A Bootstrapped SaaS Story: from $0 to $10K MRR 🦄

updated on 03 March 2022

Hey! I'm Alexander Isora, the founder of Unicorn Platform.

Unicorn Platform is a landing page and blog builder for SaaS which I made solo.

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Let me tell you how I came up with the idea, why only this project among 20+ ones I created really got off the ground, and what sources of traffic and growth tactics I used to reach $10,000 MRR.

Unicorn Platform revenue since 2018.
Unicorn Platform revenue since 2018.

“It is just not for me”.

When I was a kid, I was living in a small town in Siberia. Back then Siberian kids had 2 ways to spend their time after school: snow games and heroin. Heroin did not sound fun to me, so I was spending my life playing snowballs, skiing, and sliding on ice.

One day my dad brought Pentium at home. This day changed my life.

It was a naked Windows XP with no games and no software. So I was doing all day long is drawing in Paint.

Much fun.
Much fun.

The magic machine changed my way of thinking. There was a whole new world on my desk. It felt big. I knew there is a huge potential in this white box, but I did not know how to unlock it.

Playing with colors in Paint was more than enough for me back then though.

A few years later, I became an expert in the PC thing. I installed all the software I could find in the town and all the games. I got access to the Internet too, but it was slow and expensive. Not even enough to download porn 😓

Getting known to the Web and software was the second moment of enlightenment. Some cool folks were able to create amazing web pages and programs. I want to become one of them!

So I downloaded a nerdy book about Java. The nerdiest one I could find. I thought it would be enough to become Neo and create cyber things.

Oh boy, I was wrong! It was the most boring stuff I ever read. I did not understand a fucking word.

I dropped my dream of becoming a developer. “It is just not for me”.

First steps in Web

Even though I quit my attempts in becoming a programmer, the magic world of zeros and ones was always thrilling me. It felt so tempting. So I gave it another try.

Another nerdy book, another quit. Yes, I’m not a fighter 😅

But things changed when I really had to create a website.

During my studies at University, I needed cash to pay for the dorm. Working at a cafe or as a courier did not sound fun. I made a small e-commerce shop in WordPress.

Task by task, I got into this. I learned HTML, CSS, JS, some PHP and made a lot of changes in my shop.

Even though the project was profitable, I switched my focus from selling to programming and quickly became a freelancing web developer.

The time started to flow really fast. Soon I got a lot of clients, increased my hourly rate to $60/h, and quit the Uni. My dream became true. I’m a developer now. Yeah boy!

But there was an itch. Something was not alright. “You must become an entrepreneur and create your own company” — my heart kept telling me.

Entrepreneurship

One of my clients was especially happy to work with me. So happy he offered me to quit freelancing and make a company together. That was an opportunity!

The new journey had begun. We stopped working with our clients, settled together in a small apartment to reduce costs, and started making our own company.

Our company was producing HTML and WordPress themes for sale. At some point, we reached $30,000 yearly revenue.

I learned how to research markets, how to sell, how to communicate with clients, how to promote stuff on the Web. It was a huge step forward on my path as an entrepreneur.

But most importantly, I learned how people create websites. This understanding tempered my vision of a website builder that this world needs.

My partner also had a vision of a website builder. Unfortunately, his idea was different from what I was thinking about. So I quit and started my own venture.

The beginning of Unicorn Platform

At the moment I quit the company was in a crisis. We were arguing more than creating. The sales also went down.

It is much easier to have a partner. But there are always risks in relying on another person.

Even though I had the money for only a few months of living, this time I decided to go completely on my own.

I had an idea and a clear vision of a landing page builder. I wanted to create a tool which is:

  • Stylish.
  • Easy and fun to use.
  • Simple.
  • Powerful just enough.
  • Tailored for one audience — startups (SaaS, mobile apps, software, NFT etc)

So let’s start building!

Making MVP

It took me 2 months to create the initial version.

I coded an HTML generator. The tool was able to compose pages to export as HTML. There was no online editing, no hosting.

