How we built a $1m ARR SaaS startup

Canny most intelligent for the length of the conclude to previous hit a predominant earnings milestone: 1,000,000 dollars in annual well-liked earnings.

Some swiftly files:

⏱ We launched in March 2017, so it took us gorgeous under 3.5 years to accept to $1m ARR

💰 We’re bootstrapped, that methodology we’ve in no plot taken any money from merchants

📈 We’ve in no plot performed outbound sales, that methodology all of our pattern got loyal here from inbound channels

👩‍💻 At the time of hitting $1m ARR, our body of workers was 7 of us (now 9)

🌎 Our body of workers is completely some distance flung, disbursed your entire plot by plot of 3 continents, 4 international locations, and 7 cities

The pandemic has postponed our body of workers photoshoot but this’ll attain for now

It feels moderately surreal. Inside of the occasion you originate a SaaS company, $1m ARR looks impossibly a long methodology away. Now that we’re loyal here, it feels very big esteem a turning point. Devour a predominant chapter has ended, but one totally different one has begun.

It’s a edifying 2nd to replicate.

What went successfully? What would possibly maybe maybe maybe perchance enjoyment of long long past better? What enjoyment of we realized? These are questions that we’ve been pondering over the closing month, and I’m livid to share our learnings with you in this put up. 🙂


Appropriate here’s what our walk looks esteem so a long methodology:

We determined the correct methodology to rupture down our learnings is by explicit phases, outlined by earnings/hiring milestones:

Building the muse: $0 ARR

I’d argue that that is the largest stage to “accept impartial loyal.” That is in the occasion you assemble the muse to your company.

It’s most sensible at threat of alternate your motive purpose market or the plight you definite up for the length of the early days. After it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance furthermore self reliant enjoyment of a product and purchasers, it will likely be painful to compose these modifications.

Appropriate here’s how we broke this down:

What plight attain you definite up?

We abet computer map companies assemble better products by doing a better job of collecting and realizing particular person options.

how canny works

Who attain you definite up it for?

The product body of workers at computer map companies. Canny works severely successfully for buyer options at B2B/SaaS companies, and for tracking interior options at better companies.

How are you fully totally different than new picks?

Product immense. Our product is designed and built by a body of workers of FAANG-caliber engineers and designers. We know be taught the correct solution to assemble loyal products.

I’d counsel thinking prolonged and laborious about these 3 easy questions. Your answers will vastly have an effect on the comfort of your walk.

Lesson realized

Be centered—don’t strive to definite up every plight for every alternate. Procedure an unheard of product for a diminutive team of of us as a replace of a mediocre product for each one.

Your product and messaging will likely be so big clearer. Of us will resonate further with what you’re putting in in the occasion you focal point on straight away to them.

After you accept an loyal foothold it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance presumably detect adjoining issues and motive purchasers.

Zero to 1: $0 to $1k ARR

Inside of the occasion you feel loyal about your foundation, it’s time to assemble your product and expose your first purchasers.

Andrew’s a computer map engineer and I’m a product dressmaker, so for us putting in the product was the easy section. Procuring purchasers has continuously been the plight.

Appropriate here’s how we sold our first paying purchasers:

1. We gave away a free version of a product, a particular person options team.

This wasn’t even Canny but. I scamper into the backstory hundreds further in this customer article I wrote for Baremetrics.

product trouble

2. We sold lucky and landed an influencer buyer from our personal community.

Andrew outlandish to work on the React body of workers at Fb, a used web framework. They started the order of Canny to retain tune of options for React Native.

3. Out of the hundreds of patrons who left options for React, a handful of them ended up the order of our product to beget particular person options for his or her accept product.

4. We realized that folks had been willing to pay for a options resolution.

5. We commerce into our particular person options team into a particular person options SaaS computer map.

I attain desire to highlight that we sold big lucky loyal here. Many SaaS products don’t enjoyment of a viral channel, or the possibility to land an influencer particular person early on.

That talked about, in the occasion you definite up a exact plight that’s better than new picks, strive in command that you factual can expose your first purchasers.

