How One Startup Grew From Zero to $100K in Monthly Revenue In Only 11 Months
Edgar, a social media software company, went from launch to success in less than a year. Here’s how.
Laura Roeder was still in junior high school when she taught herself to build websites.
She finished college at the age of 20, and quit her first job to start a business at 22.
Moving fast has never been a problem for Laura, but her latest feat takes speed to a whole new level.
In March of this year, just 11 months after launching, Laura’s software startup, Edgar, passed $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
We talked to Laura about the marketing strategies that fueled Edgar’s rapid growth, the most important lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur, and the approach to systems and automation that let the business grow to over $100K/month while Laura took three months off for maternity leave.
How Laura Roeder Turned Edgar Into A $100K/Mo Business In Less Than A Year
The Idea For Edgar
Like many successful businesses, Edgar was first built to solve a problem that was frustrating the founder.
Prior to Edgar, Laura’s attention was on LKR Social Media, her business that had evolved from a consultancy to an educational company that sold online social media marketing courses.
Naturally, social media was a major focus for Laura’s team in marketing their own business.
One of the key principles taught in LKR’s flagship course is that marketers shouldn’t post any given update only once, because the majority of their audience wouldn’t see it. Instead, Laura recommended saving Tweets and posting them at different times to maximize exposure.
For a while, she did this by hand, using spreadsheets to save her Tweets:
It was time-consuming, and only became more of a burden as time went on and new updates were added to the list.
That’s when Chris – Laura’s husband, who happened to be a Ruby on Rails developer – suggested that they build an app to automate the process.
While Chris focused on building the app, Laura would devise and execute on the marketing strategy that led to the company’s explosive growth.
Edgar’s Most Valuable Marketing Asset
While Edgar was a completely new product with no users, it did have one very important asset: an audience.
That’s because Laura had been putting in enormous amounts of work to amass an email list, an effort that far too many entrepreneurs ignore in the earliest stages.
Your first product doesn’t always take off, and that’s what’s so powerful about a list.
A lot of entrepreneurs start multiple SaaS businesses, or maybe they exit out of one and then start another. Well, if you have a list, you can use what you’ve already built to gain traction for your next project. Even your own personal Facebook following, or your personal Twitter account, that’s a list, and you can use it to market your next project.
In the marketing world, there’s this axiom that people need seven touches before they buy. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but you see a lot of SaaS products where you can either sign up for a trial, or you can buy. That’s it. They don’t have any kind of email newsletter, or free content in exchange for giving an email address.
I would say most SaaS companies don’t do anything like that, which is pretty crazy, because most people are not ready to buy the first time they hit your homepage.
If you’re not doing any kind of email collection, you’ve just lost them.
When we finally launched Edgar, we already had a list from the other business of about 75,000 people, and that’s how we got to $100,000 so quickly.
How did Laura and her team build such an impressive list?
From blog posts to emails to webinars (the latter of which Laura says has been the most fruitful medium), Laura has focused on publishing consistently valuable content that solves real problems for her audience.
The easiest way to pick a topic for any sort of content is to look at what people are asking you about.
Look through your customer service emails. Look through social media channels.
It’s often something really obvious. For example, the biggest question about social media is “how do I get more followers?”
You don’t need to overthink it and have some super innovative new topic, it just needs to be a topic that people actually want to know about.
It’s easy to look at a company with a list of 75,000 and get discouraged. It might seem like such an unattainable number, especially if you’re starting with no list at all.
But, Laura says, you can do it, and it starts with changing the way you think about things.
All of us start at 0.
The way that you need to reframe your thinking is to picture real humans.
A lot of people are like, “oh I only have 50 people on my list, I’ll never get to 100,000.”
But those 50 people are real human beings that signed up. Imagine if you had some sort of local meetup and you got 50 people in a room. Most of us would be really happy with that. Like, “wow, 50 people showed up to hear me talk and hear about my product.”
Then you get to 1,000, and 1,000 people in a room sounds massive to most people, but that’s the reality: these are real humans on your email list.
And with everything in list building, thinking about your audience as real humans – because that’s exactly what they are – rather than email addresses is so, so important.
How Edgar Uses Facebook Ads To Get New Customers
Edgar’s biggest acquisition channels are SEO, content marketing, social media marketing and Facebook ads.
While Edgar hasn’t raised a dime in investment, the company has been self-funded by revenue from LKR’s courses, giving the team a small budget to do some paid advertising on Facebook.
One thing that’s worked on Facebook for Edgar is keeping it simple.
The message that’s worked best for us is saying, “here’s a new social media tool.”
