Building and Optimizing your First Sales Process – Steli Efti – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @Steli

  • Started as productized consulting offering scalable sales processes to VC funded startups in the Bay Area
  • Stumbled into CRM space by releasing internal software
  • Show up. Follow up. Close.
  • Sales is not difficult. It is just emotionally uncomfortable.
  • You have to push yourself to follow up
  • Ask for the close in no uncertain words

Sales Process Exploration

  • Goal #1: find a predictable sales process
  • 3 Steps to Sales Epiphany
    • Customer Profile
      • Who is ideal customer?
      • How do we qualify them?
    • Lead Sources
      • Scalable sources for high quality leads?
    • Sales Process
      • Most successful way to sell to my market
      • Inbound/Outbound; Emails, Calls, Demos, Outside/Inside
  • Get steps 1 + 2 right; people tend to over-focus on step 3
  • Sales Metrics
    • Activity
    • Quality
      • You need a minimum 15% reach rate – ideal is 30%
      • If you are below that, you’re doing something wrong:
        • wrong channel – try faxes for doctors, cell phones for students, etc.
      • “Reach –> Qualified” rate should be 50% or higher
    • Conversion
      • “Qualified –> Close” rate should be 50% or higher
  • Sales Stages (Hiring)
    • Founder Driven
      • At first you have to do sales all by yourself
    • Founder Managed
      • Then you can outsource parts of it and eventually the whole process with close to the same results
    • Junior Sales Leader
      • Someone from a company that was at your stage a year or two again
      • They come from the future – they have all the answers
    • Senior Sales Leader
  • You are NOT allowed to outsource sales. You can not outsource your key business problem

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Game Changers – Rob Walling – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @RobWalling

Part 1: The Early Years (2005 – 2009)

  • DotNetInvoice, WeddingToolbox, LinemanJobs, JustBeachTowels,, CMS Themer
  • no SaaS, most products were acquired
  • Why I got into products
    • Freedom
    • Purpose
      • Personal & subjective
      • For me: learning & teaching
      • I produced/started all my content (book, blog, podcasts) in just 18 months
    • Relationships
      • Having time and headspace for friends & family
    • Stability
      • Ability to not have to worry about next month’s revenue
  • Solution: Recurring Revenue


  • Took all the money I had in the bank and bought HitTail (recurring revenue)
  • Full Story here
  • grew it to $300,000 Run Rate
  • BUT…
    • low price point
    • churn was high
    • $100 LTV
    • Google would change things every other month
  • I still didn’t have Stability, because Google threatened HitTail

Part 2: Drip (2013 – 2014)

Part 3: Drip 2015 – 2016

  • Drip is making profit starting in March 2015
  • Growing companies are rarely profitable
  • Big question: how long am I willing to forego profit for growth?
  • “$25k in a checking account, no car and a rented apartment in walking distance to my office” – Rand Fishkin @ $12.5M ARR
  • My state of affairs mid-2015
    • Freedom
    • Purpose
    • Relationships
    • Stability

Part 4: Drip Acquisition

  • Lesson #1: Never leave your phone unlocked with kids in the house
  • We had many offers for acquisition/funding
    • 2-3 emails per month offering funding
    • several potential acquirers in 2 years
  • What about funding?
    • It would cut down on monetary stress within the business
    • BUT would delay profitability for years
  • All my income hinges on Drip – no fallbacks if things go down south
  • “Startups are bought, not sold”
    • You get maximum $$$ when they need you
  • Objections to selling
    • “My startup is my baby” – don’t get too attached
    • “Selling is selling out”
    • “What else would I do?” – teaching, writing books, angel investment
  • My Deal-Breakers
    • “Sunset” Money
    • Can’t screw our employees
    • Can’t screw our customers
    • Keep doing podcasts, MicroConf, etc.

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Zero to $20k MRR in 20 “Easy” Steps: The Story of – James Kennedy – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @JamesKennedy


  • Launched multiple products over the course of 7 years. Had to resort to consulting each and every time to stay afloat
  • “Find out what people want. Go and get it. Give it to them – in that order”
  • I suddenly knew what I did wrong all that time


  • Piehole was the first time I headed that advice
  • Piehole is a marketplace for voice overs
  • We started to travel the world, starting with Argentina
  • Only $20,000 revenue –> essentially trapped in Argentina. Couldn’t return to Dublin if we wanted
  • Read “Instant Cashflow” by Bradley J. Sugars
  • Implemented weekly schedule
    • Monday: increase # of leads
    • Tuesday: focus on conversions
    • Wednesday: increase average $ per sale
    • Thursday: increase # of transactions
    • Friday: increase margins
  • Problem: 50% churn was killing the business
  • Steps 1-5
    • Find out what people want
  • Attended MicroConf Las Vegas 2013 and heard Jason Cohen’s talk about the ideal bootstrapped business
    • B2B
    • recurring pain point
    • non business critical
    • big market
    • finance dudes pay more
    • No marketplaces!
    • $45/$99/$249
    • CPC = MRR / 25
  • Meanwhile in Dublin my co-founder-to-be had two customers with identical pain points
    • Idea for was born
  • Did sell only one copy at $49/mo in the first 12 months – almost gave up
  • Found one customer who cut us a $20,000 check
  • We used the Tesla approach to marketing:
    • embraced customization first
  • Steps 6-10
    • Watched Jason Cohen’s Talk
    • Found a partner I could trust
    • Used the Tesla Model
    • Picked up the phone
    • Did a Brexit
  • Had links from app directories link directly to signup page (App directory IS the landing page)
  • Offered a $20 Amazon voucher in return for a review of our software
  • Steps 16-20
    • Financial planning for maximum motivation
    • Ordinary things, done consistently…
    • TechHub in South Africa
    • Got funded
    • Went to Barcelona

