How We Bootstrapped Our Startup to 1M $ in 12 Months (And You Can Too).
I’m really upset with some people on the Internet.
Too many times I hear folks from the tech scene advising other entrepreneur to ask investors for money to start…up.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it.
In some cases investors are the only way to kick off big projects, but I firmly believe that most startups could really make it on their own and validate their ideas by making sales first (which, to me, is the only REAL validation).
I’ve always hold myself accountable to keep the ball rolling, and guess what?
I did again. Or better, we did it again at LeadsBridge, a startup that helps companies to generate more leads.
LeadsBridge was born as a side project, a spin-off of another startup which was already making money.
But after just 100 days, we realized that its destiny was much bigger than that.
So we went all in with it.
Building a startup is one thing. Scale it is something else. The scaling part is hard. Extremely hard.
So I want to share our story here, to help all the brave startuppers out there who want to keep their dreams going, even without investors.
Here is a list of 11 strategies we used to bootstrap LeadsBridge to 1M $ in just 12 months, that can help your startup too. 🚀
1) Intercom Sales Chat
Intercom Sales Chat really stands out from the other chat systems. They crafted the best non-invasive chat, but still an eye-catching tool that bring leads to our sales team every single day.
In the past, I’ve tried Zopim, which is also good because you can start chatting live with your website visitors. But we found it to be a bit spammy and less “real” than Intercom.
The Intercom Sales Chat is efficient because you can just set simple rules to engage with people with a simple message and a sound notification.
This brought in — just over the last year — an increase of 85% in generated leads, and approximately a 35% increase in sales.
Of course, it’s not just the tool. We did tons of split tests to figure out the best messages to create engagement and make people comfortable to chat.
Soon, we realized that one sentence + 1/2 emojis or an animated GIF gave us the best results. (see above)
Different key pages have to have a different messages. The most conversions came from these pages:
- Pricing page
- Checkout page
- Custom integration page
Right now, I cannot suggest any other chat tool besides Intercom because — having tried even too many of them — I believe it is the most features-rich platform to generate new leads.
2) Custom integrations
This is HUGE and quite an unconventional thing in the SaaS World: making custom integrations.
People use tons of different tools out there, and integrations between them are key for many businesses.
Integrations are real revenue-driven tools, and that’s why companies keep considering adopting new tools all the time.
After running LeadsBridge just for two months we realized that there are gazillion of tools, and each client asking for an integration is making a sales objection in all senses.
I’m biased, I admit that. LeadsBridge is a SaaS based on building integrations. But still, we meet tons of companies that have not understand yet how important integrations are to convert leads into customers.
What we did in the past year wasn’t just releasing over 200 native integrations, but also we dismissed any objections that used to emerge when it came to integrate our customer’s tools.
When we offer a free custom integration to our customers, it sounds crazy to them.
They often do not believe us, but when they open an account and we really activated them with that integration in a few days...well, it’s a game changer: the value received is unprecedented for them.
Still today I find companies saying that they “integrate all CRMs”, when in reality they offer only Salesforce and Pipedrive. Come on… really?
Open your eyes: if your customer’s tool needs integrations to work at their best, do not turn your head around. Collect feedback and release the integrations for them (if you’d like to make more money).
3) Feedbacks + incentives
Any business needs feedback to improve, but before I ask anything from anyone, I ask myself this question:
Since everyone is super busy nowadays, why someone should dedicate to me 2 minutes of his precious time?
Of course, you may have the best problem solving product ever but…
What if you need a feedback for a new feature?
What if you need a feedback before making an important decision?
What if you’d like to collect feedback at scale?
Well, the answer is just one: offer incentives, they move the world! 😉
Giving incentives to gain feedback from your audience and keep optimizing your offer to become better and better, even with a small customer base.
Their advice will save your business to make the wrong decision and also it will make you scale it faster than ever.
Partnerships are in my opinion the most charming strategy you can use to win the market.
When it comes to partnerships, the goal is always create a win-win scenario where both will have benefits.
Partnerships are worth much more than a simple customer friend referral.
They can bring 10, 100, 1000 times more leads and customers and expose you to a totally new audience that never knew about your startup.
I would say that every founder out there should became really good at closing partnerships even more than at closing deals.
I remember when Scaleo banners used to follow us on the internet. 😄
It was scaring but incredible at the same time.
Right now, retargeting is the most efficient and cheapest way to win customers.
If you do retargeting well, it can lead to a 30% increase in sales. For a startup that’s a HUGE result.
