Imagine this: Your team has spent six months building a new product feature only to discover that your customers don’t care about it. The last thing you want is to invest all that effort in a product that doesn’t align with their needs. You did your market research and competitor analysis, so what went wrong?
A feedback loop might be the missing piece. According to Forbes, “Brands that welcome feedback don’t just head off bad reviews; they build better products.” Customer feedback helps you validate assumptions and build new functionalities that overcome your customers’ challenges. Knowing what people want to achieve is crucial when building a successful product – and a successful business.
Mike Strives, the founder and CEO of Upvoty, understands the value of customer feedback and wants others to harness its power as well. Upvoty helps companies turn customer feedback into product optimizations. It gives customers a voice by letting them submit and vote for new features, so you know what to build next.
By relying on customer feedback since the beginning, Upvoty has now grown to over 700 customers and generates $30,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). While its headquarters are in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, all of this has been achieved with a global remote team of only nine people.
You’re Never Too Young to Start Your Own Business(es)
Mike is a 34-year-old entrepreneur from The Netherlands. He started his first business when he was only 19, right after dropping out of college. He says, “College just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be creative and do my own thing. The internet has always fascinated me, so I started an online printing shop. I had to learn how to build a website, do SEO, and find customers. It was the best way to kickstart my entrepreneurial career.”
With his new marketing skills, Mike started an agency to help other businesses sell. After a couple of years of running the agency, he missed working on his own product, so he started a lead-generation website for home improvement, Vindy, and scaled that business to $1 million in annual recurring revenue.
Because Vindy was growing fast, it needed a way to collect and manage user feedback efficiently. When researching existing software, Mike couldn’t find anything that was both affordable and a good fit for his needs. Most software relied on email and none focused on product feedback for the SaaS industry. That’s when the idea for Upvoty sparked: a simple, product-focused SaaS that could help companies collect and implement product feedback.
Mike says, “In 2018 when I was working on Vindy, I wasn’t fulfilled despite the fact it was highly successful. We had a great team and a great product, and the revenue was great too. But I learned that this wasn’t enough. To stay on top of your game, you have to be passionate about your customers, the market, and critically, their problems.” Mike started working on Upvoty and enjoyed it so much that he sold Vindy in 2018 to work on his new endeavor full-time.
Now, Upvoty empowers companies to get instant customer feedback to build better products. With all the feedback in one place, it’s much easier to turn it into practical product features and enhancements. Customers can also follow the product roadmap to see what the company is working on and what’s shipping soon.
Customer Feedback Is the Key to Launching a Successful Product
In line with the company’s philosophy, Mike launched Upvoty in private beta to gather customer feedback early on. He learned a lot about the problems his potential customers experienced. He published a landing page with an explainer video where interested people could sign up. Mike built that landing page himself with the help of no-code tools. And only after he got more than 200 sign-ups did he recruit a developer to build the first version of the product.
Upvoty acquired those early customers through Facebook groups, BetaList (a platform to launch beta products), Indie Hackers, Twitter, and other forums where their target audience was active.
“During private beta, we launched the first version of Upvoty that early birds could use for free for another six months. Some were so excited that they upgraded right away to one of our paid plans, which resulted in an MRR of $250 before we even launched,” Mike says.
The first and most exciting milestone for Mike has always been the first paying customer. He says, “That moment when someone spends their money on something you’ve built because they think it’s valuable is golden.”
Upvoty launched publicly in February 2019. Within six months, it scaled to $1,000 in MRR. After three years, it now generates $30,000 in MRR. “The hardest struggle when you bootstrap is your financial runway. That’s why I can’t stress enough that you need to launch your product as early as possible and listen to your customers’ feedback. The sooner you build something they want and need, the sooner they are willing to pay for your product, and the sooner your business becomes sustainable,” Mike says.
Once Upvoty launched, the company grew mainly through word of mouth. No paid advertising or cold sales. Mike says, “The key principles we go by are listening to customer feedback (by using our product, of course) and sharing valuable content that helps our target audience.”
The team invests a lot of time in Upvoty’s branding and content marketing strategy. The Upvoty blog provides helpful articles for SaaS founders and product managers, and as a result, performs very well. There’s also a Powered by Upvoty link within the tool, so the end-users of Upvoty’s customers can check them out and sign up for it themselves.
Don’t Let a Lack of Technical Skills Stop You From Starting a SaaS Company
According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, assembling a founding team is the highest-priority skill for a future technology venture leader. Many respondents believed that a founder’s ability to recruit a complementary cofounder was crucial in building a successful business.
Mike disagrees that a cofounder is necessary. As a serial entrepreneur, he’s learned a lot about his strengths and limitations along the way. Mike knew exactly what he needed (and didn’t need) to make Upvoty a success. Rather than find a technical cofounder, he hired a software developer to build Upvoty.
Here’s why: “The first reason (which is the most important one) is that I’m just not the type of founder to work together with a cofounder on a single project. Been there, done that. Dating in real life is hard, try dating on a business level. It’s often unsuccessful and, if I’m able to, I don’t want to take that risk,” Mike says.
“Second, I had the money to hire a developer. Now, if you don’t have the money to hire someone to create your product and you can’t code yourself, it’s probably best to find a technical cofounder or at least bring on someone in exchange for shares. I luckily didn’t have to do that with Upvoty, but I’ve done it before with my previous startups.” The developer who helped Mike create the first version of Upvoty on a contract basis has been part of the full-time team ever since.
But beyond building the initial tool, how does Mike make educated decisions about the tech day-to-day? He shares, “Even though I don’t understand code – and don’t want to – to a certain extent, I have to. So, I decided to hire a technical advisor who is brilliant at translating engineering to the rest of the team and vice versa. That has helped me and the company stay on the same page without having to understand each other’s jobs.”
Mike’s advice to all non-technical solo founders out there is to do the same. “You can find the right technical advisor by asking your network and seeing if there’s a technical founder out there who has recently sold his business and is looking to join an awesome team – that’s how I did it.”
Funding Doesn’t Align With Every Founder’s Personality
Not all startups are built to raise funding nor can all founders align themselves with VCs. Mike says, “I’ve read a lot about raising outside capital and I had the opportunity to raise funding several times, with Upvoty and with my previous businesses. And for some founders, it might be their go-to, but it’s just not something that would work for me, being the type of entrepreneur I am.
“In the same way that I left university because I didn’t feel free enough, I would likely experience the same thing running a funded business. I would rather opt for the sale of my company instead of raising capital and giving away equity.”
But the decision to bootstrap does change the way a founder might run their business. “Things will go slower, but you’ll be lean as well. That’s what I like about it. It’s okay to be wrong. Often we even learn so much more from being wrong the first or even the second time. And being bootstrapped, you can take that route and learn from it,” Mike says.
With several businesses under his belt, Mike’s favorite thing about entrepreneurship is still being able to create things that make people happy. He says, “That’s why I will never stop working on new ideas and products and why I’m sharing so much about the lessons I’ve learned on my YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter.”
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