❌ Failed startup
✅ Successful startup

REPitchbook: Building a SaaS Priced at $1,500/Month and Making $0

Charlie Reese is a Canadian software developer who came with (what he thought it was) a revolutionary idea for a SaaS business in the real estate industry. Using his knowledge in JavaScript, React, and SQL, he built a prototype in 6 weeks. But he failed to validate his idea and shut down.

Canada
Analytics
No MVP Validation

Charlie Reese

March 27, 2019

Sponsor Failory and get your business & product in front of +20,000 CEOs, startup founders, entrepreneurs, developers and marketers every month.

This Interview's Sponsor

Do you want to grow your business? With GenM you can get free marketing from an apprentice as part of their training. The student will work 40 hours per month creating content, increasing SEO rankings, carrying out advertisement campaigns...

Switch to better payroll. OnPay makes payroll and HR simple by paying your employees, filing US payroll taxes, and integrating with your favorite software. We can take also care of benefits, and we’ll help you switch providers. Take a peek at how easy payroll can be.

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

Hi Failory!

My name is Charlie Reese and I’m a software developer working out of Toronto, Canada.

I grew up about an hour north of Toronto on a farm. After high school, I enrolled in Commerce (business) at Queen’s University, and later started my career in M&A investment banking.

Investment banking sucked (a lot), so after ~3 years I quit to travel, surf, and learn to code. After a year of pain (learning to code from scratch was not easy for me) I started to get the hang of programming, and was hired as a full-stack / back-end developer at Tulip Retail (we’re hiring).

In late 2017, I founded a startup called REPitchbook. It was revolutionary - it generated customizable management consulting style presentations from real estate market data IN SECONDS. It also made 0 dollars. I’m happy to tell my story!

These days, I’m the founder and lead software engineer for what I think is the best stock screener and alerting application available online - MarketSnitch. I definitely took the lessons from REPitchbook and learned what not to do!

What motivated you to start REPitchbook?

As a former investment banker, it was my job to prepare presentations and analysis for clients to win deals. After spending ~8 months learning to code, I thought: “if I made it easy for others to create management consulting style presentations / pitches, they too could win deals. Professional pitches for everyone!”

That thought was enough to motivate me to start working full-time on the MVP for REPitchbook; I worked on the MVP for several hundred hours over the next 6 weeks.

I definitely should have put more thought into the product, target market, etc. More on that later. For now, here is a screenshot from the app, as well as a link to an embarrassing video tutorial series.

How did you build it?

Using my newly acquired JavaScript, React, and SQL skills, I hacked together a (laughably insecure) prototype over 6 weeks.

After the prototype was complete, I set up a meeting through a family member with the owner of several real estate brokerages. I showed him the prototype, and showed him the presentations it could generate. He loved it, and he gave me the go-ahead to do a pilot project with 4 real estate agents in one of his brokerages.

If the 4 agents testing it liked it, we agreed that I would give all the agents in the brokerage (about 100) access for $1500 / month.

REPitchbook was also publicly accessible online (individual agents could sign up), but it received minimal traffic. I didn’t spend any time on ads or SEO.

Take payroll off your to-do list.

Rated “excellent” by PC magazine, OnPay gives US startups an easy and affordable way to manage payroll and HR. We do all the heavy lifting, including payroll taxes, onboarding your employees, and setting you up for free.

Get One Month Free

Reach +20,000 Startup Founders!

If you are looking to get your product in front of founders, CEOs, VPs, web and mobile developers, makers, consultants, marketers, bloggers, product managers, and many other thought leaders, then we can help you.

👉 Sponsorships

40 Hours of Digital Marketing for $50/Month

Do you want to grow your business? With GenM you can get free marketing from an apprentice as part of their training. The student will work 40 hours per month creating content, increasing SEO rankings, carrying out advertisement campaigns...

Check it out   👉

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

At the time, the “digital marketing” landscape was new to me. Because of this, I was most comfortable with in-person marketing (i.e. setting up meetings / coffees with potential customers). I also did some cold-calling, but had little success with that.

After I secured a pilot project and some initial users, I continued meeting with other brokerages and pitching them the product. At this point, my marketing strategy was to get pilot projects at other brokerages (through emails, calls, and in person meetings), and convert the pilot projects into sales.

While talking to current and potential pilot customers, it slowly became clear that there were some pretty major product issues.

Which were the causes of REPitchbook failure?

I think REPitchbook failed for two reasons:

  1. A horrible user interface; pilot customers were not able to figure out how to use the application.
  2. No email integration; pilot customers did most of their marketing through email, not long-form print / presentations.

After spending 6 weeks trying to alter the product to appease my pilot customers, it became clear that the design was so bad that there was almost no hope. Further, since it was a SPA (single page application), the poor UI was tightly coupled with the back-end logic; the application required a complete rebuild.

After 6 weeks of piloting the project, I decided to kill it. At the time I didn’t feel I had the skills required to pivot / rebuild the company (I was new to programming and design), and I wasn’t ready to invest more time into it since I hadn’t made any real sales.

In hindsight, I probably should have brought in another developer or designer... I wanted to learn to program and build products myself though; I wasn’t willing to delegate.

All in all, I felt pretty defeated.

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

My biggest challenge regarding REPitchbook was building a user-friendly, secure prototype with my limited programming experience.

