Walls.io: Bootstrapping Solo to Over $10M ARR – with Michael Kamleitner [382]

Walls.io: Bootstrapping Solo to Over $10M ARR

Michael Kamleitner is the founder and CEO of Walls.io, a social media content aggregator, and Swat.io, a social media management platform.

In 2008, while working as a software developer, Michael spotted an opportunity to start an agency specializing in Facebook app development.

A few years later, after seeing his clients struggle with managing their Facebook communities, he launched Swat.io to help solve the problem.

But finding his first 10 customers took nearly 2 years.

Around that time, a friend asked Michael to create a tool for aggregating and showcasing social media posts on TV screens at a co-working event.

Realizing its broader potential, Michael quickly turned the tool into another product called Walls.io soon after the event.

But growth was slow for both products. It took many years and a lot of hard work and persistence to get traction.

Then, the pandemic hit, causing big problems for Walls.io as live events suddenly stopped. Michael and his team had to quickly pivot to keep the product alive.

Although he believed he could handle everything, the challenge of running the agency and building two products eventually became too much for Michael.

That's when he decided to focus mainly on Walls.io, realizing he had to use his time and energy better. And that decision paid off significantly.

Today, his two product companies together generate over $10M in revenue.

In this episode you'll learn:

  • How Michael navigated the initial challenges of building Swat.io and Walls.io, including the struggle to find his first customers.
  • What strategies Michael implemented to pivot Walls.io during the pandemic and how that change significantly impacted the company's growth.
  • How Michael balanced running two bootstrapped companies and the lessons this taught him about entrepreneurship and growth.
  • How Walls.io leveraged SEO, content marketing, and search ads as key growth tactics and a surprising growth channel that failed.
  • What unique challenges and lessons Michael faced as a bootstrapped solo founder growing his business to over $10M in annual revenue.

I hope you enjoy it.


Click to view transcript

This is a machine-generated transcript.


[00:00:00] Omer: Michael, welcome to the show.

[00:00:00] Michael: Hi Omer, thanks for having me.

[00:00:01] Omer: My pleasure. Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?

[00:00:06] Michael: Yeah, yeah, I do. I, I did think about that a lot. And since since I've been a founder of two SaaS companies bootstrap both and both time, the solo founder, I, I really love this quote, which is taken from a book from Sarah Lacey and she originally titled her book, Once You're lucky twice you're good. And I adapted that slogan for myself since I'm a two time, two times founder. Once you're lucky, twice you're stupid because sometimes I really felt very stupid doing it twice at the same time alone. And bootstrapped the book is very good though. And definitely also recommendation.

[00:00:39] Omer: Yeah, that's the key there. It's not that you're a second time founder, it's that you've built two companies in parallel. And I think that's a really interesting part of, of your story as we were talking earlier. Number one, you are bootstrapped. Number two, you're a solo founder. Number three, you have built these two companies in parallel.

And number four, you are not in Silicon Valley, right? Like all the things that people say you need to be doing. So it's gonna, we're gonna have some fun with this conversation and figure out what you've done. ‘ cause you've, you've obviously done something right here. Why don't we start by you telling us about Walls.io.

What, what does the product do, who's it for, and what's the main problem you're trying to solve? And then also tell us about the second company Swat.io.

[00:01:26] Michael: Sure, sure. Happy to do so, Omer. So Walls.io is of course it's a B2B SaaS product in the social media marketing space. And, and our pitch is that Waso engages your audience with the user generated content, and by that increases engagement and brand awareness, whether that's at events or or on your website or on your mobile.

App anywhere you wanna use user generated content to increase engagement. That's where Waso comes in. And the second company, Swat.io is a social media management tool. So that's a very, very classical software category. A tool that allows social media marketing professionals to streamline their community management, their content planning, analytics, everything that the social media manager does every day.

[00:02:07] Omer: Give us a sense of the size of the business. Where are you in terms of revenue, size of team, number of customers?

[00:02:14] Michael: All in all, we are now more than 65 team members. That's about 45 coming from Swat and about 20 from, from Walls. We do, we are coming from the same parent company. We're still sharing an office, so sometimes it's hard to say which who's working for who co which company.

And so it's 65 in total, and I don't, disclose any revenue numbers per se. But what I can tell you what I'm very proud proud of, and also thankful for all my team, is that we have been able to cross the 10 million US dollars annual revenue, both businesses combined.

[00:02:46] Omer: Okay, so let's let's talk about how you got started.

I think you, you started Swat.io first and then about a year later you launched Walls.Io. So why don't we go back to, I. Those days, like what year was that and, and what were you doing at the time?

[00:03:07] Michael: Yeah, let's go back down the memory, memory lane. That's almost 15 years ago, I think. I used to be a software developer myself back then.

And I still remember 2008 found it super, super exciting when Facebook first launched their, their first public API, their platform. So I was dabbling around in my bedroom building tiny little, and I would say stupid little applications on top of Facebook and. And out of that I've created my first business, which was a tiny puti boutique software agency focusing on building marketing apps on Facebook and other social media platforms.

