LifestyleHow I took my SaaS from idea to sold...

How I took my SaaS from idea to sold in 14 months

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8 minute read

I built an MVP in one month and grew the product for a year. But now it’s time to pass the torch. It’s official, I sold Mugshot Bot! Here’s how it all went down.

Humble beginnings

Back in October of 2020, I got sick of manually creating link preview images for Twitter every time I wrote a blog post. So, as a good engineer does, I built something to scratch my own itch.

I time boxed the entire project to one month. Whatever I had built by then I promised to ship. I launched on Product Hunt to #5 Product of the Day and acquired two paying customers within 20 minute of going live.

Mugshot Bot - Automated link preview images for your website. | Product Hunt

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To build momentum, I offered a handful of launch deals and spread the word on Twitter and Slack communities. If you were one of the first 50 folks to sign up you locked in annual pricing for 50%, forever. This attracted another 20 or so paying customers.

I was initially excited that I’d built something to solve my own need. But was blown away to help other people – and they were willing to pay!

Building in public

From there, I spent the next few months building in public on Twitter. I teased new designs and features, documented decisions, and asked my audience for UX help with polls.

Looking back, this was so much fun. People were excited to hear me brag about the new feature I just built! If you don’t consider yourself good at marketing, building in public is a great “hack” to get the job done.

That said, it’s easy to overdo it. I’ve found that posting one thread and a handful of tweets per week is the sweet spot. Supplementing these with technical “Today I Learned” tweets also helped grow my audience in the Rails community and kick off great discussions.

Organic growth

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At the end 2020, about two months after launch, I broke $100 MRR and did a little happy dance. I was making real money on the internet!

But, as it often does, my focus started to drift. Growing Mugshot Bot was still exciting, but there were other new and shiny things I wanted to focus on. So I spent a month trying to put as much of the business on autopilot as possible.

I added a tiny “Image via MugshotBot.com” cloud to the bottom right of all generated images. Only paid accounts could remove the image, and it was an optional checkbox.

Can I prove that this grew sales? No. But over the next six months MRR doubled and I didn’t put in more than an hour or two of work every month.

Baby Duke

In June my wife and I welcomed Duke into our family. He’s the most adorable, kind, interested, and surprising thing in the world. And it’s completely changed my perspective on life.

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Duke eyeing some sandwich falling out of my mouth

Duke eyeing some sandwich falling out of my mouth

My life goal quickly became: how can I spend as much time as possible with my family?

And the first step was cutting loose things I can no longer dedicate adequate time to. So I put Mugshot Bot up for sale.

Mugshot Bot goes up for sale

In November, after four months of parental leave, I officially posted Mugshot Bot for sale. I signed up for a free account on MicroAcquire, connected Stripe, and had interested buyers reaching out before the end of the day.

They released a tool a few days into me selling that really helped. I connected my Stripe account to MicroMRR and it spit out an automated evaluation based on my MRR, churn rate, customer count, and more. I used this number to set expectations for interested parties.

I also posted on Twitter, because why not? I had low expectations, but it only took a few minutes to take some MRR screenshots and draft a tweet.

In less than two weeks I was talking to 30+ interested buyers, most of them via DMs on Twitter. I was ecstatic! How could people be this interested in my little business?

Narrowing down the candidates

I ended up having video calls with five of the 30+ people that reached out. Four of them made an offer on the spot, all for 100% ownership in 1-2 cash transactions.

I took a week to compare offers and learn more about the buyers. Since they were all similar terms, I was free to pick the best fit to grow Mugshot Bot in the future. To me, that meant a buyer that was going to continue the brand, had growth ideas, and was committed for the long term.

Sold to Renuo!

On November 29 I signed paperwork that officially sold Mugshot Bot to the fine folks at Renuo. They are a Switzerland-based dev shop and run by some amazing people. My favorite thing about their company is that 10% of earnings goes back to their employees and another 10% goes to charities and open source.

It was a pleasure dealing with them and they made the sale very smooth. Most of our communication happened over two video calls and a living Google Doc. We made heavy use of assigning tasks to organize account transfers, credentials, and other action items.

A retrospective

Looking back, I’m grateful for how Mugshot Bot worked out. It ticked all the boxes that make me excited to work.

  1. I developed a product to scratch my own itch
  2. I grew it to profitability
  3. I put it on autopilot
  4. I sold before it started to become a burden
  5. I’m confident the new owners will grow the product

However, there were definitely some things I wished I did a little differently.

First, I spent a lot of time redesigning the landing page in the beginning of 2021. And I have no metrics to tell if this ever paid off. It would have been better to use that time marketing the product or finding another interested audience.

Second, I didn’t spend enough time initially designing the image templates. Looking back, I wish I had contracted a designer to help with the initial designs. The designs are good enough, but I think I could have done a much better job with some help.

Finally, I wish I experimented with more markets and use-cases outside of technical bloggers. I think there’s a huge opportunity for e-commerce with these image templates, but I never dedicated time to test that hypothesis. Same goes for other platforms outside of Twitter and Facebook.

What’s next?

I sold Mugshot Bot to have more time to spend with my family. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t cooking up new ideas and exciting things to work on outside of family time.

I’m really excited for 2022. I’ve established myself as one of the only Turbo Native developers available for contract, I have a ton of ideas to make Jumpstart Pro iOS better and easier to use, and I’m launching a new product.

What’s the new product you ask? It’s called railsdevs and it’s a reverse job board for freelance Ruby on Rails developers. If you’re looking for your next gig I recommend you check it out.

Maybe in 14 months I’ll be writing another version of this post!

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2 Comments

  1. Frankly, I always find these stories miraculous. Even though I'm a full-time web developer, I find it daunting merely to design a landing page with user sign-up, let alone a feature worth paying for and an account subscription flow. There's just so much to do. It seems like years of work.

    I know there's things like SaaS pegasus, but that forces Django. SaaS Pegasus and Bullet Train are also very expensive with no real options for trial. I wish tools like that – automating the basics of an ecommerce business – were more developed and available, preferably open source in the long run. I feel like it's the future we're slowly moving towards but we aren't there yet. We have widely-used open source frameworks for technical foundations – rails, django, etc – but no higher-abstraction equivalent that handles "features" like subscriptions and accounts.

    It is infinitely easier to build and deploy things in 2020 than it was in 2010, and I'm hoping the time between now and 2030 represents a similar jump.

    edit: found this list though https://github.com/smirnov-am/awesome-saas-boilerplates

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