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Lessons from the SaaS Metrics of 1500 companies – Patrick Campbell – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @patticus


  • Premise: “Building a software company is getting harder, not easier… and it’s going to increase in difficulty.”
  • LTV/CAC Ratio:
    • less than 2 results in 4-12% churn
    • 2-5 results in 3-6% churn
    • over 5 results in <3% churn
  • What % of total sales is expansion revenue: 10-15%
  • How much should you be growing YoY: As much as possible
    • no fixed growth target set by VC, because we are bootstrapped
    • Your growth rate goes down the bigger your annual recurring revenue (ARR) is
  • Our world is more competitive, making switching costs easier.
    • 5 years ago: Average of 1.5 competitors per surveyed SaaS app
    • Today: Average of 8 competitors per surveyed SaaS app
  • The value of features is declining over time
  • CAC is increasing over time
  • You need to know your buyers on a granular basis
    • valued features
    • least valued features
    • WTP (Willingness To Pay)
    • CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost)
    • LTV (Lifetime Value
  • Problem: We don’t do a lot of cust dev conversations
    • 75% of companies have less than 10 customer development conversations per month
    • 78% of companies are sending 0 customer development surveys per month
    • 50% of companies do 0 marketing experiments/tests each month
  • Looked at over 25,000 growth blog posts
    • 80% are written about Acquisition
    • less than 10% are written on Retention!
  • Looked at 6,324 companies
    • 90% are building for Acquisition
    • <5% are building for Retention
  • C-Level/Founder spend their time on
    • 85% getting more logos (Acquisition)
  • Impact of improving each growth lever by 1% results in the following growth in your bottom line:
    • Acquisition: 3.32%
    • Monetization: 12.7%
    • Retention: 6.71%
  • We want customers, but don’t know what to do when we get them!

How do we fix customer development and focus on monetization

  • 3 ways to better monetization
    • Quantify buyer personas
    • Implement a pricing process
    • Utilize a multi-price mindset
  • Example: ProfitWell
    • Noticed that one of their consulting clients about to IPO were calculating MRR the wrong way
    • ==> We can build a product that will calculate everything correctly
    • Immediately got compared to Baremetrics and Chartmogul
    • We noticed there are 37 other competitors…
    • We went back to the playbook: Persona-Pricing Fit
      • Startup Steve vs. Miderprise Marty
      • For the love of God. Talk to your customer.
        • set a target – e.g. “we talk to 10 customers each month”
    • Right way to set prices: Value-based pricing influenced by cost-plus pricing & competitive pricing
    • have multiple tiers of your product – differentiated by enabled features
    • “Please rank the following features on a scale of 1 to 10” will show you that every feature is important
      • Better: “Of the following options, which is LEAST and MOST important to you”
      • can be used in conversations, not just surveys
      • much better data quality
      • correlate answers to size of business of your customers ==> tells you what small customers care about vs. what big customers care about
    • How much are your customers willing to pay?
      • “At what price point does PRODUCT become too expensive that you’d never consider purchasing it?”
      • “At what pp does PRODUCT start to become expensive, but you’d still consider purchasing it?”
      • “At what pp does PRODUCT become so cheap you question the quality of it?”
      • WTP for enterprise customers was $150-$250/mo
      • CAC ~ $3,000
      • LTV: $1,500
      • ==> “Oh shit!”
    • WTP for Churn Recovery for enterprise customers: $3,000 / month!
    • WTP for Revenue Recognition for enterprise customers: $2,500 / month
  • Implement a pricing process
    • Timeline for changing your pricing (repeat every quarter)
      • week 1-4: Customer/Market Research
      • week 5-7: Communication Plan, Impact Analysis, Customer Advisory Panel
      • week 8-9: Implement changes
  • Utilize a multi-price mindset
    • you want to have growth both from new and existing users
    • use a value metric (e.g. Wistia differentiates along “# of videos”)
      • do NOT use # of users
    • value metrics should:
      • Align to your customer’s needs
      • Grow with your customer
      • Be easy to understand


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Drawing the Lines Between Success and Failure – Mike Taber – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @singlefounder


