How I bootstrapped a SaaS Startup
From developer to founder, a tough story
A lot of people are asking me how it’s like to be an entrepreneur, and I feel there is some $2 cents I could share to help other people to start their business or understand how it feels. Instead of share advices I’ll share my story, and I promise I’ll make it as short as possible.
I always loved technology
I always loved technology, in all it forms and tastes. I started coding Visual Basic and HTML at the age of 12 and since that day, there wasn’t a single week that I didn’t learned something new. That’s how I became a programmer and moved forward. I worked on agencies, consultancies, some big and small companies, met awesome people and visited amazing places. All this in a short period of time.
On one of the consultancies I worked for, around 3 years ago, I decided to start an OpenSource project. The need for this project came after hear the same feature being requested from 3 different projects I was involved with. Gamification.
This is how it started, on a usual weekend night, on my place, working on an new project. A gem for Ruby on Rails applications that would help developers to implement gamification.
Later on, this open source project was the inspiration to my business, Gioco. My first advice is to look around:
Your business might not be so far from you
Startups aren’t about what you can build from now on, but it might be what you have being working on. Be faster than me on identify and evolve it into a business!
It took me almost 3 years before I finally decided to move on my open source project and evolve it to a SaaS product.
I ended up using open source projects to validate my idea. It seems a good way to go. It’s easy to spread, to validate, and the people that are going to use it won’t have high standards as they usually do when hiring a SaaS platform. (But be aware of the license you should choose, research about it, it may save you from future problems.)
I needed to put it all together and I hadn’t any big amount of money
Once I decided to move forward on the idea of build an SaaS startup I needed to put it all together and I hadn’t any big amount of money so there was no way to drop my job as CTO at a soccer social network startup.
Luckily I’m a really persistent person, because there was some tough days where I worked all day on my job and then went to my place and worked as much as I could on Gioco Pro.
I was working 70 hours/week between my day job and my SaaS idea, I kept this rhythm for 2 months, that’s what took me to build a first version of my product. I used everything I learned from past experiences to increase my chance of success.
We are extremely good at criticise others and see their bad decisions. Its’ way easier when you are not taking the lead, but when I started my business I decided to do my best in order to not become the people that I disliked, so I always imagine what I would think about a decision I’m taking if I worked for me.
Use everything you learned from past experiences
I started it small and as fast as possible:
- Created a Landing Page with a Survey
- Promoted to friends and early adopters
- Used the answers to create an MVP
- Built a website
In order to do this I spent around $ 150 USD. Most of it buying HTML and Wordpress themes, as I’m not a good designer and couldn’t afford the money and time to hire a freelancer. Keep it lean!
And now what?
That’s a tricky feeling. I felt I was ready. But then the others challenges came, marketing strategy, keep track of my metrics, sales meetings, look for investors. I did it all.
I never had problems to communicate with people, I love to speak on conferences across the world, but let me warn you, sales and business meetings aren’t simple. I had to improve my negotiation skills and develop a kind of cold blood mindset to give straight and tough answers. If you are a developer as I am, you should be prepared to work on this and try to master negotiation skills.
I needed someone older than me to help me with legal and financial activities, both are really important skills to a startup and I had to be someone that I really trust, that’s when I invited my Father to be my Co-Founder and partner.
You better find a Co-Found that you consider better than you
I left my job. It wasn’t easy and probably not the right time, I ended up having to find a new job after some time because I needed to pay my bills.
All the free time I had between jobs I invested on Gioco, ended up closing great deals and partnerships, it evolved really quickly but wasn’t enough to pay my bills.
I never learned so much in a short period
We ended up closing an investment with an angel investor, I’m still learning every single week, still have a lot of up and downs across the same day but it’s being awesome. I really believe on what I’m building, and the responsibility to make it work rely on me.
Our story isn’t like some fairy tales around, I had to struggle with tough hours, no money and between jobs to make it work, but now I feel it payed off and I would make it all again.
There are still a lot to work on: new partnerships, hiring, others investors, hard decisions and new features. But I’ve done so far and the journey is being awesome.
- Start a business might not be so far from you and from what you are doing.
- Keep it lean, but mostly keep it fast.
- You don’t need to have a lot of money, but you do need to be prepared to invest a lot of time.
- You probably already know a lot of great practices, but you will need to be committed with it.
- You will probably need a Co-Founder, if you can’t convince another friend that you have an amazing business, how you will convince clients? You already know amazing people, invite someone better than you.
- Enjoy the journey!