Laura Roeder: Bootstrapping A Business In The Face Of Well-Funded Competition

Laura Roeder is a signed-up member of the Bootstrapping club. Her Social Media scheduling SaaS MeetEdgar is proudly bootstrapped in a market that has some very well-funded competitors – Hootsuite alone has taken nearly $300 million in funding. Why start a business when your biggest competitor has so much cash to throw around?

Laura is convinced that being small and bootstrapped is an advantage when your competitors are big and funded. In this talk from Business of Software Conference Europe 2018, she explains some of the advantages with examples from MeetEdgar. Bootstrappers, be encouraged – there’s room for you in the market, however much money your competition has!

also available on the podcast

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Laura Roeder: Right. This is my backup chair. [Laura was 7 months pregnant at the time!] I’m planning on standing but I need a backup chair on stage. Just in case… So I want to tell you about me and my company, MeetEdgar. As Mark alluded to I recently started another company called Ropig in the developer tool space but it’s brand new and I don’t really have any lessons learned yet so I’ll focus today’s talk on MeetEdgar.

My perspective on bootstrapping

I plan to be very divisive during this talk for a bootstrapped versus funded companies, I’m really trying to start a war at the at the business of software. I am pro bootstrap so that’s the point of view I’ll be sharing. Edgar is about four years old. We have about four million annual recurring revenue. We are bootstrapped – bootstrapped in our case means self-funded bootstrapped. I took some of the profits my previous business. Ended up being about 200K in the first year and put that towards Edgar to fund it until it became profitable on its own. I just point that out because bootstrap can mean a lot of different things and I don’t want someone who’s doing a hardcore true bootstrapping where you earn a dollar and then spend a dollar to look at us and say “How did they grow so fast in the first year”. That’s part of the secret to how we grew so fast in the first year we did have some money to play with.

What is Edgar and who do we compete with?

Edgar is a social media scheduling and automation tool. So that means we help small businesses organize and automate all their social media marketing to Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. We have some very well-funded competitors. So our biggest competitor is Hootsuite. And when I say competitor. We do compete with them directly for customers. When we ask people who they’re comparing us to they often say Hootsuite. When we poll people who’ve left some of our customers when they leave do you switch to head suite whose suite has raised three hundred million dollars. It’s a lot of money. Very different from where we are. Yet we’re still alive and profitable and happy.

I’m here talking to you today to share some tactical strategies that you can use in your startup to compete with such a big company.

Another thing that’s relevant about us is we are 100 percent self serve which is a really really great model for a bootstrapped company which I’ll talk more about. So we don’t have a sales team. We don’t do any kind of custom work. No one has a special plan or anything like that. Actually we keep it crazy simple. We don’t even have different plans. Everyone. Everyone pays us the same amount. Everyone’s on the same plan. I love the business model of bootstrap size because it’s super super sustainable because if you’re bootstrapped you have to be profitable. If you’re losing money your company is just going to go under. And the cool thing about being profitable is it really allows you to ride those ups and downs that we all know common any business. Obviously if you’re more profitable that’s going to be easier than if you’re less profitable.

In 2018 there’ve been some big changes in the social media landscape.

We lost some of our functionality as a tool due to API changes. We did lose a chunk of our customer base because that. But we have a very very predictable revenue. So it’s not an ideal situation but we can survive it just fine because we have that very predictable amount of revenue. The beauty of recurring revenue right coming in every month. And our expenses are well below that revenue. Also it’s really easy to change your expenses since as we all know in a SaaS business the team is going to be the vast majority of your expenses. So. It’s not what anyone is looking for but if you do ever need to make layoffs that is always it’s a strategy that you can always use as a profitable SaaS business to keep yourself afloat until you know you can get things into a more sustainable position. You also have so much flexibility as a bootstrapped company you can keep things small you can grow you can choose to raise money down the road you have a lot of flexibility with your lifestyle as a founder.

Bootstrapping benefits

I keep hearing people talk about how do you deal with having a life in the time zone difference between the US and the UK and then your kids schedule like people here. One of the reasons I resonate with this community is it’s not just what’s your profit margin what’s the bottom line you know how much money can you raise in three months. I know that this community is really interested in our businesses supporting a better life and having businesses that are really helping our customers. The math of being bootstrapped means that you and your co-founders own probably all the business right and then that gets really lucrative as it becomes larger and it becomes profitable. And you have an asset you can sell. And once you’re at a certain size even a crappy sale where you don’t get a huge multiple, you are doing OK. If we sold today for one times revenue, that’s four million dollars. I get out of it pretty sweet.

