Growing a Bootstrapped SaaS Business with Minimum Marketing Spend
“How SkyCiv Engineering used lean marketing strategies to build a profitable and global SaaS company”
Written by Simon Alcott: Published May 6th, 2020 | Updated May 6th, 2020.
Simon Alcott is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a company that helps grow SaaS websites ⚡. He likes interviewing SaaS founders / teams about their growth stories. Below you’ll find his latest interview.
8 Minute Read
📖 My SaaS Growth story
Today we have another exciting SaaS growth case study to share with you. WhalePages was recently fortunate enough to chat with Sam Carigliano, the CEO / Co-Founder of SkyCiv, about his SaaS company’s journey so far. Let’s jump into the interview below 👇
💬 Hi and thanks for joining us today. Can you kick off the interview by telling us how you got involved in the SaaS space? What was your first project in the software space and how did your early projects propel you to where you are today?
So SkyCiv is the first SaaS project Paul and I have ever worked on. We saw that the structural engineering industry was really missing SaaS products and the benefits they offer. We had played around with a few projects prior to this, but none of them were SaaS related.
💬 What were some of your biggest early failures in the SaaS space and how did you overcome them? How did those failures help you grow as an entrepreneur?
For us pricing has always been one big experiment. As we were the first in the space to provide a SaaS business model, it was all a learning curve for us. We had to understand how structural engineers felt about SaaS pricing, whether it would work as a business model and even what price to charge.
Our biggest challenge was churn. Our industry is really project based, so it was really tough to fit it to a SaaS business model.
Our best tool against these challenges was experimenting. In the beginning we were charging $5 a year. But we kept experimenting with price and period until we found something that worked. We’re now at anywhere between $79 to $109 a month. Not sure if we would have reached this point so quickly if we had not experimented in those early days.
💬 How long did it take you to develop a first version / MVP of your current project? What did the MVP development process look like?
It took about 6 months. We had no previous programming experience before then, so we were learning throughout the whole process.
For us, we learned while doing. In the end, we had to rebuild a lot of the code, but this MVP allowed us to get our first bit of traction – it helped us get our first customers and revenue. 👔
Once we had our MVP that was attracting users, we used that to survey and research what else they needed. We then built those features and got more feedback. This iterative process is really useful, as you end up building what they need, not what you think they need.
💬 How did you go about ensuring product / market fit? What are some of your biggest takeaways / lessons within this topic?
I guess we weren’t searching for this with intent. We were just trying to fill a void. The easiest way to do this is solve a problem that a lot of people are facing, no matter how simple that is. The problem we were solving, was that there was no easy to use, online beam calculator at the time.
I think it’s so important to focus on solving a single problem. Everything becomes easier that way. People are looking and searching for that solution, so marketing becomes easier.
You don’t have to convince people to buy, since it’s what they need. I see a lot of businesses fall into the trap of building what they think people want, or trying to create a new market. 💰
These are certainly possible, and exist, but I think they are more difficult to achieve.
Looking back, and after going through an accelerator program, there are some good frameworks (Lean Canvas is a good place to start) that help you identify this early on. These help you pivot sooner by identifying key strengths and weaknesses.
💬 What’s your current tech stack? Why?
My CTO is probably more equipped to answer this, but I’ll give it a crack. We are 100% cloud based with an open API. We have a dedicated server rather than going through AWS or Azure. For us, this is more cost effective and gives us more control to serve our users.
💬 Are you self funded or do you have outside backing (VCs, angels etc). What are the pros / cons of your funding path?
We are bootstrapped. We have had opportunities to raise, but have chosen not to at this point. Pros are that you have full control over your business and I believe you can grow a stronger business as you need to generate revenue and watch costs. The cons are that growth can be slower, so if time is important this could be key benefit for you.
💬 How long did it take you to hit $1000 and $2000 in MRR?
I believe about a year after releasing our main product.
💬 How long did it take you to hit $5000 and $10,000 in MRR?
