Metrics
$0
Monthly Recurring Revenue
$0
Annual Recurring Revenue
881.72
Days of Savings Left
Dead
Default alive/dead
Milestones
Save 2.5 years runway
25 May 2021
Leave job
16 Jul 2021
Start challenge
01 Aug 2021
First sale / bit of revenue
Don’t care how
$1k MRR
Ramen profitability
$4k MRR
Replicates old base salary
$5k MRR
Halfway
$7.5k MRR
Spoil parents
$10k MRR
Live happily ever after :)

The Challenge: $10k MRR in 30 Months

For a few years now I’ve been itching to start my own bootstrapped startup. In fact I’ve semi-tried to on many occasions. Predictably though, after a few weeks of enthusiastic coding I’d lose interest. Either something would come up at home/work or I’d get infatuated with some new idea.

About a year ago I realised that If I actually wanted to do it, I’d have to make it a priority. Some people can manage a job, family, excercise and a bunch of other responsibilities while bootstrapping their own company. I am not one of them. If I’m going to do something it has to have my full focus. And so I’ve saved up 30 months of runway, reduced most of my responsibilities and plan to now give this thing a proper shot.

The goal is by January 31st 2024 (912 days / 30 months / 2.5 years) to have $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue from one (or a combination of) project(s).

Depending on how much time you spend on HN that timeline might seem conservative to you. In general I agree and optimistically I think I can get there quicker. But I’d rather plan for this to be a marathon and be happy if it turns out to be a sprint.

I’m going to do this while sharing as much of it as possible in weekly updates below. Revenue, mockups, GTM strategy, failures, all of it. I’ve been burned by working in stealth before and I’d like to avoid that now even if that means overcorrecting. If anything, posting it all here serves as a forcing function to think through things in more detail and have something to show every week.

You can get the weekly updates by subscribing below (promise, no spam). Alternatively follow me on Twitter.

Quick FAQ.

  • I don’t have a co-founder.
  • I don’t plan on hiring anyone.
  • I know how to code:
    • My frontend/design skills are very good
    • My backend/infrastructure skills aren’t good
  • I don’t have an idea yet. I have a bunch of semi-formed ideas that I need to validate before picking one.
  • I don’t have an audience, 134 Twitter followers at the time of writing this and no email subscribers.
  • I don’t have a network in tech. I know one or two people who do but for the most part I’m out of the loop.
  • I have 36 months of savings, living just above the poverty ramen profitability line:
    • 30 months for getting to $10k MRR
    • 4 months umbrella savings in the event shit hits the fan
    • 2 months for finding a job if it comes to it
  • I don’t have any dependants.
  • I do have healtchare coverage. I pay monthly for this and it’s worked into my budget.

Long FAQ.

What are you going to build? Honestly, I have no clue. It could be a B2B saas app or a consumer thing. I do know though that it will be niche and opinionated. There’s something very alluring about a one/two person team that focuses on building really great, really simple, opinionated software. I’d like to do the same. I do have a few other requirements though (mostly crib noted from Derrick Reimer):

  • Since I’m bootstrapping, the market must already exist. If it’s a saas, people should be paying for software in the space already. If it’s a consumer product there should be a clear path to revenue.
  • The initial version should be shippable in a maximum of 3 months. I don’t want long development cycles.
  • The product shouldn’t be mission critical i.e. an outage shouldn’t mean people die.
  • No hardware/shipping/logistics.
  • No native app support.
  • If it’s a B2B product, making a sale shouldn’t require more than 2 decision makers. I don’t want to deal with the enterprise sales process.
  • I should be able to build everything myself.

Why $10,000? At $10k I can live very comfortably. I can take care of family, I can travel and I can easily pay for everything I need and want. $10,000 also happens to go a long way when living in South Africa. I also know if I can get to $10k MRR, I can get to $100k and who doesn’t want $100k MRR :)

Why do this in public? Because I want to build an audience. Because I want to meet people who also like building cool shit. Because I want lot’s of Twitter followers. Because I want people to see me succeed. I dunno, lots of vain reasons.

