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The SaaS Podcast

Makerpad: How Ben Tossell Bootstrapped a $240K Side-Project – with Ben Tossell [238]

Ben Tossell

Makerpad: How Ben Tossell Bootstrapped a $240K Side-Project

Ben Tossell is the founder of Makerpad, a website that teaches you how to build apps and websites without writing a single line of code.

When Ben was working as the community manager at Product Hunt, he came across a lot of products that made it easier to build apps and websites without writing any code.

Being non-technical himself, Ben was intrigued by the idea of being able to use these tools to build his own products. He started spending all his spare time tinkering with these tools.

Eventually, he launched a website where he published screencast tutorials and charged people for access. He promoted it to his email list and signed up some early customers.

He kept pushing to add new features and functionality. But he quickly started to lose focus. He was trying to do too much for too many different types of customers. It was becoming a mess.

Eventually, he decided to shut that website down and go back to the drawing board.

He'd just finished reading A Company of One by Paul Jarvis. This time he decided that he was going to keep things really simple, focus on a single idea and do less.

He relaunched as Makerpad, a site focused on teaching you how to use no-code tools.

In less than a year, Makerpad has generated over $200,000 in sales – as a side project while Ben was working as head of platform for Earnest Capital.

And now he's working on Makerpad full-time and building a recurring revenue business.

Although Makepad isn't technically a SaaS product, I invited Ben on the show for two reasons:
1. There are a lot of parallels with Ben's experience of Makerpad and what new SaaS founders have to go through. I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned.
2. I wanted to talk about how the no-code movement is helping non-technical founders build and launch SaaS products without writing any code.

Ben's an extremely down to earth guy and we had a great conversation.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

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Omer Khan [0:10]
Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talked to Ben Tossel. The founder of Makerpad had a website that teaches you how to build apps and websites without writing a single line of code. When Ben was working as the community manager at Product Hunt, he came across a lot of products that made it easier to build apps and websites without writing any code. Being non-technical himself, Ben was intrigued by the idea of being able to use these tools to build his own products. And he started spending all his spare time tinkering with these tools. Eventually, he launched a website where he published screencast tutorials and charge people for access. He promoted it to his email list and signed up some early customers. And as it started to grow, he kept pushing to add new features and functionality. But he quickly started to lose focus. He was trying to do too much for too many different types of customers, and it was becoming a mess. Eventually, he got so bad that he decided to shut down the website and go back to the drawing board. He just finished reading Company One by Paul Jarvis. And after reading that book, he decided that this time he was going to keep things really simple, focus on a single idea and do less. A few months later he relaunched as Makerpad a site focused on teaching you how to use no code tools in less than a year. Makerpad has generated over $200,000 in sales as a side project while Ben was working as head of platform for Earnest Capital, and now he's working on Makerpad full time building a recurring revenue business. Now although Maker ad isn't technically a SaaS product, I invited Ben on the show for two reasons. Firstly, there are a lot of parallels with Ben's experience of MakerPad, and what new SaaS founders have to go through. I think there's some valuable lessons to be learned there. Secondly, I wanted to talk about how the no-code movement is helping non-technical founders build and launch SaaS products without writing any code. And we talk exactly about that. Ben's an extremely down to earth guy, and we had a great conversation, so I hope you enjoy it too. Real quick before we get started, firstly, don't forget to grab a free copy of The SaaS Toolkit, which will tell you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs. You can download your copy by going to theSaaSpodcast.com. Secondly, enrollment for SaaS Club Plus is now open. Plus is our online membership and community for new an early-stage SaaS founders. As a member you get access to our growing content library, video masterclasses, a private community forum, live group coaching calls every two weeks. And you also get one to one coaching with me through private messaging. So if you need help launching and growing your SaaS business, and you want to connect with other founders around the world and build recurring revenue faster, then join me inside Plus, just go to SaaSclubplus.com. To learn more. Okay, let's get into the interview. Ben, welcome to the show.

Ben Tossell [3:25]
Thanks for having me.

Omer Khan [3:26]
So I always like to ask my guests what gets them out of bed? What drives or you know, motivates them to work on their business? So what is it for you that fires you up to work on Makerpad?

Ben Tossell [3:37]
I think it was just something that I was genuinely just interested in. Like, I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't getting paid for it. But luckily, I am now running out for business. So it's just it's been a passion project that the market is all of a sudden pulled into being a business.

Omer Khan [3:53]
So for people who aren't familiar, can you just explain what is Makerpad? Who's your target customer What's the big problem that you're trying to help them with?

Ben Tossell [4:02]
So Makerpad is a lot of things. So I just have the simplest version, which is we teach people how to build tools, without code essentially. So if you're trying to build an Airbnb app for dog homes, or you're trying to automate a lead generation tool at work, we sort of make tutorials to help you do that. And on top of that, there's all sorts of layers of community and we've got boot camps coming out and, and things like that. But that's essentially what it is. Our main customers have predominantly been like the creators types, the people who want to be entrepreneurs and launch their idea, but we're actually seeing a lot of B2B interest. So we've got our own Makerpad for startups program where we help startups like automate processes, empower their team to build their own tools, so a content marketer could automate a certain process. Avoid the backlog and stop annoying all your developers and, and all that sort of stuff.

Omer Khan [5:00]
Okay, so let's kind of start telling the story from probably before Makerpad because you were working at Product Hunt for a while as well. So maybe kind of just tell us about like, what were you doing before that? And then how did you sort of end up working on Product Hunt?

