Victoria founded Viewst, a no-code design, and automation tool for everything related to ad production. They launched on AppSumo and earned more than $56k in two months to break even. The team is confident to reach $1MM ARR in 2021.
Hi Victoria. Who are you and what are you currently working on?
My name is Victoria, and I’m the Founder and CEO of Viewst, a no-code design, and automation tool for everything related to ad production. I’m 37 and I'm a solo founder. Building a global company means constant travel, but I mostly tend to split my time between New York and Moscow.
Together with my team, work on Viewst started in November 2019 with the goal being to automate routine tasks in the ad-production process and thereby allow creativity to be unlocked. Despite the core concept being to democratize the design process and let users with any level of design experience create cool images and HTML ads, we were also cognisant of top design professionals spending their precious time on mundane tasks like copy/pasting. With Viewst you can scale your design to as many sizes and formats as needed with a single click; you can animate your images without having to code, and you can stream the ads directly to your Facebook, Google, or Shopify accounts.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur while working in Investment Banking, but I had no idea where to start or what to create. Ultimately it was serendipitous. Given my investment experience, friends asked me to help raise funds for their venture. When I had accomplished this, I was invited to join the project and become the COO/CEO.
I knew nothing about how to build a start-up; I didn’t even know the meaning of the word! But I was inspired by the fact that I would be responsible for all the decisions I made.
I used to be a professional tennis player when I was a kid and I see building a company as being remarkably similar. You learn to become a better version of yourself every day, you constantly discover new things and practice a lot, you grind away to overcome obstacles, and face a lot of challenges. On the other hand, there is travel to different places, building new connections, and a great sense of enjoyment and accomplishment.
For those reasons I quickly fell in love with my new professional role. I bought a one-way ticket and moved to New York City as it was clear to me that The Big Apple is the capital of advertising and media.
The first project I was involved in as a co-founder expanded into three continents in the first year, but it swiftly became obvious that it wasn’t scalable. I was disappointed, frustrated, and despondent as I did not want to return to working for a corporate, having experienced and loved the creative freedom of being a founder. Working on the first project, Profit Button – a new type of rich-media ad solution – we lost contracts because we didn’t have sufficient production capacity. I started to explore this niche and realized that it is a bottleneck for many brands and ad agencies.
That’s how we ended up developing Viewst, a cloud-based solution to scale digital ad production. One of the reasons Profit Button failed was that we didn’t do the research and we developed a technology that didn’t solve a crucial market problem. Viewst is different. Together with the team, we have learned how to talk to our users and prioritize the roadmap, how to save funds on infrastructure, and how to be agile and quickly and easily adapt to market changes. This enabled us to overcome COVID-19 challenges, save the team, and scale Viewst’s user growth.
How did you go from idea to product?
I read Robby Martin’s The Hockey Stick Principles just before we started brainstorming Viewst. It helped me to figure out how to work on the idea and prioritize market research. Initially, I just invited two members of the team to brainstorm and to describe the prototype in words – the product designer who had experience in banner making, and the CTO, who helped us to understand the tech limitations.
The second step was to create the product interface in Figma and to describe the logic and the workflow. I also interviewed a lot of our existing clients in different countries about their production pains and wishes, and the major risks stemming from these constraints.
As soon as we finished our Viewst Figma mock-up, we again approached our clients, this time with a stress test. Fundamentally, we needed to ensure that our concept was consistent with the solution they imagined and desired. We got more feedback and improved our mock-up, and at that point involved additional people to create a prototype.
It took us three months to develop this very first version. It was so simple and imperfect that I felt physically uncomfortable showing it to investors and our first potential users! But I did it as I knew that if it sought to address a real market pain point, early adopters wouldn’t punish us for the user interface but would tell us whether they liked the overall vision. Another book that encouraged me to go out with the prototype as soon as possible was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
As you can see, with Viewst we have engaged with our users and prospective users from the very first day. This has helped us to navigate our development, be agile, and as a result, build a solution people use and like.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
To build a tech start-up you need to invest funds upfront, and it takes months – if not years – to start earning from the solution you develop. Most of the early-stage funding is channeled to product development with little left over to spend on marketing. Viewst was no exception, but that said, spending on advertising before being sure of your product/market fit, isn’t prudent.
We therefore literally reached out to our first potential users in person while simultaneously starting to share updates on our social media channels, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
We set up a bunch of analytical tools such as Amplitude, and Google analytics, and used a CRM system to track the results. The first few metrics we concentrated on were DAU (daily active users), WAU (weekly active users), MAU (monthly active users), the retention rate, and the sources of our website traffic.
