The SaaS Podcast

Melissa Kwan - eWebinar

eWebinar: Bootstrapping and the Ups & Downs of Finding Product Market Fit – with Melissa Kwan [338]

eWebinar: Bootstrapping and the Ups & Downs of Finding Product Market Fit

Melissa Kwan is the co-founder and CEO of eWebinar, a SaaS platform that lets you deliver automated webinars for sales demos, onboarding, and training.

Before starting eWebinar, Melissa co-founded Spacio, an open-house check-in solution for realtors, which she sold in 2019 for mid-seven-figures.

Two months later, she was ready to start working on eWebinar.

As a solo and non-technical founder, Melissa struggled to get the product off the ground. She hired a development shop, which ended up costing her a lot of time, money, and even a friendship.

Eventually, she found and brought on a technical co-founder, and the two of them spent the next two and a half years building the product before releasing it to the public.

Although it took a long time to build a product, Melissa understood the problem deeply, was determined to ship the best possible product and hoped it would pay off in the long run.

When they did finally launch, Melissa was able to find some initial customers through her personal network. But she quickly realized that scaling sales and acquiring more customers was much more challenging than she had anticipated.

Despite those challenges, Melissa and her co-founder have grown eWebinar to $750K in ARR with around 700 customers, all while bootstrapping the company.

In this episode, you'll learn about the following:

  • The importance of deeply understanding the problem you're trying to solve in order to build the right product.
  • The challenges and lessons Melissa learned while trying to find product market fit.
  • The benefits of building your own community and how content strategy and copywriting can help your SaaS business grow.
  • Melissa's journey as a SaaS founder, with her fair share of ups and downs.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

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[00:00:00] Omer: Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host, Omer Khan, and this is a 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 Melissa Kwan, the co-founder and CEO of eWebinar, a SaaS platform that lets you deliver automated webinars for sales demos, onboarding, and training.

Before starting eWebinar Melissa co-founded Spacio an open-house check-in Solution for realtors, which she sold in 2019 for mid-seven figures. Two months later, she was ready to stop working on eWebinar. As a solo and non-technical founder, Melissa had a tough time getting the product off the ground. She hired a development shop, which didn't work out and ended up costing her a lot of time, money, and even a friendship.

Eventually, she was able to find and bring on a technical co-founder, and the two of them spent the next two and a half years building the product. When they did finally launch, Melissa was able to get some initial customers through her personal network, but she quickly realized that scaling sales and acquiring more customers it was gonna be much more challenging than she had anticipated. Despite those challenges, Melissa and her co-founder have grown eWebinar to $750,000 in ARR with around 700 customers so far, all while bootstrapping the company.

In this episode, you'll learn about the importance of deeply understanding the problem you're trying to solve in order to build the right product. The challenges and lessons Melissa learned while trying to find product market fit. We talk about the benefits of building your own community and how content strategy and copywriting can help your SaaS business grow. And we talk about Melissa's journey as a SaaS founder with her fair share of ups and downs, which might inspire you if you're in the earliest stages of building your SaaS business. So I hope you enjoy it.

Melissa, welcome to the show.

[00:02:10] Melissa: Thanks so much for having me, Omer.

[00:02:14] Omer: I'm glad you pronounced that correctly. .

[00:02:16] Melissa: I was trying.

[00:02:19] Omer: Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?

[00:02:23] Melissa: Ignore everyone else's idea of success, but your own.

[00:02:26] Omer: I love it. Love it. I haven't heard that one before.

[00:02:28] Melissa: I made it up.

[00:02:31] Omer: Come on. This is gonna be one of those interviews. I have a feeling. You're gonna be trouble . All right, so tell us about eWebinar. What does the product do? Who's it for, and what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

[00:02:46] Melissa: Yeah. So we save people from doing the same webinar over and over again for things like sales demo, sales pitches, onboarding, training you name it, someone's doing that on Zoom right now.

We automate that by turning any video into a recurring webinar that you can offer on a schedule and also offer on-demand as well. So biggest users of our product are lead gen, demand gen, so sales and marketing but also customer success, post-sales, delivering training over and over again, particularly for SaaS companies. I think anybody that's a SaaS company can can relate to that.

[00:03:18] Omer: So I wanna, I wanna dig into the whole idea of webinars, and automated webinars is an interesting concept. Before we get into that, tell us what you were doing before you started eWebinar.

[00:03:32] Melissa: So before eWebinar, I had a startup in real estate tech that I ran for five years. It was called Spacio, and it was an open house check-in solution on iPad. But we sold specifically to enterprises. So we sold specifically to brokerages and franchises. They would give it to the real estate agents as a perk to join the company. So what the consumer sees is they walk into an open house, check in, name, email, phone number, answer a few questions.

But what we do is we take all that foot traffic data and we deliver it back to brokerages so they can actually see, like last weekend, where were people actually shopping, which is much more accurate than closing data, which is like three, four months out.

[00:04:12] Omer: And so what's your background? Are you. You, do you have a sales background, a tech background?

[00:04:18] Melissa: Yeah, I have a sales background. I have sold many things under the sun from life insurance, health insurance, hotel furniture, office furniture. Last job that I left was at was at SAP selling software, but that's kind of where the link is. Sold real estate as well. So when I left my, my job at SAP 13 years ago, I just combined, you know, my experience in real estate.

And what I knew about selling software and created real estate software.

