Justin Anyanwu is a maker who a few years ago built Eventloot, a SaaS platform for wedding planning professionals. He hired some designers and developers and got the SaaS working. But after a few months of running Facebook Ads and sending cold emails, they decided to shut it down. They hadn’t built a platform that solved the problems wedding planners had.
My name is Justin Anyanwu, I am 34 years old. I am based in Raleigh North Carolina. My background is a bit of a mix. I got my masters in Computer Architecture and my bachelors in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering. I did a bit of coding in college, but I didn’t pick up coding until I started working on personal projects.
A few years ago, I built Eventloot, a SaaS platform for wedding planning professionals. It was inspired by the idea that most wedding planners at the time were using Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets to manage weddings for their clients. So, my partner and I decided that we could offer planners a solution that reflected the convenience of cloud-based SaaS products.
I was the co-founder and CEO of Eventloot. As a developer, I helped my partner who was the architect with development. But my other role involved customer acquisition, marketing and business development.
It was simple. A monthly fee to use Eventloot. Wedding planners will pay a monthly fee to use Eventloot to manage weddings for their clients.
I’ve always wanted to start my own business. At the time, I was already running an Anime lifestyle brand. We sold graphic tees and posters. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t scalable. The profit margins were not enjoyable and the need for inventory made it hard to consistently realize a certain level of profit. I started gravitating towards software after I met people who were making a livable wage off their software assets. And considering that their profit margins were much higher and also the fact that their expenses were a little more manageable, it was too tempting to resist not considering. Another thing I loved about the idea of Eventloot is the fact, that if we got it running properly we’d basically have a system for recurring income that didn’t require us to trade our time for money. Eventloot just happened to be an idea I came up with after I ran into an event planner who told me she still used spreadsheets and email to manage her events. It could have been anything depending on the type of person I ran into that day.
I am a software engineer by trade. I don’t consider myself to be a great software engineer. But the one thing I can say about myself is that I have become fairly resourceful due to my experience with starting entrepreneurial ventures. I know where to find the right freelancers to help us achieve a goal.
Before Eventloot, I was running an anime lifestyle brand (I still am) and I had a day job (I still do). My day job involved writing software that ran on Point of Sale systems.
Before Eventloot, I built a trading platform for college students while still in college. It was a massive failure mainly because we didn’t code it in a scalable way. It was written in PHP and HTML with an SQL DB. That’s not the problem, the problem was that we wrote almost everything in two-three files and we wrote all our queries by hand. It was awful whenever we found a bug that needed fixing.
Not really, Eventloot is just a product of my desire to be my own boss. And that desire started after I sat in on a group of NCstate alumni talking about how they started their own company.
Eventloot came to me after talking to an event planner who was trying to invite me to a valentine’s event she was organizing. It was after asking her how she managed her business that I realize that there might be an opportunity there.
This was our very first foray into creating software as a service. In the beginning, we tried to do everything ourselves. 1) We tried to rig together a UI, which was basically stitched together from various CSS designs on other sites. I highly recommend that no one should ever do that. It is the least useful thing you can do. 2) After our very first disastrous version, we realized that we needed to hire experts for certain parts of the project. For example, we outsourced the UI design to a freelancer we found on Fiverr. We hired a number of AngularJS freelancers to handle the frontend for us. 3) We met at Starbucks to code whatever feature we had agreed that the platform needed.
Quite a lot - 3 years.
My partner and me. And 2 freelancers we hired.
Bizspark credit from Microsoft. This allowed us to use Visual Studios Enterprise. Free Azure hosting for the platform. Starbucks as our office.
The one thing that we did right was the design. A lot of our prospects commented on the design. Some wished it had a more feminine look. But most people felt it was much more contemporary than our competitors.
A lot of the obstacles were more mental. The feeling that we might be making a big mistake with how we’ve tackled the project. The feeling that we might be in a crowded market or that our customers might be too difficult to sell to. We simply pushed forward.
Actually yes. A significant chunk of the journey was a lot of fun. The sense of purpose and ambition. Waking up every day knowing that you had something interesting to work on. That was a lot of fun. Also, the comradery that I built with my partner.
