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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Profitabilly: Shutting Down a Profitable Side-Project

May 9, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Revenue of startups
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Profitabilly: Shutting Down a Profitable Side-Project

May 9, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Cause of failure of the startup
Lack of Focus

Natagon is an entrepreneur from Bali who, trying to solve a problem he was struggling with in his development agency, built a SaaS that mixed a project management software with an accounting one. Using cold-emails, he was soon able to make it profitable, but lack of passion led to its shut down.



Hi Natagon! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hey, I’m Natagon, a self-taught programmer and entrepreneur from Bali, Indonesia. Right now, I am focusing my time on growing my next project, Dumogio.

Previously, I worked on Profitabilly, a job cost tracking software. It’s a tool to track transactions in your projects so users can know how much and where are they expensing and profiting. It is similar to project management softwares, but instead of monitoring tasks, Profitabilly tracks your costs.

I ran Profitabilly as a single operation, and I didn’t have a co-founder or any employees. It was generating about $290/month when I shut it down, after six months.

Profitabilly was a typical SaaS company, operating via monthly payments from customers. It was targeting services-based businesses, like agencies, construction companies, and consultants.

What motivated you to start Profitabilly?

I have a small software development agency working on various projects. For daily operations, I was using standard accounting and project management software. The problem with standard accounting software is that it can’t easily track all of my expenses and profit for every project; I needed to filter for it. As I was managing a lot of projects, it became a pain. This was especially true when I gave projects to a contractor and I wanted to make sure they stayed on budget.

The idea for Profitabilly was born when I opened my project management software one day. I started to add a task for my upcoming project, and I had a thought to mix project management software with accounting software.

The main idea was simple: You only add a project with a due date, and then you start to log every transaction which would be in the project. For example, billing, contractor payment(s), among others. In the end, the software would calculate all of your costs from each transaction and show your true profit (if any) from the project with all of your specific costs tracked with the corresponding reasoning/task

Profitability Design

How did you build it?

I tried to keep the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as simple as possible. It didn’t have a lot of features, because the main goal was to launch it as fast as possible. It took me about two months to go from an idea to production.

I spent the first two weeks just researching and brainstorming. The next six weeks I spent them coding Profitabilly in my spare time. Fortunately, I saved a lot of money on development costs because I built it myself.

I used Python with a Flask Framework for backend and Bootstrap for frontend. The hardest part when building Profitabilly was the frontend part. My frontend skills are not that good. I spent a lot of time tweaking the CSS and JavaScript which sometimes made me get a real headache.

Profitability Landing Page

My pricing was simple: I was only charging $29/month for unlimited projects and users. The main reason why I only had one pricing model was that I wanted to keep it simple and I didn’t want to spend more time building a complicated billing system.

What were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

At the time, I didn’t have an audience from an email list or a social media account. I did, however, have the motivation and sales skills to do a lot of cold emails and I was good at speaking one-on-one with people thanks to my agency business.

My primary strategy was using cold emails and social media for attracting users. I didn’t have a good result with my social media marketing. I tried some social media ads, but the conversion was terrible; I definitely need to learn more about social media marketing.

For cold emailing, I got much better results--even though it required more effort. I mainly tried to reach companies in the services industries like construction and marketing agencies. Only getting ten paying users required a ton of cold emailing and follow-ups.

I used tools like Mailtrack to track opened emails, Snov.io to find email addresses, and Gmail as an email provider (so that my email address would look more personal). 70% of my emails were opened, but only a small number of them actually replied to me.

What were the causes of Profitabilly’s failure?

Lack of passion was the main reason for Profitabilly’s failure. After six months of growing Profitabilly, I asked myself, “...do I want to run Profitabilly for the next five years? Do I enjoy running it?”. My answer was no. Even though Profitabilly successfully had ten paying users, I wanted to find something I enjoyed more. I then decided to shut it down.

Because of my lack of passion, I didn’t carried out the marketing seriously. I didn’t submit Profitabilly to Product Hunt, BetaList or write a blog post. Also, Profitabilly’s Instagram page only had 200 followers.

When I made the final decision to shut it down, the first thing I did was tell my existing customers about it. Yes, they were angry and disappointed, but I tried my best to explain my reasoning and I gave them a solution. I migrated Profitabilly to be self-hosted and usable in their own domains, and I didn’t even charge a license fee, I provided it for free.

What were your biggest mistakes and challenges you had to overcome?

I live in Bali, Indonesia, and in my country, Stripe is not available. Stripe is a maker’s favorite payment gateway. They have a robust API and good reviews, but I can’t use it. I tried to look for an alternative, but I needed to learn their documentation, and it required a lot of development time

My biggest mistake was spending too much time on trying to create a good design. Even though the app was simple, I didn’t want it to have an evil design. Because of my lack of front-end skills, I spent a lot of time tweaking CSS and JavaScript code to meet the design I wanted. I think it would have been better to hire someone to design it for me.

What were your expenses? Did you achieve some revenue? In the end, how much money did you lose?

My expenses included hosting, domain, some ads, and the most significant cost was my time, my valuable time. I spent about 200 hours of my time on Profitabilly.

I reached $290 MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) from 10 paying users. I think I spent about $300 total for this project. I didn’t lose a lot of money--it was profitable.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

If I could start over, I would build it only for myself and not sell it to others. I hope I would ask myself in the beginning, “...will I enjoy running this for the next five years? Am I really passionate about it?”.

I also regret not having an audience. No matter how good your product is, if no one knows about it, it’s useless. Now I have started a blog to build an audience, and so far it is working good.

What are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?

I regularly go to IndieHackers, Failory, and EveryoneHatesMarketers to get some inspiration. I love reading. I read the Rich Dad Poor Dad book when I was ten years old, and it changed my mind. For someone who lives in the third world, it really changed my life and perspective.

Today, I love to read books from the Basecamp folks, like Rework and Getting Real; they changed the way I work.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can read my blog here. Feel free to reach out if you think I can help you in any way. Funny thing, a lot of people reach out to me to become their co-founder, but sorry I can't help with that.


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