  • built AuditShark
    • Software to ensure security & compliance of servers/computers
    • I had been consulting in that arena
    • I knew the target audience, the problem, the space
    • I still failed!
  • Why do these things happen?
    • Our personal sample sizes are too small
    • Lack of publicly available data points
      • is it normal to spend $20,000 on building a SaaS?
      • is it normal to spend 10 months buildings a SaaS?
    • Survivor bias is rampant
      • Buffer, Groove, Baremetrics — We all know the unicorns
    • Self-delusion is far too easy – we are too optimistic with our schedules & budgets
      • I even bought thinking “Maybe I’m heading the wrong way and this will make a great story…”
    • Small banks were a mistake: They didn’t actually care about security
      • Bad initial market? Pivot!
      • Problem: The product was built for a different market
    • False Hopes
      • I was waiting for the$500,000 deal with one enterprise customer to go through. It never did
  • I failed miserably AND publicly
    • “It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others”
  • How do we find relevant data points?
    • It’s not about “I’m doing 5x revenue that you do.”
    • It’s about “Am I on the right track with this?”
    • MicroConf is a place for sharing our stories and data points!

Analysis of 60 Product Launches

  • Basic Disclaimers:
    • Everything is self-reported
    • Most questions were optional, so not everyone answered everything
    • Not all results came through the online form
    • There is some interpretation involved
    • There’s some inherent bias in the data due to the audience
    • This is FAR from a complete analysis. A larger study would be needed to establish statistical accuracy
  • Break down by Product Type
    • 60% SaaS
    • 14% Books/Courses/Training
    • 10% Desktop apps
    • 15% everything else (Marketplace, WP plugins, Productized Service, etc)
  • 70% had paying customers
  • Current Product Status
    • 28% launched & growing
    • 25% launched, but didn’t go anywhere and I’m not actively working on it
    • 19% making a non-trivial amount
    • 12% Not launched or recently launched
    • Rest: Sold or shutdown
    • ==> 58% didn’t go anywhere and were either shut down or abandoned
    • ==> 30% became a success
  • Resources spent getting to launch
    • Avg calendar time in months: 9 (min 0.5, max 27)
    • Avg product development time: 5 (min 0.25, max 26)
    • Avg customer development in hours: 20 (min 0, max 200)
    • Avg marketing time before launch in weeks: 1 (min 0, max 10)
    • Avg cash spent in Euros: 5,785 € (min 0, max 133,500€)
    • Conclusions:
      • People spent ~40x time on development compared to customer development! Lack of focus on (prelaunch) marketing
      • Succesful businesses spent less time on customer development than failed products (and that is probably a statistical flake and you should ignore it)

Safeguarding against business risks

  • Avoid operating outside of “normal parameters”
    • e.g. your SaaS makes less than $300 MRR six months after launch
  • Self-funded has a better success rate than VC funded
  • SaaS and non-SaaS product guidelines are different
  • SaaS products can generally be launched with:
    • 8-12 hours of customer development
    • < $2,000
    • 6-9 months of effort
    • Revenue ramp is really slow
  • Non-SaaS products can generally be launched with:
  • Tested two different product ideas: ETL Studio vs
    • Mike was in love with the idea of ETL Studio
    • ETL:
      • Almost impossible to get conversations for ETL
      • not a single discussion got to the point of talking price
    • Bluetick:
      • 16 conversations out of 35 outreach efforts
      • 13x yes, 3x no
      • well-defined, obvious problem
      • 17 Prepayments at $50/month (over $2,000 total)
    • Better response rate AND conversion rate for Bluetick –> build Bluetick
  • Common advice: “Talk to more customers”
    • can mislead you into a false sense of comfort
    • Following things are extremely different:
      • Identifying the need ==> Problem identification
      • Identifying the target market ==> Who has this problem
      • Identifying features needed to provide value ==> MVP
  • There are many steps, but not just one path
    • Objectivity is critical to developing a product
    • Initial traction can overcome a lot of other hurdles
    • If you’ve launched but revenue isn’t increasing, be cautious of it turning into a zombie product
      • kill it or sell it, but move on
      • Hope is not a strategy
    • Pivoting after launch is a warning sign, but one of many
  • Technical difficulty is not a product value
    • Nobody cares how hard your product was to build. They care about how much easier you made their lives

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Two Years in the SaaS Trenches – Jordan Gal – MicroConf Europe 2016

The MicroConf Europe 2016 Talk Recaps can be found on the central hub page.

Twitter: @JordanGal

  • Started out with – didn’t know a thing about eCommerce
    • sold after 12 months
  • Lessons learned:
    • eCommerce doesn’t have MRR
    • 4000 customers, but as soon as you stop advertising revenue is gone
  • With the next business, I don’t want to do development. I’m going to focus on marketing
    • Got lucky while looking for a developer for the next project
    • Having expertise in eCommerce was helpful in convincing developer to come onboard


  • Carthook is a cart abandonment software
  • Initially brute forced my way into sales
    • scraped a list of potential customers
    • hired VA to find email addresses
    • wrote tons of cold emails
    • Result: 20 first customers
    • Lots of conversations with strangers/potential customers
  • At around $3,000 MRR I was unsure on whether to go all-in or just let it grow by itself
  • Got a acquisition offer shortly after
    • acquisition didn’t go through, but it showed me that this idea is bigger than I estimated
  • over christmas 2014 a bunch of friends offered to fund Carthook with roughly $100,000
  • I had lost my developer because he got offered his dream job
  • Early January a new signup on the mailing list: A developer trying to reverse-engineer Carthook
    • Started a conversation with him
    • met in Los Angeles
    • decided to work together and raised money
  • We scale to 10x and immediately hit a wall in tech
    • key lesson: Be prepared to rewrite your MVP
  • After rewrite, we focused on integration marketing

The rest of the notes have been removed on request by Jordan. 
Jordan, thanks for a great & candid talk!

