Year in Review 2015

I’m Christoph Engelhardt, the maker of LinksSpy.com 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.

Acknowledgements

Iโ€™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 youโ€™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 โ€” 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

My first web application/SaaS business is TerminRetter, an appointmentreminder.org 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Lastly, I run LinksSpy. In Michael Buckbee’s words LinksSpy is a “CRM for getting inbound links”.ย 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 โ€” 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.

entrepreneurship-relative-joy

(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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Traffic

Marketing Website:
  • 12,054 sessions
  • 68% new users
  • traffic breakdown:
  • 29.7% referral (top: ProductHunt.com, IT-Engelhardt.de, BloggingCage.com)
  • 37.0% direct
  • 16.5% social
  • 15.2% organic search
LinksSpy blog:
  • 5,891 sessions
  • 76% new users
  • traffic breakdown:
  • 12.5% referral (top: Inbound.org, LinksSpy.com, discuss.bootstrapped.fm)
  • 35.3% direct
  • 26.0% social
  • 22.2% organic search

Revenue

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).

Expenses

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 GetDrip.com
  • $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! ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Conclusion

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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Year in Review 2014

I am Christoph Engelhardt, the maker of LinksSpy.com and probably best known for my monthly income reports.

I run my business as a side project and work a day job in the defense industry. I usually get about 5-10 hours/week of work done for LinksSpy.

Acknowledgments

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton

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 my habit of working on weekends (often the only time we get to spend together), with my stress levels. Thank you for yet another great year full of beautiful moments worth remembering
  • Benedikt Deicke with whom I produce a (German language) podcast. Thank you for the countless times you’ve helped me bring LinksSpy back up and correct my worst code fuck-ups. Thanks for making me launch LinksSpy at a time when I didn’t feel it was good enough
  • Michael Buckbee for always pushing me to work harder and spending crazy amounts of time to do mockups, give detailed feedback, and re-write the whole storyboard for LinksSpy’s video
  • Dave Collins for placing your trust in me and committing to LinksSpy at a time when it was just a shell script that would crash 9 out of 10 times. Thanks for a number of great email discussions and for taking the time out of your vacation to meet Katharina & me
  • Charlie Irish for helping me do well on ProductHunt when LinksSpy got on there. Thanks for motivating me time and time again. Thanks for the dinner in London and some exceptionally memorable hours at MicroConf Europe in Prague
  • Rob Walling & Mike Taber for hosting my #1 podcast and an amazing conference. Thanks for sharing actionable tips and tactics, and for inspiring me to follow in your footsteps
  • all the people that hang out in the BBiz Slack chat: You are an inspiring group of people. Thanks for the priceless help and for cheering me on

The Business

My business consists of the following products/services:

  • LinksSpy.com – a tool that helps SEO professionals to find link opportunities for their client’s websites
  • TerminRetter.de – automated SMS & phone reminders for (mostly) dentists in Germany. This has been on auto-pilot for the whole year
  • a little bit of consulting work

The main product is LinksSpy, which gets almost all the love.
I just put the others up there for completeness and will write a few short paragraphs about each.

TerminRetter.de

A few years ago I thought it would be smart to clone Patrick McKenzie’s Appointment Reminder and sell to the German market. Long story short: It didn’t work quite as planned.

I just sucked at marketing (still do) and to sell this software I’d have to do a much better job than just having proper onboarding.

However, I didn’t invest any time into developing new features or doing anything with it this year and it still brought in some money. That’s pretty neat.

I am semi-actively thinking about putting some time into improving the marketing, but it would be a distraction to my work on LinksSpy. So I am probably not going to do it, although I think TerminRetter is a good business.

Consulting

Not a lot of interesting things to talk about here. It pays nicely, when I invest time into it. I don’t go out of my way to find work, it is all inbound.

No plans to change anything here. I want to focus on LinksSpy as much as possible.

The Executive Summary

It was a good year business-wise. I launched LinksSpy at the end of April and grew it to about $1,200 in (Monthly Recurring Revenue) in 8 months. It might not be much, but to me it means the world. LinksSpy has grown faster than I ever imagined.

