Holly Stephens - Subly

Subly: Bootstrapping a SaaS from Zero to 60,000 Users – with Holly Stephens [289]

Subly: Bootstrapping a SaaS from Zero to 60,000 Users

Holly Stephens is the co-founder and CEO of Subly, a SaaS product that provides automatic transcription, translation, and subtitles for audio and video content.

When Holly was running an online community and marketing agency, she realized how effective video was in attracting customers for both herself and her clients.

But she quickly discovered how difficult it was to create subtitles and transcriptions for those videos and then share them across various platforms.

Holly wondered if this was also a big pain for other content creators and if there might be an opportunity for her to solve that problem.

She knew that the best way to move forward with an idea was to just get it out there and see what happens. So she quickly created a landing page.

The page was pretty simple. It described a fictional product that would make it easier to add subtitles to videos and invited people to signup and get notified when it launched.

She shared the link to the landing page in different Facebook groups and in a few days, about fifty people signed up.

That was enough for Holly and her co-founder Keyvan to move ahead with the idea.

For the next year, they still worked their day jobs but would meet in the mornings and evenings to work on their product.

Eventually, about a year later they launched their product and had around a hundred people signup. But the product was still free and they hadn't yet figured out how to make money.

And it took them several more months to figure out how to get their first paid customer.

Currently, Subly is doing around $120K in annual recurring revenue, the team has raised a seed round and have around 60,000 people using the product.

In this interview, we dive into how Holly validated her idea with a simple landing page, how she used LinkedIn to generate interest in the product, and how with a very tight marketing budget, they've been able to build a pretty significant user base in a relatively short period of time.

I hope you enjoy it.


Click to view transcript

Omer Khan: [00:00:00] 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 talk to Holly Stevens, the co-founder and CEO of a SaaS product that provides automatic transcription, translation, and subtitles for your audio and video content. When Holly was running an online community and marketing agency, she realized how effective video was in attracting customers, both for herself and her clients. She quickly discovered how difficult it was to create subtitles and transcriptions for those videos and then share them across different platforms.

[00:01:00] Holly wondered if this was a big pain for other content creators, too. And if there might be an opportunity for her to solve that problem, she knew that the best way to move forward with an idea was to just get it out there and see what happens. So she quickly created a landing page.

[00:01:18] The page is pretty simple. It described a fictional product that would make it easier to add subtitles to videos and invited people to type in their email address and get notified when it launched. She shared the link to the page in various different Facebook groups. And in a few days, she had about 50 people signed up and that was enough for Holly and her co-founder Kevin, to move ahead with the idea for the next year, they still work their day jobs, but would meet in the mornings and evenings to work on their product. Eventually, about a year later, they launched their product and had around a hundred people sign up. But the product was still free and they hadn't yet figured out how to make money.

[00:02:05] It took them several more months to figure out how to get their first paying customer currently, Subly is doing around $120,000 in annual recurring revenue. The team has raised a seed round and they have around 60,000 people using their product. In this interview, we dive into how Holly validated her idea with a simple landing page, how she used LinkedIn to generate interest in the products and how with a very tight marketing budget, they've been able to build a pretty significant user base in a relatively short period of time.

[00:02:40] So I hope you enjoy it. Holly, welcome to the show.

Holly Stephens: [00:02:43] Thank you so much, Omer. I'm so excited to be here.

Omer Khan: [00:02:46] Do you have a quote, something that inspires and motivates you or gets you out of bed that you can share with us?

Holly Stephens: [00:02:52] I think for me, rather than a quote, it's something I live by whenever I get a blocker, I suppose.

[00:02:57] And one of those key things that I always go back to is just take that first step because actually that first step is sometimes the hardest that may be when you need to start a new presentation, or you don't know something just even open up kind of Google slides to get started. Maybe that first step.

[00:03:17] And that can, that quote kind of goes into so many different aspects.  And that was probably one of the biggest things when entrepreneurs start an idea is that they need to take that first step.  That is definitely one of the hardest things. So that's what kind of always motivates me to just get going.

[00:03:33] And the one thing that always drives me is actually right now, we're a pretty big team. And it's the team that motivates me every single day to build a business and give them the freedom they want with their families. And yeah, that, that really does drive me every single day to wake up and work to a brilliant team that we have.

Omer Khan: [00:03:54] So tell us about sublease. What does the product do? Who's it for? And what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

Holly Stephens: [00:04:01] Sure. So, well, like every single person, probably listening to this right now, especially you and I Omer, we use our phones and our computers every single day, and we will see videos. We will see them on Instagram, on YouTube, LinkedIn.

[00:04:17] It could be an internal video that someone might be viewing at their corporate company. They work for. Well, actually 85% of these videos of what should that sound on social media alone. But when you add subtitles to these videos actually increases engagement by 80%, which is huge, but actually a lot of teams, a lot of creators actually don't add these subtitles.

[00:04:38] It is really time-consuming for them. And, but they even know that it could increase that engagement rate for them. And so this is the process really is that it's time-consuming to transcribe, to translate to subtitle videos, and it gets costly and it's complex and it's outdated and it for freelance, it can take them a long time too.

