Hard Truths From A Bootstrapping Founder On The Road From Zero To One

Published: December 18th, 2022
Axel Lavergne
Founder, reviewflowz
from Paris, France
started June 2021
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

I’m Axel, co-founder of reviewflowz, and I now run the business on my own. A year ago, we launched Reviewflowz, a review aggregator & monitoring Slackbot for SaaS companies on Product Hunt, and got some pretty cool traction initially. MRR quickly soared to $250 and we felt like we were on the right track.

A few weeks in though, everything started stalling. The acquisition was down to the ground, and we couldn’t figure out how to talk to the users we didn’t know personally. They understandably didn’t care about our (repeated) emails and questions very much, despite being paying users for some of them.

So we sort of hit pause, we both had tons of projects on the back burner and went on to work on different things.

And then came March - April 22. We started seeing more and more signups. Then active users. And then paying users. We weren’t looking, but we had Slack notifications for every signup & activation so we could feel it happening.

I focused back on it for a few weeks, and we both gradually started spending more time on it.

Spent a few weeks on bug fixes, and improvements, and before you know it we’re in November, we have 200 active users (we have a free forever plan), and our MRR is steadily growing (albeit slowly). We’re north of $700 now, with positive NRR, steady MoM customer count growth, and tons of upsell opportunities in the pipe.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

What happened on March 22 was SEO. Back when we were trying to figure out acquisition, we had set up a bunch of pages on very niche & specific keywords: G2 reviews to Slack, Capterra reviews to Slack, etc. We figured if anyone had that very specific need, they should be talking to us.

It took a solid 6 months, but google eventually got around to showing us the top of the page, including in brutal red ocean markets like the US.

We started getting a few signups a week, and then a few active users a week. At that point, I was hooked. I reached out to Gaurav (my co-founder at the time) and we started fixing things on the product. The kind of things we had put on the backlog but never really got around to spending time on. We threw in a reporting dashboard, and more platforms, and started working on the next steps.

We had made in 4 days as much MRR as we had after our first launch. Except with 2x more clients. We now had 8 clients.

I hired an intern to work with me in Paris on diverse projects, and we ended up staffing him pretty much only on review flows. We built up tons of comparison pages to position reviewflowz on the market, and grow a deeper understanding of the market, competitors, and user needs, and he was in charge of speaking with every single user – or at least trying.


On our side, we worked on the product a ton, iterating quickly. We’re not developers, so we had a pretty big learning curve to grow our velocity to ship features & fixes, but in my mind, it was critical that we be able to ship a hotfix or an improvement without 17 backs & forths and god knows how much planning.

We re-launched on PH, and this time it didn’t bring as much at all. What happened though, was our intern was a seasoned redittor, and we got tons of traffic and feedback from Reddit. Reddit accounted for over 1100 of 1500 sessions over 2 days.


The cool thing about Reddit was we got (brutal) feedback from people outside of the indie maker/software marketer bubble that’s on product hunt and similar platforms.

“Real life” people.

The main takeaway was that our pricing structure was absolute garbage and that our pitch was weak.

On PH, people would tell you “Really cool stuff” and then not ever try it, just to get a couple of upvotes on their comment. On Reddit, they’ll tell you what they think. It wasn’t all pretty, but getting that sort of feedback was critical for us.

Unlike our first launch, it kick-started durable activity on the app.


Game on.

We had a new cohort of users – some paying, but mostly not paying – but this time they were talking. We were getting a few messages on the support chat with bugs, requests, and ideas, and most importantly, we were able to get on a few calls with the ones we thought were closer to our ICP, and it was super enlightening.

One of the reasons they were talking was because we were giving out tons of stuff for free if you were willing to speak to us. And we let them know. We were also asking for micro-conversions without payment, like reviews on Capterra, 30mn calls with us, etc.

I think understanding our product wasn’t worth much to our ICP as it was, and asking for time to make it better instead of a few dollars was pivotal for us. Whoever gives you time will love your updates, spread the word, and help you make it even better.

We didn’t get that at the time though. We started bidding on AdWords, and we ended up burning $3000 without getting a single paid user – so that sort of hurt.

At that point, sort of August, we were in the “We’re doing it” high again. But the high came to a brutal stop pretty quickly when we realized our acquisition was piss poor, conversions were dropping, and most importantly – nobody was talking to us anymore.

