14 min read
If you’re running a successful infoproduct business, why would you drop it all to start over with a software company? Why would an otherwise happy and profitable entrepreneur ditch it all for what on the surface looks like harder work, longer hours, and more headache?
Who would be crazy enough to turn a well-oiled machine of a blog into a SaaS company? Better yet, who has the audacity to do just that when they barely know how to write in code?
“I’d always had this interest in starting a software company, a SaaS company, but there were a few major, major problems with that plan,” Laura Roeder, founder of MeetEdgar, said from the stage at Digital Commerce Summit in 2016.
“The first problem is I didn’t and still don’t know how to code. I used to code websites in about 2005, 2006. WordPress came along, and you had to learn PHP. I kind of peaced out at that point. That’s about as far as my website knowledge went. I can still build you an HTML tables-based site that is gorgeous, but if you want anything more modern, not me.”
Laura went on to list even more potential stopping points:
And this is where the story behind MeetEdgar becomes a love story.
See, as Laura was coming up against these struggles blocking her from fulfilling her dream of starting a software company, she met her lead engineer (and now husband) Chris.
Some people meet the person of their dreams and start thinking about babies. Laura and Chris thought about a different kind of baby altogether.
“When a marketer like me gets together with a guy like Chris, we think, ‘Okay, maybe we can make a company together.’”
So they did. It took two years for them to land on something that was viable and would make a great product. They combed through the brilliant ideas Laura had, the back-burnered projects, and, finally, Laura’s products that were selling really well.
They landed on one of LKR’s signature products: Social Brilliant.
“I was teaching people this methodology of putting all your social content into categories, and then cycling through those categories to repurpose your content, since only less than 10 percent of the people who follow you see any social media status update that you post. So it’s really smart to post them again. Doing this process involved an insane amount of grunt work and copying and pasting from the spreadsheet over to the tool.
Based on my knowledge at that time, I literally thought this wasn’t possible. I thought, ‘This is such an obvious idea. There must be a reason why the tools don’t store a library of your content. There must be a reason why the tools don’t repeat it over and over again. I guess that’s not possible.’
I can remember the moment, actually. We were living in London at the time. I remember standing in our kitchen and just complaining to Chris about, ‘This is so frustrating, and it takes so much time.’ I’m like, ‘I guess, you can’t program it. I don’t know what the deal is.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I can build that in a week.’ Which, if [you know developers], you have to quadruple everything they tell you. He did not build it in a week. But he did end up building MeetEdgar, the product that has turned into this bigger business today.”
While Laura didn’t have software experience to back up her big SaaS idea, she did have marketing chops to flex with the right partner.
Nathalie Lussier had years of experience (like Laura), marketing chops (like Laura), and she just happened to know a bit about software engineering to boot.
On Steve Chou’s podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, Nathalie shared more about her evolution from blogger to software founder:
“It’s a really interesting story, because I like to call it my spiral staircase since I studied software in school. I didn’t actually go into that field when I graduated, because I started this business. It almost felt like I threw out the baby with the bathwater, because I had all this training, but then here I was [on my blog] talking about healthy eating which had nothing to do with technology.
At the same time people kept asking me, ‘Who made your website, and how are you doing all these technical stuff on your own? Can I hire you?’ In the beginning I actually put these people off. Then finally I realized there’s enough people who are asking this. Maybe this is actually something that comes super natural to me. Maybe I should go in that direction.”
For Nathalie, changing out the type of content she was writing was a tipping point in her career.
“When I did that, that became the first time I hit the 6 figures in my business. I started actually designing people’s websites. I did that for about a year until I basically maxed out on my capacity of being able to do that.”
As her newfound website design business grew, Nathalie started to think about the kind of business she had dreamed of owning. She was busy hiring other designers and developers to work with her. She was consulting and doing much of the implementation herself. But this service-based business wasn’t her dream.
Nathalie wanted to teach more people what she knew about simplifying technical and complicated things. So she starting building courses to provide that training en mass. And while moving from being a service-based business owner to a product-based business owner made things less complicated for Nathalie, she knew that she could make it even more simple.
“I realized, okay well I can simplify one more step by actually making software that does it for you. That’s how I brought my husband into the business, and got him to quit his job so that he could co-lead this company and be our main developer for all the different software products that we’ve since released.”
Oh yeah. Nathalie has one of those developer husbands too. But remember how she studied software development and did those website designs? Nathalie didn’t take the same approach that Laura did of hiring to her weaknesses. Nathalie and her husband became a powerhouse duo who could do more together than they could apart.
And what they did was answer one question over and over again:
Problems like this:
“I was teaching people how to create beautiful opt-ins on their website, but they still had to learn some HTML and some CSS code to really make it look how they wanted. My husband and I developed the PopupAlly plug-in which is actually … It lets you do pop ups as well as embedded opt-ins on your site and really design everything without needing to touch any code. That was really from seeing people struggle with me trying to teach them all these things, so that now they can just install it, and customize it the way they want it to be and it’s really, really easy.”
Nathalie and her team went on to create an entire suite of products all housed under her newest brand, Ambition Ally. By identifying the opt-in problem, the membership site problem, and course completion problem, team Ambition Ally has created a software solution to what might have otherwise been solved with a service or a product.
Of course, we can’t talk about going from blogger to software without mention of our own founder, Nathan Barry.
Nathan is, at heart, a software kinda guy. While “build a SaaS company” might not have been on his annual goals list, he’s always worked on apps or software of some kind while building his blog and audience. He even talked about it on the Reach podcast. When Nathan started blogging he was building apps and eventually transitioned to writing books about building and launching apps. He kept it all very close to what he knew well.
