Alex Kistenev

@alexkistenev

Growing a Slack Bot from Zero to $25k per month

A story how we built a Slack bot from scratch and then promoted it to become #1 in its niche

In this post you’ll find how we built a profitable fast-growing Slack bot.

TL;DR
We used the
Slack Bot Directory, Content Marketing, Product Hunt, Social Networks, Startup Conferences as the marketing channels.

Being bootstrapped we were able to reach $25,000 in monthly revenue becoming profitable.

Pricing strategy used: started as a free in beta then rolling prices, plans and restrictions smoothly step by step.

Two years ago Artem and I decided to build a bot on Slack: Standuply — Digital Scrum Master in Slack. We blindly believed we could make it. However, chances were against us.

But in contrast, we had a hell of motivation like there was no 2nd chance. After two years of hard work, stress, and fear, we made our first step towards success.

In May 2018, Standuply reached $25,000 in revenues meaning we’re now profitable! It serves 650 customers from Slack, Evernote, Adobe, IBM, SAP, GE and other great companies.

Want to increase productivity in your remote team? 
Check out Standuply — it improves communications in both Fortune 500 companies and tiny startups 🚀

From Business Idea to $100k Product Launch

In April 2018, Standuply broke $100k in annual run rate. We reached 500 customers and $19k in revenue working from Siberia and without funding. That’s challenging

Before we got to that state we experimented for nine months in 2016; changed the concept three times and at some point, we were almost ready to give up.

Eventually, we found the right track. A beta product we built led us to hundreds of customers and $75k in sales so far.

This post is about the first year in the works, which was full of uncertainty, mistakes, and learnings. What a CRAZY year it was!

How we picked the business idea

Artem is a Project Management veteran who also teaches Project Management classes. He saw how Agile teams have evolved and felt their pains with managing processes.

It was 2016 which brought up the chatbot hype. I was EXCITED about the new opportunities and shared my business ideas with Artem.

Together, we envisioned a Scrum Master bot that could be helpful for Agile teams. As a platform we chose Slack — it was the right choice that made us thrive.

We hired an engineer and with the team of three started our long journey. New platform brought new challenges for our engineer. Thus, our team was moving slower than expected.

Unsurprisingly, it took us a couple of months to build the first MVP. This is how SprinterBot (a bot that helps running Agile sprints faster) met the world.

Lesson learned: have at least two developers to keep going faster. One person can get stuck coding something new.

Our challenges in building a Slack bot

At the beginning of 2017, we had a beta that was serving ~200 teams. However, it was far from being perfect in regards to features and stability.

Back in the days our website didn’t work properly in Safari, and Standuply lacked a few features our users were constantly asking for. Some teams were leaving due to that.

It was painful, but we couldn’t do much with two developers on the team. It’s the price you pay when bootstrapping.

One of the popular feature requests was about adding answers if a user missed reporting in time (when Standuply runs standup meetings).

Then Slack announced buttons for their bots. It would allow easily adding answers in Slack. Buttons seemed like a great addition to the functionality of our Slackbot.

However, our tech infrastructure wasn’t ready for that. Guess what?

We decided to re-write the bot entirely to deliver that additional feature. Ouch! Don’t do this at home!

Instead of 1,5 months, it took us 4 months long.

After the release, that feature of adding answers didn’t become any popular. We’d better off spending time on core things like integrations or improved stability.

This way we learned that additional features are not that important compared to core features. No matter how many nice tiny things you build, product’s success is about core features people buy in.

After all, it took us the whole 2017 year to go from unstable Slack bot with a crappy web interface to a working product with a nice web app.

Growing to 15,000 teams

We leveraged several marketing channels to speed up our growth. Here are the major ones that drove us traffic and (sometimes) leads.

  1. Slack App Directory

Someone at Slack decided that our Slackbot is worthy and Standuply had been featured on the main page of Slack Bot Directory in March 2017.

In two weeks we got 750 new signups and reached a milestone of 1000 teams.

Even after featuring was over we’re still getting a steady stream of new users from Slack. Being in Slack Bot Directory is the #1 driving factor for an early stage Slack bot.

2. Content Marketing
In addition to Slack Bot Directory, we leveraged other channels to attract more teams. We relied heavily on content marketing in 2017 and continue doing so in 2018.

I put out several long reads. It helped us to improve our SEO and led decent traffic to our blog on Medium. Overall, my posts received 150k views in 2017.

The result, though, was far from what we expected. Very few of new signups came from those posts. People were reading and passing by.

Based on our survey, out of 100 respondents no one mentioned our blog as the source how they discovered Standuply and UTM tracking confirmed that.