[00:04:59] So essentially Subly is the solution. It's the end result of making it really easy to transcribe, to subtitle, to brand a video and translate into multiple languages. And it's a platform that does this all for you. It will transcribe it easily. You can edit the transcript, you can repurpose the video by it, embedding the subtitles, and then you translate that into 31 languages. If it's required.

[00:05:26] And we also allow it. So there's really easy for anyone to get started from a single creator all the way to a multi-team. And it could be used by a creator all the way to an agency. And yeah, so we've, it's been a product that really came from a pain point myself of just adding subtitles on to videos.

[00:05:45] And then as that product evolved and more users that we spoke with we saw that there were so many other areas that we could solve for different teams as well. And that's where our product has really evolved.

Omer Khan: [00:05:56] And tell us about the size of the business today. So. You mentioned the team. How big is the team right now?

Holly Stephens: [00:06:03] Yeah, the teams now 14 in around 18 months. I think that, and

Omer Khan: [00:06:08] I just, I saw a post from you today saying we're hiring. So you have like what, five open positions?

Holly Stephens: [00:06:13] Yeah. So we're, we're constantly hiring at the moment, especially now that we've had this next round seed round.  So yeah, UX designers and software engineers is what we're hiring at the moment.

Omer Khan: [00:06:22] And how many users do you have using Subly?

Holly Stephens: [00:06:25] Yeah, so we have our own 60,000 users that are now using us, which is just fantastic.  And a lot of those as well, and signups we've had are even businesses that need is not just creators as well. So we have 6,000 business accounts. I've joined Subly as well as 2000 educational institutions as well.

Omer Khan: [00:06:45] And in terms of revenue where are you?

Holly Stephens: [00:06:47] At the moment we're tracking around 10K a month recurring revenue. And that's just after six months since launching our subscriptions.

Omer Khan: [00:06:54] Awesome. Okay. So let's, let's kind of go back. I want to talk about how you came up with the idea and, and sort of started the business and and this is not the first company you've started. So I think that that, that is kind of some useful context because the way you started Subly was probably different to the way you may have done it. A few years ago. Yeah. So let, let's talk about the YouTube channel because that's where it all started for you, right?

Holly Stephens: [00:07:24] Yeah. That's right. So yeah, the idea really came from that. I had a previous business that was a community to help females start their own tech businesses. And I'd been running this business for around 10 months, received a lot of coverage around it as well. And I also had my own marketing consultancy that I was running as well.

[00:07:45] So was helping clients with ads with social media content.  And I really, the main problem is when I was doing this content for my clients, as well as running this YouTube channel and this online community was that I realized that I could get to more people. And how more people, if I produce more video content, And so I started to put this video content on YouTube and I started to do video content and just interviewing people as well.

[00:08:16] And what I found was that from this YouTube content alone, I couldn't really share it in an easy way. So for example, you need to cut and resize a video for the right social media platform. Or when I was doing the ads for my clients, it also wasn't easy either. And then when I started to look at some of the stats around how to increase engagement for my YouTube channel, it was repurposing all of this content on different channels but adding subtitles could significantly impact how much engagement you got on those videos.

[00:08:51] And then I start to test it myself and I was using all these different tools and I was uploading re-downloading different videos. And probably using our competitive products now, but nothing really quite worked for me. It wasn't easy to add subtitles on this video, but when I did, I was getting significant engagement and yeah, that's where it really came from is that I really didn't have a product that was so easy to use for me.

[00:09:15] And it was taking me so much time. For example, for me, I was doing maybe 40 minutes for an interview on YouTube and it was taking me around eight hours. To get this video up and running. And that was because it was, you had to re-upload and re-download, then you have to add the subtitles and then transcribe it and then send it to a different team.

[00:09:36] And I use all these tools and it wasn't anything quite suited that I could use.  And I've been in tech my entire career in marketing. And now I couldn't work out to these prices in a simple way. And I asked lots of communities on Facebook, on social media communities, and they also tried different tools and they couldn't quite find something.

[00:09:55] And that's where this whole problem I experienced really started Subly

Omer Khan: [00:10:01] Got it. So I think if you're putting a video into YouTube, like there are ways I think that YouTube can kind of create these auto-generated type subtitles, right? Yeah. And then if you want to do anything yourself, I don't know that much about it, but I know that  you end up creating what, like these SRT files and then you have to, you know, either upload them to the service that will kind of layer on the subtitle.

[00:10:26] So how does this work in terms of like making it easier? Are the subtitle sort of baked into the videos? Do people have to use your player to get the subtitles to work? How does that kind of actually working behind the scenes?

Holly Stephens: [00:10:39] Yeah. Sure. So you see so many used in different ways. So if you're a YouTube creator, what you would do is you would typically record a video and then you may upload it straight to YouTube, which some people do.

[00:10:52] But what a lot of YouTube creators would like to do is take that video and repurpose it in some way. So it would be cutting it or adding the subtitles. And so we, we do that process of upload to Subly you can resize it for the right platform. And then you can also add the subtitles and you can extract the subtitled video with the subtitle embedded, which YouTube does not do a lot of the other platforms don't either.

