Growing Upvoty to $17k MRR - Mike Slaats, Upvoty

Mike Slaats is the founder of Upvoty, an instant feedback software which has recently hit $15k MRR. In this episode we're going to be discussing how he built Upvoty to that milestone, how to come up with an idea and then validate it and how you can take a


Mike Slaats is the founder of Upvoty, an instant feedback software which has recently hit $17k MRR. Mike also runs the SaaS pirates community, where he talks all about running a SaaS company. Previously, he scaled Vindy, an only marketplace for home development to 1m ARR in 5 years.

What we covered in this episode

  • Why did you start Upvoty?
  • Stopping a $1m business to start from scratch
  • Why your work should be fulfilling
  • Should you be passionate about your audience?
  • How to validate your idea
  • How Mike got his first customers for Upvoty
  • The value of an MVP and a landing page
  • Why you should build runway or have an alternative income source
  • How you can make your own luck
  • Why indie hackers should build a personal brand
  • Mike's one bit of advice for founders; validate
  • How to build an MVP with the BML framework

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Transcript

Mike Slaats: It's really important to be really passionate about the audience you're serving.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: Because the product can be great and your team can be great, but if you're not passionate about your audience, it just won't work.

James McKinven: Hello and welcome back to Indie Bites, the podcast where I speak to fellow Indie hackers in 15 minutes or less. In this episode, I'm joined by Mike Slaats who's the founder of Upvoty, an instant feedback software which has recently hit $17K MRR. Mike also runs the SaaS pirates community, where he talks about running a SaaS company. Previously, he scaled Vindy, an online marketplace for home development to $1M ARR in five years.

In this episode, we're gonna be discussing how exactly he built Upvoty to $17K MRR, how to come up with an idea and then validate it, then how you can take advantage of opportunities.

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Mike, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing?

Mike Slaats: Thanks for having me. I'm doing- I'm doing really well, actually, and you?

James McKinven: Yeah, very good. Let's start off by talking a little bit about Upvoty. How long ago did you start it and where did the idea come from?

Mike Slaats: I started it three years ago. It basically started when I was working on my previous product. It was called Vindy, it was an online marketplace platform, where we were getting more and more customer feedback and- and we were growing users. And we needed a way to easily collect and- and manage all of this feedback. And on top of it, to actually work with it, right? To turn those feedback requests into features for our product.

So when I did some research for a tool, I couldn't really find one that was both affordable and was a great fit for our platform. But given the fact that our business was- was successful, but I wasn't fulfilled anymore, to be honest, because I was a bit done with, mainly, the market and the audience we were serving with Vindy.

So, I was looking for a new opportunity and a new challenge, and I always wanted to build a new- a SaaS product, so this was kind of a no-brainer for me when I spotted the opportunity here for building this user feedback tool, and I basically started working on Upvoty. That's how it all started.

James McKinven: Yeah, and so, did- did you just stop Vindy, did it- or phase it out or is it still running? Did you get acquired?

Mike Slaats: It is still running, but I delegated all of the tasks, and it's on my- on my agenda to- to talk to potential buyers in the same space.

James McKinven: H- how is that doing in terms of revenue for you; Vindy?

Mike Slaats: Vindy was doing $1,000,000 a year, but now I scaled back the team and now it's doing, like, $500,000 ARR. So, it's perfect for me to- to live from and to- to fund Upvoty at the same time.

This give me a little bit of a long runway, and especially in the beginning, right, when I was starting Upvoty, was doing, like a couple of $100 a month in MRR. And at some point, it took off, and now it's doing actually really great MMR revenue. But, yeah, it's- it's always good to have Vindy on the side.

James McKinven: You mentioned that you stopped doing it because it wasn't fulfilling you, you weren't enjoying it. O- obviously when- when we start a business, we want it to give us the fulfillment, because we're taking on the risk. All that risk of spending a bunch of capital, your time, your effort for it to grow slowly at the start. So, it's gotta have that trade off of, either making you really rich, or being very fulfilling and fun and enjoyable for you. Why do you think Upvoty is giving you more fulfillment, and is it giving you more fulfillment than Vindy?