So that was the first real business I, I, I created or founded myself. However, pretty quickly I became aware that I don't see myself in running an agency forever. I wanted to do product, so I was, and, and, and, and, and a blast. I would say that from the agency business, I was able to develop the product ideas together with my team for both Swat.io and Walls.io.

And you're right Swat.io was, was founded or, or created first as a product. That's I. Pretty much 10 years ago in 2013, it's sometimes hard to to pinpoint the exact date because there used to be long periods of prototyping and being unsure whether this is a self-sustainable business. Until we really jumped into the cold water and said, okay, now let's make this a real product.

And then I think two years later, or one year, one year, one or three years later, we did the same thing again with.

[00:04:30] Omer: Okay, so let's talk about Swat first. So 20 2013, how, how did you come up with the idea, you know, you said you wanted to start building a, a product business, get out of this agency business.

I remember those days, by the way. I remember when. Everyone said Facebook apps were a thing that were gonna change the world. And you know, there was kind of like this gold rush to go and build these, these apps. Were, were you just constantly looking for a product idea around that time and trying to figure out how to get the agency business?

Or was this something that, you know, opportunistically you, you came across and decided to pursue?

[00:05:02] Michael: Yeah, so both both happened at the same time. I was trying to find ideas myself and we, we did site projects here and there, but nothing really, really stuck and nothing really turned out viable. But the good news was we only had to look very close at our agency customers to basically find the ideas ready made for us.

So the companies we were working with, like you said, social media apps were the hot, sorry, forgive my pardon my French back then. And suddenly, huge or bigger companies and brands started to build Facebook communities and they were having trouble because once you have a certain community size of community, you have to deal with lots of incoming customer requests.

With spam, you have suddenly two or three people posting at the same time, and you need. Tool to manage that. It was not really a big invention on our end, but we just saw what our, what our bigger agency customers were having trouble with, and then started to build a solution for that.

[00:05:57] Omer: Okay. And let, let, let's talk about like what, what you did in terms of, you know, validating the idea.

Was this, was this more about, okay, you, you just started building the, the product, or did you. Do you kind of go through and do the, you know, customer validation thing and interview some of your customers? Like how did you get to a point where you were like, I'm confident that, you know, we're gonna invest time and money into building this product, we're gonna bootstrap.

Right. So you, you don't have the, the, the benefit of, of, you know, having raised any money and you've got an agency business to, to keep running at the time.

[00:06:38] Michael: So that's a lot of questions to unpack. First we didn't do what usually what today you would recommend to do, like doing customer research, validate, validating a product idea.

We were way too naive to, I was way too naive to do that also for a very, very long time. I really thought like this. Yeah, this is a side project really. Maybe I can sell it to 10 or 20 agency customers that will have been already like paradise for me. So now nowadays Walls.io has, I think, more than 700 customers.

Right. So but so the vision wasn't, wasn't fully developed yet in my, in my head, to be honest. Yeah. So, but on the, on the. So that's the, that's the criticism I would see for myself looking back. What we did right, is that we were working on the product very closely with our future customers. We really made sure to, to build the, the first prototype, not within months, probably even within weeks, and get our customers, their hands on it and start using it.

They didn't pay yet, of course, but they gave us a lot of feedback. Which mostly helped us in really finding that sweet spot and the later reaching what you would call product market fit. Although I have to say, it's also dangerous if you only have like a handful of existing agency customers who keep your feedback that can also very easily drive the product management, the product direction into a wrong into, into a wrong way.

So you get easily, easily distracted by a single customer who has these crazy demands and crazy ideas, which might sound right for them, but will. Be applicable to a broader number of customers. So that was difficult to navigate and to, if I'm honest, there's still, I think even to this day, you will still find the odd feature in our product that clearly can be traced back to one specific customer who had a lot of had a big word who had a big presence in our, in our minds, and, and therefore influenced product product management.

[00:08:28] Omer: How long did it take? For you to get your first 10 customers and did they all come from existing agency clients?

[00:08:38] Michael: Yeah, I would. I would say the first 10 customers definitely took more than one year or something between one or two years. So it was really a kind of slow process. But that has also, that also has to do with some lessons I had to learn during that time.

We can talk about that later. And those first 10 to 20 customers, they were not exclusively existing agency customers. Luckily. Luckily what we achieved was that these early. Agency customers then started to spread the word and then new customers were were joining. So after this one or two year period, we were pretty sure that we have a viable product on our hands, something that it's worth to really go.

Not all in, but definitely definitely allocate significant resources.

[00:09:21] Omer: Okay. So it took a couple of years to get. The first 10 customers for Swat and presumably you, it wasn't, you know, an easy thing to do because you've still gotta run the agency, you've still gotta get money coming in, pay the bills, you know, keep the lights on, all that stuff while you're allocating resources for, for a fair amount of time without generating revenue.

So that sounds like a challenging situation anyway. But in the middle of that, you then decide, let's launch another product. How did that happen?

