How to start a micro SaaS

Marty Roberts

Maker: Marty Best Place to Find Him: Twitter . Marty runs an excellent substack about how you can build with Bubble you can find here. And he has recently launched a micro saas product called Roster Bubby. 

Say hello to Marty. Marty is an extremely talented Bubble Maker creating a micro saas that has caught my eye that I highly recommend you check out. The best time to learn from someone is while they are building it out and teaching it. Because it’s the freshest in their minds. 

This interview will help you with two main insights:

(1) Building and marketing a micro SaaS

(2) Building with Bubble

Marty does a very good job documenting the steps out of what he is learning while he does it. Even if you are not building a micro saas, I’d recommend checking it out because you’ll find some very good reference points for building with Bubble.

Some examples:

Check out his full interview below thats helpful insights for solving these problems building a micro SaaS:

  • Why is solving a problem you have a huge advantage when building a product?
  • How to discover a good place to build a SaaS
  • Marketing a micro SaaS
  • What do founders get wrong when buidling


1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your story and getting started with no-code.

M:

I have a long history with computers, writing my first code in 1984 on an Apple IIe using the BASIC language. My first employment in IT was in 1996, and I have had a bunch of different roles including helpdesk, general IT support, Team Leadership, Project Management, Firewall administrator, Automation Engineer, Networking engineer, Systems Engineer, Product Owner, Architect.

About 1999 I created a site called TheScriptLibrary, built in Classic ASP with and Access Database as the backend, which had about ten thousand pages, based mostly on automation of turning WMI namespaces into little script snippets, for languages such as VBScript, Javascript, ASP, Rexx, Perl, Python etc. It had great SEO traffic, and paid for its own hosting but not much more.


I had some early side project $ success back in about 2005, using Google Adsense, with iGoogle Gadgets, on the iGoogle platform. iGoogle is a now deprecated google product which acted like a personalized google start page, and customers could add their own widgets which displayed content from various pages. I worked out how to combine the xml, html and javascript to create these widgets, and alongside this would be one of my google adsense ads. The project ran until the decommission of iGoogle, but I ended up earning a few tens of thousands of dollars over 3 years, which helped put a deposit on a house.. the same house I’m sitting in now 🙂
I then got busy with life,work,family and didn’t side-project much til about 2 years ago. I decided to update my front end skills, and selected Ember.js as the framework. Ember makes a lot of sensible decisions for you, and liked that it wasn’t React, which I found weird.


I made some progress with it, and got a functional shopping list app working with it, using Ember, AWS Gateway, Lambda [Node] and DynamoDb. I also found that by the time I got to 80% complete, that I’d discovered there was still a lot left to do, so in reality I was only about 50% complete. Juggling this with full time work just meant a real lack of momentum. I took about a year to get to this point, so I knew I needed a different approach.


I think I heard about Bubble.io on twitter and tried it out at about October 2020. I did a few tutorials and it was pretty obvious that a NoCode approach would be the path by which I could make much faster progress on getting a project finished enough to put in front of customers, while still working full time. I built my first app pretty quickly, then rebuilt it again even quicker.

2. Can you tell us about Rosterbuddy.app. Can you share your story behind it and how did you go from idea to product? Specifically, why did you choose a SaaS?

M:

I wanted my first nocode product to be solving a problem that I already had, so I could get the fastest feedback loop possible.. i.e I am the first customer.


I’d been updating a spreadsheet of household cleaning tasks every week, so that our kids could contribute the tasks of doing the regular cleaning. It was getting pretty boring allocating work, and making sure that each person had about the same workload, and also had a variety of jobs compared to the week before. I spent about a month building version 1 and it was pretty clear that Bubble could easily automate this for me. I then rebuilt the app, making sure that it was built in such a way that any other person could also sign up and get the same value out of it.
This means I needed a multi-tenanted approach, with the concept of a ‘team’ being the basis of the tenancy identifier, and that each task would have the team id associated with it. I also needed to set up roles, being 1 Team Admin, and several team members. In addition I needed invitation and un-invitation logic so that the team admin could manage who was collaborating on these shared tasks.