When is the first update? 1st of August 2021. That will be the introduction update and will probably be about me picking/validating ideas. Updates will come every Sunday.

What if you fail? I doubt a fail will be an outright fail. Through this I will have 1) learned a lot and improved my skills, 2) made more friends / improved my network, and 3) it’s very likely I would have gotten to at least some bit of revenue.

Anything else? While this is definitely about the revenue, I genuinely enjoy building cool software. The idea of designing, strategizing and building is invigorating to me. So for me to now finally be able to focus on this full time is pretty exciting. If you have the same love for craftsmanship or have any other questions, please email me at first_name @ ycparak.com, I’d love to hear from you.

Participate in the challenge.

I’d love to get a Slack group going filled with other people also also somewhere along the journey to $10k MRR. If that sounds like something you’d like to be in on, fill this form in to join. I’ll cap it at 50 people so it stays nice and intimate. And I‘ll curate it so we avoid the spammers.

Weekly updates
Week 0: Starting the challenge
01 August 2021 · $0 MRR · 912 days of savings left

In the introduction to the challenge, I mentioned I had a list of semi-formed ideas that I was thinking about. Here they are:

  1. A tool for recruiters/companies to better source software developers they’d like to hire. The way companies currently hire seems to fall into two categories. The passive way: Post job ads everywhere, get a list of applicants and filter to find the one. The proactive way: Actively source candidates that may fit the role. The latter results in better signal/noise ratio but is harder to pull of. Partly because it’s a search problem but also because it requires convincing the candidate that you’re a good fit. I have a few thoughts on how to solve both of those challenges.
  2. Simple tool for assessing cultural NPS. Culture surveys are surprisingly a big market. I didn’t initially grok this but execs want to know team morale and the state of their employees. This is even more true in a remote world. Currently the tools for doing these surveys are clunky and annoying, I think I know of a way to make them simpler, more lightweight and potentially more reliable.
  3. A tool for individuals who want to grow their Twitter. There are some great tools that help solve this problem. Most of them though focus on analytics and scheduling. There’s so much more that’s possible though with just a bit better use of the API, approached from the perspective of the individual tweeter.
  4. Building the Indie Hackers for people who want to start high growth startups. Indie Hackers grew by giving Hacker News the content it wanted to read. I think I have a unique way to do the same but with slightly different content. The end goal would be a site like Indiehackers but for people who want to play the startup olympics.
  5. Building a better Goodreads. I was a fan of Goodreads. However since Amazon bought it the site has been rotting. The fake reviews, the deprecation of useful features and the slowness of the site are just some of the issues. I think there’s tons of whitespace to play here but I worry about solving the chicken and egg problem.

In general I already prefer the first three, purely because they’re paid saas. Of those three, I prefer the first two: a) I’d be selling to businesses, b) I can charge more, and c) the markets are bigger.

So for the next week (probably two), I’ll be researching the first two ideas. I’m going to try setting up a bunch of meetings/interactions with leaders at various tech companies, learning about their pain points and figuring out if the hypothesis’ I have around those ideas are correct. If it turns out there’s something there, then I’ll start building.

Even if I start building I don’t want to stop speaking to customers. I’ll probably aim for sending out 10 cold emails a day to qualified potential customers with the goal of getting on a call with them (I’ll share the cold email in the next update). Through that process I’ll likely improve my product intuition but also potentially convert them into paying customers down the road.

And that’s it for this week,
Yusuf

PS: If you’re not already subscribed to get the weekly updates, sign up using the form below. Alternatively follow me on Twitter (@ycparak)

Week 1: Validating Ideas
08 August 2021 · $0 MRR · 905 days of savings left

To kick the week of, my post on starting the $10k MRR challenge went mini-viral. I submitted the post to Hacker News but it didn’t get traction. So when I submitted it to Indiehackers on Sunday night I didn’t think much of it and went to sleep. On Monday afternoon I was busy with work when my phone started going off. I had people following me on Twitter, people were signing up to my newsletter and people were applying to join the Slack channel.

