365 days of SaaS Growth — from $3K to 13K MRR without funding.
I’m Emre, co-founder, and CEO of Popupsmart. My expertise is product and growth marketing. In this article, I wanted to share our journey, I sincerely tried to explain how we grow 4X in 2021 and explain what worked and what didn’t.
Table of Content
- Why is growth so important for a startup?
- Product development & growth balancing
- Sell value not feature
- SEO is a must-have acquisition channel for B2B
- Think like your target customers
Why is growth so important for a startup?
Growth = Startup.
I can explain it as it is. If you have a product-market-fit product, you need to grow fast to get a share from this market as soon as possible. That’s why growth team motivation is important for the future of the product and so many aspects.
Growth creates data that improves the product.
Growth is one of the most valuable outputs of the value created by a product. The fact that what you’re making is being sold means you get the value you present. In other words, your product solves a problem, and you have customers paying for it in return. According to the data you have attained, you can improve your product; growth opens you a new door into growing more organically.
Growth can create upsell products according to customers’ feedback.
Just because your product is being sold doesn’t make it perfect. The important thing is that your product is still being used by the same customers after the retail, and you need to sell additional products with it. Thanks to growth, you can understand where you should focus by evaluating these metrics and improving the product roadmap and strategy according to that in time.
Adaptation is crucial.
More precisely, if you want to be a good restaurant brand, good location, architecture, and leading expert chefs won’t be enough. This restaurant has to continue its progress based on the feedback by meeting with customers. Adaptation is a crucial muscle for a startup. Ten years ago, would you believe it if Facebook said it would change its name to Meta?
In this sense, Facebook is a company that adapts very well. Facebook has maintained its existence by making the right purchases in line with its course and growing. Growth is essential, but adaptation should always be.
Product Development & Growth Balancing
Most founders have a hard time striking that balance. It is estimated that more sales will be made with more features. But while trying to make these improvements, the growth marketing side is neglected. In this sense, there is a delicate balance and you can survive if you strike that balance well.
If product-market-fit is provided when you release a product with MVP, you may need to be careful with the resources you allocate to your product development in the next steps. You might be spending months on a feature that not even 1% of your customers will use. Therefore, never make the mistake of trying to make your product perfect. Instead, focus on your product’s current situation and set a monthly growth target.
Do not forget, the most sold product at bakeries is the white bread. You may want to produce a special rye bread, but you need to be aware that the white bread is being sold at this market. Another paradox on this matter is that the white bread won’t give you product-led growth, but a delicious special rye bread makes a distinguished name for itself.
You can evaluate every process in product development like that. It may not be logical to sell rye bread the first year, but you can develop your product in the forthcoming years. The important thing is being able to continue to thrive.
Do you want to primarily sell white bread or rye bread?
Sell value not feature
Most of the time, people do not buy a product for its features but buy what they can do with it.
For this reason, leading brands like Apple, before putting MacBook or Apple Watch features, emphasize the things you can do with it. That’s why they adorn the whole city with billboards like “Shot on iPhone.”
Being a no-code popup builder, we position ourselves as a tool that creates popups. Even when they asked the team members what they were doing, they replied that we were making popups. The value we created is increasing the conversions on a website.
In other words, you can increase your sales by creating a popup and promoting a certain campaign more effectively, or you can increase your click-through rate on the phone on your contact page 5 times within minutes with a popup.
By seeing the value you create with the tool used, they have a picture of what they can do with the product and decide to buy it. That’s why you can display the values you provide as “Solutions’’ as we did on our home page.
Think like your target customers
We made the mistake of seeing the target audience as ourselves for a while, which is one of the most common mistakes. However, as a result of the analysis and feedback we made afterward, we observed our target customers, their needs, and what kind of solution they are looking for. Actually, there are three key breakdowns.
You need to validate your target audience in detail.
As a result of our analysis, we validated that we made a product for marketers who work in medium and small-sized businesses, although there was a target audience before making the product. The target audience’s expectation from the product was fast implementation, installation, and building without a developer or designer.
Before releasing the product, our target audience was marketers, designers, and developers in B2B companies.
With the analysis we made when we reached the first 100 customers, we understood that our target audience, marketers, preferred us for the following reasons:
- Fast and easy installation
- Infrastructure that does not require design and development (No-code product)
- Integrated with all your marketing tools
- An output that increases your conversions by at least 50%.
SEO is a must-have acquisition channel
Popupsmart currently has more than 1,500 active users and more than 430 paying customers worldwide. At the same time, Popupsmart products are used more than 8,000 times worldwide and, according to BuiltWith data, ranked 11th in the lead generation category. The traffic source of all acquired users has reached thanks to SEO. Since the first day we started, we have invested in content in terms of SEO, developed mini-tools, and achieved our current success graph by thinking differently here.
Most companies do the same things in hopes of success with SEO. They search for keywords from Ahrefs, write content, publish it, and it’s done. Only 10 results are shown on the first page with the targeted keyword in Google. Do you think it is possible to enter the top 10 this way?
I want to explain more how we reached 120,000 monthly traffic with SEO in detail to be helpful.
A) Find keywords not included in any SEO & Keyword Research Tools
As I have mentioned in the previous headline, thinking like your customers is the key point. When you know your customer mass, you don’t have to use a tool like Ahrefs to find what search terms they look for in Google. With such tools, thousands of people search for similar words, research 5–6 pages of words, and create content targeting similar words.
Think about your target audience’s tendency to search on Google.
Likewise, during the keyword research stage, I thought about how a marketer would search for their popup needs, and the first thing that came to my mind was their own CMS platform and the keyword “popup.” Very easy, but it seemed like it wouldn’t work. Besides, this keyword combination does not exist in Ahrefs!
