How I built my product with a full-time job, partner and 3 year old twin boys
If you’ve opened this article then I’ll assume that you’re either in a similar scenario wondering if this is just clickbait? Or you might be thinking that this cannot be possible. I want to tell you that it is and in this article I’ll tell you how. So let’s get started.
In December 2015, I launched Parserr, an email parser which allows you to turn incoming emails into useful data to be used in various other 3rd party systems. You can use the tool to extract anything stored within email such as website enquiries that are sent to email, inbound lead emails or even food orders. Once extracted, Parserr makes it super easy to transfer that data into a multitude of 3rd party systems including Excel, Google sheets, CRM’s and much more.
Parserr has a Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) at the early 5 figure mark.
It was my 26th attempt at launching an online business (dating back to 2006) and the 2nd one in which I had made at least one dollar from in 9 years. 😟
My first business that actually made any money was an e-commerce business launched in 2013. More about that another day.
Up until 2015, I was an online wantrepreneur who spent more time reading about other people’s successes in their books and listening to them talk about it on Mixergy. Even if I garnered enough confidence from hearing others, I’d only end up building a product that nobody wanted or simply build something I couldn’t bother to market or sell.
The problem was, I’m an introvert and I followed everyone else’s advice instead of my gut. Listening to Mixergy, or reading one of the 896 different biographies on successful founders should really be an idea stimulation exercise. But instead, I held up the advice offered by these founders as God-spoken truth.
I realized that my situation and another founders situation are totally unique. Which also means what works for Jack Dorsey or Rob Walling won’t potentially work for me. Which is why I’d like to stress again to anyone reading this article, that what works for me, won’t necessarily work for you.
But, I’m willing to bet that some of you are:
- Fathers or mothers
- Husbands or wives
- Working a full-time job whilst hustling on the side
- Desperate to get out of slaving for someone else’s fortunes 😆
If that is the case, there is a way forward. But you need to be ruthless about your time!
I’m not going to delve into the how and what of product building here. Suffice to say that I assume most people reading this article have experience in building products. There is plenty of advice on the Internet about product market fit and releasing just the MVP and not feature loading it.
The best advice I ever heard about launching a product was that of Reid Hoffman:
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
I think the sentiment may be a little extreme but it forces one to think constantly about whether you need that feature you’re working on.
Parserr came from a few previous consulting clients needing to get data into SharePoint from various incoming email log file reports and other documents automatically.
The very first version did that just that and it was horrific.
- No pricing.
- No website.
- No login.
- No pricing page.
That first client really didn’t care about the user experience. Neither does yours. They just want the product to do what it says on the tin. That took me just 10 days.
Try to imagine what your client needs for the MVP, not what you feel they want. That comes later. From that first horrific version, I just iterated on the product. And I still am!
How will I find paying customers?
After reading 896 books and launching 25 previous ideas, you begin to realize what works for you and what doesn’t from a marketing/selling aspect. I don’t regret these 9 years. I just think I’ve been a slow learner. And that’s OK.
I didn’t lack the motivation to code (build). I just could not get it in front of customers. You need the medium to deliver your product. But I’m a firm believer that it needs to suit your personality.
In the 9 years of building and failing, I’ve experimented with every method of getting my products in front of folks:
- The Foundation’s method of idea extraction (sitting on call with potential customers)
- Buying Google, Facebook and LinkedIn Ads
- Launching on Product Hunt
- Finding co-founders in order to offload the selling responsibility
- Exhibiting at industry specific events
- Cold Emailing
All of them failed… for me that is. Instead, what worked for me were SEO and Marketplaces and I’ll cover them briefly below.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
I refer to SEO as the introvert’s method to marketing.
Instead of harassing someone at their workplace on the phone, forcing it on them in their LinkedIn/Facebook feed, or getting 10,000 of the wrong audience, SEO allows your customers to come to you rather than the other way around. Inbound sales they call it. Outbound makes me feel sick.
Selling to these people who are looking for your solution is remarkably easier. However this comes with some caveats:
- Ranking well on Google takes a long period of time. Give yourself 3 months at least.
- It’s usually very competitive depending on your niche.