[00:10:01] Michael: Sort of, sort of, yes. So just to get the timeline straight the, the second product was here, was launched one or two years after swa. And at this point I was already.

Pretty much com committed on on, although you could, you could, you could ask me how committed was I when I came up with the second, with the second product. So I was probably not fully committed yet. Again again, this came the idea for was, which at, at its core is a social media content aggregator.

So it it collects user generated content from all sorts of social media platforms. Came again from a very specific customer need or, or it wasn't actually a customer. It actually was a friend of mine who was throwing in, throwing in a party, an event at the co-working space, and we didn't have so many of those in Vienna back then.

And we just wanted to create a fun element for this, for this event. A video screen collecting and encouraging everyone to post on Twitter and on platforms which are now long forgotten, like, like Foursquare. If anyone in your audience still remembers that, we didn't have Instagram back then. The idea came again from, from a close close ally slash customer slash partner.

And once we built that for this event, suddenly other people were asking for it. So again, I had the feeling, hmm, maybe this could be more than a side project, a one off project. Maybe we could productize this. So it was. Very much the same the same or similar story on how we came up with the idea.

But of course, in hindsight, I might have just said no and focused on the first idea, but I just couldn't say no to a great product idea that was that was put right in front of me.

[00:11:34] Omer: I'm curious, you know, when we talk about the two products today, they are clearly different, serve a very, you know, clear purpose and, and, and need.

But in the early days, you could kind of put them both into. A social media app bucket, right? So it possibly would've been as easy to say, let's just build all of this into one product. Did you go through that thought process where it's like, why aren't we just, you know, building this? I. Uber product for social media that does all of these things versus saying, no, let's just do this completely different, completely separately its own brand.

It's, you know, how, how did you make that decision?

[00:12:18] Michael: That's a great question. We, we did consider that for a while. The, the issue that I saw and, and still see. If you wanna have like this 360 social media suite that, that beast that can do everything, we would not have been able to pull that off in the, the way we were bootstrapped.

So this, there, there would've been way more like other competitors, which we otherwise wouldn't have to face. Bigger competitors funded with hundreds or at least dozens of millions of of capital who were able to offer these suite with way more features. There wasn't just. Media paid advertising.

There was a monitoring or listening. So if you really want to have wanted to compete in this suite with this suite approach, we wouldn't have been able to, to create all those products in, in our bootstrap situation. So that was off the table. And I think another reason for, for for deciding to have two independent products, which later became also independent legal entities.

Legal, like separate companies. Another reason for that was to really allow both. Products and later both companies to grow and, and develop on their own, on their own individual growth trajectory. So they weren't like tied to each other so strong. They could all both find their way. Which also of course at one point gives you more flexibility when you're looking for partners, maybe at one. If you at one point decide to, to look for m and a scenarios, or if you're looking for investments that's at a later stage, I think that's all easier if you have, mostly separate companies.

Separate entities who can go, who can go their own way. But still you are absolutely right. I'm not saying this was the absolute right or or best decision. It turned out well for me and for our companies. But who knows, who knows what would've happened if we went the other way, as you suggested.

So I'm not saying this is like the only, the only solution or the best, the best one neither. But that was my thinking back then.

[00:14:18] Omer: You know, when we were talking earlier, you, you said to me, you know, mixing agency and, and product doesn't work. At least, you know, for us, looking back at it now, you know, things, things worked out got you to where you are today, but I, I'm guessing.

Trying to do both cause more problems than maybe, you know, you wanted to deal with at the time.

[00:14:42] Michael: Yeah, sure. That, that is true. The question of course is always do you really have a choice? Especially do you have a choice when bootstrapping because you have to pay your bills and your salary somehow, right?

If you, if you're not lucky enough to, to get that capital from some earlier venture, or I don't know, from, from friends, families, fools. You will have to, to bankroll the development of your sales product somehow. And I think in general, having a, a working agency, software agency business is a great way to, to bankroll that first one or two years of product development.

But as you said, rightly it comes at a cost and, and it has to be navigated very consciously. Things I probably only learned along the way and which in hindsight slowed us down unnecessarily. I guess the biggest, and, and in hindsight of course obvious learning is trying to have as dedicated as possible personal resources for agency and product as possible.

So in the first year or so, we didn't have that. We have, we had a handful of engineers. Really we didn't have much else than engineers to be honest, and. Available for work, both on product and agency. Now, of course what happens, and I'm hearing that from similar founder stories, so I don't think we are, I'm unique in that I think a lot of people go through that.

A lot of bootstraps, by the way, are coming from agency backgrounds. It's also a very common treat. So the, the, the mistake was not to have like separation in resources. So of course. Short term revenue was, was calling like agency customers asking for that super important project that has to be done by four weeks.

And of course what that meant is for the next four weeks nobody would work on our product. Everyone was focusing on the agency project. Yeah, we would get some cash flow. But we didn't have focus and that definitely cost us a lot of time, at least in the first year, maybe even a bit longer, until I understood that there's no way to build, for me, at least, for us at least to build to have enough velocity in building the product.