So a marketer searches google for “Webflow popup” directly for a website created with Webflow. Or they search for “Wix popup.” “CMS + popup” search term flashed through my mind directly. When you look at these words through Ahrefs, their monthly search volume is not shown, and most of them don’t even exist in Ahrefs.
Still, with this logic, we receive more than 3,000 monthly traffic with 50 content pages we created separately, and we convert 6% of this traffic to registered users. You can also think of your target audience and discover keywords not even on Ahrefs.
B) Don’t start with outreach for backlink
12 years ago, I was surprised when I heard about requesting backlinks with outreach in backlink methods. Everybody was writing something like this. Unfortunately, most people apply these things without questioning. I receive at least 50 emails a day containing backlink requests. Now I’m going to ask a straightforward question, why would I give backlinks to the site of someone who emailed me?
Because it contributed to my article? Is it because I will have more helpful content if I give a link? Why?
Without asking these questions, everyone is emailing and asking for backlinks pointlessly. Such a method will not be effective. When doing outreach and cold email, you must offer value to the other party in exchange for backlinks.
You can either suggest a mention on a popular Youtube channel or recommend your free 1-year product. Although these are still better value propositions, I don’t find it right in terms of effort and performance to send cold emails for backlinks.
Psychologically, asking people to do something is not the proper method at the beginning. You have to get them to add you as a backlink. Outreach is also a working method, but instead, the strategies you develop to get them to give you backlinks will give you more efficient results in terms of the time you spend.
Popupsmart has received backlinks from more than 2,500 domains so far. Foremost among these are authoritarian companies such as TechCrunch and Hubspot.
- Create statistics content; people tend to cite blogs with statistics.
- Produce statistics and infographic images; you can get credits with such images.
- Spend hours on curated content to gather information people can gain and add value to people.
- Develop free tools, as I explained in another section.
C) Develop free tools for your target audience
People tend to be easy by nature. They want to get their work done in an easy but reliable way.
Due to this tendency by our nature, micro-tools and even SaaS companies have emerged on the web. With these problem-solving mini-tools, you can get more benefits than you think.
The cookie consent mini-tool developed by our intern in 3 weeks is currently used on more than 2.000 websites and provides us with backlinks. Also, our FreeChat application is used on more than 500 sites within a year.
Both solve the problem of our target audience in seconds, so they are being used and provide value to us. Moreover, we have a backlink that we provide through our product on the sites of everyone who uses it. You can easily find and develop a mini-tool idea. In this way, you can get rid of the backlink problem quickly.
D) Create the content by doing something different
I talked about the work that everyone does by being inspired by the same contents, without doing things differently. For SEO, many people think that they can get to a point just by writing content. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible in the global market.
The formula is simple: “Killer Content + well website technical infrastructure + quality backlinks = Massive Organic Traffic.”
Most people complicate SEO, but the things that need to be done are clear. It requires patience, labor, and creativity, which is difficult.
If you want to increase your organic traffic, you should write if you believe that you can write much better than the content written in the top 10 in SERP for the keyword you target. If you want to benefit people, you have to research for hours about what people want for their search intent and provide the outputs. Only in this way can you add quality to your content.
If a user searches for the word “best email marketing automation software,” he wants to use the most suitable service for himself since he has a need in this regard. You should compile such content for the user making this call by researching all email automation services and reading their reviews to feel that that content has emerged after hours of research.
Ps. If you do the search query, you can see Popupsmart in the first rank and examine the content as an example. :)
Product-led-Growth is the best acquisition.
We’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately, haven’t we? Most companies attribute half the success of a product to the product and half to the marketing. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, talks about it as such. Twenty years ago, 30% product and 70% marketing were effective for realizing the sale of a product; now it is the opposite, 70% product and 30% marketing.
The main reason, in my opinion, is the ease of access to information and the satisfaction in terms of information, which now saves people from marketing tricks and enables them to think product-oriented. The most effective method for a product to grow is to provide product-led growth. This is based on making people say “wow” with your product.
People instinctively want to share the products they are satisfied with and impressed by. In this way, the product begins to grow with the word-of-mouth marketing method. It’s like the domino effect. After acquiring the first 100 users, the growth rate increases with the success of your product.
As Popupsmart, we are behind our expectations in terms of PLG, but we believe that we will trigger this domino effect in a short period of time with the new features we have developed.
The team is essential, but with a good culture.
I believe it is a must for big companies to survive for years because of their company culture. Although I have not worked in a corporate company before, you can feel the culture of the companies from outside. Corporate culture is a set of values that spontaneously form over time.
Those who drive this culture are the founders and then the team. A proper leader can convey the cultural values he wants to reach to the team so that even if the team grows, it can grow healthily with these values. You can find our principal cultural values for Popupsmart here.
A company’s most important value is not the money it earns, the feature set it develops, etc., but the team. If you are making a product that grows with increasing momentum with the right team, not only will your product grow, but your team will also gain value, and your company will turn into a talent magnet.
The team is also the reason why young companies receive millions of dollars of investment before they even have a product. In addition, because the team has proven itself in a different company before, it will likely do the same in a new company.
Although we had many problems in 2021, we increased our team to 12 people at the end of the year. We continue our work with the vision of taking digital marketing in the world to a new level.
I tried to summarize the past year sincerely. Your questions and comments are valuable to me.
In our next content, I will explain the biggest mistakes we made in 2021 and the work we did in terms of SEO in detail. Thank you to those who support us. Before I finish, I would like to thank my team for helping us achieve this success last year. Furkan, Ezgi, Baris, Hatice, Murathan, Mustafa