Humans are programmed to resist change – it’s just so cozy in our comfort zone. But with so many new startups appearing, almost 80 percent of founders need to adapt their business every two to five years to survive1. The harsh truth: If your business doesn’t evolve, it dies.
The founders of Flick, a social media management platform, know a little about the power of changing lanes. After founding Flick five years ago, Sam King, Andreas Asprou, and Loic Alix-Brown transformed it from an agency to a SaaS platform to ensure the company’s survival.
But the company didn’t just survive, it thrived. Last year, over 100,000 marketers, creators, and brands used Flick to improve their social media workflow. With a team of 18, Flick now generates £2 million ($2,400,000) in annual recurring revenue from more than 18,000 paying customers. How did the founders go from a failing agency to a successful SaaS startup?
Don’t Throw the Baby out With the Bathwater
Sam King, one of Flick’s cofounders, started his career as a YouTuber when he was only 16. Until he was 22, his full-time job was recording light-hearted videos about his daily life for his followers. While it isn’t a typical business background, he did learn a lot about working with brands, becoming self-sufficient, and leveraging social media to drive growth.
Sam wanted to use his social media skills to help companies find the right influencers to work with. In 2018, he partnered with three cofounders (including Andreas Asprou) to launch a marketing agency, Flick’s first iteration. Before getting to work, the founding team raised $100,000.
Sam explains, “One of the cofounder’s friends was actively investing in a few companies. We were fortunate to receive money for an agency business model that was pre-product and pre-revenue. At day zero of our agency, we were able to start hiring essential people to run campaigns and rent a co-working office space.”
Unfortunately, the agency failed. After a year and a half in business, the funding ran out, and profits from campaigns were few and far between. “We ran some good campaigns, but never managed to build a sustainable agency with solid retainers. We were successful at building tools inside of our agency and establishing a strong network in the industry,” Sam says.
As part of the agency’s services, Flick found niche influencers by using specific hashtags on Instagram. While it was hard to pinpoint the right influencers in a sea of Instagram accounts, once you identified a niche hashtag, you could use it to find an influencer. One of the agency’s team members, Loic Alix-Brown (now Flick’s cofounder), came up with the idea to create a tool out of the agency’s hashtag system.
Loic knew people struggled to find the right hashtags for their Instagram content. Flick was already using hashtags to identify influencers, so why not turn that into a solution that allowed people to find their own hashtags? Developing and selling this product could give the agency a much-needed boost in revenue.
Combining their skills, Loic, Andreas, and Sam worked to bring this project to life. As soon as they launched the tool, it started gaining traction. “Our MVP resulted from some rather laughable design and pricing decisions. But it was enough to gauge demand and see if the idea had legs. We also utilized our network of influencers to gather feedback,” Sam says.
The first month after launch, the tool generated $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Soon, it hit $10,000 in revenue, which helped keep the agency afloat.
“The tool had little overhead. Almost all of its revenue was going straight back into the agency. We started calculating how much revenue the agency would need to make to earn the same profit – and it was a lot more. We needed to generate $100,000 to make $10,000 in net profit. Part of the problem was that our services had very low margins and we didn’t know how to run the agency more efficiently. It became clear to all of us that the tool had a lot more potential,” Sam says.
Two years into running the agency, they decided to pivot Flick to a SaaS business. Loic, Andreas, and Sam had worked well as a team, so they were confident they could head up this new version of Flick together.
Andreas as the CTO focused on developing the product, and in the future, building an exceptional engineering team. As a social media expert, Loic was in charge of early product decisions and ensuring customers could make the most out of the tool. And Sam concentrated on customer acquisition, product design, and marketing.
Flick’s investor stayed on as a shareholder. The founders felt like they owed it to him after he put his money into the agency early on and believed in them.
Leveraging Influencers to Sell to Influencers
Once Flick became a SaaS company, the founders had to start everything from scratch, including their marketing strategy. And what better way than using influencers to sell to other influencers? The founders created an affiliate program where influencers made a percentage of every customer they brought in.
The Instagram influencer or YouTuber would get a 20 percent recurring commission on monthly sales. For example, if the influencer made Flick $100,000, they’d keep $20,000. Sam says, “That was a compelling offer for influencers. The product was so niche and matched perfectly with content creators because they used it themselves. This launchpad helped us grow, and we didn’t have to pay any upfront cash for it.”
The program kept growing, and at one point, Flick had over a thousand affiliates with roughly 100 people driving the majority of Flick’s revenue. “It wasn’t just good for Flick, it made their lives better too. Many of those influencers didn’t earn consistent incomes. Having worked as a content creator myself, I know how hard that can be. Now, they essentially earn a salary through affiliate commissions every month,” Sam says.
Once the founders had kickstarted growth, they could spend more time on slow-burn strategies including paid growth, search engine optimization, and content marketing. One of the tactics they implemented was dynamic landing pages whose content changed depending on the visitor’s search (“best hashtags for X”, for example). This helped to generate a steady stream of website traffic from Google. Flick’s domain now has two million clicks a month.
How Timeless Is Your Business?
Flick’s tool launched when Instagram was in its prime. It was one of the main social media channels that brought success to businesses – and the only method for organic, non-paid growth on Instagram was hashtags. But it wasn’t always straightforward to find the right hashtags. Flick came in at the right time to solve this problem. But since then, the market has changed.
“Over the past couple of years, other social media platforms, like TikTok, have become highly important to our customers. Entrepreneurs are always advised to be independent of other platforms – and we weren’t only platform-dependent, we were also feature-dependent. As much as we wanted to stay niche, we knew we were exposing ourselves to a lot of risks,” Sam says.
So the founders had to expand their product to encompass more functionalities and platforms, diving into various problems their customers encounter when running a social media account.
Analytics and scheduling were two big additions to the Flick platform. Alongside figuring out which hashtags to use and keeping track of them, Flick wanted to show what was working and what wasn’t. The scheduling tool allowed them to move away from being Instagram-dependent because it works for TikTok, Facebook, and LinkedIn. By adding these features, Flick has become a complete product suite, meaning customers don’t have to pay for additional tools to manage their social media accounts.
“Building a timeless and sustainable business has been our greatest challenge to date. A big part of that is understanding how specific segments of our customers are using social media in the modern world, not just looking at which individual features to add,” Sam says.
Social media isn’t the same beast it was a couple of years ago. While competing tools have solved top-level problems, Flick’s approach is to offer a tool that goes beyond the macro level, not forgetting about the day-to-day challenges of managing social media in today’s landscape.
Sam says, “As first-time SaaS founders, we’re learning firsthand that the market is constantly changing, and you have to adapt to it. This sounds obvious, but when you’re grinding on your business and improving your product every day, you sometimes don’t have the breathing room to see the big picture. Certain businesses are going to be completely obsolete in a year or two. Just because something’s working now, doesn’t mean it’s always going to work – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means you get to change and become something better.”
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this form and we’ll be in touch.