About 8 years ago this month I quit too early.
If I had stayed with the business and rode through the storm, I’d be very well off right now. I wouldn’t be writing this newsletter to you about this story.
I can’t say that I regret giving in at the time, but as always … hindsight is 20/20.
So, what happened?
I had written a software as a service (SaaS) web application to manage members of small boutique gyms. Targeted to CrossFit gyms and functional fitness gyms.
The software had the tagline of:
The fastest way to accept payments and memberships for your CrossFit or boutique gym.
It worked, and it worked well.
The problem was that all the solutions out there were complicated, charged setup fees, and were honestly just a pain to use. I knew I could fix that problem, and I did.
Within 5 minutes, a gym owner could sign up and set up their gym on the platform. They could easily add a new member in their system with credit card payments and everything. They could perform “one-off” charges as well. One-off charges were manually entered transactions for items that gyms sell (such as shirts, etc).
The software was simple and purposely lacked high-end features.
In fact, that was its key feature – its simplicity.
Our competitors were overly complicated, required tons of setup/etc.
My solution was simple and it worked.
When I first build the software I wasn’t sure if people would want it or not. It seemed almost “too simple” for someone to want.
I was wrong.
In fact, people loved that it only did a few things and that’s all it did.
I soon went out and sold it in-person to a few gyms in the Phoenix metro area. They were my first few customers. Shortly thereafter my software started to get some organic SEO traffic from some content marketing I had done (blog posts), posting online, being helpful, etc.
I started picking up some free trials, some converted, some did not. Yet, I was not trying “that hard” at this point, it was slowly building momentum. However, it was HAPPENING. I had built a SaaS that had monthly recurring revenue.
The holy grail was in my hands.
“FINALLY”, I thought … I finally had a SaaS that was working. It was in an industry that I enjoyed and I was enjoying everything about it (other than the stress of being a solo founder – though I did have some contractors helping).
That is …
Until two new competitors showed up out of the blue.
They came in strong and I didn’t know about them until a few customers asked if I’d be matching their feature set. I did not plan to, but these questions alone stressed me out.
I started researching … more stress.
I started feeling inadequate … more stress.
I started second-guessing myself … more stress.
Some of the features my competitors had were game-changing for the industry.
Both new competitors had amazing designs and full teams of engineers supporting them. One was well funded and the other had a full consulting shop backing them up.
I was a solo founder with a couple of contractors.
The weight of the competition was quite unbearable and I lost many nights’ sleep.
It only got worse though.
One competitor had the CrossFit games champion as their spokesperson.
I thought to myself…
“Well crap, how am I supposed to compete with them if Rich Froning is their spokesperson?”
My customers started reaching out to me asking if I would be matching the features that they saw in this new software.
I said that for some of them, yes, but I did not plan to match all features the competitors had.
I lost about 30% of my customers quick. Then 40%, then 50%.
It happened fast.
When you get to this point in a business, you question everything you’re doing. I definitely did that.
I reached out to a few mentors in the SaaS space and told them what was going on. They advised that this will happen in a hot market. I could weather the storm and possibly make out very well ( as the market is growing), or decide it’s not a battle I want to get into.
Unfortunately, I chose the latter.
I didn’t think it was a battle I could handle at that time in my life.
I told my renaming customers I would be closing down in 90 days.
To my surprise, they were very upset. This I foolishly ignored.
These were my true loyal customers. They LOVED the platform for what it did for them. It made their life easier. They didn’t want the extra features, they just wanted the simple billing and payment integrations I had built. They didn’t care nor want the other stuff.
At the time, I figured they were unicorns, and that not many others were like them, so I dismissed their claims, told them sorry, and helped them migrate to one of these new competitors.
That took the steam out of my sails for a couple of years. I didn’t do much but consulting at that time.
I still watched the fitness billing and membership business from the sidelines during this time …
At around 2-3 years after I closed down my SaaS something interesting started happening.
Gyms started leaving these two new competitors. They migrated to simpler solutions – solutions that were still more complicated than my original SaaS. My old customers even abandoned the new competitor’s software and went to who I was originally competing against, the original incumbents.
That’s when it hit me …
I did build the right thing.
I had the right product.
The customers were caught up in the hype, but the 50% that were left were the ones that actually saw my product for what it was – a super valuable tool that they used to run their business.
Had I not shut down that SaaS and had I weathered the storm that new competition brought I would be among the top-grossing SaaS software companies serving CrossFit and boutique gyms around (in my opinion).
Hindsight is 20/20. While in the middle of this all, I couldn’t see it, I saw what I wanted to see. I thought I was not good enough, thought my product was not positioned well enough, and though I had failed.
I was succeeding through simplicity. I just didn’t see it. So I shut everything down.
Why am I telling you this?
I’m telling you this because you likely have a project you’re working on or even a product you’ve built. I’m hoping that you give your product ample time to take off. It won’t be a rocket ship, it rarely is.
The growth curves of self-funded companies don’t look like that of venture capital investment companies. If you have an app, mobile or web or whatever, give it a chance. You might feel like you’re failing at it, but try taking an outside objective view of your product and how it compares and why it’s valuable.
There’s a saying in the self-funded/bootstrapped world that goes like this …
Building a software product is only 30% of the problem. The other 70% of the problem is sales and marketing.
In other words, just because you built it doesn’t mean they’ll come for it. You have to learn how to do sales and marketing for your product.
Is it SEO?
Is it long-tail SEO?
Is it PPC?
Is it podcasts and videos?
Is it something else?
The thing is, I got caught up in this. I had built the product. I had marketed it a bit, but I had only put in 5-10% of the marketing effort I could have or should have.
If I would have weathered the storm and not quit I have a feeling things would be different.
So, take that as a lesson.
Whatever you’re working on, don’t quit.
You haven’t let it come to fruition yet. Regardless if it’s a mobile app, a web app, or even trying to finish a degree and see “what’s next” for you.
Don’t quit. Keep going.
Thanks for reading.
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