I'm Scared

Hi There, I’m Matt, BugMuncher’s Founder and only employee, and I’m scared:

I’m scared of writing this series of blog posts, what if a potential customer sees I’m just a small, one-man band and it puts them off?

I’m scared of giving up my lucrative freelance career, what if I fail? I don’t want to go crawling back to my former freelance clients, even though I know most would be only too happy to work with me again.

And I’m that scared that posting this big picture of my face will seem unprofessional and narcissistic.

This is me, at least, a less scared version of me, visiting Amsterdam in 2014

And yet I’m doing all three of those things. Fear is good, if I never did anything that scared me, life would be very boring indeed.

I’ve already given up freelancing, because I know I’ll regret never trying more than I could ever regret failing. Worst case scenario: It all goes to shit and I have a cool story to tell.

I’ve just posted a big picture of my face because, well, BugMuncher is different - I’m not a team, when you deal with BugMuncher, you only ever deal with me. You get the kind of personal service that bigger companies can’t offer (ever tried talking to a person at Google?) and it’s always nice to be able to put a face to a name.

And I am going to post this series of blog posts because:

  • It will help me deal with the fear
  • It may also help other bootstrappers and solo founders
  • If potential customers are put off by my one-man status, they weren’t the right customers for BugMuncher anyway.

I know transparency blogs are pretty fashionable at the moment, two of my favourite start up blogs, Groove and Buffer, offer complete transparency, and bring a lot of new visitors to their websites. I’d like to think I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon though, as BugMuncher has a different story to tell. Every other transparency blog I’ve read usually involves companies with teams of more than one person, and revenue numbers that I can only dream of. Where as I’m writing about one man’s journey from zero to (hopefully) sustainability. Fail or fly, I’m going to be documenting it all with complete transparency, right down to how much money I have left in the bank.

The Beginning

So how the hell did I find myself here - trying to earn a living from BugMuncher? It all started back in 2011, I was a freelance website developer, and doing pretty well for myself. Google had just launched Plus, their ill-fated attempt to de-throne Facebook, and I noticed in discussions on Hacker News that people were more fascinated by the Google Plus feedback button, than Google Plus itself. The feedback button in question allowed users to highlight areas of the page, and send a screenshot along with the feedback. Quite a few people were saying how much they wanted that functionality for their own website, so I set out to build such a service. How hard could it be?

It took me about a week, but I hacked together a really basic version of Google’s feedback tool, gave it a silly name, and attached a $10 / month PayPal subscription. Here’s the original intro video from that launch, which also shows the original landing page - We’ve come a long way, baby.

My launch plan was, well, non-existent. All I did was submit to Hacker News (Show HN: BugMuncher - Google+ style feedback for your site - 17 July 2011). Luckily for me, there was still a wave of interest around Google Plus and its feedback button, a wave I managed to ride all the way to an article in The Next Web.

This article was enough to get me my first few paying customers, and now I knew I had an idea worth pursuing. I still remember the excitement of my first $10, and it’s an excitement I still feel every time BugMuncher gets a new paying customer. With hindsight, I probably should have given up freelancing then to focus on BugMuncher full time, maybe I could have reached profitability quickly had I capitalized on the momentum. Alas I chose to play it safe, and carried on freelancing. Over the next few years I would occasionally put time into BugMuncher, relegating it firmly into the ‘Side Project Zone’.

Being in the ‘Side Project Zone’ is a lot like being the dreaded ‘Friend Zone’ - I wanted more, I had dreams of taking it further, of turning it into a real ‘thing’. But sadly, whilst I had the dreams, I did not have the balls.

Four years, four fucking years, that’s how long it took me to summon the cajones to actually make BugMuncher my full time gig. It wasn’t until 2015 that I finally decided to go for it - I was going to fire my freelance clients and devote all my time to BugMuncher.

The decision was made, and so, I carried on freelancing. I freelanced harder than I’d ever freelanced before. This may seem like an odd move, all things considered, but I didn’t want to try to find investment, and I really didn’t want to borrow money. If I was going to do this, I’d need some capital. I already had a bit saved up, but I didn’t think it would be enough, so I worked hard and lived frugally for the first half of 2015.

By the end of August I had £20,000 saved in my business account - surely that would be enough. At this point BugMuncher was bringing in about £300 / month after Fastspring’s fees. In order to stretch that £20k as far as possible I decided to cut my salary by over a third, and cancelled any subscriptions I didn’t need (goodbye FreshBooks and NowTV). I was able to bring my monthly business outgoings down to £1,800. That meant if my income from BugMuncher didn’t grow at all, I’d have enough money to survive for a year.