LinksSpy started out with $190 MRR and I hit my goal of $600 MRR about a week before the deadline at the end of October. I set myself a new goal ($1,200 MRR by April 2015) and hit that goal just 3 weeks later.

The Year in Brief

I slow launched LinksSpy at the end of 2014 to a few select people on my mailing list. Over the course of the first quarter I worked with them to improve LinksSpy to a point where it consistently delivered value to them.

In April I implemented billing and pushed the product out the door.

LinksSpy started with no free trial and three tiers ($9/$19/$49). I changed that about 4 months in to a 7-day trial with $19/$49/$99 pricing. This was probably the single best decision for LinksSpy: the trial brings in more users and I can send them emails to keep them engaged.

In August I published a big research-driven article about paid links that got shared heavily in the SEO community and got me about 5,000 visitors. This resulted in a number of paying customers.

In early November and as a result of Dave Collins promoting LinksSpy during his talk at MicroConf Europe LinksSpy got featured on ProductHunt. That resulted in about 60+ signups and 20+ conversions.

As a result of that I hired a developer part-time to help me with LinksSpy. He’s currently ramping up, but I already like the impact he has on the development speed. I expect great things from this.

December was a slow month for me. I’ll write about that separately in my income report, but the short version is: I didn’t do much, so no growth and in fact I lost some MRR when people churned after testing LinksSpy for 1 month

What went well

Here are the things I think went well in 2014.

Launching before I felt ready

This was definitely a big win. When I launched LinksSpy it was a MINIMUM Viable Product. There was no way to lock out users who cancelled their subscription, there were no lifecycle emails, no receipts for charges on customer’s credit cards and not a single index in the database (resulting in bad performance).

The performance was so bad in fact, that LinksSpy could NOT have supported more than 18-20 customers at that point.

Add on top of that a way for users to cancel without deleting their subscription – meaning they still get charged although they cancelled(Read the full story).

Yes, it was that minimal. But you know what? It launched, it delivered value and it has grown from there.

If you are sitting on a – in your mind half-baked – product, show it to potential customers, improve it to the point where they get value and are willing to pay for it, then launch.

Charging more & introducing a trial

Allowing people to trial LinksSpy was a major win. I ask for a credit card upfront, so they have to cancel. When they cancel I ask them for feedback why they cancel. I’ve got some great feedback from that and was subsequently able to improve LinksSpy.
Signing up for a trial is an easier conversion than going straight to paying customer, so the conversion rate has improved, too.

On top of that I now make more per customer once they turn into paying customers. That comes with all sorts of cool effects: I care more about my customers (sad, but true), they care more about LinksSpy, and it filters out quite a few toxic customers.

Putting more effort into marketing

I have put a lot more work into marketing than with anything I did before LinksSpy.

I have reached out to influencers, written articles for LinksSpy’s blog, went onto a podcast and guest blogged about SEO for designers – to name just a few.
I also occasionally write to the LinksSpy mailing list and scan the relevant subreddits for interesting topics to chime in on.

Not all of this work, but some of it brought visitors to the LinksSpy website and some of those eventually converted to paying customers. YAY!

Talking to people about LinksSpy

Be it customers, prospects or conference attendees – I was way more comfortable talking about LinksSpy. At MicroConf Europe I repeated (and altered slightly) the pitch so often that I no longer have to think about it.

I’ve had a number of great Skype conversations about LinksSpy that have helped me guide product decisions. It’s fun to talk about your product and how it can help others.

Continually improving & staying motivated

In the past staying motivated was a major problem for me. I would start a new project, build it and abandon it almost immediately to start something new.
Not so with LinksSpy: I stayed on it and it seems to pay off.

What keeps my motivation up is customer support (of all things!): It’s so rewarding to get emails from people who are using LinksSpy and saving a lot of time because of it. It’s equally cool to hop on a video chat with people and explain LinksSpy to them.

Furthermore, I won’t deny this: Getting money is also very motivating. I’m a filthy capitalist pig – what can I say?

