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The SaaS Podcast

What to Do When No One Will Pay for Your SaaS Product – with Ryan Born [228]

228_ Ryan Born

What to Do When No One Will Pay for Your SaaS Product

Ryan Born is the co-founder, and CEO of Cloud Campaign, a SaaS platform that helps agencies to manage multiple brands on social media at scale.

Ryan was working as a software engineer in the San Francisco area. Like most developers, he loved building things. And he was always tinkering on side-projects.

His latest idea was a social media management tool. He created a few mockups for a product that didn't exist yet and published a landing page to see if anyone was interested.

The next day he turned up at work and heard a big announcement. The company he worked for had been acquired, his office was being closed and he was going to be laid off.

As he's sitting in this meeting, his phone's going crazy. It keeps buzzing every couple of minutes. Turns out he was getting notified every time someone signed up on his landing page.

He was blown away by how many people were interested in a product he hadn't even built yet.

Ryan started building the product and quickly launched the beta. He listed it on sites like Product Hunt and Beta List. And it wasn't long until he had 400 people signed up.

That got him even more excited about his product. So next, he added a paid plan and tried to get people to upgrade. But not even one person paid for the product.

He tried cold email outreach in the hope of finding customers. But that didn't work.

He tried running paid ads. But that didn't work either.

His savings were running out fast. And he had a very limited runway to make this business work. But where was he supposed to go from here? It seemed like nothing was working.

Fast forward to today, Ryan's business is generating around $25K in monthly recurring revenue. And he's found a scalable marketing channel that's working well for him.

In this interview, you'll learn what exactly Ryan did to turn things around. We talk about all the things he tried that didn't work and the important lessons he learned.

And we deep dive into exactly how he found customers and how he's grown revenue.

If you're bootstrapping or still trying to find product/market fit, I think you'll love this interview. It's jam-packed with some great strategies, lessons, and insights.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

Read Full Transcript

Omer Khan [0:09]
Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host, Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talked to Ryan Born, the co-founder and CEO of Cloud Campaign, a SaaS platform that helps agencies to manage multiple brands on social media at scale. Ryan was working as a software engineer in the San Francisco area. Like most developers, he loved building things. And he was always tinkering on side projects. His latest idea was a social media management tool. He created a few mockups for a product that didn't exist jet and publish the landing page to see if anyone was interested. The next day he turned up at work and had a big announcement. The company he worked for, had been acquired. His office was being shut down, and he was going to be laid off. As he's sitting in this meeting, his phone's going crazy. It keeps buzzing every couple of minutes. It turns out that he was getting notified every time someone signed up on his landing page. He was blown away by how many people were interested in a product that he hadn't even built yet. So Ryan started building the product and quickly launched the beta. He listed it on sites like Product Hunt and beta list. And it wasn't long before he had 400 people signed up. That got him even more excited about his product. So next, he added a paid plan and try to get people to upgrade but not even one person paid for the product. He tried cold email outreach in the hopes of finding customers. But that didn't work. He tried running paid ads. But that didn't work either. His savings were running out fast. And he had a very limited runway to make this business work. But where was he supposed to go from him? It seemed like nothing was working. Fast forward to today. Ryan's business is generating around $25,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and he's found a scalable marketing channel that's working really well for him. In this interview, you'll learn exactly what Ryan did to turn things around. We talked about all the things he tried that didn't work, and the important lessons he learned, and we deep dive into exactly how he found customers and how he's grown revenue. If you're bootstrapping or still trying to find product-market fit, I think you'll like this interview. It's jam-packed with great strategies like lessons and insights. So I hope you enjoy it.

Omer Khan [3:03]
Real quick before we get started. Firstly, don't forget to grab a free copy of the SaaS toolkit which will tell you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs, you can download your copy by going to theSaaSpodcast.com. Secondly, enrollment for SaaS Club Plus is now open. Plus is our online membership and community. For new and early-stage SaaS founders. You get access to our content library, private community forum, master classes, group coaching, and you get private one on one coaching with me through private messaging. So if you need help launching and growing your SaaS business, and you want to connect with other founders around the world and build recurring revenue faster, then join us inside plus, just go to SaaSclubplus.com to learn more. Okay, let's get on with the interview. Ryan, welcome to the show.

Ryan Born [3:56]
Hey, Omer. Thanks so much for having me.

Omer Khan [3:58]
So, do you have a favorite quote that you can share with us something that inspires you or get you out of bed.

Ryan Born [4:04]
I do, I don't actually know where the quote came from in the first place. But the quote is, “Don't capture the opportunity create it”. And I really like it just because in most situations, opportunities, not going to come knocking at your door, you need to go out there and put yourself in uncomfortable situations and really create serendipity. I think that's something that I had to learn through this process. I'm more I'm more of an introvert. And so just really forcing myself to go out there and create the opportunity was a learning experience for me.

Omer Khan [4:33]
So your background is as a software engineer, right?

Ryan Born [4:36]
Yep. Yeah, that's correct.

Omer Khan [4:37]
And how long were you working as an engineer before you started Cloud Campaign?

Ryan Born [4:42]
So I had a couple different internships in college. But in terms of actual full-time position, I was working at a company for three years and a software engineering role before starting Cloud Campaign.

Omer Khan [4:53]
Got it? So for people who aren't familiar, what is Cloud Campaign, what does it do who your target customers and what's the problem that you're helping to solve?

Ryan Born [5:02]
Yeah, so Cloud Campaign is a digital platform that helps marketing agencies scale social media management. And so most of the large brands that you're familiar with today actually outsource their social media to one of these agencies. And then we're building the software that allows the agencies to more effectively manage a lot of brands at scale on social media. And there's really two problems that we're solving. So it's kind of front of the house and back to the house. The first one is just making the agencies look better and smarter. And that way, they can charge a higher retainer to these customers that they're servicing. And then the flip side of it is making the agency's more efficient. So think, you know, a lot of automation built in streamline workflows. And this allows the account managers at the marketing agency to in some situations, even double the number of brands they can work with. And, you know, for the agency owner, it's really compelling because it's a real business opportunity to increase the throughput increase the number of brands they have, without having to hire additional staff and increase their overhead.

