Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Mohamad Alasadi, a 19-year-old entrepreneur and blogger at mohamadalasadi. Around a month and a half ago, I started my first ever SaaS company, Hawk Prospecting, after a failed attempt at running my marketing agency. Hawk Prospecting was the tool, the missing piece of the puzzle I needed when I ran my agency.
Hawk Prospecting is a B2B prospecting software that helps agencies and salespeople find and connect with ideal prospects and decision-makers. We find emails, numbers, social media, and more for over 2.5 billion+ prospects worldwide - the largest database in the industry.
I had adopted the ‘lean startup’ methodology and so I decided that launching my business early was much more beneficial than spending months perfecting the product. The biggest issue I faced was lacking the technical knowledge needed to build a SaaS company, however, my interest in the space helped me pull through and find a solution.
After a lot of stress and lost hope, I was able to find a workaround that enabled me to fully build out Hawk Prospecting with the help of a no/low-code site builder which we’ll discuss below.
All of this was well worth the struggle. We managed to strike $1500 in monthly revenue in our first 2 months, consecutively, with projections between $2,000 to $3,000 this month due to Black Friday.
The data we offer is used by the likes of IBM, Constant Contact, and Workable - some of the largest companies in their fields.
When you fail, it can be hard to move on - but just know that the longer you take to move on, the further behind you’ll be.
Had I let the early-day setbacks stop me in my tracks, I would have missed the opportunity to build a fulfilling business that solves real-world problems for agency owners and salespeople.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Owning a marketing agency for almost a full year, I came to learn all about the struggles and pain points we faced. Some of my biggest problems were regarding prospecting and finding qualified leads who can benefit from my services. Whilst doing my prospecting, day after day, I struggled to find a single tool that helped me find everything I can on a prospect whilst also on a low budget.
Most tools were expensive, inaccurate, or incomplete, leaving me to manually dig through Google looking for any information I could scrape up.
Luckily, after paying for some courses, I was given access to some communities full of other agency owners like me. I used the communities and agency owners in my network to figure out whether or not this was a pain point for others too. I created posts in Facebook groups, and I messaged my close network of agency owners asking them if they could help me fill out a ‘problem-stack rank’ survey. This was a quick survey that talked about the problems I assumed my audience had and it gave them an opportunity to either upvote, downvote, or add problems to the stack.
At that time, I was also looking into SaaS and was interested in the business model. High-margins, infinitely scalable, and automatable. What else could I ask for? As I slowly kept validating the idea by speaking to more and more agency owners, I also started to see how I could pursue this as a business - I was quickly let down when I was quoted upwards of $50K by many web developers on Upwork.
You shouldn't be scared to fail because when you fail, then you’ll know what you need to work on.
Unemployed, living with my mother, it was impossible for me to afford anything near this price tag. However, I wasn’t going to give up just yet. This idea felt different from all the other projects I’ve tried over the years, I wanted to make this one happen. I was very much interested, passionate even, about growing a fleet of SaaS businesses, and this seemed like the perfect place to kick things off.
Below, you can find a screenshot of what a simple problem-stack-rank looks like.
From the user’s perspective, it looks like a Typeform survey.
Take us through the process of designing your prospecting software
Following a few conversations with other founders and entrepreneurs, I came to realize the abundance of resources we have as startup founders today. You don’t necessarily need to know how to code to start an online software company.
I was introduced to a no/low code tool early on which drove the rest of the project to fruition. I spent day after day learning the platform and figuring out how it worked, what its limitations were, and what I could design on there. I became obsessed with the business, and it was no longer just an ‘idea,’ it was now a full-time project.
It took me a little over 3 weeks of the daily building to complete Hawk Prospecting. Starting with the functionality, we had to find a way to compile and present the data. The first week was all spent on finding a way to get the tool to work. The screenshot below is what the first version looked like, not very pretty, I know.