Building great relationships

In 2014 I only attended one conference (MicroConf Europe in Prague) but I had a blast there. I met old friends (Benedikt Deicke, Charlie Irish, Dave Collins, Brennan Dunn, Mike Taber, Rob Walling, Anders Pedersen – to name just a few) and made new friends (Chris Kottom, Jane Portman, Dominik Dotzauer, etc.).
Going to MicroConf is so fricking awesome (Sorry, Dave!) fun, full of actionable advice, and motivating. I can’t imagine doing this without attending MicroConf.

Additionally, I was able to meet some friends during my vacations to Great Britain (Charlie Irish, Dave Collins) and Dubai (Dan Clarke). That was great as both my wife and I enjoyed having dinner/afternoon tea with them.

Doing all this with a day job

I did all this while still working a (almost) normal day job. It’s been stressful at times, e.g. when I was in places without internet for 3 days.

Thanks to a mostly understanding wife I was able to put in some time on the weekends. I’d rather spend it with her, but that’s hopefully something I can correct in the future and cut back on the weekend work.

What didn’t go well

This is the more interesting part, because I need to remember not to do this wrong again – and you can probably avoid a few mistakes yourself if you read this carefully ๐Ÿ™‚

Charging Customers Who Cancelled

This was the worst point of the business year for me. Are you into adrenaline rushes?
Try charging your customer’s credit cards although they have cancelled their account and wait for the emails to arrive. Believe me, this will be fun!
You can trust me, I’m a random guy on the internet! ๐Ÿ™‚

In the end I figured the error in my code out (Thanks, Benedikt – again!), refunded everyone (not only those who wrote me), and they were happy ever after. But boy was that stressful – and stupid to begin with. You can read more about it in my income report for September.

Not enough marketing

I feel like I didn’t do enough marketing. Only one really good blog post (and a few mediocre ones), a bit of outreach here, a podcast interview there. I neglected my email list to the point where it is lukewarm at best.

I know that I should write my list at least twice a month, but somehow I never feel like I have good enough content. That’s probably bullshit, because I publish it on the blog anyways, so I might as well send it to my list – right?

I’ve also spent a few days to build a new incentive for people to give up their email addresses (a watered down version of the real LinksSpy reports – delivered as PDF to their email address). Additionally, I have built the infrastructure for a big content piece, but the content is still missing.

I need to get both projects out of the door and promote them properly.

Overall, I feel like I know a lot of the stuff, but it’s way more complicated to actually execute on the knowledge.
Oh well, there’s always room for improvement – right?

Progress was/felt slow at times

There are days/weeks when I don’t get anything done for LinksSpy. The latest example would be when I discovered Steam for Mac OS X, bought Civilization V, and wasted hours upon hours playing that game. It is addictive and soo much fun, though.

Sometimes I just can’t get myself to do anything productive after a day at work. There’s truth to the saying that you spend your best waking hours at work.

On the other hand, LinksSpy didn’t do too bad compared to other products in terms of growth. And I actually launched and have revenue – which is nice.

At MicroConf you could hand in your website URL for a teardown. It was brutal and your website got shredded in front of 150 people. The crowd was roaring with laughter from the snarky remarks of a Brit telling people that their website does not highlight the main benefit of the product.
Sounds bad? It is not! Because besides the honest to god feedback you get, you have to be aware of one thing: If you have a website, you are ahead of 99% of the population that are still making plans on how to hit it big.

Memo to self: This applies to you as well, Christoph! You’ve got something and it has revenue – be proud of that.

Not nearly enough systems in place

Would you like to know how much exactly I spent on LinksSpy this year? I can’t tell you. There are invoices all over the place and it will be a nightmare to collect them all for taxes.
I even pay a few bills with my private credit card, because I don’t have a company card. That forces me to wire some money from my business bank account to my private account. It’s messy.
I need a company credit card and a system to (semi-) automatically fetch all the receipts & invoices.

Want to publish a guest post on the LinksSpy blog? Best I can tell you is “send your stuff via email whenever you feel like it and I will”. When I get the article, read it, suggest edits, and eventually schedule for publication. Inconsistently, I do a keyword research and optimize the article for that keyword. Sometimes I forget to share the article on my social media accounts.
Basically the same can be said for the posts that my hired author does for the blog.
What I need is a checklist and a process to govern the publication of blog posts.