[00:04:48] Omer: So you ran Spacio for I think a few years, and then eventually you sold it to, what was the name of the company?

[00:04:54] Melissa: A company called HomeSpotter. So it was a, another company in, in the industry and it was actually a friend of mine, so I kind of lucked out on that.

[00:05:02] Omer: Can you say how much you sold it for?

[00:05:04] Melissa: I can't but it's like in the mid seven figures.

[00:05:08] Omer: Okay, great. So you, you sold that business and then. I think it was 2019 that you started eWebinar?

[00:05:17] Melissa: Yeah, I actually started it two months after I sold Spacio. So I sold Spacio January of 2019. Two months later started eWebinar and I had to have my CEO sign off on me working on a side project that has nothing to do with the company.

But luckily because he was my friend, he knew that if he didn't sign off on that, it would, it would be a very tough time for, for the both of us. But yeah, I think, I think it's funny that people are like, oh, you just have the startup bug and, and you needed to start something right away. I'm like, no, it's because I didn't sell for retirement-level money and I don't wanna be working forever, so I needed to start something right away.

Because whatever you do is gonna be five years minimum.

[00:05:56] Omer: So how did you come up with the idea for, for eWebinar and. How did you figure out this was the thing that you wanted to commit to? Because there's one thing coming up with ideas, and if you're an entrepreneur, you're coming up with ideas all the time.

But then to go from selling your company to say, within two months, I'm not gonna commit a hundred percent to this new idea. How did, how did you get to that point of that level of confidence?

[00:06:21] Melissa: I mean, it is so hard, right? Because you can't help yourself but come up with new ideas, right? I think every founder has like a hundred domains that they might do one day.

The thing is, like doing the same webinar over and over again was a problem that I lived with for, for five years when I was doing Spacio and not only was I delivering, you know, demos and training around the clock, sometimes seven or eight of them, the same thing back to back. I was digital nomading at the time, so I was doing them on like opposite time zones of my customer.

And it just never made sense to me why a person, let alone the founder of a company, had to be doing that. But it's still important work because we're bootstrapped and every dollar counts. So if you sign a new company and they don't adopt your product, that's not their fault. That's my fault. So I could never get rid of doing that.

Like I tried doing like YouTube videos and knowledge bases. When it comes to demos and training and stuff, people wanna be able to engage and interact. It's just kind of a mindset. So I just thought about this for so long and throughout those five years I always looked at other products on the market cuz I just couldn't believe that no one has solved this yet in an elegant way.

Right? There are like products that are out there, but they're, they're more towards. Kind of like marketing and they were almost like solutions that were created not to deliver amazing webinars. They were created to deceive consumers into making a sale right now. And that's just not a practice that like that sat well with me.

So after I sold Spacio, I had like 10 different ideas. And to your point, it is so hard to commit to something because at that point I've been in startups for 10 years. And there's so much pain, right? You're living with so much pain and you're like, what is the least painful idea and the quickest path to revenue that I can choose right now?

And I couldn't really choose. So what I did was I made a list of 10 non-negotiables that I must have in my next business. And I actually, through a process of elimination, picked. E webinar, but it's also, it just, it's just the prob, it's the problem that I knew the best intimately well. And the thing is, my number one priority is freedom.

Like that's why we have a completely remote team. I'm a digital nomad, and the idea that I could create a product to give people back their time, like that was really exciting to me. So this was the one idea that kind of fit the bill. But the thing that tipped me over like that got me over the edge was I asked myself, cause I've been doing research for five years on, on this stuff, and I asked myself how would I feel if someone else did this tomorrow in the, in the way that I imagined?

And I just thought that would really. That would really suck to have thought about something for this long to know this problem, this well and have someone else do it because you weren't fast enough. And when I had that thought was when I incorporated the company.

[00:09:36] Omer: So how did you get started? You've got the, you've got the clarity and the idea.

You talked about your non-negotiables. Aside from freedom, what were a couple of other things that were important to you when you set up by the way?

[00:09:47] Melissa: So in my past, I only sold enterprise software, so that was very like one-on-one. I went to conferences to meet people in, in real life. So like first quarter I would just be on a plane every, every week.

So one of my non-negotiables was no more conferences, like no more booths. Like that's that part of my life is over. And I wanted a product that could sell a hundred percent through the internet. Like if, if I wanted to talk to someone that, that's a different story, but it has to be something that could scale a hundred percent through the internet and it needed to be something that I felt passionate about because I spent 10 years in real estate software.

I wasn't passionate about real estate software, it was, it was just my experience, right? So and I think a lot of people do that. I think a lot of people start careers or build companies because it's their experience and knowledge and education, not because it's something that actually gives them energy.

So because I could do it over again, I could kind of go back to the drawing board and say, what are the things that gimme energy and what are the things that make me happy? And then, you know, chose a company, you know, because of that.

[00:10:53] Omer: So you had a co-founder with Spacio, and then the two of you had a successful exit, so, Did you, did you kind of both decide to go and start this new business eWebinar together?

[00:11:07] Melissa: No, I mean, that's kind of a different story. So Ting and I, Ting was my previous co-founder. We had two companies together. The first company was like a product company turned agency. Because we were also bootstrapped, we said yes to everyone and before you knew it, we were an agency. I think people can probably identify with that.

And then that company kind of turned into Spacio. So at that point we'd worked together for almost a decade. And I'm not that old. And, and that's a lot of time, right. So I think our journey together at that time was coming to an end. Like I, I felt like I was ready for, you know, a new adventure that didn't include him.