Things got a little tense, we started second-guessing each other, and pretty soon, Gaurav told me he was out. It’s very easy to get super impatient when you’re constantly hoping for things to get better. There’s this legend that you’ll “find PMF” like it’s something definitive and once you have it you’re done, and you enter scale mode.

That’s not what happened to us. And I doubt it ever does.


Like pretty much every other thing in life, it’s a roller coaster. There’s no linear learning. It’s flat af for a very frustrating amount of time, and then you think you’ve suddenly unlocked everything. You think you’re done, level up, but before you know it you’re right back to where you were a few months back.

So to be fair, I was probably obnoxious at times, and I got extremely impatient. I think G was also getting antsy seeing things not moving as fast as we’d have liked, and his other gig was taking an increasing amount of time and mental space.

I could feel that we weren’t quite in the same headspace, so I reached out asking what was going on, and what sort of commitment he had in mind for reviewflowz.

I was not expecting what happened then.

A few days later, he reached out to let me know he was done. Wanted to help in any way he could, said all the right things, and to be fair, I did understand his position.

But that moment hurt. It felt like I was left all alone trying to move mountains.

In hindsight, I was just being impatient, and focusing on the wrong things. It’s hard in those moments to be dependable and see clearly.

I was lucky Parth – our intern – was still around, and I was super impressed with how he took it. Stayed positive, open to the grind, and happy to look for solutions. I never really told him that, but I think without him this whole thing would probably be over now.

Held me accountable, and most importantly, opened my eyes to all the possibilities. He kept that sort of voice in the back of my head telling me there was something there, just need to find it.

I had this embryo I wanted to keep, so I went into survival mode. I cut everything I could to get the burn rate under the MRR. If I was going to keep working on this, it would have to be cash-positive.

So we sort of shifted focus and started trying to convert every user that was the most engaged into a premium account. Our premium is $50 / mo. so it’s not like it was a game changer, but we gradually increased the sales pressure, started reviving conversations, getting back in touch with users that were on a free trial (and had been for weeks) in the hopes the product had gotten far enough to justify the payment.

It sucks, but the first payment came the very next day Parth’s internship ended. Life’s ironic sometimes. That day, we got two first payments. The next day, another one. And a few days later, another one. We had made 4 days as much MRR as we had after our first launch. Except with 2x more clients. We now had 8 clients.

It felt like once your reviews had been sent to Slack for a while, the product was almost a no-brainer.

2 of my “favorite” users (i.e. smart, ICP, and willing to talk) never converted. That hurt I must say, but hey, fair enough, they didn’t get enough value out of it, I can’t blame them.

Later on September, 3 other clients converted, all from the “summer cohort”.

At that point, I was fried. Stopped working for a few weeks, went on holidays in the US and Canada, and just replied to emails & support requests when I had a chance. I set up Crisp on my phone, and I was debugging client accounts on the go. I solved a ticket right here(that’s Taadoussac, in Québec) – My girlfriend was mad but it worked: Zero churn one month in.


October was sluggish. I reset a lot of things on the personal side, threw in a “Lite” plan at $20 to make the entry price lighter, and make the premium look cheaper, and I started to improve a few pages, the product itself, and mostly activation.

I built a search bar to allow users to find their review listings super easily. I started by setting up platform-specific searches for our platform pages, which worked amazingly. Google loves micro-conversions, and people love a search bar.

And then went on to set this up on our homepage with a cross-platform search, and reworked our homepage a bit to have more of a 2022 look. You might notice the (heavy) inspiration from hunter.io


Nothing really exciting but it added another incremental $100 MRR, and most importantly, activation rates soared.

The way I define active users is users who monitor reviews with reviewflowz, so those who get notified every time they have a new review. So not the most engaged in the world, especially small mom and pops shops trying to understand what’s up with google maps, but hey it’s still real activity happening on the product, so that’s a great help.

So we’re now around $700 MRR, and I got another first payment this morning from a user I never spoke to.

The cool thing is we’ve seen zero churns so far from Slack users, including free users, aside from free trials that did not convert. Once their reviews flow into Slack, every user seems to see the value and consider it worth the price point.

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

The one thing that matters is to keep momentum, keep moving forward, keep adding new leads in the funnel, have new conversations, and keep doing the work.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but distribution is the big one in my mind. No matter what channel you go for, or what channel you feel comfortable with, it is a game of precision, and you need the stars to align for anything to happen.