Ben Tossell [5:18]
Yeah, sometimes I want for this one. So I will try and do the quick version. So I was here. I was a social media analyst. And there's a company it's called Sprinklr, but big social platform now as an agency, and then we got acquired, but essentially just running promoted tweets and Facebook ads for big companies in the UK, which is as boring as it sounds. And I just was thinking one day, I'll have my idea. I'll be this big, successful entrepreneur and I'll make loads of money and I'll be great. So just like that idea, is going for for a long, long time. I maybe tried learn to code a couple of times, but not very successfully. And just thought I know I'll be the ideas, I'll be Steve Jobs or whatever. So I just started hanging out in like the startup groups, and then some Slack groups. Basically, they just came around. And this is probably when I first found product and just saw these cool new things get launched. And you end up in the Slack groups, and I was just that annoying person who was like, hey, yeah, I'll help out wherever I can. And everyone asked, so what skills have you gotten like oh no ideas guy? It was just a lot of that. Like I just trying to build relationships, really. But I had an ulterior motive of one day, I'll get one of these developers to help me build something. But I mean, it didn't really happen like that. So I just sort of became part of these communities and fast forward a little bit then I was noticed by Product Hunt, Ryan followed me one day and was like, I think we need to have a chat. Two people on the team had recommended me for a community manager role at Product Hunt. And I didn't realize that I basically been doing the community manager role without being paid for it before. So they thought, why not pay him for it? So I got the job, at Product Hunt and I was there. I worked remotely. So I was just in my, in my little apartment in Cardiff and UK. And yes, working remotely for them. Sort of running the community running the homepage featuring products getting shouted out if products weren't getting as high voted then then others understand the joys of that. But that gave me a great position to see so many amazing like companies and startups come through through Product Hunt I got to speak with YC Founders, people at Slack and people at Google and staff, helping them launch their products, which was just like insane for me right where I was just in the UK sat on my flat and I was all of a sudden thrown into this startup world in a quite a meaningful way. What it felt like for the time.

Omer Khan [8:00]
Yeah, I mean, if you want to connect with people and kind of what you were trying to do when you join the slack groups, like, Product Hunt was like, you know, an amazing place to do that. Because like, you know, when you're there like, I guess everybody wanted to talk to you then.

Ben Tossell [8:16]
Yeah, exactly. I was actually, the idea is gone and people wanted to hear from. Yeah, I mean, I was very, very lucky to get that job. And I know, now looking back, I sort of mentioned it as one footnote in my path to where I am now. And for some people, that would be like, the absolute ultimate, and it was me at the time. It's just, I guess it's one of those things that when you've gone through it, and you look back, it's it is just one of those footnotes, but it was an incredible opportunity. And I'm so grateful for that. And the team did awesome things. And I was there until we got acquired by Angelist. But yeah, I mean, it was a great, great opportunity. We got to see so many cool things, especially companies that as an ideas guy helped me realize I could actually build something or make something without needing to know how to code. And it sort of feel like an app. So I could make a website with cards like a one-pager. I could connect it with Zapier and platform, and then take a payment and then send someone like, your password protected. webpage sort of felt like this is like a membership site.

Omer Khan [9:25]
Yeah, yeah. And didn't you kind of start doing something like that? Like, wasn't there like a version of Makerpad kind of before Makerpad?

Ben Tossell [9:34]
Yeah, I guess there's a few versions. And yeah, I mean, so this is a product and I got to know some of these tools were just started launching a bunch of things. And I didn't realize it at the time, but I was trying to put out all these crazy ideas I had thinking, one of these will be the one that makes me a billionaire and everything else and I'll just put up these ideas and that's what my startup starts, but didn't realized at the time that the process of how I was creating these things of whether things was actually going to end up being the thing that I ended up doing. So I was building all these things about code. And I was, like just posting them on Twitter. And I had a bit of a following from Product Hunt because everyone wants to follow you and you were the Product Hunt. And yet people just kept on seeing things I was launching saying, how, how are you doing that? How did you do that? Because people were sort of aware that I wasn't a coder. Yeah. So people just kept on asking me so how I was doing these things. And one of my many ideas was I'll build your MVP for you without code. So I put like a card site, a Typeform, and like Zapier in the middle, and you can buy that for $500. And people were signing up for my newsletter, ready for launch. A launch date and not a single person bought anything. So I was like, right, okay, quite the idea taken off like I thought it would, but I just I've looked back and thought, what how did I get that so wrong? And so many people seemed interested. And I noticed that it was actually Google just asking how I was doing these things. So I thought, well, I've seen people do like screencasting businesses, I've seen Indie Hackers where they have someone. So from GoRails makes 15K a month, just posting a tutorial about building with Rails so what can I just do that with no code stuff. So I built something which was a Webflow site, a Typeform, and a password protected page, and it called the Newco, couldn't think of anything else. And it was just yeah, oh, post tutorials for building without code. So that does sound very similar to what makes that is today, and that was, yeah, a year or so ahead of when Leafpad was actually launched.

Omer Khan [11:49]
Okay, so you sort of started doing these tutorials and you got people signing up eventually and paying for this. This product?

Ben Tossell [11:58]
Yeah, I mean, yeah, call it a product, I basically emailed the people who had signed up for the newsletter about my MVP idea. And I had a Typeform, no website yet and said, This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to do tutorials about no code. If you pay here for $50, you'll get lifetime access and 15 people paid without there being any website, just the promise of me doing that thing. So that was validation for me to go and build this site and get this up. So that's what I did. And then I start getting customers, which is awesome.

