Blog Bootstrapping our startup to 100K ARR in a highly competitive market
Bootstrapping our startup to 100K ARR in a highly competitive market
Our journey with Featurebase was a wild ride. Learn about our growth strategies, the challenges we faced, and how we turned our vision into a reality.
Co-founder @ Featurebase.
It's Tuesday, the 26th of September, and I get a notification on my phone.
Phew, the server did not crash after the big update we pushed out a few hours ago.
Instead, it turned out that we had landed another customer, and after 2+ years of non-stop indie hacking, we had finally crossed 100K ARR and reached 163 paying customers.
In that timeframe, we've been extremely grateful to:
- Meet and personally talk to one of the youngest billionaires and a lot of awesome people on Twitter (X)
- Turn down 3 acquisition offers
- Raise $0 and still own 100% of our business
- Have amazing customers that we get to build together with
But how on earth did we get here?
Our path was completely different than your usual startup.
We didn't raise a big seed round, go to YC, have an audience, or leave our high-paying FAANG jobs to start the next-generation startup with our industry-secret insights.
Hah, I couldn't even legally own a business when we got started since I was 17 years old.
Luckily, we had something better than that - an illusion that we could build a successful startup.
My co-founder Robi and I had gotten our first taste of success when we were 14 years old and scaled our first startup from $0 to $20K MRR in just 6 months.
That gave us a lot of confidence that we could do it again.
So we started building and made every possible mistake you can probably make, but we always kept going since we knew that if we did it before, we could do it again.
We self-taught all the skills we needed along the way as we found them to be bottlenecks in our business.
So let's break our journey down into different steps: Coming up with the idea, getting our first customers, and going from $0 to $100K ARR
Coming up with the idea and abandoning the project
You're probably looking for a sexy story of how we came up with the idea, but unfortunately, that's not the case.
Featurebase started with us looking at existing products to find something that was making money and wasn't too difficult to build a better version of.
Plus the idea resonated with us since we would have paid big bucks for a tool like that with our previous startup.
We did not have any majorly unique ideas, and we simply started by building out the standard feature set to offer it at a lower price.
After completing our MVP, we launched on ProductHunt, IndieHackers, Reddit, and some Discord communities.
The results absolutely sucked, and we put the project on hold for over a year to build other businesses.
Regaining motivation and going from 0 to $10K ARR
Everyone tells you to be embarrassed by your MVP and launch as quickly as possible, but that is not the best move in already validated markets, where users expect certain features and product quality is important.
Our problem was that we tried to market a product that lacked critical features, and was therefore not adaptable by our target audience.
So we decided to change that.
We started working on the 2.0 version of Featurebase after becoming better engineers/designers in that timeframe.
Immediately after launching the 2.0 version, we started getting some traction from ProductHunt, AlternativeTo, BetaList, and other platforms.
As a side note, a great example of how to do this phase right is from the Linear team.
They knew that the issue-tracking market existed and spent a bit longer in the early stages of their product to lay out a foundation that would help them move faster and build a higher-quality product in the future.
So coming back to Featurebase - our product was somewhat "okay" at this stage.
It did not have all the features many competitors supported, but the UX was decent, and it was good enough for smaller teams.
Paired with a lower price, we were able to market ourselves as the cheaper alternative.
In addition to the price, we also competed with the fact that we had no life.
I had an exception for Intercom messages on my iPhone's sleep mode, and I woke up multiple times at 4 AM to instantly answer any questions or fix problems for our clients.
Getting ramen profitable: $10k to $50k ARR
By building together with our users and using our own product, we slowly started to understand what it takes to build something special in this space.
We broke out of what the average competitor looked like and took inspiration from many different industries to make something unique.
Copying your competitors does not work in most cases. Instead, take inspiration from other industries to bring a breath of fresh air to your own market.
You somewhat figured out the product, but how did you find the customers?
Since the common theme among our users was that they had tried all the competitors and finally found us to be the best for their needs, we span up the "Alternative To X" competitor pages.
We ran Google Ads to them and wrote blog posts to capture people who were looking to switch.
Having great results with that strategy made us double down on it by building a data-importing feature in our onboarding flow to help users migrate in a few minutes.
In addition to that, we were constantly chatting with our users to give them an amazing experience, and the "Powered by Featurebase" links on our product drove a lot of traffic.
But it wasn't all fun and games. Along the way, we fell into multiple traps.
One of them was thinking that we had found a new target audience just because a few customers from that segment bought our product.
More specifically, we saw many crypto and gaming projects starting to use Featurebase, so we wasted a month trying to position ourselves as the best tool for that niche, but that eventually failed.
We also did not initially have proper ways to track where our users came from since many privacy-friendly analytics tools delete the data after a short period or don't even show it at all. Mixpanel now works great for us to solve that.
Going from $50K to $100K ARR
This was by far the fastest jump for us, as it only happened in the last 3 months.
We continued our strategy of capturing the bottom of the funnel and building our product to be the best in this industry.
We always found it hard to write generic blog posts about topics that 100 other people had written about since it seemed like an absolute zero-sum game.
Therefore, we had to compensate by caring deeply about our product and providing an amazing customer experience, as our users became our marketing team.
At this stage, it also made sense to raise our pricing as the tool was many times more powerful than before.
We bumped the Growth plan price from $35 to $49/mo and the Premium plan from $79 to $99/mo. The sign-ups did not change, and it was probably the highest impact, low-effort change we did.
We recently launched our Discord community and decided to document our journey in more detail to build a brand and face behind the product.
Obviously, this product-led growth strategy only gets you so far, and to continue growing 30% MoM, we will also focus on SEO for high buyer-intent keywords to drive our growth.
To celebrate this milestone, we finally took a week "somewhat off" and enjoyed the weather at Marbella, Spain.
This milestone would have sounded great a year ago, but now it doesn't feel like anything special.
It only seems we're getting started.
We've got tons of exciting ideas on the product side, and we're excited to hire our first people next year to expand the team.
Our goal is to continue our product-led growth strategy by investing in building a brand and most importantly - a great product.
We're incredibly thankful to all our customers for supporting our journey to build the best user feedback tool out there!
The simple feedback tool with feature voting for your customer feedback. Built-in the 🇪🇺.
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