“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS”, with Carsten Schaefer and Mitch Russo

Start out small. I dedicated a few hours to this app in the beginning, until I was ready to take it one step further and devote 10 hours every week to this project. If you work full time and put in an additional 20 hours weekly into your side project, you will burn out within a month. Take it one step at a time.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carsten Schaefer. Carsten is the founder and CEO of crowdy.ai, a set of tools for social proof and notifications that maximize website conversions. Inspired by principles and mechanisms of social proof, Carsten is currently on his way to help businesses become trustworthy and thrive in the digital landscape.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I have a background as a developer for various SaaS applications and many of my agency clients needed a tool that would automate their marketing. Over time, I realized that I could build a SaaS application for social proof and I decided to bootstrap crowdy.ai (https://www.crowdy.ai/) and launch it slowly to see what kind of interest I would get. After I rolled out the beta, it turned out that there is a market for this kind of app.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The moment that I realized that many of my clients wanted a way to do marketing, but without hiring a marketer. They didn’t have the time or the budget to bring a marketer as part of their team, and I thought about making an app that would help busy eCommerce store owners bring in more customers. Hiring marketers can be tricky, especially if you know very little about marketing — which is the case with many company founders.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I considered giving up many times, because the only person working on this app in the very beginning was myself only. It was months before I hired another developer, then I hired a designer and months later, a marketer. In the start, I thought about giving up many times because crowdy.ai drained a lot of time and money and gave very little in return. However, it was a huge motivation to see the app getting its shape and it made me happy to realize the potential it had to completely change the way small businesses do marketing.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

With about 200 active (paying) users at the moment, things are doing pretty good! I’m a developer myself, with little to no knowledge about marketing, so I’m pretty proud about the success I was able to achieve before bringing on a marketer to my team.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made in the beginning was sending out an email blast to my existing subscribers with “testing” as the only word in the email body. Luckily, no one unsubscribed, but I did get a few replies asking if I was okay.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The fact that we have so many tools in one. I wanted to build the ultimate marketing tool and include everything I can under one roof and I think I’m on the right path. We have notifications, star ratings, social count, Rich Snippets, text and video testimonials… Even a GDPR cookie tool. There is no other marketing tool out there that has all of these features in one place, for one price.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Start out small. I dedicated a few hours to this app in the beginning, until I was ready to take it one step further and devote 10 hours every week to this project. If you work full time and put in an additional 20 hours weekly into your side project, you will burn out within a month. Take it one step at a time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would like to thank my wife for putting up with me in the first few months when I launched crowdy.ai. I struggled really hard to balance my full time job with my side project and still have some time to spend with her. She realized how passionate I am about this project and she supported me in the beginning when things were really hectic.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have around 200 paying users at the moment, which is not a lot but it’s a great start since we just came out of beta. That is exactly how we got to this number — by releasing a beta version of the product for free. Quite a few people liked it and upgraded to the paying version. So, the three steps would be:

1. Release a beta version of the product

2. Promote it with paid ads (Facebook, LinkedIn)

3. Turn trial users into paying customers after a certain moment (through email marketing)

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We have a traditional monthly subscription model and it’s working fairly well. We haven’t thought about any other models at the moment — perhaps later on, when we have more features.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

Here are the five steps to starting a SaaS.

1. Find your product-market fit. Before doing anything, find out whether there’s someone out there already doing what you want to do. If not, find out if there are people willing to pay for your idea. Validate the idea before investing your time or money.

2. Branding. Finding a good name and more importantly domain can take months. Have patience because this step can take quite a bit of time. It took me three months to decide on the current name and domain.

3. Set up a company. Now that you have a name, you need to set up a company and create a bank account. If you take your time, someone else might grab a similar name and trademark it, then blackmail you to buy it from them — I’ve seen it happen.

4. Hire your core team. You won’t be able to build everything yourself, even if you have all the time in the world. For me, that core team was my first developer and designer. When I had the budget, I started thinking about marketing.

5. Take it one day at a time. Slack, Drift or Hubspot weren’t built in a day. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll lose motivation and give up.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would do something to bring drinking water to all parts of the world that need it, like a SaaS that would donate for each new user. With the power and the reach that SaaS companies have nowadays, I think this is definitely possible.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Here are my personal and company’s social media profiles:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/carsten-schaefer-crowdy-ai/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/crowdy-ai/

https://twitter.com/crowdy_ai

https://www.facebook.com/crowdyai/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was a pleasure to participate! Thank you for this opportunity.

About the author:

Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via mitch@mitchrusso.com


“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS”, with Carsten Schaefer & Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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