There were like, he was great as my business partner. He was a great engineer, but he was not a great CTO and that was where all a lot of friction came from. And it's also because he's never worked for a company outside of us. He started, we started working together straight outta university. So there wasn't a lot of experience, so it wasn't a lot of leadership and mentorship that he gave to, to the team.

So that was always a challenge. So I actually came into eWebinar thinking I didn't need a co-founder. So, I started this business on my own in the beginning.

[00:12:17] Omer: How did that work out for you?

[00:12:19] Melissa: Extremely terribly. So I hired a dev, a dev shop to build the first version of eWebinar, and the idea was always to bridge the product to an outsource dev shop in Vietnam.

Why Vietnam? Because we love traveling there and it's cool, it's a cool country, and we wanted to, we wanted to vacation there a bit more. And so that company, I think hugely underestimated what it took to build a full product. I think previous to us, they had built like parts of products, like as an agency and, and, and full websites, but never like ground-up soup to nuts.

Right? So it became really clear about a year into that relationship that we were both losing, right? Because they were, you know, they were paid based on like how much they deliver, but at some point they couldn't really de deliver the whole thing. They were putting more resources on it. I was spending time and money like nobody was having a good time.

And so I think that was a very expensive lesson also because a friend owned that dev shop and that friendship will never be a be the same again, which makes it an even more expensive lesson.

[00:13:38] Omer: Give me one example of the kind of problems you, you experienced working with this dev shop?

[00:13:46] Melissa: So I'm not technical like I'm zero technicality. I know a little bit, but only from like osmosis, right? Cuz I've always focused on the business side and I trusted my co-founder to do everything. When you don't have any idea of how products are built and code works and what plugs into what and how. You know, what video plugin you should use and what chat, you know, software you should use.

You can't challenge the people making all those decisions for you. You're putting your entire trust on someone else, a company that has told you that they've been successful doing this before. So as a business founder, what are you supposed to do? Right? When like, you know, when software works and you know when it doesn't work, when something doesn't work and this dev shop says, oh, Omer, I'm gonna fix it.

How do you challenge them on that? But then they keep giving you stuff that doesn't work and you don't know why it doesn't work, right? So I think that was the biggest challenge, was like I was constantly told that it was gonna be taken care of, and there was a lot of trust there because it was a friend.

But I think inside I always knew that it was probably like way outta scope for, you know, what that team was able to, to do at the time.

[00:15:11] Omer: I, I'm curious from when you started working with them, from the point where you had the first red flag that this maybe wasn't the right vendor to use to build the product to pulling the plug and deciding to do something else. How long did that take? How long did you persist with this situation until you were like no more?

[00:15:41] Melissa: I think it was probably a good four months. So my partner's name is, is David. Like my, my life partner's name is David, and he was a fractional CTO for other company.

So he was always supposed to act kind of as an advisory role to see what this company was doing, and then be the person to help bridge the product over to the Vietnam team. And the red flag started coming up when he started to say, oh, this isn't done right. This should have been done this way. I told him to do this, but then he did it this other way.

But he wasn't my fractional CTO. Right? He was just my partner who was kind of moonlighting. And the thing is, who do you trust, right? Like I didn't, I was with David in my personal life, but I don't know anything about him in his professional life. And then meanwhile, you've got a friend that's helping you build this, and they have opposing views.

So who do you trust? And in the end, the straw that broke the camel's back was, I remember once David and I were fighting and he's like, this is wrong. This is wrong. They're wasting your time. I'm like, you know what? You know what they're doing? I don't know what they're doing. Why don't you go and fix it?

And so he then started coding, like just kind of on the side and then stuff started to work and then I'm like, wait a second, like you can code this well? Like I thought you were just a guy that just has fun. And so I was like, why am I paying this other company? All this money and they can't, they can't make this work.

Why don't we end that relationship? We'll figure out an arrangement that works between the two of us and you be my co-founder and we do this together. So that was actually the chain of events. And of course, now David is my co-founder and also my life partner to, to eWebinar.

[00:17:37] Omer: You know, I was looking up David, and he's a former Microsoft guy, and I think we have, like, there must, there's like a dozen people.

Both of us have shared connections when we were at Microsoft at. I think we overlapped it there as well. And it's kind of like it's, I, I may have even met him and I can't remember.

[00:17:55] Melissa: He lived in Seattle for 15 years because of Microsoft. I mean, doesn't everybody in Seattle work for Microsoft at some point?

[00:18:03] Omer: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's like my, my, I, I live in the street and like 80% of my neighbors are Microsoft. And it's kind of a little weird. Anyway. All right, good. So, so David comes on board, you have a CTO back on the team. What did you, what did you do next? How did long did it take to actually fix everything and get to a point where you were able to ship the product?

[00:18:28] Melissa: Probably another year and a half. So there was a bit of overlap between David and the workshop and the dev shop, just trying to bridge things together. But we built the product for like, I think two years before anybody saw the first version of it, and I just went all in. Right. You know, people are like, oh, you should talk to your customer, show 'em things all the way.

I didn't do any of that. Because I knew this problem so well that I didn't wanna be distracted. And I think one of the, I don't need to validate the problem. The problem already exists, right? There are other companies with similar products that have good businesses. One of the best ways to validate your idea is the fact that someone else is doing the same thing and you just know that you can do better. So it took, yeah, a, a good two years before we, we put it out there. And because we are bootstrapped, it was particularly important to me that we start charging from day one. And that for me is, is not as hard as for other people because I, I have a background in sales, right?