Competing against better funded competitors

I know that there are lots of businesses here that have done the same thing – creating a bootstrap business that has been able to compete with large competitors. I talked to someone the other day and I said, “What are you like in your marketplace or are there a bunch of bigger players?” He said they’re open about their publicly traded company competitors and his is a relatively small company that’s been really stable and has been around for a long time. I know there are one person companies that have existed for years and years with really well-funded competitors. So I’m not some sort of crazy outlier in this. Why is it possible? So Let’s talk about why. A lot of people, their initial impression, is why doesn’t HootSuite just build that? They have three hundred million dollars. Why would they not just build your tool and copy it and just eliminate you?

If you saw the talk from TransferWise, he explained very clearly why. So someone asked him a question. They said OK we’ve been talking about the banks but what about the other tools that are like TransferWise because there’s a few smaller tools out there that essentially do have the same model and do the same thing. And he’s like do you care about those tools? We care about the banks because they’re looking to be a large company. They want to compete with that 90 percent of the business that the banks have. They don’t care about the point zero whatever percent that are small, bootstrapped or small funded competitors. That’s why really big competitors actually don’t care about you at all. So in our case you know we’ve proven so far that we’re a four million dollar business as far as speed is concerned.

That’s what we are. Let’s say we can get to like 20. That’s still really tiny to them. And to think of all the work they have to go through to launch and market those products. That’s the exact same as ours and like add that to their business line. For maybe four million – you know maybe it’s like max 10 or 20 million. It’s just not worth their time for all the hassle. And in a lot of ways the bigger your competitors are the better because the less they care about you.

Other competitors

We do see a lot more Head-to-Head type of competition from our small competitors. The companies that have come out… I call them the knock offs. The companies that have come out since we launched that do the same thing that we do. They’re the ones that are like all up in our business looking at exactly what we’re doing. Building the exact same features, making things look exactly the same because they’re looking at us being like “What can we steal?”. It is viable for them to steal to try to steal one million or whatever of our market share because that means a lot to them. But it means absolutely nothing to Hootsuite. And you know another thing people say is like well anyone anyone could just come in and build it right. These big competitors like even if they’re not that interested it would just be so quick and easy for them. Why would they not just build it? This is just true. For hardware. Right. Thing. I mean I’m sure. Every engineer in this room is the most talented and brilliant engineer that has ever existed. I think other people can build the same stuff that you can build. That’s just kind of what I’ve seen. In general if you can build it somebody else can – that’s what’s cool about software. Anyone can build it.

So this idea that like oh well a company with more resources could just build it. Aren’t you scared of that? Yeah that’s just the reality. It’s not something to be scared of, that’s the reality that we’re all living in. Another thing I’ve seen about huge companies is that they’re very beholden to their existing clients and their existing infrastructure. So especially if they’re an older company. They’re often built on tech that is older. They can’t change it because either they have their client agreements that don’t allow them to change it or they have 50 thousand customers. They’re not just going to go in and rebuild like everything. You know those of you at larger companies know how painful that would be. So I’ve also come across a lot of legacy stuff the bigger companies have that is not what they would build in 2018 but they were kind of stuck with for a lot of reasons. Also just taking any kind of risk. Once you’re that big – right, if your revenues are 50 million plus – for you to be like “Let’s play around with this new workflow because there’s a tiny competitor and people kind of seem to like it”… you don’t want to risk your entire customer base.