We bounced between charging based on the amount of effort we put in which would have put us at $30/month. And pricing it strategically to undercut the competition at roughly ($9-$10)/month. We settled on $20/month.
That too was a first for us. We spent roughly $600 on Facebook ads. That got us nowhere. It was very difficult to properly target for event planners or wedding planners. At least we knew our conversion rate was awful. So, I spent more time sending out emails to planners on WeddingWire. That was a lot more rewarding. If nothing else we learned why prospects wouldn’t join or what it would have taken for them to join.
We spent a lot of time scanning WeddingWire and theKnot. We’d harvest emails of planners from those sites and send out personalized emails to each one. That was a lot of work.
Emailing planners, we found on the sites I mentioned.
We had to script a scraper to obtain the emails from the sites.
Facebook Ads. Awful ROI. Oh yea, 1 on 1 meetings with prospects was just as bad. A 1-hour meeting with a planner just to get $20/month? Will never do that again.
Sometimes a mix of sweat equity and ingenuity goes a long way. So rather than just running ads or having 1 on 1 with planners, I found a middle ground. I obtained a ton of emails and I took the time to create a customizable email based on the recipient.
Poor planning. We didn’t talk about our customers about what they wanted. We made assumptions about what they needed. For instance, we assumed that all they needed was a platform that tracked their events on a calendar and stored contact information and may be sent emails on their behalf. We didn’t plan for onboarding either. Most of our users were coming in with a massive collection of contact info and data. We didn’t plan for how they could import this information.
Problems started occurring the moment we went live and users would sign up and never come back.
After 3 years of working on the platform and we started getting feedback from users that showed that we hadn’t built the core functionalities they needed. For instance, the average wedding planner has helpers/employees. They mostly wanted to be able to create separate accounts for each helper and give them the ability to collaborate on the platform.
When one of our legacy competitors quickly updated their platform with contemporary design patterns and technology stack. At which point we lost what little leverage we had. That combined with the fact that we’ve been coding for 3 years with nothing to show, we were quickly demoralized.
We sent an email to all our users and shut down our azure hosting. It was quite uneventful. Only 2 of users cared.
Relieved. For a while, we knew it was over. And it was no longer fun to work on it. So, closing the doors was just finalizing something we already felt.
Building the platform quickly and cheaply. Using the .NET stack, I found was too clumsy a way to build the platform. At least I found that was too inefficient. Maybe because of the complexity of learning each component in the stack. My current project is using MeteorJS and MongoDB. Took me less than a month to learn.
Convincing prospects to sign up. Keeping my partner’s spirits high.Your personal and your team disadvantages.
Event planners are very busy. Wedding seasons make them virtually unreachable. The profession is not exactly established. There’s a range of commitment in that community. Some planners do it for fun others will quit in a couple years and then there are those that have an army of planners working for them.
Our competitors were either very established or well-funded.
Building Eventloot without consulting with a customer. Initially building without designing the platform on paper.
We didn’t talk to the people we were building Eventloot for. As a result, we spent a lot of time building either the wrong thing or something they didn’t need. Hiring subpar freelancers initially and then having to find a replacement to redo their work.
Build Eventloot with MeteorJS and MongoDB. Roll out with an MVP that had core functionality that was absolutely useful to a planner. Consult with an established wedding planner at each stage of developing the app.
Working with wedding planners early on.
So as for many lost, it was around $20k. We spent it hiring UI designers and front-end coders. Regarding the time spent, it was 3 years. Lastly, our MRR was only $80.
Know who you’re building your product for. Understand what they really want. Plan before you write even a single line of code.
Talking to customers.
Marketing. We weren’t ready to start marketing. We should have taken an incremental approach where we could at least satisfy a small number of users and a gradual scale from there. Marketing a failed product was a waste of time and money.
Yes, Trademark and incorporation. None of that matters until you have a clear path to profitability.
Here are a few websites:
I really like these books:
Regarding tools, here are some great ones:
And some podcasts:
You can follow me on Twitter or on the Indie Hackers community. We have a fitness app that we’re now working on. This is showing some great promise. It 's called Lazyjar. I am also working on a budgeting app, that focuses on Food and grocery spend only. Is called Grub Jar. Thanks for reading!