When it comes to startups, it pays to be a big fish in a small pond.
Andy Cloke created his SaaS, Data Fetcher, to easily import and export data on the popular low-code collaborative app-builder, Airtable. His current startup idea needed to import an external API, and not finding any extensions, he built one himself.
He crafted his extension just as Airtable opened its store in mid-2020. In a new marketplace with low competition, Andy’s tool was usually the first (and often the only) result whenever someone typed the keyword “API” into the extensions search bar. Organic, paying customers trickled in immediately. Then, with careful attention to customer experience, they poured in.
After just two years of operation, Data Fetcher earns over $130,000 in ARR, and Andy plans to hit $150,000 by the end of 2022. Here’s how he stumbled into what may just be the perfect lifestyle business by copying someone else’s idea and deploying it in Airtable.
An Acquisition Just Three Years After University
By the time he started thinking about Data Fetcher, Andy had already sold his first business. It was a SaaS directory of TikTok influencers called Influence Grid that someone acquired in early 2020 for a modest sum of $55,000.
For a recent university graduate, $55,000 was ample funding for a new venture. Andy built a landing page for a new business every week, following Tyler Tringas’ “Meat Grinder” approach. The idea was to reject enough bad ideas to happen upon one worthy of pursuing.
Data Fetcher materialized from one of those unsuccessful business ideas. Andy tried to write a newsletter listing recent IPOs for retail investors, managing newsletter content in Airtable. “Airtable is basically Google Sheets on steroids,” he says. “People love it.”
But Andy became frustrated when he couldn’t easily import financial data like stock prices. “It’s hard to get data in or out with Airtable. I dug around the forums and found a few posts from people trying to connect to third-party APIs, especially ones that weren’t on Zapier. This was enough validation for me to think there was something there.”
A couple of weeks later, Andy stumbled across a Google Sheets add-on called API Connector on Product Hunt. It did for Google Sheets what he wanted to do on Airtable.
A skilled coder, Andy knew he could whip up a similar add-on for Airtable, but at the time, the platform didn’t have anywhere for independent developers to launch them. However, again checking forum posts, he saw hints that Airtable would open an extension store soon.
“I was intentionally looking for a new, low-competition platform.”
Any good bootstrapper knows the advantage of being the first mover in a new market. “I was intentionally looking for a new, low-competition platform,” he says. “I did the same with my previous SaaS business, building something that exists for Instagram but for TikTok. I think this is a great framework for low-competition business ideas. I gambled and started developing an extension similar to API Connector, but for Airtable.”
That gamble paid off. Within months, Airtable opened its store and after a month or two of back-and-forth over security, Data Fetcher became one of its first apps in November of 2020.
Andy turned his inspiration into a valuable connection as well. Shortly after Data Fetcher’s launch, Andy credited the Hong Kong-based founder of API Connector with the idea on Product Hunt. Since then, they have developed a fruitful working relationship implementing each other’s ideas on their respective platforms.
It’s Nice to Be First
Data Fetcher’s MVP was a basic system where customers sign up, enter API details, and run API requests manually or on a schedule if they upgraded. He felt this was enough to prove product-market fit.
Being first to the table in a new marketplace did wonders for Data Fetcher’s organic marketing. Instead of competing with million-dollar marketing teams on the ultra-competitive Google Search rankings, he could stay on top of the Airtable marketplace search rankings with little effort.
“I’m in a low-competition marketplace,” says Andy. “Most customers will search API or import and I’ll pop up. It’s like marketing on easy mode. It’s not like trying to launch a new CRM since no VC-backed company is doing the same thing.”
But Andy knew better than to rest on his fleeting first-mover advantage. He immediately began posting about his extension in Facebook and Reddit groups. “All those things brought in ten to twenty free users which proved this was something people would pay for,” he says.
“YouTube has been the best channel by far. The number of views on the content was tiny, but the intent behind those views was incredibly high.”
After basic validation, Andy began an SEO campaign using blogs and YouTube. “Today I probably get twenty to thirty percent of my traffic from those channels,” he says. “YouTube has been the best channel by far. The number of views on the content was tiny, but the intent behind those views was incredibly high. I had a Google Maps API video with eight views and one of those became a customer. At one point, my most popular video had only one thousand views but led to more than thirty customers.”
To better attribute his content, Andy played around with how customers signed up. He would give one sign-up code for his YouTube video and another for his blogs. This gave him a much simpler view of which channels were converting and which were not.
While competition was low and people were willing to sign up to a free version, Andy says converting them to paying customers and keeping them was tricky. He had trouble maintaining a steady MRR during his first few months of operation.
“I looked to the Shopify app store for inspiration, a tactic I still use today, and opted for a freemium model.”
“My price point is quite low, yet I was only adding one or two customers per week. I had a good value-based metric: the number of API runs per month. I looked to the Shopify app store for inspiration, a tactic I still use today, and opted for a freemium model. I was growing slowly but there was a fair amount of churn since most people just want to move their data once. I freaked out thinking this wasn’t going to work at all.”
Fortunately, Andy networked with experienced founders who supported him when things were tough.
“A buddy told me to be more patient and focus on marketing,” says Andy. “He said if I could find fifty customers, I could find one hundred.”
Andy realized he didn’t fully understand how his customers interacted with Data Fetcher. Things that were obvious to him as a developer weren’t as apparent to new customers. He began creating more contact points for customer service, letting customers book personal support calls where he watched them use the tool in real-time.
“This past year I learned that user testing is incredibly important. It’s amazing how much stuff you miss when you’re testing it. One customer told me he’d tried every other tool before mine because my landing page was so confusing. I redid my landing page shortly after that.”
After about a year of steady growth marketing, Data Fetcher’s MRR began to creep up in early 2022. It made $5,000 per month at the start of January and $10,000 by August. Not bad for a one-man team.
Keeping a Lifestyle Business a Lifestyle Business
Andy is open to many different paths for Data Fetcher. However, he is wary of burning out by growing too fast. For him, it’s less about the piles of cash and more about the lifestyle.
“I wanted to create my perfect job,” says Andy. “I still want to work on product and design stuff, but I want to keep this lean. I don’t know if it can get to a multimillion-dollar company this way, but I’m going to keep trying to find out.
While being an extension in the Airtable store has been one of the biggest boosts to Data Fetcher’s marketing, Andy also worries it may be its end. “It’s scary to think what would happen if Airtable built my feature into their app. I want to exploit this platform for all its worth and then diversify the profits. I’d potentially launch other SaaS apps.”
Whichever way the wind blows, Andy is excited to do what he loves.
“I spent years doing side projects that never made any money until those skills I learned finally paid off.”
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but this is the first time it’s worked,” he says. “I spent years doing side projects that never made any money until those skills I learned finally paid off.”
There may be no one formula to entrepreneurship, but there are many great guidelines for founders to follow. Andy’s story proves that with a flexible mindset and a critical eye, any of your ideas can eventually lead to a breakthrough. When you can’t find product market fit, instead of changing your product, maybe narrow your market.
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