I launched SavvyCal to #2 Product of the Month in January and have since crossed $20k MRR โ€” AMA!

Derrick Reimer
45 replies
Hey there, Derrick Reimer here! ๐Ÿ‘‹ I've been building SaaS products for the last decade. In late 2012, I co-founded Drip, a marketing automation product, alongside Rob Walling. We were acquired by Leadpages in 2016. During that time, I also built and sold Codetree, a project management tool for GitHub. My story hasn't been all rosy, though! After leaving Drip, I attempted to take on Slack and decided to move on after failing to find traction one year into working on it. I'm now building SavvyCal, a scheduling product competing with tools like Calendly. We are growing consistently with a small team of 3. I also host a weekly podcast, The Art of Product, where I share the ups and downs of building a software company. I love sharing my experience to help others avoid the same mistakes I've made โ€” AMA!


Rob Walling
You're competing in a crowded space against entrenched competition. From what I know of the space, there are a lot of good options for scheduling. And yet, you've managed to mostly bootstrap SavvyCal past $20k MRR in a relatively short period of time. What are a few things you've done, product or marketing-wise to accomplish this?
Derrick Reimer
@robwalling great question! A couple things come to mind: * We zeroed in on a nagging pain point that a lot of people have with existing products (the awkward power dynamic of exchanging scheduling links). This positioning struck a chord with a lot of people who were otherwise pretty satisfied with the status quo. * We've been obsessively focusing on user experience. Once people become intrigued enough to signup and take SavvyCal for a spin, many are impressed by the usability ("Wow this is so much easier to use than X!") * We don't require you to start a trial right away when you sign up for the product. This means you can create links, get a feel for the product, and start to envision yourself using it before having to put a CC on file. * We have a "Scheduling by SavvyCal" link that appears on all booking links (unless you disable it on our Premium tier). This "viral loop" drives traffic and awareness -- every time someone uses SavvyCal, they are getting it in front of another potential customer. * People placing their SavvyCal links on their websites has resulted in relatively high domain authority for savvycal.com, which is helping out a bunch with SEO efforts.
Rory Walker
Hey Derrick, Long time "Art of Product" listener here, What worked with SavvyCal vs what didn't with Level?
Derrick Reimer
@redrory Hey Rory, thanks for being a listener! Level (a Slack competitor I attempted to build) failed for a number reasons: * It required approval from too many decision makers. Changing the way a company communicates internally is a major barrier to adoption. * The top-level decision makers (managers) in an organization felt far less pain using Slack than individual contributors (makers). So there was a lot of convincing that needed to take place. * Smaller organizations (ones theoretically easier to sell to who were already in my network) didn't really feel the pain of an out-of-control Slack workspace. When I was vetting the concept for SavvyCal, I wanted to make sure I didn't run in these same challenges. * SavvyCal can be adopted by a single person in an organization and organically expand from there (single-player mode) * Switching costs are quite low. Most people are able to migrate from a competing tool in a matter of minutes. * I was able to build the SavvyCal MVP much more quickly than Level. The expectation bar is quite high for a communication tool (people expect native cross-platform apps, complex notification schemes, etc.). This allowed me to test market hypotheses much more quickly.
James Gill
Derrick I totally didn't realise you built Codetree! What a small world โ€“ we used to use that at @gosquared, as well as Drip, and now I have been a fan of yours with building SavvyCal recently. It's so inspiring to see a truly well built product doing so well. Two questions from me: 1. Product-wise: How have you managed to keep SavvyCal so focused when I can imagine so many customers must demand so many features from you every day? How do you essentially avoid being in a feature race with the other scheduling tools out there? 2. More specific: How significant has your affiliate program been in the growth os SavvyCal so far? Thanks again for being a hero!
Derrick Reimer
@gosquared @jamesjgill Hey James! Small world indeed :). Admittedly, roadmap planning is something I constantly wrestle with as a founder! We receive quite a variety of feature requests. So far, we've held pretty strongly to building things that we believe will benefit a majority of SavvyCal customers (and we remain pretty horizontally-positioned for now). If someone comes to us with a very niche set of requirements (e.g. a doctor's office looking for office scheduling), we've tried to be upfront about our product not being a great fit and pointing them to alternatives. Above all, I try to stay focused on excelling at basics, building the smoothest scheduling flow on the market. My hypothesis is that there are a lot of people in the market who care about giving their schedulers the best UX possible! Re: affiliates -- it's been a pretty slow build. We've invested a lot of effort into recruiting and working with some key affiliates. I've learned a few things so far: * Generally, a handful of affiliates with account for a majority of affiliate-driven revenue * It really takes some hustle & relationship-building efforts to get that engine going (I think I underestimated the amount of effort initially)
Jeffrey Fate
Are you also focused on profit in addition to MRR? If so, what ways are you keeping overhead costs low?