Omer Khan [6:05]
Got it. Okay, so you graduated with a Bachelor's in Computer Engineering. And you worked for several years as a software engineer. You've never worked for an agency. So how did you come up with the idea for this product?

Ryan Born [6:25]
Yeah, that's a great question. You just kind of saw a gap in the market from the outside looking in. And to be completely honest, we've gone through a couple pivots. So the product that we have today, and the industry that we're servicing is actually different than where we started. Initially, one of my really good friends works at a clothing company, a very large clothing company, and he was on their email marketing team. And what they realized is anytime they dynamically sent out an email-based off the weather, they would double sales for the day. So for example, if it's raining up in Seattle, they're going to send you you know, maybe a rain jacket and some boots. In your email, if it's sunny down in San Francisco, where I'm at, they might send me shorts and a T-shirt and the email. And so the thought was, okay, there's real, like business results from this, how can we do this on social media? That was the original idea, you know, set up a landing page for that and launched it. And we can kind of dive into that in a second. But through that process, actually realized that no one was willing to pay for it. It seemed like a, you know, a feature, not a product to most folks. So eventually end up going through a couple pivots, doing a lot more market research, and realizing that the large brands that we want to go after actually outsource to agencies, and that was really the lightbulb moment to then build a product for these marketing agencies and start going after that market.

Omer Khan [7:46]
Okay. Had you talked to any agencies at that point?

Ryan Born [7:50]
Not at that point. So yeah, it was about I want to say was six months in one I finally got to the realization that we had to go after marketing agencies, talk to a friend that was working at Intuit at the time, which is, you know, Mint, TurboTax, those companies. And they actually then connected us to the agency that they worked with. And that was like the first conversation that I had with an agency. So I think there's, we can dive into this a bit more. I think there's a lot of lessons here. And I think there's a lot of things that I did wrong in the early days.

Omer Khan [8:21]
Yeah, yeah. Let's dig into that. So I want to kind of just uncover this because you started where a lot of entrepreneurs or SaaS founders do, which is very idea-driven, very feature-driven, where I've got this idea for a great product or feature. And, yeah, that's what I'm going to run with. And you took that same approach, but you did some pretty important things along the way, which helped you guys go from I mean, what are you guys doing now? Like in terms of MRR?

Ryan Born [8:57]
Yeah, so we just crossed 25,000 last week,

Omer Khan [9:00]
Right? So that's awesome, right? So you guys have essentially bootstrapped the business for what the first two years before you raise any money.

Ryan Born [9:09]
Yup exactly

Omer Khan [9:10]
Right. And you've got to 25K MRR. So I want to dig into that, like, what did you do? And what lesson can other people learn from that who are currently sitting there thinking, I have this great product? And I'm going to figure out how to start selling it.

Ryan Born [9:28]
Yeah, great question. I think there's, you know, a couple of things that we did right and a couple of things that we did wrong so I can kind of touch on both of those. But in terms of what we did, right, I think just doing whatever is like the least amount of work possible to then get the idea out there and kind of validate the market. You know, clearly we we started in the wrong market ended up shifting focus throughout that process, but initially, it was just standing up a landing page and just putting it out there and seeing if anyone is even interested in this product. The nice thing is, I've started multiple kind of side projects in the past, never wanting to really make them into businesses more just kind of this is a cool project I want to work on. You know, I'm an engineer. So I like building things. I'm just going to build it and throw it out there. And so having these previous projects that put out there, it was a really good benchmark in terms of like, what are people actually interested in? With this product? Just putting up the landing page, I made some mock ups is really simple, essentially, just, Hey, are you interested in this put in an email, you'll get notified when it's ready. But yeah, I mean, it was very clear that the desire for it was much larger than other products that I've tried launching in the past. Just because all the number of signups that we had in the first day of people saying they're interested in, they want to stay in contact. And it's actually it's a funny story. So I set up the landing page when I was working at my my previous companies like cloud security startup, I was a software engineer there. And the next day, actually, HR comes in the office and we have been acquired, so was kind of interesting situation, we're kind of operating like a satellite office. And HR comes in pulls everyone in the office into a meeting room. And pretty much tells us that they're going to shut down the office. And they're going to give us two months to migrate all the code over move the project over to another office that they had in Vancouver. And meanwhile, you know, I'm sitting in this meeting my phone in my pocket, and it's just going crazy, like every two minutes can buzzz buzzz, buzzing. And those are all notifications of people putting in their email address saying they want this new product that I promised them not making, you know, some time period. And so it was it was a really exciting time, obviously a little bit scary. But there's no better motivation to get a product off the ground quickly and start selling it then knowing you have two months left on payroll, and you're about to be on your own and fending for yourself and have to generate some revenue to get the company off the ground.

Omer Khan [11:56]
Yeah, wow. So this landing page that you're talking about. This wasn't the first one, this was the after you went through with these different ideas and sort of mini pivots on the idea. You arrived at, okay, agencies are kind of the market that we need to focus on. We're going to try to focus on next. And then this was when you built that landing page. So what was this? Like? This wasn't the first landing page you built?

Ryan Born [12:24]
No. So this this actually was the first landing page and it wasn't targeted at agencies. This was like the dynamic social media triggering product that later morphed into the tool for agencies. I was just mentioning, there have been other products that made in the past, like I created an IPO notification tool that would email you anytime a company IPOs. It goes public, or files to go public. I guess I made like a note app and a few other things. And with those, there wasn't much interest and is really hard to get people to sign up for it. So just seeing that contrast. I realized like this was a project that was worth pursuing. But at the time, it was still just the very, very first landing page the very first time, you know, cloud campaign was ever kind of introduced to the world.

