I am a huge fan reading people’s "road to" series.
The reason why I think they are so popular is that they give you an inside look at companies that seem so established and accomplished, and allow you to experience their inner thoughts during growth time.
My personal favorite is Groove's road to $100,000 MRR, which you should definitely go read, but only after you read our posts first.
Writing these posts will be our first attempt to give a sneak peek behind the scenes of Ghostit. We will be doing a weekly update on what is working, what is not working, and everything in between.
As Alex from Groove said,
"We are going to be sharing everything from Ah Hah to Oh shit."
And I am going to be doing the same for Ghostit. But instead of $100,000 MRR, we are writing about our journey to 100 customers.
Before we dive into what is working and what is not, let’s back up and explain what Ghostit is and does.
What the heck is Ghostit?
Ghostit is a software platform backed by a team of expert writers, editors, and researchers, that help small to medium size businesses automate their online presence. We do this by creating a content marketing strategy for the customer, creating all their content in-house, then uploading it to our software platform where the customer can approve it and watch it automatically post to their blog, social media feeds, and email subscribers.
Yes, you guessed it, our wheelhouse is blog posts, social media posts, and email newsletters. However, we have recently expanded into white papers, eBooks, and press releases.
How did Ghostit start?
Ghostit started by me (Kimia) looking at a lot of business Facebook business pages and realizing that they were really bad.
And many still are.
I went into 10-20 different businesses and said something along the lines of: "Hi small business owner! Would you pay $100/month if there was a platform + service that automated your Facebook page for you?"
Many said: "Yes! I don't have time for that."
And just like that Ghostit was born.
I foolishly did not bring contracts or collect payment instantly (if you are just starting out, do this!) so I didn't actually make money, I just got validation. This, however, was more than enough to get started.
Forming the team
Once the idea was validated and I knew it was something that small businesses would pay for, I joined forces with Rahul Bhatia. The reason why I thought Rahul would make a great co-founder and has proven this decision right time and time again is his operational expertise and his relentless commitment when times are tough.
And boy has there been tough times.
There is a great quote from Ben Horowitz' book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" that always sticks with me when things get tough.
"I didn't quit."
In the coming months, you must regularly read my posts you will see how much of a fan I am of Ben.
One of the things we are very good at is persistence, reinforced by having a co-founder like Rahul. I can say "man things are hard" and he goes "yep they sure are" and then we both come together and say, "what are we going to do to fix it?".
When you first start a company, there are very few people that can relate to your struggles, your dreams, and your desires. Not a lot of people understand what it means to create something truly awesome that brings a ton of value to the world. And no one understands that better than someone who is in the same position as you.
Coming back to what Ghostit is - our initial vision is still pretty similar to when we first started the company. Build a content calendar where instead of you creating all the content and uploading it, the content is written for you.
We contracted the initial build to a remote developer which ended up being quite expensive for a bootstrapped startup but proved very valuable for a few reasons.
- It positioned us as not an agency because we have our own tech. This is a very important distinction to us because we like the idea of being able to scale up hard and fast for the future.
- It gave us a unique value proposition with our logo on it, albeit an expensive one.
- It also taught us a lot about remote work, deadlines, and what we thought we needed versus what we actually needed.
A good example of what we thought we needed versus what we actually needed is us building a WordPress plugin that would automatically post a blog post from the platform into a client’s WordPress. This ended up costing something like $10,000 to $20,000 and it only worked with specific versions of WordPress, not all the themes showed the blog posts properly so we eventually ended up not using it.
We figured it was much easier to just pretend like it was automated from the platform and manually upload to which took maximum 5 minutes to properly format. Talk about misjudgment.
As we have slowly grown we brought on Peter Mirmotahari, who is now our full-time developer and an equity partner in Ghostit.
We also have a phenomenal writing team comprised of eight writers in Canada and one writer in France! Finding excellent writing talent is something we make sure we do a good job of because our content is our brand.
In the interest of time I will skip over some milestones, but if you are interested in the full Ghostit founding story you can read it here: Ghostit's founding story.
So back to the present. Here's where we currently stand:
- A Team of 12.
- New and updated software platform is being developed and will be coming out soon. We will be doing a slow roll out to ensure that nothing explodes.
- We recently brought on two sales executives to help with direct sales bringing the team to 14 once fully on-boarded.
- We currently have 27 customers. This ranges from individual realtors to multinational businesses doing nine figures in revenue.
Here’s what is going well:
- We are solving a "big, hard problem." We help small to medium size businesses share their message with their audience. For more on solving big hard problems vs. small, rare ones watch this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6pQyB6ACrk.
- What we do and the solution we provide kicks ass. Just look at a month one vs month two page-views graph from one of our clients.
Isn't that awesome?!
- Our software is arguably better than many if not all social schedulers in the market today.
- Our team is phenomenal.
Here's what is not going well:
- Our customer base is so spread out that we don't really know what our focus niche should be.
- Once we push our updated software to market we will have the opportunity to sell a standalone social scheduler. This may not seem bad on its face but it provides a dilemma regarding where to focus our time.
- Our word of mouth growth is very slow. This is because no one is actively telling people "hey look at the blog that someone else wrote for me." We do know they are saying "Hey look at my blog that I write."
Here's where we will be focusing our time:
As a team, we need to figure out what niche we best serve and target the people who are experiencing the pain points that we eliminate. Once that niche is established it will boil down to building our pipeline.
This is the funnel we need to build.
> How many conversations can we have with businesses?
> How many of those businesses are interested?
> How many of those that are interested are currently ready to spend?
> How many of those businesses that are willing to buy can we close?
Roughly 60% of my effort will be going to direct sales (B2B), 10% will be going to our own inbound since that is mostly automated, and the other 30% will be going to agency partnerships.
I was doing this as a sales exercise and stumbled across something that may solve our unfocused niche problem. I went to indeed and searched for Content Marketing positions with the keyword ‘blog’ in the posting. My thinking was that I can call or email these people and say:
"Hey, instead of hiring someone, managing them, and making sure they know their stuff. Just use Ghostit! We cost far less than a full-time employee and can drive better results."
What I came across was an insane number of digital agencies hiring content marketing specialists, content marketers, and writers.
The actual number was 46,000 job postings. Forty-six thousand job postings???
Now the next thing I say is obviously extremely hypothetical, but ff our average plan is $500/month and we can somehow convert 5% of the Indeed job postings then, boom. 2300 customers paying us $500/month = $13,800,000 annually. Not too bad at all.
Clearly, there is a need for content creation in digital agencies so this is what Ghostit is going to be testing for the next little while.
Can we become the content automation platform for digital agencies?
There are a few major benefits to powering digital agencies’ content marketing efforts:
- It guarantees recurring revenue for the agency without having to do any work.
- Partnering with a digital agency that has multiple customers needing content is essentially turning one customer into many.
- Our pitch is very simple --> Offer an awesome service for no work.
The one downside to this channel partner is that Ghostit's top priority is rarely ever a channel partner's top priority so it is a long-term play and the agency needs to be okay selling that.
Going forward every week I will be publishing a road to 100 post. If you are interested in following our journey and want to get our weekly updates, feel free to sign up for our email newsletter.
And of course, if you need help with your own content marketing, definitely reach out!