Larger companies won’t be interested in you

So. Yeah what I’ve seen in the market is that large companies are often super uninterested in you as a small competitor. The amazing thing about this bootstrapped SaaS thing is that you don’t have to be the biggest business and you’re not trying to be the biggest business. So we are competing with Hootsuite directly in the sense that some customers, some leads that are researching Hootsuite, we want them to research us and choose us. We are not competing with them in the sense of we are not trying to go public. We are not trying to raise three hundred million dollars. They’re moving up market going enterprise, huge contracts. That’s the strategy they need to follow at their level. That’s absolutely not our strategy. And that’s where the freedom and the flexibility comes in. You can do that as a bootstrapped company. You can say “My goal is for my company to be a five million dollar company”. I love having my team of 10 people, I don’t want to grow at larger. We’re gonna hang out there, we’re gonna grow gradually over the years. That is great for you. And this idea that markets are winner take all… I was just trying to think of a single example for this presentation of a winner take all market, just looking around at the things that businesses and people buy. It’s really hard to find an example that’s truly winner take all. I mean there’s search, but there’s still even other search engines that have. Small percentages of the market. Even things like Uber. In Austin where I lived Uber was gone for a year because they wouldn’t play along with the government and some local competitors came in. And now they’re still there. I probably won’t invest in them but I know they’re going to stay around. But even a super hard to compete with companies like Uber where it’s a double sided marketplace and they’re literally willing to lose money on every single ride… That’s not what I would choose to enter. Even that there is room for local competitors for various reasons, right. Because people don’t like Uber. Maybe they have better experience with a competitor or whatever. There’s always room for competition. I think the only caveat is there are definitely some markets that as a bootstrapper are not great. Double sided marketplace is generally one of those. As a bootstrap company that’s really hard to do. Or a company with a really really long sales cycle is really hard to do as a bootstrap. Or of course anything that just requires so much money to build the tracker or the hardware or whatever – it just doesn’t make sense for bootstrapping. But those aren’t because of competitors. Those are just the nature of the business.

The 4 Ps

So to structure this presentation. In marketing we have something called the four P’s. Think there’s a few marketers here like me. The four P’s are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. So I thought that would be a good framework to go through the four P’s and talk about how the tactics that we’ve used at MeetEdgar to address each of these areas against competitors.

P1 – Product

The first P is Product – relevant to the Business of Software. So I think what you have to think about for your product decisions, in regard to competitors… One: You don’t want to get into a tit for tat feature situation. I mean I think that’s just sort of general strategic advice for software but obviously if a company is a lot older or has a lot more resources than you that can be challenging. So something we’ve done is hone in on what is that USP, what is that core difference that we’re going to judge our product and our future decisions by. So for us that’s saving time. Because there’s a lot of different functionality in social media marketing tools – some of them are listening tools, some of them are customer service tools. We’ve decided we’re not going to build a feature unless it helps you save time. So when we look at different things we can do… because people ask us for everything. I don’t know if your customers do this to you, but our customers are like “why don’t you guys build something that posts like a feed on my Facebook”. Guys that’s sort of like social media. I don’t know what that helps with… Anyway so our criteria overlooking all these feature requests are “would this help our customer shave time off their social media marketing daily activities”. That’s really important for getting focused in what we’re going to build. Another choice we’ve made is not to have mobile apps. Now, I would rather have mobile apps if we had unlimited resources, that would be on my list. It’s definitely something customers ask for. But what we found is it’s a “nice to have” and it’s not a “deal breaker” in our space for our customers, and the resources that it would require to build or maintain mobile apps… we either have to add engineering teams or spend a bunch of money outsourcing. To the customer it’s like I’d like to have a mobile app, to a software development company that’s a huge layer of complexity building everything that we built for the web for apps. So you have to be realistic about your own constraints and your own capacity. And you can’t just build everything your customers ask for, right. I mean this is true in general but I think. If you’re a smaller company it can be really tempting to say “Oh the competitors have apps, people talk about apps, we have to you know put that at the top of the list, we have to do that”. For us we feel like apps doesn’t really meet that time saving criteria. I’m not saying we’ll never introduce it. It’s just not at the top of the list for us.

And the other thing about building your product is we all know that huge teams are not necessarily more effective than really small teams right. Everyone has had this experience. I mean that’s why there’s so much talk about dividing your teams into two pieces and more than six people. And we’ve all seen that software. For me it’s iTunes whenever I open iTunes I’m like, they have thousands of engineers. What are they doing? I can’t find a video that I’ve ordered, it’s terrible right. We all see these huge companies and really what are all these engineers doing? And I think we’ve all had that fantasy where your dev team grows and like I remember when I just did this myself it was so much easier I should just go back to just me and I could get everything done so much faster. Which is like a bit of a fantasy but it’s also true that one person can be super productive and there’s incredible whole startups that are one person businesses or a lot of them that are just one person on the development team. So on the one hand – yes you can’t go crazy building something as big and complex as maybe your competitors have. On the other hand it is always amazing to me what kind of products are really tiny software team can build. They’re often extremely similar to competitors that have been around for years, have huge amounts of funding and have huge engineering teams. So the whole product area and being small and being bootstrapped might not be as much of a constraint as you think. And of course this is where it’s important to look at your product, look at your marketplace, look at what customers are asking for and say am I able to build the product that meets their needs without raising 20 million dollars, without that 50 person engineering team.

