Climbing SaaS Mountain

Week 77 & 78 Retrospective

In my last retro I said that September would be the month of place cards and laid out a few different things I was doing to achieve that.

So how’s it going so far?

Time Commitment: Working!

The first thing I said I’d do was just commit more time to the project: 4-8 hours per week.

So far this is working!

First Half September Time

Last Two Weeks’ Time

Despite it coming 5th on the list, I did manage to average more than 4 hours a week on place cards and it’s shown. Success!

Startup School: a Mixed Bag

I also mentioned that I enrolled in YC Startup School, in hopes of getting ideas, inspiration, and accountability.

So far I would say this has been a mixed bag.

On the plus side, it has created a new form of accountability in the weekly check-ins and office hours I have with my group. This is especially helpful since lately my own retro process has been a bit… erratic?

That said, I don’t totally feel like I’m learning very much. Most of the people in my group are highly growth-oriented, and have very different goals than I do that reflects more on the VC/hypergrowth model than the bootstrapping/solopreneur approach I’m trying to take. They’d all call Place Card Me a “lifestyle business” and scoff at my silly goals of $5k/month revenue, despite the fact that many of them are pre-revenue.

And apart from office hours I’m not learning too much from startup school, I think because I audited the course last year and the content isn’t all that different from year to year.

The Roadmap: Helpful and Frustrating

The last thing I planned to do was make a proper product roadmap and actually work against it in a structured way.

This has been super helpful from a “staying on task” perspective, though also quite frustrating.

Starting with the positive, check it out:


Current short-term roadmap, including list of tasks finished in the last two weeks.

Look at all those completed tasks!

And they include a healthy mix of product work (green), questions to answer with data to inform future work (blue), with a splash of bug-fixing (red), tech debt (black) and marketing efforts (yellow). From a “checking things off todo lists” perspective it’s easily been the most productive two-week period all year.

So what’s wrong?

Well, the problem is how small an impact each of these things has on my ultimate goal: revenue.

The biggest lever I’ve worked on over this period has been the addition of a new card layout so that the site is now compatible with (a certain type of) pre-cut place card paper you can buy. It’s a request I’ve gotten a handful of times from customers throughout the history of the site.

What’s the likely impact of this change?

In the best case scenario, I unlock a whole new customer segment. I create a new inbound landing page for a decent search term (people looking for that card template) that converts really well. Based on search data, this might increase inbound traffic by maybe 10%. Additionally, some unknown percentage of people who wanted to use the site for those cards but couldn’t before now are able to—so I would expect my conversion rate to go up slightly to include those people. Finally, I can add an affiliate link to buy the paper on my site which might generate a tiny bit more revenue.

In the most optimistic scenario, this might result in a 20% increase in revenue long term?

In the pessimistic scenario, all that happens is I convert the people who had already bought that exact paper already and also found themselves on my site, which, for all I know, is the 3 out of the 10,000 users who already requested this from me. So, basically zero.

This cost/benefit analysis is extremely representative of most of what’s on the backlog. Little things I can do that—in my best estimates—might move the needle 10-20%, and might have no impact at all. Most of the truly-multiplying work is either already done or intimidatingly hard.

Climbing the SaaS Mountain

SaaS Ramp of Death

The long slow SaaS ramp of death

Still, one thing that’s giving me optimism is the fact that I’m able to consistently work towards those bigger-picture goals. And that by having them in mind I can work on the product in ways that’s aligned with them.

Let’s take an example.

So I know I want to eventually attempt to explore trying to get into the conference badge space with this product. This is something I think could substantially increase revenue if I can start to get some of that market.

But I also know that the product is not close to ready for that.

In order to do that I’ll likely need to:

  • Provide a way for people to add logos in specific places on the cards
  • Be able to support multiple different card types per package (e.g. speakers, versus organizers, versus attendees)
  • Be able to put different things on the fronts and backs of cards
  • Etc.

Well turns out that these map to features that are requested in the wedding place card space too!

  • Providing a way to manipulate custom templates after you upload them
  • Be able to support multiple card types (e.g. to represent the guest meals)
  • Be able to print double-sided cards

So basically, I can see the staircase that eventually gets me to the top of the next mountain, and as long as I’m climbing it stair-by-stair I have reason to believe that I’m heading in a good direction.

But damn, it’s a big ass mountain and I’m climbing really slowly.