So I know how to create value and get people to put in their credit card, but it still has to be a good product. And because I've sold business software for so. I knew exactly what it would take for someone to give you their credit card. So we probably spend an extra six months just going the extra mile, like making sure the last 2% was perfect before I put it out there.

And the team was actually quite frustrated cuz they're like, why don't you just put it out there? I'm like, I can't, like it is so hard to get your first audience to come on board. If you show them something that's less impressive than they, what they expect, it's gonna be extremely hard to get them back.

So I didn't wanna put anything out there until I knew that somebody would pay for it.

[00:20:17] Omer: Okay, so let, let's unpack that a little bit because on, on the face of it, this is a conversation I've had countless times with founders and sometimes, not always, it turns out there was just this, it was about perfection. It was this reluctance to just get this thing out there and they look back at it and they say, yeah, you know what?

I could have probably done it in a third of the time. If I could go back. I think with your situation, there are a couple of things that I think are worth understanding. When you said you really understood this problem well, how many webinars had you personally done before you started working on eWebinar?

[00:21:05] Melissa: Wow. I can't, I can't even count the number but Spacio, I ran that company for five years. Three of those years we had a product and webinars was the only way in which I was able to deliver a demo. Cuz you're not sitting beside someone. Right. When I say a webinar, I'm also counting like one-on-one meetings.

And I would do them every day, like I did them every day for three years. Whether it was a demo or whether it was a kickoff or some onboarding or new feature training. Like I was always using the webinar platform that sucked the least, and it was like, go to webinar and join me. Then Zoom. Right?

[00:21:49] Omer: Over a thousand?

[00:21:51] Melissa: Probably over a thousand.

[00:21:52] Omer: So I think that that's important. That's an important piece of information because people can go and look at a problem in a market. And think they understand it, but maybe they've only spent a few weeks or months researching and there are so many nuances that, you know, if I went into the webinar space, I'd kind of say, well, I kind of know what, how webinars work and, and how to build a software and all of this stuff.

But there's so much nuance when you actually go through and do a thousand-plus webinars as a user. That you have such a deeper understanding of the problem and you've already gone out and researched and looked at other products, and you were turned off by a lot of them because they didn't have that great first impression.

Right? From what I understand. So it kind of makes sense that you've gone through this, you have this really deep understanding, this deep pain, and you want to get this right. But then on the other hand, you told me earlier that, hey, you. I would hate the idea if someone beat me to this and got there first.

And so with that lens, it feels like where was the sense of urgency? To get this thing out sooner, because a lot can happen in two years.

[00:23:12] Melissa: Yeah. And I'm glad that not much did happen in two years. Right? Like the first thing that you do, you incorporate a company and then what do you, you go to like the, what is that?

Google alerts, like if there's like a keyword thing where you can get like weekly newsletters or like a summary. And then the second thing you do is you basically just keep an eye on what's coming out on, on the. And every time I get this email, I'd be like, nervous, . I mean like what else is out there? And I'm constantly just looking for like webinar, webinar automation, vid, interactive video.

Like I'm constantly searching. I mean, the thing is the market is so big that there's, there's enough for everybody. Right. You don't have to be the best in order to get customers. You could be okay and still have like find your tribe, right? So part of me was worried that someone would do a better job than me, but part of me was like the pie is so big that like I don't have to really worry about, I don't really let those things get to me.

But you obviously wanna see like what the market is doing, what your competitors are doing. But I mean, when you're bootstrapped and when, when I say bootstrapped, like David and I both put in capital. And of course we, we don't pay ourselves. I ha I still haven't paid myself. It's been four years and we had some friends and family investment in the beginning to just, to get the, get the company off the ground.

But there is like an end cash date where you're not gonna have any more money. That's the urgency. Right. And I'm OCD about like financial projections. One of the most valuable things that, like somebody taught me in my previous startup was how to do financial projections. So I always have projections two to three years out, and I knew exactly how much revenue we need to make at which month to break even, how much things have to cost, like who can we actually hire, how much can we invest?

So all those numbers were always in front of me. So it wasn't so much like an urgency as it. Just a practical decision that you can't sit on something forever.

[00:25:17] Omer: Okay, so, so finally you get the product finished, you ship. How did you get your first 10 customers? Was the two years of building the product and getting it right worth it?

Did it make sales easier to get those first 10 customers?

[00:25:32] Melissa: I mean, absolutely. Right? So the great thing about not being a brand new founder or you know, brand new in business is you have a contact list. So about two weeks before, like we just set a date at that point, like to your point, like why do we have to get it out, right?

We basically just chose a date and we said, this is the date that we're, we're gonna onboard the first person and we're not changing. And so what I did was I just, I went through my phone and my old emails, and I made a huge long Google sheet list of every single person and company in my Rolodex that I can think of that could potentially use this product.

And it was, you know, vendors I had done conferences with. It was real estate companies, insurance companies, coaches, like literally anybody. And I just had like company name person email and I just went down the list one by one to say, Hey, I'm doing something new. We're releasing it in a couple weeks. Would love to get your feedback on it if it's something that's valuable for you. We'll love to get you on a trial. It's gonna be 60 days cuz you're one of the first customers.

I wanted them to know that we are a new company so they could be more forgiving. I wanted them to know that it's a 60-day trial, which means they come in knowing they have to pay.