All told, over the whole of last week, I had ~1000 unique visitors on my site. I went from 0 email subscribers to 61. 134 Twitter followers to 195. And I had over 80 applications to join the Slack channel. Even though these aren’t astronomical numbers I think it’s pretty cool to see how many people resonated with the post. So thanks to all of you!

Now, onto the real work.

I spent most of my week researching and validating my two saas ideas. In case you’ve forgotten them, here they are:

  1. A tool for recruiters/companies to better source software developers they’d like to hire. The way companies currently hire seems to fall into two categories. The passive way: Post job ads everywhere, get a list of applicants and filter to find the one. The proactive way: Actively source candidates that may fit the role. The latter results in better signal/noise ratio but is harder to pull of. Partly because it’s a search problem but also because it requires convincing the candidate that you’re a good fit. I have a few thoughts on how to solve both of those challenges.
  2. Simple tool for assessing cultural NPS. Culture surveys are surprisingly a big market. I didn’t initially grok this but execs want to know team morale and the state of their employees. This is even more true in a remote world. Currently the tools for doing these surveys are clunky and annoying, I think I know of a way to make them simpler, more lightweight and potentially more reliable.

I’ve been validating these ideas by doing three things: 1) researching competitors, 2) speaking to potential users and 3) learning more about the markets. By far the most valuable was talking to potential users and figuring out where their pain points lie. I had 7 calls where I used techniques from The Mom Test to try to dig deeper into the pain points.

Although 7 isn’t a large sample size, there’s a few really valuable things I learned:

  • 6/7 mentioned specific pain around recruiting software engineers that my software may be able to reduce.
  • 7/7 also spend lots of money on recruiting software and/or recruiting firms.
  • Only 2/7 cared about team/culture nps scores. I think it’s due to a size thing. Small companies just didn’t really seem worried about it (that’s the working hypothesis anyway)
  • Only 1/7 paid for software to help with assessing team/culture nps scores.

After these conversations it was clear I needed to dig deeper into the first idea and put the second one on hold. And so I started building a list of prospects (potential users) I could cold email. I wanted to be sure that enough of them would find value in the idea that they were willing to respond positively. I sent out 26 emails in total and received back 6 positive responses. Considering I sent some of the mails on Saturday I think that’s a pretty great response rate.

Here’s the mail template I’ve been using, crib noted from Pioneer:

Hey --

I'm building [idea] to solve [problem]. It does that by doing [x], [y] and [z].

I thought you'd find it interesting because [reason].

Does this seem like it'd be useful to you?

Best, Yusuf

The goal of this template is to spark a conversation. Nothing more. The Mom Test typically advocates against asking people if they find an idea useful (and I agree). But in cold emailing I realised I need to first and foremost get a response before I can even have the conversation about their pains. And this email is short and sweet enough that it lends itself well to that.

Plan for next week

Over the next week I’m gonna try setting up calls with each of the people that responded to me. Through that, I should learn more about their needs which will ultimately help me build a better product. If all goes well I may even start building next week!

And that’s it for this week,
Yusuf

PS: If you’re not already subscribed to get the weekly updates, sign up using the form below. Alternatively follow me on Twitter (@ycparak)

Week 2: Finding my first 5 users
16 August 2021 · $0 MRR · 897 days of savings left

Since starting the challenge I’ve done everything to not fall into the trap of building something without talking to users. In fact, I’ve had to consciously will myself from not jumping into my IDE prematurely. The good news is that the struggle looks to have paid off — I’ve validated my idea and found my first 5 users!

Here’s the backstory. I mentioned last week that I was going to try setting up calls with potential users. I didn’t realise how hard it is to actually get someone on a call though. First you have to email them, hope they get back to you, then you have to spark a back and forth and finally make the ask to jump on a call.

I have two observations from this process:

  1. Often a call isn’t even needed. If you migrate from email to text, you can get back rapid fire answers to your questions and have a conversation in a matter of minutes. If you make the ask to jump on a call you potentially risk frightening the person and not getting anything.
  2. Twitter DM’s are far superior to email. I sent out 92 emails and got back 13 responses. That’s a reply rate of 14%. However on Twitter, I sent out 68 DM’s and got back 20 responses, that’s a reply rate of 29%! Using Twitter doubled my chances of getting a response back, that’s insane. Someone should build a tool for using Twitter as a sales channel ;)

In total I reached out to 160 people and whittled that down to 5 who 'seemingly' really want what I’m building. I say seemingly because until they’re paying for the product with cold hard cash, nothing counts. That being said, they all have the same problem and are willing to invest their time in helping me shape the product to fill their needs. The fact that they’re willing to do that is a signal to me that there’s definitely something here.

So I’m going to be building the product for these 5 people. They’re passionate about the problem and have already given me great insights. At some point I hope (assume) that they’ll become paid customers. Once that happens I’ll scale the product to more users.

I think for B2B saas, I can grow to at minimum 1000 customers just by doing direct sales. It’s sucky and far less sexy than something like content marketing, but there’s so much value in reaching out directly to customers. You learn how to message and position your product, but more than that, you also learn exactly what the customer needs.

Plan for next week

I’m going to pause all of my cold outreach efforts. Now that I’ve found my core 5 users I’m going to start building! I think I have a pretty clear idea of what’s needed to solve their problems. However I’ll still run all my changes and features past them for extra refinement.

On the personal side I stopped exercising and going to gym over the past few weeks. I really regret it now but I told myself that I’ll get back once I’ve picked and validated an idea. And now I have, so I’m out of excuses. I think for me it’s ultra important to try to get good sleep and exercise all while eating right. Failure to do so makes me feel terrible. And feeling terrible isn’t worth it even if it means I’m more productive (which I’m not convinced I am).

And that’s it for this week,
Yusuf

PS: If you’re not already subscribed to get the weekly updates, sign up using the form below. Alternatively follow me on Twitter (@ycparak)

Week 3: Starting to build
23 August 2021 · $0 MRR · 890 days of savings left

Last week wasn’t my most productive. My uncle’s kids have been staying with me while his house undergoes construction. To all the parents out there I have no idea how you manage to remain productive while having kids mucking about, but I applaud your magical abilities. Regardless I still did get some stuff done, so let’s get into it.

Recap of the past few weeks

I started off the challenge with a few ideas. I wanted to dissect each one, do research and speak to potential users for each of my ideas. The goal of which was to validate each idea and pick the one with the most potential. In doing that I settled on my first idea — a tool for recruiters/companies to better source software developers they’d like to hire. I’ll go into more detail on the implementation details of the idea next week but suffice to say I think I have a unique enough take that this could become a pretty profitable saas business.

After researching the idea I spent the whole of last week doing cold outreach. I reached out to over 160 strangers in total. From that I found 5 people who showed a lot of interest in the idea and were extremely enthusiastic about being early alpha users. They each had the problem I was aiming to solve and were willing to invest their time in helping me build a solution.

This past week

I got each of the 5 users into a Twitter group. Together they’ve been really helpful in answering my questions and dropping nuggets of wisdom to help me learn more about how they do recruitment. I’m optimistic that by building the product with them and for them, they’ll convert to paid users once I have an initial version up and running.

Its also been such a pleasure to not have to worry about doing sales. I can focus on the thing I love most about this work — programming and designing. For now I’ve paused all of my sales efforts until I get an initial version up and running. And since I’m planning on charging $249 per month for the service, if the 5 users convert I’ll hit ramen profitability ($1000 MRR) much quicker than I anticipated when starting this challenge.

Hitting ramen profitability will mean I’m not relying on the savings I’ve built up and that would be a massive relief for me. So I’m working as fast as possible to get the initial version up. I sketched out the architecture and started building it out. I’ve got the authentication system working along with the user onboarding flow. So even though progress has been slow, I’ve at least got that initial bit of the ground.

