How to build a self-funded SaaS as a non-technical solo founder – John Ndege – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter:  @johnndge

Talk Recap

  • Pocket Risk is an online investment risk questionnaire for financial advisors
    • launched in April 2013
    • $99/mo
    • made it to 6-figures as a non-technical founder

Idea Phase

  • Goal: Establish whether you have something valuable
    • Establish what you want to achieve – $10k MRR, quit your job, billionaire
    • Margin of safety – have money in the bank or a job
    • Find a problem – your own experience or speak to market
    • Assess market size – can I achieve my goals in the market?
      • total reachable market given your resources (i.e. you know SEO, PPC –> that’s your market)
    • Validate problem – speak to 20 prospects and see if problem exists
    • Define the solution – create a mockup. Have a vision for customers, product and industry
    • Customer validation – sell the solution using mockup. Get 10 companies to pre-pay

Build Phase

  • Goal: Hire developer & build something valuable
    • Minimum $15,000 development budget. $100/hour max. You get what you pay for
    • Finding a developer: HN monthly hiring, Ruby groups, referrals
    • Assess Developer – programming test, level of commitment, past work, references, gut
  • Continue marketing and building your list

Launch Phase

  • Goal: Get to breakeven
    • Generate traffic – read Traction by Gabriel Weinberg
    • Find out why people buy, don’t buy, use, don’t use and churn – speak to them on phone
    • Know your metrics and unit economics – traffic, conversion rates, MRR, CAC, LTV, churn, feature usage
      • feature usage tells you “sticky features” that make people happy
    • Develop Relationships – industry journalists, thought leaders, other CEOs serving same customers

Growth Phase

  • Goal: Achieve your overall goal
    • Manage churn – don’t die by a thousand cuts
      • reducing churn doubled my LTV
      • every 30 days check which users didn’t use product for last 6 weeks and email them
    • Keep generating traffic – marketing is a tax you pay for being unremarkable. CAC < LTV
    • Systems – start building systems so the company can grow without you. Use software & hire
    • Vision – steer company towards your vision for customers, product and industry

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The most sincere form of flattery: Useful & effective website ideas to make your own – Dave Collins – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter: @thedavecollins

Dave published a shortened version of his talk here: The most sincere form of flattery: Useful & effective website ideas to make your own


Talk Recap

  • “Good artists copy, great artists steal” – Picasso
  • “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff I can steal from” – David Bowie
  • We know our websites are important
    • But we settle for “Meh” – why is that?
    • Open your eyes to the design – beyond copy and popups and attention grabbers
  • Get the originality for your website from copying!
    • Swipe file
    • Copy & Paste vs. Copy & Expand & Paste
  • What’s the first thing a website does?
    • give a good first impression!
    • make clear what you DO!
    • make REALLY clear what you DO!
    • focus on the pain
  • Why Do you do what you do?
    • Was offered a pay check with a substantially higher salary
    • SEO is kind of boring
    • Looked at our own website: “Does it communicate our why?”
    • never allow users to think “… What do I get now?”
    • Websites without email capture are a waste
  • Who are you targeting?
    • adjust your language to your audience
    • Use Avatars
  • Logos
    • no one cares about your logo
  • Not getting stuck
    • Don’t leave your website visitors hanging
  • Make it easy
    • forms need to be obvious, quick
    • reduce nav items where possible
  • About what?
    • People like “About Us” pages with pictures of staff
  • Balance
    • need to include what is important on website
    • we need to conform to standards
    • BUT: Stand out
  • Nudges are good
    • the easier it is, the more likely people are going to use it
  • Differentiation through identity
    • Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign
  • Clarity beats Clever all the time
    • have obvious headlines

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Protected: CEO grows up. Reluctantly. – Peldi Guilizzoni – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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The inside story of self-funded SaaS growth – Rob Walling – MicroConf Europe 2015