Like there is no alpha, there's no beta. I've done those things before. It is so hard to get someone's mind out of beta into a paying customer. And that was actually probably how we got our first 50 customers is from that. . And what I did was like, if somebody was like, yeah, this seems interesting, I, I think we can use this.

I would schedule a second onboarding call specifically to watch them sign up, like from our signup page, and then watch them create the first webinar. Like upload the video, create a schedule, put the interactions, because the biggest challenge is we think we know everything, but then at the same time, you design this thing in a silo.

Right it, it doesn't work right. You can't click through. So there was so many things that were obvious to us that we weren't sure if it was gonna be obvious to anybody else. So by watching people go through the entire process was how we were able to make certain things better, make certain things stand out, change the colors, and then fully automate that signup and onboarding process probably into like our hundredth customer was completely automated and it was actually pretty crazy.

Some things are, are just flipping colors, right? Instead of a white button, have a green button. And you realize when you, when it's not that people don't even see the, the menu on the top. They just go directly to publish. They miss everything. So that was a pretty interesting experience, but just hard work and, and lots of grinding and lots of emails and lots of calls.

[00:28:27] Omer: Okay. So the, the product, the the, the time and effort you put into this was worth it. You can get it out there. Were you, were you, how many people did you email and was it manually one by one you were sending out these emails?

[00:28:42] Melissa: Yeah, because the first batch of people are, are gonna be people you know. Right.

Ideally. Cuz then, you know, they're a little bit more forgiving. They'll take your call, they'll give you more time. They've worked with you before. You have credibility. They know you're gonna deliver. Right. And that was really important for, for any company to adopt your solution, they have to know that you have their back.

Because they're responsible to someone else. So luckily because I had my previous company I did already have a list of customers that I could kind of call back and say, Hey, this is what I'm doing next. So I was, I was lucky in, in that sense. So I probably reached out to manually 250 people, no less.

And then when I talked to someone, I would ask them who else they knew. That's like the hard question to ask, right? Who else do you know that you can refer me to? I'm new. I would really appreciate you spreading the love. So I don't have a lot of shame cuz I've been in in sales for so many years and then I just kind of kept adding to that list and adding to that list.

But honestly, at some point, like. Relying on the goodness of other people kind of runs out . And then you need to have another strategy to, to grow your company.

[00:29:54] Omer: Yeah. Okay. So I mean, things are looking good. The product is shipped. You've got your, you've used your network, you've got your first 50, or I think it's up to a hundred first customers.

You have a sales background. It looks like you've got some product market fit there. You're ready to scale. So how, how easy was it then to. Scaling your sales and, and getting more customers?

[00:30:18] Melissa: Extremely difficult. , I mean, everything is extremely difficult. I wish the answer was different. There's always a new challenge.

I think the biggest lesson like biggest reality check for me was having spent 10 years plus in enterprise sales. Like where you sell one-on-one, I thought coming to you webinar. Oh, I got. Like, I know how to sell product. I can just go, everybody's gonna want this. Who doesn't want this? It's amazing, right?

And then you realize, oh, actually, people don't really get the concept of webinar automation because they're so stuck on Zoom. So now I have to explain to them what this is. So I think the, the hardest thing was I didn't know that a product like growth. Like people discovering you on their own, signing up with a credit card, converting or not converting, churning, or not churning.

I didn't realize that was gonna be like 10 times harder, a hundred times harder than what I was originally doing. Also, when every sales like a hundred bucks, like how many hundred bucks do you need to start paying for your team? With Spacio, when we sold it, we only had a hundred customer because every contract was 10,000 to 100,000.

So while it took a long time to find product market fit, it only took a year to break even and be profitable and then, then another year to sell it. So I think that was the biggest learning. And all of a sudden you realize, I've actually never done this before. How do people grow a product like growth company?

And no one has a silver bullet, right? Everyone wants to help cuz they wanna consult and they wanna do stuff for you. , there is no silver bullet. Right? And that's kind of when I needed to start going back to the drawing board and say, okay, if I was gonna be a student again, right? If I were gonna be a student of my startup, How do I do this thing?

And that was when we started to look into content strategy. I never had to build a content strategy before, never had to write a blog, understand keyword, search backlinking, never had to write content on LinkedIn. I now do that once a day. This year in 2022, I probably have recorded over 60 podcasts.

Like that being a marketing channel, like all this stuff is, is new and, and just trying to emulate what other people are doing that's working for them and doing as much of it as.

[00:32:40] Omer: Focusing on SEO and long-form content was one area that you, you spent a fair amount of time on. How did that work out?

[00:32:49] Melissa: It's starting to show some successes and conversions only after like nine months.

The really weird thing I never understood is why it's so hard to find a marketing agency that actually does what they say they're gonna do. Like, why is that so hard? Right? There's like so many marketers in the world and so few that can actually do the job, but maybe it's a function of like going to from zero to one.

It's just that much harder from like than going from one to two, right? So in the beginning we hired a couple agencies. They're like, oh yeah, we'll fix your content. We'll fix your SEO. You have to appear in Google. But then all these people are just writing content for the sake of generating more. Like I wasn't even gonna, like, I didn't even love my own content.

I couldn't even finish reading my own blogs, right? How could I expect other people to be converted from my blogs? Like, yeah, they were showing up, but they weren't meaningful. And it actually wasn't until I found this, this blog called Grow and Convert. That was actually run by two guys that run an SEO content agency that I started to learn what writing for conversion actually means.