Since the nature of the tasks was repetitive [ i.e weekly cleaning] and recurring, I thought it would be a match to have a recurring pricing model, so settled on a monthly SaaS subscription charge, using Stripe.

3. an you share any insights when using this stack for your product?

M:

Stack:

  1. Bubble – I use this as the IDE and Hosting environment, i.e build it and host it in one platform. It has a lot of functionality built in, and it is easily extensible using plugins, and for anything else it also supports custom code if required.
  2. Facebook Services – I use this only for OAuth, i.e social login. I’ve written about this here
  3. Gmail – I use this only for OAuth, i.e social login. I’ve written about this here
  4. Hubspot – I update Hubspot with the name and email of all new signups, but as yet I’ve not done much with this info. I have some plans to improve my scheduling of marketing emails using HubSpot. I’ve written about this here
  5. Sendgrid – This is for sending all emails relating to the app functionality. Bubble and sendgrid have good support for html emails. I’ve written about this here
  6. Stripe. Stripe seems popular, reliable, and has great support for bubble apps via plugins and webhooks. They support trials and coupons, and it has been pretty easy to set up. I’ve written about this here and here and here and here

4. Can you share your experience building with this stack; any insights, advantages and disadvantages, things that surprised you, disappointed you for Bubble?

M:

Bubble is an advanced building and hosting platform that can be used to bring almost any idea you have to life. It has a reputation as having a steep learning curve, but I think that almost all of that reputation is due to their decision to have the initial state of the UI of the app being a blank canvas. Some other nocode tools are design first with more drag and drop design components, but with Bubble this is left up to you, and the empty grid can be daunting. 

However, there are several templating tools that are making this a lot easier, such as the Canvas templates from Airdev [which I use] and the new Frames templates from Buildcamp, which I’ll be using soon.

Once you have done a few sample builds based on the great walkthrough docs, it’s easy from there. Ref https://bubble.io/blog/tag/how-to/

The logic of ‘if this then that’ is so close to how we think about problems that it just makes sense and you can build really complicated logic, without any of the nightmare of looking up code syntax and going down rabbit holes on stackoverflow and github.

 

Would you recommend starting with Bubble? 

Yes. 100%. I recommend doing a few tutorials, then just jump straight in on a problem you have. Keep it simple. It is easy to add on new functionality as you go without having to refactor everything. 

  1. You run a very helpful substack about building with Bubble. What are some of your favorite articles or most interesting ones that you have written?

M:

https://bubblebuilder.substack.com/

 

Examples of ones that I found helpful:

  1. https://bubblebuilder.substack.com/p/how-to-setup-the-logic-for-a-full
  2. https://bubblebuilder.substack.com/p/how-to-receive-recurring-subscription-539

 

I don’t really have any particular favourites, I wrote each one as I was solving a particular problem, so each one was my favourite at that moment 🙂 .  If I had to choose, it would be my latest one where I discuss how to think about tenancy for teams and manage the invitation logic. I don’t see a lot of other articles on the net which explain how to think about setting up the actual logic for collaborating on data in a SaaS.

 

In most cases I didn’t know fully how to solve the problem before I started working on it. I have found that writing as I go just helps me to think better about the problem. I plan to keep on writing, and may expand to topics beyond bubble. In my day job I am dealing with issues that come up when scaling apps to support millions of customers, so it’s been great to bring some of that perspective of scaling a saas to some of my articles.  Of course most Indie Hackers projects don’t really ‘yet’ have to deal with problems of scale, but it’s good to anticipate how some early design choices might make scaling difficult later, and try and spend a bit of time up front pondering how to approach things like database design; the number of components on a page; using custom states etc.

 

Ps.. I am currently running a sale for my newsletter. Most articles are free, but I regularly publish articles for subscribers only. If you want to get a 20% discount for accessing all my articles for the next year, use this code https://bubblebuilder.substack.com/subscribe?coupon=7eb129c3
But the offer to sign up at this rate expires at the end of this month.