[00:11:18] And that's what you want. You want the subtitles embedded onto that video because a user might just remove them, but then they've missed out on actually seen your content. And then we've YouTube. The other element is that they don't, they don't do that whereas Subly does and also for different teams.

[00:11:32] So typically you as a YouTube creator, you might use, might use that auto-generated function. But if you're an internal comms team or you're doing a product launch or your trying to get some customer validation, or you're creating content yourself as a, as a coach, you may not put that onto YouTube, especially kind of for corporate.

[00:11:51] So you wouldn't do it because you need an area where. It's really secure for you to send that out to your customers, to your internal teams and YouTube. You wouldn't use it for that reason and also for, for creators as well. They tend to do like short snippet videos as well. And you wouldn't upload a one-minute video to YouTube.

[00:12:10] You would typically do longer form content were suited for kind of really those internal videos, as well as a social media video as well.

Omer Khan: [00:12:19] Yeah. I mean the social, social media videos. I think that, that I think most people will, will get right, right away that you see videos coming up in the newsfeed. And most of the time they're muted. When you see a subtitled video that you just can't help, but, you know, start reading it. Right. So even if you don't turn on the sound and I think that's a kind of a good example of, okay, well, you've, you've got a piece of content. You can upload it to YouTube, but maybe you need to use it in five different places and you need to put it on LinkedIn and Instagram and whatever. And I think that it kind of quickly becomes clear how much work you have to do on each video to make it work on those different platforms and have subtitles. Okay. So, so you, you you're feeling the pain yourself, what did you do to get started?

Holly Stephens: [00:13:07] Yeah, so what I've learned actually from the past, like different things I started was that you just need to get the idea out there and when I experienced that problem, I just put up a landing page. I just created something really quickly. And the business wasn't even called Subly. Then we had a completely different name that I've made up and it just simply said an easy way to add subtitles onto your video and that's where it all started.

[00:13:31] And then the way that I started to validate this further was actually posting in Facebook groups where I could see. A similar profile probably to me or where I thought that there would be that customer, that user. So I went into a lot of Facebook groups and I'd post on social media, Facebook groups and said, there's this solution launching. Have you seen it? Have you used it? And just start to validate it that way, just through simple landing pages, trying to get people's emails through to see if, if everyone else needs a solution as well. But then what happened was I didn't need to do that work because people were like, oh, this solution is launching.

[00:14:12] And then they would post it into other Facebook groups. And I really saw a need for, for the business right then. And that's how I really started to validate it from that point. So that's where it all started. It started with a landing page and quickly within few days, we had 50 people sign up to this solution and it wasn't just people that I'd seen on Facebook, maybe commenting on my post.

[00:14:37] It was large corporate companies that even TV production companies, where someone had passed it onto someone else. And that's how we started to grow. And then before we knew it just from a landing page and before even launching anything, that database has growing even further. So that's where it all started was from, from that very simple landing page.

Omer Khan: [00:14:55] And you didn't. You didn't have anything about the product or screenshots, or even though they were made up because it was a real product. It just talked about the problem.

Holly Stephens: [00:15:07] Just talked about the problem, just simple solution to add subtitles onto your videos. And it was just like, this can be done in three steps. You automatically transcribe it. Then you can add the subtitles and they're embedded onto the video for you to share. It was all it was and yeah, three-step solution and yeah, there's nothing else on that on that page. I think I've still got screenshots now and we look at them, Subly how it first looked.

Omer Khan: [00:15:35] Oh, I'd love to take a look maybe  get a chance anyone.  Okay, great, so you've got about 50 people signed up fairly quickly. Did you, did you follow up with them? Did you, did you interview them? Did you try to try to learn more about why they were signing up?

Holly Stephens: [00:15:51] At that point I had setup kind of  integration with just using MailChimp. And it just had a flow of emails just to maybe look like it was a product that was nearly there, but I hadn't even known hadn't even built anything. And yeah, it was just, that was all it was. And then from that point, Kevin, so Kevin, my co-founder and I, who was working together at a consultancy company, he had seen this post in one of the groups that I was part of.

[00:16:25] And he was like, Holly we’ve, we've known each other now for a while. I'd really love to see what this product is. I think you're behind it. And that's where it was like, we both really want us to work together. He is such a brilliant software engineer and loved working with him on the projects that we're working on.

[00:16:46] And he also helped out in mentoring other women on their tech businesses that I was part of my community. And so we just started to build and every single day after work, because he's both still working full time, we'd meet in the mornings for coffee and after work for hot chocolate and we would just start, he would be coding and I would be thinking all these crazy ideas, how we can market the idea and sell it.

[00:17:08] And, and that's where it just kept evolving. And as we started to build people who were in our network, just wanting to get on board with that. And so David who has worked with Kevin in the past, wanted to join, and Kevin was getting so excited at this point by us launching this product. And we had that and the database just kept growing the people who needed it.

[00:17:32] And then Lucy, who is now our head of product really wanted to help us launch a product and get involved with product management. And then, so we just started to build it between the four of us and that became the five of us. And we're all huddling every, every week. And David was in the UK and I was still back in Australia then, and we just would keep building together and just building a really great team around us.