Derrick Reimer
@jeffrey_fate I'm definitely aiming toward profitability, but raising some (non-VC) funds from TinySeed and an angel investor has allowed me to make investments in people and marketing channels ahead of our current revenue level. I use Summit (https://usesummit.com) on a regular basis to model my business and gain confidence that I can continue placing bets with my funds (without sacrificing the amount of cash buffer I'd like to maintain). So I'm less concerned about "thriftiness" right now if I can justify the expense as something that will move the business forward. Here's an example of what my Summit board looks like right now: https://cln.sh/jCWf8T
Devin Fitzsimons
I know you've spent a lot of time in SaaS and you're thought highly of as an engineer. As a developer, what things should I focus on executing well in order to build a SaaS. I suppose the crux of my question is what do you prioritize being well engineered vs accept engineering risk?
Derrick Reimer
@aisflat439 It's a tricky balance for sure! I'm a proponent of taking the time to write automated tests (biased toward integration/system tests over unit tests), especially around important core functionality. I value velocity a lot (shipping sprees FTW), which means some areas of the codebase could probably use some refactoring that I've chosen to defer. I wish I had a better "framework" to share on how to make these little decisions while building! Some general principles: * Break projects down into small chunks. * Ship parts early into production (sometimes behind feature flags). Large, long-running branches are a smell. * Write integration tests that simulate reality as closely as possible.
Justin Tormey
How did you decide when it was time to slow development and start shipping to users, marketing, etc.? What did you do in preparation for doing so?
Derrick Reimer
@jtormey early on, I identified around 10 people who were on board with my vision and were willing to migrate over to SavvyCal, and basically build enough to satisfy their use cases. I was careful to pick folks who didn't need too much functionality to get started but seemed to still represent the broader market that I was going after. My goal was to get them using the product as quickly as possible. During the initial build out, my marketing activities were mostly sharing updates with my existing audience on Twitter and over email, and talking about it on my weekly podcast. The goal was to build excitement and interest. I scrapped my way to $1k MRR and then took the leap hiring Corey (my part-time head of marketing) to keep things moving on the growth front while I stayed focused on product. I was only able to do this because I had cash in the bank from raising a small round from TinySeed (tinyseed.com). (If I didn't have investor money, an alternative path could have been partnering up with a co-founder who could focus non-product things while I continued to build. It's hard to wear literally all the hats.)
Steve Quatrani
Hey Derrick, I'm launching a product that will have a similar product-led growth strategy to SavvyCal and Calendly. What was most important for you in finding the right type of user/use case for users and then from those users how did you identify the customers that would be willing to pay for your product and the features they would pay for?
Derrick Reimer
@stevequatrani I think the most important thing is to develop a strong vision for the product (based on everything you know and understand about the problem space) and then relentlessly try to find reasons why your vision is flawed during your initial validation phase. When talking to potential customers (using something like Rob Fitzpatrick's Mom Test framework), if someone doesn't seem to have the problem that you expected them to have, try your best to get to the bottom of why that is. Does the problem not really exist? Is this person just a bad fit? Are you operating on some invalid hypotheses? It's so easy to go out seeking confirming evidence in this phase -- that's quite dangerous. Instead, you want to try your best to invalidate your assumptions. If your idea survives this vetting process, then that's the time to start working on an MVP, trying to get some commitments from potential customers, and shaping what needs to go into your first version.
Steve Quatrani
@derrickreimer awesome advice. It changed my mindset completely from finding "yes" to chasing "no" and improving from there. Appreciate the response!
Dave Calnan
Hey Derrick, I was just thinking of asking you this while listening to AoP earlier - Do you have any books/resources you'd recommend guiding getting from a software proof of concept to first paying customer? Figuring out who to target, prioritising product features for getting the first customers using an early version, figuring out pricing, anything that comes to mind. Thanks!
Derrick Reimer
@davecalnan good question! These are some of my favorite books: https://www.derrickreimer.com/bo... The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares Company of One by Paul Jarvis Obviously Awesome by April Dunford Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling Deep Work by Cal Newport Getting Real by 37signals The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore The Entrepreneurโ€™s Guide to Keeping Your S**t Together by Sherry Walling Planning to @mjwhansen's book to this list as well: https://www.producthunt.com/post...
Dave Calnan
@mjwhansen @derrickreimer nothing better than being able to answer a question with a link to your website! Thanks Derrick!
Volkan Kaya
Love the podcast, just wondering how you compete vs the big competitor. Getting to 20k MRR that quick isn't easy. 1. What did you do well? 2. What do you think you could have done better? 3. Any advice for those competing vs big players? (I have a website builder that competes vs WordPress and Webflow)
Don Kooijman
Hi Derrick, I checked out SavvyCal before and it looks really nice! I'll be following your podcast, thanks!
Wilbert Liu
What are your ingredients to ship things quickly that most people probably don't know about?
Anil Meena
Hey, @derrickreimer SavvyCal looks amazing, this is already a crowded market but yet yours is tremendous growth. What was the distribution strategy for before and after launch?
Derrick Reimer
@anil_meena21 Thanks Anil! My initial traction came from marketing the product to people who were already following my founder journey on Twitter and my podcast (these are things I've been investing in growing for the last 5 - 10 years). Our Product Hunt launch was quite successful in January of this year. This drove a huge wave of awareness and further helped jumpstart growth. We've been experimenting a lot this year with different channels, some short-term and some long-term: * PPC ads * Podcast ads * SEO * Affiliates & referrals * Strategic partnerships * "Build in public" activity * Guesting on podcasts All of these things have contributed in some way to our brand awareness and growth.
