Growing a SaaS: “It’s Like Planting a Seed in the Ground, Staring at it Every Day and Yelling “Will You Please Grow Faster.”
“My first software project was a reporting platform. After building a crude version I decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate myself full time to turning the product into a business – with very little success!”
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 Dave Stanbridge, the Founder of Receipt Stash, 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?
Hello and thanks for chatting to us! I originally started out working in account and project management for a software company. I did enjoy these roles, but I found myself constantly drawn to the technology side of the company and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to dip my feet into that arena within the company. From there my passion to tinker and build software started to grow.
My first software project was a reporting platform. After building a crude version I decided to take a leap of faith and dedicate myself full time to turning the product into a business – with very little success! It was the best thing I did because I learnt an invaluable amount from the failure. Not just about the technical side of building software, but I learnt about the SaaS model and forming and running a business. There’s no substitute for experience, and you learn far more from failure than you do from success.
💬 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?
The original reporting platform I built never got off the ground. As with any SaaS bootstrap, you put your all into it and when you don’t see the fruits of your labour it can be crushing. For some people it’s enough to deter them from trying again, and I can see why.
It’s not easy to overcome failure, but if you do, it makes you wiser and more resilient. You know what not to do next time. 💡
I’ve developed a mind-set now where if I believe in something then I’ll give it a go. Failure shouldn’t be something to be feared. Each failure is like a step in your staircase to success. If you keep taking a step, you’ll reach the top eventually!
💬 How long did it take you to develop a first version / MVP of your current project? What did the MVP development process look like?
I started building Receipt Stash as a side project by myself and after about 10 months of research, late nights and weekend work I had a MVP ready for beta testing. I managed to get a handful of people I knew to sign up and use the platform regularly for a couple of months before I launched to the public.
The initial user feedback was crucial for both ironing out kinks, and for discovering what the end user really wanted out of it.
💬 What have been some of the biggest product decisions you’ve needed to make as a company? Have you ever had to pivot or change your offering? How has your SaaS product changed over time?
Receipt Stash is an expense management and bookkeeping automation tool so it naturally works alongside accounting software. We realised that including api integration with third-party accounting was going to be essential, and which ones we included/prioritised was an important decision to make. We started out with having direct feeds with QuickBooks Online and Xero, with more to follow in future.
With big accounting software starting to include some of the features that Receipt Stash has, it’s important for us to stay relevant so we don’t get squeezed out of the market. I wouldn’t say pivot, but we’ve had to add and “enhance” features that give Receipt Stash merit as a standalone and independent product, without being as reliant on the accounting platforms as it originally was.
I’ve always been mindful of “feature bloat” with Receipt Stash. It has a clear and defined core purpose and it should do that exceptionally well. There’s a fine balance to be found when adding new features without compromising the heart and soul of the product.
💬 Are you self funded or do you have outside backing (VCs, angels etc). What are the pros / cons of your funding path?
Receipt Stash has been completely self-funded to this point.
The good thing about being self-funded is the independence and control you have over business decisions. You can freely decide what direction to take the business in without having to consult or report to any third parties. The consequences for your decisions and actions are yours alone to bear (this could also be a bad thing). There’s also an element of pride that comes with being self-funded.
One of the biggest downsides of this is that growth is slower. You don’t have the level of capital to inject into sales and marketing that you would like to.
You have to weather the storm and hope that your growth rate is enough to get you through the other side until your cash flow is strong enough to start investing in marketing and business development. It’s like planting a seed in the ground, staring at it every day and yelling “will you please grow faster!”. 🌱
💬 How long did it take you to hit $1000 and $2000 in MRR?
It took Receipt Stash 9 months to hit $1,000 MRR and then a further 4 months to hit $2,000 MRR.
💬 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?
The first customers we onboarded were people we knew. We reached out via social media to a number of people we thought might be a good fit to beta test Receipt Stash. A number of those users converted to paid subscriptions after the beta period.
Once Receipt Stash was out of beta I listed it on as many startup sites and tech blogs as I could find, to build up exposure and back links to the website. I also signed up for paid advertising on SaaS sites like Capterra.
These channels provided a high number of leads, however I found much higher quality leads through word of mouth and building relationships with existing customers.
💬 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?
Who we target has been the biggest evolution of our marketing strategy. In the early days we were casting a much larger net in the hope that we would land a larger catch. It’s not an efficient way to market your business. Receipt Stash managed to build up a strong presence and reputation within a number of local business communities and we ended up seeing much better returns from word of mouth.
I would advise other start-ups struggling to gain traction to think about who your ideal customer is. Really understand them and their behaviour. See if you can get involved within local groups or communities and build rapport with them. These business groups are usually tight-knit; they trust each other and word of mouth can spread through these groups like wild fire. This can be a double edge sword though so make sure you keep your customers satisfied!
Also have a think about if there are other businesses that can benefit from your growth. Strike up partnerships with other businesses, or better yet, other industries where they’re motivated or have an incentive to get you more customers. These can create valuable sales channels for your business.
Event sponsorship can be a great tool to build brand awareness within these industries or communities. It can be a place where you have a large number of your target customers in a single place and they’ll be more receptive to marketing messages. So get your brand in front of them!
💬 What role has content marketing played in your SaaS company’s growth? What content systems and strategies do you have in place to help ensure growth in this area? What have been your biggest SaaS content marketing takeaways?
We haven’t had prior experience with content marketing, so the finding would be rather obvious for a person skilled in this area. Early on we decided to publish things that would be interesting to our audience, but not in the area where our product is.
The idea was that people would come for content, check who this content was written by and then try our product. Even though such posts generated a lot of traffic, few people converted. When we publish articles relevant to our product area, we don’t get as much traffic, but it converts better. Like I said – very obvious in retrospect.
💬 What’s a “must read” book for SaaS entrepreneurs?
“REWORK” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (the founders of Basecamp). Also give “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking a read so you can put the universe, and your place in it, into perspective.
💬 If you had to start over again and do three things differently what would those three things be?
Be more aggressive with sales and marketing. Early on we were very product focused, but more investment in sales and marketing would have given us faster growth and a stronger market presence.
Consider funding options. I’m proud that Receipt Stash is fully self-funded, however funding in the early stage would have opened up more opportunities.
Network harder and earlier. There’s great business networking communities out there where you can bounce ideas around and you can even drum up a bit of extra business from it. Doing this earlier could have helped us grow faster and make more informed decisions.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Dave. 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 Receipt Stash 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.