Bootstrapping a Startup to $100k: 5 Lessons Learned

Almost exactly one year ago, in October 2020, I founded BlogTec. We have the goal to create the best SEO & content solution in the world, and aim to become the leading provider in Europe.

When I founded BlogTec, I was just 20 years old, without any experience of how to run a business, and $3000, which was most of my savings. Now, 1 year later, we have a team of 15 people (including the professionals), and plan to grow that to ~40 in the next year!

In this post, I’m reflecting on 5 key lessons that I learned this year, and how we made it to grow in a pretty competitive environment with almost no investments.

How Did BlogTec Start?

Before I started it, I was a freelancer for SEO and content writing. I faced the “issue” of having too much work and thought “Why not build a small team and give some work away?”.

We started as a SEO & content agency. Nothing special and no USPs compared to other agencies, except a more reasonable pricing, as I got most clients from freelance platforms where clients rarely pay high rates. I hired the first two freelance writers, and started to give some content writing work away. That was the beginning of an intense year!

Since I’m a child, I was building things — more detailed digital products. With 7 I started to create e-books, with 11 I built an online blog to review my Game Boy games, with 12 I had an internet radio, with 15 an online shop for hip-hop beats. This was just always my thing.

Pretty fast I saw how difficult it is for companies to find the right SEO, and even more the right content team. Finding keywords, planning the content, creating briefings, writing the content, reviewing the content, and finding the right people to do all that, is a big challenge. Also, hiring your own employees rarely makes sense because companies need to stay more flexible when it comes to website content — sometimes you need a lot, sometimes you don’t need content at all.

After a while, I had my ‘aha’ moment. “How can it be that there’s no easy and affordable solution for companies to outsource their SEO & content tasks, and still get high-quality?”. Most agencies are still having old business models. The customer experience is just not good, and they don’t present themselves well. Also, usually either the agencies charge prices that are not fair for the companies, or they charge super low prices and treat / pay their writers bad.

That’s when I decided to change the marketing service market and a build a solution that is fair for all sides, easy-to-use, has an outstanding customer experience, offers high-quality, and comes with affordable prices!

Learning 1: Be Okay to Adjust Your Product and Strategy (A lot)

I’m a big fan of all kinds of subscription products. It’s a great way of serving ongoing needs, and I had the feeling that this is exactly what our customers need.

That’s why we built a subscription that basically includes content planning and content, plus a few additional features like free WordPress uploads or recurring reports.

It turned out I was right and that our customers, who wanted to increase their organic traffic, were exactly looking for this solution. That’s why we really focused on our subscription and made it a no-brainer, also when it comes to pricing. That was great for us, as we started to build recurring revenue, which is great to have for every company!

However, it turned out that when we grew and were recognized by bigger companies and not just small startups, more and more customers were only looking for content and not for SEO services.

If you think about it more, it makes sense: Small companies outsource SEO, as they don’t have a big team that covers that. A medium-sized company usually has someone in the team with some SEO knowledge. As SEO is a service that requires trust because you don’t see results instantly, companies prefer to do most of the SEO work in-house.

💡 With our big focus on our subscription, we were the perfect solution for small companies but drove mid- and big-sized companies away. When we changed this strategy and added the options for single services, our bookings increased drastically.

We also had more bookings from smaller customers, as a test article or a content plan for a fair price has a way lower barrier than a subscription (even if you can cancel monthly).

Next to having a great SEO and content subscription that has the best price-performance ratio you can find in the market, we also became a fantastic on-off provider.

Learning 2: Accept that Your Product Is Not for Everyone

With BlogTec, we want to become the market leader when it comes to SEO & content services. The market for SEO-content is huge, as almost every established business needs a website, and every website needs content.

That means that we not only have a high amount of potential customers, but also that our customers and their needs are really different. Especially when you’re just starting, you tend to accept every customer and adjust your product based on the customers way too often. This is not scalable!

As I said in my first learning, it’s important to adjust your product all the time, especially in the beginning. Still, every adjustment should be well thought of. Take time to talk to people from your target audience, existing customers, and your team.