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Year in Review 2015

I’m Christoph Engelhardt, the maker of and the guy who writes the notes at MicroConf Europe. I run LinksSpy as a side project and work a day job in the defense industry. I usually get in about 4-6 hours per week.

To help me think about what happened in the past year, I write year in review posts (2013, 2014). In those posts I review what worked, what didn’t, and where to go from here.


I’ve had the help of many amazing and inspiring people who pushed me to where I am today. My thanks go out to:

  • My wife Katharina who puts up with me and my gnarliness when things don’t work out, and yet still believes. Thank you for yet another great year full of beautiful moments worth remembering
  • Benedikt Deicke with whom I produce a (German language) podcast (Nebenberuf Startup). Thank you for the countless times you’ve helped me bring LinksSpy back up and correct my worst fuck-ups. Thanks for being my advisor on hard decision and for pushing me forward with the occasional kick in the butt (If you love Year in Review posts, here is Benedikt’s)
  • Michael Buckbee for dozens of inspirations on how to work smarter. You’re an amazing entrepreneur and human being
  • Dave Collins for the numerous times you’ve guided the product decisions for LinksSpy. A special thanks for taking the time to have lunch with Katharina & me
  • Charlie Irish for many funny conversations and for great hours we spent together in London. It’s always great to hang out with you.
  • Rob Walling & Mike Taber for hosting my favourite podcast and the best conference for bootstrappers like me. Thanks for sharing actionable tips and tactics, and for inspiring me to follow in your footsteps
  • Jane Portman for great conversations, pushing me forward, and for being the first one to take me up on my standing invitation (come to Munich and dinner is on me).
  • all the people that hang out in the BBiz Slack chat: You are an inspiring group of people. Thanks for the help offered along the way and for taking the time to listen when I was troubled with the situation

The Business

I have two products and also do consulting — quite a mix. This comes with pros and cons.

On the one hand, I might be able to push a single product harder if I devoted all my attention to it.

On the other hand, I enjoy the consulting work and working with other founders. It’s nice to have something different to work on when you get frustrated with one product. 🙂

My first web application/SaaS business is TerminRetter, an clone I developed five years ago. Apart from the one time I tried to integrate credit card billing using Stripe and Koudoku, TerminRettter was completely on auto-pilot. It’s profitable, but it needs a complete overhaul if I want to push it further.

Secondly, I work with clients to improve their marketing (SEO, email marketing, conversion optimization). It’s fun to work with other founders and help them grow their business.

It’s both a great feeling, and demoralizing, to know that I make more money in one day consulting than I do all week in the day job. I have to stay in the day job for another six years day job(don’t ask, please). Anyway, everything is cool and fun on this front. 🙂

Lastly, I run LinksSpy. In Michael Buckbee’s words LinksSpy is a “CRM for getting inbound links”. In my own words, LinksSpy is “the sweet love-child of Ahrefs and BuzzStream“.

The Executive Summary

Looking back at 2014, the year I launched LinksSpy, my product saw fantastic growth: going from $190 monthly recurring revenue (MRR) at launch in April to $1,296 MRR in December. Not a bad growth rate — but, alas, it wasn’t meant to stay that way.

It was a struggle in 2015 to keep LinksSpy’s MRR constant or growing.

LinksSpy started 2015 with very high MRR levels, caused by LinksSpy being featured on ProductHunt. When those customers churned, I had to struggle to keep MRR above $1,000. I failed at it for a few months when MRR went down to $814. Through a combination of product improvements (automated follow-ups for email outreach and integration of Ahrefs data) and marketing, I pushed MRR back above the magical $1,000 line.

Although I had to neglect LinksSpy almost entirely for the last three months of 2015 it has stayed above $1,000 MRR (currently at $1,050).

The hardest lesson I learned this year is that churn is a real bitch for a SaaS business. On the bright side, I’ve learned many lessons about onboarding churn.

The Slightly Longer Story

LinksSpy started off extremely strong in 2015. It had just been featured on ProductHunt. The promotion on ProductHunt sky-rocketed the number of paying customers and the MRR.

Being featured on ProductHunt was amazing, wonderful, exhilarating!

Seriously, I was thrilled. I thought I’d 3x my revenue in 2015, because obviously I had things figured out – right? I knew what I was doing – right?

Wrong. I certainly have a good product and I have learned incredibly many lessons on my way here, but what I was seeing at the start of 2015 was just a spike. That spike was caused by an influx of customers that were not an ideal fit for the product – and they never will be.

The ideal customer for LinksSpy is someone who does SEO/link building/outreach marketing all day, every day.