I definitely made a lot of mistakes while building REPitchbook, and I’ll outline the 3 most important ones below.

My first mistake was that I tried to add too many features to the initial product. The result of this was lots of features that felt half complete and clumsy, and no features that felt finished. I think this contributed to the poor, confusing user experience of the application.

My second mistake was that I didn’t adjust for initial customer feedback pertaining to the product’s poor design. No one specifically said it, but 100% of agents were unable to use the application without instruction when I met them in person. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if users can’t use your application without guidance, you probably need to improve your UI / UX.

My third mistake was that I didn’t validate the idea before I started building. I assumed real estate agents wanted to pitch potential clients using professional presentations. Almost none of them wanted to do that (they wanted to market to potential clients using email).

Unlimited Design Services at $349/Month

Hire a graphic design and development team to create fully functional web & app UI/UX, branding, illustrations & everything else you can imagine on a monthly subscription that starts at $349/month.

Check it out   👉

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

Ah yes, now the most embarrassing question.

I made $0 in revenue (for the reasons mentioned above), despite getting a pilot project fairly quickly and lots of positive feedback on what the application was capable of producing.

If there is a silver lining to this failure, it is that expenses were minimal (other than my time) since I did not outsource any of the development / marketing work; I’d guess expenses were ~$1000 all in.

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

First of all, I would include fewer features in REPitchbook’s MVP. This would allow for fewer, more polished features, resulting in a less confusing, more agreeable experience.

Second of all, I would talk to customers (and perhaps sell to customers) before writing any code. Talking to customers helps you prevent wasted effort and develop a product your customers want in less iterations.

Finally, I would spend WAY MORE time working on the design of the application. This experience taught me that, to your user, your design is your product. Said another way, if your UI / UX makes your user feel stupid, your UI / UX is stupid, and users won’t want your product.

Which are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?

My favourite entrepreneurial website is IndieHackers. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already - they are doing a great job dispelling the notion that you need VC funding to successfully grow your business.

Otherwise, I like to learn by reading - I have four favourite books.

  1. My favourite book on sales is Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth (by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares).This book is a no nonsense guide to the many sales channels available to every startup. It discusses why many startups wrongfully ignore most sales channels, and how any startup can identify which channel is best for them.
  2. My favourite book on design is The Design of Everyday Things (by Don Norman). I now refer to this book as the Design Bible. It is overflowing with useful insights for improving your products UI / UX. It is not only for application design (hence the title), but it still very relevant for technical creators.
  3. My favourite book on technology entrepreneurship is Hello, Startup (by Yevgeniy Brikman). This book is a crash course on everything you should know if you are a developer who wants to start (or work at) a startup.
  4. My favourite book on data science / consulting is Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (by Nassim Nicholas Taleb). This book will change the way you look at market information (and possibly those working in financial / information markets) forever. This book helped me understand why I could safely ignore most people pontificating on BNN.

Where can we go to learn more?

Visit Charlie Reese to learn more about me / how I learned to code, and MarketSnitch to learn more about the startup I’m currently working on!

✉️ Subscribe to receive weekly startup related articles!

We’re always digging for more failure stories like REPitchbook. Sign up for our newsletter to keep updated on the latest additions.

👇 Other Interviews

Browserless: Making $4,000/month With the Chrome-As-A-Service
By 
Joel Griffith
  •  
February 21, 2019
United States
SaaS
Up to 50K
One Hour Professor: How Ron Makes $10K/Month With 6 Different Websites
By 
Ron Stefanski
  •  
February 21, 2019
United States
Blog
Up to 50K
Growth Cave: Bootstrapping a $5,000/month Marketing Agency in College
By 
Lucas Lee-Tyson
  •  
March 5, 2019
United States
Agency
Up to 50K
40 Aprons: Failures Behind Growing a Food Blog by 4,000%
By 
Cheryl Malik
  •  
February 21, 2019
United States
Blog
Up to 50K
Pagestead: Bootstrapped Site Builder Making $7,000/Month
By 
Mattijs Naus
  •  
February 21, 2019
Thailand
SaaS
Up to 50K
Pull Reminders: Bootstrapping a Side Project into GitHub Marketplace
By 
Abi Noda
  •  
February 21, 2019
United States
Web Application
Up to 50K
Howell Market: How Bad Partners Killed an e-Commerce
By 
Cody Howell
  •  
March 17, 2018
United States
e-Commerce
People Management
Waterproof Digital Camera: From $250/Month to Failure
By 
Primoz Cigler
  •  
March 17, 2018
Slovenia
Blog
Bad Marketing
Fantastic House Buyers: Shutting Down My PropTech Business
By 
Alan Murray
  •  
May 20, 2018
United Kingdom
PropTech
No MVP Validation
Chowdy: Shutting Down a +$110,000/Month Food Startup
By 
Steven Long
  •  
October 25, 2018
Canada
Food
Legal Problems
Onepagetrip: Monetizing a Startup Is Not That Easy
By 
Ana Santos
  •  
March 16, 2018
Australia
Marketplace
No MVP Validation
Monetizing Issues
MotoBox: The Story of 2 Technical Co-Founders
By 
Joe Stech
  •  
March 16, 2018
United States
Transportation
Bad Marketing