From 0 to 25,420 businesses in 4 years. Happy Birthday, Customerly! 🎉
Today I want to tell you why Customerly has been created, how we got here without any investment and what we did meanwhile.
Yes, we have bootstrapped Customerly for the last 4 years and since then we have been able to get 25,420 businesses signing up for it.
Why did we start Customerly?
Let’s start with the Why as Simon Sinek would suggest in his book.
The idea of Customerly sparked in my mind in 2015 to solve a need we were having in our SaaS at the time. (I’ve then exited that SaaS a few years after to focus on Customerly)
That SaaS was created to help driving schools manage their relationships with their students.
I was experiencing the 3 major pains at the time I wasn’t able to solve with a single solution.
- I wasn’t able to properly communicate with my customers while they were using the platform.
- I wasn’t able to send them targeted messages based on their usage of the platform
- I wasn’t able to gather feedback from my customers while they were using the platform.
That was the moment I realized that I could create a single suite to achieve these 3 goals.
I’ve teamed up with my friend Daniele Ratti and his friend Matteo Martinelli to create the very first alpha of the service (its name was CRMHero at the time).
We were working on this side project on the nights after work (7pm up to 3am) and almost all weekends for months.
The First Release
We released after 6 months the first beta to only a bunch of friends with SaaS businesses for free.
This is what it looked like at the time. You can see here the very first message the platform received when we went live on our SaaS.
As you can see the logo and the branding wasn’t looking that good as I (hope) is now. 😂
But it was a starting point for a great learning experience that brought us from 0 to 25K signups.
I bootstrapped the other SaaS that I’ve exited so to me was the way of building a business. It felt natural at the time but it is indeed challenging since we are battling with big competitors with a shitload of money from VCs.
So you need to think differently. You need to think with a growth hacking mindset about everything you do.
How have we got 25K signups?
Word of mouth
In the beginning, was all about word of mouth and the powered by Customerly link on the live chat.
Here and there we experimented with a few other acquisition strategies I want to share with you today after 4 years.
The Lifetime Deal
We have tried running a LTD offer. It seemed so good at the beginning and I wrote an article about it.
TLDR: Focus on finding customers that are willing to pay you in the long run, not a few quick bucks (65K$ in our case).
That of course helped us to get an international audience, but at the same time, we weren’t able to get so many people interested to pay in the long run.
We have been trying to use PPC campaigns but with so many competitors on the market, it’s difficult for us investing up to $200 per click to reach our audience on Google.
We needed to make a dent in the market and the first reasonable channel to achieve such a qualitative and wide audience was ProductHunt.
We ended up doing 4 launches in total in the last 4 years and that was great in so many ways.
We first launched the Live chat, then the Knowledge base platform (aka Help Center), the Visual Funnel Maker, and the Video Live Chat.
This is still one of our greatest sources of free valuable customers and I wrote 2 articles (here and here) on how to launch on PH.
We’ll soon launch again the new Live Chat we have been working on for more than a year.
WordPress Plugin Directory
This was an unexpected source of new customers actually even for me but the friction to test it was very little so we give it a try and it worked out quite nicely.
TLDR: we have got almost 15K signups from WP.
Hard Work and iteration
The Lean Startup was one of the most inspiring methods I’ve always appreciated along my entrepreneurial journey. However the more active users you get the less lean you can go.
Working hard toward the same direction and iterating as much as you can on small wins is the long-term recipe for success.
We have failed a lot of times and I believe it’s a shame to think you will never fail before you succeed.
Running a bootstrapped startup is a constant cycle of
- Gather feedback
- Understand where you failed
- Improve and add small wins
- Go back to the 1 step
Partners and Integrations
We have been able to partner with amazing companies like Revolut Business, GitHub, F6S, and much more to offer discounts to their audiences, and that brought Customerly a new level of awareness in their customers.
Integrations like Integromat, Zoho, Zapier, WPFusion and so many others brought us more opportunities and less friction to integrate with current tech stacks our customers can have.
Some of them integrated us without even bothering to tell us like Zoho or WPFusion.
Prepare to scale before you actually do it
I have always been a disorganized person and thanks to Matteo I’ve started to change this behavior by organizing every single thing in Customerly.
My suggestion for you is to document every single thing with your business.
Create public documentation (aka Help Center) for your customers on how to use your product to avoid wasting your time on repetitive tasks.
Create internal docs with Google Docs to share along with your team all the tasks and procedures that can be recursive in the future.
We also have a private help center (on Customerly of course [pss it’s fee]) for our support team so every time they encounter something they don’t know how to fix, they will refer to that private help center.
Not only your architecture should scale, so be prepared to scale your team with documentation that covers every single process you and your team are doing manually.
Revenues, VCs, and Grants
We are between €100K-500K ARR at the moment and even if it’s a great result for a bootstrapped product in a crowded market is still far from where we want to go with our mission.
Right now, we serve an average of 5 million people per day. It’s still very far from the third comma figure we are aiming for.
Once we started publishing our products on ProductHunt, we started seeing more and more interest from VCs. [So if you are searching for capital, it might be a good place to start from]
This is the kind of request we are getting every week.
We are discarding them all with a message saying: “As you might know, Customerly is a bootstrapped company, and we’d like to keep it that way. At the moment we are not searching for any investment. I’ll keep you posted if anything changes.” [I’ve seriously created a canned response for these requests]
(We discarded them all except for this one from Accel, of course)
Sometimes I wonder how Customerly might grow faster with millions to invest, then I go back to work to improve the product every day and serve more people.
We believe the product must be our first focus and that’s it.
Focusing on raising money is something we don’t want to.
There are dozen of bootstrapped companies out there that are doing great. The stories that I love are from ahrefs, Mailchimp, Shutterstock and Atlassian.
We have been able to get 30K$ in a grant from AWS Activate which was a huge help for us a few years back.
I’m incredibly grateful to the AWS team that allowed us not only to build the easiest way to scale our architecture but also for such a huge financial help. This was their email (out of the blue) [We were around 5K$mo with the AWS Bill]
The Super Team
Last but not least, I have the fortune to surround myself with the best family I could find along the way.
This family grew from the initial 3 founders to the 11 people today are bringing Customerly to the next level.
We always worked remotely and never met in the same place.
I want to say a huge thanks to all of them for making Customerly better every day.
Thank you, Matteo, Gianni, Igor, Victoria, Daniele, Olga, Vlad, Garik, Olga and Nastya.
Every single action you do every day contributes to helping that billion people our mission stands for.
Without a great team, it’s impossible to build a product so impactful on people’s lives.
And I wanted to say Thank You to those 25K+ people (A stadium full of people) that signed up along the way. Even those that churned. They shared with us an important lesson: Never stop improving your solution.
From your CEO, Happy Birthday Customerly 🎉
I’m proud of what you have become and how many people you serve daily.
P.s. If you have found this article inspiring for a friend running or launching a startup, please share it with him/her/their.