I was absolutely sure about my vision. I knew people need this. This is why I was not worrying much when I was posting Unicorn Platform on Product Hunt.

Unicorn Platform on Product Hunt.
Unicorn Platform on Product Hunt.

The crowd was amazed!

I got so much positive feedback. And the most important, some cash as absolute proof of demand.

But the MRR was about $500. Which was not enough to pay my bills. I launched a private Lifetime Deal round and instantly raised $10,000 through the help of Nitesh’s Facebook group.

Cash boost after the LTD round.
Cash boost after the LTD round.

The 50 people who bought the LTD access were promised they will get a complete website builder with an online editor and hosting in 1 year.

I’m an honest man. I knew I could not break the promises of people who believe in me.

There was huge work ahead.

Building website builder

By the time I had cash and the deadline I was a solid HTML coder. But to build a website builder you need more programming skills.

So back to the nerdy books 🙂

Same as previously, I needed something to push me to learn. Something to motivate me to keep grinding boring books till deep night.

I’m a human. I need fuel to go.

My fuel was the promises given to the LTD owners and my passion.

The motivation was epic.

I was waking up each morning and rushing to the co-working space. I did not need stimulators, I did not need any Pomodoro technics and other productivity hacks.

I was a machine that was only learning and coding 14 hours per day.

There is nothing much to tell about that year of building. Unicorn Platform was literally born like this:

image-6qfkc

Launch

After a year of hard-working, Unicorn Platform was ready for a launch.

I re-posted it on Product Hunt. And again, the tool was warmly welcomed. The MRR jumped from $800 to $2,000.

Product Hunt is a perfect place to launch a startup. This community is full of talented designers, coders, entrepreneurs, and marketers who are eager to discover new tools. If you wish to learn about launching on Product Hunt, watch my YouTube playlist.

But the Product Hunt launch is just a first step. You need to constantly drive traffic to grow.

Customer acquisition channels

Existing customers

Humans are social animals. We naturally want to share good stuff with each other.

People who use Unicorn Platform and pay for it are happy with our service. We do more than just provide access to the builder. Our team consciously works on making each user even happier.

First, we care about them by talking personally in a live chat.

Each request is an opportunity. If someone asks for help, it is a strong signal that they are interested in continuing using your tool. They already spent time signing up and playing with it. Now they have an issue that blocks their experience. But they are not getting away, because they really want to go on.

We try our best to provide excellent support. This rarely means pointing to a guide.

We often:

  • Provide custom code. Yes, our managers will provide you with custom JavaScript code if you have a specific request. E.g. add an integration that Unicorn Platform currently does not have.
  • Google for them.
  • We help our users to grow their user base by sharing our own knowledge and resources. I regularly hunt the projects of my clients on Product Hunt and promote them on my personal Twitter.
  • Cheering them up. Yes, a little psychotherapy 😅

Often people ask for a feature we do not have or report a bug. It is a common practice for us to fix reported bugs or implement a small update on the same day the request came. An instant feedback from the developers makes users feel confident.

If they requested a complex feature, we add it to our roadmap.
Once the feature gets enough requests, we implement it and personally notify each person who wants it. Yes, personally, not through a mass email.

A personal reach out makes an amazing effect on users. They feel cared for and their will to spread Unicorn Platform in their network grows.

Word of mouth is our main source of new users. But there are many more.

"Made by" links

Every free website has a branding badge with a direct link to Unicorn Platform.

Branding badge.
Branding badge.

The badge helps to build brand awareness and constantly brings new users. Every 3 of 100 users signs up Unicorn Platform by clicking the badge.

We have a special 2x times cheaper plan which includes the main features but still does not allow a user to remove the branding. It is a good tradeoff: pay less, but help us grow.

Open startup reports

We publish our main metrics such as MRR, churn, new users, and website visitors. People are curious about numbers. This type of content has good engagement and successfully attracts new users and potential partners.

Trends

I try to chase trends and benefit from them. For instance, we created a template for an NFT project.

