Indie Bites

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Today I'm joined by Baird Hall who has successfully launched and scaled multiple bootstrapped SaaS businesses, such as Wavve, Zubtitle and Churnkey, which at the time of recording this have over $250k combined monthly revenue, completely bootstrapped. Baird and his co-founder Nick have since sold Wavve and are now putting their growth efforts into Churnkey, which we talk about in this epsiode. We also cover how they pushed through the tough times, then how they bootsrapped their companies to hundreds of thousands in monthly revenue.

Show Notes

Baird is a 4x SaaS founder based in Charleston, SC. His background is in sales, marketing, and support. He bootstrapped and grew two SaaS companies to over $1M in ARR. When he isn't working on Churnkey's sales and marketing, he is on the water with his wife and daughter.

What we covered in this episode:
  • The big challenges faced when bootstrapping
  • Did Baird always want to bootstrap
  • Why leave a job to start a company
  • Did he ever get funding from utalk
  • How did Waave come about?
  • How to avoid quitting when times get tough
  • Getting early customers in for Waave
  • What was different when they launched Zubtitle (108k MRR)
  • Why they started a new business completely
  • Why churn is such a difficult problem to solve
  • Is it harder or easier to do B2C vs B2B
  • How to manage context switching
  • How to make time to run 3 huge businesses at once

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What is Indie Bites?

Short, bite-sized conversations with indie hackers that have started small, profitable and bootstrapped businesses. You'll learn how they come up with ideas, what they do to validate, find those first customers and make a sustainable income.

James:
Hello and welcome back to Indie Bites where I bring you stories from fellow Indie Hackers in a 15 minute episode. Today I'm joined by Baird Hall, who successfully launched and scaled multiple bootstraps as businesses such as Wavve, Zubtitle, and Churnkey, which at the time of this recording have over 300K combined monthly revenue. Baird and his co-founder, Nick, has since sold Wavve and are now putting their growth efforts into Churnkey, which we talk about in this episode. We also cover how they push through the tough times then how they bootstrap their companies to hundreds of thousands in monthly revenue. There's also a 45 minute version of this conversation with Baird available on the Indie Feast membership, which you can check out in the show notes. As an Indie Hacker building your product, how often are you asking for user feedback? Because if you're listening to the problems of your users, you can really understand their pain points and solve their problems, building a product that they love.

James:
And that's exactly why I've partnered with Upvoty to support this episode of Indie Bites. Upvoty is a user feedback tool that makes it easy for you to listen to your users and prioritize what to build next. Install Upvoty's feedback boards and you'll have all of your user feedback in one place. You can also close the feedback loop by setting up your change log and product roadmap, allowing users to be more actively involved in building new features, and they're going to love your product even more. Want to give it a go? Well, Upvoty has a 14-day free trial and 10% off any plan with the code INDIEBITES at checkout. Go to upvoty.com, or click the link in the show notes to start your trial. Let's get into this episode. Baird, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Baird:
Thanks for having me. Long time listener, first time caller. Glad to be here.

James:
It's good to have you and you've got a good track record of building bootstrap businesses. Now it is fun to talk about founders, their multiple hundreds of thousands in revenue, but we don't always talk about those challenges. The hard times, the things where it hasn't gone as well as it, that sometimes does look from the outside. Where did you start out as an entrepreneur, your first company and did you always want it to be bootstrapped?

Baird:
No. The first company was in 2015. Nick, my first co-founder and partner, our wives are best friends and we were telling them all about our startup ideas and they got tired of listening to it and started sending us to Starbucks together. And we, back in 2015, we tried to build clubhouse for sports talk. Where sports fans can join live audio chat rooms and people thought we were insane. And we worked on it for a year and a half, I blew through all my savings, Nick was in law school debt, the whole thing was a total mess. And I just had that kind of gut feeling years before that, that I wanted to do my own thing and felt like I would regret it if I never tried it and left my job, convinced Nick to do the same, and that's how it all got started. The first year and a half was pretty brutal, but Wavve actually came out of that failed company. So I'm glad we did it.

James:
Why did you leave your job to do this? Because I went on speaking to a lot of Indie Hackers now who essentially build side businesses on the side of working a full-time job and then will either leave when they hit a certain revenue number or will work to a revenue number when it eventually surpasses their salary and then they can leave or they'll go part-time while they're building it. So you just like left your job and thought, "I'm going all in entrepreneurship."

Baird:
We knew we needed to raise money because we were building native mobile apps and back then it was really expensive to do so, it still is if you do it. The narrative back then was you couldn't be working at a job and raising money or it didn't look like you were fully committed. I think that's changed a little bit now as people got more realistic. And then the bootstrapping, people were bootstrapping companies back then, but it definitely wasn't a story or common thing that had made it to me yet.

Baird:
Yeah, it was a leap of faith. My wife got a new job and we lucked into an apartment. I had a friend that was leaving for the summer and he had a little apartment downtown and he rented it to us at cost, just to pay his mortgage. And my wife was getting a new job and felt like the stars were aligning and had a chance to take 12 months to live off of her salary and try to build something and so decided to do it. And she likes to say, she's Nick's wife too. They like to say there are our angel investors because they floated us for the first year.

