2023 - $1k months to $90k months

Quick Recap

I've consumed a lot of helpful solopreneur content over the years. I want to add back into that pantheon.

I quit my sales job in 2020 after teaching myself to code to build a lifestyle business. Several SaaS projects failed, a community failed, and I floundered for a couple years.

In late 2022, Jakob Greenfeld and I teamed up and built Damn Good Leads, which became Sales.co, and Dec '23 was our best month yet: revenue

Quick Agenda

First, thank you to those that have freely shared content that helped me get here.

Second, thank you to all the backers, buyers, and supporters who have helped along the way.

Third, I'll condense a year's worth of tweets and stories into a cohesive narrative to show you how we got here.

Lastly, and most dangerously, I'll share a few actionable tips in an indiehacker world gone crazy.

The Start

Jakob had been talking to me about offering cold email as a service. I was strongly against it. I knew the client servicing world and the cold email world. I did not want to get "bogged down" with people who owned my time.

I was also in a dire straight - I had medical bills, a dwindling bank account, and no success as of yet.

So, we said "screw it" and decided to come up with a cold email service that, if we hated it, we could just refund everyone and do something else.

Thus started DamnGoodLeads: DGL

Working for Free

We wanted some free clients we could use to figure a process out. We tweeted about this and shared it in some slack communities. A few people responded and we said we'd run our playbook on them for free for a couple weeks to see what would happen.

Figuring it out as we went, we generated some responses and an initial idea of what we could offer and who we could offer it for.

Two weeks went by, and we told our free clients we'd keep running it for $500/month. Two stayed on, and one is still with us today, more than a year later.

$1k to $10k

This early hustle period was us talking daily, coming up with actionable things to do for the customers, and doing them.

We raised the price to $1k a month and saw people submitting interest after we'd share screenshots of successful cold email responses on Twitter. twitter

We also ran cold email campaigns for ourselves. Every response we'd get, we'd send a personalized loom of how we'd run cold email for them. This earned a lot of trust, got people on calls, and set us apart.

I'd run most of the sales calls and support, Jakob would run most of the infrastructure and data. At this point (3 months in), we met in Barcelona in person for the first time. barcelona

That pic is from the day we hit $10k MRR. We were running loom pitches, running sales calls, building campaigns ourselves, handling the inbox for each client ourselves, and sitting down all day every Friday to come up with status reports and changes for each client.

We had read Frankie Fihn's "Beyond the Agency Box" (affiliate link) which pretty much still is our playbook for sales and servicing.

$10k months to $50k months

The first hire we made were two contractors from the Phillipines to help with client reports, inbox management, and putting campaigns together.

That endeavor failed. Besides being first time people managers, there was a cultural difference: If we didn't spell out what needed to happen, they wouldn't tell us they didn't understand something.

So we started simpler: We hired another woman from the Phillipines to run our inbox management and went a lot more in-depth. She was (and continues to be) an amazing person and really took ownership of making it successful. She now runs a huge amount of our back-end infrastructure.

We found that by having potential hires share a loom and then provide a work sample based on a real task of ours, we could get a pretty good idea of how they'd perform. We'd hire them for a trial month to see if the shoe really fit.

But this initial help in handling the inbox was huge for us to gain some breathing room. I remember sitting in a hotel room on a call for 6 hours with Jakob, on my 29th birthday, running all the weekly updates and reports for each client thinking "this is the last time I'm going to do this."

The next hire was someone in Europe to help with day to day client comms and campaign building. More breathing room. Then we hired my brother in law part time to help with sales. More breathing room.

$50k months to here

Maybe you expect me to tell the happily ever after of how we never had to work another day in our lives and just log in to collect a paycheck.

Nope - we still send custom looms to clients, still do sales calls, still do a daily team call, still get involved in client work, still run some pretty wild experiments, still are "figuring things out."

Nothing is quite "figured out," and it's still mostly managed by vibe. We have a sales process, but that doesn't mean it's entirely predictable. We've had weeks where we close 1 deal and weeks where we close 13.

We've not really changed what we do from that $10k month. We just have more help with it and a bigger body of proof about the work we do.

There's still a ton of open questions, like:

  • Founder-level care over clients is necessary, but so is scaling our time. How do you reconcile that?
  • Do you niche down and raise prices, and if you do, which one do you do first?
  • What is the acceptable tradeoff between delegating a responsibility and knowing that an employee will handle it with some level of error?

There's also a lot of common advice that just doesn't pass muster when you get into it, like:

  • Operators and consultants will scale your business to the heavens (it's a lot of charlatans, auditors, and course sellers who really can't tell you what they'll do for your business)
  • SOP it once, delegate it forever (without accountability, your SOP is meaningless. And forget reliability when it comes to SOP'ing a creative task)
  • Always find a performance-based way to deliver your service (Performance is great at first but it brings in a lot of low-commitment time wasters who will ignore your messages and then wonder why they're not getting results. They'll then refuse to work with any other agency unless it's on a performance basis, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
  • Churn is the number one killer of your business (I think fear of churn makes people too scared to try things. We've churned dozens of customers, all with a smile and a refund. Now we know who we can and can't serve, which we never would have if we didn't assume the risk in trying new customer types.)
  • As long as you follow a book like EOS or some similar operating matrix, you'll be on easy street (they are great theories, but have very little teeth in execution)

The advice section

I dislike a fluff piece, so I wanted to share some thoughts on getting yourself to a similar place if you're just starting out and need cash. But first...

Reasons you shouldn't take advice from me

  • I work a lot
  • I don't make as much money as I want to
  • I'm not where I want to be in business yet
  • I don't have kids
  • I am not good at showing up and checking daily boxes or fitting into process or being a people manager
  • I don't like reading business books

And it's only fair that I extend that to

Reasons you shouldn't take advice from many in the Indiehacker community

  • They're mostly broke
  • They advocate spending years grinding in unprofitable businesses in the name of hitting some exponential scale, just like they criticize VC for
  • They generate code but not revenue
  • They give up after a few years and get a job
  • Because all advice is true

And I've been guilty of a few of those too. But I think they go against the core of why a lot of us start these businesses, which is to improve our lives. And you can't improve your life meaningfully on a $1k/m project that costs you 10 hrs a day.

So if that speaks to you, here's my advice:

  • Find something people are actually paying for
  • Offer a unique twist and do it for free initially, as a service
  • After X time or X results, tell them you'll continue for Y price
  • If they don't buy, go back to step one. If they buy, continue
  • Provide that service and share your results in some public way to generate more interest
  • Use your base of revenue and customer connections to explore more scalable businesses

And my anti-advice:

  • Stop trying to scale (We send a personalized Loom to everyone who responds to our cold email. I show people this and they say "that's great, I can record that once and send it to everyone." This is why they fail)
  • Stop building things before you get interest (Do it for fun, but not if you need to put food on the table next week)
  • Stay away from Bangkok