We Built A Six-Figure Collaboration Tool For Microsoft Word [Over 10K Users]

Published: February 15th, 2022
Aaron Beashel
Founder, Simul Docs
Simul Docs
from Sydney NSW, Australia
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Aaron Beashel, and I am the Co-Founder of Simul Docs.

Simul is a version control & collaboration tool for Microsoft Word that makes it easy for multiple people to collaborate on Word documents.

Most people collaborate on Microsoft Word documents by emailing them back and forth with Track Changes using crazy filenames like ‘Contract_V27_DAVES_EDITS’. Simul provides a better way.

We have over 10,000 users in 65 countries, including Microsoft, Harvard University, Samsung, Disney, and more. We’re currently at $140k annual recurring revenue and doubling every year.


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

My Co-Founder Ben came up with the original idea for Simul Docs. He is a software engineer, and he took the principles and approach to version control that developers use for code (known as Git) and apply it to Word documents.

It takes patience and hard work, but you’ll be surprised how far you’ll come in just a few years.

He created an MVP and launched it on Hacker News. It went straight to the top and was there for 2 days. He got over a thousand signups in that time and even got a call from the Head of Office at Microsoft asking to talk about an acquisition.

Taking this as validation, Ben quit his job and focused full time on Simul. As an engineer, he was great at coding but wasn’t experienced at marketing & sales, so once there was a fully functional product I came on board as a co-founder to lead the go-to-market side of things.

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

In the early days, it was just Ben, so he designed and built the application himself in about 14 months.

He leveraged existing technologies where possible to speed up time to market, such as hosting the application on Microsoft Azure’s cloud hosting rather than provisioning servers himself.

A screenshot of the product’s first version before the company went through a brand refresh and the product got a major UI update

Describe the process of launching the business.

After the initial Hacker News launch and the excitement around that, things died off and revenue and new users slowed.

The issue was that at this stage, we had no repeatable model for acquiring customers. We did well on Hacker News and that sent a few thousand visitors and signups, but beyond that, we had no way to of acquiring customers. We did no SEO, no paid ads, no blogging, etc. As a result, things dropped off significantly after that initial flurry of interest.

There wasn’t a repeatable go-to-market model in the early days that allowed us to reliably attract and convert new customers.

Bootstrapping a software company is a lot of hard work for very little reward in the early days, but once you get a few years into it you get momentum on your side and revenue starts to grow quicker and quicker.

The main acquisition channel was a blog post Ben wrote that ranked #1 in Google for ‘Version control for Microsoft Word’, which brought in around 1,000 visitors per month. That post brought in a slow but steady stream of customers in the early days before I joined.

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

I have 10+ years of experience working for high-growth software companies, including many that went on to have $1 billion+ valuations, so when I joined I took over all the sales & marketing efforts.

In terms of customer acquisition, over 95% of our website visitors are free trial signups and customers that come from Organic Search.

As a product that helps people collaborate on Microsoft Word documents, we just try to rank for anything to do with Microsoft Word. This includes:

Our SEO efforts drive over 100,000 visitors to our website each month for close to $0, and we’re able to convince a percentage of those people to try our product and ultimately become customers.

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

We have over 10,000 users in 65 countries. We’ve doubled revenue every year since we started.

We’re a completely bootstrapped company (have never taken any outside funding) and we plan to stay that way.

For us, the future is a small but highly profitable business that helps us live a great life (both professionally and personally). We’re committed to bootstrapping the business so that we have the flexibility to take it in whatever direction we want (I.e. work only on the things that excite us, and have the flexibility personally to work when and where we want to).

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

The big thing I’ve learned is the power of long-term thinking. I think before Simul I was like any other millennial that had a focus on short-term gratification.

Bootstrapping a software company is a lot of hard work for very little reward in the early days (Ben and I took no money from the company for several years), but once you get a few years into it you get momentum on your side and revenue starts to grow quicker and quicker.

It would have been easier in the early days to take outside funding and be able to pay ourselves, but by not thinking about the short-term and instead of thinking about what we want the company to look like in 5-10 years we’ve put ourselves on a much better path.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

From a sales & marketing perspective, we use Hubspot as our CRM, Amplitude & Chartmogul for analytics, etc.

One cool tool we use is Attributer. It populates our CRM & analytics tool with marketing attribution data (I.e. The fact this new customer came from our paid search campaigns) and makes it much easier for us to answer questions like ‘How many new signups did we get from our campaigns?’ How many customers?’ How much revenue?’ etc. With this data, we can make much better decisions about where to invest to grow.

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

Vivid Vision - a great book on long-term thinking and creating a ‘Vivid Vision’ of what the future of your company looks like, and then aligning all of your decisions towards achieving that vision.

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

Think long-term. Decide what you want your business to look like in 5 or 10 years (including details like the number of employees, products sold, revenue, office locations, etc) and write it down. Then work backward from there setting goals & milestones for each year (I.e. In year 1 we want to achieve XYZ things on the way to our 5 or 10-year vision).

It takes patience and hard work, but you’ll be surprised how far you’ll come in just a few years.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

No. Simul is just us 2 founders and we plan to keep it that way (part of our Vivid Vision for the company is to not have employees and just to run it ourselves, giving us the ultimate flexibility of when we work, where and what on).

Where can we go to learn more?