[00:17:57] And that became six of us. And then, yeah, we, until we would, we became six people and then we didn't launch until February, 2020. And during that whole time, Lucy was taking user interviews. Kevin was taken on the feedback. I was marketing the product and building out the website further in front of internally would help us with content marketing.

[00:18:18] And we were, we were just bootstrapping this and just meeting day after day to get this off the ground. And yeah, we did that for around 14 months between that and even launching a full product. And so it was just always speaking to our customers and always just trying to persevere through, just to get this out the door.

Omer Khan: [00:18:35] So was anybody working full-time on the business in the, in that period of about 14, 15 months?

Holly Stephens: [00:18:41] No. No one was full-time  the first person that went full-time was Miguel, our software engineer. Who's still with us today. He's amazing. And he's the first person that we employed and paid and yeah, there was no one full-time and I didn't actually go full time until June 2020.

Omer Khan: [00:18:58] Got it. So tell me about like the product that you started building. Like, how did you figure out what to build? So you, you, you obviously had experienced the problem yourself. And so from, from that, in terms of like scratching your own itch, you had an idea of what you needed, but what, what were you learning from these interviews that you, you were all doing and, and how did that change the product you ended up building?

Holly Stephens: [00:19:34] Yeah, so probably from all these user interviews, we start off with that simple problem of subtitling and just embedding the subtitle songs, the videos, I make it really quick and easy for people, but what else are we doing? Those user interviews? We then would speak to a podcaster or we'd speak to a content creator.

[00:19:54] Someone in internal comms, a large corporate, and we just knew that we had this real problem of just adding subtitles. There are other elements that need to be solved around it. So that may be that they need to repurpose it for different channels. As, as we already knew, it could be that they wanted to take the audio file from their podcast and then put that into Subly and then repurpose that as well and add a video to it.

[00:20:19] It could be with that internal comms manager. She didn't just have an audience in who speak in English. She had multiple regions that she then needed to tell people the message from the CEO. And we just saw so many different areas, but if we just start with this core problem of subtitling, we knew that then if we built that out really well and built a really great product around it, we can solve this other solutions.

[00:20:47] From just this one single problem.  So yeah, as we kept speaking to them, we just, we saw where these areas, where our business could be built out. And we still do that today. We still meet and interview users, whether it's for our product or we even into recharge users. And we just constantly want that user feedback to just keep improving and just see all the different use cases that might, that they may have that might be that they need to work with.

[00:21:14] Video company, they need to translate and share with different team members. And so as we speak with those users and we still do that now is we just build out our product based on what their users need, but with the end goal that we have set on as well.

[00:21:29] Okay. So, so the product launches in February, 2020?

[00:21:36] Yes. What happened? When you, when you sort of eventually, you know, finally turned the lights on and the products the here now. Yeah.

[00:21:43] So if you have February 20, 20, so 14 months ago from when we're recording this, now the one thing that we did at that point was that we said we are just going to go after the mass market and we're going to get to users.

[00:22:00] Really easily through going to business owners and creators, because we didn't want to spend money on marketing. I'd spend a lot of money on marketing and corporate roles, and we didn't have that to spend. We were still beached up in this row income. And so we just said, okay, let's go to business owners, creators who need this product, and let's just get feedback.

[00:22:20] Let's keep this product free for as long as we can go for. And then we just saw people starting to use it. And we have like the slack channel of our users signing up and then signups were coming and people are using it. But then we had so many bugs that came through as well. When we launched, we knew it wasn't perfect.

[00:22:38] We knew things need to be changed, but we. We had to work through these bugs. The team had to keep building at the same time as fixing. And that is, that is just what happened. And we just need to keep growing at the same time and respond to customers on social, if something wasn't quite working.  So yeah, when we hit 2020 February, We launched that product, but then what quickly happened was that COVID hit and more people needed our solution.

[00:23:07] So not only did business owners and creators use it and, and people who were starting to do their own online courses when it was then becoming like March, April time, I believe. And we started to see more business accounts coming on to Subly and universities and schools as especially cause we were kind of mostly based in the UK or user base, US and Australia, and as COVID start to snowball farther, more people needed to subtitle videos. And so yeah, that, that platform then just kept growing. And obviously as that kept growing, we got more bugs and we just have to keep working through them.  And so, yeah, that, that's how we kept working. We just, every single day get a bug fixed by the team we keep growing.

[00:23:51] At this point, I was still full-time at my corporate job. And needed to keep marketing within fundraising because we kept getting more gross.  And so you just, it just snowballed from February, 2020 and then onwards.

Omer Khan: [00:24:06] How many people I was signed up by February 2020 like on your landing page, like before signing up for the product?

Holly Stephens: [00:24:15] Yeah. So there's around a thousand people that had already subscribed to our service and they really wanted it.

Omer Khan: [00:24:21] And, and do you remember how many, how many of those people roughly actually signed up when, when the product was available?

Holly Stephens: [00:24:27] I remember actually panicking within that first week that we'd only had around a hundred sign-ups.

[00:24:32] I can't remember if it was that existing database or it's new people that found us, but I was panicking at a hundred and then now we got to 60,000.  So yeah, I can't quite remember that email.

