📂 The First $1k MRR (& Beyond): Outseta

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This is The First $1k MRR (& Beyond), a series about how founders got traction for their startups, told by the founders themselves.

Product: Outseta

Website: https://www.outseta.com

Founder(s): Geoff Roberts, Dimitris Georgakopoulos, & Dave Wong

Launched: October of 2016

Current MRR range: $10k – $100k

What does Outseta do?

Outseta is an all-in-one tech stack for founders of SaaS or membership businesses. Our platform brings together all of the tools commonly used to launch and operate these businesses including subscription billing, CRM, email, help desk, and reporting tools.

Our approach is valuable because:

  • Outseta dramatically improves speed to market allowing you to spend your time on what matters most—building your core product.
  • Outseta allows you to manage your business from behind a single login—with a lot less software and technical complexity. You can set up dozens of common workflows in minutes that would otherwise take hours or days when ping-ponging data between different software tools.

How did you get the first $1k MRR for Outseta?

It took us a long time to reach $1,000 in MRR—nearly 3.5 years! Generally speaking I would not recommend investing that amount of time to reach this milestone, but there are some circumstances fairly unique to our business that are worth stating up front.

  • We started building Outseta in a very part-time capacity.
  • We play in some of the most competitive software categories in the world—subscription billing, CRM, email marketing, help desk, etc.
  • In order to truly deliver on our value prop we needed to deliver product across those categories that was truly competitive with the point solutions that we compete against. It took us about 3.5 years of building to get to the point where prospective buyers said “You’ve got something here. The benefits of Outseta are now worth making some trade-offs.”

$1,000 in MRR was reached when we first had 30 customers concurrently. Here’s a look at how our website traffic grew over this period, as well as the lead sources that drove account sign-ups.

Website Traffic

Lead Sources

In terms of what worked for us, the following were the pillars of our early customer acquisition strategy.

We started writing content the day we started writing code.

This was far and away the most impactful decision we made—you can see that Google / Organic is by far our top performing lead source beyond direct traffic. I have a writing background, so most of our content is written blog content—this strategy was just me leaning into my personal strengths. It’s also worth note that I wrote absolutely no content targeting specific keywords for the sake of SEO during this time—I focused 100% on producing high quality content, even if it wasn’t likely to rank for any relevant terms. This absolutely impacted how our brand was perceived and built trust with our audience.

Here are some examples of our early content marketing:

Integration Partners (Stripe + Webflow)

Aside from content, establishing partnerships with highly relevant companies like Stripe and Webflow was the second most effective marketing strategy in our early growth. We’re a complimentary product to Stripe, so having a listing on their site drove us both traffic and some degree of credibility.

A similar listing on Webflow’s site is really how we entered the “no-code” community, which is when we started growing much, much faster. What’s interesting here is how little effort this took—I literally emailed Webflow’s support team, they took a quick look at our product, and two days later we had a listing on their website. It’s been one of our best sources of new customers ever since.

Email Prospecting

I also did quite a bit of cold email prospecting in the early days. Admittedly this was a little more difficult in terms of directly attributing revenue to these campaigns, but this was a foot in the door with an awful lot of prospects that had never heard of Outseta before.

I used a process where we scraped leads (new SaaS companies) from sites like Product Hunt, Beta List, and AngelsList, then I sent them automated emails directly from my Gmail account using Zapier. This resulted in over a 40% response rate to my emails.

Here’s a video overview of the process I used: https://outseta.wistia.com/medias/je6kvts72y

Illustrations—A picture is worth 1000 words

Another strategy that I employed that was particularly helpful was hiring an illustrator annually to create a new illustration that speaks to what Outseta offers. As a platform that consolidates a lot of well known software categories, this was massively helpful in helping customers “get it” when it comes to what we offer. I could never have imagined the response to these images—I received countless emails saying “I feel like the stressed out founder in the pictures! I need this!”

Other Strategies

Beyond the items mentioned above, we also told our origin story, did some community/comment marketing in communities like Makerpad, MegaMaker, and SaaSclub.io, and sponsored Indie Hackers meetups.

This post further details most of these strategies: https://www.outseta.com/posts/marketing-strategies-for-bootstrappers

What didn’t work

In terms of what didn’t work, a few things stand out in my mind.

  1. I experimented a bit with paid advertising early on. While it did gain some traction, we were at a stage where we simply didn’t have enough budget and time to keep prioritizing optimization of these campaigns. As a general rule of thumb I’d stay away from paid advertising until you’re able to commit something like $10,000/month to paid advertising in perpetuity.
  2. I had a thesis that a lot of our early growth would come from partnerships with accelerator programs. I built several of these with organizations like Techstars—almost all of them were a complete flop.
  3. In general, I think the biggest mistake I made was starting to sell too early. I was selling to extremely knowledgeable buyers in hyper competitive markets—the early versions of Outseta that I was attempting to sell simply weren’t compelling. In competitive markets, I think you often need something well beyond a “minimum viable product” to really be successful.

How have you scaled Outseta beyond $1k MRR?

Once we reached $1k MRR, we began to realize that much of our growth was coming from no-code builders rather than technical founders of SaaS companies. Today our customer is roughly split, but we started to lean into the no-code community much more strongly after $1k in MRR. The screenshot below represents where our traffic and account sign ups have come from since $1k in MRR.

A few items of note:

  • You’ll see no-code sites like Webflow, Makerpad, and Nocodelist became significant lead sources for us.
  • I also started to invest substantially more time on developing Twitter as a source of customers. This is now our 4th most important channel.
  • We also decided to scale our company without a sales team—as such, an affiliate program managed via Rewardful is now contributing something like 20% of our new customer sign ups.

Beyond these additions to our marketing approach, the real truth is that most of our growth the last few years has simply been driven by our product maturing. Nothing has accelerated our growth nearly as much. It took 3.5 years to get Outseta to “good enough,” but no one wants to buy “good enough”—we now offer a much more polished, mature, and compelling product. And our growth over the last two years tells that story in spades. I’ve blurred out the actual MRR numbers because we don’t share this information publicly, but this will give you a sense of how our trajectory has changed. $1000 in MRR was in early 2020.

p.s. do you want 2023 to be your best year of growth yet? Let's make that ARR chart go up and to the right. Check out the Swipe Files membership →

Thanks again to our featured sponsors:

  1. Agorapulse: “The Zappos of social media management platforms” helps you plan, schedule, and report on your social presence.
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  3. The Juice: “Spotify for marketing & sales content” to discover blogs, podcasts, and videos to help you grow your business.
  4. 42/Agency: My #1 recommended demand generation agency for SaaS to help you drive demos and signups.
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