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Bootstrap and Sell a Profitable Micro-SaaS Company – with Tyler Tringas [207]

Tyler Tringas Micro SaaS

Bootstrap and Sell a Profitable Micro-SaaS Company

Tyler Tringas is a General Partner at Earnest Capital which provides early-stage funding for bootstrappers.

So you want to start a SaaS company. And people keep asking you how big the market opportunity is and if your idea will scale.

But maybe you don't want to build a huge business. Maybe you just want to create a sustainable and profitable business that gives you more freedom.

In 2011, Tyler quit his job to start a venture-backed software startup called SolarList. He was a first-time founder and non-technical. So he also started learning how to code.

Getting his startup to take-off was slow going, so he started doing some freelance work. Several of his clients wanted a way to add store locator functionality to their websites.

So on a 30-hour flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Tyler built a store locator SaaS app as a side-project. When he landed, he deployed the code and launched the product.

He emailed some of these clients and within 24 hours he had a handful of people paying him $5 a month. The product was terrible and had a lot of missing functionality, but it did the basic job.

A year later, SolarList still wasn't getting traction and had to be shut down. And Tyler was left with over $50,000 of credit card debt and uncertainty about his future.

He had to dig himself out of a financial hole. So he started doing more freelance work and putting more time into his StoreMapper side-project which was now doing around $1000 MRR.

By being able to spend more time on StoreMapper, Tyler was able to grow it over $5000 MRR in about 9 months. And eventually got it to over $40,000 MRR a few years later.

But he built it as a sustainable and profitable micro' SaaS company. It helped him to pay down his credit card debt, travel the world and spend more time on projects he found interesting.

And if building that type of business appeals to you, then you'll love this episode.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

Read Full Transcript

Omer Khan [0:10]
Welcome to another episode of The SaaS podcast.

Omer Khan [0:14]
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. And this episode, I talked to Tyler Tringas, General Partner at Earnest capital, which provides early stage funding for bootstrappers.

Omer Khan [0:38]
So you want to start a SaaS company, but people keep asking you how big the market opportunity is, and if your idea will scale. But maybe you don't want to build a huge business. Maybe you just want to create a sustainable and profitable business that gives you more freedom. In 2011 Tyler, quit his job to start a venture-backed software startup called Solarlist. He was a first-time founder and non-technical. So he also started learning how to code getting his startup to take off with slow going, so he started doing some freelance work to help pay the bills. Several of his clients wanted a way to add store locator functionality to their websites. So on a 30-hour flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Tyler built a store locator SaaS application as a side project. When he landed, he deployed the code and launched the product. And he emailed some of his clients and within 24 hours, he had a handful of people paying him $5 a month. The product was terrible, and had a lot of missing functionality. But it did the basic job a year later Solarlist still wasn't getting any traction and had to be shut down. And Tyler was left with us over $50,000 of credit card debt and uncertainty about his future, he had to dig himself out of a financial hole. So he started doing more freelance work and putting more time into his store mapper side project, which by now is doing around $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue. By being able to spend more time with Storemapper, Tyler was able to grow it to over $5,000 MRR in about nine months. And eventually he got it to over $40,000 monthly recurring revenue several years later, but he built it as a sustainable and profitable micro SaaS company. It helped him to pay down his credit card debt, travel the world and spend more time on projects he found interesting. And if building that type of business appeals to you, then you're going to love this episode.

Omer Khan [2:54]
Before we get started, a couple of things I want to tell you about. Firstly, I've created a great resource for you called the SaaS tool kit, which will tell you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs, you can get a free copy of the toolkit by going to thesaaspodcast.com. Secondly, if you need help building, launching and growing your SaaS business, then check out SaaS Club Plus, it's a premium membership and community designed to help you get the insights, motivation and support you need to succeed. Just head over to saasclub.co to learn more. Okay, let's get on with the interview.

Omer Khan [3:30]
Tyler, welcome to the show.

Tyler Tringas [3:32]
Thanks for having me.

Omer Khan [3:34]
So what gets you out of bed and or inspires you like you have a maybe a quote you can share with us?

Tyler Tringas [3:39]
Yeah, I think something that definitely keeps me going I have this theory that building a business is actually very similar to writing a novel, they both sort of require you to kind of get up every day and and keep kind of slogging away at this thing, without a lot of certainty that it's going to be a big success in the end. And so I lifted this theme that I see again and again and again way a version of it is the best way is to always stop when you're going good. And to know what will happen next. If you do that every day, when you're writing a novel, you will never be stuck. And that is the most valuable thing I can tell you. So try to remember it. And that kind of helps me really keep a sort of reasonable pace so that you can focus on success in the long run rather than success in any individual day.

Omer Khan [4:22]
So what does that mean to you on a daily basis? Like, does that mean, when things are going well stop?

Tyler Tringas [4:28]
Yeah, no, I mean, really, it is I think it's about taking a longer view. So so I really believe that, you know, it really encapsulates a lot of things, I believe that I guess are a little bit contrary and how a lot of people approach building businesses or doing work is one of them is like sort of uncoupling the conscious, you know, or the sort of visible doing work of sort of sitting at your desk typing in the keys as work versus resting, rejuvenating, letting your subconscious work over a problem and find a sort of better way, sometimes the best thing to do to sort of move forward is to not necessarily be sort of overtly working. And it also kind of, I think reframes a sense of progress on a broader timescale, right. So you do stuff that means that you can keep at it for months and years at a time rather than kind of focusing on you know, did I sort of hit my seven Pomodoros today kind of thing is valuable in and of itself. But I think it's better to have a wider perspective.

Omer Khan [5:29]
You know, you just opened up a can of worms, and I think we could have a conversation just about this topic for this episode. Okay, but but I think we should.

Omer Khan [5:42]
Yeah, no, definitely. Because it's a it's a topic that's really of interest to me, as well. And I think there's a lot there in terms of thinking about building a business about work, and personal life about how much you should hustle, how much you should rest. All of these things. It's a fascinating topic. But let's talk about the business stuff today.