Omer Khan [13:09]
And then what kind of mockup? did you do? You said you created some kind of product mockup on the landing page.

Ryan Born [13:15]
Yeah, so you know, just using, like the Sketch App to create some screenshots of what I thought that might look like, eventually. And I think that's a great way to get people interested in, you know, make the product seem a bit more real. Even though I hadn't written a single line of code. They're able to see like a dashboard of what it might look like and different screenshots and stuff. And so people thought it was further along than it really was.

Omer Khan [13:40]
Interesting. So I think a lot of us could create a landing page and and probably come up with a mock-up maybe not as good as the one as you did, but something but I think most people would end up with a page that nobody visits apart from themselves. So how are you getting people to find out about the landing page?

Ryan Born [14:02]
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think we're extremely lucky, you know, in our day and age that there are tons of different internet communities, all with different focuses and niches. And so, you know, in the first night literally put up the landing page. And that first night, I just broadcasted it to a few different forums. So like Reddit, indie hackers was pretty new at the time. And it was pretty easy to kind of gain the system and keep your focus at the top of it. So I just posted around a few different places like that, and it was driving pretty significant traffic even within the first day.

Omer Khan [14:37]
Wow. Okay, so you talked about the job situation, you got two months left on payroll, you put this landing page up, and suddenly all these people are signing up. So where did you go next?

Ryan Born [14:52]
Yeah, I mean, so of course, the first step was, you know, go out and buy a computer because you don't want to do any of the work on a company. Computer Otherwise, they pretty much Own your startup. So that was step one, you know, working after hours for those two months until I was full time on it, which was June 3rd 2017, was when I really went full time. And it was very liberating, you know, knowing that I could work 24 hours on this new startup idea that I had. But it's also very scary knowing that I have a set runway, and at a certain point, my savings is going to run out. But yeah, the first step was really just getting that that beta product to MVP out there for people to start playing around with and the initial thought was, you know, let's not charge any money, let's just get people on it. Let's make them happy. And then we can figure out some sort of pricing structure and make money off it. And so, launch the MVP, put it on Product Hunt and Beta List and all those different sites where you can get a ton of traffic really quickly had about 400 users. And then the thought was okay, now let's flip the switch on, start monetizing it. Tried adding a payment plan and forcing everyone to go free model to the pay plan. And zero people did.

Omer Khan [16:03]
Okay, wait. So once you got those people signing up on the landing page, did you talk to any of those people? Or do you just see that as a sign that the kind of the green light to go and start building the MVP?

Ryan Born [16:16]
Yeah. So I didn't talk to anyone, which is a huge mistake, obviously. And something I learned after, you know, it's the advice that you get all the time where folks are saying, you know, go talk to your target customer, get some feedback, before you build anything or write a single line of code. And my thoughts like, well, maybe this will be different. Maybe I'll just build it. And I'll put it out there as people have expressed interest. And maybe we'll just start paying, which is very naive. You'll hear stories of it happening from time to time, but there are exceptions. And that's why you hear the stories. It's really, really rare and generally just bad advice to just build something. Yeah. And I obviously learned that the hard way.

Omer Khan [16:55]
Yeah, because also, just because people are signing up on landing page doesn't mean, you know enough about what they need? Or even if they're the right type of customer for you?

Ryan Born [17:07]
Exactly. Right. Yeah, I think it's a mistake that engineers make more often than others. Just because, you know, a skill that we have that we feel comfortable with is building programming, whatever it might be. And it's hard to get pushed outside of your comfort zone, especially if you feel like you have a finite period of time. Like, in my situation, you know, I only had so much money in my savings. If I didn't get the company off the ground within that time period. It wasn't going to happen. So my thought was, let's just get something out as quick as possible and let's start monetizing it very naively. And so instead of getting on the phone or email and talking to customers, potential customers, I just started building.

Omer Khan [17:46]
Okay, so you got the product, you got about 400 users, things that good, you know, people are signing up for the product. Then you start asking them to pay and there are crickets and now suddenly the plan isn't as good as it was maybe the day before. So what did you do next?

Ryan Born [18:07]
So the next step for me, and you know, up until this point, it was just a solo venture is just me. And my thought was, you know, build this nice lifestyle business, I'm going to just program all day, I'm going to throw something out there, people are going to love it and pay for this very idealistic dream. That was pretty unrealistic. And so, you know, at this point, I started looking for a co-founder, trying to find someone that has complementary skill set. I'm very much a programmer, and I don't have some of those interpersonal skills and sales skills that are, of course really important if you're going towards a b2b direction, and so kind of in parallel, then starting to talk to potential customers, and realizing that I kind of went down the wrong path and they wanted a more complete solution. I was also looking for a co-founder and talking to some folks that previously worked with. Reaching out with friends to see if they had any connections that they thought might be a good fit. And kind of go into that whole the whole dating process.

Omer Khan [19:06]
Okay, first of all, like, before we get into, like how you found the right co-founder? You know, quite often people give me feedback about the podcast and they say, talk about the tech stack man. And so you're developer, let's just have a brief conversation on that. Like when you built the MVP, what was the tech stack you used for that?

Ryan Born [19:27]
Yeah, so the tech stack, which still exists today, the core stack it's is still running in production with about 5000 accounts. So we managed today. And it's just Java Spring Boot, and the back end, and then the front end is all Angular. And I think, I think it's important to you know, not waste time learning some new sexy skill. There's so many different frameworks that are out there today. And it's always evolving, and you can waste so much time just trying to learn the new framework that you never actually get your product to launch and so my piece of advice is just do what you're comfortable with. Honestly, your technology doesn't really matter, the consumers never going to see it. As long as it accomplishes the goal of the job that they they need done. And it's somewhat reliable, I think you'll be fine.

Omer Khan [20:13]
Do you like using Angular?

