The ipdata Team

@ipdata_co

How to build a SaaS with $0

How would you build a SaaS with $0?
Building products without spending thousands of dollars.

Last October I launched ipdata.co — an IP Geolocation API — and my first SaaS. My plan at the time was to throw as much up against the wall as I could and narrow my focus to what sticks.

To brace myself for the expected long haul, I planned to spend as little time and money as possible on each idea. Only spending money on an idea once I had at least one paying customer.

In doing this I’ve found numerous products whose free tiers alone made it viable to actually build entire products on them without spending a dollar.

Use free services to build your product

The AWS Free Tier (Non-expiring Offers)

What you can do with this

  1. Build APIs

With API Gateway and AWS Lambda, you get 1M free API Gateway calls (first 12 months), 1M Lambda function executions and up to 3.2 million seconds of compute every month forever! Beyond that the Pricing is pretty favorable at $3.50 per million API Gateway requests and $0.20 per million lambda function invocations.

Note that if the product you’re building is a long-running process you might find Lambda expensive as you’ll get charged by execution time and the resources assigned to the lambda function for that period.

This setup has scaled favorably for us and we’ve been able to serve 25M API requests from 10 regions globally for a little over $100!

This setup has scaled favorably for us and we’ve been able to serve 25M API requests from 10 regions globally for a little over $100!

2. Scalable Databases

Dynamodb is a fast and highly scalable NoSQL offering from AWS. The Non-expiring free tier gives 25 GB of Storage, 25 Units of Read Capacity and 25 Units of Write Capacity — enough to handle up to 200M requests!

You can use Dynamodb as a Key-Value store or to store JSON documents. If you’ve worked with Mongodb or Redis the shift to Dynamodb should feel natural.

3. User Management (Sign Up, Login with Email and SMS verification)

You’ll never have to code another user management system again in your life! AWS Cognito gives you all the functionality you need to allow users to sign up, login, verify their emails and phones, use MFA and more for free!

Up to 50 000 users!

Beyond 50 000 users the price is tiered with $0.00550 per user for the next 50000.

4. Your HTTPs website (S3 + Cloudfront/Netlify + AWS Certificate Manager)

You want a static website.

You can use javascript to add a level of interaction and dynamic content to the page. But with a static site you get;

  • Security
  • Speed
  • Much much lower costs (unless you’re hosting a lot of huge media files)

For this setup you’d use

S3

A data storage service that you can use to serve HTML pages for a simple website. You get 5 GB of Amazon S3 standard storage, 20,000 Get Requests, and 2,000 Put Requests but only for the first year (if you’re still running after a year you should be making money and okay with paying)

Cloudfront

Cloudfront is a Content Delivery Network, it caches your site pages so that subsequent users can access your site faster without having to read from S3. You get 50 GB Data Transfer Out, 2,000,000 HTTP and HTTPS Requests every month for your first year.

Amazon Cerficate Manager gives you unlimited fully managed SSL certificates. Renewals are automated and you can use these in front of your S3 website or for anything else for which you might need SSL certificates.

Or use Netlify…

Netlify is incredibly popular with developers, it offers a Global CDN, Continuous Deployment, one click HTTPS, tight integration with git, Traffic Split Testing, Instant cache invalidation, Instant rollbacks and Infinite scaling!

Their free tier is incredibly inclusive and includes;

  • Personal or commercial projects
  • Public or private repositories
  • HTTPS for custom domains
  • Continuous Deployment
  • Form handling
  • Community support
  • Identity service
  • Split Testing
  • Git Gateway

Sending Emails for Free

Sendgrid

AWS Cognito will handle sending all your forgotten password or verification emails.

For Email Newsletters and Promotional Emails look at Sendgrid.

Their free tier is 100 emails/day and 2000 marketing contacts.

Beyond the free tier it costs you $9.95/month to send 40, 000 emails.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp’s Free Forever plan allows you to send 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 subscribers.

Beyond that you get unlimited sending starting at $20 and are billed according to the number of subscribers

Stripe

Stripe is stupidly simple to integrate and start collecting subscriptions.

There’s the ubiquitous pop-up

Stripe Checkouts

And the recently announced (and beautiful!) pre-designed checkout forms.

Stripe Elements

See them all in action here.

The best part; you don’t get billed unless you’re making money.

Sales and Support for free

Drift

You’ve probably seen one of those chat pop-ups on the internet. Good news! All you have to do to add one to your site is add a Javascript snippet to the pages you want it to appear on! For free! If you need more than one person handling support then you’ll need a team plan. But if you’re a solo indie maker you’re good to go!