Then by basically installing like a firewall and making absolutely clear that. The first engineer moving them over to the product side, and he is not allowed to have to do anything with agency projects. Then as soon as, as I saw some traction move over the second engineer and so on and so on, you could do the same with marketing and sales. Although we were like very much engineering-driven back then.

[00:17:03] Omer: Kind of beyond the. You know, in, in the first 10 customers for both walls and Swat were, were you selling basically to both products to the same type of customer to to agencies.

[00:17:16] Michael: That was a big overlap. And for a long time we didn't have, we need, well, at first we didn't have neither sales nor marketing specialists.

So as so many bootstrappers, I had to I had to not level up but change my roles. I was first very much focused on engineering, then building the product ideas. Then I had to do marketing, then I had to do sales. So, so basically it was me for a long time trying to sell and market those products.

And yes, it helped that the target audience. It has a very big overlap which of course the, the persona is a social media marketing professional. So, so that certainly helped, although there were also a lot of differences in terms of the markets we were playing. It was very much focused on German speaking markets was, was worldwide from the get-go, but still there was, there was overlap and that, that certainly helped.

[00:18:04] Omer: So let's talk about growth. So one of the, the, the, the bigger growth channels. For you as being content and, and SEO, like what was the approach you took? What was the thinking as as you were starting to build out your kind of marketing plan here? Because I, I, I'm guessing at the time you were the marketing team. Right. So is this just you on your own figuring this out?

[00:18:30] Michael: In the beginning. Yes. Although although marketing was the fir, marketing was the first position I could actually, I'm not sure, maybe I'm mixing up marketing and sales. One of those were really the first positions I could really afford to hire a professional.

I. I think at w it was sales and that marketing it was at, was, was marketing, which makes sense because one is more direct sales heavy, the other is more self-service product led. So yes, for Wal it was definitely marketing. So for Walls being like very self-service focused and having a worldwide target audience, we, we felt like going all in on the marketing side made a lot of sense. And we were pretty early in, in, in that new software category of user generated content tools. We didn't even have the word UTC back then, I think. So that meant there was still a lot of space in terms of, of content marketing and therefore, and therefore effective SEO And so that, that definitely helped.

That wouldn't work today if I would launch a UGC tool or a social media marketing tool today. It's very, very hard. To, to to be successful with content. It it'll take to, it'll take forever. Since the spaces are so, so saturated, back then, it was still possible. And of course, it's still even today worth it pursuing such a, such a, such an approach because organic, organic SEO is still the only thing that really, that has the best scale still while while other channels might be clocked or saturated sooner or later owned organic profile on SEO is, is what, what what always works.

[00:20:00] Omer: So, you, you, if, if I kind of recap that it was, you feel that one of the reasons you were able to get content marketing and SEO working was largely to do with, with timing.

You were pretty early. You know, entering that space around user generated content and the market wasn't as, as saturated as it is today with so many social media tools. So that helped you create content and start ranking faster and, and getting discovered by customers.

[00:20:33] Michael: Certainly, but of course of course it was still necessary to, to provide really really great content that was actually valuable for, for users, existing users, potential leads.

So, so there's, there's no, no way around that. If you invest in content and make sure it it's really high quality. And we did our share of mistakes here as well, like hiring external agencies who would like churn out. Piece after piece after piece, but really not ideally aligned with our customer's needs.

So in the end, we learned, hey, we should really do it ourselves, or at least learn how to do it ourselves first before we let someone someone from outside doing it. So we, we did our share of mistakes. We did also a few, a few, a few. Good few, few intuitively smart things like making sure that, we gave away a lot. So very early on we started to give away free licenses to NGO, to non-profits.

We just ask for links in in exchange. Hey, please mention us as a sponsor. Link. Here's our logo. Please link it on, on your website. They usually put it put it somewhere in the footer so it's linked from every page. So over time, that really helps us help, really helps us build a good link profile.

[00:21:43] Omer: Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's a, that's a good strategy in terms of going after NGOs and, and, and those sorts of organizations. I, I'm, I'm assuming that they have like pretty decent kind of domain ratings, right?

[00:21:57] Michael: Very often. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That it happens a lot. It could be organizations in the academic space, which tend to have a very good variable higher rated domains, even if the single, the single link is not like as valuable if you do this constantly and over years, there's a lot of things happening, positive things happening.

[00:22:14] Omer: I wanna go back to what you just mentioned about hiring agencies to, to churn out content and that not really working.

And I, I've, I've seen that over and over again. Many, many startups go through that, that process. Some maybe are six more successful than than others, but it's not the first time I'm hearing. We eventually had to bring it in-house. I know it's quite some time back many years ago, but if you had to summarize like what was the biggest difference between the type of content these agencies we're producing versus the type of content.

You are able to produce in-house? Like how is it different and, and what specifically do you think made the difference in terms of resonating with your, your potential customers and helping to drive leads?

