Bootstrapping your SaaS with Emeric Ernoult (CEO, Agora Pulse)

1st June 2017

Agora Pulse

Emeric started Agora Pulse in 2011 with his business partner Benoit after pivoting several times. Since then they have taken their business from €0 to over €245k in MRR. Besides some angel investment from friends and family and a small seed round (approx €500k in total), Agora Pulse was completely bootstrapped. Emeric highlights that the keys to success were “hard work, creativity and persistence”.

Using Facebook Ads to Convert Free Trials and Paying Customers

On their growth journey, Agora Pulse tested many marketing tactics including a thorough exploration into the RIO of paid social media ads. Some key learnings they observed were:

  • They managed to get free trial sign ups from between $10 and $25 per user
  • Paying customers from anywhere between $80 to $500
  • It’s possible to pay far beyond $500 with no paying customers to show for it
  • If costs per click (CPC) are $3-5 campaigns become too unprofitable
  • Free trials at $40-50 dollars are unprofitable
  • With retargeting it’s possible to get new customers for $200 to $300
  • Good results may occur from countries where CPC is very low, these involved countries in South America, North Africa and the Middle East
  • Advertising to Europe, North America and Asia (especially Japan and South Korea) are is quite expensive. Whilst ads in Mexico could be 20 Cents per click, the same campaign and audience in the US is likely to be ten times more, at $2 per click.

As you can see from the above paid advertising can be costly. In general Agora Pulse haven’t found advertising to provide consistent RIO for them. Ernoult’s view is that if you have a brand that’s seen as ‘sexy’ on social media, you may experience much better results with paid ads. However, Social Media Marketing platforms are not really seen as such.

“The challenge to target Facebook users is difficult because you are trying to find a tiny proportion of users and trying to isolate them”. Ernoult has found paid targeting to be outrageously expensive and doesn’t work very well. For instance, the adwords CPC for ‘social media management software’ was around $8 dollar per click, which was never a workable cost for Agora.

Taking this knowledge forward, tests may produce workable results for you but it’s critical to keep an eye on your campaigns to avoid high costs with little returns. The key here is to identify the breakpoint at which campaigns become unprofitable so you can stop your losses. Of course you’ll need to calculate this based on your Customer Lifetime Value (LTV).

Retargeting produces much better results but it’s capped by your traffic. This is because you can only retarget the number of people who actually visit your site. So any activity to boost your traffic, particularly of the organic evergreen variety works well to support your retargeting efforts. Agora’s retargeting efforts are as follows:

  • They can gain new customers with $200 to $300 each. Whilst Agora’s monthly ARPU is $130, this can provides profitability after  2-3 months. This is considered okay but not great in terms of profit feedback.
  • Agora’s website receives approximately 300,000 visits per month which is pretty good for b2b software but low for a retargeting audience and is exhausted pretty quickly. At this level they can spend $2,000 to $3,000 per month to gain approximately 10-15 customers.

Social Media Marketing Tactics for Startups

Agora therefore invest more to increase their website traffic. Ernoult explains, “you have to create your own audiences. If you are targeting agencies like we do, it’s difficult to create that as a Facebook audience. So it’s better to run your own campaigns attracting that audience to your website and then retargeting them on Facebook”.

In doing this Ernoult has seen the value in tests and is always testing social media campaigns to identify areas that show results. Agora run at least 3 tests per month, investing at least $5oo bucks or more and a part time member of staff dedicated to these campaigns. This provides much needed insight that informs how to use their marketing budget.

Use Evergreen Content that Compounds Over Time

Ernoult firmly states, “There is no question that the only things you should be doing when you are starting your marketing efforts for a B2B startup are things that compound over time”

A clever trick Agora pulse hit on was to identify all the highest ranking blog posts for ‘social media management software’ and contact the owners of those blogs, offering to update and refresh the posts, do all the work and add themselves to the posts. For example, a post may be list the top 5 or 6 social media management software platforms. Whilst some of these posts may be outdated, the owner often welcomes the offer to update the post with new and fresh content, whilst having a new one included.

Some didn’t respond but Ernoult persisted until his request was accepted and the results really increased Agora’s traffic. then you are in that post with their keywords. Guest posting. Long term strategy with effective results.

When producing content you need to change your strategy and revisit your options all the time. Things Agora Pulse did 3 years ago don’t work anymore. Things they tried one year ago are starting not to work now too. It’s because the market changes quickly, especially for SaaS social media and the channels to reach people are changing, evolving and they get saturated.

Using Creativity in Your Marketing

Have you reached your limit on SEO? Can you focus further? Here’s where creativity, new ideas, and test can really help you. Groove, a helpdesk software company, started documenting their journey (one of the first to do this) about how they grew from $0 to $100k MRR… they’re now at $10m.

For other SaaS founders in their target audience it was a revelation to read this content, it was information they all wanted to know. Now, many SaaS companies produce this type of content, so the concept is not as effective anymore. But Groove started something new and clever and the results were very effective for them.

Tips and tricks content has reached it’s peak too, so Agora Pulse regularly brainstorm to find new content they can produce. They’re currently trying to find out if they can provide accurate ROI data on the spend of social media marketing. Though many people want to know, this is a problem noone has really found the answer to. So Agora Pulse are setting out to do this in their blog. And example of this type of post may include topics such as ‘Do Facebook hashtags get more reach? We have spent $x, carried out the following experiments and here are our results’.

Agora Pulse are in a unique position to carry out these tests. As experts in social media, with a budget and resource to dedicate the sufficient expenditure of approximately $15,000 per month. Noone else seems to be testing this out and Ernoult is keen to  be able to reach out to people and show off their exciting new content. It’s experiments and content such as this that have had Agora Pulse’s blog being named as one of the 10 best social media blogs in the world.

Reflections on Building a Bootsrapped SaaS Business

“It’s not one things that’s going to make your business, it’s hundreds of things built over consistent effort, it takes hard work and persistence to succeed so don’t pay attention to fancy stories you hear about other businesses or look for a silver bullet, which I assure you doesn’t exist”.

Ernoult explains, “instead focus on the consistent effort. Small wins, one at a time, that build up over time to create good results. Keep going if it’s moving up and to the right, no matter how slowly it may be happening”.

Links to Reference Material

Agora Pulse Blog

9 compelling reasons not to raise VC money for your startup

Groove’s Blog: Journey to $10M a Year

By | 2017-07-31T09:31:36+00:00 1st June 2017|SaaS Growth Show|0 Comments

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