Connor Lindsey
Hey! How do you deal with the highs and lows of being a founder?
Derrick Reimer
@connor_lindsey This is always a work-in-progress :). Some things that contribute to staying healthy for me: * I'm regularly in contact with a small mastermind group, and we function as a sounding board for each other. Sometimes it helps to just rant about something for 5 minutes to get it off my chest. * I try to contain work within work hours and switch gears in the evening. Cooking is generally what helps me bridge over from work-mode to non-work-mode. * Getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night. * Strength training and cardio exercise several times per week.
Archisman Das
Hi @derrickreimer , can you share a bit of background work/research you did before zeroing on to work on savvycal?
Derrick Reimer
@archisman_das The idea for SavvyCal came from my own experience using scheduling tools. When I'm in the idea mode, I often scribble notes down in my idea notebook in case they are worth revisiting. I also periodically reflect on the tools that I use in my day-to-day and think about pain points I've encountered using them. "Scratching your own itch" is definitely not a silver bullet, but it can be a great starting point to recognize a problem worth solving! Once I formed my own hypothesis about the need for a new solution in this space, I set out to try to find reasons why my hypothesis was flawed. I definitely received some signals pointing to "this is already an adequately solved problem", but also picked up on a healthy amount of discontent. At a certain point, I felt convinced enough to invest time into building the MVP.
Sharath Kuruganty
Hey Derrick, thanks for doing the AMA. As a SaaS founder, I'm curious to know how do you handle churn(if any)? Any tips you can offer bringing back churned customers?
Derrick Reimer
@5harath We recently installed Churnkey (https://churnkey.co/), which allows us to build custom cancellation flows: * We offer to let folks pause their subscription instead of fully cancelling. * If they just have some questions, we offer to help them out over email + get a free month of service * We gather some info about why they're canceling (too expensive, low usage, didn't work as expected, etc.) This has been pretty helpful to get a sense for why people are leaving (and to save some customers from fully churning).
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Hey Derrick, Thank for being on today and sharing your knowledge! What are the first tabs you open on your computer/phone every morning?
Derrick Reimer
@jacqvon You're welcome! Fun question :) 1. Google Calendar, to see what's up for the day (I try to keep a very clear calendar) 2. ProfitWell, to check on business metrics (I probably check this way too often ๐Ÿ˜œ) 3. Twitter, to see what's happening in the industry (also probably check this one too often)
Sarah Wright
Hi Derrick! I loved using Drip in one of my last positions and now SavvyCal! How have you grown as a founder since you launched Drip? Is there anything you would do differently looking back now?
Derrick Reimer
@sarah_wright7 Hi Sarah! That's awesome :). Building Drip alongside my co-founder @robwalling was the best schooling I could have in building a B2B SaaS company. I was mostly focused on the technical side of things there, so I certainly grew as a product person, honing my intuition about how to build quickly but not sacrifice quality, how to incorporate user feature requests without bloating the product, etc. I also got to participate in quite a few strategic business discussions. A lot of specific marketing/growth tactics are not evergreen (what worked in 2016 may not work so well now), but this experience helped me become a better problem solver. Before Drip, I considered getting an MBA with an entrepreneurship emphasis. I ended up doing a few semesters and realized this was not going to get me the knowledge and experience I really needed. This is not to say university business programs are always a bad fit, but I came to really value learning by doing. After moving on from Drip (post-acquisition), I learned some hard lessons trying to launch Level. Ultimately, I didn't pay close enough attention to false signals I was receiving that this business was going to be viable. It was humbling to go through that, but I'll take it as one of those lessons I had to learn the hard way :). (For those who are curious about that tale, I wrote an in-depth retrospective: https://www.derrickreimer.com/es...)
With such a small team, what are some things you've found essential to help stay productive and efficient while building, scaling, and innovating on product?
Derrick Reimer
@gabe__perez The biggest thing is shielding my time. For some, this means budgeting every minute of the day. I prefer to keep a lot of whitespace on my calendar and very rarely allow synchronous calls or meetings to slip in. I have a standing short meeting once a week with Corey to sync up (about half the time we kick that over to async) and I record my podcast weekly on Thursdays. Most other days are wide open to allow maximum deep work. If I do need to book a call, I try my best to put them in the afternoon (when I'm less productive anyway) or on Thursday (when I'm already breaking my normal flow with podcast recording). It's tough to say "no" sometimes to requests for my time mid-workday, but I've found it to be essential for me at this phase of the business.
@derrickreimer great advice! Could be cool to integrate a pomodoro timer or some sort of function within SavvyCal to help keep you productive and shield your time. Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™
Guillermo Cava
Hey Derrick, Long time "Art of Product" listener here, have really loved hearing your journey and learned a ton. A few questions I've had: 1. I really loved your advanced custom field types feature and design for savvycalc, How are you storing your custom fields in the database? Full json or full relational? 2. What are some of the heaviest queries youโ€™ve had to optimize on the database? 3. What resources/books have you utilized to get up to speed using elixir?