[00:23:08] Michael: Well, I would like to start with saying, I, I, I'm not even like throwing any agency we have been working with under the bus here.

I think it was I really, it was more like. Our own mistake to, to to outsource work prematurely before we even understood it ourselves. So we didn't know enough about our customer profile. We didn't know enough how we could provide value. So, and, and, and if we don't know who are the closest to our customer, how should an agency know?

There's always at least one or two layers end. It's, I think it's, it's, it's almost important impossible to, to bridge that gap. So we first had to, had to start to learn ourselves what kind of current content provides value who we are going to target on which channels and stuff like that.

Once we figured that out, we just were able to, to create content that was much more. Aligned with those with those requirements and with those goals. So maybe if we would've done it the other way around invest and, and build knowledge first on our own, and then work with a super professional agent agency, it might have turned out differently.

I think the, the big mistake here was. Hey, we don't need to hire our own marketing professional. We can immediately outsource this. Like from a CEO perspective. I thought like, Hey, I know, I understand. I need to do, or I, I believe I, I, I, I need to do content marketing. I currently can't afford a full-time professional.

Let's outsource this without outsource it, without having any personal experience or expertise with content marketing. And that is recipe that we're bound to go wrong.

I should have first invested in my own, in-house marketing professional who could then guide an agency and, and really make it work. I think that's an important advice for if you are a single founder and you have like a certain area of your experience For me, that was engineering slash product. You gotta understand those other important areas first, sales, marketing before you hand it over to someone completely outside of your organization.

[00:25:14] Omer: Yeah, I, I think you're totally right and I, I, it's not just content, it's everything. Right? It applies to most or all the things, I guess. Yeah. I, I remember somebody saying to me many, many years ago that. You outsource stuff that you have got a handle on. You understand? And then you want to. You know, get somebody to, to help run that so you can free up your, you know, your team potentially to do something else.

And that if you don't really have a handle on it, if you don't, if you're not really doing that well yourself and you outsource it, chances are the problem is just gonna get worse.

[00:25:48] Michael: Yeah, exactly. And that's the same thing today when you, when you don't think about agencies, but think about even lower, or should I say lower price alternatives, like, I don't know, going to, to Upwork or fiverr.com it'll be the same thing.

If you don't understand the, the task and how it should be done correctly yourself. It's, it will never work similar. It's probably also similar if you, if you start thinking about outsourcing these tasks to an ai, great idea. But you should have understood the task first before you put it into Chat GPT.

[00:26:20] Omer: Right? The, the other growth channel that you are able to get working was paid advertising. And as you and I were talking earlier, the interesting thing here was. That you got search ads working, but not social media ads. And I think it's a little ironical that, you know, you're, you're selling a social media product and yet social media advertising wasn't, you know, it wasn't effective or helpful and yet search ads were So one, just, just kind of help us understand.

What you went through, what you tried, and then I have a few, few other questions I'd love to ask you about that.

[00:27:05] Michael: Well yeah, you could say it's ironic. You could even also say like, it's almost embarrassing, but but it's the, but it's the truth. Well, I mean search ads of course are Yes, luckily worked out pretty soon and, and, and without too much hassle of course.

Search ads work because of the clear, clear buyer intent. And once our category was starting to be established, there was enough volume people looking for social media management tools or people searching for, so even social media walls, which is like lower volume, but still there's enough intent there.

So it was easy to to to work with that and, and make it also. Work with with enough return on investment because both my companies, both our products were, were at a comparatively high price point. So we never, never went like a, a low price strategy. So it was relatively easy to recoup whatever we paid for clicks or for conversions through our customer lifetime. So figuring out paid search was relatively easy, although it has to be said, it, it's not getting easier over time. So everyone, I think, well, maybe it's different in consumer in consumer land, but in B2B software land, I think paid advertising has a clear tendency also to, to to, to reach a glass seeding, to saturate.

Also getting more expensive the more competitors you have. So. It's not all, find it easy. Which brings me back to my first point that organic SEO and reaches basically the holy grail that we are all looking for now to the, to the social media. Paid advertising I mean, in hindsight, it's clear what we make wrong here.

Advertising on social media doesn't doesn't hook into an existing buyer intent. But does aim much earlier in the customer journey of your future client, your future customer. And I think while that is pretty much obvious, what we didn't understand is that for catching or or touching a customer very early in their journey, like when they even don't know that there's a demand for the problem we are solving we need to, we need to provide.

Much different and much broader, for example, content to make such a, such a funnel work. We, we just didn't do it. We, we, we just we sort of understood that there is no intent yet, but basically used the same copy, the same landing pages the same eBooks and addressed with the same material as addressed.

The customer who is much, much early and doesn't even know about us yet. Well, I guess that was bound to be a failure and we wasted quite some money on on that. We are still working on it, by the way. It's not it's not done for us yet. Of course if you broaden up your funnel in this way.

