How We Built A Profitable Mass-Texting App [3.5x MRR Growth Since Last Year]

Suan Yeo
Co-Founder, Porterhouse
$2K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
Porterhouse
from Seattle, WA, USA
started April 2019
$2,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
2.93M
alexa rank
239
followers
48
followers
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How We Built A Profitable Mass-Texting App [3.5x MRR Growth Since Last Year]

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi! I’m Suan, Co-Founder of Porterhouse. Porterhouse is a mass-texting service that lets you text large groups from your cellphone number with a single click. After about 1.5 years in business, Porterhouse brings in $2,400 in monthly revenue.

Our customers run the gamut from professional sports teams (like the LA Clippers) to personal trainers and real estate agents and investors. If you have a large group of people to that you need to send important communications over and over, you’re in our target market.

What makes Porterhouse different from other mass-texting services is that we send authentic blue iMessages to iOS recipients instead of green SMS, and texts come from your cell phone number instead of a different provided number.

porterhouse-app

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Porterhouse was started by my Co-Founder Cecil. Both of us have always had an entrepreneurial bent and wanted to do our own thing to escape the 9-5 grind.

Cecil had left a Silicon Valley job to move back to his hometown Wilmington when the idea for Porterhouse came along. After working for about four years, he wanted a break from full-time employment and had about enough runway for a year.

At the time, his trainer wanted a solution for sending daily motivational messages and training material to all his clients. Before Porterhouse he was spending close to half an hour a day copy-pasting the same text to send to each client, and it was tedious. And thus Porterhouse was born.

One way Porterhouse was different from the other business ideas we’ve had is that it’s very self-contained. For example, before that Cecil had a go at a digital table service product for restaurants. That requires lots of direct, on-the-ground sales and some amount of integration. In comparison, Porterhouse had a simple, obvious value prop and could be mostly self-serve.

Take us through the process of designing, and prototyping, your first product.

The initial version took lots of trial and error, but Cecil was able to prove the product’s feasibility by working closely with his trainer. From that point on Cecil gave himself three months to launch a version to the public. Thus the first version of Porterhouse was launched with these features:

  • You could pick contacts from your Mac Address Book to send a mass-text to
  • You could insert {firstName} and {lastName} merge tags and Porterhouse would automatically fill those in for each text
  • If you only had an existing conversation with some of your contacts, there was a very clunky two-phase user experience that required you to click “Send” twice

There was no way to include images, nor upload an Excel or CSV file with numbers to send to (fairly table stakes features), but the basic functionality was there and it got the job done. Our onboarding process was also very tedious where we asked for lots of Mac permissions along with an SMS test upfront, and many users would get stuck. It wouldn’t be till our big redesign a year later that this got addressed.

porterhouse-app
Original Porterhouse logo (we later added a text bubble around it to show the relevance to texting, plus it looked more like an amoeba than a steak)

Describe the process of launching the business.

Porterhouse was launched in April 2019, primarily through ProductHunt. Cecil also coded up a butt-ugly landing page that didn’t use any of the pretty templates out there, but it was something. The ProductHunt launch did pretty well and climbed up to the #5 spot, even drawing comments from ProductHunt’s founder Ryan Hoover.

porterhouse-app

With the ProductHunt exposure and is a completely free product, Porterhouse got a few signups a week, and Cecil continued to fix bugs and add features based on customer feedback. That said, in the summer of 2019 Cecil took a full-time job (it was at this job that we first met) and there was no longer time to work on the product, even though there were still glaring holes such as lack of CSV uploads.

Then more than a year later in Dec 2020, after pivoting away from a different SAAS business that we tried to launch, we decided to revisit Porterhouse to improve and monetize it. This is when I came onboard. We drastically improved Porterhouse’s onboarding process and design, and added subscription payments via Stripe, giving existing customers a 30-day grace period. We then re-launched on ProductHunt in January 2021. This launch wasn’t as successful, but we did get our first paying customer a day later, which felt amazing.

One of the biggest lessons was setting a fixed deadline for getting something out, which led to laser focus and prevented us from building too much before getting any customer feedback. The other lesson was the power of putting something out there for a long time – by the time we revisited the product we’d had almost 400 signups to which we could market the relaunch.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

  • Customer Support and being super responsive
  • Social media, quora
  • Controlling churn
  • Screenshot of iMessage Twitter post

Being a small company, Customer Service is one of the best ways to stand out from our bigger competition. Customers always react well when their chat or email support requests get answered quickly, and when they can get someone very knowledgeable on the line without jumping through hoops. And if I had to guess, customers who reach out for any reason at all are about 3x more likely to convert than those who don’t – so it’s a huge lever.

So far, our growth sources have been social, organic search, software directories such as SaasHub, and content marketing such as Quora answers and our blog posts. Protip: as a “downtime” alternative to watching TV etc, search for relevant Quora questions that your product might be a good fit for and post an answer advertising your product with a catchy image. Quora is one of the very few places that still allow posting links, and is a great targeted way to market and boost SEO.

Never underestimate the power of consistent, steady progress. Every day, pick the most important task(s) and work on them for an hour or whatever – you’d be amazed at the progress you’ve made once you look back.

We have dabbled with Google Ads, but our most recent attempt wasn’t very successful. It may very well be that even more tweaking and experimentation is needed, but we were getting charged boatloads of cash for irrelevant clicks even after a fair amount of tweaking. Facebook ads are another avenue that we want to try out, as they allow targeting of Mac users, something which Google Ads (very surprisingly) doesn’t support.