Not enough/No analytics

Where does LinksSpy get most of its traffic from? Which traffic source is the highest converting? What is the fricking LTV of a LinksSpy customer?

I can answer each of these questions with a solid “Yes….. No… I don’t know”. This is embarrassing at best. It does not help me steer the ship.

My excuse (of sorts) for this is that LinksSpy is still relatively small and I know which metric I need to grow first: unique visitors to the website (of which LinksSpy had 700 in the last month).

And I don’t really need quantitative data to know that my email marketing or the onboarding process are sub-par suck.

The Numbers

This is probably what you are here for, so let’s get to it.

Traffic:

  • Unique visitors: 7,986 (since April 28)
  • 46.4% referral traffic
  • 31.6% direct
  • 11.8% social
  • 7.8% organic search

Biggest drivers of referral traffic:

  • ProductHunt.com (2,704 visitors)
  • t3n.de (263 visitors)
  • it-engelhardt.de (225 visitors)

That means about one third of my traffic comes from ProductHunt alone… wow.

Revenue

At current market rate (conversion from EUR to USD) and according to the Stripe dashboard LinksSpy made $5,134.70.
That is as accurate as I can get before I do my taxes and without too much effort. The value is skewed by fluctuations in the exchange rate (the Euro lost quite a bit value this year).

HookFeed currently reports $1,191.50 MRR from 43 customers. And here’s a screen grab from FirstOfficer.io for you to go through my numbers. I am pretty close to my deadline for this review, so I didn’t have much time to look through the report. If you find something that I should look into, please let me know at christoph@$ANY_DOMAIN_I_OWN.

02_firstofficer-annual-report

Most of the customers came through ProductHunt (no surprise here as it was the biggest driver of traffic).

Expenses

As I stated above my accounting is a mess. These numbers don’t reflect what I will report to the IRS because a) I will find a bunch of expenses once I do my taxes and b) I can subtract my home office and other items from my taxes as well.

Here’s my best attempt right now:

  • $45 on Fiverr
  • $1,926.58 on oDesk
  • $84.12 for Facebook Ads
  • $154.42 for PerfectAudience
  • $231.58 for Heroku
  • $149 for a new video
  • $800 for blog posts to my hired author
  • $80 for Google Apps
  • $120 for domain names and hosting
  • $294 for GetDrip.com
  • about $1,500 total for attending MicroConf Europe (ticket, hotel, travel and hosting a dinner)

estimated total: $5,207.58

Now that I think about it, that is a pretty good estimate. There’ll be a few additional expenses somewhere and I spent more than I made, but that’s OK as I’m willing to invest a bit of money into LinksSpy.

Plans for 2015

3x MRR for LinksSpy

I want to grow LinksSpy from its current annual run rate of $14,298 to $40,000. That means I have to 3x the MRR. That seems ambitious – and a little bit daunting – to me.

The way to achieve this will be through focusing on marketing. I want to get on more podcasts and blogs with an SEO audience. Additionally I am working on another huge content piece and a new incentive for the drip email campaign.

Furthermore, I need find a way to improve the onboarding (and general user) experience of LinksSpy to make the value it provides more apparent to customers; both to increase “trial to paid” conversion and to reduce churn.
Churn seems to be around 10% (if I include the surge after ProductHunt where a lot of people stayed around for one month and then cancelled) and I need to lower that.

Lastly, I have plans to use another data provider to run the reports, which will increase the volume of link opportunities created and also provide more up-to-date data.

Work less IN the business and more ON the business

I started this process when I hired a writer for the blog and continued it when I brought on a part-time developer.

Having another developer on the team will improve the velocity with which I can deliver features for LinksSpy. Additionally, he’s a really good developer – much better than myself – so that should increase the code quality overall.

Secondly, I want to find a VA to help me with research for additional blog posts and to establish a process that will result in me consistently emailing my list twice a month.

Give a talk

I would really love to speak about my experience as a solo founder of a somewhat successful side project.
Maybe I can call up my professors and give a talk to students at my university. That could be an interesting topic for them.