Ryan Born [20:14]
I think it's pretty good. I mean, I don't have like a, I don't have a good judgment of like other frameworks or platforms. So it's, it's the only one I'm really familiar with in terms of JavaScript frameworks, but I enjoy it.

Omer Khan [20:28]
Yeah, I mean, I guess I've never used Angular myself. But whenever I hear, you know, negative things about it. I guess it always comes from people using view or reaction, right?

Ryan Born [20:38]
Yeah, exactly. It's, there's always some biasness.

Omer Khan [20:42]
Yeah. Well, whatever you're comfortable with and whatever helps you build the product as quickly as possible, I think is, as you said, it's the most important thing. Okay, so you started looking around for the co-founder and what sort of skills were you looking for?

Ryan Born [20:53]
Yeah, I mean, so really just the skills that I didn't have to be completely honest, I was not super comfortable getting on the phone with random folks I didn't know and talking to people and trying to push the product, getting feedback and selling it. So really looking for someone that had some business acumen, and then also some sales experience to really complement my skill set that I had, which is being more of a developer and being more technical.

Omer Khan [21:20]
Okay, how long did it take you to find your co-founder?

Ryan Born [21:24]
It took about three months. So to kind of give a timeline here, the first six months was just me kind of flopping around trying to find product-market fit and find folks to pay for the product, realized that it wasn't the right product had to pivot focus on marketing agencies. That was right around the time. I was like, Okay, I need a co-founder. This is going to be more than just a solo venture started talking to like I mentioned people I've worked with before and friends and what not to try and find a co-founder is about three months until I finally found my co-founder and brought him on. There was someone else that I started working with during that three month period, and it just didn't really work out, I think one thing that's really important is making sure that you have really similar risk adversity to your co-founder. They're a bit older, they're starting a family, they had a mortgage that they had to pay. I'm just not in that situation. And so I could be a bit scrappier and go a bit longer on my savings. And so I think it's really important to find someone that is in a similar situation as you and I think it's also important to talk about that upfront. So you don't get to that situation, you know, six months down the road, and if you haven't grown revenue quick enough, and you have to figure out what to do with the business.

Omer Khan [22:35]
Yeah, yeah. I think three months was you were pretty lucky to find some of that quickly.

Ryan Born [22:40]
Yeah, no, absolutely. And it's been great. So my co-founder, Ross, he comes from a business background, he got a degree in marketing. So it's kind of perfect complementary skill and especially for the product that we're selling. and ran into a, like a cabin like a ski trip that we went on. And just start talking to him. He's talking about other projects that he's worked on in the past and some big contracts that he's sold. And in the back of my mind, I was thinking, Okay, like, maybe I'll do some more research on this guy and see if you'd want to work with me because it seems like his skill set is perfect for what I need. And funnily enough, like two days after the trip, he gives me a call. He's like, Hey, I got your number from one of our mutual friends, TJ, you know, just curious if you're looking for a co-founder, someone to work with. And so

Omer Khan [23:29]
Are you serious?

Ryan Born [23:29]
Yeah, as crazy as super serendipitous. And that really just kicked off the whole conversation. We talked for about a month and everything kind of checked out. And so we move forward with it.

Omer Khan [23:38]
Wow. Did I get you off the hook in terms of talking to customers? Or did you still have to, you know, the phone?

Ryan Born [23:46]
You know, I think for the first probably month of when he joined on maybe two months, it was still both of us talking to customers, you know, big thing for him was then trying to understand the market understand the product. And so we get on the calls together and he'd be kind of more passive, passively listening initially. And then once he had a better idea, then he really took over that part of the business and has been spearheading it ever since.

Omer Khan [24:10]
So, we talked about asking people to pay crickets, you gotta figure out a new game plan, what you're going to do, you started doing a lot of cold outreach to people. And from what I understand that didn't get you any customers, but you learned a lot from that process. So tell me a little bit about like, how did you like figure out okay, who am I going to talk to? And what did that kind of conversation look like?

Ryan Born [24:41]
Yeah, so, you know, at that point, we had settled on marketing agencies realized that was really the target customer that we want to go after. And fortunately, they're very easy to find online, because, you know, they're trying to promote their business. They are marketers, so they need to have some sort online presence. And so we found this massive list of I think, is 12,000 marketing agencies online. And initially it was trying to sell them, but also just trying to learn from those early conversations over the next, I'd say about nine months, we called about 500 of those marketing agencies. And by we, I mean, I probably call 10. And Ross probably called 490. And, yeah, I mean, as you mentioned, like we didn't really get any customers from them. I think we got a few pilot customers, but they were paying us practically nothing. But what we did learn through those calls is what features they needed. So it informed our product and really helped us build out our product roadmap for the next three to four quarters. And at the same time, it also helped us figure out our marketing. So you know, after talking to them on the phone, you'll kind of throw different ideas and features out there and say, Hey, we're working on this really cool product that does XYZ and you know, you'll start to see patterns in terms of what customers get really excited about. They'll say, Oh, you do Y. Oh, man, we're doing that manually right now. And it's costing us so much time. And, you know, it's one person's full-time job, because it's so time-consuming. We're like, Oh, yeah, yeah, we do that. It's all built-in automatically, you know, at that point, features not bill. We're selling features that are builders on the dream, of course. And we actually had one customer sign up during those early days and pay upfront for the year and actually paid for some some product development, which is amazing, right. And that's great validation. There's nothing better than someone actually putting money behind your product development. So long story short, we get all this great feedback. And now we start experimenting with different ads and more scalable ways to acquire customers. Now that we know what's really motivating for them and like what that carrot is that we can motivate them with.

Omer Khan [26:51]
Okay, wait. So, yeah, I want to talk about the ads. But there are a few things I want to clarify before we get there. First of all, how are you? Well, I guess it's not that hard to find agencies, right? I mean, you can just search and build a list of these companies. How are you figuring out who to contact in the agency? And what were you asking them when you you reach out to them to have a conversation? And what worked? and what didn't work? Like how easy or difficult was it to get a conversation with somebody?