3. Product Hunt
We shipped (using Product Hunt Ship) Standuply and related Slack bot products 8 times in the latest 18 months. We love Product Hunt and what about you?

The first it was our initial launch that brought in our very first users. It wasn’t that successful as we ended up on 7th place. However, it brought us ~150 teams.

The second time it was a web-page of our popular blog post with 1000 Slack groups. It became the 2nd product of the day, brought us ~5k visits, and … a couple of new sign-ups.

The next time we shipped Standuply 2.0 when the product matured enough. We got some traction — 6th place of the day, mention in Product Hunt’s email list, and about 100 new teams.

In the meantime we shipped our major features with various results: Top Daily Hunts in Slack (#5 product of the day), Slack Video Messaging (#2 product of the day), Slack Voice Messaging (#3 product of the day).

However, those launches didn’t bring in many teams. It was more like a PR.

Our best launch was the latest one — Standuply 3.0. It became #1 product of the day and #4 product of the week. So we made it to both Product Hunt email lists, daily and weekly.

See how it affected on our registrations.

Product Hunt is the great source of new leads. Here is what we learned.

  • You can ship features and major releases as many times as they are deployed. Product releases tend to attract more attention and bring more registrations.
  • It’s the matter of luck with whom you compete on a launch day. Tuesday and Wednesday are the tough days. If you’re not 100% sure — go for Monday.
  • The overall result is about how appealing the product and how many external supporters you bring.
  • Usually #1 product from Mon to Thu makes it to the Weekly Newsletter, while #1 product from Fri misses that.

4. Tech Conferences
We had booths at three conferences in 2017— ChatBot Summit in Berlin, Slush in Helsinki and TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin.

Chatbot Summit was a total failure — very few potential users and worthless talks how chatbots will rule the world (I admit — most of them won’t).

Slush — was a great event, more like a party. We enjoyed it a lot. Also, Slush provides an ability to book coach sessions with speakers.

We talked to Des Traynor from Intercom (which we’re using daily for customer support). His strategic advice to us was to stick with Slack and do some tactical moves.

Later Des commented our progress:

The reason I advised you to go deep on Slack was that it was the riskiest part of your bet from my (limited) viewpoint. I was encouraging you to really test your core hypothesis before accumulating more risk with more features, or by going multi-channel. I’m happy to see to your core hypothesis proved itself, and $25K is a great start! Well done. — Des Traynor.

TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin can’t compare to the same event in SF. It was also a failure. Few relevant talks and people; startup alley wasn’t worth its price.

As a result, we had at maximum the same amount of signups from the three conferences as on a regular day with zero marketing budget. Not good.

However, seeing how people react to a message on our roll-up is priceless. We even asked encounters to explain what do we do just by looking at the roll-up. That was insightful.

All of the activities above generated some buzz, and so we ended up with 15,000 teams signed up by June 2018. Not bad :)

Working on prices

We rolled out the pricing very smoothly. At first, we put a notice about the trial that is going to be over with a link to pay.

No teams were switched off or limited in features. Sales started to come.

Later we implemented advanced notifications within Slack bot and in the web app. It resulted in more sales.

No teams still weren’t switched off or limited in any way. This way, in six months we went from few hundred to $6k in MRR.

Later we rolled out two additional pricing plans with more features. Some of them were delivered after we presented plans. Those features were marked “soon” so that customers kept informed.

It worked really well. We started seeing purchases of new plans, thus increasing our average check.

The next step was the most significant in terms of revenue growth. We deployed a system that was limiting our customers to what they purchased.

Remember, by that time we didn’t have any limitations. Customers were choosing a plan and number of users but had no limits whatsoever.

We were focusing on the product and not on the billing side of it.

Once we rolled out the system, our sales and expansions skyrocketed. We were a bit worried how customers would treat it. But it went smoothly.

Compare our MRR before and after. The system became fully operational in April.

This way we learned that there is no need to be afraid to play by the rules with your customers. Sometimes being too nice can hurt your business.

Key takeaways

  • Slack Bot Directory is an amazing source of new leads;
  • Slack users are willing to try new bots and pay for solutions that solve their pains;
  • Slack Bot Ecosystem grows at a rapid pace providing business opportunities for niche products;

But, competition is getting stronger. Standuply has 20+ direct competitors on Slack. So if you’re considering building a Slack bot, don’t wait too long.

Check out my latest post: The Ultimate Guide on How to Use Slack Effectively.

Image credit: Slack.com.

More by Alex Kistenev

Topics of interest

More Related Stories