How we bootstrapped our way to 20+ paying customers in 12 months
TL:DR: Do less.
“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” — Confucius
Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen many early-stage startups come and go. It has been weird watching all this play out in the start-up ecosystem, but also highlights to us what a milestone it is to reach the 12 months given that one in three businesses fail during their first year.
It’s been an exciting journey, going from an idea discussed over the dining room table, to a platform with 20+ awesome paying customers such as RACQ, Compare the Market, and Zero Latency.
It’s been a whirlwind ride… but how did we get here?
You’re probably expecting me to say that we made decisions backed by a lot of planning, data, analytics, processes and all the other buzz words associated with product but in reality, it was much simpler than that: we just spoke to our users.
Rewind back to late 2017, attract.ai began as an idea to connect hiring managers and the talent market together. Fast forward to Feb 2018, we had our first paying client. We had minimal software (practically zero). We had paired the idea back to something that would be unscalable in the long term, but which could be done manually allowing us to validate the concept without building much code.
Our first MVP aimed to validate a problem we saw in the market and if it was a big enough problem for people to pay for the solution.
Back then, it required quite a bit of hands-on work from us around sourcing and aggregating data. We did this manually as we didn’t have resources to commit to a huge build (we had limited time, and a one-man dev team ie; Ben Ihle). So we brainstormed what the smallest thing we could test to make sure that the problem existed but also that the solution that we built was viable.
Thus attract.ai was born.
We began handcrafting emails to clients, waking up at 7:30am each morning to hit send. We wrote the HTML for the candidate lead reports by hand, and offered the coaching component via frequent phone calls with clients (Check it out below)!
As the first clients progressed through the process, we focused first on automating things that were easy to develop but would give us the biggest return in terms of the amount of time it was taking. Initially, this was the report generation, as we had figured out what fields were important to send to the clients, and what needed to be flexible. Within a month, clients made hires (woohoo it worked!), proving that the approach would work. All without needing to build much software at all.
From there till now it has been the same process, iterated over & over.
We stick close to our users, working with them to make sure we identify features that solve their root problems, and that are also lowest cost to build.
We follow this mantra and are constantly reminded by Ben to focus on the smallest thing you can do to validate an idea. This generally includes a lot of input from the whole team (dev, marketing, sales, product) to manually test and validate problems and ideas. Because we’ve done this from the start, getting shit done has become an intrinsic part of our company culture.
By running product this way, we’re talking with our users daily and understanding what they go through and why our product helps them. Metrics, analytics and documentation are great, however, the best way to find out whether something is valuable is to actually talk to customers.
We haven’t got it all worked out… but the great thing is that we are constantly learning from our mistakes, which is helping us make positive gains towards building an amazing company!