Kalo’s entrepreneurial journey started in 2013. He has built over 7 startups, but most of them failed miserably. Looking to solve the problems he had while building marketing campaigns, he created Encharge, a marketing automation tool that connects lots of apps. Without even launching the product, he was able to make $4,000 in pre-orders and validate the idea.
Hi Kalo! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
I’m Kalo, one of the founders of Encharge – a marketing automation tool that aims to connect all your marketing apps.
My background is in interaction design. I built my first website when I was 11. It was a website for the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I’m that kind of a geek.
I graduated in the UK with Graphic and Digital design.
Then I started working in one of the top digital marketing agencies in London with the bold name Elvis. I’ve done works for big boys like Magners, Virgin, Sky, NBA, Microsoft, UK Gov, and the list goes on. It was always a dream of mine to work in a cool, big digital agency, but I soon found out client work is not my cup of tea.
In 2013 I started my entrepreneurial journey – since then I’ve started at least 7 different startups – most of them failed miserably.
I’m currently 27 and residing in sunny Sofia, Bulgaria where we build our latest startup Encharge with my co-founder Slav.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before I started Encharge, I was working on another SaaS tool – HeadReach, a lead generation tool.
HeadReach was generating $2,000 in MRR, and we had a few thousand users.
Just as we started growing HeadReach, Google emailed us that they’re closing the Site Search API – the primary “technology” we use to find leads.
Long story short, we sold HeadReach to one of our competitors for a small fee.
After HeadReach I felt miserable for a year. I was bouncing from project to project without any traction. That feeling when you don’t have a clue what product to start building. It very much resembles a sickness.
Then we decided we’re going to validate new ideas with Slav. It took us at least 5 or 6 startups until we stopped on Encharge.
We started building Encharge in October last year, and we just launched our closed Beta. Launching the Open Beta in a few weeks.
The idea for Encharge came from my pains as a marketer at startup companies.
Integrating the whole marketing stack is hard.
In every startup that I worked at it took at least 2 developers and a few weeks until we had the right setup to execute powerful lifecycle marketing campaigns.
Every time I tried to make the CRM, emails, in-app events, landing pages, and other tools work together, I failed. I had to resort to ugly hacks, and eventually involve a dev team.
That’s why most early-stage startups and even mature SaaS companies default to sending one-off email blasts and don’t do anything beyond that.
They simply don’t have the right data and set up to do something more holistic.
We thought we could change that with Encharge by building a simple to use tool that connects with you marketing apps and allows you to create powerful marketing workflows.
How did you build Encharge?
We’re still pre-launch but before we started building Encharge we actually validated the idea and made $4,000 in pre-orders.
Since cold emails didn’t prove to be very effective for customer development, we decided to switch the script and do some inbound marketing.
It all started with the article in which I shared my previous experience with HeadReach. That article generated almost 3,000 page views and 500-600 email leads.
We later validated the idea for Encharge with that audience by creating a mock prototype and a landing page with the opportunity to pre-order a lifetime access to the tool for $89.
In 2 weeks we got 50 pre-orders. We haven’t done a lot of marketing for the pre-order deal apart from sending to that list of 500 people.
Because we’re scratching our own itch and we had conversations with potential leads, we knew we were targeting a real pain – the message was clear, and people didn’t need a lot of convincing to understand the solution.
Note: currently the landing page shows an email opt-in.
With the pre-order revenue, we had some confidence to start building the product.
My technical co-founder is building the product in React. We also rely on out of the box services like JointJs (for our flow builder) to get fast to market with smaller development times.
We’re currently in Closed Beta. It took us 6 months to build a product with the most vital features.
Being in a very competitive, red-ocean market the challenge is to build a robust feature-set while scoping it down as much as possible only to the most valuable features.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Since the validation stage, we’ve been aggressively focused on pre-launch marketing.
We have 2 goals for the pre-launch:
- Grow our organic/sustainable website traffic to 150 unique visits per day.
- Grow our email list to 3,000 subscribers before June
We’re slightly behind schedule but growing steadily with both metrics.
Our current list growth below. And of course, we use Encharge as our marketing automation and email sending tool :)
Since we’re a bootstrapped startup, we don’t spend anything on paid acquisition. All of our traffic and leads are coming from content and resources that I create and distribute using free channels.
The marketing tactics that have worked so far are:
- Creating long-form posts like this one and this one and promoting them.
- Creating free marketing resources.
- Posting engagement posts on LinkedIn
- And growing our private Facebook group.
Below, one of the engagement posts that generated over 12,000 views:
What are your goals for the future?
Our goal is to generate at least $3,000 in MRR by the end of the year.
As a pre-launch/pre-revenue startup, this goal is motivating but also challenging.
We’re going to face challenges with finding (some) product market fit in the first few months. As people say – the first 10 customers are the hardest.
For the moment we aim to stay small and lean. We’re currently using people off UpWork for smaller tasks but don’t see expanding with full-time hires before start generating revenue.
I’m very excited about a couple of side marketing projects that we have in the makings – for example, this directory of free tools that we aim to launch on Product Hunt soon.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
As an early stage startup, the obvious challenge is validating that people actually want to use your product.
As a pre-launch tool, we are still not 100% confident that the feature set we have on our roadmap is the right one, but we do our best to minimize the risks.
In a more personal aspect, I’d say the biggest obstacle for me is balancing my client consulting work with the startup.
As a bootstrapped pre-launch company, I still don’t have the luxury to work full-time on Encharge. Right now, I’m consulting 2 days a week while spending the rest on Encharge.
It’s challenging to juggle between projects, but I do my best to tackle it by having a very organized schedule and a daily to-do list.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
One of our advantages is also one of our biggest disadvantages – the marketing automation market is extremely saturated. There are dozens if not hundreds of decade-old gorillas like ActiveCampaign and Mailchimp.
It’s scary because these guys have built a huge barrier to entry and compete on relatively low price points.
We still believe that no one is solving the marketing connectivity problem good enough, so there is room for tiny players like us with a unique positioning angle.
Before starting with Encharge, we made the mistake of not sticking with a single product for long enough. We were jumping from project to project and not giving them enough of a chance, discarding any ideas that don’t receive positive feedback within 10 customer development interviews or less.
Another mistake we made was not relying on our strengths and interests enough. We tried to validate ideas in markets that we weren’t very interested enough or require skills beyond our core skill set.
Before moving forward with Encharge, we jotted down specific criteria for the type of startup we want to work on:
- Big, horizontal category
- A lot of existing competitors (saturated market)
- Something that excites both of us
- Something that we have experience with
- Self-serve mode – Something that we can sell from a website
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
Do things that you like
Don’t put out fires that haven’t started burning.
Keep a daily to-do list.
Keep a regular sleeping schedule.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
Nothing beats real-life experience. But books and podcasts can help along the way as long as you don’t overdo them.
I would recommend the Mixergy podcast by Andrew Warner for interviews with successful founders and case studies.