Author: Neeraj Joshi
Whenever we talk about a million dollar tech startup, the first question that comes to our mind is: How much money it has raised till now?
So is it even possible to build a million dollar tech startup staying bootstrapped?
History says, Yes of course!
SurveyMonkey raised 11 years after getting started, Shopify after 6 years, lynda.com ran bootstrapped for 17 years, and MailChimp hasn’t raised a single dime till now.
But how did they make it through? Read through this interview to know:
“How a Solo, Non-Technical Founder, Ravi, built a Million Dollar Tech Startup staying bootstrapped”
?Who are you?
I dropped out of college at the age of 16 and managed my family business for 7 years before building QuackQuack, one of India’s leading online dating startups, in the year 2010.
Apart from QuackQuack, I also help budding startups in B2C space with growth hacking. It’s my way of giving back to the community.
? Whats the deal with QuackQuack?
QuackQuack is an online dating platform, designed specifically for Indian users.
You can signup, browse through profiles, and express interest for free. You require a premium account to communicate, though.
What’s unique about QuackQuack is its backend screening process for photos and content, abuse/spam detection and India specific features.
The name QuackQuack sounds quirky and it has somehow worked for us. Youth find the name amusing which makes them remember and talk about it. QuackQuack is currently among the fastest growing and top grossing online dating startups from India. It is currently bootstrapped with a user-base of 3.10 Million growing at 100k new users per month.
? What motivated you to start QuackQuack?
As I started working at the age of 16, I had a small friend circle. In 2010, when I was 23, I started to venture online to find new friends/dates.
However at that time, there were no dedicated dating platform designed specifically for Indian users. Even Tinder wasn’t there (Tinder was launched in the year 2012 in the USA).
And having worked in my family business(B2B) for almost 7 years, I always had this craving to build something in the B2C internet space.
Hence, this led to the thought behind building QuackQuack, a dedicated online dating startup for Indian users.
After a few months of contemplation, I rented a small 2BHK flat, hired a 2 member in-house Technical Team and started my journey of buildingQuackQuack.
? What all went into building the initial product?
For the starters, I put my own money to build the initial product.
Being from a Non-Technical background, I had zero technical knowledge when I started out. So, I observed websites like Facebook and Shaadi.com to get a better understanding of the product and tech stack.
I also read a lot of material online to learn about hosting and stack. After acquiring a basic level of technical understanding, I hired a 2 member technical team by placing classified ads on Naukri.com.
Our first product was a website (desktop) as mobile apps were non-existent in the year 2010.
LAMP became our go-to stack for the initial product. However, now we use a lot of other stuff like Nginx, MQTT, MongoDB, and Memcached.
UI/UX was very important for me as I believed that a consumer-facing product should not only function well but also look slick and simple.
As a result of which, I hired the services of a dedicated design firm (a local design firm from Hyderabad) to help us build the initial product.
It took us more than 10 months to build a Go-to-Market product and I spent around INR 10–15 lakhs from my pocket on it.
Within 3 months of launch, we got our first paying customer. And then, there was no looking back.
? How did you get your initial users?
From Zero to 1k users:
We had some free credits from Adwords and thought of using them to get those initial set of users.
And It worked! People started signing up and getting engaged. But the acquisition costs were high.
One fine day, I was searching stuff online on “How to reduce the acquisition cost?” and found this article on “How Amazon increased its sale by millions just by changing the colour of their buy button?”. It instantly got me hooked and gave me a clear direction to proceed in.
We started to iterate our landing page designs and A/B test everything right from the colour of submit button to the tagline.
Some results of our A/B tests:
We played around with colours of landing page buttons and figured that given a choice between blue and orange, orange gave us better conversion rates.
By just changing the tagline, our conversion rates further improved.
Did you know that if you place a model on your landing page, chances of conversion is better if the model is facing the audience?
These landing page studies helped us bring down our CPA by almost 50%: So if earlier 100 people clicked on our ads and 15 people signed up, after the A/B tests, we were signing up 30!
From 1k to 100k users:
We repeated the above exercise and kept optimising our landing pages so that we can squeeze in more improvement to our acquisition costs.
At this point we scrutinised our campaigns to optimise for ROI. If the campaign worked, we would scale it. If not, we’d put a brake on it.
During this process, we figured out that the campaigns targeting our competitors/other online dating startup websites worked really well!