The terrible thing is it’s not linear (at all). You might think poor ads, poor landing pages, and poor pricing will work a little, and it’s just about optimizing. Doesn’t work that way. It will work zero and then work a little. Only then comes the grind to optimize. But once you’re there, you’ve done 80% of the job.

Sort of humbling for the “growth-hacker” I was at a multi-million SaaS company.

The other challenge was just ego and personal growth. Building reviewflowz was one of the most humbling things I’ve done in my life. I was lucky enough to have another business that I started as a side hustle (a blog called salesdorado) which was thriving to sort of boost my confidence levels a bit and pay for a lot of stuff, but building SaaS is hard.

I know everyone says the same thing, and I remember reading the same sentence and being like “Yeah I know, but it’s different for me”. It just isn’t. SaaS is incredibly hard.

The final challenge I would say was staying true to what I wanted to do. It’s super tempting when you talk to others, or when you look at your market to go “I should target brick & mortar businesses instead”. Or e-commerce or whatever. Or go “I should switch to cold outreach instead of inbound”.

Everyone always knows how to grow your business for you somehow. Me included. I’ve probably been extremely annoying to other entrepreneurs in my days as a wannabe.

The hard thing about it is in finding the right balance between using that feedback to build up the vision of what you want to build, while staying true to what you want to be doing. I think this might be what’s behind the famous “Start with why”.

So yeah, I think the biggest challenge is really to build up a good idea of what you want to be doing, not to mention figuring out how to communicate it to others. My mom still has no idea what I do for a living.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

You know how they all say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? I think it took me a solid year to sort of get that, and I’m still not quite there. That feeling – conviction even – that you’re about to be in a state where things will be better is hard to shake off.

It’s an toxic mindset though. It’s the kind of “growth-hacking” mentality that does not apply here.

I have this culture and mindset of looking for opportunities, moving quickly, and making a few thousand € by taking “a spot”. If you’re not careful, you sort of get into that mindset of constantly looking for a quick payoff. And you’re not building anything, you’re just grinding for a quick buck.

The main problem with that mindset is it makes you incredibly impatient. Antsy even, when things aren’t moving like you think they should. And you’re constantly looking for that “Oh now we’re on track” moment, which just never comes of course.

It affects your relationships, your sleep, and your habits, you just get in that sort of “it’ll come” state of mind and it becomes incredibly frustrating quickly.

Back when I was working 9 - 5 I was hooked on reporting, constantly checking traffic, MRR, new paying clients, etc. As if anything I did that day had the slightest impact on those KPIs (it didn’t in case you’re wondering). There was an impact of course, but much further down the line.

The whole “move fast, break things” only really applies to companies with enough traction for speed to be an issue. But getting traction – and the right kind of traction – is the big one in my mind.

When you’re going from zero to one, it’s exclusively about going in the right direction.

Assume you’re flying IFR (instruments only), and your instruments are broken, or worse, giving you unreliable information. The problem you’re trying to solve is “which way should I go?” – Not “am I going to miss dinner?”

This is also one of the reasons I think you shouldn’t necessarily look for money at the beginning.

Everyone says if nobody’s willing to pay for it you’re not learning anything. To me, that’s BS. Anyone can convince a few people to pay for something they don’t need. And that tells you exactly nothing about how to grow.

What you need is the right kind of traction. Tickets, emails, calls, with the right kind of people. The people you’re targeting, the people you want to help, and most importantly, the people who are likely to get value from your product, and become hyper-fans.

And the whole “community” or “audience-first” comes down to selling really, just differently. You build an audience, and then you try to force-feed them something. If you’ve worked properly, you’ll manage to get a few clients to trust you for no other reason than the authority you built up over months, years even.

But those clients won’t help you build a product. They’ll help you make a few thousand dollars.

And even once you get that traction, even if you think it’s the right kind of traction, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey because it’s never over.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with customer feedback and focus only on the building. Happened to me, and I’m hardly at a stage where I get a lot.

But the one thing that matters IMO is to keep momentum, keep moving forward, keep adding new leads in the funnel, have new conversations, and keep doing the work.

I mentioned “cohort” earlier when speaking of groups of users we were working with this summer. It felt this way for reviewflowz. After September was done, it felt like I had to reset everything, like starting a massive machine with tons of bells & whistles.