I want to help others to be more successful.

Attend MicroConf Europe

I will attend MicroConf Europe if that is at all possible. The experience this year was amazing and I can’t wait to go back and meet my friends & idols.

Conclusion

LinksSpy is growing and – although I messed up things quite a bit – I did a few things right. I had amazing help on the way for which I could not be more thankful.

I will definitely continue to be rather transparent about LinksSpy, because I enjoy writing the income reports. It helps me to plan for the road the ahead and it’s great to read them after some time and think back how far I’ve come. Additionally I get a lot of positive feedback for doing them.

Here’s to a great year 2015!

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How I Made The World A Little Bit Better In 2013

I planned on going for a more general title like “This Was My Year 2013”, but then Brennan Dunn went forward with a very audacious “How I Changed The World In 2013“.

I’m in no-way even close to what Brennan achieved with his business, so I won’t be as bold. But I feel like I made the world a little bit better in 2013 – and here’s why.

The Things That Went Well

I am still happily married

I know this doesn’t seem like a lot and it is not an achievement in the eyes of most readers. But it means the world to me.

My wife and I have been a couple for close to ten years now and have been married for over six. For me this is the single most important thing that “happened” in 2013.

I Worked For Moz

This was probably the highlight of my year. I spent five month in Seattle to work for Moz as an intern (for legal reasons).

Being able to work and life in a different culture was an eye-opening experience. The way Americans think about gender/racial equality is quite different from the way Germans see it. The way our economies work in respect to hiring/firing, paid sick leave and other social benefits is totally different.

For instance, Moz received an award for what they call “paid-paid vacation” – you get $3,000/year if you go on vacation.
It took me a while to realize, but about 46% of all employees in Germany get “Urlaubsgeld” – which is the very same thing.
Now, don’t get me wrong! Moz is – considering only pay & benefits – by far the best employer I’ve found in the US so far and they deserve getting this award. If you take into account the people and the culture at Moz they easily surpass most companies in Germany. I just want to say (again speaking only benefits) that the most generous US company is sub-par for German/European standards.

On the other hand, it seems to me that it is way harder to get hired in Germany – especially if you lack the proper diplomas. In the US (at least in tech) interviewing processes are geared towards testing how well you fit the job you’re being interviewed for – in Germany it is a lot more about having a university diploma or a “duale Ausbildung” (a typically 3-year education consisting of vocational school and training on the job).

Overall hiring seems to happen a lot faster in the US and it happens for jobs as well. Of course most people are at-will employees – a concept that completely shocked me and I still have a hard time understanding how millions of people handle the stress.

Learning those differences was worth the trip itself, but I also got to work with the amazing people at Moz. I’ve spent a good amount of time outside of work with great people from Moz and became friends with some of them. And it also taught me, that I have a lot to learn in terms of intercultural competence.

Here are some pictures I took while in the US for your entertainment

I attended MicroConf and MicroConf Europe

One of the benefits of spending five months in the US was that I was able to attend MicroConf. Spending three days around such smart and driven people was incredible and it helped me against my own procrastination.

While there I started taking notes of all the MicroConf talks on a hunch. I am still amazed by the success this was.

Success is relative here, the best I ever got was about 500 visitors on a single day. It has now settled to about 500 uniques a month. I am quite sure most of you easily have more than that.

Taking notes made me kind of instant-famous in the crowd and it increased my luck surface area substantially. Good things that happened to me, that I attribute to my taking notes:

  • a made a lot of good friends (Dave Collins, Brennan Dunn, Oliver Grahl and many others)
  • I got invited into a Mastermind group with really amazing people (including one of the speakers)
  • I joined a chat room with a lot of MicroConf and BaconBizConf attendees (all of them very smart, with a lot of great business ideas, and very inspiring)
  • I had dinner with Joanna Wiebe & Lance Jones of CopyHackers.com, Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch and a few other folks after MicroConf
  • lots of incoming links, tweets, and visitors ๐Ÿ™‚

MicroConf Europe

Subsequently, I attended MicroConf Europe, took notes and organized an attendee dinner with about 80 attendees. Organizing the dinner was a really good idea. I had a lot of good talks during the conference, because I organized that dinner.