On churn: sometime last year we had enough customers that losing them started to become noticeable and became a problem. Unsurprisingly, most churns came from customers who didn’t use the product much, and so their first interaction with Porterhouse in a long while would be their monthly billing receipt – obviously not a good feeling.

To combat this and encourage usage, we started sending out a biweekly usage summary email, where if you didn’t send any texts during the period we’d nudge you with a random pro-tip, and mention recently released features. Once this change went out, our churn rate dropped significantly.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Being a typical SAAS with pretty much-fixed costs, we’ve been profitable for a while now and continue to see steady growth. Compared to this time last year, we’ve had a 3.5x growth in MRR and active subscribers, and 2.5x growth in signups. Another major goal for this year is to put in place analytics to get a good idea of conversion rate, activities that signal likely conversions, where users drop out, etc.

porterhouse-app
MRR growth over the past year

Although there are still onboarding issues in the product that could be improved, operationally we’ve gotten to a point where Porterhouse is very much self-serve without any hand-holding. There’s a handful of chats and support requests we answer each day, but that’s it. This certainly wasn’t the case last year, and we’ve gotten to this point by constantly refining the product and Help Center resources through feedback and observations.

There’s still a ton to do and a lot of low-hanging fruit! We’re currently working on adding Google Voice support so that customers don’t have to use their cellphone number for texting, followed by Windows and then Android support. We also want to explore a limited free version so that users stick around, rather than those who don’t convert just leaving after their free trial ends. We also want to explore partnerships, integration marketplaces, and getting on “vendor lists” (such as recommended software for sports leagues) to boost growth.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One big learning for us has been “special requests”, which are potentially lucrative requests, but ones that are outside of what the product is well-suited for.

Early last year we got contacted by a little-known eCommerce /raffle company that was doing a ton of sales. They were also really interested in iMessage capability because part of their marketing to their members was to “diss” Android users(!) They wanted to use Porterhouse to send around 20,000 texts a day to their members.

At the time we weren’t sure how many similar texts you could reliably send through your cellphone number before running into spam issues. Because we thought the number was closer to 1,000, we signed a contract with them where they would get 20 used Macs and iPhones, we’d test sending with Porterhouse, and we would get paid for our time. It turned out that the number was closer to 200, so Porterhouse wasn’t a good fit. There was also frustration in that their real customers were impacted by not all the texts being sent out.

I have a saying that goes “Acting on something, even done poorly, is 80%; doing it well is just the other 20”.

In retrospect, this wasn’t a failure and was actually really valuable, because we got paid for our time, but more importantly, we got really important data on the limits of the product that would’ve been difficult to get otherwise.

Another instance that did end up being a big waste of time was when a potential customer wanted the ability to automatically trigger a text-based upon a Zapier event. Porterhouse isn’t the best suited for this use-case because. But they kept checking in and requesting the feature, and because they agreed to a higher-priced plan, we eventually caved and did invest in building this capability, which took weeks. However when it was all ready, they stopped responding to our emails and seemed to have moved on, and while we now had some limited Zapier capability we could advertise, no other customers have shown interest in it.

One of our recent major initiatives was a complete redesign of our landing page – our previous page didn’t have any videos and did a bad job explaining what the product was. We also had marquee customers and testimonials such as the LA Clippers that we weren’t advertising at all. After the landing page redesign, we also used ListHour to get posted on various software/startup directories and press submissions (that’s how THIS article came about!) These steps did result in both increasing new signups and reducing chats around frequently-asked questions.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

As far as tools go,

  • Mailchimp is huge for us on the marketing end.
  • In addition to email marketing, we also make use of its social media functionality to post to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the same time.
  • And since Google is a big avenue for us, we’ve gotten a verified Google Business Profile and also use Google Reviews for our reviews (it’s a little weird as Google Business Profile is meant for physical businesses, but it works well enough).

porterhouse-app
Our “side panel” that shows up upon a desktop Google search with a link to our reviews

I’d also like to give a shoutout to two lesser-known startup products we use, which are shuffle.dev (quick Tailwind landing page creator for developers), and Swish.ink (simple, affordable blogging service that supports subdirectories under your domain).

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

As far as books or podcasts go, neither Cecil nor I are big consumers of them, and generally prefer learning by doing. I also have a weakness where I often get dismayed instead of inspired when reading about others’ success stories, and hence prefer to stay heads down and work on the business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I have a saying that goes “Acting on something, even done poorly, is 80%; doing it well is just the other 20”. If you have an idea or gut feeling, whether it’s for a whole new product or a potential way to improve your current one, ACT.

Nowadays it’s so easy to get paralyzed with all the information out there on what’s the best tool or best way to do X, how to tell if it’s even worth doing, and what are the best tools to gauge that, etc, etc. Yes, you’ll probably waste a whole bunch of time by jumping in feet first, but you’ll quickly learn, and I’ve been burned too many times by analysis paralysis!

The other quote that I’ve taken to heart from this experience is from Bill Gates: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Especially for those who can’t jump into their business full-time, never underestimate the power of consistent, steady progress. Every day, pick the most task(s) and work on them for an hour or whatever – you’d be amazed at the progress you’ve made once you look back.

Finally, I'm amazed at all the different people from myriad industries that find and use us, from brides to personal trainers to dental office admins to mortgage officers, the list goes on. It really opens your eyes to how vast the business world is, something which is easily lost when just working a fulltime job in a specialized role.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Suan Yeo, Co-Founder of Porterhouse
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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