Please welcome Matt Brown, the founder of Bonsai, a platform that streamlines administrative tasks for freelancers.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Matt Brown: I’m currently working on Bonsai, a beautiful and automated hub for all your freelance work. Bonsai handles the things that freelancers don’t like doing or don’t know how to do, so they can focus on the work they love and still get paid. That means we streamline proposals, contracts, time tracking, invoices, expenses, and accounting designed specifically for digital freelancers.
Before Bonsai, I dropped out of grad school to start an HR technology company. Before that I was messing around with computers and starting side projects and businesses since I was 10 years old.
What motivated you to get started with Bonsai?
My cofounder and I had both freelanced for several years before Bonsai and experienced the problem firsthand: we loved designing and developing, but didn’t enjoy the “business parts” of freelancing. We also realized that being good at the business parts is what separated successful and unsuccessful freelancers. But most importantly, we realized that the business parts weren’t rocket science, and that they could be put into software and automated. Even more importantly, if done well, the software could do an even better job than the human at things like creating contracts and getting paid on time.
Why would a freelancer like Bonsai more than their current process?
We like to say that Bonsai lets you focus on the work you love and still get paid on time. There are tons of things the average freelancer doesn’t know how to do or doesn’t like to do, like creating contracts or following up with clients to get paid. Bonsai handles all that for them, and actually improves over time using the data from all our freelancers. So while you’re a solo worker as a freelancer, Bonsai makes you feel like you a community of experts behind you.
What went into building the initial product?
We really took the MVP approach to building it. The product today covers many different countries, has lots of smart automation, and covers every part of the freelancer’s process. But the original version just let you create contracts for US freelancers. Then over time we added more functionality and flexibility as our users requested it.
I saw you went through Y Combinator. How was that experience?
YC was an incredible experience in every way. The expertise they offer you in everything from product strategy to recruiting to fundraising to growth and more is unparalleled. The most valuable thing for us though was being in a very tight knit community of very motivated people who have the same objectives as you do. The community and support really go a long way in that early and critical part of the company’s life.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
We’ve experimented with several different pricing strategies and prices, and are still experimenting today! But generally we settled on charging freelancers based on the number of projects they have and the amount of customization they want. Right now our plans range from $9 to $29 per month.
How did you get your first 10 users?
We launched on Product Hunt 3 years ago and that brought our first users in, and we’ve just stayed engaged with the freelance community since then.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?
The biggest one is finding the balance in our pricing model. On the one hand, we understand that freelancing is often a struggle and that money can be tight sometimes. We’ve all been there! So we want to provide freelancers the tools and support they need to be successful. At the same time, we cannot offer an entirely free or very cheap product, because we need to keep growing the business. So finding the right way to be accessible to all freelancers while building a long term, sustainable business is something we think about constantly.
If you weren’t building Bonsai, what would you be doing?
I would probably be building another business focused on freelancers. I think it’s such an empowering career path to take and that freelancers are such an important part of the overall economy. But it can be very tough to be a successful freelancer, especially if you’re just starting out. So whether it’s with Bonsai or another product, I love making freelancers more successful.