Thinking back to the research stage, I figured that the most important feature needed was to simply be able to find your prospect’s contact information. That’s why, after reading and learning all about the ‘lean startup’ methodology, I decided that this should be the main feature we launch with, along with some other features that gave the tool a more ‘complete’ look and feel. This included settings paid plans managed through Stripe, and the complete design - the product didn’t need to be perfect to launch as an MVP.
Contrary to popular belief, it didn’t cost me a lot to build the tool. Unless you’re paying others to build a software product for you, it’s going to cost you close to $0. Unfortunately, there were a few final features I couldn’t figure out that forced me to bring in a freelance developer to help me implement. This set me back only $300 in total.
Compared to the $50K I was previously quoted for the full project, I’d say that this was a victory in my books.
I found a Google Sheet with 100s of startup directories where you can list your startup. This was a great way to get backlinks to my site and rank better on Google, whilst improving my SEO.
The plan all along was to build a lucrative bootstrapped business and so I didn’t spend my time writing a business plan or a pitch deck - a mistake I had made in the past with another startup business idea, Condensr. I figured that this time, I’ll focus on building the product and launching it rather than spending time doing things that don’t produce a return on my time investment.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After completely building out the tool, I started to get anxious about launching. I felt like up till now, nothing I’ve tried has gone to plan, nothing I’ve tried has been successful so why would this be any different? I was scared of launching and failing, falling flat on my face. The thought of going back to the drawing board after another failed attempt was horrifying.
For a few days, I tried to come up with any excuse I could not launch until I finally realized how much I was sabotaging myself. It was finally time to get out of my comfort zone and launch. During the few days of procrastination, I was busy building a go-to-market strategy, a way for me to get my early users on the platform to share their feedback. Owning my marketing agency, I had a lot of experience with outreach and so this was going to be the biggest driver of user acquisition. Being a long-time face in the agency community made it somewhat easier to communicate and relate to the agency owners I was going to reach out to.
When I launched, I had also put the business up on Product Hunt. I was scared to check the number of users during the first day because I was afraid of seeing the number 0. Luckily, during my final check of the day before bed, I was able to get my first user to sign up. It gave me a sense of fulfillment that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
ProductHunt was driving lots of the traffic - when I woke up to check the software the next day, I had a sharp increase from 1 user to 7+ users. This was when I started to realize that this is different from anything I’ve previously tried. People were signing up for the tool, people were interested in using Hawk Prospecting.
Whilst my costs were low, I was in a race against time to get my first few paying users. The goal was to break even within the first month. A few days following my launch, I was approached by someone from Appsumowho told me that they wanted to feature my product - I was excited because the business was so new and it was already getting attention from big names like Appsumo. After a Zoom call with their team, we decided to post my product on Appsumo and it wasn’t long after that we started to get a ton of free traffic and users signing up. By the end of the month, I had far exceeded my expectations and made $1500 in total revenue.
This was 22X more than what I aimed to achieve.
The biggest lesson I learned during the launch was that you’re never going to know if something will succeed or not. You shouldn't be scared to fail because when you fail, then you’ll know what you need to work on. If I spent longer trying to avoid the inevitable, I would have never been able to get those initial 100 users and the $1500 in revenue. People will always want to support a new business, you’ve just gotta put yourself out there.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My initial idea was to build the product and dump marketing dollars at it to grow. However, after the product was finally ready to launch, I knew that there is a long way to go before we’re able to market this SaaS product using paid marketing. Results will be disappointing had I decided to feed Mark Zuckerberg from day 1.
When you’re just starting, it’s important to focus on things that will move the needle for you. These involve learning all about your users and understanding what they want. Therefore, part of my decision to hold off on paid marketing came from the realization that user feedback is more crucial than ever at this stage. My marketing efforts at this point originated from my marketing agency practices.
