Ignore new traffic until you nail down churn. When we first launched we realized our churn was extremely high (around 35%). We realized that there’s no point in spending time and money on generating more traffic if the customers you’re generating end up leaving. Instead, find out why they are leaving and make improvements.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Thompson. Mark has been a serial entrepreneur since 2010, founding PayKickstart — a leading SaaS that is reinventing how startups and businesses sell online. Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Mark is also a husband, father, and an avid traveler.
Thank you so much for joining us Mark! 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?
Thanks for having me!
Well, my career in online marketing started back in 2003. For five years, I worked at two of the largest marketing agencies in North Carolina where I helped SMBs with their marketing strategies. During that time, I learned all the foundational online marketing skills — SEO, PPC, email marketing, social media marketing, etc.
Then one day, out of nowhere, I got fired from my job. That was tough. I had just bought a car, had a mortgage, and had bills to pay. But in retrospect, that was the push for me to dip my toes in entrepreneurship and become my own boss. So, that’s what I did.
I started to manage my own clients but soon realized that it was impossible to scale unless I hired more people. So, I started to look into creating digital products — they are available 24/7, with limitless scalability. In the next two years, I was focused on learning everything I could about software, from development to marketing.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve developed over 20 different applications. I’ve had successes and failures, and countless lessons learned, which have ultimately led me to creating PayKickstart.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I’ve actually had a number of ‘’Aha Moments’’.
The first was when I had my first 6-figure product launch — my company ListEruption.com. The product generated over $100k in sales within one week. I must give a big thanks to my mentor whom I brought on and who introduced me to a number of affiliate partners with relevant email lists who promoted my offer. I was able to follow in his footsteps to see the exact step-by-step formula I needed to take in order to bring a product to market, drive traffic and convert that traffic into paying customers.
My second ‘’Aha Moment’’ was when I launched EasyVSL.com, which was my first 7-figure product launch. I realized there was a lot more work that went into a 7-figure business than a 6-figure business — we started with a pre-launch, releasing 3 promo videos over a week to build buzz and brand awareness, and we built a more solid sales funnel which helped us maximize our conversion rates. That all paid off.
Then, my third ‘’Aha Moment’’ was probably more of a snapshot over the past 2–3 years (leading up to today). My co-founder and I have built a mainstream SaaS business, which is solving a major pain point for so many online entrepreneurs and has a massive positive impact on their businesses and lives. Over the years, we’ve established a close connection with our customers and they gladly pay us every month because of the amount of value we provide to them.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Needless to say, one of the hardest times was when I got fired from my job. It nearly broke me, but I’m also thankful for this experience because it gave me the drive, determination, and will to become my own boss.
When I think of my experience, I always remember the famous quote by John Lennon: ‘’Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’’
Did you ever consider giving up?
Giving up was never an option.
After being fired from my last job, I realized that I never wanted to put myself in a situation where I wasn’t in control of my own financial future. I went all in to build my own business and be my own boss.
Yes, I’ve had many lows and speed bumps along the journey, but I always used those failures as fuel to learn from my mistakes and continue to perfect my craft.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think a lot of my drive and determination came at an early age. When in college, I was a competitive baseball player and I still see entrepreneurship as a basketball court. But generally I think competitiveness and persistence was built into my DNA — since early childhood, I’ve always worked hard for what I wanted and I had always seen difficult situations as challenges to overcome rather than something negative.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Our company has never been more stable and prosperous. It’s been a long journey leading up to where we are today. PayKickstart is bootstrapped and the fact that we’ve reached over $1M ARR — that’s something we’re truly proud of.
It was our long-term and constant determination and willingness to never settle for just ‘’OK’’, which has helped PayKickstart to become one of the leading payment and affiliate management solutions in the industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting out?
We use a time tracking solution to manage our virtual employees. We once noticed that one of our employees has installed an app on his computer called MouseJiggle. Generally, what the app does is it simulates mouse movement, making the time tracking software think that the person is at the computer.
So, we noticed that the employee had a 100% activity level for 15+ hours a day. That seemed suspicious, yet we could not figure out how he could work straight for such long hours.