That usually means you need to invest more in creating the, the, the appropriate content. And that's not always easy for, for a bootstrap company. But we are getting there and we are also learning still a lot of where we can, very idea they can reach our, our audience linked in this is a very interesting opportunity that works better than many other platforms.

So yeah, we are learning.

[00:30:05] Omer: Yeah, so I think now that you, you, you describe it that way, it seems pretty obvious, but it's a very easy mistake to make until you get clarity on what stage of the customer journey the buyer is at. And it's very different when somebody is looking for some kind of user generated social media tool on Google and finding you, and the intent is to find a tool, buy a tool, et cetera, versus somebody discovering the ad on Facebook while they were, you know, checking a feed about what their friends were up to. And they may potentially still be a buyer, but one, there's no intent. Two, they may be so early in the journey that they don't even realize they need to be creating user generated content.

Right? So you have a, you have a whole different type of, you know, education kind of process you need to go through before they'll even be thinking about, you know, looking for a tool like yours.

[00:31:07] Michael: Absolutely. And, and it took us a while to, to get clear on that or to understand that that whole customer journey like thinking about where, where is this social media marketing profession and what could, what, how could we create demand with them?

How could we explain our solution, educate them on that? And also very often that like I mentioned before, that that means creating, investing more into content. I mean a Google search ad is pretty easy to create even like hundred variations of it. Yeah. But for, for targeting a customer in this early stage, you would probably, maybe need something more visual, something more emotional.

You might have to invest into video and stuff like that. And yeah, that took us a while to, to figure out and to allocate. The right resources to it to get that going.

[00:31:49] Omer: The the other channel, which turned out to be crucial. For, for helping drive growth over the last couple of years and, and possibly helping you cross that 10 million ARR mark has been working with channel partners and, and doing integrations. So, you know, integrations can mean a whole bunch of things Right. And partnerships. So just tell me what, what that meant for you and what, what was it that you were doing that, that finally started working?

[00:32:16] Michael: So this is mostly about the second company, about Wallo because we have a really strong channel partnership program there.

It actually happened in 2020, right in the middle of the, of the pandemic. Back then, Wallo was still to a large extent, used for, for events, for trade shows conferences. All of which didn't happen anymore in, in March, 2020. So as a, as a solo founder that kept me awake for quite a while until we luckily understood that our product, these social media content hub were working in a great way also in virtual events, which were then, of course seeing a lot of traction in the middle of 2020.

Our thinking was how can we get the most out of these of these industry industry trends? And for us it was clear we need to be, we need to bring our social media content hub into as many virtual event experiences as possible. Technically, that was very easy because our product is basically a standard widget and iframe widget which can embed it anywhere.

So that was easy. We didn't have a lot of technical integration to do. Now it was all about identifying as many potential platforms as possible. Look at the biggest ones, the those the most traction, and then setting up a lightweight partnership program. Integration program that allowed us to integrate our product into theirs.

And what that really means is we want to be part of their ad marketplace. Most of these, most of these platforms, all of which are. 10 have 10 have a tendency to be larger companies than ours. All of them have like an app marketplace, a list of integration partners. We want our logo. We want the wall logo to be included in these app marketplaces so that their customers can easily find us.

Maybe they also have no idea about using social media walls in the virtual events, but they will find us in the marketplace, can can start a free trial and hopefully become customers like that. So that turned out to be a very successful initiative for strategy. We later, first of all, it it, it helped us to survive the, the pandemic year.

The first one what we saw. Quite a significant drop in revenue in the, in the first two quarters. We were actually able to balance that out in Q3 and Q4, largely by our partnership program. So it was really a good decision to do that. And we later branched out and extended the partnership program to other categories of software platforms, event platforms first, and we later edit.

Digital signage solutions. We are now adding HR and employer branding platforms. So we are continuing and extending that partnership program.

[00:34:52] Omer: Now in, in terms of day-to-day operations I, I think you've stepped away from Swat.io and, and are focused on, on Walls.io now I wanna understand like how you think about positioning the two products and differentiating them from competitors. Now, Swat.io kind of more of a traditional social media management tool. In a super crowded, super saturated market. So one, I wanna understand what you do there to, to position and differentiate yourself. And then the same question with walls, like, you know, the, this idea of social Walls is, there're more and more products around that do that in different ways.

So again, how do you, how do you differentiate? How do you make it clearer in terms of your positioning to your, you know, your, your ideal customers that you are the, the best choice for them?

[00:35:54] Michael: Well this is a real struggle for both companies ongoing. I think for so many, for so many sales companies out there, let's be honest with ourself there's hardly any software category or SaaS category that is not crowded and over saturated. We all know those SaaS landscape logo maps, right, where you can see hundreds, thousands of logos. And honestly, no customer can differentiate us. Put the pricing page pages next to each other. It's extremely hard for a customer to decide what product is, is the right match.

So that, that being said we, we followed, we did follow. For, we made two very clear decisions early on, which are to most extent still, still valid and in place. The first, the first one was a super sharp focus on in markets. We were clearly saying, Hey, we want to focus on the German speaking markets.

