Laura Roeder is the Founder and CEO of MeetEdgar, a SaaS Social Media platform that schedules your best content to get more traffic to your site.
Laura Joined Alex Theuma on this episode of the SaaS Revolution Show podcast to discuss direct response marketing for startups: how MeetEdgar got to 5k+ paying customers while completely avoiding some of the most popular marketing tactics like partnerships, sponsorships and referral programs.
Alex Theuma: Welcome to the SaaS Revolution Show. I’m your host, Alex Theuma.
And I’m super excited to be joined today by an entrepreneur from a bootstrapped SaaS company with a completely remote team that has seen some pretty good growth since its inception under three years ago.
Welcome to the show, Laura Roeder CEO of MeetEdgar.
Laura Roeder: Thank you, Alex.
Alex Theuma: It’s great to have you here, Laura. I always start the show with we want to get to know you better, we want to know a little bit about your SaaS business. Can you tell us, tell the audience who is Laura Roeder?
Laura Roeder: I’m the founder of MeetEdgar. This is my first SaaS business. We’re a social media marketing tool and my background is in social media marketing not in software. So before I was doing this, I was doing product ties, consulting, teaching small businesses about how to utilize social media marketing.
And the idea for the software came from what I was teaching, making software to do for them what I was teaching people to do manually.
Alex Theuma: Are you a solo Founder?
Laura Roeder: That’s sort of right. What my story is is I had this methodology that I was teaching, write about your content, different categories. You go through those categories and you repeat them. And at the time, there wasn’t any software that could do it. So it involved a lot of manual work, a lot of thick spreadsheets, copying and pasting to make it all work with these existing social tools.
I was complaining to my husband about this who is a Ruby on Rails developer, very convenient, and he said, “Well, I could build that. I could build something that’s like that.” So I said. “Great! Do it.”
He’s sort of my co-founder for all intents and purposes. Like he built the initial version of the software. He really guided what the product would be, and he still helps to guide what the product is. But he didn’t really want to run the business. He’s a developer. He wanted to build the code.
Now he’s kind of an adviser to the business. He has a call with the person who heads up our engineering team once a week and advises about product. So he is sort of a co-founder but he’s not active in running the business with me.
We usually just call me a solo founder. He doesn’t want to be a co-founder. He just wants to be able to do the parts that he likes to do.
Alex Theuma: Okay. I mean, they say having a co-founder it’s got to be like being married to someone. I guess in your case kind that’s true.
Why did you go down the bootstrapped? Have you any plans to raise VC funding?
Laura Roeder: It’s something that I really thought a lot about when I was launching because I think we definitely could have raised money. It’s the type of business that you can raise money for. I already had a lot of those connections.
But I researched it a lot, I talked to a lot of friends who have done it several times and I think 100% of the people that I talked to said I would not raise money if you don’t have to. And I was in a position where we had profits from the training business that we could use to fund MeetEdgar. So really the most accurate way to say it is that we were self-funded because we were able to use that money in the beginning to get it up and running before Edgar was able to support itself. And we ended up phasing out the training business because Edgar took off so well.
We don’t have any plans to raise. I mean, I guess you never know what the future holds, but I love being bootstrapped. It would be really hard for me even if I raised money to not be profitable. When you raise, that’s the whole idea is that you’re saying I’m going to use this to grow quickly and it’s going to be awhile until we catch up to profitability. I think I would just be so nervous that we’re doing something unsustainable that was never going to work out.
It’s just a different model, it’s a different way to run a business. But I love being bootstrapped because you really have to prove your worth. We don’t make money unless customers think that the software is worth their money. And I think it creates a great cycle of really having to prove yourself like, hey, your customer service has to be good enough that people stick around. Your product has to be good enough that people buy it. Your marketing has to be good enough that people are educated about it.
I just love that it. It kind of forces you to be honest when you’re bootstrapped.
Alex Theuma: Absolutely. I mean, I guess one of the best ways of growing a business is through the traditional means of revenue. Right?
Laura Roeder: Yeah.
Alex Theuma: I guess on that point, are you able to share any revenue details in terms of what ARR are you at at the moment? I think you’re three years into the business now?
Laura Roeder: We’re 2 ½ years into the business now and we’re at $4 million Annual Recurring Revenue.
Alex Theuma: That’s pretty good growth especially so for a bootstrapped business. So kudos to you for that.
I’m sure that you probably have had some VCs knocking at the door based on those numbers, but you’re politely turning down their advances at the moment?
