What started as a simple tool to find keywords has turned into a SaaS that makes over $250,000 per month and employs 8 members. This is the story of how an entrepreneur called Peter learned from failures & mistakes and grew a successful business in a highly competitive market.
Hi Peter! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
Hi Failory readers, my name is Peter. I’m the founder and CEO at Mangools. We develop a super-easy-to-use package of SEO tools. Our HQ is in Bratislava, Slovakia but I was born and raised in the marvelous city of Banska Stiavnica. Seriously, you should visit it someday :)
I started programming when I was about twelve. I dreamed of developing a product that would attract thousands of people. The D-day came when I launched the very first version of KWFinder in 2014. At that time, I had many other projects running yet many of them failed. I’m not a pro developer, so I always create a prototype and launch it asap.
Nowadays, KWFinder is part of the Mangools SEO tools package. There are 5 tools that cover a lot of SEO stuff. The tools are developed, marketed and supported by 11 people on the team. Our mission is to make SEO easy for everyone so the data, UX and user interface are all about that.
Up until May 2019, our business model was freemium but we got to a point where we decided to discontinue our “forever free” plan. Now we have a full-featured 10-day free trial and 3 tiers of paid subscriptions with monthly/annual billing options.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m not a perfectionist. My aim is to launch a fully-functional prototype and collect feedback from real users. That’s exactly what happened with KWFinder. I shared it on Reddit and the feedback was awesome. At that time, I didn’t think about Mangools, a brand that would cover more SEO tools.
I had many different projects before Mangools. They included web development, affiliate websites, e-shops, domaining, and SaaS businesses. SaaS is a business field that truly attracts my attention. It gives me enough space to be creative and focused on the development of my own product.
Before KWFinder, I developed some online marketing tools to cover my needs. I kind of hoped there would be more people with the same needs. I’m not a fan of deep analyses and business plans so I always use my intuition to evaluate the market potential.
Why did these projects fail? Well, sometimes I lost the enthusiasm to finish them. In other cases, I missed the good old product-market fit. The competition on global markets is enormous so coming up with an idea that hits the market at the right time while customers are willing to pay for it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
How did you build Mangools?
As I mentioned earlier, it all started in 2014 when I launched the first version of KWFinder. The development process took me about one month. Right after, I posted it on Reddit, HackerNews and some other forums. This was the first-ever marketing activity done for KWFinder which stood behind its early success.
Given the fact that I was already a technically oriented person with experience in the online field, I was quickly available to launch and market the product without any third-party help such as investors or developers.
This helped me to test KWFinder’s potential in a short time with almost no costs. Since there are two sides to every coin, my universality became an obstacle when the tool started skyrocketing. My main concern was the delegation of the tasks. It took me a while to get through it but at the end of the day, I must say that thanks to the people that joined me during the last 5 years, we all managed to bring Mangools on the level on which it currently is.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Until summer 2016, the growth of Mangools was purely organic. We basically didn’t do any targeted marketing activities, PPC campaigns or anything else. I’m familiar with marketing. I’m a fan of some controversial, let’s say grey-hat techniques that force you to experiment but there were no serious marketing activities done for Mangools. That’s why my 2 teammates Frantisek, Martin and I decided to move things up so Maros joined us in July 2016. He was the first guy dedicated to marketing at that time.
At first, we focused on the low-hanging fruit. Setting up proper analytics and remarketing campaigns in Google Ads brought us hundreds of new subscriptions. These days, we work a lot with behavioral emailing and inbound marketing thanks to great content.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that a company behind SEO tools has to do SEO as well :) We play with it all the time and optimize all our websites both from the technical and content point of view. We recently hired a new teammate who’s responsible for link building as we see a lot of opportunities in the off-page field too.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
The biggest challenge is to find the right niche at the right time and provide a product that would fulfill the customer’s needs. I managed to do so by launching KWFinder and then creating Mangools SEO tools package with the team. It also taught me how to delegate tasks and let the teammates do what they are best at.
When it comes to my personal stuff, I already mentioned that I had a lot of experience with online businesses, development and marketing. My knowledge wasn’t so deep but it was good enough for the start :) However, when KWFinder became a serious thing I realized it’s impossible to manage it on my own.
During the process of building & growing Mangools, which were the worst mistakes you committed?
I would say that the whole team is a fan of trying new things and doing experiments. Many of our decisions are not based on any analysis. Sometimes it’s pure intuitive decision making. It works in most of the cases but the bigger we are, the harder it gets.
We recently switched from a freemium subscription model to a time-limited free trial which brought a lot of changes. We’re still analyzing the pros and cons. I must say that it forced us to make some decisions backed up by serious analysis. We’ll see how it goes but I guess it’s a natural thing as the business grows. We are learners, nobody in the team had previous experience with running a business that got to $2.7 million yearly revenue in less than 4 years.
When it comes to our brand Mangools, to be honest, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead when I was starting with KWFinder. There was nothing like Mangools on the plan. A couple of years after, it’s a bit of a pity because KWFinder is still the bigger buzzword compared to Mangools but we are working on it.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
In all honesty, I would do things more or less the same. Maybe I would try to finish some of the earlier projects, at least the online tools I used to work on before Mangools. Many times, I haven’t finished a prototype and forgot about the whole idea.
But you know what? I would do one thing related to Mangools differently. I would push the whole project more even before it started growing that rapidly. That means I would build the team and delegate tasks a lot sooner than I did. I lost some time by not doing so.
When it comes to really helpful things, I would mention my brute-force attitude, namely the focus on quick release to test the market potential. I try to do this every time I can so I basically do a lot of experiments.
Apart from mistakes, what are other sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
Learning by doing is a method that I stick to. Besides that, I like reading books and news about economics, investments and business topics. When it comes to other sources, I love Twitter because it filters all the thrash I would need to swim through. It’s fast and you can easily pick the piece of information that attracts you.
Where can we go to learn more?
Since we do a lot of stuff aimed at content marketing, make sure to visit our blog if you are interested in some cool SEO tips and in-depth guides.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that we are fans of acquisitions. Our goal is to diversify the revenue stream and not to depend solely on one niche. Of course, to leverage what we’ve learned, we aim for SaaS businesses yet not in the SEO field. Our pilot project is EmailListVerify, a tool for email marketers that we acquired last year. We are currently working on another acquisition but since it’s not finished, I won’t say more than that :)
When it comes to Mangools, we are working on a set of free SEO tools and high-quality content to boost our brand as an SEO authority. On top of that, we focus on improving the quality of the data and redesigning the tools to boost their UX even more.