And for the first time, like these guys strategy really appealed to me because the way that they structure an article is actually meant for the advanced business user. Not for like some, you know, basic reader on the internet that's just looking for like, what is automated like automated webinars. So that was actually when we just took everything in-house.

Like my COO, luckily he's a content guy. Like he's, he's like a product manager by trade, but he was a playwright in college. Like he went to school to write plays. So he's also a content guy and we kinda lucked out on that. So he basically just learned how to write long-form content that converts and how to do keyword research and how to do backlinking.

And now he runs that entire strategy. And this year we would've pumped out like over 200 pieces of content.

[00:34:55] Omer: Wow. So 200 pieces of content. Do you feel that you've now created valuable, useful content. Is this stuff that you actually want to read?

[00:35:07] Melissa: This is now stuff I wanna read , because we're writing it ourselves.

We've tried to hire great writers, but I, I just don't know why it's so hard. Like I, I don't know if it's just a function of like, contractors not fully understanding your business because they're not submerged like submersion. People can write content, but write really great meaningful content that reflects your business and try and speaks to your customer in, in their voice.

Their vocabulary is, is actually really, really tough. We've been trying to write outlines for people. So they could turn out content. And we're constantly, at any given time, trying three, three different writers. And we haven't been able to find a great team of writers that we can constantly go to. But it's, it's like a machine that we constantly have to figure out, like, you know, how do we make this better?

I wouldn't say we have it nailed. I would say that like it's important enough that we wanna devote all this time to it.

[00:36:05] Omer: Yeah. I, I think hiring writers is a, is a really difficult thing. It's something I've done over the years a lot as well. And I think my observation is that it's, there are like so many different kind of parameters you need to get right.

You need to have somebody who actually can write great content, but then second, How well do they understand the domain, right? Because if they're writing stuff and they're working with clients in, in health and fitness and in B2B, you know, security software for enterprise or whatever, like, they're not gonna have that depth of understanding of the domain.

So a lot of the times they're going out there and finding the articles that other people have written and kind of putting together their own variation of that. And then they're not really talking to your customers. They don't really understand the business. And so there isn't that kind of, almost kind of like a more sophisticated level of conversation going on, right?

And and to get all that stuff. And you're like, you know, if I could just write the stuff myself, I'm already talking to the customers. I understand the business. This is the only thing that I do. Like you have that, but you can spend all your time writing content, right?

[00:37:23] Melissa: No, it's, it's actually another challenge, , because, because our co taught, he has other stuff to do, but he's now drowning himself in, in content because like sometimes it's almost like, it's just faster.

If he does it like it, it just takes too much back and forth in editing and that he would just be like, okay, just, just let me do this. But it's something that we hope to one day figure out when we grow up.

[00:37:50] Omer: Tell me about partnerships and affiliates, this was an area that you decided to invest in. It sounded like it was gonna help you grow and you, you told me earlier, before we started recording, that this turned out to be one of the most expensive mistakes that you made.

What happened?

[00:38:09] Melissa: Yeah, so if you look at a lot of different software out there, and particularly like marketing software and webinar software, a lot of these you know, have partnership and affiliate models, right? Like, if this influencer refers people, you, they get paid 20% recurring, right? That's pretty normal.

And sounds great, right? Like, why wouldn't you want that? Like why wouldn't influencers wanna sell for you? Because you have a great product? Like, who doesn't want to sell a great product? So we got to the point where we felt comfortable to scale sales. So I, I feel like we have product market fit, but we don't have go-to-market fit, and, and we're still figuring that out.

So I brought someone on board who was very, very experienced with affiliate and partnerships like that's his entire career. And His job was to help us with revenue. Cuz now we are chasing the, the zero cash date yet again. , right? Like we're, we're looking at the, you know, at the, at the productions and we're like, okay, we need revenue.

And I, and I eventually wanna get paid. Like not getting paid for four years is, is tough. So I brought this guy on specifically to help with partnerships and affiliates and what I learned was it was really easy to get people excited about the product. It's a, it's a cool product, right? It's designed like it's designed nicely.

It's, you know, it, it does what it says it does. It's pretty cool. But the thing is, when you are a new company and you don't have a massive mailing list, having a great product is not enough for an affiliate, like a meaningful affiliate. I don't mean like you referring this to a friend. I mean like some coach referring this to a hundred people, you know, some sales leader referring it to a thousand people, right?

You not having an equally as big mailing list as them is not compelling enough for them to share that product cuz they could just work with someone else that has a big mailing list. And that was a really, really tough learning. You think I learned from, from the previous mistake, but I also hired a friend,

I'm not gonna do that anymore. It was expensive because I realized this was happening, but my emotions was, was blinding me from kind of like stopping that, stopping that relationship from, from continuing. Like I just thought, okay, maybe there's something always around the corner. But the reality is like when you're trying to build a partnership with someone, it takes months or, or like a year to actually have that trust and then do something together.

Right. So it didn't work for us, not because partnerships and affiliate models don't work for business software or software. We were just too early for that role. And that sucked. Right? Because it's, it's easy for the same person to work for a HubSpot or a Salesforce and have massive success, right? But when you're a startup and you have a few hundred customers, yeah.

Something someone thinks your product's nice. You can promote them to 200 people, right? 300 people. That's not very, that's not very interesting for them. So that really made me think differently about what, affiliate models can, can actually do. And then at the same time, like there's, there's different parts of, there's different parts of affiliates, right?