I focused on reaching out to marketing agency owners because this was a market subsection that I was already very familiar with. I suggest any founder, especially in SaaS, also focus on speaking to their users early on and as you scale to get closer to product/market fit. As part of my go-to-market strategy, I reach out to 30 agency owners on Facebook, 15 on LinkedIn, 20 through email automation, then answer 10 Quora questions too, all daily. So far, both Facebook and LinkedIn work well for me, whilst emails are a little slow.
Quora is more of a long-term game that will pay dividends in a few months or even years to come.
The reason they work well is that I’m building real connections and resonating with my audience through messages. This way, I can comfortably ask for feedback on the product because I’ve built a connection with my audience that helps me gain their trust.
On the other hand, emails aren’t working as well because they’re not as personal as messages. When you think about how business owners receive 121 emails on average per day, you’ll realize why it might not work so well. With emails, it’s important to keep optimizing your subject lines, and your messaging - something I’m doing currently, to improve your results. Here’s what my current email efforts look like:
Next is to focus on a few marketing channels that work and scale those. A mistake that many founders make is trying to do everything all at once. They do outreach PR, email marketing, cold-calling, paid ads, content, and anything else they could think of to get clients.
When you focus on too many things at once, your efforts will look like the red diagram above - doing a lot of things at once and achieving mediocre results. Instead, you want to focus on being like the green diagram. You want to focus on 1 or 2 platforms that work best to achieve massive success with those platforms.
To increase our traffic, I found a Google Sheet with 100s of startup directories where you can list your startup. This was a great way to get backlinks to my site and rank better on Google, whilst improving my SEO. On top of this, I thought that writing an article where I link back to Hawk Prospecting would also help me build those backlinks for more SEO juice. Although I dislike organic traffic as a starting strategy, it’s great to start building it slowly early on too.
I’ve heard of a few companies who managed to grow completely from organic traffic and SEO, however, this approach requires that you know exactly what you’re doing to optimize on the Google search engine.
I also took the chance of being on Appsumo as an opportunity to receive more organic traffic.
I also understood there are going to be a lot of people who sign up and find that the product doesn’t solve their problems at this point. We have an automatic email marketing letter sent weekly to keep us top of mind and introduce new features as they’re being built. This way, we’re able to see repeat users coming back on the platform to explore features that weren’t there when they signed up initially.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
It’s hard to say how well we’re doing right now. At such an early stage, just over a month in, growth can fluctuate a lot and it’s hard to be exact with the numbers and estimations. However, where we’re currently standing is profitable with a 90% profit margin. Although this may dip over the next few months due to the influx of new users and features added, it should eventually rise back up between 70-90%.
With over 140 users on the platform within this timeframe and around 1000 visitors per month, I’d say we’re on track to reaching 1000 users by May 2022. Our growth engine so far has only involved cold outreach helping us keep our marketing costs low as we identify gaps and growth opportunities in our product.
I have a grand vision for Hawk Prospecting, one where we become the go-to place for all sales and marketing professionals. I believe there has not been much innovation in the sales and marketing space, and we plan on changing that. Starting with a simple prospecting tool, I plan on eventually introducing a whole suite of tools under a single umbrella that works simultaneously to help sales and marketing professionals do their jobs effectively and productively.
Last month we did $1500 which far exceeded my expectations, and this month is on track to do a somewhat similar figure. There’s still so much left to do with Hawk Prospecting, but the main goal currently, is to reach the point of product/market fit. From here, we’ll have a sticky product that businesses can rely on to help grow their prospecting pipelines, and we can systemize and build in processes that help us scale effectively. Only then can we start thinking about introducing new tools and expanding our suite of services.
Whilst most of our sales are coming from deals on Appsumo, establishing product/market fit will help us properly monetize the software and get more paying users on board. It’s a long and arduous process, yet an interesting one at that.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My biggest mistake during my entrepreneurial journey and the inception of Hawk Prospecting is that I was too risk-averse. I was scared of losing money to making money because there was no guarantee of succeeding. Following every business failure I had, this fear got worse and worse, and I had to learn to get over it. The way I look at it is that even if you go to university, there is no guarantee you will succeed, there is no guarantee you will get a job. As an entrepreneur, you’re not putting up nearly as much whilst the upside is 10X, even 100X higher.