Omer Khan [12:31]
Okay, so how big did that sort of business grow?

Ben Tossell [12:35]
So I think I've got to maybe, 8-9K in revenue, some months. It wasn't a proper actual recurring revenue business because I was doing everything through Typeform. So it wasn't really a product, it was just giving people the password to the password-protected pages. But I realized at that time, I was sort of still in the mindset of, Okay, I'm gonna build a bit This is going to be huge. I'm gonna have hundreds of employees. So we've got to grow 10% each week, we've got to build a platform, we've got to do this do that. So I hired a friend of Mubs, who is a prolific maker. And he helped me build this platform. And like, weeks, and a few months went by, and I just sort of was looking at the product thinking, I don't even recognize what this thing is. This isn't like really teaching people how to build stuff without code. I wasn't really doing tutorials anymore. We were trying to provide some weird experience for people to host things on. I mean, I can't even explain it now because I actually don't know what it was. Yeah, it was that bad that it just got out of hand that I didn't know what I was doing. And I was the one telling Mubs what to build. So, I mean, there was no hope. So I went basically traveling for a couple months with my girlfriend and I just sort of actually read the Paul Jarvis book Company of One and it wasn't like, profoundly Oh God, I've just discovered this thing. It was just more about drilling into the there's different way to run a business. And I've been listening to Indie Hackers podcasts and things like that and just thought, Well, why don't I just try and build a business that is good for me that suits my needs, pulls in revenue for me. And like, is simply enough for me to burn myself with no code tools. So basically made a promise myself, okay, what I'm going to start focusing on less. So Makerpad was born, and it was a Webflow site. And I said, I'm going to start doing tutorials with no code. And here's a link to a Typeform. And you can go and pay you so much like the original product. That's where it all started. Again, this was January 2019.

Omer Khan [14:53]
So it kind of sounds like you, you were kind of doing the same thing again, but just being more focused and trying to do less, this time. What did you do with the people who had already kind of paid for the previous version of what you were doing? And kind of what people, people okay with that? Or did people kind of kind of get upset was like, wait a minute, I just paid for this and now you're doing something else? Like, did you have any of those kinds of issues?

Ben Tossell [15:17]
Or because it was basically the same thing. I just gave them free access to make that. So it was an easy thing. If people were really disgruntled, I don't think there was if there's one or two people who really wanted their money back and just gave them money back, but essentially was me Okay, what I'm going to do these tutorials again, here's the previous tutorials I've already done. So you can still access those, you can still access some of that stuff. But this is the new brand and the new way of me doing this and I sort of said to myself that I'm gonna run it the way I want to run it and build it the way I want to build it and not sort of think of it in terms of was it rocket ship or whatever startup languages up there now.

Omer Khan [16:01]
Yeah. So so basically it was like a Webflow membership site, and you were creating these tutorials. Were you writing them? Were you creating screencasts? were you doing both?

Ben Tossell [16:17]
So what I did newco and launched on product term, there was actually feedback from one person when I did my video doing video tutorials and speaking over them. And as the software reviewer said, this is a great idea. I love it, but I can't listen to the guy because he's don't believe sounds dreadfully dull and also not so when trying to do video tutorials. So actually, I just, I was like, Well, I don't want to hassle with that. And I always find it difficult to find to follow sorry, someone's voice. During the video. I prefer to sort of see the visual and then follow text. So again, just doing it the way I wanted to do it. I just did. silent movies, baby silent movies and just like the text to follow along with, with the videos,

Omer Khan [17:04]
You know, that's a really good lesson there because, like, sometimes you can look at other screencasts. And, you know, they're really polished and the voice sounds great. And they've got these, you know, transitions that happen and all that stuff. And you're like, oh, man, I couldn't possibly do that. And, you know, you kind of go and find something else to do. But a lot of the times I think it's like, if we just recognize these are the things that I'm good at. These are the things I don't do well. So why don't I just kind of instead of trying to work on my weaknesses, like working, working with my voice, why don't I just do what I think I can do? Well, and I could do easily, something that I find personally useful. And then hopefully, they'll be other people out there who will find it useful to which is what happened with you.

Ben Tossell [17:56]
Yeah, I mean, it's it also was like the analysis paralysis as well where if I thought about all I've got a like record this video, I've got to produce it, I've got to have a script and go through it and do all that stuff. It would be such a big task in my head that I would just never ever want to get around to do it. If I just thought was record my screen from now I'll try and build something. And then I'll just chop up all the bits where I messed it up, or I'm trying to figure it out myself. So it worked really well for me. And I mean, now on the side, we've got all those fancy transitions and we've got intro, and we've got people who talk and stuff but it's just, I thought for me, me just running this one man show was if someone hates this, this free tutorials, they will have seen what they're purchasing. If they don't like it, they won't purchase. If people really, really, really want me to speak on these videos. They'll tell me like I'm in the Slack group. They got my email, they'll tell me and it may have been one or two people said, Yeah, maybe you should think about doing audio. Just thought, well, not everyone like there's not an overwhelming response for me to do audio probably telling me a lesson there. But I think it was it was fine. It worked for me.

Omer Khan [19:14]
So how did you start growing Makerpad like where are you in terms of revenue right now?

Ben Tossell [19:19]
We just hit 240k for the service like a year was 240k?

Omer Khan [19:25]
For for 2019.

Ben Tossell [19:27]
Yeah, so we started end of January 2019. So it's basically been a year up until this point.