We furthermore put effort into:

  • Writing and distributing loyal direct cloth on our weblog
  • Reaching out to fabricated from us for options
  • Enforcing a free trial

Inside of the occasion you’re battling procuring your first purchasers, it’s probably that methodology that of 1 in every of the next issues:

  • You aren’t talking to ample of us (sheer quantity)
  • The of us you’re talking to don’t enjoyment of the plight you definite up (substandard purpose market)
  • The plight you definite up isn’t sizable ample that it’s model paying for (substandard plight)
  • Your resolution isn’t loyal ample in contrast to new picks (substandard differentiation / former product)

Lesson realized

As fabricated from us, it’s easy to spend 90% of your time putting in your product. Building an loyal product is eminent, but it surely’s pointless if no one desires to fabricate order of (and pay for) it.

Prioritize accordingly.

Launching: $1k to $10k ARR

We formally launched Canny in March 2017.

canny open on product hunt

At the time of fabricate, we had 5 paying purchasers from our particular person options team days. No longer many, but even these diminutive numbers had been a sizable indicator.

Inside of the occasion it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance furthermore self reliant enjoyment of a pair of paying purchasers, it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance furthermore self reliant enjoyment of validated many parts of your alternate:

  • that you factual definite up an self-discipline that’s model paying for
  • You probably enjoyment of an loyal belief who your motive purpose market is
  • You probably know whether or now now not your product solves the plight successfully

Inside of the 2 months following our fabricate, we sold 50 paying purchasers, paying on life like $20/mo.

Our motive purpose market was computer map companies, and severely diminutive ones (at this imprint point). Subsequently, Product Hunt was a immense predicament for us to fabricate, as the bulk of their potentialities work in tech.

Lesson realized

Are attempting and validate your product/alternate prior to launching by getting a pair of paying purchasers. If some of us are willing to pay, it’s a immense model that others will too.

By launching prior to getting purchasers, you’ll tender be taught hundreds, but you possibility now now not getting paying purchasers. By validating first, your fabricate will likely be further winning.

Decide on into memoir whether or now now not there are any waves it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance presumably lunge to compose your fabricate increased. For us, this was Product Hunt itself, which was big utilized in 2017.

Ramen profitability: $10k to $50k ARR

Ramen profitability goes to be a moderately fully totally different quantity for every founding body of workers. It’s on the totally different hand big money you wish, on an ongoing basis, for the corporate and founders to rupture even.

This milestone is broad crucial since you’ve eliminated one in every of the correct risks of your organization failing: working out of cash. You aren’t dependent on fabricate air capital, and don’t enjoyment of any explicit time stress.

For us, ramen profitability was at about $50k/year. Andrew and I are a pair, so our residing costs are more inexpensive (per particular person). We had been furthermore digital nomads, and Airbnbs in Spain are hundreds more inexpensive than rent in San Francisco. 😉

canny in bankok
A co-working put in Bangkok

Enhance positively slowed down 2 months after our fabricate. Slightly somewhat moderately of the buzz from launching had died off, and we had to expose be taught the correct solution to fabricate evergreen direct cloth.

More than likely the most sensible likely methodology to retain purchasers by job of inbound is to accept in entrance of them after they’re actively procuring for a resolution:

  • Which search queries would a probable buyer compose? Are attempting and scandalous organically or by job of paid advertising for these queries.
  • Which web sites would a probable buyer halt up on? Severely if these are on web web sites esteem Reddit or Quora, be determined to order your resolution there.
  • What recordsdata would be severely edifying to the patron? Bid how your product solves their plight, or the plot it’s fully totally different/better than capability picks.

It took us 6 months to retain one totally different 50 purchasers. However, we had raised costs, and these purchasers had been paying $60/mo on life like (3x as big). These purchasers essentially got loyal here from Product Hunt, Hacker Info, Quora, Google adverts, natural search, and by plot of “Powered by Canny” (our viral channel).

We changed our pricing four times that year.

canny pricing

It’s easy and cheap to alternate your pricing in the occasion you’re diminutive. At any time whereas you alternate it, you accept a quantity of options, and be taught hundreds. Pricing is now now not one thing you predicament and scamper away out, at any stage.

Lesson realized

At this stage, there are hundreds of low-striking fruit in every product and advertising and advertising.

Success is all about realizing these tasks, executing on them, and seeing what works.

Discuss along with your purchasers to be taught what they need in a resolution. That can also impartial furthermore abet lift the methodology you market your product.