Ryan Born [27:26]
Yeah. And so I think that's kind of what helped us decide who to target and who to just kind of push off for the time being, it was how easy it was to get to them. So initially, it's, you know, we have this massive list of agencies just on this website called catch.co, where agencies can like list their themselves to help them find customers. And so we start down the top of the list, just going alphabetically and calling every single one not really choosing who we call and who we don't. And through that process, we're starting to realize, okay, the agency has, you know, let's call it more than 20 employees. It's really hard to get through the decision-maker, ultimately we want to get to the agency owner because our product has kind of real business implications in terms of allowing them to make more money and save money. And we wanted to get to the person that was actually going to put in the credit card. And so we would call these agencies that had more than 20 employees and realize, we're just kind of being pushed around the agency. No one's really like connecting us through to the owner. And there's lots of gatekeepers, and at this point, it just seemed like a waste of time. And so once we realize that we start to segment fullest, and we go after these agencies that were much smaller, and we can actually like, get the phone number of the owner and talk to the owner. And in terms of those conversations, like how we got them to put their guard down and actually tell us information and not just hang up on us. We had this thing called agency spotlight. And so we actually write blog articles about all these different agencies and we get on the phone with them and say, Hey, we do this this great content marketing thing called agency spotlight. We're going to feature you agency, we're going to talk about your story and how you got started. And, you know, what's your biggest problem today? And that's the really important question that we want to find out was, you know, what's your biggest problem? What's the most time-consuming part that's challenging your marketing agency? And of course, they're happy to answer it because they want to get the publicity and they want to, you know, get their name and their business out there. Obviously, they probably didn't know that we didn't have very many followers at the time, and we're still very, very small startup. But folks, were really happy to spend that hour and get on the phone with us.

Omer Khan [29:33]
Okay, so you were actually publishing this as content, you were just telling them that not actually giving them some kind of promotion, even if it was just you and Ross looking at the page?

Ryan Born [29:43]
Yeah, exactly. say, Oh, we had, you know, we had a blog running of all these different conversations that we had, and we didn't publish every single one of them on there. And that's something we're upfront about, we'd say, you know, we're talking to a handful of different agencies every week and we're going to publish the our favorite story from the week, so You know, motivates them to tell a more compelling story. And you're really thoughtful and take the time to really care about it. And it's great for us because we didn't have to publish 500 articles over nine months, we just choose one a week, and we link them to it as well. So it's good validation. Like, yes, we're actually writing these articles. We're not just making that up to go on the phone with you.

Omer Khan [30:20]
Okay. Yeah. I mean, that's a smart thing in terms of okay, it's not just you giving them some kind of perceived value from getting on the phone with you. And it is the content still up there. on your site?

Ryan Born [30:32]
Yeah, it's still there. Yeah, I can, I can link you to, it's also there. And you know, another great thing too is, once we publish the article, we would send it to the marketing agency and say, Hey, thanks again for the conversation. Here's the article. And of course, they're going to go share it because they want their audience to see it. And so now we're getting in front of various marketers, and whoever their audiences and so that really helped us build an initial following early on.

Omer Khan [30:55]
Great. And when you were doing this outreach, were you starting with cold email Or were you just doing cold calling?

Ryan Born [31:03]
Just cold calling? I mean, the nice thing is, since most of these marketing agencies were trying to get new customers, they'd have their phone number listed, either on that list and that repository or just on their website.

Omer Khan [31:15]
And then like, how easy was it to start that conversation? Because I'm assuming you caught somebody in the middle of the day, they could have a bunch of things going on. And someone saying, Hey, can I interview you? Would people like, yeah, sure. I'll do it now or call me back or set up a time?

Ryan Born [31:30]
Yeah, I think it depends on the size of the agency. So larger agencies would typically try and schedule a time. The smaller agencies, you know, they're, they're small business owners, so they are busy, but they typically carve out time for it right there on the spot. And, you know, more credit to Ross because he's great at just making people feel comfortable and take down their guard. And so he'd be on the phone and say, Hey, I promise I'm not selling you anything. We're doing this agency spotlight. I found your agency on this list. You have 30 minutes to tell me about your story. Real quick, and most folks would say, yeah, sure, I'll tell you that.

Omer Khan [32:04]
I think that's a great, great way to tackle it. Okay, so you said, okay, we did this outreach with cold calling. All of these agencies, you're figuring out a whole bunch of stuff about who the target customers are, who probably aren't good prospects for you, is helping you figure out their pains, and what you need to do with the product. And then you said that helped us to then sort of figure out how to set up ads. And my instant reaction was what why ads, why don't just go back to all these people you talk to and get them to buy the product?

Ryan Born [32:36]
Yeah, I guess, you know, two things. So one, ads are of course more scalable, right, we can reach a broader audience much quicker than kind of hand to hand combat a one off sales on cold calling, but to it just seemed disingenuous, you know, telling these people that we're going to write an article and then maybe three months later, we try and sell them. I think we did. We likely did follow up with email. Can't remember exactly. I'm sure we did follow up with email and say, Hey, you know, we appreciate all the feedback. We took all that feedback and built into a product. Here it is, if you want to try it, but I don't think we had maybe three customers sign up through that. But it wasn't. It wasn't extremely successful.

Omer Khan [33:15]
Okay, Okay, fair enough. So you decide that you want to go and test ads. And from my experience talking to most founders at this stage, I always get the same response every time. Yeah, we tried ads, and they didn't work. So tell me about your experience. And kind of what you learned along the way to get that first sale through an ad.