Use Facebook Mobile, Twitter Audience Network and Quora to get started, these networks are bringing us the best results so far.
6) Content Marketing Conversions
Few months ago, we realize that over 5% of our newsletter subscribers had registered for a LeadsBridge account.
We were very happy about it, but we discovered that the credit didn’t belong to our email marketing efforts.
The conversions came from the content we created on our blog, and the one we shared on other influencers blogs.
Knowing this changed everything for us. As soon as we realized it, we started scaling our content marketing team.
It’s hard to understand if doing Content Marketing is profitable or not, so try to track your content the best you can and focus in particular on trying to understand how many time your content has been involved on the conversion path (e.g. with this Google Analytics):
You’ll be surprised to discover how much content marketing is key to generate new conversions. 🙂
Quora has been an incredible asset for us to acquire new visibility.
It’s a platform loved by the users because there are many professional answering to their questions.
When we started understanding some best practices such as how to craft the best answer or how to acquire more views, we went from 16 to 1200 visitors per month on our website. Today we dedicate 4 people of our team to answer questions on Quora with a massive high-quality traffic generation in return.
If you are a startup founder and you know your market very well, share your knowledge and help other people on Quora, it will pay off big time!
8) Demo calls
After a few months running LeadsBridge, we realized that showing demos through scheduled calls is a great way to show the product and answer the customer questions in real-time.
So far, it’s working really well.
Right now, 35% of total new subscription come from the Sales Team, which should be one of the first things you have to build to grow fast.
If you think you have a great product, prove it, and people will love to become customer, even if you are in your early stage.
9) Team motivation
Scaling a company is hard, and founders can’t make it by themselves for sure.
If LeadsBridge reached some great results, it’s because of its incredible team members.
To build a good team though, hiring talents is not enough: they have to be motivated with the right energy to keep the project moving forward.
In LeadsBridge we wanted to create something unique, something that our team members appreciate and that motivates them everyday to grow together.
What you need as a founder, is not just to find good talents, but to find talents to transform into founders. People that will give their blood for the success of the project and viceversa.
Your team must comes first: before the customers, before money, before anything. If your team is not in a good health, your startup will die soon.
10) Champion support
Are you kidding me? Seriously? Support is the key for customer happiness?
Come on, Stefan, you can do better.
Well, I am serious about this.
Out there, customer support sucks. Full stop.
People don’t know how to support their clients.
Few weeks ago, after our launch on Product Hunt, I received an email from a guy with a great product offer. Something that, honestly, I would have gladly paid for.
As soon as I landed on their website, I had the proof that the product would have been great for us, but once I opened up a chat with them to discuss the details, the answer was:
“We reply to every message within 72 hours.”
I didn’t want to believe it.
A lot of startups put seriously at risk their entire business because of their bad customer support.
A good customer support has 3 essential belief that should be a bible for your customer happiness team:
- Never close a ticket until the customer say “I’m good, thanks”.
- Never say: “I’m not able to help you”. Find a way at all costs.
- Be quick. Customer time is precious, you are going to lose tons of customers if you leave them alone.
Nowadays, waiting up to 3 days to reply to a customer’s request is an eternity.
I’m not saying that everyone should offer a live chat, which nonetheless is an hard commitment but, always try to do better.
11) Steal audience from others
I already talked about how content marketing helped us in acquiring new customers and how important it is to track conversions coming from it.
But there is something I didn’t say before that is really important for LeadsBridge: we don’t just publish content within our blog, we scale it outside of our comfort zone.
In fact, it’s key to spread tons of content around the web, on news sites, on influencers’ blogs or wherever you think “This website/blog has a good audience for my product”. In a way, that’s like “stealing” audience from others. 😄
LeadsBridge is currently publishing 80% of the content around the web which is giving us a tremendous power in acquiring new audiences and keep scaling the business without interruptions.
Creating good content today is expensive, it’s hard and time consuming. But it’s worth it.
The best way to leverage it, is by publishing it in places that you already know there are many potential interested people in what you do.
Running a startup is extremely hard and it takes a lot of everyday grind and hustle.
But it’s also incredibly rewarding. 🙌
It’s one of the best thing I could ever dream of — professionally speaking — because it’s a rich opportunity to learn, grow and expand beyond my comfort zone.
It’s a journey I will never forget in my entire life.
So if you are a dreamer and a hard-worker like me and our team at LeadsBridge, and you are trying to bootstrap your project on your own, without waiting for an investors to give it steroids, I want to tell you this:
You can make it with your own strengths. We are a living proof of this.
Story by: Stefan Des.
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