Laura Roeder: Yeah. I live here in Austin and I’ve met with a few people here in Austin because people always say you want to meet them when you don’t need them, which I can understand that advice. And you know maybe at some point in the future I’ll do another company and I’ll want to raise, but we just…
You know, I love having total freedom and total control. I was talking to a friend last week who’s raised a very significant amount of money for his company. And he has great investors that he has a great relationship with and he’s still sad at the end of the day. You have to show that growth every month. You have to show that very strong growth every month or your investors are not very happy. And I just want to be able to build something longer term, I want to be able to spend as much or as little as my personal time on it. I don’t want the stress of thinking we have to show these growth numbers every day, every week, every month because that’s not always the most sustainable long-term strategy.
And maybe we don’t want a company with thousands of people. I mean, our plan is actually that we don’t, we’re not necessarily trying to grow as large as humanly possible.
Alex Theuma: And on that, your team, I mentioned in the intro, you’re 100% remote?
Laura Roeder: Yeah. So we’re remote but we’re all in North America. We’re all in U.S. and Canada.
Alex Theuma: Okay. So all on pretty much the same time zone.
Laura Roeder: More or less, yeah.
Alex Theuma: What are the pros and cons for you of remote work?
Laura Roeder: The way we do it I think is a little different than a lot of companies do it because we don’t do the asynchronous thing. Basecamp has blogged about the reason that everyone’s within West Coast, East Coast American time zones is that we do work together. We’re all working from home. But we’re on Slack, we’re working together during the normal workday. We have set work hours, we’re very collaborative in how we work. So it feels a lot like a non-remote company, I think.
The best thing about being remote by far is being able to attract and retain talent from all of our… I mean, we’ve had people whose spouse has gotten a job opportunity in another city. It kills me that we would have had to lose that person or that they would have had to make a choice which would be between their jobs with their spouse, their career.
For development talent, it’s been huge because there’s a lot of really talented developers that don’t want to live in San Francisco. And we can’t compete anyway with funded startups like salary-wise. But we can compete on a nationwide scale and get people a really good job. And people really like the flexibility of not having a commute, working from home, all that good stuff.
I love being a remote company. I mean, the biggest downside is definitely not having that in-person connection. It’s hard for celebrating. Like we can’t just all go out for beers together when something goes well. And it’s weird because we’re 22 people now. So if we were in the same office, obviously everyone will know each other’s names, everyone probably would have had lunch together at some point. But because we’re remote, a person on the marketing team and a backend engineer might have no opportunity to interact at all.
We meet in person twice a year but it is the downside of being remote that we feel connected to our teams with the company, like the marketing team or the engineering team, but it can be hard to feel connected cross-department if there’s not a natural work relationship there.
Alex Theuma: I’m sure every founder person that’s working within a remote business, which is seeing a lot of growth in terms of a model and how to operate your business these days can empathize with that.
And personally myself as well, my company is remote. We have people in Germany and in Ireland and I’m in the U.K. It’s tough I guess when you can’t get together as often and celebrate things as often as you like.
Actually, we had one guest on the show, Ryan Burke from InVision app, and I think they had 200 people all remote. And I quite like that they did these like virtual happy hours. Everybody jumping on Google Hangouts and having a cocktail at some point during the week. I’ve not tried that yet but I quite like the idea from a cultural perspective of how to manage the remote teams.
I noticed there isn’t a pricing section on the website. I need to provide MeetEdgar with an email address and get an invitation. So I want to know a little bit more about the pricing strategy. Why this strategy? What’s the pricing model if I give you my email address?
Laura Roeder: So the price is $49 a month if you pay yearly up to five in meeting your… or $79 a month if you want to pay monthly. We actually, it’s just something that we test having it on our homepage or not. We used to have it on our homepage. It’s not that we’re trying to keep it a secret. We actually just found that that doesn’t matter so much for people where the goal of a homepage, which is to collect qualified email addresses. But it might appear on the homepage at some point again.
Alex Theuma: I know that what we spoke over email before the podcast call and we were talking about the angle and direct response marketing that you guys adopt. Is this an example of direct response marketing?
Laura Roeder: It is, it is. Direct response refers to making a direct ask of the prospect. It’s kind of like taking a sales process and putting it into marketing instead, which just means you’re not talking to someone one-on-one.
And it’s worth pointing out, by the way, that we don’t have any kind of sales department at our company. We’re no sales. We’re all marketing. We’re all SMB. We’re all self-serve. So for us, we want to have that kind of power of the sales process but leverage it to a larger marketing process.
