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.
Hi Justin! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
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.
What were your job duties at Eventloot?
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.
What was your business model?
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.
What motivated you to start Eventloot?
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.
What part of your background defines you, and possibly led to starting Eventloot?
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, what were you doing?
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.
Did you have any failed or previous businesses?
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.
Did any big life events lead to starting Eventloot?
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.
How did the idea come to you?
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.
How did you build it?
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.
How long did the process take?
Quite a lot - 3 years.
Who was involved?
My partner and me. And 2 freelancers we hired.
What resources/tools did you use?
Bizspark credit from Microsoft. This allowed us to use Visual Studios Enterprise. Free Azure hosting for the platform. Starbucks as our office.
How did the initial product look?
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.
Did you run into any obstacles in this process?
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.
Did you enjoy the process of building it?
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.
How did you approach pricing your product?
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.
Did you launch/publicize your product in any way?
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.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
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.
What tactics worked?
Emailing planners, we found on the sites I mentioned.
How did you approach these tactics?
We had to script a scraper to obtain the emails from the sites.
What didn't work?
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.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
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.
Which were the causes of Eventloot failure?
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.
How did you find your business problems?
Problems started occurring the moment we went live and users would sign up and never come back.
How did you realize you were going to fail?
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.
What did finally provoke the shutdown of Eventloot?
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.
How did you shut it down?
We sent an email to all our users and shut down our azure hosting. It was quite uneventful. Only 2 of users cared.
How did you feel when you close your doors?
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.
Which were your biggest mistakes and challenges you had to overcome?
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.
What obstacles did you have?
Convincing prospects to sign up. Keeping my partner’s spirits high.Your personal and your team disadvantages.
Were there any disadvantages in the market of Eventloot?
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.
Did you have any disadvantages in comparison with your competitors?
Our competitors were either very established or well-funded.
Did you commit any mistakes?
Building Eventloot without consulting with a customer. Initially building without designing the platform on paper.
Did you make any mistakes that cost you time and/or money?
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.
Were there any things that could have been made in a better way?
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.
Any missed opportunities?
Working with wedding planners early on.
Which were your expenses? Did you achieve some revenue? In the end, how much money did you lose?
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.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
If you could talk to your former self before Eventloot, what would you tell him?
Know who you’re building your product for. Understand what they really want. Plan before you write even a single line of code.
What do you wish you spent more time on?
Talking to customers.
What do you wish you spent less time on?
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.
Were you worried about anything when starting that at the end you realize doesn't matter?
Yes, Trademark and incorporation. None of that matters until you have a clear path to profitability.
Which are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?
Here are a few websites:
- UI8: Pretty helpful with figuring our UI flow or buying a template.
- Fiverr: Find affordable work, at least while you’re in your infant stage.
- IndieHackers: It helped me embrace coding again. And I get to learn from other people on the same journey as I am. In short, it’s an amazing community.
I really like these books:
- Inc Magazines: They keep me inspired. And they usually make for a great read on long flights.
- Entrepreneur Magazine: Just like Inc Magazine, they make for a great read on flights.
- Purple Cow by Seth Godin: It helps me embrace creativity and staying true on the mission on my project. It especially helps me avoid the tendency to use money to solve all my problems.
Regarding tools, here are some great ones:
- VSCode: Excellent IDE. You could also use Sublime.
- Bitbucket: Great user experience as far as Code Repos go.
- Macbook: Mac because Windows is god awful.
And some podcasts:
- IndieHackers: See above.
- SideHustle School: It keeps me inspired about going solo. SideHustle showcases people making decent monthly income from their side projects. Quite inspiring.
Where can we go to learn more?
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!