James:
They're not wrong. They're not wrong. Did you raise any funding with it?

Baird:
We tried. Never got any funding and we had some good traction and a decent product, but never raised any funds, never was able to get a check in the door mainly because there was no business model. I think we realized pretty quickly that we didn't want to run that type of business. We wanted to control our own destiny and really just build a small business on the internet and that's when Wavve started.

James:
And you mentioned Wavve a few times, saying Wavve was born out of YouTube. How did it, how did that come about in 2017?

Baird:
Yeah, so we had this audio, live audio app and we wanted to these conversations and put them on social media and there was no way to do it. And Nick built it over a weekend. This little tool that took audio clips, turned it into MP4 videos and put it on social media, and podcasters started emailing us and saying, "I don't understand your app, but how'd you create this little video on social media," and the light bulb went off.

Baird:
We're like, "Ah, we built something that people would actually pay for and use with podcasters" and we sold the other company and started working on Wavve full-time with the hope that one day it could pay our mortgage on the side. So it definitely started off as a side gig. I went back to contracting, I didn't want to go back to a full-time job and we just kept pushing it. It took a year and a half, almost two years to hit 10K monthly recurring revenue. It was a slow, I at least felt slow on ramp time when I was just sitting there in my kitchen, sending cold emails, trying to get $10 subscription sign up. So it was long, but we just kept seeing a little bit of growth every month, a little bit of up and to the right. I almost quit three time, almost quit three, 9K, and 15 KMR.

James:
Tell me about those three moments. three, nine, and 15.

Baird:
I remember 9K was pretty rough because it had been a year and a half and we're a two person team. We were making 9K a month with probably two in expenses and we're putting all that back in the business. It's been a year and a half, I'd quit my job a year before that. My wife's been paying the bills for two years. That's a rough thing for the quote unquote, "man of the house." I was just getting burnt out on just not having the cash coming in. And to your point, a better way to design this would've been stay at the main job and then build Churnkey on the side and then transition, would've made sense. But at the same time, I don't know, going all in forces you to, "Gosh, that constraint" really forces you to make things happen. I don't know if I had had a cushy job, maybe I would let my side gig just stay at five, 6K MIR and not feel the pressure to grow it. So I don't know. I don't know what the perfect situation would've been, but that's how it played out.

James:
Okay. So take me back to those early days of Wavve then getting those early customers in because I think a lot of Indie Hack entrepreneurs might be in a similar position. Now the landscape is very different, mind you, back in 2017 and how you could do marketing. Podcasting is obviously much bigger now, well, much, much bigger now. So what were you doing to get those customers and start growing the business?

Baird:
It was a lot of direct email. I was reaching out to people directly. So I would send them emails and say, "Hey, have you been promoting your show on social media?" Question mark. I would also go on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and look for people that were posting images of their podcast and then send them a DM and say, "Hey, have you ever thought about posting an actual video clip from your podcast?" And people would be like, "How do I do that?" And it would just to lead me right into it. I think the big call out there is when you're starting out early, figure out where your people spend their time online and go meet them there and go get involved. And reach out to people and have confidence that you built something that can bring them value and take it to them and just be authentic and genuine. Don't be, nobody likes to be sold to but everybody wants their problem solved.

James:
Talk to me about when you launched Zubtitle, which is doing how much now?

Baird:
108K MIR.

James:
That's wild. So where did you start that? And how different was that to Wavve?

Baird:
We started that when all of our Wavve customers started asking for video captions and we kept scoping the project out like, "Gosh, this is going to cost 10 grand in time to build this feature out." And so we decided maybe we can spin this out as a different company and it can support the video captioning within Wavve, but then we can sell it to all video creators. It started out as a really simple standalone video captioning tool. We were doing pay per use, which is interesting compared to a subscription model because our conversion rates were 75%. People would buy something and try it out even if it was just a couple dollars. So we got to 9K and it's not even recurring revenue. It was 9K and monthly revenue from these pay per use packages people would buy and it was just, it was killing us. To try to sustain that and then not knowing what you're going to make next month. To be able to figure out how you're going to pay contractors, pay yourself, things like that.

Baird:
And customers had also been asking us for other video editing tools. They would say I need to change the size of my video, I need to trim it. It was a year and a half of working on Zubtitle as just captioning that we decided to pivot to, not even pivot, just add video editing capabilities. So that's when it really started diverging from Wavve, where Wavve was for podcasters and then Zubtitle was a video editing tool for video creators. We moved to a subscription model. Once we got that model figured out it started taking off.

James:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Let's talk a little bit about Churnkey. Different space completely. You were, you had these two super successful bootstrap businesses in the sort of video editing, social video space. Why not just do something else like that because you seem to have cracked growth for that area? Why go after churn and why go for more expensive, more premium B2B product?