And direct response what it’s different from is kind of general branding or it’s something I see a lot in the software world. I think a lot of software thinks that it’s too cool for marketing or thinks you build a great product and people will come. Or there’s a lot of I think misunderstanding about like marketing around features. People build a software and think that people care when they release a new version or new feature, which most people really don’t.
Direct response means we’re collecting peoples email address so that we can stay in touch with them and so we can send them emails and say, hey, here’s why you should buy Edgar. Here’s an opportunity to do a setup.
Alex Theuma: You mentioned that you’ve now over 5,000 paying customers.
Laura Roeder: Yeah, we’re in about 7,000 now.
Alex Theuma: Let’s talk about how you grew to these 7,000-plus paying customers with the marketing techniques specifically, I guess direct response marketing. First, how did you get your first 10 customers? I’m interested to hear that.
Laura Roeder: Well, so we had an audience already from the training business. So like I mentioned, the training was social media training so it was pretty closely related. So our very first customers we got from that audience, although not as much as you might think. Like I was just looking through our numbers of customers and in the first few months, the first time we ever like kind of pre-released it for anyone to buy it we had 18 people. I mean those were kind of testers. And then we had like 50 people and then we had 100 people and then 300 and 600 when you look at our first few months.
It’s not like we did this, it’s not like we had thousands of people or even hundreds of people immediately coming in the door from our old business. But obviously we had the email list from the old business, we had our social media presence, we had our blog from the previous business. So the first people that came to us found out about the software through those channels.
Alex Theuma: Now that you’ve been well using direct response marketing, from what point, was it very early on, were you always looking to sort of capture the emails and then sort of maintain that conversation with the customers or did this sort of come at a late stage via experimentation?
Laura Roeder: No. We’ve always been focused on list building as our main form of how people buy. And the reason that people don’t have asking for an email address as our main Call to Action on the homepage is because they’re afraid of losing buyers. They say well, but what if I’m ready to buy. Now, you set up this roadblock asking for my email address. The truth is that you do not discover our homepage and then buy a business software in the same visit. I mean, you do that for almost no product.
Like if you haven’t observed yourself as a consumer it’s a really interesting thing to do. To start once you hit that Purchase button kind of reverse engineering what you’ve done. And I don’t know if people are aware of this or not but it’s kind of insane like buying something for $8 on Amazon how many reviews you read, how much comparison shopping you do. People don’t just impulse buy a lot of things, especially online when you have that research there to do, but especially business software. You’re going to be looking at different options, you’re going to be considering how this can work for you.
So the whole idea is that we want to make it easy for the customers to learn more about us. We don’t want to just hope that they remember to Google us, hope that they remember to figure out what we do. We want to make that really easy for them. So if we have their email we know that they’re interested because they’ve told us that.
So we can say here are reviews the customers have written about MeetEdgar, here’s a longer explanation of what we do, here’s how we’re different from some other tools you might be familiar with. Basically we’re not just hoping and expecting that people are going to take the time to do all these research. We’re providing that for them so that they can more easily make the decision on whether we’re going to be a good match for their company.
Alex Theuma: And so your goal I guess is capturing the emails once the potential customer is on the website. But how do you drive the traffic to the website? How do you get the people to come and then give them your email?
Laura Roeder: Through content marketing. Most of our customers do come from search and we rank in search due to, again, content marketing. So that means writing blog posts, that means obviously being active on social media. We use our own tool to make that happen. Doing interviews like this one are something that employs a promotional strategy for the company.
I pitched you, right? Our team came to you and said we’d love to be on your show. That’s something not a lot of people do but it’s a great marketing strategy. This is going to be a great audience for me, a certain amount of them are going to check out MeetEdgar, I’m going to have this backlink on your website. So those kind of organic opportunities are how we drive traffic.
Alex Theuma: Okay. Good to know. And have you tried or experimented with any other marketing tactics like the partnerships or sponsorships or referrals, or have you just completely stayed away from that?
Laura Roeder: We haven’t done most of the things that you listed. We don’t have an affiliate program. We haven’t done partner marketing. We haven’t done like partner webinars. And I think something that is really important to us is getting really clear on what we don’t do. Because all of those are excellent marketing strategies, very effective and very time-consuming. You know, running a good affiliate program that works well and drives traffic that converts is a huge marketing strategy. It’s not just like we’re going to throw out an affiliate program and see what happens. So I think it’s important being really clear on what you don’t do and not just dabbling in those things.
Like another thing we don’t do is write guest posts. So it’s not like we just like sometimes write them, we just don’t write them. We experimented with it for a while, we decided it wasn’t the best strategy for us, and till now we don’t do them at all. And I think it’s so important to say no. We’re not going to do any partner webinars. We’re not going to do any guest posts.