P2 – Price

So the next P is Price. We do not have a free plan. We do not have any kind of freemium model. I think that bootstrapped and freemium can be a really lethal combination because free customers don’t pay you and bootstrap companies really need to make money. We can be profitable. So those things are really hard to work out together. I think a lot of people don’t realize what a tiny, tiny, tiny conversion rate there is between free plans and paying plans. I’d love to find more data on this. The data I’ve been able to find, everything I’ve seen is below 5 percent. Sometimes it’s like way below 5 percent because it’s just a different customer base, signing up for your free plan and your paid plan. That’s a lot of money your company has to spend, and I think it can be scary not having a free plan when your competitors do. And I think lots if not all of our competitors have a free plan from the big ones to the small ones. And people still sign up for our software. Here’s the cool thing. The people looking for free software don’t sign up for our software. That’s cool, they can go somewhere else. I want the people looking to pay for a solution. So there are companies that have done this. So MailChimp is a company that I hugely admire. They’ve grown to a huge level being bootstrapped. They do have a free plan. They introduced it when they were I think nine years into their journey and they really felt like they had the resources for it. And the interesting thing about MailChimp is their free plan is just free advertising for them. When someone’s on their free plan they’re sending out emails with a MailChimp link at the bottom. My company doesn’t have any version of that. You know maybe that would tell people about us, but it doesn’t have any sort of viral marketing situation for a free plan. And you know this is another thing you have to be really careful of, is blindly copying the strategy of your competitors or just blindly copying strategies that you read about online because a lot of the startup books and blog posts and stuff is written for funded companies. I might have mentioned this when I spoke a few years ago. I remember thinking it was really funny when the term unit economics became this trendy thing maybe about two years ago people were like oh there’s this new thing you need to think about in your startup. It’s called unit economics and it means that every customer should make you money instead of losing you money. And they’re like oh wow cool. You can’t lose money on every customer as a bootstrapped company, as a funded company you can. And that’s a very, very, very common strategy to grow a funded company is to know how much, hopefully you at least know your unit economics and you know how much you’re losing on every customer. That’s a common thing to do right.

So reading all the startup advice and people are telling you absolutely have to have a free plan. You absolutely have to do this not you really have to think it through. Do the math right, figure out what are the implications of this for a small company like mine that’s maybe going to have trouble having the resources to support this. The other thing we’ve done as far as pricing goes is to be more expensive than a lot of our competitors. So obviously our tool is different and better than all the other tools. But if you are just someone who doesn’t know as much about social media, there are some tools out there that you would compare to ours that are 15/20 dollars a month – we’re 49 dollars a month. So that’s significantly more expensive. That’s twice as expensive. We offer something that is worth well and beyond that forty nine dollars. Obviously a lot of people agree with us. And when I’ve looked at different price points, the math of lowering our price would be very challenging. We’d have to raise our conversion rate quite a bit. I mean that’s something I think you know it’s a strategy you might want to enact. You just have to test it out. You just have to see. But that’s where you have to do the math for your own company to say not just say oh they’re 20 bucks a month, so we have to be 20 bucks a month too. If you dropped your price to 20 bucks a month, would you have to… I mean here’s the thing. You know that you need two and a half more customers if you’re 20 bucks a month for every one you need if you’re 50 bucks a month. Is all your marketing supporting that? You know this idea that you just get double the customers because you go from 50 to 20? Usually isn’t true. Obviously depends on a lot of different factors. And these are the types of things that tank bootstrap businesses. All the time. Right. I think that’s why whenever we go to these conferences there’s always at least one speaker says raise your prices, raise your prices, raise your prices. Because so much says the math is never gonna work out with how low the price is. I also think it’s very interesting seeing companies that survive against free competitors.

