Bootstrapping a SaaS to $1MM ARR with Founder Mike Strives



About this Interview

Peter talks to SaaS founder and entrepreneur Mike Strives. He shares his insights and lessons after 15 years in entrepreneurship on bootstrapping his SaaS product Upvoty to $1 million ARR as a solopreneur!

Interview Transcript

[00:00:00.170] – Peter

So I’m here today with Mike Strives, the founder of Upvoty, and we’re going to have just a quick talk about Mike’s background, his experience, and some things he’s learned along the way. Mike, do you want to take a few moments to introduce yourself?

[00:00:12.770] – Mike

Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me. So, yeah, Mike, 36 years old. I’ve been in entrepreneurship for over 15 years now. Upvoty is my second SaaS product, and, yeah, excited to talk about it.

[00:00:27.210] – Peter


[00:00:28.060] – Peter

Okay, so let’s start by just talking a little bit about Upvoty. What is the product, what does it do, and who’s it for?

[00:00:36.090] – Mike

So we’re mainly focused on other SaaS businesses. The problem we’re solving is collecting and structuring feedback from your customers for your software product. Yeah, we have a feedback portal. We have a product roadmap. So you can gather all of the feedback from your customers, structure it in a way that you can make the decision of what to build next, and thus, you can make the right choice where your money and your energy goes.

[00:01:04.390] – Peter


[00:01:05.240] – Peter

How did you get this idea, Mike?

[00:01:08.070] – Mike

It actually came from building my previous SaaS business, which we scaled over a million dollars because of the scale, we gained a lot of customers and with customers comes feedback. And one day we were like, we need some solution for all that feedback, because we were just using an Excel sheet, which wasn’t very doable at all. And so we did some research out there, and we couldn’t find really a feedback product that fit our needs or the ones out there were very expensive. I just immediately spotted the opportunity to build a feedback tool myself.

[00:01:46.930] – Peter

Awesome. So you’ve got almost a scratch your own itch product, right?

[00:01:51.640] – Mike


[00:01:52.360] – Peter

Great way to start a SaaS. Where are you with the business right now? I know you’re a solo founder and you’re Bootstrapping. Where are you? With MRR. What’s your user base like and growth rate?

[00:02:03.450] – Mike

We have over 800 customers, all in the SaaS space. So we’re only B2B we’re now over 43,000 MRR. We just crossed 43,000 yesterday, actually. So, yeah, we’re growing. And yeah, over 800 customers doing well.

[00:02:22.900] – Peter

Fantastic. And what are your contracts like? Are you doing kind of monthly subscription or annual contracts? How are you doing the deals?

[00:02:34.970] – Mike

By default, it’s a self serve platform. Because I’m a solopreneur, I try to automate all of the systems so you can just sign up, do the trial, and pay for the monthly subscription. That’s all self served. We do have an annual plan as well, but most of our customers pay monthly, I would say.

[00:02:57.400] – Peter


[00:02:57.750] – Peter

Okay. So, hey, we’re live in the SaaS founders group in Facebook. There’s 14,000 plus SaaS founders here. So if anyone’s looking for a great way to collect feedback on your products, then check out Upvoty, I think that could be a really good product for you. So let’s just talk about some of the things you’ve learned. Mike, I know it’s important for you to particularly important to have a passion for what you’re doing. Right. Can you tell us a bit about how you feel about that and how it’s shaped what you’re building?

[00:03:28.450] – Mike

This is actually one of the biggest lessons I learned in entrepreneurship building my previous SaaS product, which was called Vindy, it was a home improvement platform. So we generated leads for contractors in the home improvement space. We scaled up to over $1 million. We had a great team of five. We had a great office, we had everything. So you would say I was happy, but more and more I was driving to the office and that feeling of not feeling fulfilled, although we were growing, we had a successful business.

This was really a lesson learned that if you’re not passionate about your customers and specifically the problem you’re solving for your customers, it’s fun in the short term, but in the long term you won’t endure and you just can’t focus enough and if you don’t care enough about your customers problem. So now with Upvoty, I’m operating in the B2B SaaS space, which was already my space. I like to connect with founders in the SaaS space, so I do care about their problems and I know their problems from my own scratching my own itch. This was the right choice, although it’s revenue wise a lot less.

