Quitting My Full Time Agency Job To Build My Own Software Product

$15,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
product
OneSEO
from Miami
started May 2018
$15,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
773K
alexa rank
202
followers
customer service
productivity
payments
analytics
design
other

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Samer Awada. I started OneSEO.io, an SEO marketing business, around May of 2018. Our best selling products are our blogger outreach and link building foundation services.

In short, we help digital agencies and business owners get mentions in other publications in order to increase their website’s relevancy and in turn their organic search rankings. We have two types of customers that benefit from our products:

  1. Digital agencies or marketing consultants that offer SEO to their clients.
  2. Business owners that want to increase sales or leads to their website

Why agencies and marketing consultants? After working in and running a digital agency myself, we knew that our main business was not to spend countless hours reaching out to niche bloggers in order to secure anchor link mentions for our clients. As an agency, it is much more efficient to outsource all link acquisition & blogger outreach efforts to a trusted partner that can deliver quality work on time.

Over time, we accumulated hundreds of relationships with bloggers in a wide array of niche online markets, then organized them into an internal database in order to quickly reach out to them and fulfill our client’s orders. This, of course, is one of the main business assets we have at the moment.

As for business owners, even though they might not have a full understanding of how search engine optimization works, we believe providing them with a little bit of guidance will generally help them understand the main key points, leading them to eventually become our clients.

In the beginning we did not expect to make any sales; this was only my side project in order to strengthen my knowledge of the Ruby on Rails framework. I can go into more detail about this later.

We expected our first order to come in at least 6 months down the line after our first launch. However, in the first month, the business generated a little over $1,000 from a 500 person pre-launch email list we had built two months prior using Facebook. We simply drove traffic to a landing page and offered a guide in PDF form in exchange for their email address.

Fast forward one year later and with just a little bit of marketing, the company generated a little over $50,000 with an average MRR now of $15,000.

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

April 1, 2018 - May 31 2019.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I attended the University of Central Florida where I majored in computer science. This helped me understand the fundamental concepts of computer programming and software development. The main language used at the university was C. Though it could be fun for some to program in the C programming language, it would simply take too long to get any working software prototype done using it.

For anyone that has an idea and wants to get started, my advice is to simply not get desperate. It takes patience for everything to start falling into place.

I wanted to pick up a programming language built around a framework that could quickly bootstrap applications and get them to market. After doing some digging online, I came across Ruby on Rails. As a software developer who wanted to create web applications fast, this was heaven. The ruby framework is designed to handle all the basic boilerplate logic and common features of an application. It allowed me to work on the actual product idea rather than spending countless hours programming features that have already been programmed before.

However, using a programming framework built in a language that you have never used before could be time-consuming to learn and that was okay with me. I was in no rush. Learning was my main objective at that stage.

While all this learning was happening, I was working full time at an agency in Miami, Florida where I still reside. Being an entrepreneur at heart, I began to reach out to small businesses in the area and offer them a website redevelopment. It was surprisingly easy to close clients for simple website development work. Realizing I could do the work I was already doing for my employer for myself, I stepped away from the agency where I was working and incorporated my own company with a business partner. We called it “Digital Valley” and began to onboard programming and digital marketing clients.

We got the opportunity to work with many clients and build plenty of connections. This was great and we loved what we did, but I quickly realized that the agency model was not for me. Working long hours, scheduling meetings, writing up proposals and having multiple deadlines at a time was very stressful. I had to find a way to pivot into something more scalable.

At times, it didn’t seem like we were working for ourselves, but rather for multiple clients at a time which felt like we had multiple jobs and bosses, completely defeating the purpose of being an entrepreneur. Forty hours in a week was just not enough; I carried a lot of stress and did not want to go down the route of hiring and expanding the agency. It just wasn’t for us.

I wanted to fully step away from this and started to learn about the software as a service (SASS) business model. I didn’t have any product to offer just yet but a quick look at the high demand for SEO from new leads and our existing clients, I figured that if I could package our current SEO services, and offer it directly on our website I could potentially be onto something more scalable.

Me and my business partner at the time decided to dissolve the company and go our separate ways. He accepted an offer from Facebook and I started to work on my startup OneSEO.io.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

My time running the agency was when I truly started to dive into search engine optimization after an increased demand from my existing clients and new leads being generated from our website.

Being someone who learns by doing, I began writing small web applications in Ruby on Rails and built a beta app where I consolidated our main SEO products and offered it as an easy add-to-cart option. I called it OneSEO.

Validate your idea as fast as possible by getting a beta version of it pushed out. It doesn’t have to be pretty; it just needs to be validated so you can build confidence, which will help you push through when the hard times come.

SEO has to be done every month. Our most popular monthly service was the blogger outreach and our link building foundation. These are the first products we put together and offered it on the site.

The goal from the beginning was to have an all in one SEO tool software that included hands-free blogger outreach subscriptions, campaign rank tracking and automatic improvements & recommendations.

I initially created some mockups as guidance, but I had to put them off for phase 2 due to the amount of time it would take me to put together a workable and fully tested prototype, this is being developed right now and is scheduled to be released later this year. Here are some of our early stage mockups:

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

Describe the process of launching the business.