Of course, that isn’t my goal, my goal is profitability. I need $3,000 Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) to be profitable. That would be enough to cover costs, my salary, and Fastspring’s fees, with a little extra left over.

At this point I should apologise for the potentially confusing mix of currencies that will occur throughout this series - I’m a limey, tea-drinking, English man from England, so all the money my end has to have The Queen’s face on it. However, most of BugMuncher’s customers are American, so I chose to price it in dollars. Generally I’ll be talking dollars for gross revenue and pounds sterling for everything else.

I worked out I’d need to grow at 10% month on month to hit profitability before the money ran out, which was just another in a long list of things to be scared of. In the last four years BugMuncher had grown from about £25 / month to £300 / month, roughly 5.3% month on month, I’d need to double that. With 10% month on month growth, I’d reach profitability in 18 months, so I decided to give myself just 9 months. Mostly because I think putting a more urgent deadline on it will give me some extra motivation, and also it sounds better in the blog title.

I knew one thing for sure, I needed to learn marketing. That was always going to be the biggest challenge for me - resisting the urge to see everything as having a solution in code. BugMuncher worked, of course there were some new features in the pipeline, but the majority of my time needed to spent marketing, not programming.

In August I told my freelance clients the deal, explaining that I was going to be focussing all my efforts on BugMuncher, and offered to help them transition to a new developer. Through September I would be working one day a week for one of my clients, and then from October onwards it would be all BugMuncher, all the time. It was an exhilarating, terrifying, exciting, stressful feeling. I don’t think that emotion has a name in the English language, so I’m going to call it ‘terressarating’. I was definitely feeling terressarated.

The Figures

Each post in this series will cover one month, I know I’m a bit behind, and I’ll be posting September’s very soon. In each post I’ll evaluate the month in terms of figures.

At the end of August, before I started working full time on BugMuncher, this is how it looked:

  This Month (Aug 2015) Last Month Change
Monthly Recurring Revenue $620 $669 7.3%
Paying customers 17 18 5.6%
- Personal Plan 9 9 -
- Start Up Plan 5 6 16.7%
- Corporate Plan 3 3 -
Unique users on landing page 824 795 3.6%
New Free Trial sign ups 18 21 14.3%
Free Trial sign up rate 2.18% 2.64% 17%
New Paying customers 0 0 -
Lost Paying Customers 1 0 ∞%
Free Trial to Paying conversion 5.55% 0% ∞%

Update: When writing Part 2 of this blog series, I realised some of the data here was wrong. Free trial sign ups was 18, not 17. I got 17 from Google Analytics goal tracking, but by checking the data in BugMuncher itself, it was actually 18. I’m guessing the analytics event didn’t fire for one sign up. Also, Google Analytics was calculating the goal conversion rate as goal completions / sessions, but I feel like goal completions / unique users is a better way of measuring it, so that’s what I’m using now.

When I looked at these numbers two things jumped out at me - I need more people hitting the landing page, an average of 27 / day is barely a rounding error, and I needed a landing page that converted more than 2.18% of visitors.

I wasn’t too worried about the 0 new paying customers, I’d previously measured my total average trial to paying conversion rate for 2015 as 5%. So with only 18 free trail sign ups, none of them converting to paying was par for the course. However improving on that 5% trial to paying was definitely a high priority task.

And finally - thank you

If you’ve read this far, I really want to thank you. It turns out just writing this has been really therapeutic for me. This week has been scarier than most, as for the last 2.5 days (Thursday isn’t over yet), I’ve not had a single new free trial sign up. To give that some context, in the six weeks since going full time on BugMuncher, this is the first time I’ve had two weekdays in a row without a single new sign-up. And like everything else I’ve talked about in this post, that scares me.

Update: While I was proofreading this post, BugMuncher finally got a new Free Trial sign up, breaking the 95 hour dry-streak, huzzah!

Going over the numbers has actually been quite reassuring, until today I hadn’t worked out my MoM growth for the last four years, and finding out it had averaged at 5.3% has made my target of 10% seem much more achievable.

Please leave a comment if this post has been in any way interesting or helpful, or if I’ve made some rookie error in any of my maths. I’ll be posting the next in this series very soon, and then at the end of each month, as well as weekly posts with subjects ranging from fairly esoteric programming topics to kittens. Join the mailing list by filling in your email address above to be notified when I publish new posts. You’ll receive about one email a week, and no spam.

Until next time, stay scared.

- Matt Bearman