A Badass Q&A That You Simply Can’t Miss with Jeremy Chatelaine
What makes The Foundation alumni bad asses?
They don’t forget to share their gained wisdom.
Just last month, TF Alumni Jeremy Chatelaine posted his milestone success for his SaaS business Quickmail.io on TF’s Alumni Facebook group. After 2 years of working on it he’s now at $50K recurring monthly revenue! He encouraged everyone to ask him questions so he could be of help.
Now that’s badass!
We’re all about sharing so here are really juicy bits of the Q&A with Jeremy. (These questions are from different people in the thread).
Q: How many other businesses you tried that failed before quick mail became a success for you?
Jeremy: More than 12 (I'm 40 years old), but they all failed because I focused on the product instead of validation & prospecting. I just didn't have the skills. Now, I get the skills and understand how to make money from nothing.
Q: Did you write this software yourself? or did you hire someone else to write it for you? I'm curious since you said you have 1 VA working for after 1 year of quickmail.io.
Jeremy: I did code all myself from the start as a simple script. The "VA" is actually a support person (Alvin). When you have problem with quickmail, he takes care of helping you.
Q: If you wrote this software yourself, how did you juggle between dev work, marketing, etc? Was it difficult at first then you learned your way around it?
Jeremy: Yes, it wasn't easy to juggle all activities (it still isn't) and I certainly did some poorer than others. If you are a developer, you need to go on a coding diet (that is make sure you don't produce any single line of code unless someone is paying for it)
Q: In the early months (first three months) what did you find most effective for getting new customers? How has that shifted since you started?
Jeremy: You can read this here in greater details. The big transition that is kinda scary is when you start getting sales without being involved. As in: you wake up the morning and you had a few sales that night from total strangers. This is scary as it signals the start of you not knowing everything that happens anymore. A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world, so you need to keep talking to people, but that time it's you initiating the conversation, not as easy as it sounds, some people will just not reply to you.
Q: Your growth looks linear. Is there anything viral you wish you'd built in earlier in the process? If you could go back and do it again, what would you do differently?
Jeremy: My growth "looks like" it's linear but it's not correct. I grew consistently 4% each week for 2015. Now I'm around 2-3% each week, so it's exponential. Regardless, I don't feel like I need more growth, so anything looking to accelerate the grow is not something I'm dying to have. For virality, I think there are products more suited to that, especially in the B2C space. I could have gone multiple times the affiliate road (and I really mean MANY times), but that's not something that is appealing to me. I just don't like people recommending a product because of financial gain, so I just don't do it. What drives me is having a great product to solve a painful problem. Virality is not something I would look to put in early in the process if I had to do it again.
Q: How much time per week did you spend working on the business in the first 6 months and how does that compare to the time you spend now?
Jeremy: First few weeks, I worked 2 hours/day full time on it + emails at workplace. Then I worked 8-12 hours per day, just pure passion (so I did not count). Now, It hugely varies. From 1 hour to 8 hours, depends. It's been a long time since I pulled lots of hours, but at the same time, when I'm alone (family goes away a few days), I work almost non-stop. In in a transition phase at the moment. I definitely worked super hard the first 6 months, then hard 6 more months, then normal 6 more months and now it's more on cruise control. Next stage is having a great team operating instead of me.
Q: If you had to pay a developer to do all the coding from day one, what would that have cost up until now?
Jeremy: I did not, that's not the right question to ask as I would have made different choices regarding product positioning and feature choices. If I stayed in my high paid job, I would only have break even last month (but the business accumulated more wealth, so I am in a better much position now).
Q: What do you think your biggest challenge will be in reaching your next level of growth? Is it just you and Alvin or are there also contractors working on code and marketing now?
Jeremy: It's just Alvin (customer support) and me (for everything else). I hired a Marketing person but I had different expectations for the position so it didn't work and I hat to let her go, which was pretty difficult as I loved her work ethic and personality. For the direction I want for my business, the next level of growth is building an autonomous team that can perform well without me. I'm slow to level up on that one, but it will come eventually. If you know a great customer support person, I'm looking for one.
Q: Knowing what you know today, would you start this business again? What would you do differently? Are you having fun with the day to day?
Jeremy: Though questions. These got me thinking a lot actually. My business is high maintenance, so I would prefer something lower maintenance and there are many roadblocks that more traditional business would not have (at the same time, I would not have had this growth)...
I would probably have positioned it more on the tools for sales people or a CRM that has this capability too. And develop the ecosystem slightly differently. In short, businesses close to the sales department are full of opportunities with lots of money, so competition is high but it's very rewarding. I don't know is the real answer. Like making a video game, if you know all the pain you will go through you'll never start...
From a product standpoint, I would do things differently because I would have customer knowledge and know what really matters to them. That's easy to pick because that's what really takes time. For other parts of the business, I'm not sure what I would do differently in all honesty..
