This is a really exciting time for me.
Then about a year ago I became CEO of Scripted, the company I co-founded 10 years earlier, completed a final layoff, and shot for profitability. It worked! Scripted also attracted the interest of Jonathan Siegel and Xenon Ventures to partner with for the rest of our journey. We’re thrilled to join them and leverage their expertise to make Scripted the best company it can be.
Now that Scripted is stable, I’m stepping down as CEO to go full-time on my once-side project, Toofr, an email finding tool for businesses. Scripted will be managed by my co-founder Jake Kring and Scripted employees Thomas, Noah, and John, plus some awesome new energy from Xenon’s San Francisco and Las Vegas teams.
During my decade at Scripted I earned all the merit badges: internal ops, accounting, financial statements, legal, diligence for fundraising rounds and for acquisitions. I worked in every department. I pushed code (and crashed our website), wrote nurture emails, signed sales contracts and vendor agreements, and attended and eventually ran board meetings as CEO.
It’s the best education I’ve ever had, but it is time for me to move on.
In the course of my time at Scripted, I also discovered what I like and dislike about building a business that requires financing. I learned about other founders who avoided the rat race and were able to get to $1M in annual revenue without a major funding event. Those guys are all self-sufficient, highly skilled in every practice. I stand in awe of and want to be one of them.
So over the last several years, between working on Scripted and Toofr, I learned what I need to be an independent solopreneur. I can design, build, and test a web app entirely by myself. I can host it on a VPS or PaaS (I prefer Heroku.) I can run a content marketing campaign, set up a CRM, and close deals. I can do customer support, and I’m learning now how to optimize a small digital marketing campaign on Google and Facebook by running Toofr’s first-ever paid ads.
Since I can do everything myself, I don’t need any outside money to start an internet business. I just need the time to build, and right now, I have it.
I’m going to live the dream I’ve had for a while: to work from home on my own, wholly-owned company. Just me, my dog, and my laptop. It makes me so happy. I’m working by myself, with no business partners, employees, offices, or bank accounts with investor money. I need this simple, raw, entrepreneurial experience for a while. I’m bootstrapped, financed entirely by paying customers, with no payroll, no board meetings, and no monthly financial reports to a bank I owe money to. Just a web app (or three, as I’ll describe below) with a monthly revenue model. That’s it.
I’ve grown into a Taoist approach to entrepreneurship. I believe that simplicity gets rewarded, and that you can accomplish a lot by doing relatively little. The Taoist entrepreneur would say something like, “Grow by not growing.” Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But the meaning is to stop trying so hard. Instead, allow growth to happen by establishing fertile ground: a good product, sensible SEO strategy, vocal and happy customers, and readily available customer support. Do that and your business will make money while you sleep.
It’s a big deal to make a small profit.
Getting the monthly recurring revenue model functioning is really hard work at first, and then it’s magical. I can go a day or two without “working” and the money keeps coming. Toofr’s generating about $18K/mo now. I’m addicted to this kind of entrepreneurship and I’ll be writing about it a lot more. It’s the kind of day job that lets you go for hikes in the morning, every morning, if you wanted to.
I also look forward to sharing more real data and real stories without caring what anyone besides my customers might think about it. I used to have people to consider before I shared a number or graph publicly. Not anymore! I’m excited to follow in the footsteps of Buffer and Baremetrics and just lay it all out there. I think it’s good for the community, and it will also help motivate me to keep the numbers moving up. My public following, in a way, will become my board of directors.
Toofr is my first successful bootstrapped project, and I’m already parlaying it into several others that I’ve launched and will continue to develop. They’re also Rails on Heroku with Postgres, Sidekiq, Stripe, ActiveAdmin, and the rest of my Toofr stack (I’ll write about this more — figuring out your toolkit and then reusing it is a critical piece of the solopreneur puzzle). All three are live with people using them every day.
- Toofr finds emails addresses for business contacts you’re trying to contact. You can upload a spreadsheet for bulk processing or use its API. Toofr now has over 100 monthly subscribers paying between $19 and $2,499 per month.
- eNPS collects net promoter scores from your employees. It keeps them 100% anonymous and sends the surveys out regularly. It works with email lists, which is unique among its competition. The benefit is it helps you anticipate costly employee churn and because it’s a short (just one question!) survey, it has a high response rate. The all-you-can-eat plan is just $49/mo or $490/year.
- Thinbox alerts you when you’ve sent too many emails to your customers. It listens to the services you already use to send emails and records the recipient and the subject line. When you send emails to your customers from multiple services (as everyone does) and a customer complains about getting too many emails from you, this helps you debug it. Right now it’s just $19/mo.
This is just the start. Over the next year or two I plan to sell off and add more to my portfolio of small, simple B2B web apps.
Solopreneurship is my new day job while my next side project, public service, starts coming together.
If all goes to plan, I will in fact raise money again. But instead of fundraising for a company, I’ll be dialing for dollars when I run for public office out here in beautiful Contra Costa County.