Omer Khan: [00:24:43] Yeah. And because it's like, wait a minute, it's like, the product is free. We're not even charging them. Why aren't they all signing up? Right. And so what do you think was going on? Why do you think, you know, a hundred people kind of signed up initially?

Holly Stephens: [00:24:57] For us. I think it was that our product was what we just we've just put something out there as quick as possible. And it was called a completely different name and the website didn't look very professional, but we, when you went into our product, it was still very clunky.

[00:25:12] There's still bugs. There wasn't probably enough social proof either of people using it.  But as more users came on, board, more people used it.  Our business just started, it just started to evolve naturally. And I think that was probably the, that, story it just began was that we just need to get something out there and get people using it.

[00:25:34] And then you just have to be any, you also just have to be patient, like it's not going to be perfect when you first launch it. And we had to understand that. So, yeah, I just think it might have been the social proof that people really needed as, as we were growing that business.

Omer Khan: [00:25:47] You also raised a seed round around that time, right?

Holly Stephens: [00:25:51] Yes. So between February, 2020, and then up until June 2020. Yeah. We raised our pre-seed round.

Omer Khan: [00:26:00] Which was how much?

Holly Stephens: [00:26:02] We close 210K pounds at that point.

Omer Khan: [00:26:06] And were you charging for the product around that time or was it still free?

Holly Stephens: [00:26:10] It was still free. And what we wanted to do when we first launched, we really wanted to charge straight away, but we, I remember speaking to our investors and shareholders and getting their advice of, should we just charge straight away now or shall we keep building and build a little bit more polished than what it is, and then charge off that point.

[00:26:30] And they all agreed to it and they could see that we had enough runway to go for 12 months at this point. And we just wanted to get more user feedback and just keep it free for that reason. So, yeah, we decided to keep it free up until June 2020.

Omer Khan: [00:26:45] Did you have any challenges raising money? When, I mean, I guess around that time, you didn't have a huge number of sign-ups it wasn't like, Hey, you know, we've got you know, 10,000 people signed up and you weren't making money either. So how easy or hard was it to raise that initial funding?

Holly Stephens: [00:27:03] With the initial funding, it wasn't mean necessarily going to VCs or angel investors, what I was doing at the beginning, especially because I wanted to keep. I would like to be shopping as long as possible and make revenue as quickly as possible.

[00:27:20] I mean, build a sustainable business. I actually reached out to a lot of people in my network, or I'd seen people I want to speak with. So for example, I wanted to know more about how subtitles can be applied to radio stations or out of home. And I started to network with people in that area and just ask them for coffee and just say, can I get your perspective?

[00:27:42] And then they would really like the idea. And then they were like, well, how can I help? And it won't be necessarily that I would like your money. It was more, I really need your advice. And that relationship then evolved and it would be helping me and they'd intro me to their network. And as they built that relationship with me and that trust, and they could see all these different areas that could be applied to, then they said, Hey, I think you might need to be funded.

[00:28:08] How about I check in some money to help you get this off the ground? And that's how all our investors came on board. And it was from those investors that introduce us to their friends. And it was also my existing relationships. I built with people that I'd worked within the past, who some of them I'd met through the Founder Institute accelerator.

[00:28:29] And they became advisors to me and they're like, Hey, I really think you've got something going here. I really would like to invest in your business. And it was all built on relationships.  And just, and just getting the help from them and that, that very early stage, that is all I needed. I needed. A really good team network around me who can get this off the ground with me.

[00:28:49] And so I didn't take loads and loads of meetings at that precise point. It was probably a seed round that we've just done, where I had to get more data and get more proof points and more case studies and do a full pitch deck for investors. But at that stage at pre-seed, it was all built on relationships.

Omer Khan: [00:29:07] And, and so I know you just kind of finalizing the details of that. The latest funding round, but overall, how much would you have raised this point?

Holly Stephens: [00:29:18] Yeah. In total from grants as well that we utilized and from pre-seed and seed round it's around 1.2 million pounds.

Omer Khan: [00:29:27] Okay, great. So I think there's some good lessons there, right? So when, when sometimes people are trying to get their, their idea off the ground. And they, they, they believe they need funding it's like, okay, I need a, I need a pitch deck. I need to start going and pitching to investors. And, and what you did was, was a little different that you just focused on going and talking to people or getting feedback, building those relationships.

[00:29:52] And I guess you guys didn't actually need the money at that point, you still had some, I mean, you'd been going to for quite a while, just working like nights and weekends and mornings as well, right?

Holly Stephens: [00:30:07] Yeah. I don't think I saw the light of day for many months as I was getting up so early in the UK, it was super cold at that point in dark, in the mornings and leaving work as well and, and working through the night as well.

[00:30:19] So definitely didn't have a social life, but I, yeah, I did it. I depreciate a little bit differently. And most of the time when I was speaking to people, I never presented them a pitch deck and actually going into the seed round now, it was only when speaking to institutional investors and VCs that I needed to send them a pitch deck.

[00:30:41] And still then when I'd go into those meetings, I wouldn't necessarily present in the pitch deck. They have all the notes that they need. They have all the stats, they that round in seed round. Still just want to know. Oh, you're the right person to invest in it. Can you build this business? What's your attraction to date?