But because of the broad appeal (“More organic search traffic”) and the composition of ProductHunt’s audience, I was attracting a lot of founders/website owners. Paying $29/mo for a product that essentially shows you MORE work you could be doing isn’t highly desirable to those guys (but if you’re reading this, then maybe our “Done-For-You” plan, where we do all the hard work for you, is just right for you).

Lesson #1: Do NOT add more items to your customer’s To-Do-List.

never add to your customer's to-do-list

Even with this huge spike of fresh MRR coming through my door: what goes up, must come down.

I saw that happen immediately.

Customers churned left and right and my marketing just didn’t get enough new customers in.

Much of the churn can be attributed to reaching the wrong market. Also, lack of features, bugs in the software, sub-par marketing copy, and too little traffic are big contributors to the problem of sinking MRR figures.

It was devastating personally to see the revenue graph go down and to the right. The monthly revenue churn rate was 15-20%, and something had to be done about it.


(Image by @scottbelsky)

After I had found the motivation to work on LinksSpy again, I focused on relaunching the product with new features. LinksSpy was missing a feature that makes the application “stick” with customers. They would run the reports, check the data, and leave the app unused for months – or cancel outright.

After speaking to customers and recently cancelled customers, I identified two promising features:

  • better data by including data from other providers (I was only using Moz up to this point)
  • enhanced outreach capabilities, i.e. once you write an outreach email to another website through LinksSpy, we will automatically send follow-up emails until they open the email

I relaunched the application in early September and things have improved since then. With the relaunch I also restructured the pricing from $29/$49/$99 for the three tiers by dropping the $29/mo plan and adding a productized consulting offering (“Done-For-You” plan) for $499/month. At the same time I increased the trial period from 7 to 14 days.

In September 2015, I was transferred to another position in my day job. While I enjoy the work I’m doing now, it is also a huge time sink. I’m doing a bunch of overtime and it leaves me mentally drained to the point that I haven’t done any work on LinksSpy in the past three months.

What went well

First and foremost, having a product that makes $1,000/mo in revenue is great. Being able to not worry about it for a few months and still make money is fucking fantastic!

Second, the relaunch and new features are a great step in the right direction. I want to build LinksSpy into a tool that streamlines the outreach marketing process. To that end I have a few more features that I want to add and that will make LinksSpy unique in the SEO niche.

Next, changing the pricing structure was a great idea. While I still need to create a dedicated landing page for the $499/month productized consulting plan, overall this change was a good one.

Additionally, there were no super bad bugs in LinksSpy. I can live happily without the stress and drama. 🙂

Lastly, all the things I did besides LinksSpy were great:

  • attending MicroConf Europe was a blast – as always. I’m so psyched for 2016 already!
  • giving a talk at a local event made me wish I gave more talks (and I’ve lined up more for 2016)
  • hosting a podcast with my good friend Benedikt Deicke allows me to give back to the micropreneur community.
  • building great relationships with inspiring people (I’m looking at you, Charlie, Jane, Jaana, Michael, Dave, Andy, Rob, Mike, Justin, Brennan, Oliver, Anton) is one of my favorite activities. It’s so nice to sit around a table with a bunch of smart folks – try it!

What didn’t go well

I’ve talked enough about how bad the high churn felt and the stress it induced and how I lost motivation for a few months as a result of it, so I’ll spare you a reiteration.

I hired a developer to work on LinksSpy in early 2015. I found an insanely good Rails developer and we agreed on him working 5 hours per week for me. We were right in the middle of getting him on board – he was working on a bunch of open source projects that LinksSpy uses – when he told me that 5 hours per week wasn’t enough for him. I wasn’t ready to spend more than I made with LinksSpy, so increasing was out of the question for me. Sadly, we had to end the contract.

Another thing that didn’t work out at all was my attempt at adding credit card billing to TerminRetter. TerminRetter was my first ever Rails app and the code shows it. I tried to add it for four days with the help of Benedikt Deicke before I gave in. That app is up for a full rewrite if I want to grow it in the future.

Moreover, my content marketing efforts for LinksSpy didn’t work out as planned. I hired a good writer for $300 per post to publish content on the LinksSpy blog. My thinking was that his existing network would be enough promotion to have an ROI-positive content strategy. I wanted to just pay for it to work, which just didn’t work.

Furthermore, I stopped doing monthly income reports. It was too much work as I would spend 3-4 hours writing each one up. When you work less than 10 hours/week, that is simply too much for something that yields no return. The reports were fun to write and I got great feedback from publishing them, but it didn’t grow my numbers. I will still do posts like this one, but other than that I will focus on writing actionable posts.

Lastly, my accounting was really bad at the beginning of the year. I spent two weekend building a script to pull all the important data from Stripe, just so I could do my taxes. I didn’t properly collect receipts in 2014, which made taxes an even bigger headache. I have improved that process dramatically in 2015. Doing taxes should be straight forward this year.

