Name: Adam Hempenstall
What is your SaaS called: Better Proposals
How many people are on the team right now? 4 full time, 8 more regularly working on the product and with us on a freelance basis.
Where are you based? Brighton, UK but our team is scattered all over the world.
Did you raise money? Nope and never will.
Can you tell us what Better Proposals is and how you make money?
Better Proposals is an online proposal writing system for people sick of spending hours in Word/InDesign and simply want to send a great looking proposal in minutes and to win the project. We make money in 3 ways, subscriptions to the software, selling credits to use the software (for low senders) and a transaction fee on payments.
How did you get this idea?
Like most, it was a “scratch your own itch” scenario. The early version of this software has been around since 2012. We were doing business automation consulting and software development at the time and would spend days on these proposals. You’d send it aaaaaaand nothing. Black hole of proposal death. I said to Sabrina, my co-founder, “Look just make something web based so I can see if these fuckers are just opening it and looking at the price and closing it down”. 2 weeks later, we had a half working version but it did what I wanted and immediately it helped.
How long did you work on it before you launched?
When did you see your first dollar? We didn’t have a big grand launch with champagne, strippers and party poppers, by this time, we’d productised our CRM company and had it built into that. Thing was, our CRM wasn’t very good but the fact that it was connected with this proposal system was the real selling point so we randomly threw up a landing page on betterproposals.io in January 2015 I think and got more leads in 24h than we had in the previous 12 months for the other business. I started some cold email in the February and someone called up over the phone and bought it the same day I emailed. They’re still with us today.
Number of total customers: 5,800 customers.
Who are your clients? What is your target market?
Mostly web/marketers/digital/freelancer types but we’re seeing other industries emerge as being really good for us which we’ll look to focus on in the future.
How did you get your first 100 customers?
Cold emailing, Facebook ads, Twitter marketing and hitting up influencers
What are the 2-3 main distribution channels that work best for you? What channel didn’t work out for you?
The best channel by miles was getting in a community. It’s not remotely scalable because the best communities are small tight-knit groups but if you can find just 2-3 that you can really go deep with then you’re onto a winner.
What didn’t work? Content marketing. It’s a complete waste of time unless you’re going to go all in on it.
Tell us 2-3 growth challenges you encountered recently, and if you have a strategy how to solve them.
One thing I’m realizing very quickly is what works today doesn’t work tomorrow. If you find a great combo with Facebook Ads, great, double-down on it but don’t think you’ve found some magic pill. Keep working and creating new shit because in about 3 weeks, it’ll diminish to nothing. Biggest lesson really though, once you’ve reached a certain point where you’ve got some money coming in, you’ve got activity, growth does somewhat take care of itself.
Some of the tasks are not worth to do in-house. What do you outsource?
SEO, certain development, video creation, template writing (in our case) – I think the problem with outsourcing is it’s actually really hard to find good marketing professionals because they’re all 21-year old “millionaire rockstars” who haven’t spent a penny on ads in their lives, yet want a 3k a month retainer from you. Then the people who genuinely can help, are so fucking expensive, it’s impossible to hire them without taking a serious risk. The way we’ve done it is keep all design /marketing/ brand/content /support internal and outsource other bits that we’re not amazing at. Chris Howard once said “Never outsource your core competency” which in our case is helping people send better proposals to their clients. To us that means any customer interaction and marketing is always done in house.
What are the 3 tools you and your team can’t live without?
Obviously certain things built into the product like Stripe, GoCardless, SendGrid etc but in terms of running the business itself, for us, Intercom and Basecamp are the two key ones.
The last would be our internal Dashboard which we’ve built to show us all stats and metrics about the business.
What was the #1 thing that helped you reduce churn?
I think we can do way better in this department and it’ll be a focus going forward but I think going after bigger accounts and less freelancers is the way to go here. Our pricing model is based on people sending a set number of proposals per month. If they don’t send any, it’s a waste of money for them so they churn. This will be a constant pain in the ass until this business no longer exists but it’ll be a case of mitigating it as much as possible.
Tell us the biggest mistake you had through building and promoting your SaaS and what you’ve learned from it.
We haven’t made any massive mistakes so there’s not really anything to report on that front. For me personally, not working hard enough at key moments maybe but it’s a small thing. If I had to pick something, I’d go with not giving SEO the attention it deserved early enough.
If you had to start Better Proposals today, what would you do differently?
Seriously – nothing. Everything we’ve done in the past has got us to this incredible point. Any other combination of things might not have. Even an obvious answer like “start sooner” – I wouldn’t even say that because everything we did from 2012 – 2015 when we launched taught us so much about the proposal process for 50/60k deals when for the prior 8 years of being in business, we’d only been doing 5k websites.
We also learned how to deal with client requests on a deeper level, their demands etc. It also gave us the funding to start Better Proposals. If we’d started 3 years earlier I suspect we would have fucked it up somehow. Timing is everything and I don’t truly think the world would have been ready for our product that early. I still think it’s too early for the proposal business. So many people still do things in Word/Email and we (our market) still has tens of millions of potential customers out there. That’s why I don’t really look at Bidsketch/Proposify/PandaDoc as competition. Of course, they are but I look at Microsoft Word more as our competition.
Lastly, I don’t think it really serves to look at what you could have done differently. I mean, what can I do about it now? Nothing. The best thing you can do is look at where you want to get to and take the steps to get there. That’s it. Don’t take sideways steps, just walk directly towards the thing you want.