[00:31:00] What are your numbers? Is there a big growth, potential? What's the market size and for VCs, they need to be able to earn that fund back as well, that whole fund. So yeah, for us, it was done completely differently and I'm not sure if that was the same, what other founders might find, but it was, it was again, all built on relationships as well as the seed round as well.

Omer Khan: [00:31:22] I want to talk about the growth and how you've got to like 55, 60,000 users in a relatively short amount of time considering it was just over a year ago with, you said you were freaking out because you already had a hundred people sign up for the free product. So before we get into that, just at what point did you start charging?

Holly Stephens: [00:31:50] We first started charging in July, 2020, and we did that through a founding membership campaign. So did a really quick offer that only lasted a week to see if we could monetize our business and see if people would actually pay for our service because it was still free. So we charged, I mean, did a founding membership campaign, which gave those founding members 90% off the six months when we actually go launch the subscriptions, but we didn't start our subscriptions, our main business until October of 2020.

Omer Khan: [00:32:27] Okay. Okay, great. So let's start talking about how you, you kind of continue to get the word out and how you've grown. The business over the last year. So I guess part of this was just some of it was just happening from word of mouth and having a, a free plan gets rid of some of the barriers, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get customers. So what did you start doing to, to reach more people and get the product in front of them?

Holly Stephens: [00:33:01] Sure. So one of the main things that we were doing, we knew the importance of community and building that community and then building that momentum and just keep, keep building that. And that was one of my biggest growth strategies was not only were we speaking with the community in the users.

[00:33:19] They were also loving the product. So they were referring it to their networks as well. And sometimes you don't know how big that network might be. Some of these community advocates we will call them is that they were posting it to Facebook, social media groups that they were part of and telling them about the tips and tools they would typically use.

[00:33:38] And one of those with Subly to subtitle these videos. So as is all around referrals from that community, And we just kept asking the feedbacks. They trusted us even more to then tell the community themselves. And that was one of the biggest things that we did. The second thing was actually, we weren't afraid to just keep releasing content.

[00:34:01] That would be for me doing LinkedIn posts on, on, and using our product and having subtitled videos across my LinkedIn. That might be that I'm doing. Four videos a week, but I wasn't afraid to just get the product out there. So it was just, people kept hearing about us and they would refer us and they would tag us in those LinkedIn videos.

[00:34:19] Or they would tag us on the Twitter videos that we were posting. And it was just relentless posting across those channels and using our product and showcasing it so that people wouldn't forget it. And then we'd also do content around building our SEO and our backlinks and posting about our business and around subtitling, it would all be around content creation.

[00:34:44] So the biggest thing we did was community. The second piece is content marketing. We've only just started to test digital marketing and paid marketing. That's only been kicked off in the last month, but we are still seeing a lot of, a lot of our users come through search now searching Subly or they've seen us on LinkedIn.

[00:35:03] So it just shows that what we're doing at the start to build that community and that momentum really did work.

Omer Khan: [00:35:08] So what kinds of things were you posting? I think that, I mean, a lot of founders would, would sort of think about, yeah. Okay, social media, figure out where my, where my target customers are. Let's, let's start getting some content in there, but, but pretty quickly, I think a lot of people run out of stuff to talk about and post. And so was, was this kind of more sort of educational content were you, you creating a lot of videos or just generally just being active talking about a bunch of stuff. Like what was the strategy if there was one on how you were using LinkedIn to reach customers?

Holly Stephens: [00:35:45] We were doing different things. I remember at the start, it was, I was posting around how he got Subly off the ground. So people were starting to believe in our journey and wanted to follow us. And I would talk around the challenges that we had getting off the ground and how to build your own community and all those things that people want to learn about.

[00:36:02] So, yeah, it's a bit of education, a bit about the sublease story as well. And then as we were speaking more to our customers and our users, We might post them around how they're using Subly so it'd be a mix of education and product, but we still test to date. So for example, you sometimes see me on LinkedIn saying about a product launch that we've launched and I've actually was testing last week using Loom to do a screen recording and then add subtitles onto it with our product and it's different and different use cases.

[00:36:35] So. It really varies, but it was really delivering well at that start was, we were so early in in our journey that people just wanting to get on board and be part of something. And that was delivering really well. And that's how we started to build that community around our products.

Omer Khan: [00:36:51] How often were you posting on LinkedIn?

[00:36:53] Oh, I was maybe doing four posts a week. Sometimes I do two a day because I wanted to test the different times and how they would deliver.  I might even do the same post but post at different times while with a different message. So it was constantly testing throughout.

[00:37:08] And I'm curious, what were you just posting this content on your own profile where you kind of finding LinkedIn groups to post in? Were you targeting particular hashtags? How were you sort of approaching that?

Holly Stephens: [00:37:23] No. So I was just posting on my own profile and look, I haven't got a big following at all on LinkedIn, and it has been built now over the past 12 months. But everyone was kind of commenting on my posts. I think it was kind of that personal approach that everyone was liking and really being very supportive of what I was doing.

[00:37:42] And I can only thank the people that did tag me in posts, but people knew at least maybe one or two people that they could tell. And as people were liking the posts, people, more people are seeing it, whereas people don't necessarily follow the company page. They were following my journey.  So yeah, it was all around there just people in my network and on my own personal channel that we're recommending our products and just getting on board with that.