Mike Slaats: Yeah, so- so don't get me wrong, I- I was really in-love with our product, Vindy, so, I'm a real product guy and we built an amazing CRM system for our customers and app. And I was really happy with the team, as well. I was enjoying working on the product, but not for the customers, basically, because I wasn't passionate enough about solving their problems I guess, so. And that's when I learned when it's really important to be really passionate about the audience you're serving.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: Because, the product can be great and your team can be great, but if you're not passionate about your audience, it just won't work. At least not for me. And with Upvoty, I just loved the SaaS space. That's where mainly our customers are coming from, and- and I work- I love working on the product, so. Yeah, this is- I feel this is really where I belong right now.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. You can connect to the customers a lot more, you enjoy the community, you can build your own personal brand around some of the customers that would- well, potential customers for Upvoty, too. So when you decided you wanted to go in and build this SaaS product to build Upvoty, how did you validate that this was an ideal worth exploring, and then what did you do to get your first few customers?

Mike Slaats: Yeah, our MVP was pretty- pretty basic, I would say. So we basically pulled up a landing page, with just a sign-up form and an explanation video of what our product would be. And we asked people to sign up if they were interested, and those people were- came mainly from my own network at first. I was already highly active on social media, I even had that YouTube channel you just mentioned, and I was active in some SaaS Facebook groups as well. So we didn't start working on a product right away, but only until we had a couple hundred signups. That's when we basically knew we were onto something.

James McKinven: And where did that initial growth come from? Because so many Indie hackers are in that space where they've got a product, they may wanna validate their idea, but they just don't know where to get those first few customers from.

Mike Slaats: Yeah, we launched our product on several platforms, such as Beta List and Indie Hackers and- and Product Hunt, and we really attracted the first few paying customers from those platforms, and soon after that, we started working content marketing.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: And we released a pretty successful ebook as well. But, I would say the best growth channel for us by far, was our own product. So, people would integrate their Upvoty feedback boards and asked their user to submit feedback, and... Well, the- the uses of our users thought, like, "Hey, what a cool product to collect feedback, and I wanted to use it myself," so, well if you can imagine, customers liked, like, for example, [inaudible 00:06:42] or [inaudible 00:06:42] were using our products. Those companies have a lot of customers that are essentially also our potential customers. So when they see such a product like ours in- in that product, they are going to try it out themselves and- and they'll stick around.

James McKinven: So you've been working on Upvoty for how long, three years?

Mike Slaats: Three years now.

James McKinven: Three years.

Mike Slaats: Yeah.

James McKinven: And you're at $15,000 MRR. That's- that's taken some time to get up to there. You've obviously had Vindy, which has helped with that income, that runway, so you can then build it up. How was it, for you personally, getting to those milestones, looking to get to the $1,000, then the $5,000, then the $10,000? How long did it take between those, were there any points where you thought, "Ah, I'm not sure this is gonna work"? Or how did you push three to keep going to- to the point you are now?

Mike Slaats: I'm a big believer in validations, but the real validation always comes from paying customers. So I immediately decided to charge for the product after we launched our beta and we- we launched publicly, just to see if people are willing to spend their money on such a product and if we could help them solve their problems in such a way that- that they were willing to spend money on it, basically. And we were fortunate to have some of our customers in the beta phase to already sign up for one of our paid plans, so we actually had, like, $200th or $300th MMR revenue before we launched publicly, so that was great.

And after our public launch, within, I would say six months, we were already at $1,000 MRR, which is kind of like a milestone in Indie Hackers world. And, yeah, for me, that was the real vali- validation that we were onto something with this product, and, um, from there, it just grew like crazy, I would say, because we're now at $15 MRR, and it's pure organically.

James McKinven: And, M- Mike, you strike me as someone that takes opportunities and starts to execute on ideas you have. I mean, all you have to do is look at your personal brand, look at your YouTube channel, look at SaaS pirates. All of the different ideas you have that you execute on, and some people might say you've had a bit of luck in that growth, but I think it's partly to do with your execution. You see opportunities and- and you go for it. What do you think about how you can make your own luck and- and execute on opportunities?

Mike Slaats: I'm actually a big believer that you can create your own luck, because the thing is, if you don't go out there with your ideas or you don't meet with the right people, you won't get far. And, of course, there are some factors, such as where you have been born-

James McKinven: Yeah.

Mike Slaats: ... or something like that, that determines some of the luck, but still, you have to be the one to do something with it. So, that's why I believe you have some influence in- in your own life.

James McKinven: Have you got examples of you doing this for yourself?

Mike Slaats: I have actually a really, really, good example, because when I was starting Vindy, I- I needed some- some sort of funding just to get the CRM up, to have some ads up, to- to acquire some of our customers, our early customers. So I was looking for some funding, and I was reading an article in a magazine of a- of a guy here in my region, and, uh, he recently sold his business and it was really just a great article and a great story, and I just wanted to meet him for a cup of coffee. And I actually drink a lot of cof- cof- coffees with a lot of people in the space I'm active in, so I- I love to get and to meet new people. And he agreed, and sat down for a coffee, I told him about Vindy and he was immediately very interested in- in just helping me, and he actually gave me a loan with zero interest at first just to get me started.

