Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m Mike from Italy. I run 9 SaaS (software-as-a-service) products currently, one of which is Treendly, where we discover rising trends you haven’t heard of. Overall my business is doing ~$8k/m, of which Treendly does around $1k/m.
I run my SaaS products with no team, no investments of any kind, and even no CS degree. In fact, my background is in music. Jazz, in particular.
It can seem like you need two or three lives to run so many products in parallel, and while it does require a lot of time, I let my products compete for my attention. Usually, the ones that make more revenue get more attention from me.
I also have a personal dashboard that I built when I meticulously track how I spend my time. Usually, I don't like to spend more than 30% of my day working.
Secondly, you need to decide what to bring with you and what to leave behind. I focus on my strength, which is data collection, and I focus on going to market as fast as possible. So, I don't care about writing tests for my code, I don't care about design a lot, I don't care about having a good logo, etc. Those are things that we say we need, but we don't actually need until we are profitable.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I originally built Treendly in 2019. Technically, it was a very simple software product, just a wrapper on Google Trends that included monitoring trends over time.
The idea came from subtraction. I know that humans tend to go back to things they know over and over. For example, because I like to code, I tend to code a lot, even when I should maybe do more marketing or more sales.
The byproduct of that is that you end up having a product with a LOT of features. So, I always ask myself this question: what non-essential feature can I take out from an existing product that I can put in another market where that feature becomes essential?
That’s what I did with Treendly. At the time, I was already running one of my other software products called Cart, where we collect e-commerce data. One of the features of that product was trend-spotting for e-commerce merchants.
Don’t follow the crowd, don’t follow mainstream advice. There's no one way of doing things.
I took out that feature, trend-spotting, from Cart and then made that feature the core of Treendly which now could serve not only e-com merchants, but also other people who might have been interested in trends: SEO people, VCs, journalists, and more.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Treendly discovers rising trends you haven't heard of so that you can piggyback on them before they take off.
One of the core beliefs of Treendly is that we live in a bubble and that we don't know what we don't know. If you are into tech, you might know about the latest tech trend, but you might not know about the last trend in the coffee industry. That's all fine when you don't care, but when you are building a business, you might lose an opportunity.
I built Treendly as a way to expose our users to what they don't know, to the unknown.
The data comes from different sources, we categorize signals and weigh them so that we can present just the best rising trends.
We currently serve SEO experts who'd like to rank for new keywords, VCs who would like to know about rising companies, e-commerce merchants who'd like to know the new hot product trends, journalists, hedge funds, and generally, curious people.
The usual process of making a new SaaS for me is as follows: I take a weekend and build the SaaS (yes, I’m fast). Then, I put it on the market the following week. If the product doesn’t make money in the first week, I usually cut it.
Treendly was not different. I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, though. So, there’s a process I use that involves collecting microdata.
The process is described thoroughly here and involves scouring the web for clues left by your competitors’ customers so that you can build your product around their weaknesses.
This is especially useful when you start because you don’t have any customers, or users so you don’t have data. By reading what your competitors’ customers say on social media, Reddit, Product Hunt, and more you can collect insights and build your product accordingly, with a unique value proposition.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched Treendly on the typical platforms: Reddit, hacker news, product hunt. When I launched Treendly, I had already launched on these platforms several times.
It was fairly easy to make people sign-up on an entirely free plan. Because I studied my competitors’ launches I already know all of the objections my target market could make to me. For that reason, I prepared a swipe file with my answers to each one, and when the time came, I just copied and pasted my thoughtful reply in a second.
Reddit is known to not like self-promotion, so my approach there is usually to deliver tons of value in a post and then have a small task at the end.
Hacker News is a platform whose audience is mostly made up of programmers and technical people. These people like to know how you built your product more than anything else, so my advice would be to focus on the tech part.
