Most SaaS startups struggle and eventually fail before they get off the ground. Those who succeed are often protected with a cushion of angel funding and nurtured by SaaS sales and marketing experts when they launch. But some companies bootstrap themselves to outsized success with little budget and no tech-savvy influencers behind them.
So how did these folks capture the SaaS market? The founders of some of these unusual companies shared their experiences recently on Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) forums. They explained how they attracted paying users and mastered SaaS sales and marketing with little or no outside support. They credit much of their success to a few essential strategies:
- Build an audience. Develop an audience before launch, through blogs or by participating in online forums. For most of these unusual successes, the audience helped them refine their product market fit. And at launch time, many initial customers came from this group of followers.
- Select the best SaaS sales and marketing channels. Try all avenues but stick with the ones that work. Even if they work just a little, keep going with those and forget any that fall flat.
- Highlight your differences. Focus messaging on what you do better than the competition for your niche or target audience.
- Crank out content. Keep blogging and posting as a subject matter expert (SME) in your industry. Get your name out by helping others with what you’ve learned.
1 – AMZShark: Leverage Social Media
AMZShark helps Amazon sellers assess how well specific products are performing on the site, tracking their ranks in searches, sales, and profitability. The founders bootstrapped the company to $30k monthly recurring revenue (MRR) in a year.
To get their first cohort of users, they leveraged Facebook groups formed around people interested in improving their productivity as Amazon sellers. As people brought up questions or challenges in the groups, AMZShark founders wrote blog posts on the topics and created videos which they linked to. This strategy helped them build credibility and followers in their market, which drove them to SaaS success.
2- InkDrop: Engage With Your Audience
InkDrop is a Markdown organizer and editor. Markdown is a standard set of symbols for incorporating formatting elements (like headings and bold text) into a plain text document. InkDrop’s solo founder, Takuya Matsuyama, created the app as a side project with no initial investment. Over the last few years, he’s built it up to $8k MRR with over 1,700 paid subscribers.
He attracted his first 500 customers through SaaS content marketing via his own blog and with YouTube videos. By sharing his expertise with followers, he built credibility and learned more about his market niche. He also solicited user feedback and published product development roadmaps to keep existing customers engaged.
3 – WPEngine: Focus on One Channel for SaaS Sales and Marketing
WPEngine is a WordPress hosting and support service. It’s become the 7th largest public website hosting platform in the world, serving 170,000 customers globally. Its founders felt they had a good idea but had no outside investment. So they bootstrapped to success.
To attract initial customers, they concentrated scarce resources on one marketing channel instead of spreading budget thin over several channels. They also grew sales by connecting with people who were attracted by their marketing but chose not to buy. Understanding why someone in their target audience didn’t move forward helped them enhance the product and refine messaging to increase conversion rates.
4 – Carrd: Build an Enthusiastic Community
Carrd is a platform for building and hosting one-page websites. They had no initial funding, but they now bring in over $1 million annual recurring revenue with more than 2.2 million users.
The founders didn’t have a lot to spend on paid ads, so they leveraged their existing audience from apps they built prior to Carrd. They used Twitter and Product Hunt launches to capture the first 1000 customers, which in combination with their community, provides plenty of word of mouth advertising.
5 – Transistor.fm: Stand Out With Personal Stories
Transistor.fm is a platform for hosting and distributing podcasts. In a crowded market, they’ve focused on smaller, independent podcasters and have grown the company to over $30k MRR.
To attract initial buyers, owners Justin Jackson and Jon Buda turned to their existing blog and podcast followers as the foundation of their SaaS sales and marketing strategy. They extended their reach through Twitter, conferences, meetups, and Slack groups. Once they got started, they focused on SEO for SaaS and content marketing with blogs and YouTube videos, affiliate marketing, and their own podcast to continue growing. In a competitive market, they found that sharing their own stories and journeys helped differentiate the company.
Bootstrapping Your SaaS Strategy
While their experience is not the most common, these companies have figured out low-investment SaaS marketing strategies that worked for them. If you’re thinking of starting a SaaS company, incorporate their ideas with your own innovations, and even if you’re not a darling of Silicon Valley, your SaaS product may become tomorrow’s unusual success.