Tyler Tringas [6:07]
Okay, fair enough. So,

Omer Khan [6:10]
Right now you're a general partner at Earnest Capital. So tell us a little bit about that business? Like, what's it about who you trying to help?

Tyler Tringas [6:18]
Yeah, Earnest Capital is an early stage fund, we invest in what I call it funding for bootstrappers. So it's the kind of early stage capital that I would really have preferred to have when I was building my last business. So we we make an early stage investment, usually at the very initial stages of building the business, but you've sort of launched a product and gotten it out there. And we also provide a sort of large ray of mentorship for the founders that we back. So we have around 30, incredibly experienced founders and operators that are both sort of invested in your long term success as a part of earnest and there to help you along the way.

Omer Khan [6:58]
Great. And we're going to talk more more about Earnest capital A little later, I want to start this conversation by talking about Storemapper, which was a SaaS product and business that you launched, built and sold. And so I want to tell the story about that. And then we'll talk more about Earners Capital. So for people who don't know your story, tell me about Storemapper? What is that product? And again, what is it designed to do, for who?

Tyler Tringas [7:31]
Yeah, Storemapper is a product that is essentially store locators as a service. So you know, there's this pretty growing market segment of eCommerce merchants, the sort of prototypical example is some business who they launch on Kickstarter, they go online first. And then at a certain point, they get access to a distributor who says, You know, I can put your product in 50 stores around the New England area, when you sign up for that, and all the sudden, you know, you need a way to tell your customers where they can buy your product in the real world. And Google doesn't know that Google knows, you know, where there's a Walmart, but they don't know what's inside the Walmart per se. So store locators are really valuable source of information for your customers. And we built a tool that sort of was a plug and play version of that for merchants. And then it layered in a bunch of really interesting sort of analytics, because that turns out to be quite an interesting and valuable search. When you tell a merchant Hey, Where can I buy your product near me, but at the end of the day, was solving that pain point of just building a store locator app?

Omer Khan [8:39]
So how did you come up with the idea for that business

Tyler Tringas [8:42]
Well it was pretty simple in the sense that I was basically doing consulting frontend and back end development work primarily for Shopify merchants. So this was about six and seven years ago, and the Shopify store Shopify itself, the platform was was growing extremely rapidly, they were adding tons of merchants and almost everybody needed some amount of kind of tweaks, little frontend tweaks to their themes, or, you know, little custom apps to sync to their inventory management system or something like that. And I was doing that as a freelancer to extend my personal runway because I was actually working on a more traditional sort of venture scale startup, which is an entirely separate story. But I was doing that and nights and weekends to keep adding a bit of income. And I was facing that sort of classic problem of, you know, I was trading my hours for money. And what I really wanted was something that had a bit of recurring revenue. So I was sort of constantly scanning and looking for a way to swap out that hourly work for something that would generate recurring revenue. And it just turned out that within a coincidental two week period, I think three of my clients all asked for a store locator to be built and they wanted it, you know, made from scratch, I thought, well, there must be some roof dropping version of this, it's incredibly common UI pattern on the internet. And there was sort of one or two things that were incredibly old and very bad. And there really just wasn't a good go to solution for this. So I kind of spect out, could I turn this into instead of, you know, kind of just a consulting project? Could I turn into a SaaS and look to doable and about maybe a couple of hours of diligence on it, technically, and then I went back to my clients, and I said, Okay, you know, I've looked at this, and you know, here's the hourly budget for that it's going to cost you so at two or $3,000 to build this and all of them were like, Sure, no problem. Great. So I sort of established like that there was a pretty strong willingness to pay for this solution, and that I could turn it into a SaaS and sat down on a single flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and bashed out a minimum viable product and landed and send it to my, my every kind of eCommerce client I ever had and said, Hey, here's this, this drop in version of a store locator, would you like to sign up for it? And five of them signed up within 36 hours?

Omer Khan [11:06]
Nice. Nice. But from what I understand that product wasn't very good.

Tyler Tringas [11:12]
No, no, it was really bad. I mean, this was I think, maybe less than 18 months after the Lean Startup had been published. And everybody was really experimenting with the sort of limits of minimum viable product. I think now, there's a much healthier discussion around what does that actually mean? And should it be minimum delightful product or something like that, but at the time, you know, this was the sort of conventional wisdom was, you know, build the absolute bare minimum product that sort of, I say, like, does what it says on the on the label, right? You know, it technically, you could embed a snippet of JavaScript, and there would be something approximating a store locator on your website it black, all kinds of the basic features that you would assume would be sort of special standard issue for a SaaS product. Now, you, you almost probably wouldn't even consider shipping, it wouldn't send email receipts, it didn't have a way to reset your password. You know, I mean, it just lacked everything accepted. Did, you know technically do what it was supposed to do?

Omer Khan [12:15]
And people use it.

Tyler Tringas [12:16]
Yeah, yeah. People paid for it.

Omer Khan [12:18]
So you went from having this idea to building the product and getting customers? What, in a matter of days? Yes, yeah. Well, I guess the idea was probably maybe that was simmering for a while, but from the point you started building it, I guess.

Tyler Tringas [12:37]
I mean, I think the if you go to the very first inkling of the idea was probably two weeks. So I mean, the clients needed this done,right. So I, you know, I had to either build a custom for them on a reasonable time scale, or build the SaaS version and deliver that instead. And so it was a really rapid turnaround.

Omer Khan [12:55]
Now, you described store mapper as a Micro-SaaS. So what do you mean by that, term?

Tyler Tringas [13:00]
Yeah, I mean, Micro-SaaS I think, is just a really exceptional business model that is based around a recurring revenue product that is sort of small enough in scope that a solo founder or a small team can profitably operate the business, continue growing it, and generally sort of decide how much they want to step on the gas in terms of taking it from a sort of passive lifestyle business to a high growth business. All of that is sort of up to you, but it can be small and and just sort of continue to be profitable and small for one person or a small team.