💡 If you want to build a scalable startup, you need to go out with a product that is how it is. You can make adjustments for some customers, but make sure that you don’t overdo it, or it will create stress in your team and slow you down.

A short example:

A good example here is our fixed content process. We create briefings every Friday and review the content every Thursday. We will add a second cycle to deliver faster in the future, but this is our process now. When clients booked content and said it’s urgent, especially when they were new customers, we tended to deliver faster for them.

This caused a lot of stress in the production team, and we had so much extra work on these products that they were not profitable at all. Also, these customers then expected us to always deliver that fast, and didn’t understand it was an exception. Try to avoid situations like this!

Learning 3: The More You Give Away, the Higher the Quality

Usually, giving your tasks and responsibilities to your team members is one of the biggest challenges for founders. For me, this was different.

With every task or responsibility I gave away, I had more time to focus on new projects that bring the company forward. I trusted my team and had the luck (maybe also a bit of skills) that I picked the right people, so I was confident that they would do a fantastic job.

What I quickly realized was, that they were getting way better in their tasks than I ever was, in just a short amount of time. Why? Because as a founder, you have so much on your list and so many things that you’re working on, that every recurring task that is not challenging you is nothing else than a barrier for you, and you feel that!

That’s why when I was still doing tasks like sales or project management, I tried to finish these tasks as fast as possible, so that I can move forward and work on the new, interesting stuff. As soon as I gave sales away, we closed more deals, as a sales manager that you hire for just that is way more focused on doing this and on doing it good.

It was the same with content management, customer support or project management. The more I outsourced, the better we became in these areas.

💡 So, if you found a startup, make sure that you learn what your strengths are and which kind of work excites you the most, and focus on that. Give away tasks that others can do as good as you or better. Give away tasks that don’t excite you.

Learning 4: Always Take a Step Back and Put Yourself in the Position of Your Customers

Our market is huge, and so is the competition. There are tons of agencies and freelancers that offer the services that we offer. Our product has a higher quality than most of them plus a fair pricing, but the key for our success is that we focus on customer experience.

It’s important to always reflect your business and your product, and to put yourself in the position of your customers and potential customers. Who are you talking to? Who is reading your newsletter? Who is visiting your website, and what are they thinking when they look at it?

I knew that and did a good job when it came to our product. From the beginning, I wanted to create an outstanding customer experience and was always thinking about how we can make the customers even happier.

However, I totally ignored this when it comes to marketing and realized that when we hired our Head of Sales & Marketing. Our whole website and communication, so the way we talk to our customers and especially our potential customers, didn’t reflect our product at all and wasn’t addressed to our target audience.

💡 The key lesson I learned from our Head of Sales & Marketing was, that customer experience is not only key when it comes to the product, but also when it comes to marketing. Also, the way you communicate your product is just as important as your product!

Learning 5: Set Clear Goals and Focus on Them

This is the most important task for every founder and CEO, but especially when you’re just starting, you often forget about it. This can be a big mistake!

We were growing when we didn’t have clear goals. Also, our main company value is freedom, so in general I’m not a big fan of KPIs and this stuff. That’s why I ignored to set clear goals for a pretty long time, and had just one goal: “Growth”.

However, when we grew and the team members increased, it was necessary to have goals, so everybody knows in which direction we were going. That’s when I invented OKR’s (objectives and key results), and KPIs.

I defined a clear 5-year vision and a clear goal for the year. Then I broke that down into quarterly goals. Then, together with our Head of Sales & Marketing, I thought about how we can reach these goals. For that, we created key results (e.g. the objective is “Getting 50 more subscribers” and the key result can be “Reach 100.000 via Facebook Ads” or “Post 10 Blog Articles” e.t.c). Then I broke down these key results into weekly KPIs that I assigned to specific team members.

At first, this seemed really old-school and bureaucratic, something we usually avoid, but to reflect yourself can work wonders!

💡 To have clear company goals, thinking about how to reach them, and then checking-in every week if you’re on the right way or have to make adjustments, can be a complete game-changer.

These were my 5 key lessons that I learned during our first year at BlogTec.

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