The Numbers


Marketing Website:
  • 12,054 sessions
  • 68% new users
  • traffic breakdown:
  • 29.7% referral (top:,,
  • 37.0% direct
  • 16.5% social
  • 15.2% organic search
LinksSpy blog:
  • 5,891 sessions
  • 76% new users
  • traffic breakdown:
  • 12.5% referral (top:,,
  • 35.3% direct
  • 26.0% social
  • 22.2% organic search


At the current exchange rate of $1.09 USD per 1 EUR and according to Stripe’s dashboard LinksSpy generated $13,922.57 revenue in 2015. This amount is missing the last week of 2015 and is skewed by fluctuations in the exchange rate (dropped from $1.20 USD/EUR to $1.09 during the year).


I can’t give you anything exact before I’ve done my taxes, but here’s a very rough idea:

  • $700 for Heroku
  • $500 for Ahrefs
  • $800 in Stripe fees
  • $600 for
  • $2,300 for freelancers on Upwork/oDesk
  • $1,800 for content on the LinksSpy blog
  • $2,500 for MicroConf Europe (includes tickets, flights, hotel, hosting a dinner, and random spendings)
  • $200 for domains
  • $600 on LeadFuze

I blew all the rest on smaller stuff like Sendgrid, Google, Castingwords, KingSumo, Dropbox, Calendly, PerfectAudience, Github, etc.

I aimed to spend all the money back on LinksSpy and I think that’s one goal I achieved! 🙂

Goals For 2016

Increase the MRR of LinksSpy

Last year I aimed for 3x MRR and ended up at 0.75x MRR. So this year I’m going to set a more modest goal. I want to bring the MRR up to $1,500.

Write More Exceptional Content

The only traffic generation strategy that is working for me is writing great content and promoting it. In the coming year, I’m going to double down on that and aim to write one great piece every three months. My estimate is that it takes about 60 hours to write an piece and line up promotion for it.

To that end I have hired someone to write roughly 200 shorter articles which will all be part of a big content piece. I’m paying $6 per article and he’s half way through the 200 articles. After he is done, I’ll need an editor to go through again and improve the quality. I need to pay someone to add pictures. After all that is done, I need to promote the shit out of it after publication.

Rewrite TerminRetter

I’ve pointed to it above: the TerminRetter app needs an overhaul. So I’ll probably take a few weekends here and there and rewrite the thing from scratch.

Help The Micropreneur Community

Whether through more talks (which I’d prefer), organizing dinners and meetups, or through my podcast: I want to help the micropreneur community thrive. Not very specific, but I’ll figure the details out as I go.

Attend MicroConf Europe

Same as last year: If day job permitting, I’ll be at MicroConf Europe, taking notes, hanging out with friends, and having dozens of fascinating conversation with brilliant people.


This year didn’t go as planned, but it could have been worse for sure. Not going to give in and we’ll see whether I achieve my goals for next year.

Last of all, I wish you, my dear reader, a Happy New Year 2016 and hope you crush it in your business endeavours!

PS: If there is anything I can help you with, please drop me an email… christoph@$YOU_HAVE_3_GUESSES 🙂

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How to Combat Onboarding Churn in Your SaaS Application

Churn is one of the most important metrics for your SaaS application. Whether your app’s revenue curve roars upwards like a Falcon 9 or whether it pancakes into the Valley of Despair like a Sumo-ringer splash diving – it all comes down to your churn rate.

There are a dozen ways to calculate churn, a dozen reasons for churn and hundreds of ways to fight churn; entirely too much for today, so I am going to focus on a type that gets next to no attention and which I call “onboarding churn”.

The quick and dirty basics

Churn is defined as “how many users out of 100 who start as customers at the beginning of a month cancel out and are no longer your customer at the end of the month”.

For example, if you have 200 customers at the beginning of August and 30 of those cancel any time between August 1st and August 31st, then you have a churn rate of 15%.

You can calculate churn either by looking at your users or by looking at the revenue they represent. You usually want to look at the revenue-based churn rate as it is more significant for your business. After all, losing two users on the $99/mo is a harder hit than losing ten users at $5/mo.

15% churn is not uncommon for early stage startups. You don’t have product/market-fit yet, you’re likely missing some essential features, your onboarding is far from perfect and so on. This all contributes to high churn rates.

Looking at churn in more detail

Having that number – commonly called “aggregate churn” – is better than nothing, but it doesn’t exactly give you details. Sure, 15% churn is high, but it doesn’t tell you how to solve it.

Often the users on your lower-tier plans are more likely to churn, and people on the expensive plans are less likely to churn. Talk about counter-intuitive.

For my product, I see the same thing: users on the lowest plan churn out very quickly, whereas the people on the highest plan are with LinksSpy the longest. You don’t get that information from looking at your aggregate churn.

Now, a completely different question is: When do users cancel? Surely, their reasons for cancelling are quite different when they cancel after one month vs. when they cancel after five years. But you don’t glean that information from aggregate churn either.

Again, I have the same problem with LinksSpy. The longer someone is with me, the less likely they are to churn. The churn rate in the first 3 months is 44,1% and after that drops to about 7%.

There are a lot of different ways you can slice up those 15%, but let’s focus on only one type: onboarding churn.

The Strange Case of Onboarding Churn

Onboarding churn is a term I newly coined, so I sure hope it sticks. In the meantime my definition of onboarding churn is churn that happens in the first 2-3 months of a user’s lifetime, because users either don’t get value from your app OR they don’t see the value they get.

