Founders who have successfully built their companies from the ground up share the essential insights gained: what truly counts and makes a real difference when you're building from scratch.
These insights are part of our rich collection of over 100 interviews on FounderBeats, where bootstrapped founders share the wisdom that only experience can teach. Want to add your voice? Contact us to share your story and get featured on FounderBeats.
Marko Saric is the founder of Plausible Analytics - Plausible Analytics is a simple, open source, lightweight (< 1 KB) and privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics.
We're bootstrapped and are not looking for investors which we've also made clear in several places in social media and on our site. But we still get daily emails and DMs from venture capitalists looking to invest in us.
So one of my lessons learned is that in most cases (unless you're going to Mars or something advanced like that), you should actually ignore investors. Focus your time on other things even if you actually want to have investors.
Build your product, speak to people, publish content, grow your audience... when you manage to do those things well, you won't need to waste time trying to catch the attention of the investors having coffees and doing presentations. They'll be coming to you instead and you'll be able to pick.
It's pretty common for founders in the early days to spend most of their time chasing investors and it's some though odds they're up against. So building something first and sharing it publicly with the world opens you to the investors and opens their eyes to you.
Baptiste Arnaud is the founder of Typebot - Typebot is a SaaS to build conversational apps without coding
I kept building without even talking about what's new.
My marketing recipe is:
Make sure that you have a product with a great UI and UX. If your product isn't pleasant to use, nobody will talk about it.
Work on new features and
Reach out to the world
Share with existing users
I think founders often forget the last 2 steps. Hitting the "Deploy" button for a product feature is not enough.
You have to spread the word, that means publishing on ALL your social media account and try to share it to new acquisition channels (ProductHunt, Subreddits, Hacker News...).
And you also need to share the news with existing customers via a newsletter or a community group.
Justin Duke is the founder of Buttondown - Buttondown is the easiest way to collect and send great emails.
The unit economics of "success" and "failure" are drastically different depending on your goals! If you're not spending money on salary, you have a massive advantage over any competitor that does: all you have to do is survive because your burn rate is near-infinite.
Similarly, if your endgame is not a billion-dollar valuation, you can make very surgical and precise decisions to curtail the size of your target audience; these limit the upside of your business, but strengthen your value proposition to the niche that you find.
Lastly, from a product development standpoint, it took me some time to understand how important investing in my own developer experience was. I think there's often a meme in the indie hacker space about "don't write unit tests", "don't use CI" — all this stuff that boils down to "just ship features and build your product base as soon as possible." I think that is true to go from 0 to 1 — there's no point in investing in your codebase if you don't think the codebase actually solves a problem — but as soon as you get to that point where you're confident in the product's longevity you should bias towards spending up-front time to improve your own development cycles.
Andrew Pierno is the founder of XO Capital - buys and operates SaaS Companies
Don't do it alone. I'm kind of obsessed with $1M one-person businesses, but my first businesses to $1M ARR will probably be XO Capital which has 2 co-founders.
My failure rate is super high. It took me close to 10 years to make my first dollar online. and I really was trying! Product isn't as important as people say it is. Have a tool that does something necessary and it can be remarkably ugly and still make a ton of money
Don't be fancy. You don't get any bonus points for starting a business on "hard mode". Sometimes a newsletter is an entire business.
Competition doesn't matter.
Overall, your journey is your journey. It's slower than some peoples' and faster than others. Mine felt particularly slow. I've never had a rocketship, I've never been through Y-Combinator. The older I get the more I just keep my head down and put one foot in front of the other.
Eelco Wiersma is the founder of Saas UI - a React component library and starterkit that helps you build intuitive SaaS products with speed.
I started building my own SaaS products about 10 years ago and it has been a real rollercoaster and massive life challenge. Some of the most important learnings are;
Patience. It's super important to have patience and not give up too early. We see a lot of 'overnight' success stories or products that have enormous growth in a short time, but the fact is most businesses need at least 5 years to become profitable. I believe this applies to startups and indie founders as well. Don't expect to be a unicorn and know that slow and steady growth builds a solid foundation and comes with a lot of other perks as well, like less stress about scaling.