Only later we found out about the game he was playing and let him go. Whenever I tell this story, I feel amazed how creative lazy people can get — even if what they do is completely unethical.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I’ve become really good at spotting when employees are honest and when they’re not. This experience made us improve our SOP (standard operating procedure) for weekly sprint management. What we do now is we require each developer to provide time estimates for each task, which is then scrutinized by the rest of the team.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that’s our commitment to customer success. Everything we do, we do with a mindset that the success of our business is gauged by the success of our customers. Now that we’re putting them first, everything else is also falling into place.
We have a 24-hour chat and a portal that allows customers to submit feature requests, as well as vote for features they would like to see in our SaaS. By allowing our customers to have a voice, we let our customers dictate the development roadmap, which helps them feel as though they are personally involved in the evolution and future of the business.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s important to always have balance in your life for everything that you do. Yes, there will be times where you have to put in those 80–90 hour work weeks, but it’s important to have time to recharge your batteries by spending time with your family, traveling, or enjoying hobbies.
I am extremely passionate about what I do, but I also constantly remind myself that my business is just one part of my life. It’s unhealthy to have your professional career completely consume your entire life, so I have discovered lots of hobbies that help me relax my mind from work. I love different sports, spending time with my wife and daughter, going to the movies or watching TV, traveling, etc.
So, my tip is to find something that makes you forget about work and to make sure you schedule time for this activity.
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’ve had a number of mentors throughout my journey. From people that I have personally worked with or worked with in a group environment, all the way to people whom I admire (and have consumed every book or video they’ve produced!).
It’s been a great pleasure to work alongside my business partner, Matt Callen. The fact that we have different skill sets has proven to be extremely helpful, allowing us to assist each other in our respective shortcomings/weaknesses.
For example, I am NOT a numbers guy, whereas Matt has an analytical mind. That allows him to focus on KPIs and other numbers that help us grow the business, while allowing me to focus on the creative side of the business — sales, marketing, etc.
Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have?
As of today, PayKickstart is used by 1200+ vendors and 50k affiliates all across the globe.
Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
One: leveraging an in-house list of existing customers. Those are the people who had purchased other products we had built in the past.
Two: listening to customers and their needs and following through with what they need by adding new features or updates. This skyrocketed our word-of-mouth marketing.
Three: launching a carefully planned brand awareness campaign, which included cold outreach, targeting paid placement (Facebook ads, Google Ads, YouTube ads), PR on industry publications (podcasts, guest posts, interviews), and social engagement on relevant FB groups.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users?
We offer a 14 day free trial. Then, users can choose between 3 different pricing plans, ranging from $29-$149/mo.
Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We’re actually in the process of implementing a few other monetization options. We’re working on becoming our own payment processing service, which will allow us to make a small commission from each transaction through our system.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
Get your SaaS startup to MVP fast, then prioritize.
When we first released PayKickstart, we used it internally for 1–2 years with bare bones functionality (accepting payments, checkout pages, and a few other things). As soon as we released it to Beta users, we gathered feedback and prioritized our roadmap accordingly, adding 2–4 features per month.
Ignore new traffic until you nail down churn.
When we first launched we realized our churn was extremely high (around 35%). We realized that there’s no point in spending time and money on generating more traffic if the customers you’re generating end up leaving. Instead, find out why they are leaving and make improvements.
Run quick tests on traffic sources and focus on the best.
We’ve tested all types of paid traffic (Quora Ads, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, PR, etc.); however, before we threw thousands of dollars into any of these channels, we did small Beta tests to see which traffic was driving the most relevant traffic — traffic that not only led to free trial sign-ups, but also to higher customer LTV.
As you start to grow and responsibilities spread out over different people or departments, it’s important to document everything. This way, as people leave or you hire new people, you won’t have to personally train them. You can simply point them in the direction of specific documents that outline exactly what they are supposed to do.
If you don’t track your KPIs, it’s impossible to know what is working and what isn’t. Every SaaS company should be tracking things like churn rate, free-to-paid percentage, ATV, LTV, and other KPIs that may be relevant to your business.
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 love to expose more young people to entrepreneurship. I feel that the mindset taught in school is — “you’ll be working for someone else”. Instead, kids should be inspired and motivated to build their own business and create their financial freedom.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The best way is our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/paykickstart/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
“5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS” with Mark Thompson of PayKickstart was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.