Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hi, I’m Colin Bartlett, I live in New York City and I’ve been building websites since I was 16 years old, so for the past 22 years. For the last few years I’ve been an independent consultant and have been building a few side projects as well. Most notably, StatusGator, a status page monitoring and aggregation tool.
What motivated you to get started with? How did you come up with the idea?
I have long wanted to build a product that would mean I can have income that is not linearly tied with the number of hours in the day. I’ve had plenty of ideas for software products but StatusGator is the one idea I worked the hardest at to make a reality.
The idea came to me while I was consulting for a social media advertising company. I was pretty new to the team and was given a bug ticket that involved an intermittent issue. I spent almost the whole day, burned probably $1,000 of my client’s money, and then only later stumbled across a status page for the Facebook API that indicated there was a known intermittent issue. That was the genesis of the idea: I wished there was a way I could get notified when status pages change and I could save myself time and my clients’ money.
Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now?
When I first launched StatusGator, I wanted it to have a business model from day one. So I launched with a very basic $10/month plan using Stripe to get up and running very quickly. I was able to get some of my consulting clients, who were already paying me thousands of dollars a month for contract programming work, to pay $10/month for StatusGator. So those were my first customers.
After that, it was a really really slow grind of acquiring customers one at a time. The growth has been very steady. After about 6 months, however, I had probably 6 or 8 paying customers and that was enough to cover the hosting fees. At that point, it felt like I could keep StatusGator going forever because it was "profitable".
The biggest change over the last 5 years was brining on a business partner 2 years ago. At the time, I had about $750 in monthly recurring revenue. A long-time friend and colleague of mine, Andy Libby, agreed to join up with me to help grow the business. We had a goal of growing StatusGator while at the same time building other projects and trying out as many ideas as we could. We wanted to eventually take an income from our projects but we would continue to support ourselves and our family by doing consulting work.
After 1 year, the two of us working together had effectively doubled the MRR to $1,500. And after two years we are at $4,000 MRR. The partnership has been a resounding success. Surprise, two heads are better than one!
What has been your biggest failure or struggle?
The biggest struggle has just been finding time to work on StatusGator while still earning a full-time income from consulting. I would LOVE to work on StatusGator (and our other projects, which are still in their infancy) full time. In fact, they are the only work that actually interests me. Sadly, I have bills to pay and a family to feed so I must continue to do hourly contracting work to keep an income flowing. But little by little, the income from StatusGator is growing and hopefully one day I will be able to drop the consulting work.
And what has been your biggest achievement or success?
Joining up with Andy was by far the best decision I ever made. I had to agree to give up half of the company, but it came with a huge upside: He contributed a small amount of capital to help cover some administrative expenses and put some cash in our business bank account. But far beyond that, he has put a ton of sweat equity into the app and provided an incredible source of motivation. When two people have each other to bounce ideas off of, they are able to get way more than 2x accomplished.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Listening to them! We strive to get feedback from everyone. We BEG people to give us feedback. We send dozens of emails, we call them if we have to, we do screenshares -- anything! How do we know what to build unless the people who use our product tell us?
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started just by building a very rough prototype. It wasn't even a website, just a bunch of scripts to check status pages and aggregate them into one list for myself. It was some ruby code in a command line. Then one weekend, I just threw a website up around it and launched it. I used it myself for a little while and then before long I had a "minimum triable product"... something workable but not even viable yet.
Did you use Betalist or PH or other Startup Launching Platform for Launching ? How was that experience ?
I tried all these things but I think they are generally terrible. They put too much emphasis on a moment in time. Instead, building and launching a product is non-stop iteration. I have launched new features every month for more than 5 years.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?
Monthly subscriptions. We have played with all the levers to grow revenue: Increasing the top of the funnel, improving the bottom of the funnel, raising prices, working hard at retention. It's a non-stop grind of trial and error and I can't point to any one thing that massively grew revenue. It's just a lot of incremental work. Recently, we've done more sales than anything else - reaching out to prospective customers who might be on trial plans. We engage them, we talk with them, we help them understand how the product might work for them. And then we close them! It's hard work, but it works!
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?
Motivation to keep at it, despite never really taking any money from the business. Our singular goal is to make it our full time income. We want to stop trading time for dollars.
Let’s talk about your marketing strategy -- how do you market and grow the service?
The vast majority of our traffic comes from search engines. This was not something I ever tried to do, but sort of fell into it. Because of the way I was aggregating status page data, I ended up with all these pages on search engines that would get lots of traffic. It kept increasing and my ranking kept growing and before long, I had a steady stream of traffic all from organic search.
Do you have a model to get product feedback? What’s your favorite way to get product feedback? Did product feedback help you get the results you hoped for ?
We just ask people straight up. In automated emails, yes. But also in just dozens of manual outreach emails.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Get feedback! Ask everyone! You must talk to everyone about your idea. It's the only way.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We built the site with Ruby on Rails and we host on Heroku.
Who’s your most inspirational CEO or founder?
Hard to say. Maybe the Basecamp guys? We reject any kind of investment and want to bootstrap our way to success.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Indie Hackers podcast, Art of the Product podcast.
What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneur who are just starting out?
Don't be afraid to take on a partner. You can be way more successful as a team than you can be by yourself.