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

Twitter: @robwalling


Talk Recap

  • last 15 months of my story as a founder – mainly Drip

3-Step Marketing Playbook

  • Build something people want
  • Find your position
  • Scale

Build Something People Want

  • Drip: Revenue at Launch: 100% (All numbers relative to that)
  • Stayed the same for ~6 months
    • new trials slowed down after launch
    • 40% trial-to-paid rate
  • Rules of thumb
    • visit to trial 0.7%-2%
    • trial to paid: 40-60%
    • First 60/90 day churn: 20-40%
    • Post 60/90 day churn: 4-7%
  • “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster” – David Ogilvy
  • Ask for cancellation reason in a short email
    • How to filter out the useful feedback?
    • Lots of “too pricey” feedback –> Do NOT lower prices; change your product to justify price!
    • Ask customers “What do you need Drip to do to make $50/mo worth it?”
      • “I like automation rules like Infusionsoft”
      • “Tags and a rules engine”
    • Gut feeling: “Marketing automation will justify the price”
      • checked out Infusionsoft via Google image search
      • talked to mastermind group
  • Build feature or not?
    • Does it fit my vision of the product?
    • Will this feature matter in 2 years?
    • Will it grow the business?
  • Rules Engine
    • Didn’t want to build it: too much work; enterprise-y; not fun
    • building in small steps
    • Revenue went up to 150% – People started talking on Twitter, etc
      • No marketing during that time ==> trial numbers went down
      • Churn rate went down
      • Trial-to-paid went up
      • ==> Product/Market fit

Find Your Position

  • If you are in a market with ANY competition, you need to pick a position
  • Invent a category (e.g. educate people on “Marketing automation” in 2003)
    • Usually something for funded companies
  • Compare features
    • bad path
  • Take a position in a category
    • comparing features makes you a commodity
    • better: “One click SaaS metrics for Stripe” – Baremetrics
    • “Drip is the best way to send emails to your prospects, trial users and customers based on who they are and what they’ve done.” –> Worst. Headline. Ever.
  • The Choices:
    • Compare Features
    • “Email Marketing”
    • “Marketing Automation”
    • Mastermind group: “Fuck it! Call yourself ‘Lightweight Marketing Automation That Doesn’t Suck'”
    • That headline totally crushed it


  • MRR today: 580%
  • First steps:
    • set up email course
    • Retargeting

Concentric Circle Marketing

  • Circles
    • Your Audience
    • Colleagues’ Audiences
    • Cold Audiences
  • Circle 1: Your Audience
  • Circle 2: Colleagues’ Audiences
  • Circle 3: Cold Audiences
    • “Powered by Drip” widget link
    • adding integrations to other software, get featured on “Integrations” page
    • SEO

Tactics we haven’t used

  • no split testing (for a lack of time)
  • paid acquisition – just recently started
  • AppSumo deal
  • Webinars – just recently started
  • Outbound email – just recently started

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From solo-founder with a day job – to a million dollar software business – Alex Yumashev – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter: @jitbit


Talk Recap

  • “You can teach a software engineer how to run a business, but you cannot teach an MBA how to write code” – Joel Spolsky
  • Jitbit history
    • 100% self-funded
    • 10 years; first 5 years: just me, all alone, 2 years moonlighting
    • 4 people, 100% remote
    • Flagship product: help desk software app (Really, REALLY crowded market)

The Don’ts

  • Don’t wait for an idea
    • start building before you have a product
    • tons of product-agnostic stuff:
      • website
      • blog
      • analytics
      • email list
      • payment gateway
    • less consumption, MORE creation
  • Don’t target developers
    • (At least not with your first product)
    • Hard crowd to please – don’t make it hard on yourself
  • Don’t worry about pirates
    • Software pirates never switch to paid versions – they switch to your competitor
    • We even tried “cracking” our own software and uploading it
  • Don’t worry about incorporating
    • Revenue is important, “LLP or LLC?” is not important
  • Don’t be afraid of competition
    • Don’t try to come up with some new cool innovative shit
    • competition is good news – they proof market exists
    • “Me too” products are fine – you can even clone a product
    • “First – learn to draw a horse” – Salvador Dali

The Dos

  • Charge More
    • charge from day 1
    • price for the customers you want
    • $5 customer is different from a $99 customer – $5 customer is PITA
    • add completely stripped $5 plan only to prevent disruptive competition (if threat imminent)
  • SEO
    • works on all stages of your company
  • “Always be marketing”
    • where no one expects it: 404 page, 500 page,
    • support = cheap marketing (no hard selling, but delight people for word-of-mouth)
  • “Marketing Mondays” by Mike Taber
    • whole team does nothing but marketing on mondays
  • Content Marketing
  • Log everything
    • links you build, AB-tests you run, posts you publish
    • have a “commit history” for your marketing – not just your code