I already mentioned that LinksSpy sees quite a bit of onboarding churn, but there are a lot of other companies that face the same value. For example, Moz has onboarding churn of – low and behold – 40%.

In fact, Sarah Bird of Moz was the first to introduce me to the concept of onboarding churn. When she mentioned once that they calculate churn only after a user has been paying for three months, I literally thought “What a cheap trick”. Only after I launched my own product and facing the same problem did I realize that there is some merit to that approach. Kudos, Sarah, for teaching me that lesson before I was ready and my sincerest apologies for thinking you were somehow “wrong”.

As it is there are good reasons to think of onboarding churn as yet another step in your customer acquisition channel. After all users are not really on board as long as they do not use your product.

Free Trials do NOT Prevent Onboarding Churn

The thing that is – euphemistically put – interesting about onboarding churn is that most SaaS/subscription applications have a free trial. So why don’t people figure out whether they like the software during the free trial and cancel before they are charged? After all, that’s what trials are for!

I don’t have an exact answer to that, but I guess that people see initial value in the app and promise themselves to “look into it in a week when there is less on my plate”. Fast-forward a week and they still don’t have time – but next week they will; and so on and so forth. Yeah, that’s the best explanation I can come up with.

Free trials don’t prevent onboarding churn – at least not all of it. Look at Moz! Their trial is 30 days and they still have onboarding churn rates of 40 percent.

In-App Onboarding Does NOT Prevent Onboarding Churn

Surely, having those fancy in-app tutorials that guide you through using the app with those nice bubbles help? Yes… somewhat, they can help if you get them just right.

I’ve revamped the in-app tutorials for LinksSpy at least three times by now, constantly improving on customer feedback. The latest version will go live with the relaunch and will focus on a completely new set of features.

How To Nip Onboarding Churn in the Bud

First of all, you can’t entirely get rid of onboarding churn. Some percentage of users will always sign up for your app, start paying you, never use it and then cancel. Expect the lower bound to be around 20-30%. You can probably drive that number down by going to extreme measures (My friend suggested flying out to them, taking their kids to soccer practice and cooking dinner). But most of those things are not justified for a <$1,000 LTV product.
So you (and I) have to live with a certain amount of onboarding churn.

However, what you can do is to dramatically reduce your onboarding churn.
Two years ago, I freelanced for an 8-figure SaaS company. They are selling access to semi-raw data. We came up with an A/B-test to test the following hypothesis: Delivering actionable advice – based on the data – each month will decrease 30/60-day churn.

We did a minimal test; sending just one email in the first month. The test group completely crushed the control group. Sending just one email decreased their 30 day churn rate by 40%.

It meant that they made an ROI of some 400% on what I charged. From running the split test. For one month. With only half the cohort receiving treatment. Ignoring prolonged customer lifetime.

That’s the power of reducing churn for a company at scale.

Use Emails to Reduce Onboarding Churn

So, emails can work fantastically well. Here are a few ideas what to send:

  • reminders to use sticky features
  • demonstrations of received value (e.g. “You saved $192 this month using our software”) a.k.a. “Get our users promoted” emails
  • reminders to use the app after inactivity

Better First Run Experience

Secondly, having a better onboarding/first-run experience can decrease onboarding churn.

  • Never let your users hit an empty page. If you don’t have data yet, show fake data
  • Lead users down the Minimum Path to Awesome in your product. Eliminate distractions.

I can give you an example of the first point. This is what LinksSpy customers see when they enter the application:



See all that beautiful white space that designers drool about? Customers don’t like it. Your churn rate hates it.

Now here’s what they will see after the relaunch in 1.5 weeks:



Look at that! Fake data and an in-app tour! Beauty.


Get to Product/Market Fit

Furthermore, reaching product/market fit will lower your churn rate across the board. This is not an easy task. Even after you have found a problem and your product presents a viable solution to the problem, you still need to figure out how to reach your target market.

Rob Walling had this problem in parts with Drip: Drip was initially a tool to collect email addresses and send autoresponders.

He got quite a few customers with this tool, but the churn rate was rather high. Only after he pivoted into Lightweight Marketing Automation did the churn rate go down.

Subsequently, the product and MRR blew way up. The huge problem here is that you need to make a decision to either build new features to satisfy your current audience OR pivot to another audience with the same product. It’s hard to know which steps to take.

Software With a Service

Lastly, you can improve your retention by offering a Done-For-You (DFY) service on top of your product. Users don’t want to learn how to use your product. They care for the results.

This is exactly the path that LinksSpy is going to take in the upcoming months. We will discontinue the $19/mo plan and instead introduce a $499/mo plan where we manage the whole outreach marketing process for your website. It’s completely hands-off and you will get a report at the end of the month detailing the results we got you.


To summarize all this: Onboarding churn is a thing. You will lose most of your customers during the first 3 months and churn rates do drop after that. This effect is caused by a number of things, most notably by not getting your users invested in your product.

Ways out of high onboarding churn are product/market fit, better first-run experiences, email (retention) marketing, and offering a Done-For-You option for your product.

