Hi, Im Devan - bootstrapper of HR Partner

Hi all, my name is Devan, and I am a solo developer living in Australia. I have spent a good part of my life (~30 years) as an accounting & ERP software consultant, but lately have decided to go down the web apps route and create a few SaaS apps to generate some recurring income for my business so that I can wind down the consulting side of things.

The main app I have developed is called HR Partner, and it is actually a rewrite of a Windows based HR system that we wrote about 10 years ago which did quite well. I decided to rewrite it from the ground up to be purely web based, rather than Win32.

We had a long beta period earlier in the year, and currently have around 200 user on the system who have signed up to the free tier. So far no paid subscribers, but I am looking to really push the marketing hard in order to get some income kick started.

Which is one of the main reasons for me joining up on here. Would love to talk to other bootstrappers to see how they takled the B2B marketing angle for a SaaS app. I thought that the development would be the hardest part and that the marketing would be the easier part, but I am finding the reverse is true.

I wrote every single one of the 22,000 lines of Ruby code in the app, as well as doing all the back end database management for the 80 odd tables in MySQL, and managing the DevOps infrastructure on AWS, maintaining the blog & online documentation site, status site etc.

Doesn’t leave me much time for marketing, though I try and spend a lot of time on our Twitter and Facebook pages reposting interesting HR related articles that I come across.

Love to chat to some of you here and discuss tactics.

Devan (@dsabar)

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Could you not migrate the desktop people over? Seems to me like you’re losing a whole bunch of customers from the get go

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Great suggestion. That is on my plan of things to do. The thing that is holding me back is that the desktop version was written to tie into a specific Australian based windows payroll package. Unfortunately, that particular vendor is rapidly losing the technology war, and their codebase (a rotting 30+ year old bunch of C code) struggles to keep up with latest trends. I don’t know if they will be around for long.

I am going to have to write a data conduit running on the desktop and using ancient ODBC technology in order to do the integration part, and the technical obstacles have really held me off. It IS a valid marketing angle though, as I still have a bunch of sites still using the old desktop app, and they are not shy to spend money - I just have to resolve the technical issues and decide as to whether I want to wear all that debt and angst.

I have built in integration with more modern payroll systems, such as Xero, and I have a few more in the pipeline (Reckon, MYOB, Saasu etc.) which will hopefully open me up to other payroll systems that actually have a modern API and are easier to deal with… :slight_smile:


Have you considered approaching marketing in a more goal-oriented way?

I.e., you’d never develop a good program if you just went in an hour a day and poked around with no end goal/plan and just wrote whatever function you noticed that day.

So, you could break the “new customer acquisition” process into observable (measurable) steps and then start debugging the pieces. Then you could still spend that hour a day, but it would be ratcheting forward toward a goal rather than spinning your wheels, so to speak.

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Thanks Clay. This makes perfect sense. The “spinning wheels” analogy is extremely apt when it comes to how I feel at the moment.

The thing is, even breaking marketing down to smaller goals is hard for me to visualise. What is the smallest denominator I should be looking for? Should I work it on a ‘campaign’ basis?, i.e. run a Twitter ad campaign with a designated budget and set some outcomes in terms of new followers, site visits and sign ups? I am not sure what is a realistic set of numbers here, nor how to optimise the campaigns for best effect.

I am thinking I might have to engage a third party marketing firm at some stage, just to have someone who can work on the marketing angle semi full time while I concentrate on code.

I think you should make sure you are clear on how a sale happens: the steps that will normally happen:

1… They come to your site.
2. They click the download link
3. They install
4. They run it the first time
5. They have some success with it.
6. They use it again.
7. They get enough benefit that they decide to buy.

Now you have a “function” that you can test and optimize.
I would test all of these on a small scale before you spend much on advertising. If you have a .1% conversion from “visits site” to “Purchases” and your visitors cost you just $1 each (cheap for Adwords) that’s a cost of $1,000 per paying customer.

I like to look at the above in the way that you would Usability. If it solves a pain for them and they are able to use it they should progress through the Funnel above to the puchase point. If they drop off somewhere they you have to Debug it and figure out what the problem is.