We’ll keep saying that until it becomes ridiculous. Like, “ok, it’s 15 years old now you can’t use that campaign anymore.”
But you know what?
If you haven’t heard of it it’s new to you.
People get tired of their own campaigns and try to mess with them, but if it’s working, why change it?
Edgar has also found success in targeting users of similar tools.
We target people who are using other social media tools, or other similar small business tools like MailChimp.
These people are generally interested in new tools.
I think it’s something that’s very easy to overthink. A lot of people say, “I have to come up with this really unique positioning for what I do,” but if you’re serving a need that people have, they’ll be looking for it.
If you have a bookkeeping tool, people are going to be searching Google for bookkeeping tools, not some fancy word you invented.
People should immediately understand what your tool does. That’s why we don’t go out and say something like “we’re a revolutionary social circling tool” and try to make up a new term for what we do. People wouldn’t get it.
Carving Out A Niche In A Crowded Marketplace
There’s no shortage of social media tools.
Between powerhouses like Buffer, Sprout Social, HootSuite and others, many would-be founders might be discouraged from attempting to build a competing product.
But not Laura.
It’s not a winner take all. It really isn’t.
When your market is small businesses, there will always be customers for you if you’re solving a problem.
I always look at MailChimp.They get 6000 new signups every day.
And there’s so much competition for MailChimp. They’re not getting everyone. That’s a really competitive market, and there are tons of other profitable companies in it. It’s a great example that there’s plenty of room for all different businesses.
And she’s not worried about keeping up with the competition, either.
I don’t really spend time thinking about staying ahead of any other company, because I think it’s definitely more important to focus on building your own vision. As a startup, playing catchup is a losing game.
It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking, “they just added this feature, and now our customers are going to want that,” and you switch all of your engineering to building that thing, but maybe that’s not why your customer chose you.
The fact is, if you’re building a SaaS product, you’ve built something that anyone else can build.
It’s not that complicated, so anything that you create, anyone can copy, whether it’s a new small competitor, whether it’s Google, whether it’s someone who’s raised more money than you, that’s just how it is.
Worrying about that reality is an absolute waste of time because you have no control over what other people do.
An Exclusive Invitation
Laura and her team are constantly running tests on their marketing strategy.
Conversion rates are a huge leverage point. If we can go from 3% to 4%, that could mean a ton of new customers or revenue.
One of their most successful tests was on their signup call-to-action. Edgar doesn’t offer the option to “sign up” or “try it free;” instead, visitors are prompted to get their invitation.
That call-to-action, Laura says, is a massive opportunity that often goes unnoticed.
A lot of companies don’t even mess with that.
They just launch with their free trial, and maybe they split test their headline on their homepage, but they don’t test such an important core part of the process.
Instead of trying 10 new marketing strategies, focus on the things that can actually make a big difference, like tests that can have you bringing in 20 new customers a day instead of 10.
Why does the invitation angle work so well?
It’s just a really easy yes.
Signing up for an invitation is a lot easier than signing up for the software, because when you sign up for the software, you’re going to have to set it up.
Signing up for an invitation, it’s like, “yeah I’m going to be interested in this at some point, I’ll give them my email address and then I’ll figure out later whether I actually want to sign up.”
I definitely think that’s an under-utilized strategy.
On Press, Public Speaking and Other Wastes Of Time
Laura is a huge fan of the power of leverage, and time is one of the biggest leverage points that any entrepreneur has.
She works hard not to waste it.
I think press is a huge waste of time for most businesses.
Public speaking is another massive waste of time and I say that as someone who really enjoys public speaking.
I still like to do it, I like to go to conferences, but the leverage is just tiny.
I mean, I see so many founders flying all over the country speaking to rooms of maybe 500 people, which you can get in seconds with a Facebook ad, without spending 3 days traveling.
It can be fun and it really boosts your ego to go to a conference, to have people know who you are, to be up on stage, but it’s not the most effective way to get users for your startup, far from it.
Another way founders waste time, according to Laura, is by doing too much themselves, and worse, misusing the true power of delegation.
Most founders are doing way too much themselves. Jason Cohen recently wrote an amazing article about this.
Delegation basically means that I’m going to assign you to do something, and then I’m going to check on it and make sure that you did it in a way that I like.
To grow a business, you need to go way beyond that to having other awesome skilled people get to exercise their area of expertise. You’re not telling them what to do, you’re not saying “OK, write these three blog posts about these topics,” you put them in charge.
Most founders are doing a lot of micromanaging, and yes, you can have a successful business doing that, because I know a lot of people who do it, but you’re going to be working all of the time.