James McKinven: Wow.

Mike Slaats: And this really was the accelerator of the- the early growth and the early success of- of Vindy. And, you know, meeting such people and getting such opportunities is essential in your life, but it was me-

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: ... who reached out to- to him on LinkedIn, because of his article, so.

James McKinven: Mike, you make a lot of content yourself and someone interesting might see that and reach out to you for the same reason. And, on your content, on your personal brand, you've grown that YouTube channel to- to 10,000. You've got SaaS pirates the community, you've got your Instagram page. Why is it you've invested in your personal brand and created this content?

Mike Slaats: I believe if I'm building my personal brand, will set myself for some kind of success in the long-run. Besides the fact that I really loved just share my lessons, so that's- that's my core purpose of- of sharing all of this content. I- I love making those videos and just sharing my story on Instagram. But, by building my personal brand, lets say I'm selling Upvoty in a couple of years.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: And I will start something new in the SaaS space, I immediately have some kind of audience that can help me amplify it, and besides that, I also really wanted to be on stage, share my story. If I'm not going out there with my personal brand, nobody knows who I am and, uh, I will not get those opportunities.

So, to anyone who's listening and who's building something amazing, just share your progress, share your story, because people love to hear it and they get inspired from it, and it will give you a lot of opportunities you wouldn't thought of when you didn't share it, so.

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: Yeah, I would say go out there.

James McKinven: And, Mike, you've been doing this for- for a while. You've got all this knowledge, all of these learnings, are there any one or two bits of advice you can give for founders that- that they might be able to follow of- of all the things you've learned over the years?

Mike Slaats: Yeah, I would say my biggest lesson is really to- to validate your idea-

James McKinven: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Mike Slaats: ... and not just start building something from scratch and go all in before really talking to potential customers and- and really understand their problem. This is something I have learned the hard way, because I'm now 15 years in, in my entrepreneurial journey. And my first three or four businesses all failed because of that, because I was just investing a lot of money and- and time in- in something I thought was a great idea, but in the end, was paying for it and nobody liked the idea I had.

So, I would say just validate it, go out there. It can be pretty cheap to just validate your idea, and from there, things will get easier, because you will understand your customers, you will understand their problem. And this will flow into everything you do for your business, not only by building the product, but also everything you do marketing related, like the content or the copy on your website. Really understand your audience problems and build something for them that help them solve their problems.

James McKinven: Absolutely, and I- I'm just on the YouTube channel looking at- looking through some of your videos. You've got How To Build An MVP with a- a BML framework. What- what's- what's a BML framework?

Mike Slaats: Yeah, that's one of the frameworks from the Lean Startup. I would say the Holy Bible of SaaS or of business in general. But it stands for- for Build, Measure, and Learn, and it's something that we- we apply in- in building Upvoty, actually. So we build something, we measure the outcome, and we learn from the outcome, and then we were refining the, uh, feature we're building or the product we're building, really by listening to our users, obviously by using our own product to- to get some feedback. And this process of the BML method really helps us to build good things that will contribute to our customers success, and eventually, uh, this will make them happier in using our product.

James McKinven: Build, measure, learn. Well, uh, your- your YouTube channel is packed with goodness. I'll make sure I'll leave a link in the show notes of that.

We end every episode on three recommendations, uh: a book, an Indie hacker, and a podcast that you listen to.

Mike Slaats: Um, so for a book, it's probably Intercom on starting up, because it really helped me with almost all of, I would say, struggles and questions I had when I started my first SaaS business a couple years ago.

A favorite Indie hacker would be, well, it's by far, Arvid Kahl.

James McKinven: Yeah.

Mike Slaats: Because I- I love what he's doing on Twitter and with his Podcast and how he writes and publishes books.

And for podcasts, well, obviously, Indie Bites.

James McKinven: [laughs]

Mike Slaats: I- I listen to really almost every episode, especially during my runs. And besides Indie Bites, I love listening to NPR's How I Built This.

James McKinven: Oh, the best.

Mike Slaats: Which is from another planet.

James McKinven: Well, Mike, thank you so much joining. Really appreciate it and hope to catch you soon.

Mike Slaats: Great. Great talking to you.

James McKinven: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Indie Bites. I hope you found the chat with Mike useful and entertaining. As always, links, transcripts, and show notes can be found at bites.fm.

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