Take-away: Go to a conference, but don’t just sit there passively. Get active, get involved. Take notes, organize a dinner, do whatever. Just do something!

Micropreneur Meetup Munich

In late 2013 I founded a local meetup group for micropreneurs here in Munich. It’s great to have like-minded people around you to talk about stuff every once in a while. We had one initial meeting in November and the next one is scheduled for January 3rd.
If you live close by, please join us ๐Ÿ™‚

I started making money on TerminRetter

I started working on TerminRetter back in 2012. Then I tried my hand at marketing it. I still have to figure out how to do this properly. My attempt at print magazine advertising failed utterly. As did my direct mail campaign.

I have no real idea why those campaigns didn’t work. I have some assumptions, but no clear idea. Maybe I should have kept at it for longer to learn more and make it work. Coming to think about it, I probably should have.

However, I still managed to find customers. It has been a struggle, but it feels awesome to know that you are delivering value to someone and make the world a little bit better for them.

Graduating From University

Attending University has been my day-to-day business for the last 4 years. I can happily say that this is over. I graduated with a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science.

Being finished with this is a big relief. I did (very) well, but at the same time I didn’t like it one bit.

It feels great being done with this. Plus I now have one of those diplomas that employers care sooo much in Germany – Yay!

The Things That Didn’t Go So Well

Not Living Healthily

This is something I am battling with all the time – and loosing most of the time. I wish it were easier for me to exercise regularly, but sadly it isn’t.

I gained about 10 kilos while I was in the USA. After my return to Germany I started exercising more regularly (boy is hard to run with all that extra weight) and lost 6 kilos so far. Slower than I hoped for, but it’s a start.

Maybe I should form a new year’s resolution around this ๐Ÿ˜‰

Struggling With Marketing

Honestly, marketing is still a mystery to me. I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 reading about marketing and I tried my luck with implementing some of that knowledge. It helped very little.

I seem to understand the concepts (customer development, copy writing, collecting & nurturing leads). The execution is the really hard part of it. There are so many details that I don’t fully understand (e.g. which questions to ask best during customer development).

For TerminRetter it seems like I picked a really tough market (i.e. Germany) – or so a lot of people who sell both international and on the domestic market tell me.

That being said, I feel like I am getting better at this with every time I try something. This may take me longer than other stuff to learn, but I’m hell-bend on mastering it.

Procrastination

I am easily distracted. I spent countless hours reading articles on the web (Hey there, Hacker News, thanks for keeping me from being productive!)

I like to play World of Tanks or watch TV series (Supernatural, The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Under the Dome).

If I were a better man, I would stop doing all that and focus on moonlighting my business. Alas, I am not.

Plans for 2014

Launch LinksSpy.com

I’ve already started slow launching my new SaaS product LinksSpy.com. I shifted the focus away from TerminRetter because I feel like it is easier to sell to an international audience.

So far the results are pretty decent and I have over 250 subscribers on my email list (10x what I ever got on TerminRetter mailing list).
The beta testers I onboarded seem to be happy with the results they got out of LinksSpy so far, but they also showed me a few features that are still missing.
I’ll have to iron that out before I can launch it – and I have to put more effort into the marketing side of things.

Attend MicroConf Europe

Due to me being busy with the day-job I probably won’t make it to MicroConf in Las Vegas, but I plan on going to MicroConf Europe (if they do it again and it takes place over the weekend).
If I do, expect to see some notes on the talks somewhere on this blog ๐Ÿ˜‰

On The Job Training

In 2014 I will be very busy with my day-job, because I have to undergo a lot of training courses year-round. We’ll see how that goes, but I am looking forward to all the new things I learn.

Conclusion

Last year was amazing. There were a TON of great things that happened in my life (and some not so great things). I hope that 2014 will be similar in this regard.

So long have a Happy New Year 2014!

PS: What are your plans for 2014? Let me know in the comments, maybe there’s a good plan that I can steal implement as well ๐Ÿ™‚

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