I think a lot of us in this room know ProfitWell and Baremetrics. Are you familiar with those products? Okay so ProfitWell & Baremetics’ feed reads from your Stripe account and tell you your MRO are in error and churn and stuff like that. ProfitWell is a free product. Their business model is to sell you some other things once you’re using the product. Baremetrics is not a free product. The prices range from I don’t know $20 to $500 a month. The products in my opinion (we use both of them at my company) are very, very, very similar. ProfitWell is a very strong product. It’s totally free. I just said that we pay for it. So obviously Baremetrics does have a feature that we find valuable and we find worth the money. So they’re a business that exists despite having a competitor that’s a very similar product that’s a hundred percent free. It’s not like free plan and then you pay more. It’s just straight up free. Researching a marketplace I think a lot of people would get scared off and say well there’s a free competitor. How are we ever going to possibly launch that. But your product is not going to be exactly the same. So as long as there’s anything different about your product that people are willing to pay for, you can have a space on the market and Baremetrics has really proven that.

P3 – Place

The next P is Place. So the four P’s are a little bit old school. Place used to mean where people could buy your products. Place means distribution. So the implications of this for SaaS is that I mean something so obvious we overlook. You’re going direct to consumer. People are finding you on the Internet. And they’re buying through your Web site. That’s not always true with enterprise sales right. Sometimes it’s through various vendors – I guess sometimes that could be true with small businesses as well. But this factor that you get to go direct to consumers is actually a huge factor in your favor of being a small company. And again what’s cool about SaaS and software is you’re not trying to make deals with Target for shelf space right. People can just find you right away. And it might be easier to buy your solution than a larger company solution. You know my company like I said it’s all self-service so you don’t have to talk to a salesperson. You don’t have to do a demo. For some other social media software you have to run through all those hoops which our customer base is just not interested in. So this is another one of those strategic tactics that’s just a really good match for bootstrap SaaS. Don’t have all those hoops to jump through. Right. Use the power of the Internet to let people buy from you directly. That alone can be a great differentiating factor between you and a competitor.

Another thing to think about – you know I said freemium and bootstrapped don’t go together? Long sales cycles and bootstrapped also generally don’t go together. A really complex sales cycles where you have to get buy in from 10 people at the organization, that’s one of those areas where a well-funded team often does have a big advantage against you because they just have a lot of humans they can throw at that problem. They have a lot of money to take people to the box seat or whatever enterprise sales people do. Golf? I don’t know. So that is something to look at and that can even be a point of differentiation. Maybe you’re in an industry where that would be really disruptive for your industry to say “Hey you don’t have to go through this. We don’t have to go through the song and dance in this year long this year long process. Let’s just sell this directly and get this done and get you up and running”. You know not all the clients love the yearlong process either.

P4 – Promotion

And the last P is Promotion. So this is like a big winner for bootstrap companies. This is where you can really compete with well-funded companies really easily, really effectively thanks to the Internet. We’re so used to the Internet that we forget that it’s this really amazing place where we just create content. And it is treated equally to the content that everyone else creates. You can just get right in front of people without with paying maybe a little money for paid advertising, or often paying no money. And I want to talk about some of the promotional strategies that take time rather than money that have been really effective for us. One that we do a ton of is podcasts. So I’m a guest on podcasts that talk to our target market. If you google “MeetEdgar podcast LeadPages” we ran a post on LeadPages’ blog with our whole template and system for getting this done, e-mails that we send to pitch ourselves as guests on a podcast. This is free besides your time. It’s super effective because you’re going straight to your target audience. There’s not a lot of prep involved. You just show up and talk. So in that sense it takes a lot less time than something like running a guest post – which can also be a super effective strategy, by the way. This is just so easy for anyone to take the strategy and run with that podcast. There’s tons of them. They really need guests. Pick yourself to be on the podcast! They want you they want you to talk. Free right in front your target audience.