We have a great advantage there. We speak the same language, we're in the same time zone, and we understand the legal and privacy related requirements like GDPR and things like that. So we very focused on, on those, on those markets where our, frankly, bigger and sometimes maybe. Product wise, better positioned. The US competitors had a very hard time to to compete.

If we would've focused on me small, medium companies, that would've been harder because they don't care so much about GDPR, for example. So. At the same time while we were focusing on German speaking markets, we were focusing on mid to larger size companies and also larger a CB larger, larger contract value.

And that combination allowed us to find our, our niche, although it's not such a small niche, and we are still growing growing from that market, and that turned out to be a successful decision. However, I have to say, especially since, as you mentioned, I, I put down my operational duties at spot io I'm now in an ownership role, which means of course, I'm very, very tightly working with the management team.

But what we also see now is that for growing further than we are at right now, and we have to think ahead, of course. Have to reconsider both of these limiting factors, both the market shall we ever play only in the German speaking markets. And also, shall we only play on the mid to enterprise sized companies.

The latter one. We already started to relax by starting to offer a self-service model with swa. Two years ago, and we will see what my management team comes up with in terms of in terms of geographies and markets. So it was a good decision for a long time, but it has to constantly be be reconsidered.

Now similar with with Wall the market by now, it's, it's also pretty pretty crowded. And again, I think the answer is positioning and trying to explain to your customer, to your potential customer why you are so much better than that cheap competitor that undercuts your price constantly.

And a lot of that answer is in a quality of service. How fast is your con aggregator working? Is it working with official APIs or are you scraping, which is very unstable? So product quality really is something that you will, in my opinion, and I think of myself as a product person, always comes first in differentiating, like making clear the product value is better in investing and ly investing into your, your secondly, as I mentioned, the pricing and positioning.

That you don't wanna compare yourself to the $10 per month competitor, that you're a completely different beast. And that's the challenge of course, in for marketing and communicating your value. It's not gonna be easy, but it's the only way it's the only way you will survive if you are in a market where there's a very low cost competitor.

So new, new entries onto the market.

[00:39:46] Omer: I want to talk a little bit about your role as a founder. And one being a solo founder and two running two companies at the same time. When people listening to this. Interview or, or listening to you could easily be mistaken for thinking, well, you know, he had it easy.

He got lucky. It worked out for him. He's got this, you know, this, this these two businesses that have, have both, you know, survived and thrived. But there was a time when you realized. You know, this was a big struggle. This was affecting your personal health. It wasn't necessarily helping, you know, the, the growth of the companies.

So give us a picture of that. Give us a picture of the struggle so people can understand, you know, the, the both sides of, of this journey here.

[00:40:46] Michael: I wanna take the, the, the opportunity and first state something completely clear. While I often talk about that, I created the product and I came up with this idea and I did that, of course, it was very often me, but I wouldn't sit here almost 15 years later with two with two profitable SaaS businesses if it wasn't for a very, very strong team that is working behind me.

Co-founder, of course, it's different, but on both my teams who are working for 10 or more, and, can want to be like, like remembered. I want to be proud of something, is that at least a few times I really had a good a good intuition to pick the, the right per the, the right people for my team. So that being said, you are right. A lot of and that's going back to my, to the quote initially threw, threw into the microphone is once you're once you're lucky, twicetwice, you're or, or stupid. There is of course, a certain amount of luck involved. I also won't deny that we had a very great timing being right in the right moment of in the right, right moment of time focusing on social media. That was exactly the right time. That is. Partly luck, partly intuition.

Honestly, if I would have started 10 years later, I would probably have had maybe a similar intuition about crypto. I might have failed most likely with that intuition. So it's not that easy. You also have to have luck and. Of course there was all this organic development of my two companies. I think, I hope I was able to explain the history of how we came to that.

A lot of these things happened from a point of nativity and not having like, super strong vision, and I'm fine with that. That I'm not embarrassed by that or anything. It was just the way I, I evolved personally as an entrepreneur, but. That's how I ended up in this double CEO role. Nobody in their right mind, I guess, would do this in a planned way.

Two comp, like you said, two companies, two times bootstrap, two times solar founder. That's that, that is not healthy. At least for most people. I mean, maybe if you, if you if you think you're ill Musk, you can do that and run, 10 companies as a CEO, but I think most most human beings should focus on one thing.

But it is what it is. I had, that's what, that's, that's what I woke up with. And you're right. It took it took a toll. It took many years of of, of being focused only on work and having no no balance at all with private life and that it certainly wasn't healthy, wasn't healthy all the time.

Luckily, it never got to a point where. Where I really had to like, I don't know pull the emergency switch or whatever, but I might have been close to that. More importantly, I just realized how I'm like making my own life harder by this constantly switching back and forth. Like I mean, I.

There is no multitasking really. You just switch from one task to the other, and some people do it faster than others, but you always lose time with context switching. And I had that 10, 10 hours a day at least switching between Swat and Walls.io. So at one point, luckily I realized. This is not ideal, not for me personally, but more importantly, it's not ideal for the companies, for both companies because we had two growing products, both had a lot of potential and I'm very sure that by remaining in that single or double CEO role that cost us time or potential which we would've achieved faster if I would've made the step.