Omer Khan [19:33]
Well, and so couple of things like So number one, when did you start working full time on Makerpad? Because for picture last years, I understand you were doing this part time.

Ben Tossell [19:45]
Yeah, this this was a side project me it was fun. Like I said, this is like one of those things that I would do. If, like just I was building these things anyway, trying to figure out how to build like a marketplace app. Anyway, it just so happened that these were being recorded. So it was a side project from January, up until about September when I was working part-time at Earnest Capital. So I was helping on the platform side helping founders who had invested in just like anything they needed. In terms of, we help with our sales funnel, we need to figure out this thing. Can we get deals for this? So I was doing that and yeah, maybe I was just a side project.

Omer Khan [20:28]
don't you just love how things kind of fall into place. You know, when you look back, like, you know, when you kind of looking forward and trying to figure things out, like it's, it's overwhelming, and you know, what's the right path to take for me personally, or the business or whatever? And then, you know, just, you know, for what you've already just told us so far, trying to connect with people and you know, people asking you more what skills you have and it's like, well, I am the ideas guy, to your, you know, kind of joy Product Hunt, and then Earnest, where, you know, kind of head of platform, right? Like would you have ever imagined, like, you know, when you were being, you know, thinking of some of the ideas guy that you'd be kind of helping Tyler and kind of all the Earnest Capital companies kind of as head of platform?

Ben Tossell [21:15]
No, probably not at that point. But I knew a thing when I was leaving product. And I had a platform role at an Investment Company was sort of my dream thing. It was like, I can be the ideas guy again, I could like help other founders with their things. I can just be that generalist, which is what I would call myself. And I can help them with all sorts of problems. So I mean, Tyler reached out, I think, when it was still NewCo. And I think he was reaching out DealFlow, but he might say otherwise, if it's not true, and he was saying, I'm raising this fund, I'm doing this thing and I just sort of saw it and thought, well, I want to be involved. Like I definitely just want to be involved for this fund. I'd love to help build the community. Whatever was so, yeah, sort of really aligned itself.

Omer Khan [22:04]
So let's talk about how you've grown over the last year. Now kind of want to talk about, like, you know, how did you find customers? You know, there's a lot of people who have, you know, ideas and you know, they'll kind of build stuff. But not many of them can say, Oh, yeah, I made $240,000 or more in, in the last year. And by the way, a big chunk of that was kind of working part-time as a side project. So while you were creating these tutorials, what we're also doing to to find customers and grow this business.

Ben Tossell [22:40]
Well, that was the beauty of it. I just wasn't, I was just trying to grow. I wasn't trying to force anything down in so it wasn't a push mechanism. It was just a pole like the market started taking notice of what no code, like what the possibilities were. So I unknowingly built up this brand as a no-code guy. And people just found me on Twitter and just saw, I did like an Airbnb clone in Webflow which was a very basic version that I could build a different one today, but it was a very basic one, but it's something that no one had ever seen before and it like I got like 30,000 views. had people like Marc Andreessen, follow me and all sorts from from that one tweet and I was like, holy shit what was happening here, but it was just I wasn't like, trying to do something as though this is cool look, I managed to build something that looks like Airbnb and because I had a job and this was just a side thing. I wasn't worried about if I made no money or if it was making quite a bit of money I just thinking Oh, that's great. That's like just an extra thing that I can spend on going away or whatever it was. So that pressure really though the lack of pressure of other really helped me and just posted it on Twitter, which is what I usually do is just seem to be the place where we got shared a lot and got lots of [].

Omer Khan [24:03]
So what were you doing? You were just kind of sharing links to the videos that you were creating?

Ben Tossell [24:09]
Yeah, I was just doing like, I'd make like a small gift for a small video of a walkthrough of what I built and do on Twitter. Some of them would link to the actual tutorial, I guess I probably was, like, I was trying to get people to look at the tutorial and it'd be a bonus if people signed up. But that was, that was what I was doing. But at the time that it was actually a, it was a lifetime membership. There wasn't any monthly or yearly options. It was just lifetime because back then I thought, Oh, well. It's a side project. For me. It's cool to just have people pay for this stuff. And like, Who needs another monthly subscription? So to be different now because I do offer that but I think that pressure but I think obviously that doesn't make sense in terms of running a business. So that's why we've we've changed That stuff but it was great people love that. The word of mouth spread you get yourself a ton of evangelists who are like, Yeah, I got this for free forever. Like, look all this cool shit that's been made without code to share in a tweet sharing tutorial. So I think a lot of word of mouth helped as well.

Omer Khan [25:18]
And how are you kind of figuring out like what you were going to share publicly as kind of like free content and what was going to be kind of membership, only a completely made up.

Ben Tossell [25:32]
I just saw Airbnb clone. Like, surely people are going to really want to know how to build that sort of thing. I'll just put that behind the table. If I've got like a really simple Airtable for like a sales CRM or something. I just make that free. So I wasn't making it up as I went along. And

Omer Khan [25:51]
how much were you charging at the time?

Ben Tossell [25:53]
I think it was $169. At that time, one-time payment. Yeah.

Omer Khan [26:00]
What was the growth sort of trajectory? Like like so after like the first three, four months, I guess into April May, kind of where were you at that time?

Ben Tossell [26:13]
Yeah. So around. So I think February was $7,000, March 17, April 30, May 20, June 28. So it was a lot. As a side project, I was thinking this is great. And it's just, it wasn't recurring. And there was one one time but at that point, we started bringing on companies. So they were paying us to be part of Makerpad for us to build tutorials for them with collaborate and really show off what their tools could do too. So it was like a two-pronged thing there.