Omer Khan [13:37]
Got it? How much did you end up selling that business? Well, can you talk about that?

Tyler Tringas [13:42]
I can't say the exact price, like most kind of private transactions, that part is, is generally not public information for sort of good reason. And the reason why you hear that a lot, is the folks who buy these businesses rightfully say, if that price gets out, then everybody's going to bench market it but they don't have the full information about the business. So I as a person who buys software businesses is now going to constantly have to sort of defend and explain why your business is different from Storemapper. And so it's I can't say exactly how much it was, I have described it, as you know, not exactly sail off into the sunset forever and retire money, but definitely level up money. I think my friend Adii Pienaar described it that way as well. It's sort of enough money to put really any next sort of venture on the table as a reasonable thing to do, but not enough to stop working forever.

Omer Khan [14:35]
Okay, cool. How much was the business generating when you sold in terms of MRR.

Tyler Tringas [14:40]
I want to say it was around $40K, MRR. It's been a while now.

Omer Khan [14:46]
40K MRR. Okay, let's just go with that number as a ballpark. And the business was entirely bootstrapped. Right, yes. Yeah. And how long did it take you to go from that flight, where you built the MVP, to the point that you ended up selling the business?

Tyler Tringas [15:06]
It was about five years in total from the first line of code to selling the business. Okay,

Omer Khan [15:12]
Cool. So I want to kind of dig into that time, like what happened in between that flight, and that sale? Sure. I mean, there's, there's a lot to cover. But let's let's try to do the best we can to try and number one, tell that story and to hopefully learn some some key insights from you that people listening to this interview can hopefully take away. So you've got it out there, you've got five customers starting to use the product? Where did you go from there.

Tyler Tringas [15:40]
So at the time, Storemapper was a classic sort of side project situation for me. So I had two other things taking up the bulk of my time. The first one was, I was working on a company called Solarlist. And that was a sort of traditional, like venture scale type of business. We were out there fundraising and trying to sort of build the company. And then I was freelancing, because neither Storemapper nor Solarlist were actually paying my bills. So I was doing sort of 40 hours a week of Solarlist, 40 hours a week of freelancing. And I had a tiny sliver of time left over to try to keep storm after sort of stable and growing. And so you know, I think that's something that a lot of founders can empathize with, where you've built a little product, you have a particular insight, but you really just have, you know, a sliver of nights and weekends to allocate to the entire spectrum of building new features, answering support requests, onboarding, new customers, building marketing, Copy that, all of that, and it's really, really hard for me, I just kind of had to massively triage what I would actually do, because just didn't have the time to do any of the stuff that you would consider. totally reasonable, unnecessary, were you allocating your full time attention to it. So I mean, that included stuff like, I wouldn't build features until they were just absolutely necessary. You know, so so the idea of, of email receipts, you know, for the first month or two, I just emailed everybody in Gmail, and it took me literally two minutes to just email them, I sort of copy pasted receipt. And then by month three, I finally decided like, Okay, this is now no longer efficient. Now I need to build the feature to send email receipts, it just really just just in time delivery of features as they were sort of required. And then I think the other sort of big thing was just really, really focusing on retention, because I think it's okay, if you grow really slowly, as long as you have super high retention, you're still going to continue to get value out the business, you're going to continue growing that MRR over time. But if you have a leaky bucket, then all of a sudden, you know, you have the sort of treadmill was turned up higher, and you have to keep pace, just to kind of stay in one place. So if you really zero in on on retention during that side project phase, I think it's, it's a good way to make sure sure that you'll still accumulate value in the business, even if you're only allocating a tiny amount of time, what happened for me where that all sort of changed was the startup that I was working on, I finally just had to basically shut down. So at that point, Storemapper was doing around, I think, maybe $1,000 a month in revenue, and so that it'd been going for, I'm gonna say somewhere between six and nine months, but I just completely ran out of money. I was living in New York, I was burning through a ton of cash, trying to just build this other startup, we had raised a bit of money spent that money and just sort of completely failed to raise, you know, what we realized we needed to raise several million dollars to actually build the business that we wanted to build, and just basically decided we couldn't do it, I had to shut down the company, I had about $50,000 in credit card debt. And this little side business had $1,000 a month. And so I left New York shut down the business and decided to kind of go full time on a mix of growing storemapper and continuing to freelance for Shopify clients. And so that was a change in trajectory at that point.

Omer Khan [19:08]
Why did you decide to focus on Storemapper? Like $1,000 a month doesn't seem like a life changing business. So what was it that you saw there that motivated you to spend more time on it?

Tyler Tringas [19:23]
First of all, was, it was very cheap, I think it was at that point, the average revenues was about $7. So we're talking about, you know, over 100 customers who are paying for this thing, which is, which is not nothing. And I feel like when you run a business as a side project like that, for a while, you just have like a gut feeling that there's a ton of low hanging fruit that you're not plucking, you're not harvesting the fruit, you know, you can just feel their customer acquisition channels that if you put a little bit more effort into, you could shake the tree and more customers would come out, you get requests from customers that you know, okay, if you build these couple of features, they would probably pay substantially more than they currently are, you could add a premium plan and shove a bunch of features in there, and everybody would, you know, happily pay five times as much. That was the general sense that I got from that business at the time. And it was the only thing I had that was generating recurring revenue, and so a lot easier to grow a recurring revenue product than it is to sort of start something else. So I continue to sort of split my time between freelance work and growing that business to basically just try to sort of dig myself out of a financial hole, really. So yeah.

Omer Khan [20:31]
So let's talk about how you got those first hundred customers. I mean, it's clear, you didn't have a lot of time, up until then to spend on building and growing the business. So how did you get the word out? How did you go about getting those first hundred customers?