I think a lot of that has to do with velocity. I had not built anything inside the product to encourage velocity. People can stay on the free plan forever, and just need to contact me to get a free trial. Nothing pushes users when they initially signed up, you can’t get on a trial on your own, etc.

That’s something to work on over the next few months, increasing velocity, so that if a user is to become a paying user, they do that now, and not 6 months from now.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Product-wise, I think next year is going to be all about review generation. I want monitoring to stay the core focus, we’ll keep adding platforms, improving the reporting, and making it easier to manage reviews generally speaking with tags, customer tracking, etc.

But the big play is on review generation in my mind, specifically review balancing. Most SaaS companies are listed on at least 10 review portals. Whether they’re generic review platforms like G2 & Capterra or more specific like the Wordpress plugins marketing, Shopify apps, Hubspot apps, etc.

Not to mention the App Store & Play Store. SaaS companies suck at ASO for some reason.

Long story short, there’s a challenge of optimizing your position on all of those platforms, it’s not just about getting people to say nice things about your product, you need to know where you want them to say those things.

Business-wise, I’d love to pitch an MRR objective or something like that, but really what I’m looking for is keeping a positive NRR, while gradually increasing acquisition. As long as that’s true, even if it’s a slow increase, I know I’m going the right way. Then it’s just a matter of how much time I should commit to it VS other projects.

The next 5 years are a tough sell at this point, we’re still very small, but if I had to pitch a vision, I’d go with the “SEMrush” of all things, not Google. SEMrush is an amazing tool because of the depth it gives you. The insights you can find on that tool are amazing, and it’s all based on Google results. I think the same applies to review platforms and marketplaces.

The “Long tail” sort of pitch except I expect that long tail to grow. I might be dead wrong, but in my mind, SaaS is increasingly becoming about stacks and ecosystems. Massive acquisitions and build-ups are speeding this up, with mega-software companies emerging: Intuit, Salesforce, and Hubspot, …

Business-wise, I’d love for this to grow into a real company that can fly on its own. If that happens, at least I’ll have a solid foundation to build upon, and the sky’s the limit. If growth is slower and it never really gets to that point of inflection – I’d say around 10 - 15K MRR – then I’ll probably look for an exit, ideally with someone that shares the vision and has a genuine interest in the target market (Software founders & product marketers).

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

As lame as it might sound, you’re more important than whatever you’re building. This means your desires matter more, your health matters, and your time matters more. Don’t make the mistake of thinking otherwise.

It’s okay to slow things down. And it’s okay if things are slow. You don’t have to constantly be grinding and trying to get momentum at all costs. That’s the best way to end up spending two months in a completely wrong direction. Worse than wasting time, you’re building debt.

If you’re into US football at all, it’s what coaches keep telling QBs (QuarterBacks): completions, completions, completions.

The worst thing a QB can do is try to force a play that’s just not there. The same applies when trying to build a company. Don’t force a play that’s not there.

Completions, completions, completions.

Do the work, talk to clients, take their feedback, improve your product, distribution, and understanding of the market, and be patient.

You read all these inspirational quotes from entrepreneurs that came out of Harvard or Stanford, loaded with VC money telling you you need to take risks and make ballsy calls. But you’re not one of them. It doesn’t apply to you.

Big plays are for those who can afford them. Be humble, and focus on completions. And if you’re lucky you might be able to make big plays one day. That’s my take anyway.

When it comes to distribution, you can never know the market enough. Study the competition, and understand their pricing grids, their product decisions, and their marketing mix. Don’t just copy it, but understand it. Deeply.

A final one, a lot more actionable: set up Fullstory on the app side of your SaaS. Grind the Fullstory replays. It’s incredibly valuable. Never found an alternative that even came close. Their pricing is outrageous for startups, but their free plan comes with 1000 sessions a month. Set it up on a limited set of pages if needed, but set it up now if you haven’t. I think over the summer, 90% of our product improvements were directly inspired by FullStory. And it still accounts for most of the bugs I notice, and improvements I think of.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can check out our Website if you’re in the software industry, and feel like you could leverage your customer reviews a little better.

And if you’re in the bootstrapping SaaS business, you can join a small Slack community I run. There’s not much conversation there, but I find it’s a cool place to share links & ideas.

You can also reach me on Linkedin.