Omer Khan [26:51]
So that's like crazy growth like in like just a couple of months of a site project. To start, generally revenue like that, especially where I mean, I wouldn't say you were like doing no marketing, because you were, yeah, you know, spin kind of being pretty thoughtful about the kinds of stuff you're going to put up on Twitter and, you know, kind of educating people out there as well. And, and what you are going to share is free versus kind of behind a paywall. But that's kind of still pretty crazy growth. How much when you were working part-time on this, like, how much time were you spending? Because, like, you know, before we start recording, I told you, like, every time I kind of got to, you know, make a pattern for come across something you were doing. I was like, how can you be doing this part-time? Like, you know, like, how much time are you spending?

Ben Tossell [27:42]
I really don't know. I mean, I was probably spending a lot more time than I even think on it, whether it's just thinking about what I'm going to do or planning it or recording things. I tried to have some sort of structure there but already I can't even remember now is that that long ago, but it was I mean, I was part of those basically half time on on Earnest and half time on this, but I probably spent more time on Makerpad. But the thing is with with no code is that if I think I'm going to try and build this thing, and I sort of vaguely know, I mean, I know what tools are the right tools to use for building that thing. So I was just going to dive in and build it pretty quickly. So that's like one of the big pluses of the no-code movement, which is you can build stuff really, really quickly. So if I can do that for myself, then I don't know what I shouldn't have been doing it basically.

Omer Khan [28:37]
And I think the other thing I, the takeaway I get is like, you really enjoy doing this stuff. So when you have that sort of natural interest or passion about something and the curiosity to sort of see, hey, I wonder if I could build this or do that then it doesn't kind of really feel like work, does it?

Ben Tossell [28:58]
No, and I know it's like, that's one of those things that people sometimes listen to a podcast and roll their eyes thinking, Oh, well, this person is doing something they really love and they're making the money. So I don't want to sound like that. But it just generally was, like, I am very naturally curious in the tech world trying to figure out why can't code I want to make this thing work for me. So a lot of that was just trying to see, like really changes myself. What can I do this thing? Can I do this? And show off that actually, you don't need to learn to code to do this thing. So yeah, I mean, I love doing that. And it's paid off.

Omer Khan [29:34]
And then beyond sort of Twitter, it was just kind of word of mouth. And those are the only two things that you're still doing.

Ben Tossell [29:40]
Yeah, more or less. We do like, we have online live workshops and things like that. But again, we only put those on Twitter and we've got a mailing list, which is very engaged as part of 40% open rate on them almost 10,000 subscribers, so yeah, so I I'll just say Twitter and the newsletter really.

Omer Khan [30:03]
And I know you said at one point from what I understand is that you want it to have a one-time payment, because you felt like it was almost like pressure to charge a subscription and recurring revenue, because you kind of get back to that maybe that NewCo type situation where you felt like you were doing too much, or had to keep getting stuff out, you know, delivering new stuff every month. And I guess the approach of a one time payment sort of took some of that pressure off, but then you switch to a subscription and recurring revenue models. So what changed your mind? And why did you decide to do that eventually,

Ben Tossell [30:42]
One was that it was possible MemberStack is what I use to basically add a payment layer and hide content on the Webflow side. So when MemberStack that came along, there must have been sort of April time, I think I was able to actually add a yearly monthly subscription to my site. So I started using that. And I think I just added a yearly one because I thought again, who needs another, like monthly cost? Why can't we just have yearly and I basically was just copying their account, the developer platform. They did yearly, as Joel said on the podcast yearly is better not worrying every month about the churn of someone who just wants to watch one tutorial. So I just had yearly I think, and then I see when I when I actually did but the split was mostly still lifetime pro memberships, as you can probably imagine.

Omer Khan [31:43]
So the yearly thing is really interesting because, again, I think you get less of an issue in terms of like, you know, monthly churn, but in some ways, it can also be a little harder to get people to sign up in the first place. Like if they have to pay I don't know, $30-$40 a month, and kind of making that first month's payment to get in and try out Makerpad versus I've got to put in a, you know, spent a few hundred bucks to sort of get in, did you kind of find that there was sort of any resistance to that? And if so, like, how did you deal with it?

Ben Tossell [32:18]
Yeah, I think that there's always going to be people who are vocal about, oh, why don't you do this? Why don't you do that. And, again, it was just a case of, like, I don't want the pressure, I don't want to worry about it. So the customers who I want are the people who will pay the yearly fee. And they're going to get value in that year. And it doesn't mean that every month I'm stressing about someone dropping off for me, I understand there's a different cost element and everything else and there was there was free stuff on the site. And sort of skip forward to today we do offer monthly pricing and I think we luckily have other revenue streams. That means that we just don't worry about the monthly so much. If someone is paying to come and access one tutorial, we've sort of taken the stance of, Okay, well, they'll cost you $40 to come and look at one tutorial for one month and then churn, but it will cost you $200 to come and see, God knows how many tutorials in one year and get access to community and everything else. So it's just a bit of a mindset thing I think for me in a bit of a this is sort of how I wanted to do it. But you know, when it when this sort of became a business business, you got to think of other some other things. So I do understand that there's like different people with with different budgets and everything else. So

Omer Khan [33:42]
Yeah, but I love that about what you just said that by charging annual only, it allowed you to attract more of the types of people that you want it to have in Makerpad and a lot of the times when we we're kind of building this kind of businesses. We sort of are like, especially in the early days, you're like, you know, I'll take anybody, any, anybody who wants to come in? Right? Yeah, that's great. But if you can be more selective, and ultimately, I think it puts you in a better place, because you attract the right kinds of customers, the people who are going to stick around the people who are going to get the most value from what you're doing. And a lot of the times are also the people who are able to give you a lot of the feedback to, you know, make the product even better.