I’ve had dozens of conversations with customers I wouldn’t have otherwise had thanks to drift. When users see that little widget pop up with a “How can we help?”, they respond. It’s effortless to slide into a conversation with a prospect.

I strongly believe that a lot of the conversations I’ve had have directly led to sales.

Fullstory

Watch how your users interact with your site with session replay by fullstory. You’re able to search for all the recordings where for example, users clicked on buy but didn’t checkout or removed certain items from their carts or really if they clicked on any html element you care about!

This is great for spotting UI bugs as you get to see your site as it rendered on the user’s device, you can also directly view the user’s console for errors on the Pro plan.

ChartMogul

Chartmogul is a subscriptions analytics service that generates common SaaS metrics for your business, including:

  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
  • MRR Movements
  • Annual Run Rate (ARR)
  • Trial to Paid Conversion
  • Cash Flow
  • Churn

It supports integration with Stripe, BrainTree, Paypal, Chargify and more.

You get beautiful charts that give you insights into how your SaaS is doing.

Their Launch plan is free forever while your MRR is under $10K!

You don’t get charged unless you’re actually making more than $10K!

Domain and DNS

Namecheap — Get a .com for $10 a year.

Company Email

Zoho — get a gmail like inbox from which you can send and receive emails from youremail@yourdomain.com

The Freshworks Suite

Freshsales

I love Freshsales! The product is beautiful and incredibly intuitive to use with an awesome free plan!

Use it to;

  • Manage leads and deals
  • Call/Email leads directly from the dashboard
  • Score leads — they have automated lead scoring based on your interaction with prospects which I’ve found to be intuitive.

There’re quite a few other products in the Freshworks suite see them all here.

Freshbooks

Another beautiful functional product from Freshworks. It includes; invoicing, time tracking, has both Android and iOS mobile apps and is only $15/month!

Freshdesk

If you’d rather not use email for support tickets checkout Freshdesk

Their Sprout plan is free with basic calling, ticketing and unlimited agents!

Paid plans start at $19 per agent/month billed yearly.

Serverless

Zeit.co

Deploy your Node.js apps to multiple regions around the world!

Zeit is free for up to 3 deployments. Your code is however visible at /_src on your deployment.

Paid plans start at $15/month for 10 deployments (and your code isn’t exposed).

Usage over the tier you’re on is billed on a pay as you go basis.

Heroku

Run your Python, Ruby, Node, PHP etc apps without having to setup servers.

Heroku’s free offering

  • Sleep after 30 mins of inactivity
  • Custom domains
  • Uses an account-based pool of free dyno hours

512 MB RAM │ 1 web/1 worker

Beyond plans start at $7 per dyno/month.

Monitoring and Status Pages

Use Hyperping.io for uptime monitoring.

Your SaaS is probably still buggy. This gives you a heads up when your product is unreachable, before the angry emails from users.

You can setup SMS and Email notifications. Downtime is also verified from multiple regions to prevent false positives.

Design

If a theme will do, don’t waste time coding a site for a product that might flop.

You can get something decent on Themeforest for ~$20.

If you need custom design work, checkout manypixels.co - unlimited design work for $259 a month. If you’d use it infrequently, a good idea would be to split the cost with a friend! And you can both have a design agency at your disposal for all your projects!

Flaticon for beautiful flat icons.

Apiary

Apiary gives you beautiful API documentation that you can automatically generate from a Swagger spec file or by hand in markdown!

It also gives you an in-browser console in which your users can test your API with fully working code examples in several languages — all auto-generated!

It’s free plan allows you to access most features you’d need. However if you’d like to have the documentation under a custom domain name or to customize the page to align with your brand then you’d need to sign up for one of their paid plans which start at $99 per month.

Here’s a working example you can play with:

https://ipdata.docs.apiary.io

More free stuff

AWS Activate

If you need more oomph to develop on AWS, checkout AWS Activate.

The Builders plan is the most straightforward to get into as you don’t need to be part of an accelerator.

With this you get;

Microsoft Azure Free Tier

I’m less familiar with Azure’s and GCE’s free tiers but check them out too! If nothing else then for their cloud functions (their equivalent to AWS Lambda).

Lastly for inspiration on your bootstrapping journey, here’s a talk by Jason Cohen of WPEngine that is solid gold :) https://vimeo.com/74338272

I’m building ipdata.co in public. Follow me on Twitter @jonathan_trev where I share progress and stats.

Update:

Checkout our detailed analysis of 8 of the best IP Geolocation APIs.

Also checkout the comments below for some great services I missed.

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