Product Management 101

  • Monitor feature usage from 1st customer
    • Monitor trial/paid users separately
    • Kill the unused ones
    • Enhance the heavily used ones
    • CRO inside the product


  • SEO should be done by founder
  • Do the basics (on page, mobile, speed, Annie Cushing’s SEO checklist, Google Webmaster Tools)
  • target long-tail keywords
    • make all your internal content public – publish knowledge base, enduser docs, API docs, FAQs, installation guides, workarounds
  • Build links from pages that rank for your keyword
    • even at #218. Export the ranking URLs (, check for link opportunities
  • Build brand mentions
    • Google’s patents: “Non-linking citations are treated as implied links”
  • Competitor backlinks
  • Track rankings
    • if it drops, check the “marketing log”, check the Panguin tool
    • track top20 rankings to learn when your competitors improve their SEO –> reverse engineer

Other things we tried (Did it work or not?)

  • Remarketing ==> NO
    • people hate B2B/work-stuff on FB
  • A/B testing ==> YES
    • be prepared that 90% of tests will fail
    • Always have a hypothesis behind a test – not just “lets try X and see what happens”
    • Don’t trust your guts
    • Statistical significance (long time + high-traffic pages)
  • Email marketing ==> NO
    • at least not at the scale I hoped it would work
  • Growth hacks (“invite a friend”, “RT to extend trial”) ==> NO
    • not in B2B
  • Net Promoter Score ==> YES
    • surveying method to know customer happiness
    • delivers actionable data

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How to write email courses – Jacob Funnell – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter: @emphasiswriting

Key Takeaways

  • Pick a small topic you can cover thoroughly
  • Make the user better with each email
  • Be supportive personal and confident


Talk Recap

  • 5 day course: “Homeworking in Brighton”
    • only has 3 emails (!!) – half-finished
    • still converts!

How to write an email course

  • Picking a course topic
    1. Everything oyu know about a topic != what you can reasonably teach someone in a week
    2. Example: “Speak in a Week”
      1. Seven-day course
      2. Objective: have a conversation at the end of the week
      3. Solve one problem ==> people think you’re good at solving other problems (Halo Effect)
  • Make the reader a better person
    • Example: Brennan Dunn “Charge What You’re Worth”
      • Gets readers to ask questions in a worksheet
      • Focuses reader on problem
    • Example “Serve Mastery”
      • Asks readers to respond to initial email
      • Increases reader’s investment
  • Tell people something useful
    • Write things that a user can act on
    • Don’t cram everything into an email
  • Course is about more than knowledge – come across as a genuine person
    • Tell stories about your own struggle
    • encourage people to add you on Twitter/Facebook
    • Don’t be timid about giving advice – AVOID underconfidence

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Limits and Liabilities: How to use where you come from to get where you’re going – Sherry Walling – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter: @zenfounder

Key Points From the Talk

  • own your story
  • know your past and the weaknesses & strengths you get because of your past

Talk Recap

  • When you are the sole driver of your business, everything else matters WAY more
    • emotional well-being, enough sleep, physical fitness ALL affect your bottom line

How your past shapes your present

  • Who you are right now in this moment is an accumulation of all the past moments
  • If we don’t pay attention to the messages we received, we won’t be able to make the most out of our strengths and weaknesses
  • Abuse, neglect and household dysfunction as a child is a robust predictor of how much healthcare support you will need in your adult life
    • People with 4+ categories of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” were 2x as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease or cancer than someone with <4
    • People with 4+ ACEs were 460% more to suffer from depression
    • 6+ ACE shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years
  • We can’t change what happened in childhood, but we can change adoption of health-risk behaviors
  • The same things that can hurt us can also make us incredibly strong
  • The important thing is NOT how scary your liabilities are, the important thing is that you do NOT look the other way
  • the golden child
    • gives you a lot of confidence
    • shadow side: you might lack grit
  • the loner
    • incredible ability to trust your own ideas
    • good problem solver
    • you don’t seek permission
    • shadow side: difficult to understand your customers, lacking empathy
  • the pleaser
    • growing up in a demanding family (“You’ll be a lawyer!”)
    • able to anticipate needs & wants of others
    • shadow side: perfectionist
  • the survivor
    • great ability to protect yourself
    • good at competition, a lot of grit
    • shadow side: difficult to feel accomplishment

