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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Bootstrapping a Freemium No-Code Form Builder to $6k MRR

Marie Martens
Marie Martens
November 9, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Belgium
Revenue of startups
$0-$10k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Bootstrapping a Freemium No-Code Form Builder to $6k MRR

Marie Martens
Marie Martens
November 9, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Belgium
Cause of failure of the startup

Marie co-founded Tally, a freemium SaaS tool to create forms without knowing how to code. They launched Tally a year ago and have now reached 12,600 users and $6,000 MRR while being bootstrapped.

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

I’m Marie, 32 years old and born and based in Belgium. I have a background in Marketing and founded Tally together with my co-founder Filip Minev.

We are a small team of 2 based in Belgium, Europe and Tally is completely independent, self-funded and bootstrapped.

Tally is the simplest way to create forms, without knowing how to code, and for free.

I’m responsible for everything marketing-related and everything operational that comes with running a startup (customer support, administration, etc.). Filip is the technical brain behind Tally. He designs and develops the product.

Tally is a freemium SaaS tool. We offer unlimited forms and responses for free, combined with a paid Tally Pro subscription that unlocks a set of empowering form building features.

Tally Landing Pag


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

End 2019, me and my partner Filip Minev decided to chase our dreams.

I was marketing manager at a Digital Product Studio in Belgium and Filip had left Delta, a crypto portfolio app he had built and was acquired by eToro. We wanted to build a product for the rising influencer marketing industry while traveling and working as digital nomads.

A couple of years ago, we got the idea when traveling in Mexico, a hotspot for travel influencers and bloggers. Hotspot was going to become a platform that helps hotels to connect with travel influencers and set up collaborations. We were going to build the platform if we could find 100 hotels that showed interest in our idea. We made a landing page and reached out to hotels we found on Instagram. We used a Google form to collect data and weren’t really happy with the way it looked, but we didn’t want to spend too much time on it and moved on. In no time, we found 100 hotels that were interested in our product and noticed most of the traction came from Asia.

Beginning 2020, we had a growing number of hotels and influencers on the platform, and we both decided to go for it. I quit my job, we rented out our apartment and booked a plane to Bali, with the first stop in Bangkok. Once we arrived in Bangkok, the pandemic hit and countries were going into lockdown. Customers started churning or asking to pause their subscriptions. Flights were being canceled, and suddenly going to Bali and being stuck on an island with limited healthcare facilities didn’t seem like the safest thing to do. Borders were closing, and to stay in Thailand we had to leave the country to extend our visas, without knowing if we would be able to get back in. We ran out of options and had to fly back to Belgium.

We felt like Hotspot could grow and didn’t want to give up on our startup idea so easily. So we decided to keep building and prepare for better days.

Fast forward to summer 2020.

COVID-19 hit Belgium hard, and hospitals were overwhelmed. We decided to organize a fundraiser and donated free hotel nights to healthcare workers. Again, we needed a form for hotels and healthcare workers to register and we struggled to find the right one. Google Forms is very functional but doesn’t look great, and established form tools like Typeform, Jotform, Formstack make you hit a paywall fast and can be very expensive for early-stage startups or indie makers.

By now, we had lost half of our Hotspot customers, and with no perspective on when the travel industry would recover, we decided to pivot and build our own form tool. We wanted to make a simple yet powerful form builder that allows you to create any form without breaking the bank.

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How did you go from idea to product?

We shared our MVP for the first time with friends and family in August 2020. Our MVP was a very basic version of the form builder, you could insert questions and that was it. You couldn't even publish a form. We didn't have an extensive network of our own, so we started sharing our first version of our form builder with the people closest to us.

After processing their feedback, we started with cold outreach to creators, Indie Hackers, and startup founders who might be interested in our product. We scanned Product Hunt and Twitter, made lists of hundreds of prospects, and started doing cold outreach, asking for their feedback. Often without success, but those who did take the time to reply became part of our community of early users and ambassadors.

We kept our pricing simple and didn’t want to bombard our users with countless limits and paywalls. Tally is a freemium product, 99% of all features are free and you can create an unlimited number of forms and collect unlimited responses for free. Why so free, you might ask? We were entering a competitive market, and offering free forms without limit is one of our main differentiators. We launched Tally Pro (at $29/month) a couple of months later with a set of advanced features aimed at teams and startups. 

We launched publicly in March 2021 on Product Hunt and shared a checklist of how we went from MVP to Product Hunt launch.

Our launch was a rollercoaster and we ended as product #4 of the day. We doubled our user base (from 1,500 to 3,000 users) after the launch and Product Hunt has been an instrumental step in gaining exposure.

Tally Product Hunt Launch


Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We have to thank our growth to a combination of a lot of smaller strategies and channels:

  • Building in public and sharing our startup story and milestones has helped us to gain exposure with fellow Indie Hackers and founders. 
  • Product led growth: most of our users are free users and share a Tally form with a ‘Powered by Tally’ badge on it.
  • Referrals: we launched a startup-, educational, non-profit, and affiliate program.
  • Community building: we built our own little community with early users and supporters that helped us to spread and promote Tally.
  • Content marketing: we’re creating a lot of help documentation and tutorials about form building and new features. Users are also starting to create content, which is something we want to stimulate more in the future.


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

We launched Tally one year ago and have now reached 12,600 users and $6,000 MRR. We want to stay bootstrapped and are not planning on hiring anytime soon. Our first goal is to become RAMEN profitable and create a sustainable lifestyle business for ourselves, while building the most powerful form builder for SMB’s out there.

Tally Form Builder


Our end goal is to have the financial freedom to support our family and work wherever, whenever and on whatever project we want.

Since starting Tally, what have been your main lessons?

  • It's okay to say no. You can not satisfy everyone when you have a small bootstrapped team, but that's okay.
  • The art of persisting. Every day, I'm replying to emails, answering questions and writing help docs. Filip is coding and helping users out non-stop. Life as a bootstrapped founder sounds more glamorous than it is, but every dollar you make will make you insanely happy.
  • Don't be afraid to ask. Every problem you encounter has been solved by someone else before you. There's a great community supportive of Indie Hackers out there that wants to see you succeed and will help you out. So, just ask!


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

Our startup story isn't one of immediate success. Because of COVID, we had to pivot and reinvent ourselves. I had just quit my job to launch a startup in travel when the pandemic hit. Finding a new startup idea and deciding to pivot was not an easy thing to do, as well as not earning any recurrent income during 2 years.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

I’m an avid Notion user. We use Notion for managing our to-do’s, planning, feature requests, etc. We even built our help center in Notion, with the support of Super.so.

Besides Notion, we use Tally to gather feedback from our users, for applications to our startup programs, for our affiliate program, to create interactive comparisons with our competitors, and the list goes on.

We use Figma for designing Tally and our marketing materials.

My biggest source of inspiration on bootstrapping is the Indie Hackers podcast and Twitter.


Where can we go to learn more?

You can check our website, our blog, and our Twitter to know more about us!

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