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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Making $24k in MRR by Building a Second Brain for Teams

Michael Dubakov
Michael Dubakov
January 11, 2022
Category of startup
Productivity
Country of startup
Remote
Revenue of startups
$10k-$25k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Making $24k in MRR by Building a Second Brain for Teams

Michael Dubakov
Michael Dubakov
January 11, 2022
Category of startup
Productivity
Country of startup
Remote
Cause of failure of the startup

Michael founded Fibery, a second brain for teams. Their goal is to help teams accumulate knowledge, generate insights and manage work processes in a single tool. They have transitioned to a fully-remote company with 24 people in 5 countries, and have raised $3.1M with a $24k MRR.

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

Hi! I’m Michael, a 42-year old entrepreneur from Belarus. I started my first company (Targetprocess) in 2004, and in 2021 it was acquired by Apptio. Fibery is my second company that I founded in 2017. We are building a second brain for teams. Our goal is to help teams accumulate knowledge, generate insights and manage work processes in a single tool. As you see, I like marathons :) 

Till 2021 we were a Belarusian company but now transformed into a remote company without a remote office and with 24 people in 5 countries. We raised $3.1M as a seed round recently, and our current MRR is $24K/month.

Here is the best Fibery explainer we have. 

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

We have a somewhat unusual story. Fibery was born as a research project inside Targetprocess. We decided to explore the future of work management, and I led a team of 5 people to dig into this problem for about 6 months. I already had deep experience in this domain, and we accumulated tons of feedback at Targetprocess, so we started from scratch essentially. 

After the first 6 months, we decided to build something cool and innovative and switched from prototyping to development. 


Fibery Office Meeting

Our main goal was to create a tool that could grow with the company. Most tools can’t survive the growth, and a company has to switch them. Our idea was to create flexible software that consists of several building blocks that you can assemble for your process. 

It appeared, we were working on a no-code approach for building internal collaborative tools, but we did not know that when we started.

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How did you go from idea to product?

We started from some conceptual ideas back in 2017. It was just a presentation of a possible future that I showed to 15 Targetprocess customers and got very positive feedback. Looking back, I’m not sure this feedback was super valuable since our customers were somewhat biased :)

Then we had several challenging technical problems that we tried to solve. For example, how to allow people to build a flexible domain for their company? We created several prototypes, tried all possible databases (including Graph, NoSQL, etc.), and it appeared that Postgres was the best choice. We also chose Clojure as a core language, which is a weird choice, but it gave us the needed flexibility to do various transformations faster. There were many technical problems since the goal was very ambitious and bold.

Fibery Workspace


Fibery start was slow, the first prototype that could be demoed to people appeared after 8 months of development, and private beta was released in 2019 after 24 months of development. Looking back, we could do it in 20 months since some scope additions were not necessary. But scoping is always hard.

We onboarded several hundred teams, but the churn was pretty high. Fibery was in private beta for more than a year. We listened to early users and improved the product till the public launch in April 2020. It was a pretty successful launch; we got product of the day on PH and some virality.

It took us more than 3 years to launch publicly and start revenue-generating. This is very unusual in the B2B SaaS space, but I don’t think we could do it much faster since the complexity of the problem can’t be reduced easily. 

After the launch, we monitored early customers and saw who sticks better. We discovered that Fibery churn for product teams was lower and focused on product development processes more. In February 2021, we released Fibery for Product Teams, and now we have more than 50 product companies among our customers. 

Our main problem is that Fibery is very flexible and can be used for almost any industry, but from the product/market fit point of view, it is almost always better to focus on some specific niche. We found product-market fit in the product companies niche since our annual churn here is less than 15%.


Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We tried many things :) 

Product Hunt launches are good for attracting investors and potential customers, but in reality, we had many registrations (1,000-2,000 every launch) but very few conversions to actual customers. Fibery is quite complex for inbound marketing channels, but we understood that only recently.