Omer Khan: [00:38:06] Yeah. And, and I guess in many ways, it's Subly is a great product for social media because every, every time you share a video, it's an opportunity to, to show people what it can do.

Holly Stephens: [00:38:19] Correct. Yeah. And so it was a really easy product to get out there through social media, more than anything else. And also it was easy for people to just see the problem, the pain point as I was showing it. And actually you sometimes only say the process of someone posting.  And I even, that is it's time-consuming for creators and people out there.

[00:38:40] So actually just people and assigned to that problem read to get them to comment more as well.

Omer Khan: [00:38:45] So  when you look at the number today that the 55,000 odd users that you have did the majority of them come from what you were doing on LinkedIn and, and sort of the community, were those like the two to sort of drivers of customer acquisition or user acquisition?

Holly Stephens: [00:39:08] Absolutely. So the main one was referrals, the assets from the community, and then referring us for our product. We just built a brilliant product around that use case. And the second piece now we're seeing more is actually it's coming through Google search.

[00:39:25] And people just searching Subly or searching for, how do I add subtitles to my video? Some of the top, top ways of people are using us and searching for us.

Omer Khan: [00:39:35] And have you been creating content like articles on the website or is it just being sort of like just optimizing for certain landing pages?

Holly Stephens: [00:39:45] A lot of it is around looking at some of those key search terms that we should be commenting on.

[00:39:49] So it might produce content around that specific area. So how do you translate videos into multiple languages? Or there might be specific use case that we've seen that one of our users asked us about. And so we'll start creating content around it. So it will be a mix of search terms and what we should be really covering content around.

Omer Khan: [00:40:09] Yeah. And, and I love how this all started by you putting together the landing page. I think  many people, most people would, if they had the idea, they might have taken a very different approach and maybe spent. 18 months going into a bunker and building a product and not telling anybody about it until they're done.

[00:40:31] And you sort of started by, you know, just talking about a product that didn't exist and like how long did it take you to put together that landing page?

Holly Stephens: [00:40:40] The landing page, about 24 hours to get off the ground. And it was so clunky and it all  was a simple, yeah, simple landing page. I built it. Yeah. 24 hours. It took me.

Omer Khan: [00:40:53] I love that. I think there's, there's always this fear of, you know, try getting things as close to, well, not perfect, but I think we all have like a certain mental bar that we want to kind of hit. And in many ways, that's what also slows us down. I mean, I'm, I'm just as kind of guilty of that where it's like, okay, well I want to do this, but it's like, well, it's gotta be like this, or I can't do that until this looks.

[00:41:23] At least as good as something else. And, and  you know, I think just kind of looking at what you did is I think it's just it's just a reminder in terms of a lot of those things don't matter, right? Just, just if you've identified a problem that people care enough about, it doesn't matter how beautiful the landing page looks.

Holly Stephens: [00:41:45] Yeah, correct. And I, I'm completely with you on that Omer. the one thing that I, with this idea, I knew it was a big problem, but I didn't know how big this problem was and in different people that could help. And just by holding onto the idea, even for me, it was like a week.  And I could see for my experience where it could be applied.

[00:42:10] But holding up onto the  idea, I would have had so many regrets if I wouldn't have released it and just put it up on a landing page. And that took a lot of courage to say, look, just get the idea out there. People may say, oh, Holly's launching another idea again. Or maybe it's one way. Might not work this time, or people could be really negative to me around it and say a few jokes or that little idea that you want to launch, things gonna go anywhere. And I just had to stop thinking about all those negative comments and jokes around it and just have to get it out there. And I would have really regretted it if I wouldn't have done that. And I think that can go for so many different people who just want to get, have an idea.

[00:42:49] I would just say, just get it out there and just see. See who wants the idea as well. And then don't spend all your savings and all your money building something that people don't want. You've already proven that people do want this, and there's a clear market and your users and the data from that business that you're building will then tell you how the rest of your business is going to go.

Omer Khan: [00:43:11] Yeah. Yeah. Great points. Okay. So you did the founding, the founding member's campaign. And an offer to people just kind of for, for about six months. And then when did you actually launch a subscription plan?

Holly Stephens: [00:43:24] Subscription plan didn't launch until October, 2020.

Omer Khan: [00:43:28] And how did that go down when you, when you flip the switch and turn that on? Were you freaking about this as well?

Holly Stephens: [00:43:34] Yeah, I was freaking out again, Omer. I was like, oh, there's only 10 customers. And that was within the first hour. It was very much incremental growth. It still is. And sometimes you see a fluctuation in subscriptions. When we switched on a pro yearly pricing on our, on our pro plan, which the only one that we currently have launched, we saw kind of 37 people sign up for the yearly very quickly.

[00:44:00] And it it's just over that time, we are going to see that incremental growth that is going to happen with the subscriptions. It's not one single thing that is working that we know right now.  So subscriptions, yeah, October, 2020 was when we launched and we're still learning all those pricing points and we're still speaking to our users of how much they think we should pay. They should pay for the product. Just a lot of learning for us right now.

