Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Seomator: Growing a SaaS to $4k/month in a Highly Competitive Market

Nick Sawinyh
Nick Sawinyh
February 21, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
$0-$10k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Seomator: Growing a SaaS to $4k/month in a Highly Competitive Market

Nick Sawinyh
Nick Sawinyh
February 21, 2019
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Nick is the co-founder of Seomator, a technical SEO tool that is making over $4,000/month. He started the business as he wanted to avoid carrying out the same SEO tasks over and over again. Working the SEO of the site, Nick and his co-founder have been able to grow the tool to hundreds of customers.

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

Hi there, I’m Nick Sawinyh, one of the two founders of Seomator. I started my career as a network administrator in a local ISP company, where I met my business partner Eugene. Honestly, we just had three drinks together and found out we both were snowboarders and crazy chillers :)

Then, we both worked for several years in the field of engineering and web products. Since we were very young, smart, and active, we started a couple of online businesses at the same time, which were successfully sold. Alongside this, we came up with an idea to serve the brand-new online service and worked on that for one and a half years until beta Seomator was launched. Whether you’re a freelance marketer or a marketing agency, Seomator will do the job for you and make your life easier.

Right now we make about $4k MRR, and we are slowly growing. Here are our stats from Profitwell:

Seomator ProfitWell

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

Since we had to create websites for our businesses and as young professionals didn’t have enough money to cover all the expenses for high-quality services, I studied and handled web design and SEO on my own. It was 2006 and it was a lot easier than nowadays. Later, I founded a SEO agency as a side business venture and was sold in 2015. Believe it or not, from the very beginning of our collaboration with Evgeny we always stashed two or three ideas we could turn into services. Working on a task, we see where and how to optimize or automate a process or how to use knowledge or data we own. With Seomator, I was working on my customers’ websites’ SEO and was wondering how to place SEO Analysis basis rails. As a result, Eugene and I thought why not start a tool that would check and show site owners all the weaknesses of and ways to improve their websites.

There are two popular types of SEO Audit Tools on the market right now: SEO Graders such as Woorank, Nibbler, and Mysiteauditor that give you some basic “insides” based on one crawled URL (homepage usually); and SEO Crawlers like Screaming Frog, Deepcrawl, Onpage, and Botify that crawl the whole website and provide results, but usually to figure out something from their reports, you have to understand how SEO works and what you’ll need to do to fix issues.

We are somewhere in between full-scale crawlers and SEO graders; we crawl up to 1000 pages from the website and then provide a list of SEO Issues backed with crawl data and detailed information and How-to-Fix tips.

Seomator risks

What makes us different from our competitors is our absolute focus on the automation of the SEO Audit Reports. We are also proud to be more affordable than most of the other services out there.

In 2013, I was working on SEO for a couple of my customers and realized I didn't want to do the same job over and over. I wanted some service to do it for me. I investigated existing tools and found that I wanted something different from them.

Tools like SEOptimer, ZadroWeb, or MySiteAuditor provide a quick analysis of your website and give you suggestions on how you can take your SEO up another notch. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and technical, without breaking the bank, then Seomator is the right tool. We have Embedded SEO Audit Widget to help SEO Agencies with new sales. Also, you might find a useful Monitoring alert tool to track all changes with a particular website. We offer a free trial you can test out, or you can sign up for a one-time report.

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How did you build Seomator?

Using our team and the sources we already had from our previous projects, Eugene and I started with a description of all the parameters that had to be checked for any website’s SEO improvement and recommendations we might give based on that.

When we were looking for right tech stack, we decide to go with good old PHP, since we have developers and previous experience. Also worth to mention that PHP developers are pretty common at freelance sites so you won’t have a shortage on a workforce.  

Beta Seomator was launched in May 2014 and has Full Audit Report combined with Embedded Tool and Domain Comparison as options. For two or three months we offered the tool just a trial and started to sell it during Fall 2014. We began to engage mentors and influencers who gave us useful bits of advice and helped Seomator to come into SEO world.

Our turning point was probably when we got the right product-market fit and were featured in world-famous Brian Dean’s SEO Tools List:

Seomator Brian Dean

Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We did a lot of marketing efforts after our first MVP launch. I wish we had started doing them earlier. For us, SEO and content marketing works best; we ranked pretty well for a bunch of our target keywords and managed to get a lot of backlinks over the years:

Seomator Ahrefs

The most successful link-building strategy was to give away for free our top-tier subscription to bloggers and influencers in exchange for Seomator mention. It worked pretty well. Another interesting thing was when we launched an affiliate program. It didn't bring us a lot of paying customers but it significantly helped us with link building. We run our affiliate program on Tapfiliate, a very flexible affiliate management platform suitable for SaaS recurring payments that also easily integrates with our payment processing provider.

We’ve also tried advertising on social media and Google AdWords, but the cost of acquisition was too high for us.

It’s worth mentioning that along the road, we’ve built a few side projects to support our SEO, most notably Curatedseotools, a list of the best SEO tools, which was a big success at ProductHunt back in the day:

Curated SEO Tools

The most important thing is that since our marketing strategy is built mostly on SEO efforts, our current monthly marketing expenses are very low and our user acquisition cost is near $0.

With all that efforts we have about 600-700 leads each month, with conversion to trials near 10%.

Seomator Leads

During the process of building & growing Seomator, which were the worst mistakes you committed?

We’d built web projects previously, but Seomator was our first Saas and our first project with a fully remote team. So we made a lot of mistakes. I mean really a lot of them, and they were generally costly.

For example, we spent a significant amount of time and money working on product localizations but realized later that keeping several languages up to date would cost us even more. And reaching those new markets wasn't bringing us enough customers to make it profitable.

We also wanted to have both Stripe and Paypal as payment processing providers and spent near nine months building our own billing backend on the top of the Stripe and Paypal API’s. After nine months, we just trashed that code and went with Chargebee, which offered all the features we needed.

Dealing with remote developers was also a new beast. We had a full-time senior software developer on our team and a bunch of freelancers from all over the world working on various parts of our product. Obviously, we ended up dealing with all possible problems with freelancers: missed deadlines, bad code, overestimated work hours, developers disappearing when we needed to fix a critical bug, and so on and so on. We started using Hubstaff for employee time tracking and it did the trick.

If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

I wish we had focused on the marketing of our product earlier. We spent way too much time trying to find product-market fit, building features that never gained enough traction. Everyone keeps saying that SaaS founders should talk to users daily while looking for product-market fit, but I would say you have to talk with your paying customers if you already have them, not with users who just haven't started a trial or churned in a few days. What did your paying customers find useful in your product? How do they use your product?

SEO tools are a very competitive market, and if someone is telling you that your product is missing few features, most likely even if you build those features they will never pay for a subscription anyway. Be aware of tire kickers requesting features!

For example, we’ve built an API for Seomator and it took a bunch of time and money in development and product support, but very few customers are using it. If I had a chance to do things differently, I would cut out a lot of features that we’ve built into our product.

Apart from mistakes, what are other sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

I would recommend stopping learning and starting doing. I’ve seen a lot of people looking for sacred knowledge, spending hours listening to podcasts and attending every single startup meetup in town, but never touching their own product. Seriously guys, just start working on your product, and solve problems as they come.

Where can we go to learn more?

Visit our website, follow me on Twitter (@sawinyh) or connect on LinkedIn.

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