Ignore competitors. I always worried (and others shared this opinion as well) that well funded competitors would compete us out of the market. While in practise this never happened and in fact was more confirmation we were onto something. This doesn't mean you should just copy something in an already saturated market. Besides that small/medium sized companies really value being able to be in direct contact with founders, which is an unfair advantage.
Tony Lea is the founder of DevDojo - A creative platform and community for developers
There are so many things that I've learned along the way. Here are a few of the most significant insights I can share.
Persistence and Passion
Enjoy the Process
Greatness Takes Time
Persistence and passion are crucial to building a successful business. Being an entrepreneur is not always easy, but if you are passionate about your work and continue to persist, you'll be on a one-way street to success.
Make sure to enjoy the process. If you're not having fun while climbing the mountain, you probably won't have much fun once you've reached the top. So, continue to work on the things that make you happy.
Greatness takes time. Continue to chip away at your project a little each day, and it will start to take shape and grow into something you can be proud of. Here is one of my favorite quotes
"Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before." - Jacob August Riis
Andy Cloke Is the founder of Data Fetcher - a tool to import data from anywhere into Airtable with no-code.
The big one was doing more user testing. i.e. give someone a task to do in your app and watch them do it. It sounds obvious, but there's a lot of advice that says 'Don't talk about your product, just talk about people's problems', and I'd kind of taken that too far and was just speaking to users at quite an abstract level. Once I started doing more nitty-gritty testing of the actual extension, the UX improved immeasurably.
The next thing is that it's often better to focus on keeping customers than trying to find new customers. This means doing boring stuff like fixing edge case bugs, improving error messages and writing help docs. The combined effect of making dozens of minor improvements to your product means your bucket becomes less leaky - customers stick around longer.
The last thing is that it's easy to procrastinate on a big feature because it seems intimidating, even though it's actually very achievable. This has happened a few times, e.g. with my recent webhooks feature. The best strategy I've found to avoid this is to do a quick technical spike (investigation) of big features that are commonly requested, so you can properly estimate them.
Andrew Kamphey is the founder of Better Sheets - Google Sheets Tutorials, Templates, and Tools
For the past 15 years I've been a video maker. You might not be able to tell from the "quality" or "production value" of my current videos. But that's what I think makes this entrepreneurial journey so amazing. I don't have to be even in the top 10% of video editors, video producers, and can build a career in video.
Just getting good enough at many different things , will set entrepreneurs up for success. I'm currently going hardcore 30 days at a time into different aspects of marketing and product. 30 days on Twitter (almost all day every day), 30 days on FB Ads, 30 days on YouTube, etc. Each month a different aspect of my existing business. It's a bit of a twist on the "12 startups in 12 months" concept.
1 insight can make you.
1 good week, could get your code base from a mess to launched.
1 good month, could change your marketing from zero to something.
1 good year, could change your life.
Nan Zhou is the founder of No Code Map App - A no code builder for creating custom interactive map
Don't wait for it to be perfect. I would recommend everyone to launch their product as soon as you have something that works so you can start getting real life users and their feedback. From there, users will tell you if you are onto something and what additional features they need. It will also stress test your product with real-life use-cases.
Don't be afraid to charge your users. Willing to pay for it is really the ultimate validation. You never know if someone will become a paying customer until you ask. If you have problem a mission critical problem for them, they will pay for it even if it is not perfect. So with our product, we actually don't add new features for users until they become a paying user. This way, we don't get distracted by user requests all the time and it helps us to learn which features are actually mission-critical.
Start marketing as soon as possible. It takes a lot longer to get the word out than you think, always. It also takes time to build an audience and get your concept out.
Control your cost base and try to aim for profitability ASAP. This will give you freedom and more bargaining power if you ever want to raise funding.