I have always believed that maybe unless you’re Elon Musk, the other 99.9% of humans have 4 or 5 productive hours in us everyday. If you’re working 10 hours a day, you’re just messing around for a lot of it.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I waste a lot of time reading blog posts on the internet too, and looking at my friends’ babies on Facebook. But I don’t pretend I’m working when I do that stuff, and I think that’s the important distinction a lot of founders need to make.
People love to have all of these pointless meetings, and just meet anyone for coffee for any reason.
I like to chat with people and have coffee too, but it’s not something that’s necessarily marching my business forward.
So I think the biggest productivity tip for many founders would be to take a step back, stop micromanaging, and stop doing everything yourself.
Now, obviously the earlier you are in your business, the more you’re going to do yourself because you can’t afford to hire people yet, but you’ll be surprised when you actually hire someone and empower them, how much they can get done.
The Importance of Hiring For Growth
Hiring is an issue that Laura is passionate about, and her approach with Edgar has been to hire people that can do things better than her.
Every time I hire a new person, I think, “where am I bottlenecking the business?”
When I went on maternity leave, I wanted to be out of the business 100%. I wanted to have 3 months where I didn’t think about work at all, so I needed to really fill in what I was doing.
That forced me to hire someone to oversee marketing, which was scary for me, because that was something that I always handled myself.
But we found someone who’s very good, and we empowered her, and guess what? She’s running it.
While it can be tempting to save money and not hire until absolutely necessary, Laura realized that it was the best way to grow.
The way that you speed up the assembly line in a SaaS business is to hire people, and I think a lot of people don’t get that.
They have this fantasy that their existing team is going to double their productivity, and somehow double your business. And sure, you can grow gradually through word of mouth over time, and more traffic is going to come to your blog because you’ve been on Google longer, and you can make small gains like that, but if you want to see different results you need to do different things.
When you add more engineers to your team you’re going to be able to solve more bugs to make the product better. Not a few more bugs, but a lot more bugs.
But, Laura says, people need to be accountable for their work.
When you have someone full time doing ads for your business, they’re going to be fired immediately if we don’t see tons more leads coming in. We’re also hiring another full time writer to do more content marketing. If we don’t see double the leads from content marketing by going from one to two people, then we’ve made the wrong hire.
In an online SaaS business, hiring is how you grow.
Laura and her team have learned a lot about hiring, and made many mistakes. One of her biggest tips for hiring? Make it harder to apply.
Something that we do that works really well is we have people fill out a questionnaire instead of submitting a resume.
You can’t really tell much from someone’s resume.
So if you go to our careers page, you can click on any of our job listings and see that we ask a few interview questions so we can screen people right off the bat.
With aggressive hiring needs, growth can get expensive, fast. And a lot of founders assume that they can’t afford to hire a new employee, which is easy to think when you look at Silicon Valley salaries.
But Laura doesn’t let that stop Edgar. In fact, she says, while they can’t afford to pay top salaries, they can offer other benefits. And for the right people, that’s even more appealing.
You know, our company pays a lot less than Facebook. We’re not funded, we’re not in San Francisco, our team all works from their own homes.
Something great about being a virtual team is that you can leverage places where cost of living is a lot lower, so we’re able to give people a really good salary where they live.
People who work for us know we’re not the highest paying company in the world. Don’t get me wrong, we pay people a good wage, but that’s not the best of what we offer.
We have a lot of benefits being a small company, and this is another thing a lot of founders don’t realize.
They look at bigger funded companies and are like, “oh man how are we going to compete?”
Right now we’re looking for a senior rails developer. We’re going to be able to offer them a really fun job as far as their work goes. They’re going to be running their own team, they have huge say in what happens with the product, they’re doing way more than just fixing bugs.
At a lot of bigger companies, you can be a developer for years and just fix bugs and never get to work on anything new, so there’s a lot that small companies can offer talent.
I talk a lot about engineers, but the same is true for the person we’re going to hire to do paid acquisition. They are the paid acquisition team, they get to run the whole strategy, they get to do whatever they want.
So for the right people, it’s a really exciting opportunity.
Laura Roeder’s Required Reading
Groove’s blog subscribers tend to be voracious readers who work tirelessly to better themselves and their businesses. That’s why we’re asking each of our My First $100K interviewees to share their favorite blogs and books.
Your Turn: Ask Laura Anything
Laura has (very) generously agreed to answer your questions in the comments of this interview. We’re going to be watching closely and trying to learn as much as we can ourselves, so don’t be shy.
Post your questions for Laura in the comments below.