Ryan Born [33:42]
Yeah, I mean, so we had that same experience, right. So we tried ads, and they didn't work. So we tried them and it didn't work. And we tried him again, and eventually, we found an ad that worked and so I think it just takes a lot of time and a lot of lot of testing. There's a reason why marketing agent sees exists. And it's because it's very time consuming and strenuous work to create all these different ads. And finally, one that finally works. I mean, just to give you an idea, we tried Twitter ads, LinkedIn, Google AdWords, we tried being SEM, we tried Reddit, we tried a bunch of different marketing forums that were like, so specific to our audience. And all of these were micro-test. So it's been maybe 20 to $50, at most, to just try and see if we can get some sort of traction. If it didn't work. We wouldn't necessarily say this isn't the channel for us, we would say, you know, it didn't work with this test. Let's try something else. And then what's coming back to it, and let's try something different. And so, again, we tried to slew different ads. We tried some Facebook, Instagram ads that didn't work, probably three different ad objectives that didn't work. And then finally, in this is, you know, also while we're doing all this cold calls, I think we finally got to a point where we realized what the care was, you know, what was so motivating that someone was actually going to respond to the ad. And then also, I think we realize how to better sell the product. So initially, we were just trying to drive traffic to the website, and hope that people would sign up or request a demo or something, right. And what we realized is, there's 20 different ways to leave the website, but only one way to actually be successful and have them sign up. And so we need to create a more defined funnel and be really deliberate about how we're capturing these different leads, and actually then sending them through our whole sales process to get them to become a customer. And so we realize this, there needs to be this education step. And we switch the objective on our ads, we change them to lead generation ads. And I think it's important to note there's different ways to do it, but worked really well for us was native lead gen ads. So essentially, you're using the form that's on Facebook or Instagram, or LinkedIn and that's great because it all auto-populates all the information. So literally all they have to do is say, Yes, I'm interested and then confirm, s6ubmit. So they don't have to type anything in. So it's really low friction. And so that was the ad that honestly changed our business. We're at the point where it says October of 2018, we pretty much decided that we didn't hit a certain revenue benchmark. By the end of the year, we were going to shut it down, just because my savings is running out. The company wasn't really successful. And yeah, it wasn't generating enough revenue to, you know, pay us anything. And so that was perfect timing that we found this ad that then start delivering and pretty much overnight, we started getting leads for about $10 of, you know, people expressing interest saying, hey, I want to demo. I want to learn more about your product.

Omer Khan [36:47]
Okay, so first, it sounds like you were running ads, and you were driving people to the homepage to sign up for the product or something like that. Yep. And then when that wasn't working well, even before that you were you were testing these different platforms, as you mentioned, Google, Twitter ads, Reddit, etc. And then Facebook you had tried before it hadn't worked, but you were trying some different iterations of it until you figured it out. And then when you talked about this education component, what did the ad look like? What was the carrot that worked? And what were they seeing when they got to a landing page? I assume it was. You were sending them to some sort of dedicated landing page in with this example?

Ryan Born [37:33]
Yeah, so well, so first, we were just having them fill out the form on Facebook. So what we realized is even sending them to the landing page, so we have like a specific landing page that said, you know, request a demo, put in your information, and we're still getting pretty significant drop off of people clicking on that link, going to that specific landing page and then not filling out the forum. And so Facebook and Instagram have this objective called lead generation where it will just prompt them with a form directly within the Facebook or Instagram app. And it pre-populates it with their phone number, their name, and then we just ask them to fill out their their company name, the business name. And so that was what we eventually landed on. And that's what has worked really, really well for us, because it's really low friction. And then in terms of, you know, what we're trying to get is we wanted them to schedule a demo, we wanted inbound interest to them saying, Yes, I'm ready to learn more about your product. But we need some sort of carrot to motivate them to say, okay, now's the time, you know, I want to capture this deal while it's still hot. And then while it, you know, maybe it's ephemeral, it's going to disappear at the end of the month. And so we would offer free white labeling, right, so our product, we offer white labeling, because it's really compelling for marketing agencies to have their branding on our products because it makes them look a lot better to their clients, and they can actually charge significantly more if they say they built the product themselves. And so that was the carrot that we finally discovered. Through all those cold calls, and we put that into our ads saying scheduled demo, get free white labeling offer ends soon thing we actually put a time period on and we said offer ends soon. And that's that's what's been extremely successful for us. And we've been running that ad, even today. So now it's about a year later, we're still running it and we're putting, you know, about $10,000 a month into the ad right now,

Omer Khan [39:23]
You know, when you and I first talked about scheduling this interview, which I think maybe was wasn't that long ago, maybe a couple of months ago. Yeah, I think that's right. And you said, oh, we're doing about 10K MRR. And then, like today, it was like, Oh, no, we're doing 25K MRR. I was like, wow, how did that happen so quickly. And also you you told me that not just Facebook, you were using Facebook and Instagram ads?

Ryan Born [39:51]
Uhmm hmm.

Omer Khan [39:52]
So tell me a little bit more about the Instagram piece because I think most people would think about Okay, I I'm in a B2B SaaS product. I'm going after agencies it's a business, Facebook, maybe, but I think most people would never even consider Instagram.

Ryan Born [40:13]
Yeah, I mean, so at the end of the day, you're you're still targeting a person, right? you're targeting an individual, our person just happens to be an agency owner. So it is B2B sales, we're selling to the agencies, but we're trying to get that individual person. And so the way Facebook works, and we've been fortunate enough to have an amazing account manager there that's helped us kind of scale up our ads and be more efficient with our spending. But the way it works is they're going to first figure out who those people are that you're trying to get in front of the A you're targeting. And then they're going to figure out okay, you know, now that we know this, this buyer persona, how can we get in front of them for the cheapest or whatever different ad bid strategy use? We use the cheapest result and so it's going to say, Okay, can we get in front of them Facebook, can we get in front of them on Instagram? Can we get in front of them on maybe one of their audience networks, the third party audience networks, and it's going to look at those different channels and say, you know, what's going to be the cheapest result. And where we most likely to actually have success. And it's going to be totally different depending on who you're targeting. So for example, you know, targeting, let's say, you and myself, it might show me that on Instagram, because I spend more time there. And it might show you the ad on Facebook, but, you know, we're still the same buyer persona. And so I think there are a lot of people assume, oh, it's B2B, you need me on LinkedIn, or you know, it's B2B, you can't use Instagram, you have to focus on Facebook. But the reality is you're targeting a person and it's impossible to kind of lock people into these different categories based off what business they they work in.