Ryan Scherf is the founder of Payment - No-code point of sale, built on top of a Stripe account
I'm not smarter than anyone else to ever do it. I'm not a thought leader. Just like so many others — I was in the right place at the right time and I was persistent. Bootstrapping a business is a rollercoaster and the highs are really high and the lows are even lower. But when you zoom out a bit, you'll realize everything is going to be fine.
Second, I've learned to focus. I worked at several high profile startups before starting my own app and always found one consistency: they tried to do everything. Every feature needed to be built and shipped yesterday and it was unsustainable. Being a solo founder it was impossible for me to do this, so I had to be particular with what I was building.
Lastly, I think all founders should be part of the support team. It's so easy to outsource support because most people find it a waste of time. But, as someone who has answered thousands of support tickets over the last 7 years, I can tell you with certainty it is where the money is made. Be diligent and helpful in your responses, and your customers will appreciate you. Build what the masses want, and you'll retain them.
Marie Martens is the founder of Tally - The simplest way to create forms for free
It's okay to say no. You can not satisfy everyone when you have a small bootstrapped team, but that's okay.
The art of persisting. Every day, I'm replying to emails, answering questions, writing help docs and Filip is coding and helping users out non-stop. Life as a bootstrapped founder sounds more glamorous than it is, but every dollar you make will make you insanely happy.
Don't be afraid to ask. Every problem you encounter has been solved by someone else before you. There's a great community supportive of Indie Hackers out there that wants to see you succeed and will help you out. So, just ask!
Ayoub Moustaid is the founder of Fastdok - Online Document Generator
When you're an entrepreneur you're dealing every day with many challenges, in multiple fields like accounting, financial, HR, sales, marketing, ... etc not only in your field of specialty which is software engineering in my case, then if I have to pick some biggest insights as a takeaway, I will say;
Value your health and time, they're the most precious assets you have everything else comes second.- Always try to give first and bring value to whatever you build or do.- Never prioritize or chase only money in your entrepreneurial journey.
Ship and talk to customers ASAP!
... and One more related mainly to the SaaS field, forget about what technology to use, forget about how to build, and think more about why you will build it, why they will use it!
Mike Slaats is the founder of Upvoty - User feedback software
Don't worry about the trivial things and just start with building a solution for a real-world problem of an audience you love to serve. My previous product did over a million a year, which was great, but I wasn't fulfilled because it was operating in a market for an audience I didn't really like.
I live by the rule: Passion For Problem (PFP). If you don't have passion for the problem you're trying to solve, forget it. That's why I'm now super happy with building Upvoty. I really have a passion for building products and our user feedback software helps other software teams gather valuable feedback from their users in order to build an even better product. To me, that's having a real passion for solving a real problem for an audience I really love to serve.
Mat De Sousa
Mat De Sousa is the founder of WideBundle - Create amazing bundles for your products on Shopify
Start small but think big. Too many people want to build huge things in the beginning. But you can't. So go small but keep in mind that you want to be big. This is your vision.
Always validate. Never assume you know something. Validate with your users.
Track your data. You can learn things by talking to people but the best way is to check your data. Today I take all my decisions based on that.
Philip Baretto is the founder of Tiiny Host - The simplest way to share your work online
Marketing is the most important part of an entrepreneurial journey. In simpler words, how can you tell the right people about your product in the most cost effective way? It can make or break your business and important to figure this out as soon as possible.
You don't need to reinvent the wheel to build a successful business. You can take an existing, outdated business, modernize it and turn it into a shiny new profitable business. It's much easier this way. Your market is already validated.
Amin Memon is the founder of Draftss - Draftss helps startup & agencies get custom websites & graphic designs on a monthly subscription with their productized Process.
It isn’t that the idea that matter when building the startup but the execution is. For building a great start-up, you must focus on the end result of the product which solves the customers problem and provide immense value.
So if the outcome of your product/service is not great your startup will continue to decline no matter the marketing or advertising efforts you put behind it.