Tyler Tringas [20:52]
Yeah, I mean, well, how use one of the pretty classic cheats, which is to, you know, to sort of latch on to a fast growing platform. And in this case, it was Shopify, but I think it's a pretty well worn tactic for a lot of folks who want to, you know, bootstrap a SaaS business or build a Micro-SaaS is to find a platform that is growing really quickly. You know, this is the sort of playbook of let's say, you know, Baremetrics, who jumped on to Stripe when it was growing really rapidly. Folks like Buffer, were getting onto all the social networks as they were massively expanding, you know, you can sort of kind of just, you know, grab a hold and follow along. And as long as you know, those platforms continue to acquire more customers, there's going to be a steady flow of folks, you some percentage of whom are actually your customers. So my version of that was, well, first, just getting listed in the the App Store at the time, you know, we just sort of found a gap there. And we were the only store locator app in the App Store. So anybody who searched there found us. And then I started just basically sort of trolling the forum. So so one of the things I often Hello folks at this very early stages to really look for places where your customers congregate, and sometimes there isn't one. And that can be really tough, like if your customers are all totally siloed. And there's no way to find any, any group of them hanging out anywhere. But in this case, my customers were Shopify merchants, and they were all on the Shopify forums trying to, you know, figure out solutions to various problems. And a good chunk of them, were actively saying, Hey, where can I get help building a store locator, and I would just sort of chime in and say, we can use my tool here. And I also just sort of would, would allocate a little bit of time to just go and be helpful on some of the most active threads, and then have my little forum signature, you know, kind of say, you know, also check out my store locator app, without sort of overtly kind of spamming, for for my product just be helpful and let that sort of sell itself

Omer Khan [22:55]
And that was it. That mean, there was no kind of, you know, trying to run ads or cold emailing people or anything like that.

Tyler Tringas [23:03]
No, I mean, I never entire history of Storemapper, I really never ran any substantial outbound or paid advertising or anything like that one. One thing that I did do, which I don't know if it would work these days, but I also, you know, because what I was doing was a substitute for something that you might hire a developer to do as a custom project, I did set up a sort of alert on all the different kind of jobs platforms, like Upwork, which was like, Odesk at the time, and that sort of thing. And anytime someone would sort of post a a gig, for a developer to build them a store locator, I would sort of chime in and say, you know, apply for the job, you know, for $10 or something, and tell them like, hey, maybe you should use my SaaS product, instead of hiring someone to build this, this for you as a one off project. And now we're pretty well, actually, I mean, at the time, you know, it's not a particularly scalable channel. But yeah, when you're talking about 100 customers, or fewer, to get 25 customers that way, it moves the needle for you. Yeah.

Omer Khan [24:08]
And you talked about the importance of retention. So what will you doing to improve retention?

Tyler Tringas [24:17]
Well, at those very early stages, what I mostly did was just do the work on the customers behalf. So I do think there's an over tendency, when you're building software to sort of want to just make the users use your product, you know, you spent all this time writing code and, and building this, this SaaS app. And the whole point is that, you know, you're not spending your hours doing something non scalable. But at the very beginning, frequently, you know, one of the few features that I did build is the ability for me to sort of log in as any of my users. And I use that a ton. Basically, anytime that someone would have a problem, instead of sort of bashing out like, you know, check the FAQ, right, or, like, here's the link to the FAQ article, I would first just do it for them, and then also share the FAQ article so that if they ever came to something similar, you know, they would sort of have that for reference, but just solving the problem for them. First, I think is, it's really powerful. I mean, it you know, you can do it once or twice, and you basically get a customer for life. So that was kind of one one trick, just to just about focusing on it, to be honest,

Omer Khan [25:26]
We're you getting a lot of customer complaints or feature requests. I mean, if you're not spending that much time, and in terms of improving the product, and you're practicing that just in time, or the last wait as long as possible before you add a feature was that creating some frustrations or problems with customers?

Tyler Tringas [25:48]
It created a little bit, I think I gave myself a good amount of slack in two ways. The first one was just you know, it was just ludicrously underpriced, which, of course, is something that you know, over when you put on your business strategy hat, you want to tell people look, you should probably raise your prices, and, you know, try to figure out what is the sort of optimal willingness to pay from your customer base, but, you know, when you just have a product that is so cheap, you know, but you're also solving the problem, just very hard for people to really meaningfully complain, you know, I know, that's not a universal truth. I know, a lot of folks have the sort of opposite experience where they price their product very cheaply, and they get tons and tons of complaints, and then they 10X the price, get a totally different sort of caliber of customer. And all of a sudden, you know, people are paying 10 times as much, but they're also a lot nicer and, and send in fewer complaints. I think, maybe my theory there is that our product, even though was very cheap, it sort of necessarily implied a certain amount of scale in the business, in the sense that, you know, if you are being distributed in 100 stores, or sufficiently numerous stores to need a store locator probably have a pretty decent sized business already, you know, you're not sort of one person prerevenue, who cares that much about $10, one way or the other. So that yeah, I mean, I think we were still attracting that same customer base if our product had cost $100 a month or something, but we just got good customers. And they were just, you know, far happier with that then paying a front end developer thousands of dollars to build something for them. And the other thing was being a very front and center that I was a sort of, you know, so low indie developer, actually, in the footer of the web app, there was just like my face from a shot of me in Bali, with monkeys in the background, it was just sort of like, Hey, you know, I'm Tyler, I'm one person, I run this entire product myself, and thank you so much for paying for it. And I'm doing the best I can. That that part was implied. But you know, and that actually works, you know, people really were willing to cut me a huge amount of slack, because they like backing sort of in the small teams and developers doing cool stuff with their lives, I guess. Yeah.

Omer Khan [27:58]
Did you have a free plan? Or was it just, they had to pay to start using the product?

Tyler Tringas [28:05]
Now? I never had a free plan.