Baird:
Well, it's a problem that's close to home because running these B2C, we call them "prosumer style" apps. They come with high churn and that's been half of our job for the last year and a half. It feels like it's trying to cut churn and we've tried everything we've paid tens of thousands of consultants. We've bought onboarding tools, analytics tools. We've just tried so much stuff. And the best return on investment that we've gotten for cutting churn was working on our offboarding flows and optimizing those and trying to save customers at the point of cancel. And also collecting data during the cancellation process. So it was a problem that was close to home. We also loved being SaaS founders and it's changed, completely changed our lives. And we really want to help other SaaS founders be successful, and get off the ground and get to profitability and scale. And I think we needed it. We needed a new challenge.

James:
What have you found different and what have you struggled with or found easier since starting the new business?

Baird:
Just sales cycles are slower. They're months long as opposed to minutes, when you can get a hundred people on a blog post with a freemium tool that's $10 and get, figure out whether or not people are going to pay for it or not. Also, Churnkey has an implementation where you actually have to embed some JavaScript within your SaaS app for it to handle your cancellation flows. So there's a little bit of education around there. There's also just aligning with people's product roadmaps so that you need to actually have an engineer, whether you're the founder or you have one of your engineers plug it in. We have to be involved in that product development cycle to get Churnkey in when those things can happen. Also, I would say podcasters and video creators are pretty, there are different niches within those groups, but they can be categorized pretty well as far as their behaviors, how they look, how they operate.

Baird:
And businesses, every business is different. We're starting to realize that too, that it's, you can't put every Indie Hacker pod, every Indie Hacker company in the same box. They're all very different. They focus on different markets. They have different business models. The way that they operate as a team is different, that's another thing that we're learning quite a bit too, of how different B2B and these prosumers are. So it's a lot of fun challenges. And the great thing is that when we get somebody set up on Churnkey, we're seeing like 20% reduction in churn in month one and then it can go up from there. On average between 20 and 40% is where our companies are falling.

James:
How do you have all the time to do all these businesses? At one point you had three businesses going at once. You have two very big businesses and then you start up a brand new one because yeah, why not?

Baird:
The first answer is great partners. I don't know how solo founders do it. It's unbelievable. We have five partners, co-founders, across the three different companies and they're amazing. They're all great to work with. And then also, a lot of these it's really heavy lifting for the first two years to get it up and going. And then you can start outsourcing certain functions, have contractors or employees take over certain things. And then you're really just spending more time, high level, making sure everything's going in the right direction. And the other thing is blocking time. So I work on Wavve the first hour and a half of the day, then Zubtitle, then Churnkey, and really making sure you're using your time effectively. I never get burnt out. I make sure that every day I'm working a little bit and pushing things forward but I'm never working for nine hours straight. I like to work four hours a day, four to six hours a day. And when you do that seven days a week for 52 weeks straight, you have a lot more time than you think.

James:
How do you deal with contact switching? Because a lot of Indie Hackers have a lot of stuff on and will struggle from going from one thing to the other.

Baird:
Yeah, I think it's tougher for, especially for Indie Hackers that are engineers. You really need those long periods of focus time on the development side. But contact switching is I've got a hyper focus problem, anyway. I can stare at the same problem for a long time. So I think just if you're struggling with that, I really keep my... Use Google Chrome profiles. I used to... Shift is another great product worth. When I bring up Wavve stuff in my tabs, only looking at Wavve. I don't have Wavve, Zubtitle, and Churnkey all in the same view at one time. So making sure that your computer screen is focused on one thing at a time really helps. And my phone stays on silent all day, so there's no notifications.

James:
That is one of the biggest productivity hacks that not having your phone either next to you. If I put this in the other room and don't have notifications in all day, way more productive.

Baird:
Take Twitter and social media off your phone, just check in on your desktop. That's another big one. You probably don't realize how much time you're spending scrolling through Twitter.

James:
Damn it. Should I try it?

Baird:
Test it out. Just delete it off your, just take it off your home screen or uninstall the app. You can always reinstall it. Give it a test, see how it goes.

James:
Okay. Let's do it.

Baird:
Bold moves happening right now.

James:
There you go. Gone.

Baird:
There you go. Let me know how it goes.

James:
We finished every Indie Bites episode on three recommendations. A book, a podcast you listen to, and an entrepreneur or Indie Hacker that you follow other people should follow.

Baird:
My favorite book is called Range by David Epstein. That book made me comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. If you feel like you are good at a lot of different things, and that makes you not as smart as people that are experts, go read this book. As far as podcast go, it's going to be podcasts that everybody else listens to. Indie Hackers, of course, your podcast. Startups for the rest of us. I don't have one that really stands out. My problem is I listen to Bill Simmons podcast which is three days a week for an hour and a half to two hours. It's sports. So it's so hard to add more podcasting time than that. What was the third and last question?

James:
Entrepreneur, Indie Hacker, or someone you follow or you're inspired by.

Baird:
I mean, Nathan at ConvertKit is, I'm envious of his focus. Because I don't have that. He's been able to double down, triple down on ConvertKit over and over again.

James:
Cool. All right, Baird. I'll make sure that everything we discussed in this episode is linked in the show notes. Links to your Twitter and everything else. Thanks, man.

Baird:
Great. Thank you.

James:
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Indie Bites. I appreciate your support. A reminder that you can get ad free versions of the show along with extended conversations when they're available for just £4 a month with the Indie Feast membership. All the links and references for that will be in the show notes.