When you go to university, you’re putting up 3-4 years or even longer, whilst going tens of thousands of dollars in the hole. As an entrepreneur, we’ve got the opportunity to start businesses starting from $0 that can make us an infinite amount in return.
On my blog, I talk a lot about success and what success demands of us. I feel like the one thing that has helped me the most in my journey is my vision and my WHY. I feel that my vision and my WHY for wanting to make that vision come to fruition are powerful. When you stop thinking about the money and shift that to a more meaningful ‘WHY,’ it’ll help keep you more motivated when it gets tough and it seems like your only option is giving up. A powerful WHY will ensure you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, your vision for the future and how it can affect people’s lives, not just yours or your loved ones, but the world as a whole.
Throughout my journey, I’ve realized that being able to keep pushing and never giving up is the only way to succeed. You’re going to fail, and worse, you’re going to see lots of others succeed on social media which will discourage you. The best decision I made, and one anyone else should make too, is to just keep going and never give up. When you’re able to stick to it for the long run, you’re essentially guaranteed to succeed. I never gave up after my first business failed, I never gave up after my second, third, fourth, and fifth businesses also failed. Whilst working on Hawk, I could have easily given up hope after being quoted $50K for development, but I didn’t, and I’m glad I made that choice. I could have easily given up when I realized that developing this tool alone might be very difficult and will lead to many failed attempts, but I didn’t.
Being young and introverted has also been helpful. I’m not a cocky, ‘know-it-all’ type of person and this has helped me out. Accepting the fact that there’s a whole realm of undiscovered knowledge out there for me has left me vulnerable to exploring it. The more I learn, the more I know, and the better my results are. I feel that the ability to listen to everything before making a decision - something introverts are great at, has taken me far.
I’d also add that I’m great at moving on and adapting to change, something I’ve hated up until a few months ago. In business changes will happen, unexpected changes that no one can anticipate. Being ever-ready to move on as situations out of my control change has helped me survive in a fast-moving environment. When you fail, it can be hard to move on - but just know that the longer you take to move on, the further behind you’ll be.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’d argue that my business is still a scrappy operation in need of systemization. With that said, there aren't many tools or services that I use to run Hawk Prospecting daily.
I believe that when you’re starting, finding a winning strategy and reaching product/market fit are your biggest priorities. To get there, you don’t need anything crazy, you don't have to have everything automated. The way I grew Hawk Prospecting let me create personal connections and relationships with my audience - although it’s time-consuming, it’s what business looks like on the inside.
Like Brian Chesky says, “Do things that don’t scale.” Nevertheless, here are the few tools I use to run Hawk Prospecting.
- Bubble - holds most of the front/back-end of Hawk Prospecting
- Email Octopus - email list tool. It’s amazing because the free version has so many benefits. You’re able to have up to 2500 subscribers and send 15,000 emails per month for free.
- Hawk Prospecting - Ironically, I use our platform to find prospects to reach out to on Facebook, LinkedIn, and emails
- Evernote - I’m a massive fan of collecting and storing my thoughts. I believe that writing things down is the best way to reduce stress and get more work done. Evernote is a great note-taking tool I use daily.
- Fiverr - Whenever I need a freelancer’s help, Fiverr is my go-to place. You’re able to quickly find talented freelancers for a reasonable price.
- Facebook - In my opinion, Facebook is one of the best platforms for lead generation and prospecting
- LinkedIn - Like Facebook, I use LinkedIn daily to connect with prospects
- Quora - I answer questions on Quora to generate leads for Hawk Prospecting. We’re also building the largest entrepreneurial community on Quora!