One is, you know, you engage someone and they do a lot of activities, but the other is just like, oh, I insert this in my blog and if somebody signs up, you have to pay me perpetually for, you know, 20% for the rest of your. I'm sorry, but that doesn't make sense to me because I'm supporting this. You just inserted something somewhere and meanwhile, I'm sending you 20 bucks for the next five years, right?

Like, so I guess I didn't really have that figured out before I jumped into, into testing that. But it's something that I hope other founders hearing this would, would think twice about, especially if, if you're a startup.

[00:42:06] Omer: Where are you in terms of revenue and number of customers today?

[00:42:11] Melissa: Yeah, so we just crossed 750,000 ARR and I think we have like just over 700 customers right now.

And our customers range anywhere from like a solo entrepreneur to, you know, a publicly traded company. But our sweet spot is really like small, and medium enterprises.

[00:42:30] Omer: And where do the majority of your leads come from?

[00:42:33] Melissa: I wish I could tell you, I don't know. I'm pretty resolved that nine outta 10 things that we do are not gonna work or will work a little bit.

I'm just not a believer that there's a silver bullet, right? I'm not a believer that, oh, we find this one channel, let's like pour gas on the fire. Like I've personally never experienced that. So it's not so, I mean, we rely on people to self-report. The first question in my demo is, how did you find out about eWebinar?

The kinds of things people put are just mind-blowing. Friend, boss heard it from a podcast and then they'll just type some random letters in there. So we don't have great attribution but we know that things are working, so we're gonna continue to do them. , maybe that's not the answer you're looking for, but it's the right one or it's the, it's the honest one.

[00:43:22] Omer: It, it, it is, it's the answer I was looking for because I kind of knew the situation. And I think that's much more of an authentic answer than throwing some random number out there, which everybody would love to have the attribution, but in reality, it, it isn't that simple you know, it isn't that straightforward.

It's a super hard thing. And, sure we could, you could probably spend half your time solving the attribution problem, but is that the best use of your time right now as a startup? I don't think so.

[00:43:55] Melissa: I'm just not sure that a lot of things can be attributed to, like, somebody hears me on this podcast, they come to my website.

There's no link between this podcast and, and, and that person. But does that mean that this channel doesn't work? Right. So like, we don't, we don't only do things because we, they have to be proven that they work, right? We just do things cuz we think, we think they're gonna yield someday.

[00:44:21] Omer: Right. They could have, they could hear you on this podcast and they could see something you posted on LinkedIn, which was the one that influenced the, the buying decision.

I dunno. So let's talk about LinkedIn because that's one thing that I've seen we have kind of been internet friends for a while. And so, you know, I've seen you writing on LinkedIn and you do a pretty good job posting daily, being active and what, what drove you to start doing that? And do you feel like even though you might not know the, you know, kind of attribution wise, do you feel like it's something that's helping to grow the business?

[00:45:11] Melissa: The trigger for even going to LinkedIn. First of all, I had never logged in before this year. Like I thought it was just like a resume site. And then I logged in and I was like, wait, like this is just a whole new beast right now. Like, everyone's talking about something else. There's lots of comments like my, my whole feed is, is different.

So then I started logging more and more beginning of this year, and part of our partnership strategy was to engage in communities, right? Like Slack communities, forums, you know, things like that. I couldn't believe how difficult it was to get a community to not even just promote you, like just to pay any attention to you.

It's like everyone that's built a community is like, oh, I've spent all this ever building a community that is mine. This is vendor-free. You can't come in anytime you talk about yourself. I'm removing the post and I'm just like, someone else can talk about me. I can talk about them, but I can't talk about myself.

Like, so then I just found a lot of this kind of meaningless, but at the same time, I'm like, well I need my own community then. Like, cuz I can't break into someone else's community, , I have to have my own. And then I heard about this guy Justin Welsh, one of my mentors was like, oh, you should like read this guy's content and it's really good.

And I had never seen, like, I'd never really read like marketers copywriting in until that point. And then I started following him, following him on Twitter and LinkedIn. And then I realized he has a course. And I realized that course was all about building your own audience. At the same time, I was so sick of like not being able to break into other people's communities,

So that was the beginning and, and my experiment of, of figuring out, you know, can I build my own tribe and my own audience with my, with the experiences that, that I've had. And I would say the most surprising outcome of posting every day. I don't think I'm like the most experienced, smartest person in the room, but I'm definitely the most consistent.

So I will do, like, I will make sure that I post once a day and, and I'm like a writing post 30 days in advance and editing them.

[00:47:17] Omer: Wow.

[00:47:18] Melissa: Yeah. So one of the most surprising outcomes is it has forced me to think about my business and my experience in a way I've never had to do. And I think like, I don't know what the word for it is.

It's like you take your own knowledge for granted, right? You're like, oh, I don't know a lot. Like I've just been fake trying to figure this out on the go. But you realize after 10 years of being in this game like you actually know quite a bit of stuff that other people can find really valuable. So I think that's one of the biggest benefits is, it's really forced me into thinking about my business in a more like systematic, structured way and also figuring out how can I get in front of, you know, more people that are like me, bootstrapped that we can solve problems for.