First rent, first fire: $50k to $100k ARR

We persisted knocking off the low-striking fruit in product and advertising and advertising:

  • We built many key aspects and integrations, some of which we had been in a drawl to fabricate on Product Hunt canny intercom integration
  • We predicament up paid adverts and touchdown pages, focusing fastidiously on buyer-intent key phrases
  • We wrote weblog posts, some of which enjoyment of been successfully-obtained on Hacker Info

This stage is with out problems gorgeous a grind. It’s moderately glaring what or now not it’s some distance compulsory to attain, you gorgeous desire to attain it. You enjoyment of to order up on on each day basis basis, resolve out what’s going to be impactful, and accept it performed. Rinse, repeat.

It took us spherical 3 months to double from $50k ARR to $100k ARR. By then we had spherical 150 purchasers.

Spherical this time we determined we desired to rent a stout-time marketer. Appropriate here’s why:

  • We knew that advertising and advertising was big crucial to our future pattern and success
  • Neither of us surely enjoyed advertising and advertising, and we didn’t enjoyment of exact fling
  • We by hook or by crook had ample profit that shall we manage to pay for to rent anybody

This rent didn’t halt up working out, but we’ve been over that already.

Lesson realized

As a founder, strive to opinion in the occasion you’re spending a quantity of your time over and over doing same groups of tasks.

This in typical is an loyal indicator that hiring anybody for this characteristic will likely be winning. Severely if it’s one thing you’re now now not in my principle an authority on.

First rent, desire two: $100k ARR to $250k ARR

We had been a minute scarred from our first rent now now not working out. We didn’t strive hiring but again for one totally different ~4 months. We persisted to fabricate investments in product enhancements and buyer-intent advertising and advertising.

Spherical August 2018, we had 200 purchasers and had been making $200k ARR. It was tender gorgeous the 2 of us.

I need into memoir a explicit feeling from this time that we had been drowning in toughen work. Realistically, we had been every spending ~15 hours per week doing toughen, which was about 30% of our entire time/energy. Make stronger was furthermore so random that we’d be going in and out of drift—now now not loyal.

canny median response time
From prior to we employed for buyer success. Conserving it this low supposed sacrificing totally different work.

What’s further, we weren’t doing a immense job at it. Shall we perchance walk toughen conversations because we desired to accept abet to product/advertising and advertising.

So we determined to rent a buyer success supervisor. Their predominant characteristic would be to desire over toughen, whereas furthermore spending time engaged on our abet coronary heart, onboarding, and buyer success in typical.

After reading a entire bunch of capabilities and interviewing dozens of of us, we chanced on anybody.

This was big winning. This rent unlocked Andrew and me to in fact point of curiosity on pattern. They would possibly maybe maybe perchance perchance furthermore self reliant give our purchasers their stout consideration, to be determined they had been successfully taken care of.

Lesson realized

Rent intentionally and fastidiously as your first of us are key avid gamers.

Whether or now now not they’ll attain the job successfully is baseline. Proceed to pay negate consideration as to whether or now now not it’s likely you are going to perchance perchance presumably opinion yourself working collectively for the prolonged haul.

Double down: $250k ARR to $500k ARR

Hiring for buyer success went so successfully that we had been now now not terrible from hiring. We felt big further assured in our skill to expose whether or now now not a candidate was an loyal match.

In due route, we had been making ample profit that shall we manage to pay for to rent but again.

We determined to rent for 2 roles:

  • Promoting and advertising:  In most circumstances the equal causes as prior to. We knew advertising and advertising was crucial to our persisted pattern and success. We didn’t trip doing advertising and advertising and weren’t severely big at it.
  • Engineering: We’re continuously going to be a product body of workers. There had been a entire slew of aspects and integrations that we desired to assemble. Having our first stout-time engineer would abet us develop sooner by job of sheer product velocity.

canny hiring

Up till this time, shall we moderately big attribute our success to 2 issues:

  • Building a immense product.
  • Getting it in entrance of our motive purpose market whereas they had been procuring for a resolution.

In totally different words, product and advertising and advertising. Hiring for these roles was merely doubling down on what was already working successfully for us. I don’t judge we did this intentionally but, in hindsight, it makes sense.

In January 2019, Dan joined us as our first engineer. Nearly in an prompt after, Elen joined us as our first marketer. Every are tender with us in the meanwhile, virtually 2 years later, and pleasure of been instrumental to putting in out the muse of our company and culture.