Omer Khan: [00:44:25] Yeah. And I, I think the, this, the opportunity here is, is massive. I mean, no surprise to anyone in terms of how, how big online video continues to grow. But this just feels like a really important kind of part of video content that I think has been missing and has been really hard for people for a very long time.

Holly Stephens: [00:44:53] I agree. And when that first idea started it, wasn't just thinking around for creators and business owners. It was, this is needed by teams all around the world as video is consumed even more as there's more podcasts coming out, people are going to need this transcribed and subtitled and actually only 25% globally speaking UK  into, in, into English.

[00:45:19] So when you start to look at those figures, They're going to need to translate all of this content as well. And it's just a huge problem that needs to be solved and it hasn't been done in the right way. And that, that's how, that's why we think this opportunity is, is, is huge that we can conquer.

Omer Khan: [00:45:36] Yeah. Yeah. Kind of reminded me of, I interviewed Melanie Perkins from Canva, but I think like really early days, this was about six years ago. And, you know, they they'd raised a few million dollars and, and sort of got the thing off the ground and it seemed like a great idea, but just at that time, I just had no didn't realize how big the opportunity was there as well. I mean, I didn't know what Canva is these days, but it's like hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue now. Right. I think.

Holly Stephens: [00:46:11] Yeah, and it's it's, I love it. You've referenced us against Canva as well. It's one of those companies that we really do benchmark ourselves against in terms of conversion rates, user growth.

[00:46:22] We're always kind of tracking towards the unicorn that has come for and what Melanie and the team have done is just phenomenal. And I would love Subly to be where conveyors six years on. But yeah, it is around there is a huge opportunity right now in video and online content and audio content, and really working towards businesses and teams as well.

[00:46:44] That need this moment.

Omer Khan: [00:46:45] Well, when you're a unicorn, I hope you'll still talk to me.

[00:46:52] All right.  We should, we should wrap up, let's get onto the lightning round so that you listen to the shows. So, you know, the drill.  So. Are you ready to go?

Holly Stephens: [00:47:02] I'm ready.

Omer Khan: [00:47:03] Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

[00:47:06] Business advice is, go with your guts on hires with investors. If something doesn't feel quite right, treasure gut instinct, every single time.

[00:47:15] What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Holly Stephens: [00:47:18] Atomic Habits by James Clear and also subscribed to his newsletter. Get a lovely little snippet on a Thursday. It's one of the best books I've read.

Omer Khan: [00:47:28] What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:47:32] This is really difficult for me. So I'm going to go with three, but it's the courage to start the idea, the sheer resilience that you need and the perseverance to keep going.

[00:47:40] Yeah, that's a good combination.  What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habits?

Holly Stephens: [00:47:46] I think getting that phone out of where you're working and where you're sleeping is the best thing that I've done. It's too much of a distraction. And also turn off all your notifications on your phone as well.

Omer Khan: [00:47:57] What's a new, old, crazy business idea. You'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?

Holly Stephens: [00:48:01] I would actually love to bring all of the systems together of Stripe, of Hubspot and just making it easier for when you're at this sort of stage of a company, identifying your customers and then the right customer personas and how to target them better through using all of that data. I just, I think it's really difficult to do right now.

Omer Khan: [00:48:24] Yeah. Yeah, I agree.  What's an interesting fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Holly Stephens: [00:48:29] I actually had elocution lessons from my accent in the first year of university because I had a really strong accent.

Omer Khan: [00:48:36] Really?

Holly Stephens: [00:48:37] Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:48:38] What kind of accent?

Holly Stephens: [00:48:40] It was a very strong Birmingham for me accent. And  so people used to laugh at my accent when I was presenting and I was very conscious of this. I decided to have elocution lessons.

Omer Khan: [00:48:50] Yeah.  I, I, I lived in Birmingham for about four years and yeah. It was  I moved up from London and all the kids would say like, you know, you speak posh. And then, and then I picked up the Brummie accent a bit and went back to London and people were like, you speak funny. And I was like, oh my God, you can't win..

Holly Stephens: [00:49:06] I know, I know. I can't win. I can't win.

Omer Khan: [00:49:08] And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Holly Stephens: [00:49:11] For me, it's around just being consistent with spending time, my partner, family, friends, and just not overdoing something. So not over  going into health or fitness, it's just really maintaining that balance.

[00:49:24] I spent a lot of time neglecting and sacrificing my friends and family when I was building the business. And then, so now it's really just maintaining that balance.

Omer Khan: [00:49:35] Awesome. So if people want to go and check out Subly or try it with your videos, go to getsubly.com, that's S-U-B-L-Y.com. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that.

Holly Stephens: [00:49:48] Come and speak to me at Holly Stevens on LinkedIn or just, yes. I mean on any of the social channels, I'm on.

Omer Khan: [00:49:55] Awesome. Holly. Thank you.

Holly Stephens: [00:49:57] Thank you, Omer.

Omer Khan: [00:49:57] Thank you for sharing this story. It's been, it's been fun and I wish you and the team the best of success.

Holly Stephens: [00:50:03] Thank you so much, Omer. I love it. So thank you so much for having me on the show.

Omer Khan: [00:50:06] My pleasure. Cheers.

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