We were sitting in the middle of our open 2,500sq ft office with no employees; it was just my co-founder and I. We had big dreams. The hardly-used ping pong table sat behind us, somewhere near the never-used office kitchen. Looking to my right, I could see the sprawling white board wall that was covered in wildly idealistic mockups, surrounded by giant bean bags that were way too big for any one person.
I remember saying those words on a daily basis. We had burned through 6 figures of our own initial capital and we had absolutely nothing to show for it, except for a giant box of t-shirts and unnecessary office overhead.
There was a precise moment we realized the agency we hired to build our webinar platform prototype was completely screwing us, and it was after we flew the CEO out from Turkey, broke bread, and played tennis. Turns out, there are people out there who will look you in the eye, take your money, lie to you, and do it all with a friendly smile on their face.
We had gotten access to a link, which was the first version of a test room of the webinar platform we were building. We joined and, at first, I was confused. “Why are there two Indian developers sitting in a basement on camera right now?” We just sat there and watched while our hearts sank. Up until that point, we had imagined a large team based in Turkey working diligently on our project. Nope. Our prototype was being outsourced to $10/hr freelance developers based in India.
It didn’t take us long before we found the right developers on Upwork, the agency profile, and the exact hours and amounts that were paid. The agency we had paid 6 figures to pocketed the money and spent a measly few thousand dollars to build the world’s crappiest prototype, which was more like 1/10th of a prototype.
Our journey almost came to a screeching halt before it even started.
Fast Forward to Today
Nearly 3 years later, I write this article from the comfort of my own home. Our team is spread out across the world, working remotely to continue building a great product for our growing customer base. We don’t have a ping pong table. We don’t have giant bean bags, although I miss them. We don’t even have an office. We’re no longer playing startup; instead, we’re building a sustainable company.
Things aren’t perfect; they never are. But we’re happy, and we’re focused. We’re not “killing it,” but our revenue is growing. As it stands, we’re currently hovering around $42,000 MRR. More importantly, we have a great product that our customers love.
Our team is spread out from the United States to Jamaica, Ukraine, and other countries in between. The Demio team is made up of 7 full-time members and a part-time contractor. It feels like we always need more hands, but we make it work. As of today, that team is broken down as follows: 2 co-founders (David Abrams, CEO, and me), 3 engineers, 1 Q/A manager/support, 1 marketing director, and a part-time designer.
Neither David nor I are technical founders, and yet, we have a very technologically-heavy product based around live streaming. We’re a webinar platform, so, by nature of our product, our team has been mostly developers from the beginning. A lot of the challenges we’ve faced throughout this journey have been technical ones, and it’s definitely been stressful at times.
Things seem to be falling into place for us, and we’re truly starting to feel like we’re gaining momentum, which is a powerful thing. We want to keep that momentum rolling, and we want to do so in a sustainable manner.
Our Road to Get Here
It hasn’t been easy. Getting screwed by that agency was brutal, but it was really just the beginning. We’ve faced a lot of challenges in getting to this point, and there were times when we were frighteningly close to shutting it all down.
We weren’t quite ready to give up after the initial fiasco. We were hurt, though. We lost a lot of our personal funds. But we really believed in the potential of our product, so we continued to self-fund the operation, maybe out of insanity. This time, however, we did it differently. We decided we were going to be in control, and we were absolutely not going to rely on an outside agency. So, we started by hiring a couple developers; we wanted to build a real team this time around.
And we did. A couple of our initial hires are still with us to this day, and they are doubtless the reason we are still alive and kicking.
I wish I could say it was a breeze once we started building an internal team, but that would be far from the truth. We started by scrapping everything; I don’t think we used a single line of code from the initial “prototype.” We were finally making progress…until we hit our next major wall: real-time streaming. Turns out, being able to support thousands of concurrent streaming connections in a real-time, reliable manner is not an easy task.
We went from one potential solution to the next, and nothing was working for us. We were going in circles. We were also going into a competitive market, so there were certain aspects we couldn’t fall short on, such as stability, scalability, and latency. In other words, we wanted to allow business owners to reliably connect with hundreds of people with minimal delay over a broadcast. As time went on and we kept trying to make this happen, more and more it seemed impossible.
What’s worse is that we continued to build out the rest of the application and all of the ideas we could fit on our oversized whiteboard wall. Time went on, our application became more robust, but the core streaming feature didn’t even exist. Basically, we built a car without an engine. It seems ridiculous to think, but we were desperate. Because we lost months of time from the agency, we were in a self-induced hurry to get to market, so we were trying to build everything all at once instead of focusing on a simple MVP.
The road to Beta was paved with multiple conversations around the idea of shutting everything down and calling it a loss. It’s not that we wanted to end it, we just honestly thought it was over, that we didn’t have a choice. We were always just a few dollars away from running out of money. When we finally did hack together a solution and launch our Beta, it didn’t last. We had to shut it down and, again, set out to completely rebuild our streaming architecture.
Months later and, against all odds, we were finally able to launch a successful Beta. By no means were all of our issues solved; we still basically had zero funds, but it was a step in the right direction. And we haven’t looked back since.
The Next Chapter
The last 3 years have been somewhat rough; I think nearly everyone on our team has faced some sort of burn out at a certain point along the way. We were in survival mode for a large majority of our company’s existence, and that can be incredibly stressful. But things are different now.
We have a great product. We have a great team. We have growing revenue that supports our costs. We’re done playing startup. We’re done setting outrageous goals. We’re not looking to get acquired. We are much more interested in the idea of building a sustainable business; we’re here to stay.
Operating in a live webinar environment is extremely challenging, and I truly believe it makes this SaaS journey at least twice as difficult. Our major focus as a team for the years to come is to detach ourselves as much as possible from real-time issues. In order to do this, we’ll continue to place a major emphasis on simplicity of product, which has been our USP from the beginning. So it works out well.
Between my co-founder and me, our vision is to create a great company. We want to build a business that is around for decades to come, and we want to accomplish that with people we really enjoy being around. We want to create a great workplace for our employees. We want to have time in our personal lives so we can rest and operate to our maximum potential. Lastly, we want to create a company and product that our customers are proud to support.
And we want to share that journey with you.
Our first goal for this journey is to bring Demio to $100k MRR. As mentioned earlier, we’re almost halfway there at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s definite. It’s going to take time and a lot of work, and there will certainly be a number of failures along the way.
Here’s Why You Should Stay Tuned
We’re not the first company to embrace transparency and share posts about our journey. However, it’s our belief that the ecosystem as a whole is better with more open and transparent companies. We want to help founders avoid the same mistakes we made, and we want to share our wins along the way.
Between myself and my co-founder, David, we’re going to be continuously publishing our learnings as Demio grows. While we don’t want to necessarily lock ourselves into a schedule, our goal is to post at least two or three journey-related articles per month on our way to $100k in monthly recurring revenue.
Some of the next posts we already have planned include:
- Why We Shut Down Beta at $2.2k MRR and Started Over
- How Trashing More Than 50% of Our Product Actually Saved Us
- Programming Interview Questions That We Use as Non-Technical Founders
- The Grand Opening Launch Method We Used to Get 400+ Customers
- Why I Burned Out and How I Got Back on Track
If you want to see what’s next on our journey, you can subscribe here, and we’ll send our journey posts right to your inbox:
And if you’re as excited about this upcoming journey as we are, it would be absolutely amazing if you could share this post.
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Put simply, we’re sharing our journey to help founders avoid the same mistakes we’ve made and others we will inevitably make in the future. Had this information been shared with us before we started Demio, we would’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, years of time, and an immeasurable amount of heartache.
So, here’s to the journey.