I’m not saying we’ll never change that strategy but it allows us to just be really focused on the things that we do. And we also do paid acquisition, Facebook Ads and AdWords.
Alex Theuma: What mistakes as a SaaS founder, as a first time SaaS founder have you made that you’re happy to share so others listening can possibly avoid?
Laura Roeder: I mean, I’ve had to learn a lot about how you make software because I didn’t know how that worked. I’m much less involved in the product than probably most software founders. I don’t do that as my area of expertise. We have a core kind of set of things that the product does, but I actually am not on product meetings. I’m not making those decisions. We have a product and engineering team that’s better at making those decisions.
That’s been a learning process. Like just seeing that I don’t really have that much value to add to that whole area, you know, the marketing side and the business side are much more where my value is.
Hiring too slow has been a huge problem for us. When we looked at the end of 2015 we saw that our growth was slower, significantly slower than it could have been if we had kept more on top of our hiring. And we tried to improve it for 2016. We did a little bit better but not a lot better. We kind of realized that our pattern was realize we need someone, wait another three months until we’re like, no, we really, really need them now. Spend another few weeks getting the job listing together and then it takes another three months before we actually find the right person and get them in the job. Everything takes much longer to hire for than we always think it will.
Basically we have this huge hole in the company like six months while we’re waiting to get that new person. And hiring as a bootstrapped company is always one of the hardest things because you don’t have just this big pile of cash to hire a bunch of people at once.
And I think what I’ve had to learn is you do have to assume that you’ll keep growing at maybe even a lesser rate than you have, but you have to assume that you’ll keep growing. That’s actually been kind of hard for me because there’s something that just feels weird about just assuming that things are going to keep going so well and we’re just going to spend those money as though things are going to keep going so well. But also that’s what the evidence that we have says.
And if we don’t assume that, our company is going to start falling really behind because we’re not going to hire the team that we need to keep up with our growth. So it’s like you have to have a certain amount of hubris in order to be successful and in order to keep up and it’s just been a weird thing for me to accept.
Alex Theuma: I think that’s something a lot of founders will resonate with as well. I think you’re absolutely right on the hiring side. It’s always going to take a lot longer than you think. And perhaps I speak to many people who say always be hiring. Right?
And you see on LinkedIn almost everybody that’s kind of running a business, they always have this their name that “We’re Hiring” next to it. Perhaps they’re hiring on a constant sort of basis and maybe you need to.
So we’re getting into the last question here as we’re coming to the end of the show now. Any kind of quick final hints or tips to SaaS founders out there that are looking to grow their business?
Laura Roeder: I think staying focused is so important. I think that’s a huge thing that we have done well. I mentioned that we don’t have a sales team, that we’re only SMB. And the common thing is to start SMB and then quickly move upmarket, move to enterprise and move to agencies. And we haven’t done that because that would require a different marketing strategy, that would require a modified version of our product, and it can be hard to have that kind of focus and that kind of dedication.
But I was at the Business of Software Conference and I was speaking there in Boston and I was hearing so many stories of, “Oh, you know, when your clients want you to modify something so you have to do it just for them then it breaks something else,” and I was like, “What?” We just haven’t dealt with any of that stuff because we don’t have any enterprise clients. There’s no custom.
So again, it’s just being aware of which strategy you’re choosing. Obviously, a lot of companies make a lot of money with enterprise being their customer base. That’s certainly not a bad strategy, but you need to know what you’re getting into.
And it’s not just a matter of, oh, we’re going to slap up the word enterprise on our page and then we’ll just charge them thousands of dollars and it will just be this easy, free money. It’s really not.
So like I said, we have 7,000 customers. I mean, there’s a lot more than 7,000 small businesses in this world. We’re nowhere near reaching all of them or even a small percentage of them. So we want to keep leveraging what we’ve learned how to do and keep improving that before we kind of spin the business into new directions.
Alex Theuma: Yeah, I know. It’s great advice there. And I think Mailchimp are a great proponent of that staying focused and ignoring the advice to move to enterprise. They stayed on SMB and I think they’re going to report something like $400 million revenue this year. I think they’re doing okay.
And hopefully this will be the same path for MeetEdgar as well.
But on that note, Laura, you’ve been a fantastic guest. I really appreciate your time to join us on the show and put yourself forward to be on the SaaS Revolution Show. So thank you very much for your time and the insights that you shared for our audience.
Laura Roeder: Thank you.