A similar one is public speaking like I’m doing today. I didn’t have to pay for this, right. And I get to be here talking to all of you about how fabulous my software is. You know I imagine for TransferWise that was a bit of an incentive to be here. This seems like a really really good target market for them. I think a lot of people here are some level of influencer with a community and a social media following. This guy can come talk here for an hour. Give us a ton of value and maybe create some new evangelists for TransferWise. Having people write reviews of your product is another one that’s been really successful for us. It’s a super powerful strategy that you can so easily leverage with no money. So you can do an affiliate program where they have an affiliate link and they’re getting paid for commissions. You can give them free products in exchange for writing a review of that free product on their blog or you can give them absolutely nothing and just ask them to write a review. Because you think their audience will be interested if that’s relevant for your audience. We’ve done a lot of that at Meet Edgar. We just have an email after you sign up to be a customer. Now we have a referral program so now we do say you know use a referral link in your review, but that’s new. Now we didn’t give any kind of incentive, we’re just like “Hey maybe your audience would be interested in what your experience with MeetEdgar has been. We’re a small bootstrapped company. It really helps us out if you would write a review. We’ll help share it and promote it. And then our audience will get that link back to your blog. Help spread the word about your business”. That has been super, super effective for us. If you just did reviews, podcasts, guest posts… I mean if you just do one of those if you’re not doing them already. If you do all three of them I think you’ll see some significant growth in your business. This is all stuff that’s so easy for any team size to execute. And you’re getting the same exposure that Hootsuite gets when they’re on a podcast. And I love doing this stuff! And you know we often look at it…

Again in the TransferWise talk, Nilan talked about how in Marketing teams when stuff stops working they say let’s get on TV. It’s kind of like, you know what else to do? I feel like transport ads is another one in that category. So I think we look at big companies doing this stuff and really allow how. You know they’re all over you’re seeing them all over TV. People who run these sort of campaigns know how ineffective they can be. How hard they are to track. Or impossible to track. Whereas you can often get actual 100 leads from a podcast, and maybe over time 100 customers because unlike a tube ad, they exist on the internet forever and people who find podcasts listen to the back episodes and they find you at this point. I’ve definitely done over 100 podcast interviews – I’m not sure exactly how many – over the past four years. And those just live on the Internet right. When people discover those podcasts they have a chance of hearing me. Hearing about me and googling to find out more. Same with reviews. Same with a guest post and what I’ve seen is when you do this stuff over time, it does build up in that way. So a TV campaign might seem really glamorous but as soon as you stop paying, that ad goes away right. You get no effects later unless you do one of those ads that has a really good jingle and people remember it for the rest of their lives – so if I ever did a TV ad, definitely a jingle.

It also brings me to something that you need to be careful of with promotion which is paid advertising. So paid advertising on Google or Facebook, sometimes you are going head to head with a competitor. You are literally having a price war over the same keywords. As you can imagine, that might sometimes end badly for you or not work out for you. It’s definitely worth testing because that’s not always the case or sometimes even if it’s expensive, you can do it at such a low volume that it’s a kind of expensive that you can handle. The thing about ads is they’re mutually exclusive. Someone has the number one spot, and the other person does not. It’s not like that with guest posts or reviews or podcast right. Those are discovery things. So you have to look at your promotional channel and say am I betting against them. Am I going head to head or something where there’s only one spot? That’s probably not the best strategy to prevail. If your competitor has 300 million dollars they can probably outspend you just to guess.

“Lifestyle Business” should never be an insult!

So before we go to Q and A. I wanted to wrap up with the emotional side of this. So when I was chatting with Mark about this topic, we talked about how you can be really insecure as a bootstrap founder because, at least for me anyway, sometimes I feel like it’s not as cool. As far as raising the three hundred million dollars, it’s definitely true that my company doesn’t get the same sort of respect or accolades in those circles. But those are the circles that I need. That’s not the game that I’m playing. You know there’s this term “Lifestyle Business”. I don’t know if anyone listened to season two of the startup podcast? Where the women started the dating app and this was a big thing that happened to them as one of their investors were like I think this is a lifestyle business. And that was this crushing blow. It was like You guys are not a startup, you’re a lifestyle business. That’s always a little funny because you know lifestyle business means a business that allows you to have a great lifestyle. How this became an insult, I have no idea!? A business that allows me to have a great life. Kind of seems like the reason that we all started a business. That’s why I started a business. But people will throw that at you as an insult or you know you’re not growing as fast as you could be if you’re not raising money which is true right. Usually you grow much faster – hopefully if you raised all that money hopefully you’re going to grow faster. Growing fast is not the only game in town.