Ben Tossell [34:36]
Yeah. And I mean, it's not for everyone. And I understand that and it's like, I don't know any more than anyone else does. I'm figuring it out. And I'm testing things all the time. So it's not that I've done this and this is the right way to do it. But I mean, how many stories you read or listen to about people saying, Oh, yeah, this $5 a month customer was the one who gives you the support tickets, the one who bugs you the most, the use of the product, like, in the most annoying ways, or whatever it is always, always seems to be like that loyal customer. So, I mean, yeah, if you've got the the luxury of being able to pick your customers by doing things like this, then it's great. But like you said, if it was every day to try to validate and everything else, then I'm not going to pretend that not taking money is an easy option.

Omer Khan [35:26]
Now, you also said that you had a b2b kind of offering with Makerpad. And you're working with companies who, who kind of want to do more or kind of get the teams up and running. What's different when they get in? Like, they presumably get access to all the same tutorials that, you know, I would if I was signed up and make it bad. But what else do they get?

Ben Tossell [35:48]
Yeah, so teams is I mean that we've got a few b2b offerings. So one is working with Webflow and Glide and things like that. So that's a different a different thing where we collaborate on content, but a B2B offering is more about. Okay, so you run your company and you have Webflow, you got Airtable and Zapier, running some things. You've got your developer team as well. You want your team to like if you're hiring anyone, you want them to know, how Zapier works, what Zapier is how Airtable works, and how they sort of connect together. So we we have this package that is basically us helping your team get trained in these tools. So it gives multiple team access for pro membership. There's like a big one on one onboarding where you can sort of say, oh, we're looking for, like, we want to build this type of CRM, and Airtable and have it updated on this newsletter, how do we sort of do that? And then we've also got a talent where we've got profiles, which is a recent addition to Makerpad. So we get to see all the people who have completed certain tutorials. We've got all the data to show what the tools are that people Using so if a company says to me, okay, great, we've got Airtable and Zapier set up, who are the best people, you know, who've done the most things with Airtable and Zapier, and I can give them three to five examples of Oh, these people. Also these ones are available to hire as a freelancer or this one, perhaps is someone you could look at for full time.

Omer Khan [37:23]
Got it? Okay. So there were two reasons that I really wanted to have you on the show. One was to share your story with Makerpad and kind of how you build that recurring revenue business, even though it's not, you know, technically a SaaS business. The other one was really, I think I wanted to get, you know, my listeners to sort of understand a little bit more about what's happening with no code and the sort of the tools that are available out there now. Because I still often hear people telling me, I'm non-technical. I have this idea. You know, like you said, like I'm the ideas guy. And I really need a technical co-founder to kind of build this thing, or I need a developer, like a find a developer or I need money to, you know, hire developers or whatever that is. And I really wanted those people to take another look at some of these tools out there, just to understand what's out there now, because, sure, yeah, I mean, at some point, you probably do want to hire that person or bring on a technical co-founder or whatever, if you're in that situation. But there are so many tools out there now that you could probably build your MVP and start even charging customers and getting early revenue without having those technical skills. And, you know, and a great example that I thought I just saw a message from him this morning, is a guy called Kenton who's In our SaaS Club Plus Membership, and he, you know, when he kind of I first met him, he had this idea and he'd been trying to kind of get this SaaS product launched for a long time, and really was kind of getting to the point where he was giving up. And then at the time, I think there weren't that many things around but uh, about a year ago, like he started looking at Bubble. And, you know, he kind of found some, those tutorials and kind of worked his way through and built the entire product himself, got, you know, the subscription piece set up the backend, and foundation customers, and he's generating revenue. And it's just a great example of, you know, you don't have to be a developer to build that kind of product or certainly an MVP. So, kind of with that in mind, like what are like some of your favorite tools, and if we were kind of thinking about, you know, is just kind of like the core elements of an MVP, right? If we're thinking about like, even the Airbnb clone as an example, right? What are some of the tools, your favorite tools out there that people should be sort of taking a look at or thinking about in helping them build their MVP or product?

Ben Tossell [40:19]
Yeah. So before I answer that, I want to say that like, there's so many use cases out there of people and examples of what people have built without code. And Lambda School, which is a coding Bootcamp, have raised $30 million in venture fundraising. And I've had 3000 concurrent students, there's a story about them on our site, we did an interview, and they built most of their internal tools without code, like their coding boot camp. And they just thought, well, we don't need to spend lots of developer time and money on building this thing from scratch if Airtable and Typeform and something else will actually Do the same job that we want this thing to do. And they're starting to build their own internal tools now because they've pushed, like Airtable to its 50,000 row limit, or whatever it is. I mean, they've really pushed it Sony's tools as far as they'll go. But I mean, if you're worried about I mean, I don't like saying these no code things here to MVP, I think it just gets you a validation, but there's no reason why you can't continue to go further with with some of these new code tools. I think that there's tons of examples out there and people taking money, and they don't know any different on what your thing is built on. They just want to pay for the solution. So yeah, there's, there's so many examples out there and we need to do a better job of showing them and sort of shouting loud and proud about what is possible.

