SaaS Growth: 4 Tools that Helped Us Grow to $20k MRR

SaaS growth is pretty damn hard to achieve despite all the success stories we hear. The truth is that great software takes time to build (especially when bootstrapping). Pair that with the fact that Hubstaff is a complicated product with three desktop apps to support, we need every hour possible to be laser focused on pumping out new features.

That’s why:

We use third party apps whenever we can

Because we were so product focused, the last thing we want to spend our time on is building tools that already exist. This decision seems obvious, but almost every product you try to integrate just doesn’t end up working quite right because of unforeseen limitations. The temptation of building tools to perform specific functions becomes pretty strong at times.

An example of something that we’ve been unable to outsource effectively has been our transactional emails. We tried hard, but lack of support for multi-organization apps killed almost all the options out there. So we spent the time to develop it ourselves using Mandrill (which we love) and a mail theme from Themeforest. We built it ourselves so it ended up pretty much exactly with what we wanted, but…

It sucks building tools that your customers never see

Building your own tools uses up precious time. In a startup, it’s one of your most valuable assets.

Picking the email theme, going through all the email rules, and testing took about three weeks from one of our developers. If we were able to use a third party app, our marketing team could have handled the project from start to finish.

In addition, since the transactional emails reside in our code base, there’s the feeling of them being locked up in a vault. They are hard to get to, very hard to split test, and are hard to edit.

Finally, building your own tools usually puts marketing and development at odds. Marketing wants to see a lot of reports, but development doesn’t have the time to build those reports. Marketing wants to include a lot of images, but development doesn’t want to store the images in the code base. The list goes on and on. For all those reasons and more, we try to use third party apps as much as possible.

Here are Four Apps that have Helped Hubstaff Grow

At Hubstaff we rely on around 25 third party tools. I use the word rely, because they are truly an integrated part of our business. After trying what seemed like hundreds of products, what you read below is a list of five tools that we rely on every day to help our business grow.

Trello

Trello (a Kanban Board tool) is a flexible, easy, and a powerful way to manage almost anything in your life. At Hubstaff, we use it to manage the whole marketing side of our business, as well as customer support issues that we need to communicate with developers. It’s one of the most flexible tools because you can add as many columns as you want and you can create as many cards (tasks) as you want.

Check out a webinar that we did wherein we went over how we use Trello.

Within each card, you can add detail, attachments, team members, labels and a lot more. The cards in Trello are all drag and drop, so it’s very fast and easy to organize priorities. One of the most powerful uses of Trello is the way it allows us to communicate with our remote team. It’s replaced email for our internal organization communications.

Hubstaff integrates with Trello. Hubstaff imports all of the users and cards in your Trello board and allows you to track time to specific cards.

Visual Website Optimizer

Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) allows us to test and improve our pages over time. One of my goals as the head of marketing for Hubstaff is to continually improve each of our pages for increased conversions.

The following is an example of a simple multivariate test that we ran on a staffing page. In the image below, you see that 7 is the winning combination, converting at 23.33% vs. the control of 9.35%. So, obviously we are on to something that is working. We just doubled the response rate of a page, so let’s figure out what’s driving the positive change.

Above you can see the combinations that were created based on three variations that I created to test. Now we can dig deeper to reveal that there was one specific change that accounted for most of the improvement.

Based on the above I was able to easily see that section 2 of the test was the driver of the positive results. Now all we have to do is review the tests that we created in Section 2. In this case the improvement was just a simple text change of a button. The big red button below now says “Get Introduced to Contractors.” That’s the new version. The old version was “Tell us about your project”. So that one simple change produced a 149.5% increase in conversions…

Baremetrics

Baremetrics is the dashboard that we use for our metrics, but it’s also a lot more than that. Baremetrics includes a real time dashboard for payment failures, upgrades and new customers, so it provides a pulse for what’s going on with the business.

What’s cool about Baremetics is that it integrates directly with Stripe (our payment processor, which we also love), but it goes much further in terms of metrics than Stripe does. It calculates lifetime value, number of customers, shows upgrades, downgrades, and let’s us see all of this by date range.

Below you can see the MRR (monthly recurring revenue) for Hubstaff, and you can also see that in comparison with the past 30 days, 3 months, 6 months, etc…

Below you can see the Baremetrics main dashboard. We use this to understand the path our business is on. By looking at user churn and upgrades versus downgrades we can understand how the business is performing and if there are major issues we need to investigate. It’s also like a daily challenge to get MRR up (we usually talk internally about MRR the most).

All of the Hubstaff metrics are public, so you can follow our progress in real time at hubstaff.baremetrics.com

Intercom

Intercom is badass software for SaaS products… What they do for businesses is so powerful, it was pretty much unheard of even 3 or 4 years ago. I’ve been running online businesses for more than 10 years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tool with as much versatility and value as Intercom.

Intercom helps you:

  • Message all of your customers
  • See exactly when each of your customers logs in
  • Trigger event-based messages to people based on actions they perform in your application
  • Run your entire support system through it
  • Send in-app messages that they will receive when they login to your application
  • Tag certain users
  • Set up complex filters to find very specific groups of users
  • Much more…

The above points are just scratching the surface on what you can do with Intercom. Below you can see the main dashboard in Intercom. Filters are on the left, and users are on the right. We use this page to see clients that are actively using Hubstaff.

We also run the entire support side of our business in Intercom. At the top, you can see all of our support team, and the number of conversations with clients that are currently assigned to them. One of the many cool things about Intercom is that clients are notified of updates to their conversation directly in our app. So when they are logged into Hubstaff, they’ll see a notification that one of our support reps has responded back to them.

The above tools are not an exhaustive list by any means, and in many cases there are very suitable replacements. The tools that we mention above are what we have found to work best for our business as we learn and grow.

If you have tools that you’d like to share, please submit them in the comments below. Please talk about how you use them and feel free to provide a link.

  • Excellent article Dave!.. May I know, what are the tools for the marketing and email (trigger based) automation that especially in the affordable price? (i am not looking for high end tools like hubspot, marketo, eloqua etc). Anything which can work great for marketing automation?

    Thanks in advance!

    -Suvashree

    • Hey thanks for reading. We use Intercom and mailchimp currently but we are looking for something more sophisticated for sending emails. Have been looking at https://agilecrm.com as an alternative for hubspot based on price. Intercom is affordable and has some of the same features. Have also heard good things about https://activecampaign.com

  • Great article Dave, and I find Hubstaff a great platform to use for my staff. Couple of questions, how did you incorporate VWO when your page seems to be built on Ruby, as Ruby isn’t listed in the VWO integrations? 2nd question, Baremetrics is used for recurring payments, how does that tie in with your Staffing section, where payments are not recurring but are on a job by job basis? Is staffing excluded from your Baremetrics info? Thanks!

    • Hey David – Thanks for reading! Yeah, our whole platform is built on Ruby on Rails. VWO is just a javascript snippet that you can install on any site. We just have it included in the template of our site so it shows up on every page, and with VWO that’s all that needs to happen. 2) – Baremetrics is actually just the vision into our recurring payments. Stripe.com is the actual processor and Baremetrics just gets info from the Stripe API and gives us cool insight into our business. We have “other” revenue that also shows up in Baremetrics and that is all the staffing revenue. Right now I think we are around 29k in software and 43k total in revenue so that’s like 14k / month in staffing revenue.

  • Casey

    Way to give back to the third party apps that helped! 🙂

  • McSpike

    Very useful info. Hats off to all the openness

  • Nat

    Congrats Dave, thanks also for the insight. Hubstaff is a real handy tool for us and looking forward to the next 12 months. All the best