I run Feature Upvote, a B2B SaaS product that offers features & ideas tracking via a simple online board, which can be made public or kept private.

First, a chart. Here’s our MRR growth for the year, with the dollar amounts hidden (gotta keep some things private!)

Chart showing Feature Upvote MRR growth in 2018!

On average MRR this year has grown at about 20% per month. Admittedly, this was from a low start. I’m expecting growth to slow down soon to a more sustainable rate.

This might be the only time I’ll publicly post Feature Upvote’s MRR chart, partly because it is unlikely to ever look this good again. 😀

Anyway, we’re heading in the right direction, for me at least.

This is what I’ve learnt in 2018.

I’m growing our company in a way that makes sense for me

Well, this is really a continuation of my 2017 strategy, but it’s important:

I want to run a company that doesn’t require me to work 24/7 and to take millions from outside investors (we’re entirely bootstrapped).

So in 2018 we focused clearly on growth strategies that didn’t require outside investment, that concentrated on longer-term returns, and where customers were encouraged to self-service, where possible.

These strategies included:

  • Improving our help section so customers can self-service before contacting us. I also value this approach because it is easy for customers. It is much simpler to quickly read a step-by-step guide on how to do something (or watch a short video) than have to email someone, wait for a response and then have to email again for further clarification.

  • Concentrating on SEO growth by creating quality content that ranks well with search engines and answers the queries of customers. This growth channel has performed well for us during a test period so we’re investing more resources. It fits well with our aim of sustainable fairly low-cost growth.

  • Test out landing pages in two different languages: our ideas board is available in over 8 different languages and is already used by people around the world. It makes sense for us to globalise our content as soon as possible, so we’re testing this approach at the moment.

  • Validate (and then validate again) new features because they are time consuming, require maintenance and can make the user interface annoying for customers who want useful options – not every option ever suggested. Although a number of our competitors inhabit the ‘high price point and many features’ territory I’ve found that we’re justified in offering better value with a product that is straightforward, easy to use and cost-effective. This also fits with my vision for the company.

I now have a clear strategy that encompasses content as well as product improvements

Having a clear company strategy is an aspiration of pretty much every founder (and product manager, if you have one).

However, what I learnt in 2018 is that it’s not enough just to plan product strategy. You also need to plan your content strategy because — and this is not exactly a revelation — good content boosts growth at every stage of the sales funnel.

So if you want you product to be a success and your product improvements to be noticed then you need to support your product roadmap with a content strategy.

So for the last few months a freelance content specialist has been working with us. It has made an enormous difference.

We now have Notion boards for content strategy, for content, for audience research and for message architecture & style guide so we know what we’re doing, why, how, and how this impacts our audience.

We have new or revised content for customer acquisition, customer onboarding and customer retention. Much of the rewritten content is based on customer feedback and surveys.

In short, our team now have a content strategy that supports and informs our company strategy.

I learnt who our target market is

Our target market is product managers.

When we launched in early 2017 we were targeting small software companies who wanted to easily collect and prioritise customer feedback. In late 2017 a fellow software business owner told me my target market should be product managers. It turns out he knows what he is talking about.

Over the course of 2018, we achieved that all-important “product/market fit”. We did this by changing our targeting to product managers.

How did we realise we needed to change?

By paying attention to our customers. We have our own public facing ideas board which is a great way for us to find out what our customers and prospective customers want.

We also began to notice that more customers than we expected were using our boards on the private setting.

We reached out to those customers and found some pretty interesting use cases: companies that wanted to leverage the depths and breadth of knowledge within their companies on a daily basis; companies who were having an ideas day or event; companies who had a few B2B clients whose feedback they wanted to contain on one board rather than spread across meetings and email chains.

We also began to notice that the lifetime value of product managers was very promising. Much more so than SaaS startup founders with a high fail rate (sorry people: we share your pain!).

So we made a decision: to target product managers and product directors as a matter of priority.

This resulted in a homepage redesign and new core content, including a use case page that clearly explains the different ways you can use Feature Upvote.

We also widened our SEO content to include an idea management landing page, as well as a post on why ideas boards are better than spreadsheets (spreadsheets are still much used by product managers).

I learnt that LinkedIn has value for B2B products

A good LinkedIn company profile gives credibility.

Until this year I didn’t really understand the value of LinkedIn. Then came an email from a potential customer (who happens to be a product manager):

I like your product a lot. However I’m having trouble selling the solution to our management compared to UserVoice … LinkedIn says there is only 1 employee at the company and that the company is 9 months old.

This helped me discover that potential customers often do their “CYA” research via LinkedIn.

So I improved our LinkedIn profile, dispelling potential doubts and describing the history of our company, which has been running since 2008.

Was this worthwhile? Yes. LinkedIn shows us who visits our profile. Many of our paying customers visit our LinkedIn profile before signing up.

Which again supports the idea of having a content strategy. All your content should support your business goals.

I learnt we have a lot of competitors

For some reason, friends love to tell me when they discover a competitor of ours. It seems every month I hear of yet another competitor.

Each time this happens I briefly feel despondent and wonder if there is any hope for the product. Then I remind myself that:

  • The presence of competitors helps to validate the market.
  • My competitors probably have the same feelings of doubt and despondency when they hear of us (I hope).
  • We should focus on what customers say to us and not what our competitors are doing, nor how many competitors we have.
  • Launching a SaaS can be done by almost anyone with software development skills and using close to zero funds. Therefore the number of competitors for any proven SaaS product will keep rising. That’s a reality I try to accept.
  • What we offer in terms of features, approach, pricing and ethos is unique, so we can differentiate ourselves, even in a competitive market.

Need a product ideas board? Give Feature Upvote a try!