- Canva- Whenever I need to design an image, banner, logo, or anything creative, Canva is my go-to. It’s the simplest tool to use for designing things.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Whilst running my agency, I was in a terrible state of mind. I didn’t want to wake up because I didn’t want to face the challenges I had awaiting me. To escape this, I found myself going on walks every day where I listened to a podcast episode.
It was difficult to find good podcasts that were beneficial, however, there was one podcast that I can suggest.
Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman is both influential and fun to listen to. It’s uniquely created to resonate with early-stage founders.
Ever since I discovered books a few months into my entrepreneurial journey, I felt something awaken within me that hasn’t been activated for many years. The simple act of picking up my first book started my obsession with reading. I now aim to read a book a month. The most beneficial book I’ve ever read by far has to be ‘The Millionaire Fastlane.’ The Millionaire Fastlane' unlocked a new, mathematical way of thinking for me.
Previously, I thought that to be successful, I would have to depend on luckto get me there.
The author lays out simple strategies of planning to build a business and the sorts of things you should look out for when starting to have the best shot at success.
He calls this 'the Fastlane.'
MJ DeMarco was the first person who went against the status quo and told me that you don’t need to wait a whole lifetime to finally become wealthy, you can do it within a few years.
Until that point, I thought that making millions was only possible if you create the next Google, the next Apple, the next Disney.
The book is swarming with valuable lessons and so I urge you to pick up the book if you haven’t already.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Over on my blog, I’m writing an article daily that talks about my experience and learnings over the past 2 years as an entrepreneur.
From my experience, I’ve managed to boil success down to 3 things:
The idea is simply what you’re going to be building. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. No business is truly unique, there will always be someone or something that does it better. Take Uber as an example, they have dozens of competitors, many of which are successful in their way. The most important thing to consider when choosing your idea is whether people are looking for what you’re selling.
With Hawk Prospecting, people rely on tools like this to run their businesses. That way, if my product is good enough, they’d choose me over the competition and become long-term users of my business. A bit of research can help you uncover what it is that people truly need.
Secondly, you should stack the odds in your favor and make sure you choose a business where your chances of success are at their peak. If you’re a developer, starting a software company should be a no-brainer. All that’s left is to learn about what software people are after, and whether or not you’re able to differentiate yourself slightly.
The mindset is simply what goes on in your head. As an entrepreneur, your only competitor, your only enemy is yourself. When you’re initially starting or you’ve gone through a series of losses like I had to start Hawk Prospecting, you’re going to be in a constant battle with your mind.
Failure after failure, my identity was shifting. I started to associate failure with everything I do. I started to expect failure as a result of everything I did. To be successful you need to learn to combat this. You need to learn to expect the best but also be prepared for the worst. It’s impossible to cover everything there is about the mindset here, in fact, I’m still on a journey of personal betterment myself.
The reason why over 90% of businesses fail is not because of the mainstream reasons you hear about, it’s because they give up too early. Einstein once said, “It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.” As entrepreneurs, we need to build an iron mind, one that is strong enough to fight through battles where all seems lost.
Once you’ve made this mindset shift, your habits come next. I start my day every day by stacking up small wins to help me when it’s time for harder tasks. Doing my bed, reading affirmations, reading a book, exercise, are all part of those small wins. Success isn’t always about adding more, but about the delicate refinement of oneself. Ask yourself “Am I who I need to be today to go where I want to go tomorrow?” If the answer is no, which it will be, figure out who you need to be and build habits in that person’s favor.
The engine of growth
You’ve got your idea, you’ve got the right mindset, now all that’s needed is a way to grow your business. A great product is rarely ever a good marketing strategy. You could have the best product that no one knows about because you chose to neglect marketing.
Find the right engine of growth for your business and feed it.
With these 3 in place, there isn’t much more you need to know about business. Everything else falls into place as you venture through the jungle. Everyone’s story is different. As long as you have the backbones in place, you’re ready to uncover your story.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop them below!
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