About two years after releasing our main product.
💬 When you were first starting out, how did you go about onboarding your first customers? What were the main channels you found your first customers through?
In the beginning it was just Paul and I, so we didn’t have a great deal of time to help onboard. So we tried to automate as much as we could. We built really good documentation, articles and videos. So we would only have to answer a question once, and that could reach thousands of people. Another thing we did was automate the onboarding emails using Intercom (back then we also used Autopilot).
For quality customers, and even just to learn more about our customer, we would also try to do product demos.
Our first customers were found through Google. We even named our website bendingmomentdiagram.com. It was a really ugly, technical term but it helped us rank in Google and get our first users. Once we had this platform, we built a brand and launched SkyCiv.
💬 How has the marketing strategy for your SaaS changed over time? What SaaS marketing advice would you give to early stage entrepreneurs who are struggling to gain traction early on?
We do a lot of content marketing; blog pieces, free tools, technical articles and videos. This hasn’t changed much, because 5 years in this is still what works! We definitely have more outbound strategies, trade shows and partnerships now, but in terms of scalability content is great. One article/video can attract new customers years after you publish it. Can’t beat that ROI.
Early on, I would suggest LinkedIn. Build your personal brand by sharing interesting content, articles you’ve written and get involved in the community. You can do this while your MVP is being built. That way when it comes time to get your early adopters, you have an audience already.
💬 As time has gone on, what have proven to be your 3 best customer acquisition channels? Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got each of those channels working for you?
For us, it’s SEO, LinkedIn and more recently YouTube.
SEO is a highly cost efficient channel. I wrote an article in 2015 that probably took me 4 hours, and is still attracting customers today! We use SEMRush.com to track rankings, it’s expensive but it might be useful for SaaS businesses around $2k-$10k MRR relying on SEO. You can also use Google Keyword Planner to identify good keywords in the beginning as it’s free.
LinkedIn is great to build a personal brand and to distribute professional content to your target audience. Ads are expensive on this, so would not recommend this in the beginning. But you’ll find if the problem resonates with people you should get some connections and inbound messages. It’s a great way to get a signal for a particular message or value proposition.
YouTube is great for long-form content. We are a fairly technical product, so going into deep dives and education our target audience builds trust and familiarity. This is a fairly new channel we are focussing on but has been pretty positive so far.
💬 What have been your three worst customer acquisition channels?
Twitter – never really worked for us, since Structural Engineers don’t use that platform much.
Email blasts – through partners and industry-related advertisers. Didn’t get much engagement and the audience wasn’t actively looking for software, so felt a bit ‘forced’.
💬 How do paid ads fit into your growth program? How have paid ads performed for you? The more specific you can be, the better (i.e. CPC, CPA, ROAS etc)
We do have a lot of paid ads, but as of yet we haven’t found any that were scalable or hugely successful. This might very well be different to a lot of other businesses. For us, our CAC blows out. It costs us over $1,000 to get a paid customer because a lot of the audience are not actively looking.
The ads on our high intent keywords work pretty well. But this volume is not scalable, so there’ a limit to what it can achieve.
💬 What’s a “must read” book for SaaS entrepreneurs?
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg is a great read. For any marketers who are unsure of what acquisition channels to look into, this provides a great intro to the different channels and how to find the best 1-3 that work for your business.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Sam. I know everyone reading this will have at least one big takeaway that they can apply to their own SaaS company. To our blog audience, if you’ve enjoyed this interview I encourage you to head over to SkyCiv to learn more about what they do 🙂 You can also follow them on Twitter here.
If you have enjoyed this interview and would like to read more just like it, then head over to our SaaS marketing blog.
Written by Simon Alcott: Published May 6th, 2020 | Updated May 6th, 2020.
Simon Alcott is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a SaaS marketing course. So, if you have a SaaS company and you’re kinda into things like website traffic and increasing your MRR, then our SaaS growth course is probably for you.