He wanted to teach everything he knew.
So while researching audience building as he went off to sell his books, he was learning about best practices with email marketing and was fascinated by it.
“I'd look at this and go, ‘I'm a software guy. I know design and I know coding, and this shouldn't be so difficult.’ I felt like every time I learned a best practice, I was fighting to implement it.
I thought, ‘You know what, I'm going to go for the next challenge in building an online business, and start a SaaS app,’ because I wanted that recurring revenue, and I wanted to build a software product.”
Nathan invested $5,000 of his own savings into building the email app and set a goal to turn it into $5,000 a month in revenue within six months. His goal? To solve a problem for bloggers and product people:
“[I thought] ‘What if I built an email tool for people like me, people trying to build a blog and sell products to them?’ That's where ConvertKit started.”
The process of turning a blog or product-based business is much more simple than many people think it is:
Step 1: Identify the problem
Laura, Nathalie, and Nathan all identified a problem that people struggled with. Laura and Nathalie had tried solving those problems with products but ran into one consistent struggle: it could still be even easier.
Nathan found the same thing:
“The core problems were, once I wrote them down, I couldn't tag my customers, I was having to create multiple lists, so I couldn't talk to people differently, based on who was a customer and who wasn't. I was pitching people on products they had already purchased because I didn't have a good way to do that.”
But identifying the problem isn’t enough.
“What you really need to think about with software is software does not exist as an accessory,” Laura said. “Software exists as something that a machine can execute instead of a human. With MeetEdgar, Edgar is actually sending out your social for you. Other tools, you have to load up your queue. Edgar loads up your queue for you.”
Step 2: Build the solution
For all SaaS founders, this is the lengthiest part of the process. Not to mention that it’s ongoing as once you launch a product, you constantly improve it and iterate on it. Nathalie’s first product was Popup Ally but that just led to three other products. ConvertKit has been around for over three years and has consistently improved over time. MeetEdgar’s functionality has grown with each passing day.
While this step might seem like one of those “it’s harder than it looks” kind of things, it’s important to remember that you just have to start somewhere. And don’t fret if you aren’t the builder. Like Laura, you have skills to offer too.
“So many software developers create products that never go anywhere. They don’t have these business skills, the team and cash skills. The marketing skills are incredibly important if you want anyone to find out about your software…. You don’t need to be a programmer, but you do need to understand what’s happening at your company.”
Step 3: Get structure in place
And speaking of that company… whether you’re the developer or the idea person, moving from training to software means managing a team of people who are more of an expert in certain areas than you are. But don’t worry. These are just business skills and if you’ve been running a business based on courses, you likely already contain everything you need to be successful here.
“You need to recognize your own limitations as the person making the decisions… The team you need to launch software is very small. You obviously need someone to make the thing. You can have a freelancer create a basic marketing site logo. I would say you need some hours for some initial copy. This is something that a lot of software companies forget. They launch with no marketing sequence. If you launch with some basic marketing sequence, your life is going to be much more successful.”
Step 4: Money
“I had saved up $25,000 from the last year of iPad app store sales and had that as a buffer. I went back to working on the iPad/iPhone apps and then also freelancing on iOS design.” – Nathan Barry
How are you going to fund this venture? It might seem like an obvious point to make, but not enough people consider how they’ll fund one project after another. In fact, this step is important for any type of business – infoproduct, blog, SaaS, brick and mortar. You want to know (preferably before you get too far in) how you’re going to pay for the expenses a business brings (see Step 3)
Step 5: Treat it like a business
This could feel like Step 1, but it’s truly a mindset shift you need to make to see success.
So don’t just say, “I’m going to launch this side project. We’ll see what happen.” Make it a core part of your business plan and build your other offerings around it.
Step 6: Build your audience
It’s important to note that if you’re going from blog to software, you might already have an audience built up. Nathalie took the approach of inviting all of the subscribers from her blog to her software business and she was blown away at the response:
“There were so many people who emailed and who said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to do this.’ I was like, ‘What? That makes no sense.’ For some reason, people were curious about my website and all the things I was doing.”
So don’t discount the list you’ve spent time on already. But take that list building to the next level with your software business and focus on building your email list for your new offering. Webinars worked for Nathalie, personal invites worked for Nathan, and Laura did it through powerful content marketing.
Step 7: Take it one step at a time
“By the end of 2015 MeetEdgar was the majority of our revenue, as opposed to in 2014, when it was only 10 percent. I’m very proud to say in 2016, 100 percent of our revenue comes from MeetEdgar. We have shuttered the training business entirely. You can see it’s a three-year transition for that to happen.” – Laura Roeder
Going from products to software doesn’t have to be a turn-on-a-dime move. Yes, it will be messy. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. But planning out a longer transition period will keep you solvent and help your audience decide if they want to come on this new ride with you or not (psst: that audience will be your first customers so you want to treat them well)
As people who seems to always look forward and never back, Laura Roeder, Nathalie Lussier, and Nathan Barry would likely all give this same advice: don’t let your past limit your future. And Laura puts it well:
“Everything is learnable. Everything is figure-out-able. Hopefully, I have some life ahead of me, and I don’t want to just be limited for the rest of my life by what I’ve done already.”
The lessons of running a software company apply directly to any blogging business. When you can build on what you’ve already done, notice the big problems around you, and find a solution that adds ease and simplicity to people’s lives, you’re on the track to major success.
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.