The prices of the plans have gradually increased since launch but we currently have two plans which are discounted if purchased yearly:
- Pro: $14 per month
- Pro Plus: $18 per month
Tiiny Host ultimately ended up capturing a niche I didn’t know existed. We capture the niche between full-fledged web hosting and website builders. These types of users include students, freelancers, agencies, designers, and web developers. What they all have in common is that they have little web development or hosting experience and want the control to upload custom content. And so by focusing on being simple and flexible (meaning a minimal feature set) we’ve stood out in a very competitive market by just doing one thing very well.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I think attracting your first few users is one of the hardest challenges for any new business. You’re trying to figure out which marketing channels work best for your product but also if anyone wants to use your product. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for this because It’s unique to each business. It’s like sprinkling a handful of seeds across the internet and waiting to see which will grow. Once you figure out which are growing, double down all of your efforts on these specific channels. In the early days, you will have to intentionally spread your efforts thinly across various channels but it's important to quickly cut your losses on other channels when you figure out which are generating traffic.
In our early days we tried all of the following channels over 9 months:
- YouTube Videos
- Sponsored YouTube Videos
- Slack communities
- Product Hunt launches
- Blog posts
- Lifetime deals
- Startup directory listings
- Linking with tutorials for related products
- Building in public
However, I learned that 80% of our traffic ultimately came from just one - SEO. Fairly early on into our marketing phase, I followed an SEO strategy used by other SaaS tools. This involved researching relevant keywords for the product that is not very competitive to rank for and then creating “landing pages” for each. I used a tool called Ahrefs for this and created several landing pages, sprinkling seeds again but within the realm of SEO. However, I only started to see the fruits of my labor six months later. This is when Google eventually trusted the website and its content and started to rank it in search results. It took twelve months following the launch of Tiiny Host to realize that it was a successful business. The problem was that I was just marketing in the wrong channels up until then.
In hindsight, it all looks easy and planned but this was not how it felt during those first twelve months. I continuously doubted whether the product should have existed at all. However, rather than building new features, I marketed the product in different ways. I’m a big believer in how you gain your first 100 users is different from how you will gain your next 1000 users and which will also be different from gaining your next 10,000.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our financials are quite simple. Today, our Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is ~$2000 and ~95% is profit if we just take into account only our infrastructure costs. Our only other expenses are on tools, services, and contractors important for growth but not for the day-to-day running of the business.
We currently do not run ads or have any customer acquisition costs. Our users find us organically through Google and our SEO strategy.
- Email subscribers: 25,000
- Average customer lifetime value: $74
- Average time on site: 5m 24s
- Average monthly users: 15k
- Premium users: 250+
Our main goal for the future right now is to increase awareness of our product. There are many products in this space, each fit for a specific purpose. Our aim is for us to be considered as one of those. We’re still very unknown across the web. Additionally, we’re exploring partnerships with other tools where web hosting would complement their offering.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
If you’re coming from a technical background (i.e. you’re a software engineer) you need to sharpen your marketing skills. You should be spending about 50% of your time writing code and 50% of your time marketing it. It’s the most important lesson that I've learned over the years and the reason for Tiiny Host’s success.
There are often more troughs than peaks in entrepreneurship. Something more must drive you than the financial rewards.
Working on a business part-time can also be very taxing on your lifestyle. It’s easy to spend all of your time working on your business but it’s important to understand that you need to schedule downtime the same way you schedule work. You’ll ironically be more productive. More recently I’ve limited myself to 3-4 days a week to work on the business, the rest is downtime. The quality of the hours you work (i.e. how much you get done) is more important than the number of hours you put in. We only have a finite amount of energy each day and once that’s exhausted we need to rest to avoid affecting our next day and total burnout.
Patience is also key, I could have easily abandoned the idea 6 months after launch because of no organic growth insight. However, I chose to continue to market the product as it was but in different ways. Some channels like SEO simply take months before they forward any traffic so it's important, to begin with, those very early on in your journey and let it bake.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Over the past two years I have accumulated a lot of tools, here’s a list of the most important tools & services I’ve used:
- Crisp Chat - Instant Messaging support
- HotJar - User Experience analytics
- Google Analytics- Website analytics
- G Suite - Company email
- Email Octopus - Email marketing
- Stripe - Payments
- Google reCAPTCHA v3 - Spam protection
- Amazon Web Services - Platform hosting
- Sentry - Bug tracking
Additionally, the following communities have been an invaluable support group:
- Indie Hackers - Extremely supportive community of entrepreneurs
- Indie Beers - A relaxed meet up for like-minded individuals (my favorite)
- Indie London - Meet-Up for like-minded people in London with talks
- Weekend Club - Super supportive small intimate club for building businesses part-time
Lastly, I’d like to mention my marketing consultant Rhys who’s been instrumental in making up for my lack of marketing thinking.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Traction by Gabriel Weiberg & Justin Mares - Great ideas on marketing
- Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris - Opened my eyes to what's possible
- The Tim Ferriss Show - Brilliant insight into the minds of amazing people
- Indie Bites (I’m featured myself here) - Short 15 overviews of successful indie businesses
- Indie Hackers - Extremely supportive community of entrepreneurs and solo builders
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I also hear a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs complain that “all the good ideas have been taken” and that you need a groundbreaking idea to be successful. The reality is that a successful business is 1% idea and 99% execution. There are countless examples of successful businesses that haven’t re-invented the wheel with their product. The recipe I’ve used for Tiiny Host was to simplify an existing idea and target a different audience. This can be applied to an infinite number of industries. You can be successful by just making an existing product better or updating it to fit with the current times. You can also be successful by re-positioning an existing product for a different audience.
Additionally, the world is always changing. We’re not the same society we were 50 years ago and with this change comes thousands of opportunities. Take a look at Google Trends to understand what consumers are looking for.
I also think that it's very important to align the business that you want to start with something that you’re interested in or represents a part of you. With Tiiny Host I had a long fascination with the web and experience with hosting. I say this because you will be spending a lot of time on your business and there are often more troughs than peaks in entrepreneurship. Something more must drive you than the financial rewards.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We are looking for part-time (paid) content marketers & writers. Tasks include: generating ideas for content/social media, writing, marketing strategy, cross-posting & promoting our content across relevant platforms, forming partnerships, and general marketing strategy. We’re always open to new ideas.
If you would like to learn a lot from being part of a fast-growing micro SaaS platform just DM me on Twitter (@_baretto) or email us). It’s a bonus if you come from a technical background!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Twitter: @tiinyhost @_baretto
- Indie Hackers
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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