Let me know your thoughts on the topic. Is there anything you struggled with? How did you overcome that challenge?

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Leveling up – Patrick McKenzie – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

The MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recaps can be found on the central “hub” page.

Twitter: @patio11


Talk Recap

  • Everything we do: It’s all about the family
    • optimize for it, NOT for business results
  • Flying Geese
    • From dirt poor country to really rich country
    • developing economy: dirt poor, not able to do anything
    • start industry anyone can do: textiles
    • take educated workforce, infrastructure improvements from textiles industry and build refining steel industry
    • repeat and level up to automobile industry
    • take what you learn from automobile and re-invest into software/robots/aircraft/etc industry
  • Flying Geeks
    • Bingo Card Creator –> Kalzumeus –> Appointment Reminder –> Starfighter

Don’t Make Our Mistakes – Make Much Better Mistakes!

  • Tutorial mission: Your first business
    • Ship it. Ship it. Ship it. Ship it. Ship it. Ship it. Ship it.
    • Optimize for learning over perfection
    • start accumulating unfair advantages for later businesses
    • Cover “minimum viable financial goal”
  • How you know it’s an advantage?
    • People tell you you’re anomalously good
    • Watch other people around you in community. Note where you’re doing good on something useful.
    • Use your growing understanding of your business to project what X would do in another, larger business, or a business with advantages you lack
    • When you find your superpower: Exploit the heck out of it!
  • The case against SaaS for Biz #1
    • huge barriers to shipping and keeping it in the market
    • Hard to sell and market without any pre-existing foothold in industry
    • Long slow SaaS ramp of death
      • took 6 months to get to $400 MRR
  • The Glide Path To SaaS
    • Plant a flag on the market with an e-book, WordPRess plugin, etc
    • Start collecting email addresses
    • Launch a productized consulting business
    • Gradually titrate up the amount of software offered
  • Typical Bootstrapped SaaS Pricing
    • $29 – $49 – Tier 1, some foozles
    • $99 – Tier 2, even more foozles, maybe a feature
    • $249 – Tier 3, much more foozles, all them features
  • Productized Consulting Base Offering
    • $99/mo: SaaS application to do pricing pages
    • $500/mo: Savvy pricing pages as a service
    • $2.5k to $10k++/mo: Chief Revenue Officer
    • This is aspirational pricing!

“The Peldi Test”: Love What You Do

  • Founder/product/market fit is one of the best advantages you can possibly have
  • do something you love
  • Overlap all products in your portfolio!

Level Up In

  • Scale of problem you’re attacking
  • Engineering acumen brought to bear on target
  • Sales/marketing techniques
  • Sophistication of business operation

Ending A Chapter

  • Deciding when it’s time to move on
    • Business not helping you achieve goals (Live/love/Learn)
    • You’ve stopped accumulating marginal advantages
    • It’s “clearly time to go.”
  • Options for pruning portfolio projects
    • shut it down
    • Put it into maintenance mode
    • Sell it
  • Anatomy of a sellable business
    • Goldilocks zone for revenue/price
    • Low ongoing time involvement from founder
    • Low-risk that present revenue evaporates
    • Growth in market
    • Technical risk mitigated
  • Starfighter
    • Online games (CTFs) engineers play, for fun, by programming
    • We passively identify skilled engineers
    • We contact them and ask about background/goals
    • If appropriate, introduce them to hiring managers
    • If they take a job, we earn a commission
    • Where is this “leveling up?”
      • Trusted relationship with co-founders
      • Scale of technical ambition
        • BCC = “Hello World with random number generator”
        • Starfighter = Stock market with C compiler
      • BCC Investment: $60. Starfighter: …
      • Does Starfighter pass The Peldi Test? HECK, YES!
  • Starfighter Lows
    • Morderous Crunch To Ship
      • Ignored family to make deadline
    • Technical Scope
      • 10x technical complexity in a new business: good. We did 100x…
    • Promised a Ship Date
      • never promise a ship date, because you are going to break it
    • Founder Communication Issues

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How I Tripled My Windows Software Revenue In 3 Days – Anders Thue Pedersen – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

The MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recaps can be found on the central “hub” page.

Twitter: @andersthue


Talk Recap

  • I was really bad running a business for the first 11 years – got better in the last 6 years
    • The most destructive force in the universe – besides the Death Star – is shame
    • MicroConf changed it for me!
      • Expanding the comfort zone
      • Sense of belonging
  • shame resilience
    • Dave Collins talking about TSR Watermark Image before teardown: “Finally a really crappy website”
    • Cleaned up the website
    • Removed the free version
    • Improved the copy
    • Went from $300/week to $900/week
    • Changes done in one evening AT MicroConf
  • Why did I not do that before?
    • Requires knowledge
    • Requires courage and shame resilience
    • Requires you to reach out and say help
  • Last day of MicroConf / Takeaways
    • Split ego and product/business
    • Started failing, stopped being a failure
    • Kept raising my hand asking for help
  • Today:
    • 150 sales/month
    • $4500 revenue/mo
    • 5 minutes support /day
    • 2 hours of coding /month

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