Back from one of the companies earlier. I'm not complaining. It, I think in a way it was necessary, like I said, from a personal trajectory as a founder. It all has probably some, some, some meaning in the end, but it might have been better to, to make such decisions to step down from one earlier.

[00:44:25] Omer: All right. We should wrap up. Let's get onto the lightning round. I'm gonna ask you seven quick fire questions. What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've received?

[00:44:36] Michael: So I think, I think it's about networking and, and, and what I believe networking really should be. It's not that you are connecting, sending someone a LinkedIn connection request.

They have accepted start selling to them. For me networking really means investing a lot in one-to-one relationships. And that usually means you offer your help, you give a lot of things you, you pay forward until you finally maybe ask for a favor in return. That's, that's so, so trivial and obvious, but yet so many people think networking is sending out as many LinkedIn requests as much as possible. And also I'm a believer in numbers, which says, you can only have meaningful relationships with only about a hundred people.

And I think even that number might be too high. So I think having like a small but meaningful network goes a long way.

[00:45:27] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

[00:45:29] Michael: It's an older book. I think the first edition is 10 plus years ago, but they had a, a reprint revised edition lately it's called In Search of Stupidity for 40 years of high tech marketing failures by Merrill Chapman and.

Basically it does what it promises on the cover. It's super fun stories, especially for people who have been in the industry for more than five or 10 years. You will revisit a lot of fun marketing failures from the days of IBM to Microsoft up to HubSpot. It's really a fun read and very much recommended.

[00:46:00] Omer: That's super interesting. I, I'm definitely gonna read that book. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:46:08] Michael: I would say it's openness and eagerness to learn and to learn from everyone in your organization, whether that's your co-founder, or whether it's a customer support agent being on eye level and being open to learn from everyone.

[00:46:19] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

[00:46:22] Michael: I would say it's doing a personal time audit, and I'm not sure. For those who are not familiar, the concept is that for at least a month, you make a very, very detailed log of every task of every of every task you do. With the goal of having a really good understanding, what am I actually spending time on?

And you can do this with a Google sheet. I'm doing it with a software tool called Timeular. Whatever you do, it's very insightful and I'm kind of addicted to it by now and, and I keep doing this time audits to optimize and to be aware of my time being spent.

[00:46:56] Omer: I'Ve been thinking about doing that as well, but I'm I'm afraid what I might learn from that experience.

[00:47:02] Michael: That's a very good point, and it is very revealing, and it can be scary and it can hurt, but I think that's the point of it.

[00:47:08] Omer: Yeah. Well, what's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time and wanted to build a third business in parallel?

[00:47:16] Michael: Okay. First of all, I go on the record here.

I'm not going to found a third SaaS company in parallel. I swear to God I'm not going to do that. I can also go on the record if I ever found another company. Be in the social media space. But that's a different story. So I don't have any crazy business idea per se. But what I really would love to do is to do something in the physical world.

Like in-person events, for example. I'm super huge on, on, on community, on, on getting together, sharing. So something like like a conference or a meetup. It doesn't have to be a business per se, but that is something I would be very interested in doing. And who knows, maybe I have some ideas.

Maybe there is something happening 2024. Right.

[00:47:56] Omer: What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

[00:48:00] Michael: Okay. Those who are working with me, they know it by now, but but everyone else, probably not. I'm I'm a huge I'm a huge fan of the country of Greece. Actually I've been in Greece.

I. Every year for the, for my whole life, starting from h age one. Wow. And I also, yeah. Yeah. So I, I, like my parents brought me there and, and I have been there every year, sometimes more than once a year. So obviously I love the country and yeah. That's, that's a fun fact that some people know whether, or everyone.

[00:48:27] Omer: And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

[00:48:31] Michael: Yeah. I would say, I would say my friends, my family, my friends. That's that's the only, that's the only thing that is as important as work and where I spend as much time for and with.

[00:48:40] Omer: Yeah, I totally agree. Okay, great.

Well, Michael, thanks so much for, for joining me and, and unpacking the. The story of the last 10 or 15 years in, in a relatively short amount of time. Appreciate that. If people want to check out the two products, they can go to walls.io or Swat.io and if folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:49:07] Michael: Easiest of course, is look my name up on on LinkedIn if you prefer email, that's michael[at]wall[dot]io, please don't hesitate to get in touch if you, if you wanna share something or maybe even if you need some help somewhere, please, please lemme know.

[00:49:21] Omer: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. I'm glad we got to, to do this and I wish you and the team the, the best of success and a successful new year as we approach it.

[00:49:31] Michael: Thanks Omer, it's it's been a, it's been a pleasure. It's been fun, and it's been an honor to be on your show.

[00:49:36] Omer: My pleasure too. Cheers.

Book Recommendation

The Show Notes