For example there are tons of other companies that try to copy our model & build their own design subscription model as a service. But they eventually failed because they weren't able to obtain great designs & provide them at a fraction of the cost, with a fast turnaround time.
A lot of time you have great ideas about building a product and it's going to solve that problem. But how good the output of that product is what matters the most.
Michelle Marcelline is the founder of Typedream - No-Code Website Builder with a Notion-like Interface
Validate your idea by talking to potential customers (do not assume that your idea is great without talking to those who will actually use it)
A common mistake is to jump into the first idea that comes to mind, without really stopping to think critically about whether it's a good idea at all.
To avoid this mistake, do not skip the Idea Validation stage.
Find a few people in the space and share your idea. Interview them:
What's missing from the current solution
What they did to hack the current solution to achieve what they want
If your tool exists, would they pay for it
Before building Typedream's MVP, we interviewed 200+ Notion to Website users to dig deeper on the problem:
Why Notion to Website and not other NoCode website builders?
What's missing from Notion to Website?
Vaibhav Sharda is the founder of Autoblogging.ai - The One-Click AI Writer
Since starting my entrepreneurial journey, I've gained many valuable insights that have helped me to grow and improve my business. One of the most significant insights I've gained is the power of a single customer. I've learned that even a single customer, regardless of their size or industry, can bring a significant amount of business for the company. This is an important concept that I've learned to value and consider when building and growing my business.
I've also learned that word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can have. A satisfied customer can become a brand advocate and recommend your product to their network, which can lead to a surge in new customers, and revenue. I've experienced firsthand how a single customer can lead to a domino effect of new business, and it's been an incredible and unexpected revelation that has helped me to further scale my business.
Another insight I've gained is that the customer's experience is crucial. A good product is not enough, you need to make sure the customer's experience is top-notch. This means providing excellent customer service and ensuring that the customer feels valued and appreciated, that's why we made sure our product is easy to use. Customers will be more likely to remain loyal and make future purchases if they have a positive experience.
In summary, my entrepreneurial journey has taught me the power of a single customer and the importance of positive customer experiences in driving business growth. It has also helped me to realize the importance of listening to customer feedback and continuously iterating to improve the product. These insights have been invaluable in helping me to scale and grow my business, and I look forward to continue learning and growing as an entrepreneur.
Shayan is the founder of LogSnag - LogSnag is a flexible event tracking tool.
My biggest insight is that building a product takes time and effort. We all see other people building products and making them look easy, but the reality is that it is a lot of hard work, dedication, and persistence. Things don't happen overnight and don't always go as planned, but you will eventually get there if you keep at it.
It's also important to validate your idea before you start building. I've seen so many people start building a product without validating the idea first, and they end up wasting a lot of time and effort. It's better to spend a few weeks validating your idea and building a landing page to get feedback from people before you start building. Thanks to all the no-code website builders out there, it is extremely easy to put together a nice-looking landing page these days.
Christopher Dengsø is the founder of Moderation API - Automated text analysis using AI
I think a lot of entrepreneurs start out thinking that having a good idea is everything. Then you just need to "build it and they'll come". At least that's what I used to think.
Later I realized how important the actual execution is, and how 99% of the work is in marketing, selling, and improving a product after the initial launch. At the time of this realization, I thought that the idea is almost irrelevant compared to the execution.
Now I've come full circle. The idea matters a lot! Sure you can sell almost anything, but your life will be much easier if it's something people REALLY want - especially as an indiehacker or solo founder.
Brian Casel is the founder of ZipMessage - Async video messaging with clients and co-workers.
Ship fast! Be strategic, of course, but the faster you can ship new features or new marketing projects, the faster you can move through your roadmap and get to your next "checkpoint" in your path to product-market-fit.
Talking to customers is essential too. I do many calls with customers every week, plus lots of async messaging (using ZipMessage!) with our customers. This gives us total clarity on what exactly we need to build, and in which order. We also use this for voice-of-customer information that we use in our marketing projects.