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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Making $15k/mo Helping Brands Understand Customer Reviews

Adrian Balcan
Adrian Balcan
September 7, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Revenue of startups
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Making $15k/mo Helping Brands Understand Customer Reviews

Adrian Balcan
Adrian Balcan
September 7, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Cause of failure of the startup

Adrian founded FeedCheck, a SaaS that helps consumer brands to analyze customer reviews from the Internet. 5 years after, they have global brands like Nestle and P&G as customers and are making $15,000 per month in revenue.



Hi Adrian! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

I’m Adrian, the founder of FeedCheck, a business that helps consumer brands to analyze customer reviews from the Internet. I am 31 and I live in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

I am passionate about tech businesses. I constantly explore tech ideas. Before the COVID crisis, I was present at most local tech events. Besides tech, I like to cook and ride my bicycle.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In 2014, right after I finished my university studies, I launched a company that helped businesses with data acquisition. 

In 2016 we started collaborating with a smartwatch company to help them add real-time data (like stock, weather, etc.) to the watch. Studying their needs, we discovered that they were missing a solution to consolidate all product reviews spread across many online stores. It was an AHA moment for us. At that moment, we realized that their need was not only their own and that we could build a product to be used by all types of consumer brands.

We started to work at this and a few months later, we had an MVP.

How did you go from idea to product?

Since we discovered the need, we started to build FeedCheck, a solution for customer review analytics. 

We started data acquisition, a field where we had experience. After we built the foundation, an engine capable of collecting customer reviews from any website, we started working at the next level, the analytics part. 

Considering a review contains both numbers and text, we split the analytics into two parts quantitative and qualitative. We began with the quantitative part, the numbers and trends like star rating, evolution in time, reviews number, etc.

In 2017 we signed a partnership with Microsoft and they offered us resources to develop the qualitative analytics of the reviews. We developed an AI for sentiment analytics and we divide the reviews into parts that mention specific features of products. This area allows brands to view which is their most loved feature and the less liked one.

We responded to the question, “Why do our customers love/hate this product?”

We attracted more and more customers who helped us understand their needs and develop the product further during development.

One of the strategies we had at the release was not waiting for the perfect product. In tech and IT in general, developers tend to wait for the very best alternative of their product, and sometimes this can take months or years. There is an infinite loophole that you can fall into to find more and more possible ways to improve the product. And during this time, you can lose enthusiasm for the product or miss the opportunity on the market.

In our case, we released the product as it was after a few months of working on it. We knew there was more to work on, but we felt it was the right moment to bring it out.

FeedCheck Dashboard

This proved to be a good strategy, even if we still had to invest a lot of time in development, but this was more aligned with actual customer needs than with our supposed assumption of what they wanted.

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

After we launched the MVP version, we tried to grow the organic traffic on our own. We had no budget for SEM (Search Engine Marketing) or advertising, so we started with SEO (Search Engine Marketing) actions. 

We built a list of startup directories and B2B app directories (like G2Crowd, Capterra, etc.) for link building. We published our site on every website on our list so that we could have some backlinks.

We created a blog and we targeted some specific keywords like “review monitoring“. The results were outstanding. For some of the keywords, we reached top positions on Google. 

Another tactic was to build a list with popular products like Apple products, tablets, wearables, and we created specific pages for each, presenting the customer view extracted from their reviews. For every product, we made a dedicated blog post with analytics of its reviews.

This action produced some traffic, but the traffic wasn’t from our targeted customers (brands); it was from consumers interested to know more about the product they wanted to buy.

This helped us to start without an advertising budget. We succeeded in creating a flow of organic traffic and even a stream of leads who came to us by our website contact form.

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

Today, five years after the beginning, we have grown a lot. We have popular, global brands as customers (like Nestle, P&G, Fujitsu Computers), and we plan to add to our portfolio more enterprise customers. 

We are considering growing the team to bring our services to more brands.

Beyond the big names mentioned above, it is a constant effort to understand the needs of the consumer brands and build the best solution for them.

Since starting FeedCheck, what have been your main lessons?

Before FeedCheck, I started a few other products, but FeedChek was the most successful. FeedCheck had the first paying customer after more than six months, and we reached break-even after three years, so the lesson here is that patience is vital. I see entrepreneurs who want to build something and make a profit from the first year. I think valuable things are built with time.

Your network and location are also important. We have some competitors located in the US, and we can see they have an advantage in attracting customers in the same country.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

I think the biggest challenge was waiting a long time until the first paying customer. The team morale was not so good, so the first customer was a great event. For us, this brought validation that the product was desired. 

Another challenge was when a key member of our team decided to leave the company before break even. 

We also implemented too late a customer feature request, which would have added more value. Usually, we add extra features to the application if they make sense for the product and the customer pays for them.

Those were hard times in the beginning, but we succeeded even with these challenges.

What tools & resources do you recommend?

For a startup, there are many free tools that provide value. One of them is the Lean Canvas. We use it to evaluate new opportunities quickly. 

We are using standard metrics for SaaS to evaluate how we perform and also compare with the market. I would avoid fancy analytics tools; they provide the same information but with stunning colors in many cases.

In terms of books, one of the most valuable for me related to this experience was The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can read more about FeedCheck on our website. I am present on all major social networks, but I consider the most relevant are my LinkedIn profile and my blog, where I plan to write more.


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