Omer Khan [41:47]
That's a really good example with Lambda school though I had no idea that they they'd kind of you know, they're back in had been kind of big, no code, given the fact that you know, it's a really successful business now that's helping people get careers to learn to become developers.

Ben Tossell [42:06]
Yeah, no, it's my favorite example because it makes people think twice straight away. So yeah, I mean, Mitchell is the one of their growth guys. And he's been part of Makerpad for a while. And it's been great to just see the stuff that he's been building. And he's done some tutorials for us and things. So yeah, shout out to him for for that. But yeah, back to the, the tools that I recommend. I mean, we do partner with a bunch of tools. So I'll probably end up mention those by accident, but I'll just say what we are built with because Makerpad built fully with no code. So we've got Webflow is our website still, use Airtable as our database, Zapier pulls things back and forth, we've got MemberStack for our memberships. But I'd like to think that people who come and sign up for Makerpad don't even realize it is built without code. Like, we sort of see ourselves as not quite to this extent, but we see ourselves as GitHub of no code, you can have a profile, you can go to a tool page and click our users tool, and that gets added to your profile. You can go to a tutorial page and click mark is completed. And that'll add to your profile, like all these things that almost feel like software. But actually it's just a bunch of button links to his app, links to an Airtable link to his app to then link back to Webflow and makes it feel Yeah, it makes it feel real. I mean, it is real, but I mean, you know what I mean.

Omer Khan [43:41]
Yeah. So how does Webflow integrate with Airtable is that does Zapier get that data in and out of Airtable?

Ben Tossell [43:50]
Yeah, so there's especially yeah, Zapier pulls some data, but some really cool tricks that you can do is the Zapier, Webflow, MemberStack, Airtable that seems to be like the stack to know to be able to do a bunch of stuff. I know friend of mine Connor he built a freelancer marketplace with just those tools so you can go and hire a social media marketing person in New Zealand and everything is built through that.

Omer Khan [44:20]
So what about like Bubble versus Webflow? Where do you think like like how would you advise people to think about that like when when when one makes sense over the other.

Ben Tossell [44:29]
So I think they look very different Webflow I used initially because I'm appointment click person who just likes messing things up. And I think that if any designer like looked at my Webflow site, they'd, they'd want to kill me because it's just like, they've blocked 506 instead of everything being named properly and I've just like, I just move things around and do it so that it works for me. And Bubble is a bit more technically minded. I think so there's certain layers of what you need to build in terms of like if this, then that type stuff. The Bubble lets you do a lot more currently with sort of, you can build, like you said, you can build a SaaS product, you can build something that is more software, then the Webflow. So Webflow at the moment has over the website side of things. And we've got some eCommerce from which I think they launched last year. And I'm sure that they're going to have more and more things to help you build actual software with Webflow. But at the moment, it's more like there that's the front end thing but when there's people like me who are just trying to think well, it's built in Webflow try and make it work like software. I then end up linking Zapier and Airtable and wherever else to to make it work the way I wanted to.

Omer Khan [45:48]
Got it, okay, so there's kind of like two, if you're thinking about sort of an MVP or part of this like two sort of possible ways you could go. One is with kind of Bubble type thing, which is kind of really a no code, but it's you're really sort of building software because I think they give you the sort of a database is sort of more integrated into that. And all the authentication and all that stuff is kind of built in. So it's kind of like one tool. But you know, from what you've said, like, Hey, you might, you might go there, and you might find that actually, it's, it's, you know, maybe it's, it's kind of intuitive for you. And maybe it's not. The other way is using something like Webflow, which is, you know, basically a website builder. And then using Airtable can use any other databases on the back end.

Ben Tossell [46:35]
Or you can use Google Sheets if you wanted to. I just, I like Airtable and use it for a lot of things now, so and there's so many different tools for so many different things we could, we could have done the whole podcast on like just tools and we've, we've tried to show ways on Makerpad who got makerpad.co/explore and there's basically you can just filter by what's the best for memberships and also show you the tools, tutorials and stories are related to that. So you could do mobile apps, and it will show you Glide, which is a simple, like super simple way to set up really powerful mobile apps, which is just based off of Google Sheet like you can build an Instagram clone on Airbnb clone. So that sort of functionality is out of a box with with just a Google Sheet.

Omer Khan [47:24]
Now, all the developers listening in on this will be thinking cap, it can like Webflow and Airtable, and Zapier is that kind of a scalable way, especially as you start to grow the business? And, you know, is that kind of the best place to store the data? Is that responsive enough in terms of, you know, like queries and all that sort of stuff, but it sounds like it's still working pretty well for you.

Ben Tossell [47:48]
Yeah, I mean, we've got 950 paying members, we get five to 10,000 a week, come into the site and news and things and some things break like the doing software. So when something happens and Zapier doesn't fire for some reason, I'll go in and fix it like you would a bug. So it's very similar in I don't want to insult any developers listening. But I think it's very similar in how you look at building products. And also, it's not no code or code in my eyes. It's not like a one versus the other. And I'm not saying one over the other, obviously, no code work for me. I think that seems to be what works for a lot of people who just cannot get on with coding, which I think should be acceptable. I did a podcast previously with Sahil from Gumroad, which is the code versus no code debate, which you'll be disappointed by if you actually looking for like a fight. It's just sort of agreeing that yeah, it is a different path to the same goal. You want to build software. So no code for me is like programming but for everyone.

