I Grew My Spreadsheet Templates Side Hustle Into A $240K/Year Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Adam Hoeksema and I am the Co-Founder and CEO of ProjectionHub. We help entrepreneurs create financial projections to raise capital from investors, lenders, or simply for internal planning.
Today, our primary product is our library of 50+ CPA-developed financial projection spreadsheet templates. Our templates are used by startups in almost every industry from SaaS, eCommerce, and hardware tech, to restaurants, dental offices, and trucking companies.
What started in 2012 as a side hustle between two brothers ages 23 and 17, now generates over $20,000 per month in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2012, I was 23 years old and working a day job as the Director of a small business microloan program where we made loans to small businesses. We often asked our loan applicants to provide a set of financial projections.
My top tip for entrepreneurs that are just starting or thinking about starting is simply to start. I have learned so much by simply trying things and failing, but I would have never learned as fast if I didn’t just go for it.
So that year when I was completing my taxes using TurboTax, the lightbulb went off, “why isn’t there a TurboTax for creating financial projections?”
I immediately called my brother, who was only 17 at the time, and a self-taught software developer, and asked him if he could build a web app that could help people create projections. He said yes, and we were in business!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We started the process of creating the ProjectionHub web application by first creating a financial projection template in Excel. Then we turned that spreadsheet into a web application.
Brandon was only 17 at the time and had no professional software development experience, so he ended up building almost everything from scratch instead of using some tried and true software development frameworks or tools. We were young and just didn’t know what we didn’t know yet.
The initial app cost less than $2,000 to build and hundreds of hours of sweat equity from Brandon. After we had a working MVP with some paying users, we entered the Taylor University Business Plan Competition in early 2014 and won 1st place and $7,000! Below is a picture of us pitching at the business plan competition.
With the validation of winning and $7,000 in hand, we decided that to have a chance at scaling the business we needed help from a professional designer and software development team to completely rebuild the software from the ground up.
We embarked on a year-long process of building ProjectionHub 2.0 that also came with a price tag of over $100,000. During this time I kept my day job as the Executive Director of the microloan program and was able to self-fund the development of ProjectionHub 2.0.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we first launched, our strategy to acquire users was almost completely based on producing content that ranked well in organic search. So I wrote hundreds of blog posts on our blog like How to Start a $400,000 Trucking Business with One Truck.
I created dozens and dozens of Youtube videos with walk-throughs on how to use the software to create projections for various types of businesses. I wrote guest blog posts on dozens of partner websites. Over months and years, the content strategy started to pay off and we would get up to 2,000 visitors to the site each day that might read some of our content and then sign up for a free trial of the software.
Here was our very first self-made website with a logo developed for less than $50 from a designer on Upwork.
Brandon and I put in a lot of sweat equity, but once we made the strategic decision to rebuild the app from scratch with a professional software development team we needed to come up with $100,000+ to make that happen. We reinvested every dollar of revenue into the business, I kept my day job and invested tens of thousands of dollars into software development, and I took out a $50,000 loan from my parents-in-law.
The redesign was completed in 2016 and looked much, much better than our original self-made website that was designed by an accountant and a software developer!
New 2016 redesign:
Despite the six-figure investment and the nice new design, we simply couldn’t make the software as a service business model work for ProjectionHub. We learned two expensive lessons:
- Entrepreneurs need financial projections for a point in time, usually surrounding a fundraising event. They didn’t want to pay a monthly subscription for financial projection software when they only needed projections for a certain point in time.
- We learned that Excel is still a pretty powerful tool! With every feature, we tried to add to the software we were just recreating Excel, but Excel already exists, so what was the point of ProjectionHub?
We needed to make a pivot.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
By 2017 it was clear that we needed to pivot away from the software subscription business model. We were stuck at about $3,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Each month we would gain new subscribers and lose about the same number of subscribers through cancellations.
Over the years I had been building custom financial models in Excel for some ProjectionHub users that had a more complex financial model than our software could support. In 2018 I decided to lean into this services business and spent a year trying to generate as much consulting business as I could on the nights and weekends.
I generated about $35,000 in additional consulting revenue in just a few hours per week throughout the year, so in 2019 I hired Grace Cisna to join the team and take over our consulting business full time. Grace is a talented CPA and Excel wizard.
As Grace started completing custom financial models for every imaginable industry, she also built out a library of financial projection templates in Excel that we could sell directly to customers.
In 2020 we leaned into our template library offerings. We added over 50 industry-specific financial projection templates. We hired a PPC and SEO agency that has helped us nearly triple our monthly sales over the last 12 months and bring us up to $20,000 in monthly revenue.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
2021 has been a record year for us. Our Google Adwords campaigns started things off with a bang and helped us increase template sales dramatically. In the spring we decided to slow the PPC campaign down just a bit and focus on optimization of the ads and our SEO and organic search listings. In October 2021 our cost to acquire a template buyer through PPC dropped to $70 with a lifetime value of a template customer at around $130.
We have also been able to hire a Director of Marketing, Kyle Fawcett in the fall of 2021 to help take our efforts to the next level. We believe we have an opportunity to be the go-to source for entrepreneurs seeking financial projection templates and think 2022 is going to be our best year yet.
My goal for 2022 is to hit $50,000 in monthly revenue primarily through templates and other digital goods sales that have a very high margin.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned many lessons since starting ProjectionHub in 2012, but I think there are 2 primary lessons I have learned.
- You can’t force product-market fit - For the longest time, I was trying to force the market to use a software subscription service to create projections. Once I listened to the customer and realized that most people still just want a good old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet template, we were able to work to build what I believe are some of the best templates in the industry and the customers have responded by buying our templates.
- Search engine optimization is painful but worth it - We have spent countless hours and dollars working on optimizing our blog, articles, sales pages, etc for SEO. Because we have 50+ templates we have to customize every single page with great, relevant content which is very time-consuming and hard to outsource. But now that we have a strong template library, it provides a huge competitive advantage and a moat for our business that is hard to compete with quickly.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Some of our favorite tools are:
- Stripe for payments
- Webflow for our website
- Clickfunnels for our sales pages
- Hotjar for website visitor behavior
- Intercom for live chat
- OptinMonster for exit-intent popups
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My favorite book as it relates to starting a business is Zero to One which helped me understand the importance of finding a niche that we could dominate and then grow from there instead of trying to be all things to all people.
My favorite podcast for creative business or marketing ideas is My First Million.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My top tip for entrepreneurs that are just starting or thinking about starting is simply to start. I have learned so much by simply trying things and failing, but I would have never learned as fast if I didn’t just go for it. My brother was still in high school and I was just out of college when we started ProjectionHub, we had no idea what we were doing, but we wouldn’t have been able to learn simply from reading or listening to podcasts, we had to just get started and try. You learn so much more and so much faster when you are burning your own money!
So if you have an idea, find a way to get it started on a shoestring budget and just get started!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Although we don’t have specific open positions at the moment I would love to talk to any of the following:
- Excel and financial modeling experts to help us continue to expand our template library
- Content writers that can write business-specific blog posts and help us continue to improve our SEO game.
Feel free to reach out to me personally at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
- Check out our Financial Projection Template Library
- Learn more about our custom financial modeling services
- Or reach out to [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
ProjectionHub has provided an update on their business!
About 2 months ago, we followed up with ProjectionHub to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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