Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Rohan Arun and I’m the Founder of Instoo, a social automation service. My startups started with computer vision/3D reconstruction for sports in 2010, and I’ve raised a total of 3.9mm for them. I have been granted U.S. patents in 3D reconstruction, distributed computing, and distributing 3D scenes over networks. Automation was initially a hobby that I now focus on.
I wrote a viral article in 2017, which ranked #1 on Google and gave me a lot of insight into the automation market through constant comments. This window led to an ‘aha’ moment when I launched Instoo to simulate humans using machine learning and locally installed chrome extensions. Everyone and their dog has an Instagram, so your target audience is guaranteed to be there. Instoo automates business growth on social platforms.
We now have thousands of global active users across all versions with 30,000 in average monthly revenue including LTD and subscription sales.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2010 Cnet’s founder went looking for a way to revitalize horse racing through technology, and so he found my professor at BU, who was the foremost researcher in glasses-free auto stereo 3D screens. To drive these screens, you needed 8-128 real views instead of just 2, because it allowed you to walk around the room and see multiple different stereo perspectives. At the time, no one had a real-time solution to do that, but my professor had an old paper on doing it slowly with blocks of pixels.
So they found me while I was interning at a defense company called Mercury Computer Systems in MA doing GPGPU (General-Purpose Graphics Processing Unit) development, or parallel processing with graphics cards. I expanded my professor's research to generate infinite photorealistic views between two cameras in real-time using CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture). I ended up building a real-time prototype, but I also accidentally realized you could “slide” through the views in 2D in real-time. It was kind of like the matrix effect:
That video was taken at 3800 Washington St. in San Francisco, this huge mansion was modeled after The Petit Trianon in France, which my team and I stayed at for the first year of my first startup.
It has a ballroom in the basement, which Stravinksy played in, and housed survivors during the San Francisco 1906 earthquake.
Then we moved to Bel-air and worked on raising the first investment.
I had changed the technology to allow a real-time “matrix effect” around sports like tennis, and the demo was striking enough that we demoed it to all the big media executives in the world.
They told us that most sports fans didn’t want to interact, but rather, they wanted to sit on the couch and watch a crystal clear broadcast. They believed the “Holy Grail” for sports in 2012 was the ability to control the broadcast HD camera, live on-demand, for each viewer.
So we set out to solve that problem photo-realistically. We ended up raising 3.9mm and building a prototype which we launched with the Tennis Channel at an exhibition event in UCLA with Novak vs. Fish, along with many celebrities like Bruce Willis and Rainn Wilson.
My co-founder had to file for bankruptcy after that, so I had to split off and ended up raising another 700k to solve the problem photo-realistically:
In 2017 James Damore published the Google screed to argue that certain minorities shouldn’t be programmers. I remembered I learned to code with tutorials online myself, so I decided to write an article to negate that.
It taught anyone to build Instagram bots in 15 minutes on google cloud for free. I wrote it It went viral and ranked #1 on google for bot-related things, so it gets a lot of daily traffic even today. Automation was a hobby at that time in 2017.
People started commenting on the article for help whenever it broke, so it started ranking higher on google till it reached #1 on many searches, and this gave me a live window into this market.
Eventually, all open source bots stopped working, so I could no longer help my readers. That’s when I thought about how I could solve the problem(flux-capacitor moment).
At the end of 2018, I decided to monetize the traffic and build Instoo, since all the other Instagram bots were failing. I followed the security blogs, so I knew Instagram started recording the history of the network vs account. This is why Instoo is a Chrome extension: it runs on your home network and simulates a real human.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I was stuck on a cross-country flight without Wifi. I decided to try and monetize that viral article and built the prototype of Instoo, with my laptop as the server. When I landed, I published it and put the link in the article. When I woke up the next morning, there were sales.
Vs. the current version:
Our development process values fast iterations. We often release new features or bug fixes the same day they’re found. Live chat was a crucial part of that at first, and then later we relied heavily on AppSumo for feedback and product iteration.
AppSumo users are willing to work with early-stage founders to give feedback in return for lifetime access and influence in the early product roadmap. All the major recent features, like the beta dashboards for other networks, were requests directly from AppSumo users. Appsumo is a community of users who help founders build products in return for lifetime access and early influence in the product road map.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I got lucky since I had a viral article that ranked #1 on google:
I launched by putting a link in my article, and instantly had sales on day 1. It was growing constantly and organically at least since, and I started using Google ads last year.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Google ads work extremely well to attract customers.
Drip works to keep customers engaged and to walk them through a free tutorial with multiple opportunities to upgrade.