The past matters

  • From the founder origin stories
    • lots of adversity – but enough support to hang in there
      • use friends/masterminds to talk through tough spots
    • The need to create an original path
      • not following a script
    • intelligence, curiosity and hard work
  • Own your story
  • not owning your story
    • forcing what has never worked for you

Practical Strategies to own your own story

  • Start tonight
  • write your personal story
    • go on a retreat
    • use a free writing method
    • work with a coach or therapist
  • tell your story in your matermind group
  • write or record the origin story of your business
  • cultivate self-reflection to watch your story unfold in front you


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Productizing to $10k/month: How to use a productized service to accelerate your transition to software – Brian Casel – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

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

Twitter: @casjam


Key Points From the Talk

  • Build a service first, learn, develop software from there
  • Customers want results, not tools
  • Combining a Done For You Service with software delivers results

Talk Recap

  • 3 goals:
    • What a productized service looks like as an actual business
    • Combining a productized Service and (SaaS) software
    • Showing opportunities to use productized service to transition from freelance to products
  • Restaurant engine history
    • freelance developer/designer – living project to project
    • Plan/Dream: within a year transition from freelance to customer
      • build software
      • first customers
      • $10k/month
      • Quit! (and focus on product)
    • Fast forward a year:
      • some customers, growing – not quite $10k/month
      • ready to take a leap of faith and quit freelancing
      • no relation between time and money lead to a number of bad decisions
      • within a year back to taking client work
      • This is how it went
        • build software
        • first customers
        • $10k/month
        • Quit! (and focus on product)
  • Factors of Resistance (things that slow you down)
    • Client work
    • Day job
    • Bills
    • Kids
    • Family & Friends
    • No experience (working in a product business)
    • No chops
    • No help
    • No network
    • No idea
    • RISK
      • time investment with little to no payoff initially (hard to sell to family & friends)
  • Actual timeline for Restaurant Engine
    • Build software
    • First customers
    • Quit freelancing
    • Resistance, Mistakes, Back to client work,
    • Re-Focus
    • $10k/month

The Path of Least Resistance

  • Audience Ops – actual timeline:
    • Launch
    • First Customers
    • $10k/month
    • Building software
    • Launch software
  • SWaS – Software With a Service
    • Software product with a “Done For You” component (DFY)
    • The Software provides the tool
    • The Service delivers the result
    • Services = higher form of onboarding – ensures great experience
  • SWaS is easier to buy
    • no/minimal learning curve for the customer
  • SWaS is easier to sell
    • you are identifying ONE problem
    • you’re delivering the perfect method to solve ONE problem
    • “Onboarding/learning curve” no longer a valid objection by the customer
    • Cancellations become less of concern as customers are seeing results –> customers are happy –> lower churn –> higher LTV

Case Studies & Tactics

  • LeadFuze – DFY cold emailing lead generation
    • “Invisible Software” – they use software internally, but customers never see it
    • software streamlines & scales the Service
    • Used revenue from the Service to turn internal Software into a SaaS product
  • owning the tool is optional!
    • build your service on top of existing tool
    • Leverage popularity of existing tool OR keep it opaque
  • Test Triggers – runs & manages A/B test on your websites
    • built on top of Optimizely
    • 3 clients ($1500 MRR) within 30 days – from 50 hand-crafted outreach emails
  • AuditShark – security auditing software
    • enterprise sales territory –> 6 month sales cycle
    • “The Service sells the Software”
    • 3 sales in the first month of offering the DFY service
    • much faster & more efficient delivery of service, thanks to tool
  • Podcast Motor – DFY podcast editing & production
    • “Launch with a day job”
    • 20+ paying customers in less than 6 months
    • Targeting business podcasts
    • Re-investing all business revenue to grow team & product
    • Plans to launch a software component later

But Can it Scale?