Omer Khan [41:49]
And then how does the Instagram ad work? Is that still some kind of native lead gen form that you have in there?

Ryan Born [41:56]
Yeah, exactly. And so the nice thing about Facebook Ads Manager is you can create that one lead generation form, and then you can use it on both Facebook and Instagram. So on Instagram, we run a feed ad. So it shows up in your feed, you know, as you're scrolling through it, and then we also run a Instagram Stories ad. So if you're clicking through stories, you'll see our video play. And if you swipe up, it just pulls up the lead generation form directly within Instagram. That's really interesting.

Omer Khan [42:23]
How much did you spend on all of these ad tests and total, before you got to a point where you found an ad that was working?

Ryan Born [42:34]
Yeah, I would say it was probably three to $400, it wasn't very much at all. You know, there's some platforms that have a minimum, some of the like the more niche forums and that type of stuff. And in most situations, we would try just kind of the minimum test that we could do. And if we notice a little bit traction, we bump up the ad spend a little bit more and see if we continue to seeing success and so for SEM, for example, like being in Google AdWords, we had some early success, but then it was very fickle, like we couldn't reproduce it. And so we decided, Okay, like, let's just shut this off for now. And let's table it. Like, we know, this worked a little bit, but let's focus on something else. And yeah, I mean, it was it was really, really small tests, like, just enough to kind of test the waters and see if we had any traction. And I think it's really difficult because you have to have some sort of statistical significance to the test to actually have some sort of conclusive answer. And I don't think we had that. Like, I think there are a lot of platforms and channels that we could go back to and now that we have a bit more money, we could we could try them again, we might be successful. So I don't think it's saying like definitively No, this doesn't work. I think if anything, it's saying, yes, this did work with a really small test. I think this will work with a much larger test. Let's try and increase our ad spend and see if it continues to work and So, once we found this ad that worked with, I think it was like a $50 test. We're like, okay, like, this seems promising. Let's put $100 behind it. And let's see what happens. And it continued working, we said, okay, you know, let's do $300. So $10 per day, for the month, and it continued working in so we just slowly start ramping it up. And, you know, fortunately, our ROI is, is really, really good right now, you know, we can land the lead for about $15. And our customer lifetime value is bit over $4,000. And so the ROI is really solid. And so we just keeping like slowly ramping it up to the point where we just can't service that many demos right now. So we're at a point where we are actually hiring some more salespeople because we've increased the ad so much that we have so much inbound interest that we just can't get done most everyone within the 24 hour period of the day.

Omer Khan [44:55]
That's a high-quality problem to have.

Ryan Born [44:57]
Oh, absolutely.

Omer Khan [44:58]
Anyone would be happy with that problem.

Ryan Born [45:00]
Yeah, and it's you know, it's great because there's no better time to raise money when you say, Hey, we have this issue where we have too many people that want our product. And we need to educate them. So we don't have high churn and high turnover. You know, we want to raise money to pretty much hire more folks to then onboard more customers. It's a very compelling story to tell an investor. And it obviously helps a lot with getting an evaluation that you're comfortable with.

Omer Khan [45:24]
Yeah, and I think the the interesting thing here is that the takeaway is not that Facebook and Instagram ads work for Ryan and Ross, and that everybody else should go out and do the same thing with some kind of free offer. But I think it's more about the process that you went through, to figure out number one, doing these small tests on different platforms, ad platforms to figure out where there might be an opportunity, and then figuring out what your targeting was going to be like and how to focus on the right people. Fine-tuning your ad copy, having a good compelling offer, and then the right call to action. And even something as simple as you said, you know, hey, I can have a folder on my website, or I can have a native form on Facebook, which one converts better? Right. So I think it's a process that you went through, to do all those things to figure out what works for your product, your market. And I think that's the lesson I think people should take away from this. Would you agree?

Ryan Born [46:28]
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think it's difficult to if you're bootstrapped, just because you're running ads, of course, cost money, and there's so many different variations of what type of ad you can run because they're all those different attributes that you're mentioning. And so that's the hard part is how do you maximize your budget to then get those results with some sort of statistical significance?

Omer Khan [46:52]
Yeah, you know, the, the other day, I bought a software product, which I'm not gonna name and after I bought it, I got kind of hounded by these retargeting ads everywhere that I went. And, yeah, it was like going to these third party sites, you're reading an article or a blog post and you see the display ad there, you go to another website, it's there. And it kind of just kind of made me think like, you know, it doesn't take a lot to sort of, if you if you pick selling people to say, okay, exclude the people who go to my thank you page after they purchased and exclude them because there's no value in in showing that ad and many ways. It kind of looks a little sloppy to me. And I was kind of having a rant about that on Twitter. And you said Actually, we retarget people who bought our product, and it actually works well for us. So tell me about that. What why is that it's working for you.

Ryan Born [47:54]
Yeah, and I think I think you brought up a great caveat on Twitter as well. And you know, the reason we're Well for us is because we are advertising on social media. And there's this whole idea of social validation, right? It's kind of a herd mentality. If you notice a bunch of other folks are doing something and having success doing it, you want to do it as well. And so that's actually the reason why we retarget our existing customers, is we'll put up this ad, and many of our customers are just amazing people like they are ambassadors of our product, and they're really supportive. And we work really closely with most of them. And so they'll see our ad and they'll chime in saying, Oh, yeah, I use Cloud Campaign. I've used it for a year, two years, or whatever it might be. And it's helped me grow my agency. It's been phenomenal. You should try it. And there's nothing more valuable and more convincing for potential customer than seeing an existing customer that's having success with that product.