Omer Khan [48:56]
Yeah, no, I mean, the way I think about it is like you know, like, maybe showing my age, right? But you know, 20 years ago, you needed to hire a developer to publish a blog. Right? And today, it's kind of like and then, you know, it's like, oh, no, you can do it yourself. And it's gonna be as easy as printing a document. Well, bloggers and content creators doing well, and developers are doing well and you know, new things come on, and we evolve and, and their new opportunities. I think that's the way to think about it. Right? In terms of, it's not, it one is going to kill the other, but it's more about, you know, it's empowering different types of people to take whatever they're doing to the next level and make that easier for them.

Ben Tossell [49:34]
Yeah, it's just another obstruction. Right? It's not like you don't code in zeros and ones anymore. There's languages and things on top of that. So this is another layer of abstraction for the people who come work with curly brackets and colons. Yeah, exactly.

Omer Khan [49:48]
Yeah. And then in terms of like, the membership piece, you said, you use MemberStack, but you could be using kind of, you know, you know, other products as well like MemberSpace as well. And yeah, You know, I had like Ryan and Ward on the founders of MemberSpace on the show. A while back, it was Episode 232. And you know those guys as well, right, because they're part of the Earnest family. So, yeah, yeah, there's a lot of good products out there, that it's really pretty amazing once you so I would just encourage people, like, go to Makerpad, check out the tutorials, try it out, get into the membership. And if you're serious about, you know, building these types of products, you know, there's some great resources there. So we should wrap up because, you know, as we kind of get into this week's I talking about the tools and stuff, I was like, we could we could talk all day about stuff, right, so we should wrap up. So I'm gonna kind of go into the lightning round and going to ask you seven quickfire questions? All right, so you ready to go?

Ben Tossell [50:50]
Yeah.

Omer Khan [50:51]
Okay, so what's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Ben Tossell [50:54]
Not that have I received this but took it away from that book, which was “Just focus on doing less”.

Omer Khan [50:59]
What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Ben Tossell [51:02]
I like “Creativity Inc.” It's just a really interesting book about how Pixar created that culture.

Omer Khan [51:09]
Is that the one with the red cover?

Ben Tossell [51:10]
Yeah, I love it.

Omer Khan [51:12]
That's how I remember that book. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

Ben Tossell [51:18]
Ignorance of not knowing when to get up

Omer Khan [51:21]
Love it? What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Ben Tossell [51:24]
Probably changing your productivity or habits all the time because when you get stuck in one, it doesn't it changes so just keep changing them I guess.

Omer Khan [51:34]
What's the new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue? If you had the extra time?

Ben Tossell [51:39]
I'd love to see something where someone was like giving me therapy but based on mental models.

Omer Khan [51:47]
Tell me more.

Ben Tossell [51:49]
When we…

Omer Khan [51:50]
know it's the lightning, but, I'm curious.

Ben Tossell [51:54]
It is a slow roll round and typically I love to go in like speak to a tech or whenever I talk about stuff, but then I'd want to say I want men to sort of teach me like, the mental model framework of, okay, you need to think about this. Like, I've read books about mental models, and they all sound great, but I need like, someone teaching me maybe it needs to be a therapist. Maybe it's just like a mental models coach on demand area.

Omer Khan [52:22]
I like that actually. What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Ben Tossell [52:28]
Some of my colleagues from products and all of this that I used to. I lived in China for six months went to university there.

Omer Khan [52:34]
Wow, I didn't know that.

Ben Tossell [52:36]
Well, that's right.

Omer Khan [52:38]
There you go. Yeah.

Omer Khan [52:40]
But I didn't know you. I didn't know you grew up in Wales either like and what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Ben Tossell [52:48]
I like traveling but us like a boring thing that everyone says, I recently started getting back into tennis. So maybe that counts.

Omer Khan [52:55]
There you go. Alright, cool. So Ben, thanks for joining me. It's been a spinner. Real pleasure talking, sharing your story, which is kind of been amazing over the last year, what you've you've managed to do and sort of the community that you've built. And yeah, just you know, thanks for sharing your, your expertise. And hopefully it's open people's eyes in terms of, you know, if you kind of feel like stuck right now building a product, because you don't have the technical expertise, take a look at Makerpad, try out some of these tools, check out the tutorials. And, you know, you might be surprised that you can get your MVP or your product built sooner than maybe you realized, and maybe do it all by yourself. So I think that's that's something I would really encourage everybody to sort of think more about. And yeah, thanks for being part of the show.

Ben Tossell [53:47]
Yeah, well, I agree with you that obviously, and yeah, it feels like ping me with any questions about no-code stuff too. But yeah, thanks so much for having me on the show.

Omer Khan [53:55]
So Makerpad they can go to makerpad.co. if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Ben Tossell [54:03]
Twitter is @BenTossell, which is T-O-S-S-E-L-L.

Omer Khan [54:07]
Cool. I'll include the link in the show notes there as well. Great. Cheers, man. Thank you. Sorry for running a little late. And I know you probably got better things to do with your evening, so I appreciate you making the time. Cheers.

Ben Tossell [54:20]
Cheers.

Omer Khan [54:22]
Thanks for listening. I really hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to thesaaspodcast.com, where you'll find a summary of this episode and a link to the resources we discussed. If you enjoyed this episode, then please consider subscribing. And if you're in a good mood, consider leaving a rating and review to show your support for the show. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care.

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The Show Notes

Omer Khan

Hi, I'm Omer, the founder of SaaS Club and host of The SaaS Podcast. I help early-stage founders and entrepreneurs to build, launch and grow successful SaaS businesses. Join me on this journey.