So you have to really set your own goals for what success looks like to you. And not play that comparison game. It’s OK to want a small team for example. I mean it’s a funny thing because you hear people at bigger companies be like “You know I really miss the days when we were 6 people or we were 20 people”. You’re allowed to choose that. You’re allowed to say “yeah actually it’s kind of awesome being 6 people and I love everyone that I work with. And this business doesn’t feel stressful and I know that we’re not going to grow as much as if we were trying to hire 50 people. And that’s OK” you know. Love all the stuff you read on the Internet about the hustle and you know expecting every business to grow 100 percent, month over month, week over week. I don’t know what the regulator’s growth rate is supposed to hit but you’ve read a lot of stuff that is talking about the Instagram’s right. It was mentioned oh Instagram had 13 people. Sold for a billion dollars. Now don’t get me wrong. A company and it’s over a billion dollars but 13 people – they’re an insane outlier. You know they’re in the example because they are. The one example of when that happens, those of us that have been in this world for a while know that most businesses that raise money get acquired or just fail. Like it’s a nice way to say that they fail. That’s OK. Like we run some of those businesses, that’s cool too. But. The idea that if you’re not playing that game you know you’re not a real entrepreneur? You’re not a real business person you’re some sort of failure that should be doing something different? It’s total BS. And that might be very divisive and I’m on Team pro Bootstrapper which of course I think if you want to raise money cool but I just want to be here. To be a voice for those of you who don’t want to raise money and say “it can be a really really awesome way to go”.


Mark Littlewood: Thank you. Fabulous thank you. Questions?

Audience Member: Great talk. You’re speaking my language from beginning to end. I wanted to say Amen a couple of times. Like your business we are also very similar. One price for everybody. We tried to do everything self-service. Occasionally people ask us to do demos life demos by Zoom or Skype or whatever. I don’t know what to say. What do you do in this situation?

Laura Roeder: We usually will set up a call with people if they ask. That hasn’t always been the case. Now we have a bit larger customer service team, we feel like we have the capacity. When we didn’t do them we just said “Sorry we’re a small team are only able to offer email support. Super happy to answer any of your questions”. We can make you do it asynchronously sometimes like we’ll make you a little video. Maybe you just have the demo video that you send them but you’re like we made you a little video to make a demo for you.

Audience Member: Not a question, I think just echoing the sentiment that I think it’s very refreshing to hear for me coming from someone from a venture capital backed environment hearing this bootstrapped message is refreshing. I think you should actually even start a movement around it because there is a little bit of Kool-Aid around entrepreneurs need to raise venture capital and actually others should think first so well done.

Mark Littlewood: We’ve already got one – it’s called Business of Software! I’d say just on that I really don’t mind whether people are venture backed or not. I think a lot of the people here and a lot of the companies here are independent are entrepreneurial Bootstrapped, self-funded, all sorts of different ways of putting it and I think that’s okay. Venture capital is neither necessary nor evil. And I think a lot of people kind of get religion in terms of oh you must have venture you must have venture. You have to have venture in order to go. But actually I think you know this is a movement about just trying to build nice software that people like and build great companies. They can happen whether you’re venture backed or not. If you’re venture backed you have more people involved in the decision making and the single function of money is to make a return. And that’s okay. You just have to understand that when you’re going in. I’m not fighting for either side I love everybody. I’m an equal opportunity insulter.

Audience Member: Hi. At the beginning you mentioned that you’re starting another business. I didn’t quite catch the name. You said you’re going into the developer tool space right. Yeah. At the moment you’re dealing with presumably not terribly technical customers. So I think quite straightforward. I also have developers as my customers and they’re the hardest bunch of people in the world to sell to. So why are you doing that? They all think that they can implement in two weeks what you spent 16 years perfecting. That’s why they’re really hard to deal with.

Laura Roeder: Well I know because when I’m at this conference people come up to me and are like I checked out your software. But then I just built sort of a basic version of it and they’re like “So why does anyone pay for your software anyway” – Because not everyone’s a software developer, is the answer to that. So the new company is called Ropig. It’s a competitor to PagerDuty. So we’re going up again against a very well-funded incumbent. Like I said it’s just getting off the ground. But we are looking for product and development talent for it if you want to talk to me about that!

Laura Roeder
Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder founded MeetEdgar, a social media automation tool designed to prevent updates from going to waste, while pregnant. Bootstrapped, profitable, growing rapidly.

Since 2009, she’s been teaching entrepreneurs how to harness the power of social media marketing and create their own fame at LKR Social Media and then MeetEdgar. She was named one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under 35 in 2011, 2013 and 2014 and spoke at the White House about the value of entrepreneurship. More importantly, she has some very smart things to say about the value of ‘free’ and understanding how you can build a business if you understand what type of customers you want to work with.

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