As the audience had already adopted the product, it was relatively easy to convert them to signups and then to paying customers. So we left no stone unturned to target users using these sites via our ads (Adsense FTW).
We used to target our ads cleverly so that we can run them on our competitor’s websites without getting detected.
We knew that fropper.com office was in Mumbai, so we excluded Maharashtra and targeted the rest of India on their website. This way our ads remained hidden from their employees.
Working with Ad Networks like vCommission and PayOOM also helped a lot in sending focussed audience to QuackQuack.
From 100k to 1M users:
Now was the time for some real growth, growing from 100k to 1M users. Quite challenging when you are bootstrapped.
To tackle this, we experimented with our pricing to boost our revenues so that we can re-invest the surplus money in acquiring more users.
We A/B/C tested pricing variations to find the right pricing fit and successfully changed our base price from INR 390 to INR 980.
We invested the surplus money on growth hacking and Digital Marketing. A deadly combination to propel growth.
We also invested in SEO but failed miserably as our team was not up to the mark.
From 1M to 3M users:
We had exhausted all our online channels to drive traffic to QuackQuack.
That is when we looked to drive traffic from our Android and iOS apps through ASO. Our efforts paid off and we went from 800 to 1500 signups per day.
We also did some social media campaigns to drive viral traffic. It did work to an extent. Check out these — Be like Bill and #HappilySingle. The latter got us coverage from ScoopWhoop, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, BollywoodShaadis.com, Indiatimes and many more!
It was this moment that we decided to give SEO another shot by overhauling our entire team. It took more than a year but the efforts paid off.
Now, armed with the tricks of the trade, we have been rinsing and repeating our growth hacking model. Combined with digital marketing and success in SEO, we’re now drawing close to 100k new users every month and growing!
Our growth in the last 7 years:
To add a few more pointers:
- We don’t bombard our users with emails and push notifications hence reducing the friction they may have with excessive spamming.
- Our Android app is under 10 MB in size, lightweight and does not consume much battery.
- To sum it up, by doing tons of A/B tests and iterations, we were able to bring down our acquisition costs without spending extra on marketing.
- We sometimes release a new feature only to a small set of audience to judge their engagement levels. If we get satisfactory results, we launch it all across our user base.
? What is your business model?
We’ve had a freemium model from Day One. But why freemium?
Because charging customers upfront is difficult and ad-only revenue doesn’t suffice.
Our premium subscription offers a true value addition which is what people look for. Some of our premium features are unique to us like:
- You can directly start a chat with any user.
- An Interest Booster can help you save time and send interests on your behalf without you having to log in.
- Check out your profile visitors and likes.
In the early days, we also toyed with the idea of ads + subscription as a revenue model.
But ad revenue in India is pretty low and we figured out that users eventually drop off if they click on ads. Hence, we decided to keep QuackQuack completely ad-free.
We have different subscription plans (1, 3, 6 and 12 months) for users of different age groups. Especially with the younger audience, we have kept the pricing low so that they can afford it.
Our revenue for FY 2017–18:
INR 3 Crore
? Being a Solo Founder, how do you keep yourself motivated?
Indeed it is difficult to stay motivated when you’re a solo founder. You’re always looking for validation and motivation when a new idea pops-up.
However, the will to take your product/business to the next level is what keeps me going.
? What are your future goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
Our future plan is to grow our user base in India and remain in the top 3 online dating startups with a core focus on monetisation.
We are also working on doing a soft launch in US, UK, and Canada. It’s too early right now, but we’re running advertising pilots in these countries and if we feel the engagement metrics are satisfactory, we’ll be scaling up our marketing activities to venture outside India very soon.
? The biggest challenges you have faced till now?
We have faced many challenges in the past and continue to face new ones every day. Few of the core challenges were:
- Capturing early users was a challenge. However, we managed to grow with a lean budget through growth hacking.
- We were rejected multiple times by payment gateways when we started off. For banks, dating was a risky business. However, we remained adamant and got through.
- We have survived competition from many funded start-ups as we are completely bootstrapped. They came, spent a huge amount on branding/user acquisition and gave us a nightmare. However, we have stayed focused on making our platform better each passing day.
? What is your advice to Pushstarters starting out?
- Starting up looks glamorous and cool. But the journey can be stressful and lonely. Be prepared for this.
- If you’re passionate, give your idea a try. But be realistic about the market.
- Be prepared to fail and take it in the right stride.