[00:04:38.220] – Mike

But I couldn’t care less because this is more fun. And now I’m driving to the office with a smile on my face.

[00:04:44.810] – Peter

Yeah, that makes all the difference. What’s your longer term plans with it? Seeing that you have this passion, you’re enjoying working in the business, are you thinking long term to stay in it or do you have a kind of exit plan in mind in the future?

[00:04:59.230] – Mike

Being in entrepreneurship for over 15 years, I know the kind of entrepreneur I am and I just like to build and small scale stage. But just like with my previous product, if it’s getting too big, you need a team, you need more maybe investment from outside. That’s just not for me. So definitely some exit point at some point. But for now, we’re growing organically bootstrapped, enjoying every piece of it.

[00:05:30.720] – Peter

That’s great.

[00:05:31.440] – Peter

That’s great. It’s really nice to know your sweet spot as well because you could create ideas like this that go on to become much bigger. But if you know that you’re not one of these people that really enjoys the building, the team and going through funding process, sounds like you’re one of these early stage entrepreneurs who’s creative and loves to solve the problem and build something. And then after that, maybe if you manage to exit, then you be engaged to do that process again. It seems that way since this is I know it’s your second successful SaaS, but I know you’ve had more businesses before that, so yeah, I guess that’s a really good thing to be aware of as well when you’re building these kind of yeah.

[00:06:14.020] – Mike

And I get bored really quickly. I’ve been working on Upvoty now for four years. It’s not bored at this point, but I know for a fact in a couple of years I will be bored. I have to start over with something new and a new challenge. So it makes perfect sense to have some exit at some point.

[00:06:33.230] – Peter

Yeah, there’s something really exciting about that period of a business where you’re creating something and establishing how everything goes, and then you’re building processes and systems, and then later on, once the process and systems and everything is in place and it’s operating, then the kind of people that you need in that business are slightly different. They’re less of the creative person that always needs to be stimulated with new challenges. And sometimes the best people are those that are good at carrying out processes and following systems.

[00:07:04.220] – Peter


[00:07:04.660] – Mike


[00:07:05.990] – Peter


[00:07:06.460] – Peter

So can you tell us a bit about Bootstrapping? Because it’s very coveted, kind of like thing for SaaS founders. There’s a lot of SaaS founders that want to do it, but it just seems extremely challenging because of how resource intensive it is to build a SaaS. It’s very expensive. How have you approached bootstrapping in order to build your SaaS?

[00:07:30.270] – Mike

Well, there are a couple of ways I would suggest. I’m not a coder, so I’m not a technical founder. So for me, it was really hard and expensive to start a SaaS at all because I had to outsource my code. And I did it with a local developer here in Holland, which are expensive, but I actually made a deal with him and my previous product. He just got a share of every piece of revenue in order to build the product. And I was lucky that my product was doing good. Like I said, scaled to over a million. And with that, I could fund on the side building Upvoty simultaneously. So, yeah, I bootstrapped with the money from my previous company. So, yeah, that would be the ideal situation.

Even with Upvoty, we just landed a landing page with a sign and form. We just validated the idea and we onboarded some customers. And even with just a very basic piece of software, we managed to get some customers on board. And before we launched publicly, we even acquired the first thousand MRR. So if you just launch very small, validate the idea, validate the product after you can even generate some revenue upfront, you can do a deal upfront like I see some entrepreneurs do.

[00:08:59.050] – Peter


[00:08:59.580] – Mike

There are multiple ways to start.

[00:09:02.570] – Peter

Yeah. And it seems like as you go, you’re being very resourceful and considered and kind of thrifty in the way that you manage the cash that you’ve got. How did you do it in the previous business? Because say you were able to use some capital from your previous business, but didn’t you bootstrap the previous one, and I imagine you had less resources at your disposal at that time.