One of the best things we did was this funny Yet another collaboration tool landing. It was on top of HN and generated tons of positive feedback. Many people find our humor refreshing, and it helped us get some vitality and trust.


Fibery Fun Landing Page


Content marketing is something we are doing authentically as well. I write monthly progress reviews with all the numbers and all failures. Sometimes they are fun to read, and many people praise our articles. Few posts got to the HN top. We tried to collaborate with one of the best content agencies in the world, but they failed to deliver good content. On average, we have about 7-8K page views in the blog every month, and it is hard to say that numbers were growing last year.

We tried CPC, and it took us 6 months to have good leads flow, but conversion is still bad. It was tough to define an activation metric for Fibery, but it seems we nailed it. We want to improve the onboarding process to improve the activation rate. 

We tried to set up an outreach channel with two agencies. The first one generated zero calls, the second one is doing slightly better, and we had 3 calls last month. To make it viable, we should have around 20 calls and 5-10 sales. The experiment is still in progress.

We started a Partners program a few months ago and already have 20 active partners. They truly believe in Fibery and are very enthusiastic to onboard new companies and help them with the processes set up and evolution. We don’t have any clear results from the partners yet, but I think this can be the most significant channel for Fibery in 2022.

I think word of mouth is our main channel so far. Our existing customers recommend Fibery, and this is a very good sign. But since our customers’ base is not large yet, the growth is quite slow; we grew from $80K to $290K ARR in 2021.

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

As I already mentioned, we found product/market fit, and our main goal is to grow the business to ~$1M ARR in 2022. This is a bold goal, but I hope we will get 2-3 customers acquisition channels to work efficiently (finally).

My best hopes are the Partners network and Startup program (we give Fibery for free for 1 year if a startup has revenue less than Fibery). We have 100 active startups using Fibery, and they should start to convert into paid customers in 2022.

We have 24 people on board and plan to hire 2 more in marketing (Head of Marketing and Educator). Now I handle the Head of Marketing responsibilities, but it is hard to do that effectively since CEO responsibilities suffer. 


Since starting Fibery, what have been your main lessons?

I’ll put them in a list good for tweets:

  • A narrow niche is important. You have to think about the market and target persona very early. This is hard for technical founders, but it will simplify everything, from product scope to marketing.
  • Sales channels are more important than you think. Set experiments and execute them. Focus on 1-2 channels at once and make sure they don’t work for you till you move on.
  • Release in public in less than 12 months (if possible). Try really hard to reduce the scope and make it happen. Developing a new product without real feedback is very hard emotionally, early release can help you reduce the uncertainty and find “your way” faster.


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

We didn’t really think about the narrow market niche for Fibery till the official release. It took us 3 years to nail the niche and deliver something specifically for this niche. Overgeneralization may work if you have huge budgets, but if you don’t, then focusing on a niche is your only choice. I think this was the main mistake we made.

We spent the first several months just prototyping and playing with various technologies. We manage to solve all major technological problems, but we may face more with growth. These are good problems to have, but I still wonder how Fibery will survive large 1000 people accounts in the future.

The real challenge was a company separation. Fibery was an internal project first, and it was extremely hard to spin it off as an independent company. It took more than 2 years and endless negotiations. At some point, Fibery was close to death (and it was even announced to the team), but we survived, separated, and cleaned our cap table to get the seed round. I definitely don’t want to have this experience again.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

Here are the top 5 books I can recommend to any entrepreneur:

1. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore to nail the positioning and first years of the startup.

2. The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick to learn how to really talk to users and do customer discovery calls.

3. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull to build genius company culture.

4+5. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi + How to Cook Your Life by Dōgen to learn how to live your life and do things. They should be read together. 

These books influenced me greatly in the last couple of years.

For any B2B SaaS company, I recommend Intercom, Loom, Slack, and Fibery. We use these tools extensively and they really help us.


Where can we go to learn more?

We have a very decent blog. I recommend checking the gems section with the best articles we wrote.

You can follow me on Twitter. And there are plenty of videos on our Youtube channel.

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