NFT is hyping right now. Hundreds of project pop up daily. We offered users a simple and quick way to get a neat page for their collection in minutes.

To make sure we rank well on Google for the “create NFT website” keyword, we created a page and a blog post:

A special page for the
A special page for the "NFT" keyword.

Currently, every 7th new user comes from these pages.

Big competitors do not have this level of flexibility as a small project does. We benefit from it.

Memes

We made a fun commercial.

We made it to send a signal to the world that we are not a boring company but a team of cool and fun folks. Everybody wants to hang out with cool folks.

Tweet analytics.
Tweet analytics.

I hoped the ad will go viral, but it did not 😭

AppSumo

We had an AppSumo campaign which I plan to tell about in detail in the next blog post.

Besides cash boost, we also surprisingly got a lot of attention. The AppSumo community is giant. There are plenty of Facebook groups that share deals with each other.

The listing brought us 2,949 new quality sessions (bounce rate: 10.6%, time on site: 4:38).

Side-projects

We create free side-projects with our ad placed there.

UI generator screenshot.
UI generator screenshot.

A side-projects is a separate tool that follows 2 rules:

  1. Is free. A free thing is much easier to promote.
  2. Is useful to our audience. We make sure it brings value to your potential users, not to random strangers.

We made:

Making side projects has some side benefits. It forces to learn new technologies and test new tools. It also helps to avoid burning out.

Product Hunt

We re-launch Unicorn Platform on Product Hunt every 6 months.

According to the official Product Hunt F.A.Q., you can re-launch your project again after it got significant updates and after a period of 6 months has passed. This is why I consider Product Hunt as a customers acquisition channel, not a on time launch platform.

Here is our re-launch example.

SEO

We continue creating new blog posts and keyword-specific pages (example).

I’m not an SEO expert. I did not do any backing building or long-tail key-wording. But somehow search engines give us 31.1% of the total traffic.

SEO impact.
SEO impact.

Capterra, G2, TrustPilot and other listing platforms

These platforms bring 0.14% of the total traffic. Not too much, but still something.

I believe listing platforms are needed to provide social proof, not to bring new users directly.

Paid ads

I do not re-invest in paid ads. I believe you need to constantly spend huge amounts on ads to create brand awareness. I do not have this many resources.

Spending $1,000 on Google ads to get 10 users with $200 LTV and earn $2,000 on them did not work for me. I experimented and got zero sign-ups. Pass.

Costs

The company monthly costs are:

  • $2,000 — salaries.
  • $400 — Uploadcare (images hosting).
  • $400 — AWS.
  • $200 — Other services (deployment, onboarding, marketing).
  • $500 — Taxes, commissions.

Total monthly costs: $3,500.

The project MRR by this moment is $12,802.

Thus, I earn $9,000 from the project as a personal income.

I still live a humble life and spend $1,500-2,000 per month for life. I store the money for experiments, force majeures, and future hires.

Goals and future plans

I do not want to outcompete SquareSpace, Wix, WordPress and dominate the market. I do not have any KPI or growth goals. I’m not chasing the “hockey-stick” growth.

I just love my product and want to continue improving it. Linear growth is totally fine to me.

There is one thing that makes me angry 😖

The popular media are full of successful startup stories such as “X raised $100M”, “Y expanded the staff to 500 heads”, “Z has grown 1000% in the last year“. TechCrunch, Verge, and others want to show off big numbers because these titles will have a better retweet rate.

This creates an image of a successful entrepreneur who lives in Silicon Valley, has 10 meetings with investors a day, and raises $100k of an angel’s cash during lunch.

But this is a manipulation.

A startup is a complex and unpredictable thing. It can evolve in many different ways.

VC is not mandatory. Raising funds is not mandatory. The team is not mandatory. An office is not mandatory. Hockey-stick is not mandatory.

Let your success story be written by you, not by the media.

Thanks for reading my story 🙂

I hope you found it useful and fun.

Here are some links.

Project:

Personal:

✌️!

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Runs on Unicorn Platform