Omer Khan [28:06]
Okay. And was there a particular reason for that? I mean, I know you said it was kind of priced very low anyway. But like, you know, sometimes that could be a good way to get the word out there. And especially if you're kind of kind of going organically and going these forums and places and telling people about it, sometimes it's easier to get people on to some sort of freemium type product, and then move up from there. But that wasn't something you considered,

Tyler Tringas [28:36]
I never considered it. I mean, I think it's a valid strategy for certain products, I knew that my product was delivering immediate value that was a substitute for lots of other expenses, in which case, I don't think it makes sense to have a free plan, you know, if you know you're saving your customer, thousands of dollars, you should just charge for it. I think freemium works more for products that it's not, you know, obviously clear exactly how much value is going to be generated or whether or not it's going to be worth it for them. So you have something like, what's a freemium notion is a freemium tool that I'm using right now, you know, and it's sort of a note taking collaboration tool. And it's not just so obvious that this is going to save me a ton of money or be something that I absolutely need, which case freemium makes a ton of sense, you know, you kind of give it to everybody, they try it out. And the people who end up being diehard are the ones who actually pay you, I don't think my product fit that profile. And any other reason, I just didn't even consider it because I wasn't a very good software developer, in the sense that I was sort of, I didn't really love the term self taught. But I was, you know, recently taught myself to code using freely available tools on the internet, probably starting that process, about nine months before I actually launched Storemapper, I wasn't a fantastic developer, I was doing everything on Heroku wasn't particularly sort of optimized. So I really did not think that I I could handle a freemium product in the sense of supporting, you know, 99, free users, for every one paying user, I just thought that was a great way for me to lose a bunch of money and get in way over my head. So

Omer Khan [30:12]
yeah, I'm glad you brought up the thing about, you know, being a great developer, because, you know, initially when I heard your story, it was like, yeah, this is a really interesting story should talk more to Tyler. And it sounded like, you know, here's a developer who was, you know, doing some consulting some freelance work, came up with this idea, and then went into the sunset building his own product. But you weren't a developer?

Tyler Tringas [30:46]
No, no, I mean, I was a hacker sort of frantically trying to keep my head above water, essentially, I mean, I learned to code because I'll say maybe two years prior to launching Storemapper, I had an idea for a a software business, my background was, in the clean tech industry, I have a degree in economics, I didn't grow up making websites on Angel fire or anything like that, you know, I was never really into to tech per se, other than as a sort of means to an end. And I quit my last job, I was working for Bloomberg doing kind of long term energy market forecasting. And I had an idea for a software company that intersected with the industry that I knew well, which was the the solar energy market. And so I was in that classic sort of space of, Okay, I'm the business guy, I know this market super well. But I need a technical co founder to help you build software. And I spent about a year of my life sort of failing to launch on that trajectory, I had kind of three separate kind of massive failures in terms of, you know, it took a lot of time and energy to try to find someone to just write the code for me. And eventually, you know, I was sort of learning a little bit along the way. And because I had this sense that I needed to sort of know enough to be dangerous enough to not sound like an idiot, you know, or to be able to go one layer deeper when discussing technical constraints or features that should be built. And but I wasn't really learning with the intent to learn how to code. But this sort of entire wasted year of my life, maybe sort of quite motivated to say, well, I'll just try and build this product. And I sort of locked myself in a in a room for about six weeks, and taught myself to code and built the, you know, the first version of the soil lyst product that I was working on. And that was, I'm going to say maybe six to nine months before the launch of, of Storemapper. So I said to myself, to code enough to build the product. Through that process, I was going on to like, oh, desk, and all these sort of little gig sites. And I basically would apply for small jobs that I didn't really know how to do, I kind of thought I vaguely knew how to do it, but I didn't definitely know know how to do them. And that would win the jobs, and then get paid to sort of learn how to do the project, and then deliver it to the client, which is a great way to wear to code, actually, it's both really excellent motivation hack, and you you get paid to learn. But but that was maybe, you know, four or five months before I launched, or mapper that I was doing that so.

Omer Khan [33:20]
So when you decided that you wanted to learn to code? What technologies or programming language did you decide to pick? And how did you go about learning it,

Tyler Tringas [33:33]
I went for Ruby on Rails. And to me, I feel like in particularly if you're going to be sort of, you know, quote, unquote, self taught, right, you're going to be not interacting with a class and an instructor, the main thing that you need is a really active community of folks out there helping each other, because you're just going to spend 99% of your time googling stuff, you're going to try to find the closest public solution that you can then sort of tweak a little bit to make it work for what you're trying to do. And so you know, the how active the community is, is the critical variable for choosing a platform to me. And at that time, it was a no brainer, there, there was, you know, really no other community, it was nearly as active as the Ruby on Rails community. And I essentially just allocated a reasonably small budget in the scheme of things call it, I would say, certainly less than $1,000, probably much less than that, probably closer to $500, of buying just every ebook and screen cast course I could get my hands on. And I would just sit there. And you know, when I wasn't coding, I would just sit in, you know, watch hours and hours of entire screencast courses, you know, just to sort of digest them and then come back later and pull them up with relevant problems sort of appeared. But yeah.

Omer Khan [34:50]
Did you ever buy the what's it called the Ruby on Rails tutorial? By Michael Hartle?

Tyler Tringas [34:56]
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that was one of the first ones I bought.

Omer Khan [34:59]
Yeah, I gotta say, even though I think that's one of the best resources out there. And I'd be happy to give that a plug. I mean, I think, let me just look it up. It's like railstutorial.org. And I think that is a great resource for learning Ruby on Rails. And I actually went through that years ago, to learn Ruby on Rails. Ultimately, I, I just couldn't grow up with Ruby, and I ended up picking Python instead. But yeah, no, I think that's a, that's a great resource. Cool. Okay, great. So we got the coding under our belt, you've got the products, you've got over 100 customers, you've been focusing on retention. But you had to get to I'm guessing, like a few thousand customers to get to 40K MRR. So how did you grow further? I mean, were there new things you were doing? Or did you just keep doing the same things that we talked about earlier?

