The Bootstrapped Founder Newsletter Episode 42 – August 28th, 2020

Dear founder,

This week, I celebrate the two-month anniversary of the launch of my book, Zero to Sold. On June 29th this year, I uploaded the book to Amazon and Gumroad. Eight weeks later, I sold almost 2000 copies, and people started recommending the book to their peers. I could not be happier.

I’ve written an extensive recount of the story on my blog, from Zero to Published if you will. It contains many pictures, sketches, and explanations of the tools I used to write and publish the book, with all the thoughts that went into it (and those that didn’t).

It’s a twenty-minute read, and I felt that might be a bit much for a newsletter, so I will leave the link to the blog post here, for your perusal when you find half an hour.

I will share a few takeaways from the experience that didn’t make it into the blog post.

  1. Give, and You Shall Receive

I spent most of the last six months writing without asking for any compensation. Anything I had learned in a decade, I shared for free. My goal was always to give back to the community that had taught me so openly and freely when I was still employed as a software engineer. When I started writing for the blog and this very newsletter, I didn’t have a monetization scheme in mind. Of course, I had thought about it, and if you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll remember the sponsors that I had a few months ago. But it was never the purpose of my content to make me money.

And it still isn’t. I deliberately priced the book at a low price point, allowing it to be purchased by those struggling the most. This newsletter still is available for free because I want it to be read by people who are just starting and those who could afford a monthly fee as a business expense.

Honestly, I sold a company a year ago. I am not writing to make money — I’m writing to help others make money.

2. The Follower Reciprocation Effect

Then again, I don’t mind being compensated and rewarded for what I’ve been sharing for free. And that is precisely what happened here. Many of my followers were just waiting for a chance to give back. I remember many Tweets where people urged me to set up a Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee page, even just a page. It was clear that people felt the urge to reciprocate to support me in what I was doing.

Launching the book was a “release” in both senses of the word. The months leading up to launch day had created tension and anticipation, and the opportunity to finally purchase the book made hundreds of my followers jump at the chance to give back. It was like a release valve being opened, and goodwill spilled out of people.

I learned from this that the old approach of “Make the thing, sell then thing, grow the thing” isn’t the only viable option. Reversing the steps works just as well: first, you grow an eager audience, then you (pre-)sell them on a dream, a product, or service, and then you create exactly what they need. If you read Zero to Sold, you will find this approach outlined in the book as well:

  • Start with an audience you want to empower.
  • Listen to them to find their critical problems.
  • Find a solution that works for them.
  • Build a product within the medium they desire.

What my book launch has shown me is that this works for SaaS (like FeedbackPanda) just as well as it does for info products (like Zero to Sold.)

Audience first. Every time.

3. Hire The Experts

One of the best decisions I made with the book was to hire two professional editors to work through my first draft. In a way, it was three editors, if you count my copious use of the Grammarly tool while writing the initial articles and chapters. I’m even using it for this newsletter, to be entirely transparent. But for a book that is supposed to stand the test of time, expert insight is unavoidable.

This translates to your SaaS perfectly. It starts with creating a logo for your business, and it expands into every segment of your operations: no matter how good you are in a few fields, you will lack expertise and experience in others. I consider myself a good developer (I often call myself a 0.5x-5x dev, depending on my mood), but I never had any social media marketing experience. Instead of painstakingly failing at it and ruining a business’s chances, maybe you should swallow your pride and have a few calls with an expert in the field to see if your strategy is sound. We all need to learn this stuff as entrepreneurs, and we will learn mostly through seeing what DOESN’T work—but you can save yourself some pain by having at least some guidance.

This is incredibly hard because, as founders, we’re wired to think that we can handle anything with just enough time to work on it. I believe this is mostly true, but it also delusional and non-optimal. I write about my reluctance to hire during FeedbackPanda in the book, and I have been very vocal about the damage this has caused to my psyche and physical health. So when I had my first draft done, it was clear that, THIS TIME, I’d be working with professionals. And they delivered an amazing result. All the typos that were found in the book happened when I copied over the edited texts. So, these two editors checked 120,000 words and eliminated every single mistake. I could never have done that in the same amount of time. Never. So I hired the experts.

The result is an amazing book, and the reviews speak for themselves. I would love for you to check out the article I wrote on the journey or listen to the one-hour(!) podcast episode I recorded on the topic.

Links I Found Interesting

Preetam Nath shared an amazingly actionable article on making money building Shopify micro-SaaS apps. The article has it all from exploring the store to see what people have been building and selling successfully to actually building an app. I can only recommend looking into this opportunity if you’re a fan of eCommerce and want to enable vendors to sell even more.

Reid Hoffman talked about Myths About Failure this week. He goes into the details with the “jump off a cliff and assemble the plane on the way down” metaphor, where learning quickly and effectively is the most important thing. Check out the article that also comes in audio form.

And since we’re talking about failure: Failory released an article where they analyzed 80+ startups that failed and shared the First-Hand Lessons that the founders learned. It’s an extensive article with a lot of data. If you ever wondered what the biggest causes of failure you can expect to run into, read this article. Twice.

Bootstrapping Successes

Pete Codes from NOCSDegree wrote about Pieter Levels making $600k a year from his Indie Projects. It’s a great piece of indie hacker journalism by another prolific indie hacker. I love it. Thanks, Pete, and congratulations, Pieter!

Pierre de Wulf’s ScrapingBee has reached $100,000 ARR this week, just 14 months after launch. That’s a fantastic accomplishment, and it’s now halfway there: at $200k/year, the project would create as much value as the founders’ paid positions. I wish for Pierre and Kevin to reach this stage as soon as possible. It will change their lives.

Elad Shaham’s SyncThemCalendars now has 200 paying users, almost $1000 MRR, and $ 10,000 lifetime revenue. This is an exhilarating time in the life of a founder, and the fact that he doesn’t need paid traffic suggests heavily that this is just the beginning.

Thank you for reading this week’s edition of The Bootstrapped Founder. If you like what I wrote about, please forward the newsletter to anyone you think would enjoy it too.

You can find my book Zero to Sold at It is being sold on Amazon and Gumroad.

If you want to help me share my thoughts and ideas with the world, please share this episode of the newsletter on Twitter or wherever you like, or reach out on Twitter at @arvidkahl.

See you next week!

Warm Regards from Berlin,