[00:09:27.140] – Mike

Yeah, well, it’s the same story actually, because before my previous SaaS product, I was building an online marketing agency. So I had some revenue from that one. And obviously to start an agency, you don’t really need to have some money. So I see similar stories out there. People are starting agencies and then build their own product because the agency was doing fine as well.

But again, I wasn’t fulfilled building that agency and scaling that agency. I just wanted to build my own products. And that’s when I started building the marketplace. My first SaaS business on the side as a side project, scaled that to over 100,000 ARR and then quit the agency and go all in with the marketplace and later on Upvoty. So, yeah, my story is find something that gets you the money to fund something on the side as a side project, validate that idea, get some customers on board and then acquire the first revenue and scale from there.

[00:10:26.620] – Peter


[00:10:27.230] – Peter

Okay, I see how you’re doing it. What’s been the most effective ways to gain market traction for you then? With Upvoty. So you’ve been using that approach with a little bit of resource. And bootstrapping, what have been your tactics to get your early users?

[00:10:45.940] – Mike

Yeah, so because we had our previous product still running and we were using Upvoty for that product, so we were dogfooding. But building a product, you do want to market it. So the quick way I think is valuable is to ship it into the market and see what your competitors out there are doing wrong and try to improve on that and try to make them switch to your product. So, a couple of ways we did it was we focus on content marketing. We targeted product managers and other SaaS founders with good content to help them structure their feedback, but also to write alternative two pages for our competitors.

The customers from our competitors that are unhappy and they were willing to switch, they would search out there for alternatives. They came through our ads. We also did paid ads, alternative paid ads or our content marketing. And this acquired the first, I would say 50 to 100 customers from there.

[00:11:54.710] – Peter

Great. Okay. Yeah. So you’re analysing competitors and seeing what you can do differently and how you can try and take some of the market share from that. So you had some early success with that. And are you pivoting your approach now? Are you adding new tactics in?

[00:12:14.410] – Mike

Yeah, I would say the initial traction is good to focus on competitors, see what they’re doing wrong, improve on that. It just gives you the initial traction. But after that, you have to build your own identity and brand. So we highly invested in our own brand with content marketing, even a podcast show. We did some videos. Yeah, we just formed our own kind of product and vision, of course, in the end, but just to have that initial traction, it’s very good to just focus on getting the customers to switch to your product.

[00:12:48.280] – Peter


[00:12:48.820] – Peter

Okay. No, it sounds awesome. I love the ideas and the approach. So, yeah, best of luck as you continue to grow. You’re building in public, more or less. So you have your public brand, your profile. Can you tell us a bit about the best ways that people can follow you? I imagine they can, obviously, they can go to Upvoty and take a free trial and try out your product there. Where would you point people in order to follow you and keep learning from you? Mike?

[00:13:17.550] – Mike

Yeah, I’ve been sharing my journey since day one, basically. So I’m on Twitter. You can follow me at Mike Strives on Twitter. I even have a Vlog on YouTube where I occasionally vlog about even Upvoty, but also other aspects of just building a business in general or as a solopreneur. I have an Instagram @mikestrives. Yeah, those are the main channels I share just my lessons learned. I just love to connect with other founders, so make sure to reach out. Happy to connect.

[00:13:50.010] – Peter

Great. And then just one final word before we go. What would you say is the most value that users can get for SaaS teams who are looking for a feedback product? Why would you recommend Upvoty and what value could they get from the platform if they give it a try?

[00:14:11.470] – Mike

Well, there are a couple of feedback products out there in the market, but we are focusing on just straightforward getting feedback in a structured way and just making good decisions on what to build next. That’s our core focus. So without all the clutter of everything that all the other software products around feedback have, we just focus on getting feedback. And our product is focused on the users of your product, and it’s very user friendly for them. And if it’s user friendly for them, they’re willing to spend their time on giving you the proper feedback so you can make the best decision for your product.

[00:14:50.990] – Peter

That’s awesome. Okay, so check out Upvoty, everyone. Thanks, Mike, for joining me. It’s been so great to chat.

[00:14:57.360] – Mike

Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me.

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