Yes, I mostly have fun, there are things I have to do that are not always fun (like administration and operation) but I manage to have a healthy dose of fun things to do. It's definitely important to keep doing those actually to avoid burn out.
Q: Would you say you have achieved the freedom you were looking for when you started TF?
Jeremy: Yes, freedom is the most important thing for me, way above anything else. There are multiple freedom. Geolocation freedom (I reached), Financial freedom (I feel close to it), or time freedom (I only partially have it as my business is still high maintenance due to the small team). I definitely have WAY more freedom than before The Foundation and that is definitely a huge factor.
Q: What language did you use in building your product?
Jeremy: I built it using Ruby On Rails. Product changed drastically within 1 year of development. I use AngularJS for the front end.
Q: How do you account for annual plans on your chart? Do you divide the value you collect over 12 months or do you simply account for whatever you charge per month, regardless of whether it’s an annual or monthly payment?
Jeremy: The chart only contains monthly payments. The annual one I just think of it as a 1off bonus and never keep track of them on my spreadsheet.
Q: How do you attract customers?
Jeremy: It's a complex answer. But the short one is I don't do it actively, my users do it. Whether it's through referral or whether they are growing and need more accounts. I seem to be just very well positioned in the market and people resonate with that.
Q: I imagine you're sitting on a mountain of priceless data. How are you leveraging that? Any future plans in that realm?
Jeremy: Not doing anything with it (prospects at least), I could use this data but don't plan to mostly because it's a trust relationship. People may upload their list of clients. I did try in the past and it was obvious it was just the wrong thing to do. I do use performance of sequence for marketing purposes though.
Q: If you could name the top 4 things (marketing or non-marketing) that led you to the 1000 customer mark, what would they be? Also, in the beginning, how did you deal with customer requests for new Quickmail features? I'm not a developer so I have to outsource any change/update to my SaaS and it is expensive. I agree with the "if they aren't paying for it yet don't build it" theory, however, some features aren't costly to get developed but it adds up...
Jeremy: The beginning is crucial, at 1k accounts this is not the beginning anymore. For the first 300:
- Book time to listen to people, ask them to explain to you what they do... get to know what their core problem is (you don't need to know the whole business, just the part they have issue with).
- Do things that don't scale. Too many people try to scale WAY too early. Take your time to reach out to people, send personal email, check their account, see what they do.
- Find who's getting the most value out of your software and try to find how/where you can get more. Ask testimonial to figure out how they perceive the value added (is it time, is it something else...)
- Try many channels and when you find something that works: KEEP DOING IT
For client requests, I had an unfair advantage as I could do it, but what most people don't see is that I had 15 years of product development experience, so I KNOW how to prioritize development. If you don't have that, it's OKAY, use SCRUM with 1 WEEK SPRINT and focus 100% on the WHAT (what you want, prioritize based on client importance) and let developer take care of the HOW (how to execute this). To prioritize, you talk to your dev who will tell you roughly how big of a work it is. Hint: Don't ask how much time, but RELATIVE estimate (e.g. which one is more complex than the other). It leads to better estimates and you can swap developers without invalidating the estimate (plus many other benefits, trust me on this).
Then the bit you are missing is that it's a SALES process. You can always tell the client something like: "ok, I see it's super important for you, but we only have it scheduled for in 3 months... hum I tell you what, if you buy it before Friday, I'll shift the priorities and get it started next week so you can have it this month. If not, happy to refund. Would that work?" This is a great test to figure out if they are serious about it and if this is an urgent problem to fix or not.
Q: So how did you get from 15 to 30? I guess my question is where did you find customers, especially after the first ones were foundation students?
Q: So this 48K a month business is run just by two people. Yourself and assistant?
Jeremy: Correct. I just hired a developer who will start full time start of July. Note: he defaulted, and I need to find another one. Business problems never stop... ever.
Q: What would you recommend to those who aren't developers?
Jeremy: Sell a solution. That's also what I did, I never sold the product. You don't have to have any automation to start most of the time. I just did because I could. So do it manually if needs be and then replace with code.
Q: Did you presell, if so how?
Jeremy: Technically not but in fact yes. I didn't have much but a login button, 2 buttons for people to update and a Paypal button to buy. They bought mostly on the promise to be a "ToutApp" Killer initially. Also I tried to sell another product and saw that the process worked (people willing to pay me $100-120/mo for this solution). Just didn't push forward as more time on QuickMail.io meant bigger results. Dude, pre-selling $100 is PEANUTS to business, almost not worth their time. So don't hesitate to presell.
Q: Was this your pain or one you discovered and how?
Jeremy: It started as my pain and no solution out there was really useful for me. I needed visibility and reliability.
Q: What's your favorite yoga position and why?
Jeremy: Crocodile pose. I practice it every day.
Jeremy Chatelaine is a kick ass entrepreneur, Foundation alum & founder of QuickMail.io, a SaaS to help automate cold email outreach.