- It requires you to produce decent content (hire someone - I can recommend a few winners) and generate quality back links to the content you create. Don’t shortcut this. DA 40+ with DoFollow links only. Build these by guest posting by outreach. Don’t do it yourself. Hire someone on Upwork. (Off-site SEO)
- It requires you to optimize your site accordingly (On-site SEO)
I identified the keywords I would go after through tools like Google Keyword Planner, and then analyzed my competitors’s keywords and found other related keywords with tools like Semrush. Then it became abundantly clear that there was a path forward for Parserr and I knew where I needed to focus.
This one is another gem and an introvert’s dream.
Parserr was lucky enough to join Microsoft Flow in its infancy. Microsoft Flow is similar to Zapier, in that it connects cloud applications and automates processes and workflows between them.
Flow and Zapier have been paramount in providing Parserr with a steady stream of warm inbound leads. Optimising our onboarding experience to suit these tools has helped conversion, where the average time I will spend with a customer before conversion is 27 minutes.
Potential customers opting into your service from a marketplace in which they also opted into, means the conversion to paying customer is far more likely. No harassment. Just customers wanting to solve business problems.
Patience and Time Management
Now to the crux of this story. Apart from the marketing methods I’ve used above, time management and patience are definitely needed to succeed, especially if you’re like me and have a lot of other commitments.
If you believe other hockey stick type articles such as, “How-I-built-my-SAAS-to-7-figures-in- 3-months”, then you may as well go and explore that right now. Personally, I believe that it’s all incredibly unhelpful advice. And this article should be as boring as Parserr’s growth curve.
I have been chugging along for 9 years trying to do this. I have woken up hating Parserr many times in the past 12 months. I have tried to sell it twice. I have tried to shelve it seven times, punched the desk once and worked all night without sleep 3 times.
Everything Parserr has achieved has been through patience, persistence and consistency. There is nothing flashy about the grind of SaaS. There is nothing flashy about Parserr. There is no quick growth short cut.
Large Product Hunt launches or huge discounts on AppSumo are really just “flash in pan” type solutions that give false illusions of growth. All I’ve ever tried to do is to provide good service and solve the email parsing problem really well. Revenue will come.
In order to effectively manage and grow the business, I knew that time management would play an important role and that my priorities would have to be set right:
- Food, Water and Sleep
- Kids and Wife (or rather Wife and Kids) 😃
- Full-time work
This is hard to stomach but imperative. If you understand Maslow’s hierachy of needs you’ll know that Physiological (1) and Safety (2, 3) needs are core to human survival.
If you don’t sleep, or don’t sleep enough, you can’t focus. If you don’t eat, or overeat, you can’t focus. If you eat badly, you can’t focus.
If you neglect these needs, it doesn’t end well.
If you have a strained or non-existent relationship with your immediate family, no business will ever make you happy. Personal security and emotional security are paramount (Safety needs - Maslow). If you prioritize your business, you’ll prioritize above a core human need. Don’t do it.
If you neglect these needs, it doesn’t end well.
Turns out that if you instead focus on optimization of your time with a healthy mind and body, you can do about 4 hours of work on your side project per day. When you are at full-time work, work hard. Never work on your side project at work. Remember your wage buys much security and safety.
Here is my typical day:
On weekends I typically:
- Saturday 6:30 am - 7:30 am: Parserr support requests
- Saturday 8 am - 12 pm: Kids. Outside, having fun, without my phone. Wifey has a break.
- Saturday 12 pm - 7 pm: Playing tennis/exercise
- Sunday 6:30 am - 7:30 am: Parserr support requests
- Sunday 8 am - 12 pm: Kids. Outside, having fun, without my phone. Together as a family
- Sunday 12 pm - 7 pm: Mix. Cleaning the garden & house. Some time with kids. Little bit of coding
I live on the east coast of Australia and so early mornings and late evenings are the perfect time to support the majority customer timezone of the US.
You need to be ruthless about your time. Write down how you spend your time like I have above. But above all remember, you’re not a machine. Give yourself a break. Patience and consistency is key.
Remember. This is what worked for me.
It may or may not work for you. There is no formula. There is careful time management and patience. There is a bit of luck. There is a bit of timing!
If you’d like to help me grow Parserr, please share this article on your favourite social media engine.
If you’d like to ask me any questions I’d happily answer in the comments below.