Lesson realized

Title what’s working successfully for you and proceed to fabricate investments in that.

When hiring, continuously attain some model of a technical interview/job, regardless of the characteristic.

  • Make stronger: How would you answer to this live chat dialog? Write us a abet article.
  • Promoting and advertising: Produce some key phrase compare, accept a weblog put up topic, and write a top degree principle and draft.
  • Horrible sales: Shadow us on a demo and give us options. Eradicate collectively a immediate prospecting realizing.

This affords you a probability to accept a feel for what it’s are browsing to work with the candidate, and affords you a belief of their abilities. One amongst the correct indicators for us is skill to desire optimistic options.

Demonstrate: You’ll opinion these tasks are moderately dapper. You would possibly maybe maybe maybe maybe also impartial desire to to perchance furthermore self reliant tender pay candidates for his or her time.

Point of curiosity up: $500k to $1m ARR

Prioritization started to accept big more challenging. We had already built hundreds of the necessity to-enjoyment of aspects and integrations. We had been already advertising and advertising on hundreds of the used buyer-intent channels.

There was tender a prolonged checklist of product and advertising and advertising tasks shall we attain. However it surely was much less glaring which of these tasks would possibly maybe be the most impactful. It furthermore felt esteem we didn’t enjoyment of a explicit point of curiosity as antagonistic to getting further purchasers and earnings.

We determined to point of curiosity on maturing the product. “Produce Canny work better for sizable companies” was the precept point of curiosity of 2020. That is a moderately pure pattern for SaaS. You open out promoting to startups for cheap, and as you used the product, it begins to work successfully for better orgs at a elevated imprint point.

This point of curiosity helped with prioritization too. We broke out our spreadsheet (Airtable), and outlandish a easy have an effect on/effort system. We felt the used RICE framework was a minute bit overkill.

canny prioritization

We employed one totally different engineer and marketer, Jake and Bri, to proceed to double down on what’s working (they’re every expedient!).

At this point, recruiting was your entire model down to a science. From sourcing to screening to interviewing to accept, we had built a solid job.

We built integrations with Salesforce, Microsoft Groups, Azure Lively List, and Okta. We refined our product demo, and built out our inbound sales lunge for increased affords. We sold our SOC 2 safety certification. These had been all checkboxes for increased companies.

Some time abet I printed a put up about asserting no to sizable purchasers and I tender stand by what I wrote. We don’t assemble aspects for a single company and we be constructive there’s an loyal match. We’re positively dipping our toes upstream but we feel loyal about how we’re doing it.

Lesson realized

In due route, you wish an additional explicit, strategic point of curiosity than “compose more money.” Severely as the body of workers grows, it’s crucial that every body is aligned, and understands how they have an effect on the corporate’s better targets. This point of curiosity makes it easier to prioritize and measure success.

Beyond $1m ARR

We most intelligent for the length of the conclude to previous employed one totally different computer map engineer, Ramiro, and our Head of Horrible sales, Ned. As a product dressmaker, I’m in my principle big livid necessary off sales to anybody who is with out problems loyal at it! I’m furthermore livid that we’re doing outbound sales for the necessary time.

We’re for the length of the job of rolling out Canny 2.0, which is an additional used version of our used product. It’s centered on making workflows in Canny easier but furthermore further big.

It’s loopy that two years for the length of the past it was gorgeous Andrew and I, and now we’re 9 impartial loyal. This is in a position to maybe well furthermore sound gradual in contrast to a venture-backed startup, but it surely feels handle a flash.

I’m more than pleased that we chosen to bootstrap—it’s given us time to be taught and develop into every stage. It feels very sustainable, which is one thing further computer map companies would possibly maybe maybe maybe perchance furthermore self reliant tender strive for.

Our mission is to abet computer map companies assemble better products. We’ve sold a prolonged methodology to proceed.

Lesson realized

We’ll can can enable you to take grasp of! 🙂


Reach for the length of the abet of the curtain, the put we share an impartial loyal detect into putting in Canny. You’ll be the essential to take grasp of once we put up well-liked direct cloth.


Sarah Hum

Howdy there, I’m one in every of the co-founders of Canny. As a founder, I dabble in moderately big your entire pieces but my fling is in product compose. I trip parfaits and singing a cappella.

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