Tyler Tringas [35:58]
Yeah, I mean, I would say after I shut down the other startup and was focused full time, on, you know, storm mapper and freelancing, it took about six months to go from 1000. MRR to around what I sort of considered to be, you know, breakeven, for me as a founder that I could sort of live off the, the revenue just of the business, so call, it isn't working 7 and 8K, MRR. For me at the time felt like, okay, like, this is something I could be focused on full time now. And that was about six months, that was mostly a process of just a little bit more of everything from the sort of growth side of things, and then, you know, massively increasing the average revenue per user. So that was, you know, building a ton more features that then let me introduce kind of higher tiered plans and convince people to sort of upgrade from that to say, Hey, you know, not only can we sort of just add this UI on your website, we can generate analytics. And we can tell you, you know, did you know, you have 150, people searched for where they could buy your product in Berlin last week, and you don't have anywhere in Berlin. So maybe you should open a store in Berlin. And by the way, if you want this, you know, it's going to cost you quite a bit more. So that was probably the most of the process there was basically growing that. And then from there, I think, you know, another piece of the puzzle was trying to add a bit of inherent morality into the business. So one of the nice benefits is, of course, we're this very small niche product, we ranked fairly well, in Google, just by virtue of it being more or less the only thing that existed in the concept of store locator software or something. But it's not like there was a huge amount of search volume for that. So it was tough to kind of get more eyeballs until we kind of realized or I was just sitting there thinking, looking at the analytics side of things and saying, well, the total views on all of the store locators on our customers websites is like a million a month, maybe I should add a little powered by storm have heard link on all of those. And maybe some of those people will actually sign up. It was about one line of code. And it was definitely the most profitable line of code that I wrote in the entire five years. But we started to get a bit of a loop there were, you know, every new customer that came on board actually made it incrementally more likely that they would kind of essentially refer us customers by other people seeing their store locator and, and then deciding they wanted one for their website.

Omer Khan [38:31]
So I was I don't know what that squeaking was in the background.

Tyler Tringas [38:36]
It's kind of a bird on my.

Omer Khan [38:37]
So you're in just for people who don't know you're in Rio. And I had to turn off your AC. We didn't get that noise in the back.

Tyler Tringas [38:37]
Yeah, it's hot and sweaty in here and there's a tropical bird out of my window.

Omer Khan [38:53]
So that's funny.

Tyler Tringas [38:55]
All right, the travails of the tropical life.

Omer Khan [38:57]
Yeah. Alright, so I'm curious how much time you're spending on Storemapper at this point, you said you kind of went all in. So was this, you know, 40-50 hours a week? Like what? How much of your time was being spent on Storemapper? And also, I'm curious, like, how are you splitting that time between sort of growth marketing, and working on the product,

Tyler Tringas [39:23]
I would say that I didn't think I ever really exceeded 40 hours a week on Storemapper, because I was steadily becoming a better and better freelance developer as well. And we're starting to be able to charge something approximating market rates as a sort of Ruby developer for ecommerce businesses and had a couple of city clients and had a lot of debt I was trying to pay off quickly. So So I definitely continue to have at least sort of 30 hours a week of client work for several years, even after I sort of went full time, quote, unquote. So it's definitely still probably under 40 hours, you know, probably working the 60 hours a week, it's splitting that between client work and, and Storemapper I didn't really, you know, I think this is one of the things that that people underestimate about recurring revenue businesses that you can find ones that, that have really strong retention and really low churn is that you really don't need to split your time that aggressively between like growth, marketing and product, if you find something that a very high percentage of people who sign up decide that you know, that they want your product. And when they sign up, they stick around. And so for various periods of time, we had, you know, sort of 1%, monthly churn or less. And that means that you, you don't really need to try to juice your signups that much, you know, if only a couple of people are signing up a day, but you're keeping one or two of them every single day, you're still going to keep growing pretty effectively. And so I mostly focused on, you know, optimizing the inbound funnel to sort of ridiculous degree, all of our metrics, there were really tremendous, but I never really found, and this is something that, you know, sort of later factored into my decision to sell the businesses that I never really found a gas pedal for growth, you know, there just seemed to be a sort of fixed quantity of merchants who sort of either searching Google and we'd be, you know, their first result, or they would search in the app store of Shopify, or big commerce or any of those, and we'd be first result are definitely there. And we get a huge percentage of those. And we had a really tightly optimized funnel there, but I tried a couple of things, but really no experiment ever yielded that fruitful of results. terms of, you know, sort of artificially generating growth. Yeah, yep.

Omer Khan [41:47]
Okay, cool. So you mentioned your inbound funnel, and, you know, optimizing that. So what did that look like? Like? Where was the majority of the traffic coming from? Was it just going to be directly to sign up page? And, and it was more about sort of the onboarding experience? Or, you know, was it kind of more sophisticated than, than that?