Product Hunt is the most generalist of these platforms and it's a hit or miss. You can easily not end up in the "featured" section. My advice would be to post early in the day to get some initial traction before the US wakes up (I usually post around 9 am Italy time)
I’m bootstrapping Treendly, which makes money from day 1.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
So, being bootstrapped I don’t have a lot of cash flow to spend on paid ads. That’s why I pretty much employ only organic strategies.
The most non-obvious one is media placements. I was fortunate enough to place Treendly in a couple of media articles and even a physical book early on. These placements to this day drive a lot of sign-ups per week.
I consider these part of the main product offering, but because they are separate from the main platform you can definitely launch them and market them separately.
This is called "engineering as marketing", and it's a smart way to have an excuse to talk about your product over and over again.
In terms of pricing, I did a lot of experiments. Recently, I introduced a low-ticket yearly plan at just $99/y for two reasons:
1 - Treendly is a low-touch product and for this reason, it should be an impulse buy
2 - I’m not entirely dependent on subscriptions, as I can now also monetize the free newsletter which currently has 8,000 subscribers and counting.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
So, in 2021 I brought the business to $100,000 in annual recurring revenue, just from running my SaaS products. It’s profitable, and I started paying myself $3k/m and hiring. I hired my first full-time assistant, Clarice, who helps me in the day-to-day operations. She is from the Philippines and works remotely.
There’s definitely a plan to expand the products (I bring to market 5 products per year on average), and the team as well.
At the time of writing, I'm working on revamping Cart, which is a product that sells e-commerce data of Shopify stores.
I'm also bringing to market signl.vc, which lets data-driven VCs discover companies filtering by company signals like hiring intents, expansions intents, acquisition intents, and more.
Moreover, I'm also working on the first web3 jazz record label called Metaverve where I plan to sell unique, rare music and poke with the composability aspect of web3.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned that you need to choose your partners wisely. If you switch your focus from consuming to producing, a lot of people will be attracted by that and try to get 100% of your time. Guard your time with your life.
I also learned a lot about myself through the building. I learned that I’m a starter. I also like to act super fast, without planning in most cases. When you plan, you think a lot and you go through all the fun in your head, so when it comes time to actually deploy the idea, you have lost the “momentum”: you had the fun in your brain already.
I also learned that I don’t like people. There are a lot of inputs in the world right now: radio, internet, podcasts, tv, news. People are strong inputs as well. So I make sure to limit my access to people and set aside some introspection time.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I keep an updated list of third-party software I use here, but the message I’d like to pass is that what you don’t use is at least as important, if not more, of what you do use.
For example, I can tell you that I’m writing this using a second monitor, and you could be thinking that to do what I do you’d need to have a second monitor. It’s not, and if you think that way what you want is probably to be entertained. You need to switch from that mindset to a mindset of just pure doing.
I coded all of my software products with no fancy chair, no fancy desktop, no nothing. My computer is mac but it’s falling apart.
Here is a running list of things you don’t probably need to do.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I know it can seem unrelated, but I’m inspired by music a lot so I’m going to mention in no particular order J.S. Bach, Wayne Shorter, Bartok, Lee Konitz, Maurice Ravel, Gerard Grisey, and of course my teachers Rossano Emili, and Gianni Lenoci.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t follow the crowd, don’t follow mainstream advice. There's no one way of doing things.
For example, I like bootstrapping, but you might value getting outside investments. I don't aim for a big exit, you might. I like doing it in solitude, you might value getting a team, etc.
Also, it almost always doesn’t pay off to work 18 hours per day. First of all, because you should stay sharp and get a good night’s sleep, get that workout in, get healthy. A lot of people say you should obsess over customers. Well, let’s just not forget that there is another key component to having a healthy business. That component is you, the founder. No founder, no business. And, no customers. Obsess over you.
Secondly, you should put things in perspective. To help with that, I recommend that you find the thing that makes the other things you do meaningless. For me, that thing is music. And, I’ve always known.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are hiring a developer, a content strategist, a marketer, and an operation director. The positions are fully remote but you need to be from Estonia to be eligible. We work either with full-time contractors or full-time employees. If you are interested, please say hi at: [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
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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