  • Benefit of SWaS: revenue and results (and business lessons!) from day one (for the founder)
  • customers want the RESULT, not the tool ==> DFY component for Restaurant Engine
  • I removed myself to the point that I spend <3 hours/month managing the business
    • outsource and automate using freelancers
    • First: Get the solution right – then: remove yourself from the delivery
  • Focus
    • on one problem, one solution for one ideal customer
    • standardized and predictable delivery of the solution
    • come up with a marketing plan for your ideal customer
    • Your DFY solution is a no brainer value proposition
  • Audience Ops
    • “10x The Speed”
    • 4 months in:
      • 90% removed
      • $10k/month MRR
      • self-funding software product
    • If you’ve done it before, you can do it again 10x faster

Price on Value. Scale the Costs.

  • value-based pricing is key
    • price high, charge upfront
    • tool + service == more value – charge accordingly
  • Streamline with predictability
    • lowers costs
    • delegate work / remove yourself
    • software boosts efficiency

Leverage Everything

  • leverage existing software to deliver a service

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How to acquire your first 100 customers: 10 tactics to use after your launch – Justin Jackson – MicroConf Europe 2015 talk recap

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

Twitter: @mijustin
Slides: here

Key Points From the Talk

  • Ask for money
  • “sprinkling some marketing on top of it” is NOT the magic formula to success
  • Content + Email Marketing works really well right now


Talk Recap

  • In 1980 Iron Maiden was a brand new heavy metal band, they were about to release their first album
  • We are all in search of the magic formula to (marketing) success – but there is none
    • Marketing has dependencies
      • product that people want
      • audience
      • channels that work
      • combines into “Message that resonates”
    • You have competition, etc.
    • Your way out: UNIQUENESS
  • 3 ways to be unique
    • bake uniqueness into your product (Balsamiq)
    • use your own personal uniqueness (DHH)
    • Create unique branding (Rovio – Angry Birds)

7 Tactics for getting more leads

  • #1 Rank highly on a list
    • most of the major properties are ranked lists
      • Google
      • iTunes App Store
      • Reddit
      • Product Hunt
      • Quora
    • list hack: Quora
      • edit “Answer Wiki”
      • Answer a question
      • summarize the answers into the “Answer wiki” – put your product up top
    • List hack: Product Hunt search
    • List hack: Google Image Search
      • Justin is #1 result for “nerd mullet”
      • Really easy to rank for
      • For StageCMS: “band websites”
        • add <img src=”band-websites.jpg” alt=”Band website example” title=”Example of a band website” /> to your website
  • #2 Create a free tool that naturally leads to your product
    • engineering as marketing
    • e.g. Bidsketch “freelance proposal templates”
    • for StageCMS: “Free spreadsheet for managing band finances”
  • #3 write a surprising blog post that gets people interested
  • #4 Give away an ebook
    • trade eBook for email address ==> build an audience
  • #5 ask for referrals
    • word of mouth is great – but you can encourage people
  • #6 share a journey
    • share your story from 0 to $20k/mo
    • For StageCMS: Nightwish (one customer) has a documentary on Youtube
  • #7 Email people you know
    • you are already building relationships
    • you can ask them to use your product, if you have the relational capital

2 Tactics for guiding leads through the funnel

  • #8 Drip email campaigns
    • for SaaS businesses this is the #1 driver of trials & paid customers
    • build trust over a time – automatically
    • In the last email “I told you all these things, why don’t you try my product now?”
    • StageCMS: “Turn your band into a business in 5 days”
  • #9 use retargeting ads
    • test retargeting against not doing retargeting – some people don’t see results!
    • For StageCMS: Retarget on Facebook to people who “like” Bandcamp and SoundCloud

2 Tactics for closing the deal

  • #10 Follow up with your leads
    • no CRM needed; use Google spreadsheets, track:
      • name
      • email
      • estimated LOW/HIGH value
      • ask date
  • #11 Ask for their money
    • we are getting worse at this!
    • “Shut up and take my money” –> Entrepreneurs: “OK, I’M ready to take your money”
    • use phone to close deals

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MicroConf Europe 2015 Notes and Noteworthy

This is the central resource for a recap of MicroConf Europe 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
If you write/record/create ANYTHING related to MicroConf Europe 2015 please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it here.

Notes on the Talks

Attendee Talk Notes

Articles and Podcast Episodes About MicroConf Europe 2015

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