Omer Khan [48:52]
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's beautiful. That's a really smart way to use retargeting with customers, and I think in many ways, like, you know, you see these kinds of posts, and it's like, over time, you can keep running them. And, and it's like it's got more likes and more comments. And if it's just basically the comments or testimonials, it's like, wow, that's something you definitely want to keep running.

Ryan Born [49:16]
Oh, absolutely. I mean, at least I know, on this way, I'm sure there's lots of other people that are as well. But if I see an ad on social media, and I'm interested in the product, the first thing I do is I'll go to the comments, and I'll say, No, what's everyone else saying? Is there bad reviews? Are people having bad experiences with it? You know, are people enjoying the product? And so just having those customers that are coming in and saying great things about us? And you know, these are unsolicited reviews? We're not asking them to comment on them. They just do it, which is phenomenal. And yeah, it's it's been extremely effective for us, even like it was so Facebook will show you your different ad sets that you're running and looking at the ads that have these positive comments, versus the ones that don't the ones that have the positive concert performance significantly better?

Omer Khan [50:02]
Yeah. Yeah, it makes sense. Okay, I think it's time to wrap up. So we're going to move on to the lightning round. And I'm going to ask you seven quickfire questions here. Ready?

Ryan Born [50:10]
Yeah, let's do it. Okay,

Omer Khan [50:13]
what's the best piece of business advice you ever received?

Ryan Born [50:16]
So it's Tim Ferriss's advice from a Four-Hour Workweek. And it's “Just in time, not just in case”. I love that. I love that.

Omer Khan [50:23]
I think I mean, I've read the book many, many years ago. But a lot of us could just use that, that piece of advice in everyday life. What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Ryan Born [50:34]
I'm assuming most folks listening probably already read this, but Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. I think it's just a great book to read and even reread throughout the journey of starting a company because it's very relatable. And I think it can give you a sense of where you're at today, and also kind of what's coming in the next three to six months and you know, what potential pitfalls you're going to be encountering and in the future,

Omer Khan [50:57]
What's one attribute or characteristic in your The mind of a successful founder,

Ryan Born [51:01]
perseverance, I mean, starting companies hard, it's really hard. And you're going to be tried in day in, day out. And so I think most successful entrepreneurs will just persevere rather than tossing in the towel.

Omer Khan [51:14]
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Ryan Born [51:18]
So I actually have to, I'm cheating. But the first one is just planning the night before. I think if you're deliberate about what goals you want to accomplish the next day, you'll actually get them done versus you kind of enjoy the day not knowing what you're going to do, you'll probably end up be on being on support requests and whatever else the rest of the day. So, one, plan your day two, having a dog is honestly a great hack for being productive because the dog needs to go out and go on a walk every four hours. And so getting outside kind of taking a step back from the business and thinking about it and not being able to execute in the moment, I think is a great way to really approach it and get some clarity on what you're doing.

Omer Khan [51:56]
What's a new crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time?

Ryan Born [52:01]
An Asian fusion food truck. Wow, I love it again. I love Yeah, just making like Korean pork burgers or you know, these really interesting infusions of Asian-American food.

Omer Khan [52:13]
What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Ryan Born [52:16]
So from the early days, I really wanted to be an inventor at the point where I was at my grandma's house when I was about seven years old. And there's this TV that came on, you've probably seen it. It's been around forever. It's like, sort of patent lawyer and there's this caveman that's chipping on a wheel of stone. And my grandma's extremely supportive is like, Oh, you should call in if you have an idea. And so I call this patent lawyer at seven years old, and try and sell them on this idea of moon shoes, which I didn't realize already existed. And yeah, I mean, sadly, patent lawyers don't do business with seven-year-old. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work? Just getting outside I really like backpacking my girlfriend and I, we go quite a bit regard to our with us and just disconnecting from technology and everything else when we spend so much time in it every day.

Omer Khan [53:06]
Love it. Great answers. So Ryan, thank you for joining me today. It's been a pleasure really enjoyed the chat. If people want to find out more about Cloud Campaign, they can go to cloudcampaign.io. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Ryan Born [53:23]
Yeah, so you can shoot me an email directly at RBORN. That's [email protected] I'm also on Twitter, you want to reach me there, it's just @_ryanborn.

Omer Khan [53:34]
Awesome. Congratulations on the success that you and Russ have had here must be like day and night from the day you turn up to work and they tell you that you're about to be laid off. And you know, revenue is, is growing well, and I'm going to make a note to ping you in a couple of months and see where that number is. Because you're in a great trajectory. So yeah, let's see where that ends up. And also, we mentioned that you also recently raised an angel round, but 175 K, which money you haven't spent. But again, that's part of the story. And again, just for validation that, you know, you guys are onto a solid thing here and you're building the foundations of a great business. So congratulations on that.

Ryan Born [54:21]
Yeah, I appreciate it. And I guess to that point, a real quick plug. We are hiring right now. So if anyone wants to join our team, we have an office up in Portland, and you can find our open job listings. jobs.cloudcampaign.io,

Omer Khan [54:37]
Okay. Great. I'll include a link in the show notes to that, that URL as well for for folks. Great. Thanks, man. It's been a pleasure and wish you and Ryan the best.

Ryan Born [54:48]
I appreciate it. Thanks so much Omer. It's been really fun.

Omer Khan [54:51]
Take care. Cheers.

Ryan Born [54:52]
Cheers.

Omer Khan [54:53]
Thanks for listening. I really hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to thesaaspodcast.com where you'll find a summary of this episode and a link to other resources we discussed. If you enjoyed the episode, then please subscribe to the podcast. And if you're in a good mood, consider leaving a rating and review to show your support. 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.