Tyler Tringas [42:10]
Yeah, absolutely. So So I mean, I think, I think, optimizing the the sort of inbound funnel very seriously, and I think for me, it's hard to, to describe it other than just sort of being incredibly empathetic for your customers. And, you know, one of the things I think is just sort of an I think, oh, man, forget the author's name, there's a book called Don't make me think, on sort of web design and user experience. And the sort of summary of the book in one sentence is basically you should sort of treat your customers as if they were kind of attention deficit and juggling while they were trying to use your product, you know, like, they basically just have this the minimal amount of, of sort of brainpower and bandwidth to to actually, you know, allocate to solving problems that your product puts up in front of them, and you should do whatever you can to smooth, every single rough edge that they encounter. So if they arrive on a screen, and even two people tell you what should I do with this screen, you know, I would go in and generate a one minute, you know, type, the edited screencast, saying, here's what you do with the screen, you know, and, and it would pop up. And it would be, you know, if the screen was eventually supposed to show, you know, where you added your locations, instead of showing you I don't know, some sort of just blanks that say, this is where locations go, it was blank, it would show you this screen cast that would say, here's how you add locations, and you just click in new watches, okay, great. And then you start adding that, and then I would track, you know, and this is where sort of right when Intercom started to become, you know, a really, really full featured product with a lot of automation. And you would track all of these things, I would say, okay, you know, if they haven't added any locations, within 48 hours, trigger an email, and CC me, you know, to say, hey, so you haven't had anything, here's a video, here's an article. And also, I'm on CC, so just reply back, if you have any questions whatsoever, you know, and just really kind of ridiculously over providing sort of resources for folks to make sure that they just never get hung up on on any sort of part of onboarding process. And then, you know, basically just, this is sort of a benefit of our product, which I kind of often tell people to look for when they're thinking about business ideas is, you know, it's kind of a set it and forget it product in the sense that, you know, you have to set it up, you have to install on your website, you have to upload all your locations, but, you know, you probably go back maybe once a quarter and update the locations, otherwise, you're just going to keep paying for the product in perpetuity. So it made sense to really invest a lot of energy into the onboarding side of things, because they had a very high degree of confidence that if they got to those milestones, that they would stick around and have a really strong sort of lifetime value. So I think that's that's really important is sort of, you know, like tracking progress, setting up automation, and then creating that that sort of loop, that you're seeing those problem areas and then pushing, you know, more and more sort of solutions in an automated fashion for customers as they're signing up. And then eventually, that sort of translated into something that we added in, we had a customer support team, which was really tightening that loop, which was sort of every customer support inquiry, you know, it's not just a question of how do I solve this problem for the customer? It's, you know, is this something that we should be pre solving for every other future customer, right? Is this a bug that needs to go to the development team? Is there you know, a missing kind of nuance to one of the Help Desk articles that would help people not have to contact support in the future, and creating that sort of virtuous cycle where you're really thinking about every problem? How can I make sure this never happens again, for every other future customer.

Omer Khan [45:50]
Let's talk a little bit about Earnest Capital, which is your current gig. You mentioned at the start of this interview, that it's really, you know, a fund for bootstrap, SaaS companies. When you say early stage, like, you know, you talked about, okay, they should have a product. What other criteria do you look for when trying to identify a company with investing in?

Tyler Tringas [46:17]
So the first and most important criteria is, are they aligned with what we're trying to do? Right. And so I use the term bootstrap, even though, you know, there's been a lot of confusion over it, which, you know, I expected bootstrap to me has come to me like, even though this is very narrow definition of bootstrap, which means, you know, building the business without any outside capital, it's also sort of come to me as sort of cultural set of priorities and goals and values, right, that include things like, to me, I think, you valuing sustainability of the business over growth at all costs, right? So you want to build a business that is likely to stick around and isn't fragile and waiting to blow up if you know, the slightest problem. That's right, robust, a company that is calm companies, right. So this is derived a lot from Jason Freed, and Dave Heinemeier Hansson they're all of their books, but including the most recent one doesn't have to be crazy at work, you know, that, that when you're bootstrapping these businesses, you want to build a calm company, you want to build a certain amount of slack into the business so that you don't have to, you know, drive your employees and your customers and every run right to this sort of bleeding edge of their capabilities. Because, you know, they're, they're humans, and they have other things they can do in their lives. So if you're sort of aligned with those values, and that leads us to think, you know, probably well, you know, I'm not going to raise venture capital, I'm just going to bootstrap my business. But actually, I would like a bit of early stage capital to get me through the part where the business can't necessarily pay my bills. And also, some mentors would be great. And it would be excellent to be plugged into a network and not feel like I'm going at this alone. If that all sounds great to you, you know, then that's the kind of first filter from there, we're generally looking for the stage of the business is usually after the product is sort of launched MVP is a fine, but it should be kind of doing what it says on the label, and it should have a bit of revenue, we don't really want to take the risk of will anybody pay for this, because I think that is a big hurdle. For a lot of businesses or a lot of business ideas, we are not unicorn hunting, you don't have to, you know, have a roadmap for building it into a billion dollar business. So we also have to take a bit less risk. So we're not comfortable sort of investing in folks who just have a PowerPoint or, or an idea, they do need to have a proven ability to build the product and get at least some amount of people to pay for it. From there. You know, it's a question of what kinds of businesses are in, you know, what I consider my circle of competence, as well as the broader group of mentors that we have, we have about 30 experienced founders and operators who, who are sort of helped, they both helped me and they help the founders. And so we're looking for stuff that is generally in that, you know, circle of competence. So B2Bb SaaS is definitely our wheelhouse. If you're building a software as a service business, that is for a sort of niche, business vertical, or 100% going to be very aligned. And then kind of generally expanding out from there, maybe on a couple of different metrics, but not too wildly different. So I'm not really interested in an ads based social network for preschoolers or something. It's got to be, you know, something that is heard directly solving problems. So So an example might be a sort of pro zoomer paid SaaS business, like, superhuman for email is getting a lot of traction right now. And it's 30 bucks a month for like power email users that I think is also still in our wheelhouse, or people selling through tutorials and education on a subscription basis. So it's got recurring revenue, it's got all those metrics you can measure and all that sort of stuff. It's a you know, it's for professional development. So it's really, you know, adding material value, but it's not technically software, right. It's actually tutorials and screen casts, we're interested in that kind of stuff. And and also some areas of e commerce as well. Got it? Yeah.

Omer Khan [50:26]
Cool. Alright, so we should wrap up now. So I'm going to go into the lightning round and ask you seven quickfire questions. And just answer them as quickly as you can see, ready to go. Okay. Great. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Tyler Tringas [50:44]
I don't know if this is the best, just broad base. But for me, it's been particularly relevant in this moment, I think, is Jason Lemkin who does the SaaStr conference, he just tweeted it and said something about, you know, sort of once or twice in your life, you know, someone will give you a shot that you really don't necessarily deserve, and that you should just 100% you know, jump all over it, give it everything to take advantage of that. And I really feel like that's where I am right now, with Earnest Capital. I mean, I didn't really have a track record as a, you know, in venture capital, or any kind of financing. And, you know, I feel like this window open for, you know, for, for me to build this fund, and a couple of folks gave me a shot that maybe I didn't necessarily deserve. And I'm just passing all over it.

