Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Philippe Lehoux; I’m the CEO of Missive, a shared inbox and team chat app for businesses.
With a small team of three co-founders, we reached $2M in annual recurring revenues after seven years of constant work!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At first, my co-founders and I worked on another project called ConferenceBadge.com. While organizing networking events in my hometown, I noticed how printing name badges the day before the event sucked; an easy online solution to design and order name badges was missing.
After starting the project alone, I quickly realized I lacked the design skills to give the project a solid image. That's when I approached three young and talented guys at my coworking space and asked them if they would be interested in working with me on the project.
We launched the product, and instantly, Eventbrite started to promote it to their customer base. Long story short, we made enough money to go full-time on our projects a few months in. While this was exciting for us, we decided to also experiment with other ideas, as we worked so well together. So, during a brainstorming session, Etienne, one of my co-founders, came up with the idea of a tool that would let you draft emails collaboratively.
We thought it was brilliant and started working on what would become Missive, a collaborative email tool.
Take us through the process of building the MVP.
It took us a solid year to code all of the basic functionality envisioned for an email client. Only then could we invest time in the collaborative aspect of Missive.
We supported only syncing Gmail accounts, and basic email client features like applying labels + internal chat discussion in between emails.
Working with email is hard. When you create a product in a space that has existed for decades, like email, there is no room for an MVP. Instead, potential clients expect a product that works as least as best as their current tool.
People also expect your app to work on all platforms, from iOS, and Android to web and desktops. Right from the start, we took the bold step of working on only one responsive HTML/JS code base for all the different versions.
“ We do however have one big, very terrible, shocking secret. It’s just a ‘responsive’ PhoneGap app that bundles the same code as our desktop apps… 😱”
Until Apple featured us two times under six months on the App Store, we weren’t sure we made the right choice, always stressing the app could get unlisted from the store because it wasn’t native code. Having just one code base to maintain made us agile! To this day we can compete with startups funded with millions of dollars because of this decision.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Wow, time flies. We officially launched Missive on Product Hunt in October 2015. You must remember that at this point, 100% of our revenues came from Conference Badge. We probably got around 100 users that seriously played the app for more than a few days. A few users from that initial launch are still paid users today!
You can see us here in a coding retreat in Italy in 2017; we were still working on both ConferenceBadge.com and Missive concurrently.
And this was only the beginning. It took us three more years to improve the product, find our market and get traction around 2018.
From this initial launch, there is no big events, like being featured in a tech publication (we were never) or raising a funding round (we did not), we mostly slowly won customers one by one… until the sum of all of them made for a pretty good business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
This isn't surprising, but even with the new digital era, word-of-mouth isn't dead, especially when you offer a great quality product. Only recently, we started putting some effort into marketing; before that, we primarily relied on creating an exciting tool that clients would want to use and share. Our initial users were mostly early tech adopters looking for a new innovative cross-platform email client. We found those by posting on different tech discovery communities like ProductHunt, and Hacker News, where we were featured a few times.
When discussing product marketing, people often tend to show off their great ads, SEO content strategy, and elaborate influencer marketing campaigns but overlook the power of a solid product. For years, we have let Missive speak for itself and focused on adding features based on customer feedback. Our users love the app and the customer support experience we offer, and this pushed us to create our affiliate program.
For customer support we maintain three channels of communication:
- Emails where we get bug reports, questions, and feature requests.
- Community-driven feature requested board integrated directly in-app where users can suggest improvements, new features, or integration.
- Direct zoom calls and/or webinars with Q & A sessions.
These channels helped us stay connected to the core issues facing our users when using Missive.
Only recently have we started putting more money and effort into marketing by hiring freelancer writers to create SEO-focused articles, optimizing pages for keywords, and tracking our backlink profile. We've also explored and succeeded with competitors' comparison pages and weekly live webinars.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have found product-market fit and are now looking into accelerating growth. We are still a small team of four full-time employees but want to hire a marketing team and more developers. Last April, we reached $2M in ARR, roughly one year after the $1M mark.
We are all still based in Quebec City, but we plan to be remote-first with our next hires. We also really believe in the power of teamwork retreats, and we plan to do two this year, the first one in Portugal in the upcoming months.
Our long-term goal is to reach $10M ARR with a team of fewer than twenty employees.
Being an entrepreneur is not just about what you do but also what you don't.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
While we have learned many humbling lessons through the years, one we realized was that competing with VC-backed companies, although difficult, was possible.
Being a small team is a huge advantage. It allowed us to control the roadmap and not get lost. The three co-founders took ownership of customer support to stay connected with customer input.
“There is a direct line between the problems and the solutions. Our customers, when they complain, when they voice frustration about the product, we hear them and act swiftly. We act swiftly to please them, of course, but also to keep our sanity; responding to the same complaints, again and again, is soul-crushing.”
On a more personal note taking care of our mental and physical health has been incredibly important. Businesses can’t thrive if the founders feel bad or are in pain. Take care of yourself.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
In seven years, our tech stack has stayed pretty much the same. HTML/JS on all platforms, backed by Ruby on Rails servers, a Postgres database, published on desktop and mobile with Electron and Cordova. Our servers are hosted on Heroku, and we use Stripe for payments.
And of course, we use Missive for all internal communication.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
With four young kids, the only things I’m reading at the moment are before-bed stories and fairytales. But I listen to in-depth interview podcasts with tech figures, politicians, scientists, doctors, etc. I like learning about a broad range of topics and gaining insights about different industries as it helps me get better business perspectives.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
TL;DR; Be focused. Talk to customers.
TL;DR; Be focused. Talk to customers.
Only obsess about creating value for your (potential) customers. Being an entrepreneur is not just about what you do but also what you don't. To illustrate this abstract point, read our blog article about all the things we did not while reaching our $2M ARR.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking to hire our first official marketing employee, a content marketing specialist. You can check out the job details as well as apply here.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can check out our website here, where you can find our features, pricing, and recent blog articles. On social media, follow us on Twitter or Linkedin! If you want to contact me directly, you can do so by emailing [email protected].
Lastly, 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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