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Bootstrapping and income stability (our revenue curve)


#1

For those of you just starting out, I realize that after reading various success stories online, you may be under the impression that as long as you tough it out in the first few months, bootstrapping eventually becomes a slow but steady uphill climb. This is not always the case.

Here’s what our revenue curve looks like.

I’m not specifying the resolution of time in this graph — but it’s significant enough to show that you can be “successful” (I’ve been running Antair full-time, for nearly a decade), and yet still have a bumpy ride all the way through. For those unfamiliar with Antair, this is for multiple products, mobile, desktop, and SaaS, both B2C and B2B, with bits of consulting client work thrown in.


#2

Hi Andrey,

thanks so much for sharing this. It’s a bit fuzzy without numbers, but nevertheless it drives the point home. This is good to know for those of us just starting out!

I very much appreciate it.
Cheers,
Christoph


#3

Ditto for me. I feel like the business is successful, but sales are up and down, partly due to seasonal variation, and partly due to external shocks.

The chart shows 6 years of revenue (but I’m not showing profit), note that the y-axis doesn’t start at 0, and some sales coming through other channels are absent, so this chart is not too accurate. But it gives you an idea…


#4

This is not true! My revenue graph is perfectly stable!

P.S. $0 for the last 8 months :slight_smile:


#5

I’m curious about the graph. Are all the income streams about equally variant or are some more predictable than others. I would think something subscription based would be less cyclical while something like consulting would have greater fluctuations.


#6

@andrey I think people who are starting saas products expect a slow and steady climb. That’s why we are doing them…

If I remember right from the podcast uberdeck is your only saas product so the graph isn’t really reflective of what bootstrapping your own saas looks like? :wink:


#7

Uberdeck isn’t our first SaaS. We have another SaaS, which isn’t web-based. The graph reflects both of those sources of revenue, among many others.


#8

I wasn’t doing Saas, but was bootstrapping an Android app. And yes I was hoping to slowly grow revenues. For a couple of years, the app was ranked #1 for the keyword “wine”. Downloads grew up to about 5000/week, and profit reached $1000/month. Eventually a competitor with $15M in funding took over the #1 spot.

The result was downloads divided by 3, and profits divided by 3!

I’m not actively working on that project anymore, and I’m considering trying to get funding for my current project.


#9

Thanks for sharing this with us - I knew I wasn’t alone with this, but until someone else voices it, it does nag at you.

The variable income is easily the bit that I find most stressful about Bootstrapping. All great one week, terrible the next, then a mediocre week until 5pm on Friday when a nice big order comes through and pushes the month over the goal a week in advance. It makes my head spin.

I’m learning to sit back a bit and look at longer term trends - short term at the turnover I operate with (and I suspect many other Bootstrapers as well) don’t really lend themselves to short term scrutiny.


#10

Uncertain revenues are definitely something you have to learn to get used to. I now make a big effort to only look at revenues once per month after the month is over. It takes a lot of personal will-power, but it’s better than the alternative: obsessing over numbers that can flip in an instant.

I find that if there is anything you could be doing to make those numbers better (following up, yada yada…) you should do it regardless of what the numbers are. And looking at the numbers is a rather poor way to spend your time. If ever there is something that is not going to change the numbers, it’s looking at them.


#11

Yeah, revenue can drive you nuts. October could be my best month ever in 2 years (just SaaS-sales) and has matched my second best month in the first 2 weeks (both about 2.000 US$). But then a whole week of practically nothing and then you think again: “Crap, what did I do wrong? Is it because of autumn vacation? Is the website slow? Did I inadvertently insult people in my last newsletter?”

And then 3 orders come in one day and you’re like “Hah!! Told you everything was fine!!”

In order to analyze better, I’m currently developing a “revenue insights” module for my website. It will then automatically calculate revenues and revenue trends. Then I can have a good overview and really say “Ok, NOW I can panic” instead of panicking over 2-days-with-no-sales.


#12

Ya his revenue sources are primarily not saas, at least from what I gather from the podcast.

So it might be a little misleading in that sense.

Then again if saas churn is high, the revenue graph might resemble a non-saas pretty closely.

I think that if we look at graphs of successful or semi-successful saas apps they’ll be a lot more encouraging than this. :smile:


#13

Before you panic about a drop in sales you might want to read this:


#14

I have also suffered some wild cash-flow swings over the years. My business has been profitable since 2 weeks after inception, but a combination of factors caused me to run up about $80k on the CCs at one point last year. That was very stressful and was one of the factors which kicked off a two-month long depressive episode. Strongly suggest planning for lean times.

I also strongly suggest, should your accountant tell you “That thing you just told me you planned to do? That will cause you a cash flow crunch 3 months from now.”, listen to his advice. (You want to have an accountant, by the way. Most people use them primarily for tax compliance but the single best reason is a financial professional who provides an external sanity check every month or quarter.)


#15

Would be interesting to see your revenue graphs (@patio11 and @andy) maybe with time and $ removed but just to show the contours of it like Andrey did.


#16

Here is the gross monthly revenue graph for DNSimple since January 2011 (we launched in July 2010):

What I’m not showing you is that we’ve had little to no profit since the beginning, partially by choice and partially by the fact that domain sales are low margin and we’ve had to work hard to convince people that paying for DNS is a reasonable thing to do.


#17

Ok, here is PerfectTablePlan monthly sales revenue for the first 5 years. As you can see, it is quite seasonal (the dips are Decembers), but also not too volatile.


#18

UserScape sales. Some seasonality in early summer. Fairly consistent overall. A good chunk is recurring revenue from support contracts.


#19

You guys rock! This is awesome and inspiring!


#20

Publish a real sales graph!? Whomever would do such a thing!

Oh wait, I would.

The above, for Bingo Card Creator, is 100% real numbers. Here’s some “fake but accurate” numbers for Appointment Reminder – I once gave out real numbers without labeling the axis and someone very cutely reverse engineered to my actual numbers by counting pixels, so this randomly perturbs each data point by enough to make that impossible but not enough to throw off the curve too much. Note only includes CC billing not enterprise sales because those are potentially sensitive.

I could construct a graph for all of my revenue/expenses/profits etc per month, but that would take me actual work. Can I just make this observation? Despite having a profitable business since inception in 2006 (full-time since 2010), I at one point managed to rack up almost $100k of credit card debt because of the combination of changes in personal life (see: wedding), a poorly timed transition in the business (quitting consulting), and the usual ebbs and flows in business life. That was quite stressful.