Omer Khan [51:32]
That's awesome. What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Tyler Tringas [51:38]
So I'm sure I'll be the only one who recommends this sort of inspired my quote at the beginning, which is Hemingway on writing. It's a collection of quotes and snippets from Ernest Hemingway, himself, as well as snippets from his characters in his novels talking about writing, because many of them are our authors. I wrote a piece on medium called Hemingway on coding. Words, sort of extrapolated some of those into lessons for kind of coding and building companies. I've really found it to be incredibly insightful. I've probably read it 14 times. It's great.

Omer Khan [52:12]
And the book you mentioned a little earlier, I should also probably call out is called “Don't Make Me Think”, it's by Steve Krug. Yes. And that book is almost 20 years old, when it was originally published. But I think it's still a really useful book to think about getting or reading at least. Yeah, what's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful entrepreneur?

Tyler Tringas [52:36]
To me, I think it's, you know, I often describe people kind of goes, Hey, you know, what are you doing? I was like, Well, I'm sticking with my plan of doing stuff I don't know how to do basically, it's just a sort of willingness to, to sort of give it a shot and feel like you're going to figure it out, maybe a sort of irrational level of self-confidence to some extent, not necessarily that you already know how to do it. But to be sort of humble and saying, I don't know how to do this, but that doesn't necessarily matter. I'm still going to try. I don't know if that's a specific attribute. But that seems to me to be a common one. I find them on successful entrepreneurs.

Omer Khan [53:11]
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Tyler Tringas [53:16]
Right now I'm scheduling about a million zoom calls and in person coffees per day, and traveling a lot switching around bunch of time zones. So scheduling meetings is pretty much a nightmare. For me, I've been trying x.ai, which is a sort of scheduling tool that has a mix of personal assistants and AI to help with that, I'm still not doing a great job of it. But I'm as you know, but it is definitely making things a lot better than they otherwise would be.

Omer Khan [53:46]
What's a new crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time,

Tyler Tringas [53:51]
My a crazy business idea, I guess probably every entrepreneur has an idea for a personal CRM, but I have this idea, I wrote a post recently about how I like to email, basically just kind of talking about how I think we should have some kinds of email that that go back to the old idea of correspondence, sort of, you know, much longer form, things that you write to people that you're just catching up on them that you know, it's not part of your inbox, zero flow, it doesn't demand that you get an immediate response. It's something that, you know, you can trade back and forth, you know, every few months or something with with folks that you're trying to maintain a relationship across distances. And I would love to build a sort of slow personal CRM that was really focused on maintaining relationships in that kind of way. Rather than pulling in all of your LinkedIn and Twitter data and giving you old latest real time information, just something that tracked those kinds of longer term relationships over the sort of arc of your career that helped you keep in touch with your high school friends, and that person that you used to work with 10 years ago that you know, is still really interesting, and all that sort of stuff.

Omer Khan [54:59]
What's interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know,

Tyler Tringas [55:03]
I'm pretty open about my life. So I don't know if there's a lot of thing. I mean, I think a lot of people may know this, if they know anything about me, but um, you know, I sort of did the whole digital nomad thing. And so when I was building store mapper, I was, you know, living out of a backpack for the better part of five years, you know, without a doubt a closet or anything, I highly recommend it to folks, I think it's totally worth a shot. Although, eventually you do really start to, to it gives you a much better appreciation of when you actually have a place to live in a closet to put your stuff in a bed that is reliably comfortable. But yeah, I highly recommend it. If you're on the fence and thinking about it reach out to me, and I'm happy to answer any questions or concerns about the digital nomad sort of thing.

Omer Khan [55:51]
Cool. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Tyler Tringas [55:55]
I love rock climbing. I'm always been a very avid rock climber, it feels to me you like physical meditation. It's one of those things where you're on the wall. And you know, 100% of your brain power and focus is thinking about where do I put my left hand right now. And you're not you have no background processes running. You're not thinking about anything else, except exactly in the moment. And I find it sort of wonderfully meditative. And it's just Yeah, I love it. So cool.

Omer Khan [56:30]
Awesome. Well, thank you for joining me, Tyler. It's been a pleasure. And it's great to you know, hear your story about Storemapper and some of the ups and downs of that journey. And also kind of finding out more about what you're doing with Earnest Capital. So if people want to check out store map, or they can go to storemapper.co, Earnest capital, head over to earnestcapital.com. That's Earnest within a EA, not Ernest Hemingway,

Tyler Tringas [57:01]
Like earning money

Omer Khan [57:02]
any money has, that's a good way to think about it. And then you also blog at tylertringas.com, and people can find a bunch of great content there and more about your story with Storemapper. And if you want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Tyler Tringas [57:19]
I mean, I like email. And then these days, I'm finding it's a lot easier to to use Twitter. So I'm @tylertringas on Twitter. My DMs are open there for you know, sort of quick inquiries, but yeah, I mean, I also love getting email. So my emails publicly on all my websites so easy to find.

Omer Khan [57:38]
Okay, cool. Yeah. Great. Well, thanks. It's been a pleasure and have fun the rest of the day in Rio.

Tyler Tringas [57:47]
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks so much. This has been great.

Omer Khan [57:49]
It's been a pleasure. Cheers man!

Tyler Tringas [57:50]
Cheers.

Omer Khan [57:51]
All right. 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 summary of the episode and a link to all the resources we discussed. If you enjoyed this episode, then head over to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast. And if you're in a good mood, consider leaving a rating and review to show your support for the show. If you're not already in iTunes, just go to theSaaSpodcast.com and click the iTunes button. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care

Book Recommendation

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.