I’ve set the deadline to get the initial version up and running in 10 weeks. So by the end of October. If 10 weeks seems slow, it’s because there’s some complexity I don’t yet know how to solve. But I do at least know that it is solvable.

Plan for next week

My plan for next week is to keep building. I want to get into a routine and start building momentum to get to the initial version. The good thing is I have a clear idea of what the product should look like and how it should work. I’ll share a lot more implementation details and specifics on the idea in the next update.

Peace out,
Yusuf

PS: If you’re not already subscribed to get the weekly updates, sign up using the form below. Alternatively follow me on Twitter (@ycparak)

Week 4: Building momentum
30 August 2021 · $0 MRR · 890 days of savings left

Since starting the challenge I haven’t really gotten a chance to sink my teeth into programming and design. I initially focused on validating my idea, finding my first few users and my plan was to then seamlessly transition into building. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. I’ve been interrupted by a few things in my personal life thats held me back from the unobstructed time I really need to make solid progress.

It’s been sucky because one of the benefits of not having a job is the promise of that unobstructed time. But alas life will inevitably throw up other things you have to think about. The good news is that I managed to get that unobstructed time towards the end of last week. And it looks like for now all of the personal things holding me back are gone! So this means it’s full steam ahead.

Here’s where I’m currently at

Researched and fleshed out my idea

  • I’m building a tool for people who want to source software devs they’d like to hire.
  • I’ve niched it down to founders/execs with large social graphs on Twitter/LinkedIn who are hiring devs aggressively.
  • i.e I say to them — find all the devs following you / your team / your investors. Then filter that list by people who’ve built projects using x programing language, live in y timezone/location, contributed to z open source repository, etc.
  • Once I niched it down and pitched the idea like that, my cold outreach success rate went way up.
  • There’s more to the app than that, but pitching it in that way, and to those people, communicates enormous upfront value to them. If they discover the other benefits later on it’ll only be a positive.

Validated the idea and found my first 5 users

  • After doing cold outreach I found 5 people / companies who seemingly really want what I’m building.
  • They all agreed to invest their time to help me build out the product for them (which is how i know they want it)
  • I migrated them to a twitter group so I can ask them questions as a collective and keep them updated with progress.
  • If they all become paying users once I’ve built the initial version, I’ll have gotten to ramen profitability (which means I wont have to rely on savings)

Started building

  • I Have the auth system and onboarding flow setup
  • I’m now building out the main core bits of the product
  • There’s still a ton left to do but my goal is to have an initial version out in 9 weeks time (end of October)

Plan for the next nine weeks until the 31st of October

This past week I took some time to plan and scope out the things needed to get to the initial alpha release:

Week 0 — Already done: User onboarding process

  • Authentication
  • Role based user authorization
  • User onboarding steps

Week 1 — This week: Landing pages

  • Landing page (Something to put live I can point people to)
  • Contact page
  • Privacy page
  • Terms page
  • Setup social media accounts

Week 2: Social graph importer

  • As a user signs up Import their social graph from Twitter, LinkedIn and Google’s people API.
  • Make this an onboarding step

Week 3: Dashboard settings

  • User settings
  • Org settings
  • Team management

Week 4 – 7: Dashboard core

  • Script for getting data from external API’s, indexing it and storing in DB.
  • Dashboard profile list
  • Dashboard profile search and filtering
  • Dashboard profile
  • Dashboard profile starring

Week 8 - 9: Meta bits

  • Transactional mails
  • Security improvements
  • Final polish

That’s it for this week folks, peace,
Yusuf

PS: If you’re not already subscribed to get the weekly updates, sign up using the form below. Alternatively follow me on Twitter (@ycparak)

Metrics
$0
Monthly Recurring Revenue
$0
Annual Recurring Revenue
881.72
Days of Savings Left
Dead
Default alive/dead