6. What part of building Roster buddy in Bubble was the most challenging?

M:

Responsive design. This is a common complaint from bubble users and there has been a long awaited responsive redesign coming from bubble, but it isn’t here yet. The work from Builcamp to release their Frames tooling is a great move, and the Canvas templates are responsive too.

Apart from that, just the UI and look and feel is a challenge. Starting with a blank slate is a bit daunting for a back end engineer like myself. 

 

7. Are there any resources you would recommend in addition to your substack to help Makers learn to build in Bubble?

M:

Yes, this series of docs is great https://bubble.io/blog/tag/how-to/

Also checkout buildcamp.io, they have great reviews for their workshops and I’ve learned a lot from their free youtube videos https://www.youtube.com/c/Buildcamp/videos.

The new Airdev bootcamp is free so check that out https://canvas.airdev.co/bootcamp 

8. Are there any resources you would recommend to help Makers build a SaaS:

M:

Keep an eye on #SaaS and #BuildInPublic on twitter, and r/SaaS on Reddit. 

9. What part of building and marketing a SaaS do you see most founders get wrong?

M:

The classic problem, of building it first, then having trouble marketing it. Or more common, doing no marketing. I’m working my way through Arvid Kahls books at the moment, which is much more about audience first, rather than product first. I’m a noob at marketing but I realise how important it is. Building the product was never the hard bit.. Nocode tooling has made the build process easier, and more accessible to less technical people, but all the other parts of developing a profitable business are still there, and still hard work.

10.What underserved markets or opportunities do you see for entrepreneurs to explore building a SaaS? OR how might they discover a good place to build a SaaS.

M:

No specific advice here, but if it is currently time consuming, expensive, or boring, then chances are that someone would pay some money to reduce one of those pains. The challenge isn’t finding problems to solve, as there are problems everywhere. You need to be crystal clear that the best place to operate is the intersection between: a problem that lots of people have AND they would pay money for AND you know lots about AND you find interesting.

It needs to be an interesting problem space for you, as you’ll be spending much of your spare time on it for at least 12 months, so make sure you love it.

11. Please provide what links to your project website, your twitter, where can people return the love? Where they can check out about you and your latest product launch:

M:

Project: https://rosterbuddy.app 

This is project 1 where I proved out a lot of concepts and wrote about them. I’m still using and marketing it, but it is currently for sale. DM me for more info.

Twitter : https://twitter.com/MartyLindsay_NZ 

Newsletter: https://bubblebuilder.substack.com 

Product Hunt: https://www.producthunt.com/@martylindsay_nz 

 

Additional questions about running a SaaS:

 

  • How do you know when and where to spend advertising $
    • > I’m still experimenting with this. I’ve done some google ads and some facebook ads, and invested in some facebook group posts. Various results, with google ads bringing the most traffic, and facebook bringing the most signups.  Important to record every metric you can, so you can analyse your ad spent vs the results. Fine tune, and repeat.


  • How do you calculate if your ad spend is too much or too little?
  • > Spending $30 to acquire a customer might sound too much if your monthly charge is $5, but if they stay for 7 months, then your cost of acquisition is $30 and your lifetime value is $35, so you are ahead. The hardest part is knowing how long customers will stay around, as in the beginning your churn stats are unknown.

 

  • Would you sell your app, and why?
    • Yep, RosterBuddy is currently for sale. I’m planning to create several SaaS apps, build the customer base, then onsell them. I enjoy creating more than operating. SaaS valuations seem to be high at the moment, but the key is to have a decent number of paying customers and the metrics to back it up.



Would you recommend anything else to help people build a SaaS?

  • Get a solid understanding of tenancy. I wrote about this here 
  • Expect to spend a lot of time, for a long duration, building momentum. SaaS is a long game, with a big potential upside, but also possibly no upside.
  • Expect to build several products. You may need to try 9 things before finding that the 10th thing is the profitable one. Don’t get attached to any of them, just keep going.

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michael novotny and no code to make and launch a side project

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