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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Making $10k/Month Building the All-in-One Tool for Freelancers

Naman Sarawagi
Naman Sarawagi
April 27, 2021
Category of startup
Services
Country of startup
India
Revenue of startups
$0-$10k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Making $10k/Month Building the All-in-One Tool for Freelancers

Naman Sarawagi
Naman Sarawagi
April 27, 2021
Category of startup
Services
Country of startup
India
Cause of failure of the startup

Naman co-founded Refrens, an operating system for freelancers. It manages backend work like invoicing and expense management. They currently have more than 100K freelancers, agencies, and small businesses signed up on the platform.

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

Hi! I am Naman, co-founder of Refrens.com, an operating system for Freelancers and agencies. I'm a 32 years old entrepreneur, based out of Bangalore, India. Refrens is a B2B marketplace to generate more leads. At the same time, Refrens helps to manage backend work with various free tools like invoicing, expense management, and many more.

Mainly, I look after the fundraising by pitching to various investors for this 2 years old startup that is now scaling up quickly. Also, I am the product and marketing manager at Refrens. This means that I lead the teams to build and grow the platform by focusing on various aspects including marketing, PR, and designing. 

I am responsible for ensuring that Refrens keeps up with customer expectations. Therefore, I look after adding/amending various features on the platform, to make it more user-friendly and to keep up with the latest technology trends. 

Our business model is simply matching the demand supply in the freelance market and charging a fee-for-service. At Refrens, we are building India’s most powerful platform for finances and growth.

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

In 2009, I did my engineering in Computer science. While everyone was joining the campus offers from service companies in India, I decided to take a different path. 

I joined Freecharge, as their first Product Manager. At an early age, I lead both the Technology and Marketing teams at Freecharge. I worked from scratch to build its first 100k users. 

Post-Freecharge, I joined ZipDial, again I was the first PM here. We built the product from scratch. This was an idea which I had independently conceptualized at college. I started as a Product Manager at ZipDial moving to Enterprise sales and into Marketing in my final months. ZipDial was acquired by Twitter.

I had the entrepreneurial quest in me from the beginning. That is one of the main reasons why I did not join a service company right out of college, which most students do. Even though I worked as an employee at Freecharge and ZipDial, being among the early hires gave me the entrepreneurial freedom to build great products. 

These experiences were a good learning experience and motivated me to take a plunge into entrepreneurship. After ZipDial, I ventured into my own and founded FindYogi.com. We focused on consumer electronics and built a profitable business with over 2M monthly users.

I met a lot of good freelancers during my course of growing multiple startups but finding them and interacting with them was tough. It looked like a good market to solve problems for. After consulting a lot of established startups, in 2018, I started working on my second and current venture Refrens.com.

Refrens was launched to solve the delay and inefficiency freelancers face when collecting payments from different customers. It is possible to create an invoice within 30 seconds on Refrens. We are trying to build a system around invoicing, not limiting the platform to just invoice creation which by the way is free forever. One can generate quotations/proforma invoices, track expenses, generate TDS/GST Reports. 

Along with an invoicing and payments service provider, Refrens is also a marketplace, designed for B2B service providers including designers, software developers, accountants, marketers, consultants, etc. Our focus is on the growth of individual freelancers and agencies.

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How did you go from idea to product?

After scrutinizing industry reports on the market size and the tools used by freelancers and other professionals for payments. We launched a raw product in a closed group. With the feedback received, we started improvising on the product. 

While there were a host of invoicing platforms, most of them had a limited free period. That was not all, payment collection was a major challenge since it required a lot of follow-ups and reminders. This was the major trigger to create a system around it and hence Refrens.com was born.

Our initial product wasn’t well-received by the audience. It called for an excessive change in user habits. After incorporating the responses received by some freelancers in the product's second iteration, our offering was quick in getting accepted by the freelancing community. People found the tool simple and slick.

Freelancers or small agencies can sign up on our platform by providing the necessary details. They can create unlimited free invoices, quotations, and proforma invoices with a very easy-to-use design. Most of the details are auto-filled and the user just has to modify them at their convenience. There are no watermarks and users can use their branding. They can embed our payment gateway in the invoice itself which makes making payments (by the client) super easy.

As we progressed, we came across other challenges freelancers and small agencies were facing like no easy access to loans or credits which made us create unique features like Early Pay Discounts to shorten cash cycles.

The company's core segment revolves around B2B freelancers. The vision is to create an ecosystem for freelancers which helps them to solve their day-to-day issues, generate more work and build a network around it.

Refrens Landing Page

The Refrens team strongly believes in freelancing as the future of work. As a result, this domain needs significant enhancements and advancements to be successful.

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We created a USP by focusing on the ability to capture the client-vendor relationship which allows businesses to network among themselves to generate qualified leads. 

We use multiple techniques to market our products and create awareness. We use SEO, SEM, Social Media, Content Marketing, Email based retargeting to reach our customers. 

We heavily rely on SEO and advertisements to get traffic to the website. For us, social media platforms were not effective to increase the customer base. We have tried a couple of hacks around Facebook groups and pages but weren't successful in driving mass attention. We are now focusing on other platforms like LinkedIn, Quora, Instagram, and Pinterest for brand building and awareness.

Apart from that, we are interviewing various prominent freelancers in the Indian market to increase our reach. Along with that, we are focusing on link-building strategies like guest blogging to get higher search engine rankings.


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

We have more than 100K freelancers, agencies, and small businesses signed up on our platform to date. We are seeing a monthly average growth of 15%. This number will rise as we roll out more features. 

We are targeting a million users over the next 2 years from India. Post that we will like to expand to the US, Europe, and South Asia. In parallel, we are also working on other complementary products that make the life of a freelancer or agency owner easy and empower them for further growth.

Since starting Refrens, what have been your main lessons?

  • Pick up a large market that you understand. Solve a problem where you know who the user is. Solve hard problems for the long run. 
  • Assume your user to be a layman. If you can acquire the most layman-ish user, you have made an easy-to-adopt, useful product. And if it is useful and easy to adopt, it will gain traction. 
  • Listening to your user. While building a product it is very important to remove our personal bias and focus on what the user wants. Being agile to make quick changes. Being consistent in your efforts. 
  • Keep ‘execution’ as your business Mantra. I believe execution is the Holy Grail and the most underrated part of a business. A lot of companies do better than their counterparts just because they execute well.

The most important lesson learned as a person is to surround yourself with the kind of people you want to be. If you surround yourself with hardworking and successful people, you become one.

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

The initial challenge in any startup is to get the first set of users. We faced this challenge at Refrens also. We entered a crowded market with some of the players being at a very mature stage. Getting the first few users was the key. We called a lot of prospects and handheld them to lift their data from their existing platform to Refrens.

We were relying on growth through the marketing of the product. Although the product is free, as mentioned, our target audience is used to getting an in-person demo and extensive hand-holding for initial adoption. We solved this through better design. Instead of designing like a traditional invoicing system, we started with the assumption that our audience has never used an invoicing system before. This helped us win a lot of new customers. 

I believe we are still evolving, every single day. I have a great team that is very agile and due to this, we can iterate fast to match our user’s expectations.

What tools & resources do you recommend?

This is the tool stack we use and recommend

  • Communication and collaboration: Slack
  • Project and Task Management: Asana
  • Cloud: AWS
  • Analytics: Google Analytics, Metabase, Google Sheets
  • Mar-Tech: WebEngage
  • Daily Ops: GSuite
  • Digital: SEMrush, ahrefs, etc.
  • Design: Figma, Adobe XD, Sketch, Illustrator

Where can we go to learn more?

You can visit Refrens.com, read our blog, and can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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