We noticed a large increase in retention rates when we displayed the growth chart at the top of the dashboard, so users see the value when they finish their 14-day free trial.
We trained a reinforcement model to both optimize growth rates and avoid blocks, which seems to increase retention rates over time.
AppSumo’s social proof also increased our conversion rates drastically since this market in general has a lot of shady competitors who look legitimate and can make a nice looking website. Our website looked dull, but our tech was novel and breakthrough.
My viral Medium article still gets traffic:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
- Gross margins: 80%
- Cost of goods: $6000/month
- Customer Acquisition Costs: $0.74
- ROAS: 4.34
- Email list: 60,000 subscribers
- Conversion rate: 18.60
We just launched Cheat Layer, which exposes a powerful machine learning-powered scripting layer on all websites to automate business tasks and save hundreds of hours per month.
We noticed most of our users ran their businesses in the browser, between services like Shopify, Google sheets, Drip, Linkedin, Mailchimp, etc.
Cheat Layer allows non-technical entrepreneurs to instantly generate working code, using machine learning, to automate custom business tasks on all websites.
Common use cases include scraping data for lead generation, transferring data between websites like Google Sheets, or pushing repetitive buttons to automate business tasks.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
AppSumo is a hidden gem in launching products. For startups, you get access to a community of active evangelical users who’ll give you immediate feedback and social proof. These users are aggressively seeking deals to run their businesses faster/cheaper, and most are digital marketers(you’ll see a lot of digital marketing tools). They’re willing to try a new or beta tool that solves their burning problems for a great deal, and this process has taught them how to spot good products based on the team, responses to deal questions, deal term structures, and features. You’ll instantly hear if there’s a problem with your pricing, for example.
I was lucky to have some successful mentors with track records who gave me shortcuts. They explained how to properly solve problems and build startups using first principles, and explained their mistakes to avoid them.
Beyond these surface benefits, the business model enables a go-to-market strategy to compete with any software monopoly(preferably in digital marketing, but this model can work in any market). Let me explain:
- Pick any existing profitable Saas monopoly.
- Clone their product and sell a lifetime deal, because users will always need lifetime access to popular software.
- Treat LTD sales as dilution-free crowdfunding. You get 100x more sales because users are willing to pay upfront for lifetime access and some but to use ‘some-day’.
- Use the profits to buy PPC ads in your monopoly’s market and carve out a sustainable competitor.
You can see this model is applied constantly in AppSumo and the LTD market with all the SEO tool clones you see filling in the holes left by the last one. The reason is people will always need lifetime access to these tools, and the natural life cycle of these businesses is to switch to MRR as they grow. I predict there will always be an LTD market for the same tools, and the business model enables a go-to-market strategy to compete with any software monopoly.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’m not an expert at marketing, but I got lucky with organic growth. Our marketing stack includes :
- Customer Support: Intercom
- PPC Ads: Google ads
- Scheduling Automation: Calendly
- Email Automation: Mailgun
- Knowledge Base: Abhisi Lifetime deal
- Email Drip Marketing: Drip
- Blog: Medium
- Cheat Layer: Building Instoo and target research automation for users
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I was lucky to have some successful mentors with track records who gave me shortcuts. They explained how to properly solve problems and build startups using first principles, and explained their mistakes to avoid them. I often found those old lessons useful only years later when my business had many customers. My early startups required investors and were more research efforts than businesses for most of the road map.
For example, I met with Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris, who gave me early advice on building APIs. My first co-founder was Cnet’s founder, and he relayed many of his early lessons in building the first website. He explained how they learned to a/b test and optimize the data for the first time.
I’d recommend similarly seeking mentors, people who have failed enough that they can give you shortcuts, kind of like finding the ladders in a game of snakes and ladders.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you know something unique or valuable, start teaching it in writing or youtube videos. For writing, try to add many visual elements in tutorials like intermediate gifs or videos. This seems to naturally rank well on Google, I assume because people find it useful enough to revisit. You will grow an audience, who will tell you what they want, and you can then build things for them.
Even if you don’t want to build things yourself, you can monetize the traffic to your content online through sponsors or affiliate marketing. I recommend building a business though because the ROI is much higher. I luckily learned this early by writing articles on Medium, which helped me easily launch Instoo with organic growth.
In contrast to my years pitching to raise the next investment, bootstrapping with profitability on day 1 is light years a better experience all around. You learn more about the actual business by dealing with more customers than VCs, and you don’t waste a lot of time potentially going in the wrong direction only to find out customers don’t want your product.
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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