[00:48:06] Omer: You know, I I, I watched a video from Mark Manson yesterday actually, and he was talking about people who don't know much think they know everything because they have so, so limited knowledge about space and they, they think they know everything. And the people who, who kind of are more experts in the, in, in that area know so much that they get to the point where there's a lot of stuff that they actually forget that they know because it starts to seem so obvious that they think everybody else knows it.

So why would I want to talk about that and tell stuff to people where they're just gonna go, duh, of course. Right. And it was really interesting. It's a, it's a great video. I, I might put a link in the show notes to it, but it's exactly that, that problem. And I, I, I, I gotta tell you this story, it's a little embarrassing, but we had a power cut some years ago and power was out for about like four days around here in the middle of winter.

So it's getting super cold in the house. We had this fireplace, which you know, has the electric switch on it. And obviously, because there's no power, it's a gas-powered thing, but you can't switch it on. And I kind of noodled around and looked underneath and there was this, you could, you could basically put a battery at the bottom and it would kind of trigger the, the switch and light the fire.

And so I was like, found a battery, put it in there, got the fire running and everything. And my wife was like, you should go around and tell the neighbors how to do that. And I was, everybody knows how to do this stuff. It's like, we are just new, right? It's like, it's gonna be embarrassing. They're just gonna like gonna tell these people something and they're gonna be anyway.

So I didn't go and tell the neighbors and then a week or later I was talking to one of the neighbors and, and I said, you know, hey, you know, it was kind of cla with through that. And it's a good thing we had that battery thing as a backup, right? And my neighbor goes, what Battery? And I was like, oh my God.

[00:49:58] Melissa: You're now the bad neighbor.

[00:50:00] Omer: Yeah. So anyway, it's, it's, it kind of always stuck with me. It's just like, that for me was like a real-world example of just don't assume something that, you know, everybody else knows. Right. Share it. And I've gotta say, going back to LinkedIn, I've been trying to write on LinkedIn for a while, and I'm not consistent.

I do it for a while and then I disappear and do something else. But I've always been impressed with you because if I see that consistency every single day, but also you're not just posting and you're also very active in engaging with other people and leaving thoughtful comments and stuff like that.

And There's a certain amount of discipline that goes in with doing that. But if anybody is familiar with, you know, Justin and what he's done, I mean, he's taken that exact same approach and he's just done it four years and he's now built this incredible following on LinkedIn. Like, it's like three, 300,000 people following him, I think.

[00:51:04] Melissa: Well, he also makes like 3 million a year from that.

I mean, that's an that's just amazing. That a solo person that wasn't even in marketing, that wasn't even a copywriter before could build a business out of building an audience. Right. And I mean, I'm, I'm definitely jealous of that. Cuz it's hard, like, I mean, yes, everything's hard, but for me, it's like either you're gonna do it.

Like actually go all the way and do it, or you don't do it at all. There's like nothing really in the middle cuz you're not gonna see the result. I think one of the more discouraging things, especially as you're starting, is you don't get a lot of engagements in a lot of those posts, but I've learned that you can't write for engagement.

Like it's super obvious when somebody writes something for engagement versus writing because you have something to share. I always write something because it's something I wanna share. And I've been writing on it for, for six, around six months, like almost six months. And I've never repeated a post, so I'm about to like, kind of like look back on the analytics and, and see.

And also like a, a small tip here. Sometimes the way that I come up with a post is I'll comment on someone else's post or their comment and I'll be like, oh, that was actually like what my comment can be a really good post. So then I'll save that into my Excel sheet and then I'll turn that into a post later.

[00:52:34] Omer: That's a great tip. Yeah. Cool. Okay, look we could keep chatting for hours here and I'm sure you wanna go to bed. What time is it there for you In Hong Kong?

[00:52:44] Melissa: It's 2:15.

[00:52:46] Omer: Yikes. So let's wrap up. Let's get into the lightning round. I've got seven quickfire questions for you. Just try to answer 'em as quick as you can.

What's a great piece of business advice you've received?

[00:52:55] Melissa: Don't bury your idea.

[00:52:57] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

[00:53:00] Melissa: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, because if you wanna learn sales, it is the only book you ever have to read.

[00:53:09] Omer: What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:53:13] Melissa: You have to be the one who keeps going when giving up seems to be the only option.

[00:53:18] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

[00:53:21] Melissa: I would say Monday. Like we basically live on Monday and there's a lot of like kind of IFTTT type automation there that, that make my life really easy.

[00:53:30] Omer: What's a new crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time?

[00:53:34] Melissa: I would love to do something like a digital time capsule to help package people's legacy.

[00:53:41] Omer: What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

[00:53:44] Melissa: I mean, I've mentioned this a couple of times on this podcast, but I've been a digital nomad for four years.

[00:53:50] Omer: And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

[00:53:53] Melissa: I really love partying. Like, like burning man style, like festival partying. So if I'm not working, like you can find me at a festival.

[00:54:03] Omer: We'll know where to look. All right. Awesome. Melissa, thank you so much for joining me. It's been a pleasure talking and unpacking the story of eWebinar and, and you know, how you've been building this business.

Congratulations. Getting to 750K ARR on a bootstrap business, that big 1 million is not that far away. Now if people wanna check out eWebinar, they can go to eWebinar.com and if folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:54:31] Melissa: Of course, LinkedIn, my last name is spelled Kwan, K-W-A-N.

[00:54:35] Omer: We'll include a link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes as well.

[00:54:39] Melissa: Thanks so much for having me.

[00:54:41] Omer: Cheers.

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The Show Notes