The first wave of interest was fuelled by several articles about Viewst. With this, we realized the power of public relations, but as a rule, we don’t pay for PR, while clearly understanding the importance of being in the spotlight for momentous reasons.
The second wave of enthusiasm was fuelled by our launch on Product Hunt, a well-known website that curates a selection of early-stage start-ups’ solutions for tech lovers and other makers. We went live on PH 8 months after our public launch. At that stage, Viewst was still extremely basic and could only solve certain, simple ad-production needs. We didn’t reach our desired audience, but the campaign helped us to spread the word about Viewst and prompted tweets and re-tweets, and several mentions in different communities and media.
The third growth wave was thanks to our campaign on AppSumo, the biggest marketplace for early-stage SaaS. This coincided with the team celebrating Viewst’s first anniversary. It was a real turning point that forced us to start building a proper marketing strategy. The AppSumo numbers convinced us that pain points indeed exist, that our users are ready to pay for Viewst to solve this problem, and that they would make use of the service several times a month.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that in our first year, all instruments we use to market Viewst were available free and that growth was purely organic.
My view is that it is too early to share our experience on building a proper marketing strategy. We are still testing hypotheses, investing in content, and doing our best to create value for our growing community of users.
How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?
We started to monetize Viewst only a month ago with our insane lifetime deal on AppSumo. We earned more than $50k this month, improved the rolling retention rate, which is now above 10%, accelerated our growth, and broke even.
Our major short-term goal is to maintain the growth rate and dive deeper into product analytics. We have started to develop an infrastructure to collect and unify all the data from different sources to analyze it and use it as a basis for our marketing and engineering decisions.
Viewst is on the radars of large media agencies and brands across the globe, making the team confident that we should be able to reach $1MM ARR in 2021. We would love to hire more team members over the year to be able to invest our time into valuable content and accelerate the shipment of new features.
We live in an increasingly digital world where many aspects of our lives are now automated. At Viewst we are driven by the idea that we can bring creative freedom to our users, eliminating routine tasks that are currently time-consuming to accomplish.
Since starting Viewst, what have been your main lessons?
I made my biggest mistakes when I was working on my first venture. I honestly think I did everything wrong! But experience is everything and I learned to save money and time, and look after my mental health while working on Viewst.
When I was working on Profit Button, I didn’t do proper market research and was building something that users don’t need. I spent a lot of money hiring a big team at the preliminary stages when one needs just two quality engineers. What I didn’t do was invest in my relationships with the co-founders and that was ruinous.
When I became a start-up founder I moved to New York and surrounded myself with other founders, and these interactions have been essential – they are the best way to learn things quickly. I also read many books by rock star founders such as Ben Horowitz, Phil Knight, Richard Branson, Brandon Webb, and others. This convinced me that entrepreneurship is a challenge – it is not an easy path and overall, it’s tough. But it's 100% doable if you are persistent, passionate, and driven by the dream. The Lean Startup, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, and The Hard Thing About Hard Things, among other books, offered practical advice and tools.
The Y Combinator Startup School also helped me tremendously and I strongly recommend it to all first-time founders.
The biggest treasure is the team! I think that founders should hire the best people and learn from them. We are not afraid of mistakes and we do it a lot. I try to encourage each member of the team to take initiative and be creative.
What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?
Viewst is my second venture and wherever possible I’ve applied my knowledge and experience and thereby avoided some basic operational mistakes. But somehow it still doesn’t get easier! For me, the most difficult aspect is creating the optimal working environment and ensuring that communication is transparent and clear. We faced the new reality of total isolation after just four months of working on Viewst, and the team hadn’t had enough time rehearsing together to perform like a harmonious orchestra. Subtleties were missed, which affected our productivity and resulted in some operational mistakes.
Within our team we lacked sufficient expertise to bring the product to the market, build a community of users, and structure and analyze the data. I had to learn a lot in a very short space of time and as a result, made mistakes and was angry with myself and the team. I never communicated my frustrations. In retrospect, I think it set us back several months, and time and again communication issues and transparency are sources of problems.
I hired a professional coach and a therapist to help me to overcome my limitations and to improve my interactions with the team. I’m happy to say that this has had a very positive effect – and I believe the team would say the same thing!
What tools & resources do you recommend?
I think that it has never been easier to launch a tech start-up. These days big companies offer a lot of perks to help ventures to try things and to grow. At Viewst we use perks from Google Cloud Platform, HubSpot, Notion, Miro, Stripe, Sentry, and smaller solutions that cover almost all our infrastructure and operational needs. Most acceleration programs provide these offerings. We got these perks from two different start-up programs: Station F – Founders Program and Aurelia.Ventures Program.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can check our website or our YouTube channel with video tutorials.