Before even thinking about the big picture I wanted to get something out there quick to prove that there was a real demand for our services, and most importantly, that we would be able to generate sales without having a sales rep. This was the most important part of our idea; the ability to generate sales without a sales representative.

In about three months, I bootstrapped a beta version of OneSEO and in less than a year we grew it to $15k/month in monthly recurring revenue. To this day, we haven’t spoken to a single client on the phone and we have managed via email to subscribe recurring clients to monthly subscriptions in exchange for a discounted rate. This secured the client’s business every month while increasing the overall lifetime value; but most importantly it also validated our subscription model for our services.

Our first client came surprisingly easy. We have a live chat Tawk.to on our website and our first client inquired about our link building products there. I remember getting the notification on my phone and immediately responding. He had a few questions regarding our products, and wanted to make sure he was selecting the right one. I promptly answered all his questions and a day later I received his order. However, embarrassingly enough, we were missing a few zeros in the product price, and since stripe processes the prices in cents we only captured $2.50 out of the full $250. Here is my email to the client:

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

How embarrassing… but everything worked out. A few days later the same client sent me this email:

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

From there on we started to receive orders from users who found us via Facebook or Google Search. Clients like the one above were the ones that we offered recurring subscriptions to our SEO plans in exchange for a discounted rate.

As far as financing, we only had to spend a bit of money on Facebook. We used Facebook to build our pre-launch email list and then to remarket to our website visitors. The total amount invested from day 1 was about $3,763.96. The email automation platform was about $29/month. We use ConvertKit (highly recommend them) and the hosting cost from Heroku is about $80/month.

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product
Facebook spend from March 2018 – June 2019.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For a quick and continuous traffic flow of qualified leads we decided to focus only on Facebook ads and email marketing in order to increase sales.

Our main Facebook Ad + Landing Page

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

We have 2 main email marketing sequences set up.

The first email sequence handles all new leads that come in from our main Facebook Ad, and the second one takes care of users that take the second step and create a free account with us.

Here is the first email users receive once they opt-in to receive the PDF guide.

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

In the beginning, our email and marketing strategy was very aggressive and pushy, but we quickly realized that this was not the best way to go about increasing sales, especially in our industry. We decided to simply provide value to our leads. Warm them up and then ask them if they needed any free help from us. We were willing to allocate 2-3 hours for each lead that agreed to the free help and we could quickly assess if they were a good fit or not. We figured that finding an authentic way to strike up a conversation with your leads is the best way to close them.

Here is an email that created a lot of engagement/replies:

quitting-my-full-time-agency-job-to-build-my-own-software-product

I think this is the best way to approach any services offered online, but especially in our industry. Our main obstacle was figuring out a way to build trust with our leads and this approach helped us a lot.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are on the verge of relaunching our new website which will include subscriptions directly on the site along with a complete rebranding of our logo and user interface. Perhaps by the time you are reading this, the new redesign will be live.

Right after relaunch we will begin the campaign management integration which will help clients with a OneSEO membership easily track their rankings and organize their SEO workflow. At the moment we are thinking of including a reduced price on our blogger outreach services to go along the membership. Essentially our vision is to facilitate the on-site and off-site SEO workflow.

We want users to be able to track and download ranking reports, identify errors and improvements on their website, organize their SEO work for their clients and once ready, be able to acquire links just like they can right now at our current stage.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As a software developer, a lot of times you don’t think about the end user. I would say that the best thing to come out of this has been learning to step out of the codebase and figure out what the user will think and how they will interpret the company and website when they land on it. I found it extremely helpful to simply show the product to other people and ask them to verbally tell me what they are thinking.

For anyone that has an idea and wants to get started, my advice is to simply not get desperate. It takes patience for everything to start falling into place.

Is it easy for them to understand the product? Is it simple and clear? This is, perhaps, the main reason we decided to rebrand and redesign the entire UI/UX of the application.

Wearing multiple hats at the same time can be challenging and will require a lot of focus. I try to get in the zone by putting my phone in airplane mode to avoid any kind of notifications and distractions.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Books:

Rework

This book by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson really exposes the traditional “raise money & VC route” of your so called Silicon Valley business. It helped me look at starting a company in a much different and simplified way.

How To Win Friends & Influence People

This book is timeless and in it, you will find probably the best business and everyday life advices that were ever written in a book. It taught me how to make the best of every situation, how to handle rejections, and to be a better person.

The One Thing

Loved this book, it will help you stay focused on the one thing that matters. It helped me avoid distractions and get things done. In short, it will really help with procrastination and staying focused on your goal.

Podcast:

The Top Entrepreneur

Love this podcast by Nathan Latka. He interviews CEOs of small to large companies and asks them questions that have never been asked to them before.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

For anyone that has an idea and wants to get started, my advice is to simply not get desperate. It takes patience for everything to start falling into place.

I would strongly advise them to validate their idea as fast as possible by getting a beta version of it pushed out. It doesn’t have to be pretty; it just needs to be validated so you can build confidence, which will help you push through when the hard times come.

It’s also helpful to share your ideas and product progress with a close friend or family, this will help you get your mind going and stay motivated.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

At this moment we don’t have any open positions. But if you are a good writer you can send us an email to [email protected]. We are always looking for good writers based in the U.S.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Samer Awada,   Founder of OneSEO

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment

Check out our premium interviews: