We Bootstrapped A Tech Talent Platform To $1.2M Sales In Our First Year
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! I’m one of the co-founders of CloudDevs. We started this company in 2019 with a mission to change things around in the tech talent-hiring industry. We launched for sales in March of 2020, right before the initial lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
CloudDevs, our flagship product, came into existence after several attempts at other startups. CloudDevs is an initiative to source the best freelance tech talent, conduct rigorous screening and vetting on them, and match them up with companies or individuals looking to hire talented developers and designers to create tech projects.
So, CloudDevs is essentially a tech talent platform where you can hire senior developers and highly vetted designers on a freelance basis. Most of our customers are founders and entrepreneurs looking to build their own tech startups.
We are proud to say that within our first year of sales, we reached 1 Million USD in GMV, and we are aiming higher this year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When we ventured out to build a startup, we had a different idea in mind. We saw an opportunity to create a blockchain-based startup and we started looking for developers to build it for us. This was back in 2018. We wanted to hire top-quality developers and designers. We soon realized that the experts in the field are hard to come by. For those of us who are uber focused on quality over quantity, finding the right kind of people for the job was essential.
We strongly felt that we needed senior developers and designers who were highly skilled professionals that can assure the quality of service they provide. Unfortunately, most of these guys were already working for some of the largest corporations globally, and we did not have the budget to hire them as full-timers. We wanted to hire freelance developers to build it because for one, hiring permanent staff was not within our budget, and second, we didn’t see the point of hiring permanent employees to develop an MVP. The main options we had for looking for the talent were Toptal and Upwork as there aren’t very many recognized platforms out there for hiring tech talent even to date.
We tried out Upwork first. They appeared to be the cheapest. We assumed it’d be easy to get a good dev there that fits into our budget, so we set up a project. It was a pretty straightforward process at the onset. We had to enter the project details with the dates, description, deliverables, and budget. Then we gave it a day or two. Soon enough, our job posting was flooded with freelancers and agencies applying for the post. We narrowed down a few options and scheduled a few calls. Since Upwork doesn’t vet their talent, we just wanted to make sure we made the right hire.
So we started our screening sessions with those we selected. That’s when we realized it wasn’t as easy as we thought. Most had language problems, and it was challenging to communicate our ideas across, so they were indeed out of the question as we didn’t want to waste time due to miscommunications. Then some others were not qualified to do the job we needed them to do. We liked a couple of the senior developers we found, but the problem was that there was too much of a time difference between us (12 to 14 hours) to coordinate and stay in touch throughout. The whole process was beginning to be very tiresome, so we soon abandoned the idea of screening the talent ourselves, and we looked for a platform that offered pre-vetted talent that we could choose.
That brought us to Toptal. They had fantastic reviews, and they claimed to have the top 3% of highly vetted talent, so we figured this would be a far better option. Their website states that you can hire a vetted freelance developer for anything upwards of $60. Although we felt it was a high price point, we still reached out to make it work at $60/ hour. However, we soon realized this wasn’t the actual case because the talent we were matched with was over $100 per hour. A BIG NO!
This was when it dawned on us, we were chasing the wrong startup dream. There was a much bigger problem present in the fast-paced world of tech where hundreds, if not thousands of founders like ourselves were facing. And that was a shortage of high-quality talent at reasonable pricing to be hired on a freelance or project basis. We strongly felt that hiring the best talent in the industry should not be something that breaks the bank, nor should it consume all your time and energy to screen and vet your talent for every project that requires a freelancer. There has got to be a better way to do this!
We sprang to action on our brand new startup idea for CloudDevs, and we began to gradually build our community of highly skilled developers sourced from the Latin Americas. Our initiative was to create a platform for qualified and vetted developers and designers to find freelance work without lowering their rates to compete with the Asian outsourcing platforms with mediocre talent. Another feature we wanted to incorporate was to enable our clients to hire talent based within their own timezone. With our experience in remote work, we realized that the best way to communicate and coordinate with our freelancers and make this remote working system productive would be to hire within the same time zone. Since we targeted the clients from the US, the most timezone-friendly location for us to search for talent was the Latin Americas.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
From the get-go, we knew our startup idea had a unique set of offerings. Especially since we came from a place where we were our own target consumer, we knew what exactly the consumer needed and what was missing in the market. So the initial design phase where we had to set right our main offerings and services didn’t cause us much of a hassle. We knew that our product had to offer a very specific set of services no matter what.
- We wanted to offer vetted services so no customer would have to waste their time on screening talent
- We wanted our pricing to be transparent from the start so our consumers won’t have any surprises
- We were adamant about hiring senior developers as we didn’t want to waste time on training and guiding those that are inexperienced
- We knew that our target consumers were from the United States so we wanted to offer talent from the same time zone
- Above all we wanted our service to be affordable
Hence the initial features of our product were already set in place. All we had to do was to design and develop our platform.
We knew we weren’t accepting any financing. So the concept had to be simple and we had to keep our costs low. Hence the decision to be fully remote. Initially, we thought of hiring our own internal team and having an office space to work from, but the best decision we took was to abandon that idea. It has saved us so much unnecessary costs we would have otherwise incurred on overheads.
As for our web platform, once again we wanted to keep things as uncomplicated and clean-cut as possible. From our logos to color schemes and the overall layout of the site, we maintain a minimalist theme overall. This took a fair few tries to get it right, but with trial and error, slowly but surely it came through exactly how we envisioned it.
Here’s a look at our initial site landing page:
We’re firm believers in always working on ourselves and improving ourselves. And this very much applies to our startup. We dont believe in waiting till it’s perfect to put it out into the world. We release it first and then look for ways to tweak it. Nothing’s set in stone, and we keep looking for ways and means to improve things. So our platform may not always look and feel the same, but it will be more and more efficient with each passing day.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We had our launch on Product Hunt in March of 2020. As founders that were bootstrapped, it made sense to go with them. Soon after our launch, the pandemic hit and we watched the growth of the remote lifestyle which was highly beneficial to our business. We were lucky that we didn’t quite have to market the concept as it simply took off on its own.
At the start, we relied mostly on the low-code/no-code models as much as we could. Pretty much all our initial work was done manually to start with. In fact, when we started we didn’t have a system in place for all the data we were collecting on developers and designers. We did it all manually with the use of google sheets and google docs. As we gained more momentum and we had a good idea of where we were headed, along with what was working for us and what wasn’t, we built a custom talent system to suit our needs.
It’s better to do it this way because you can actually see for yourself how your customers respond to your product. You must go after the customer feedback. That’s very important. It will help you fine-tune your product.
As for our finances, we’re fully bootstrapped. Raising funding was never in our periphery. We strongly believe that there are plenty of free tools available for founders to get things going without having to rely on investments from the get-go.
We think funding is mostly necessary if you’re conducting research and development work. For instance, you aim to build next-generation spaceships, etc. such activities that require extensive research, cannot take place without some level of funding. Yet, for anything you’re building online, you can simply start small and build it as you go with the revenue you get. Also, we figured VCs won’t be the biggest fans of our low markup model, with its bad unit economics on the small scale.
As for launching on Product Hunt, it is by far one of the best places to launch your startup. Not only is it free, but it also has a fantastic community of people that are the ideal candidates to test out any of your tech projects even if it’s in the MVP stage.
If you’ve been discovered on ProductHunt, and people like what you offer, you’re off to a great start in your startup journey.
Here’s how to launch your startup on Product Hunt:
First and foremost, build your product, make sure it’s ready for the launch, test it out with your own community before launching it. It would be best to familiarize yourself with the existing users on Product Hunt. Learn about its community and do some initial networking. Get your entire team to create accounts on Product Hunt.
Create some content around your product. The best would be to write up some articles or press releases to provide more in-depth details on your product. Maybe even some flashy video snippets or GIF animations that demonstrate your product in action.
After the launch, you’re bound to receive a significant number of comments and feedback. Be active and respond with high-quality comments. You may cross-promote your launch on your socials and newsletters etc., for a higher reach. But don't seem desperate by asking people to upvote your product. Allow its space to grow organically, and make sure to be thankful for the community of voters that’s got your back.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Although we made significant sales in our first year, we had all these sales targets set out. We had these short-term KPIs we were chasing after with regards to our sales. But we soon realized that it’s not the way to do business in the long run.
We altered our model towards the end of the year to a more customer focussed indicator.
Now, we firmly believe that acquiring ten loyal customers is far better than acquiring 100 unloyal customers. While the big numbers may be good for the short term, we should strive for loyalty in the long term.
By our second year, customer retention and customer satisfaction became our key indicators. We utilized the NPS (Net Promoter Score) as the metric to measure our customer loyalty and their likelihood to recommend our product to others.
After each engagement with a client, or halfway through a project, we make it a point to contact the customers to see their satisfaction rate. We ask them to rate us on a score of 1-10 on the question: “How likely is it that you would recommend CloudDevs to a friend or colleague?”
Our target is to hit the numbers 9 to 10 with each engagement, as it assures us the possibility of having them as repeat-loyal customers and as our brand promoters.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are proud of what we have achieved so early on in our launch. As I mentioned earlier, within our very first year, we managed to do 1 Million USD in GMV, and we plan on achieving 100% growth from year to year in the next couple of years.
We achieved what we did without raising any venture financing, and we don't plan on raising any in the near future. So how did we run paid marketing campaigns on our product through a bootstrapped budget, you may wonder. Well, the answer is, we didn’t.
We didn’t want to engage in paid marketing. We aimed to incorporate alternatives to the regular PPC ads. We went big on SEO and are continuously on the lookout for new avenues for marketing. This enabled us to keep our costs super low. By keeping our marketing costs low, we were able to pass these savings to our clients and this made us highly competitive in the marketplace. And the fact that we offered highly competitive pricing to that of our competitors meant that we could grab a hold of a considerable share of the market very early on.
As for our operations, we’re entirely remote with a distributed team. Another factor that allows us to keep costs low as we have no overheads. The majority of our clients are from the USA, so we hire talent from Latin America so that we all can function from the same time zone.
Our short-term goal is to try and reach 4 to 5 million USD in sales in the coming year of 2022.
As for the long term, we’re at such an early stage that we don't want to think too long term. Instead, we’re primarily focussing on moving forward with a steady pace, and we try to keep our metric year to year.
We’re gradually expanding our portfolio to include other products and ventures that bring value to our clients and anyone else that’s about to set forth on their entrepreneurial journey. One such project we initiated recently is 3D Bay by CloudDevs, an online collection of high-quality royalty-free 3D stock images that anyone can download and use for their creative ventures. This is just the start, and we have many more value-added products lined up for the future.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Honestly, in our case, we’ve been extremely fortunate. We launched mid-march in 2020, right before the lockdowns forced the world to work from home. When many businesses and industries faced significant setbacks due to the pandemic, the industry we were in saw exponential growth. As the new normal made the majority of the working population across the world switch to the remote and hybrid operating environment, more and more opportunities and avenues opened up for us.
If we had launched our company one year before we actually did, we would have had more of a tough time convincing people to hire remote talent. But our timing was such that the remote work concept did not have to be marketed by us, as it all happened naturally.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Monday.com Work OS enables our teams to run their projects and workflows effortlessly. It allows us to conduct collaborative work in a structured manner.
Our go-to time tracker used by all our talent, scrin.io, is the most efficient way to track hours, manage projects, and, most importantly, our people. With one scroll through the home page, you'll know what everyone is working on so it makes it extremely convenient to ensure our work gets done.
Proposify is an online software for proposals and it provides you control and visibility into essential stages of your sales process. From deal design to sign-off, it oversees everything. We use Proposify to create our sales documents that stay consistent and error-free. It helps us manage and organize all our paperwork from contracts and quotes to proposals and presentations.
Wave is a company that provides financial services and software for small businesses. We use Wave for all our accounting purposes. The company's first product was a free online accounting software designed for companies with 1-9 employees, followed by invoicing, personal finance, and receipt-scanning software (OCR).
We use Zapier as a tool to automate certain tasks to minimize repetitive activities and increase productivity. Zapier enables us to interconnect all our different tools and apps so that the entire process is automated. This saves us a tonne of time. For instance, when we sign a ‘Proposify’ contract our ‘monday.com’ dashboard gets automatically updated due to Zapier’s automated services.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
1) Good to Great - Jim Collins
The key takeaway for us from Good to Great is discipline and simplicity. That is what helps us to keep working on our organization to make it into a great one. It taught us we need disciplined people, disciplined thought, disciplined action and to think long term.
2) Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell
Based on this piece by Gladwell, 10,000 hours is the magic number of hours one should spend in their field to achieve mastery. We strongly agree with this “practice makes perfect” mindset, and it plays out in how we hire our senior talent. As mentioned earlier, we require a minimum of 5 years of works experiences for all talent that intends to join our platform. 5 years amounts to about 10,000 hrs of work approximately if they worked the typical 2,000 hours per year. By sticking to this rule, we ensure all our talents are masters in their trade.
3) The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World - Fred Reichheld
This book taught us how to use the Golden Rule—treating others as you'd want to be treated and how to do this and thrive in a customer-driven world through profitable customer relationships. It's about building customer relationships that are worthy of loyalty by treating customers so well they become loyal promoters of your business. We have adopted this as one of our core principles. This is one of our primary means of acquiring customers as we don’t do paid marketing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
So my advice for those wishing to set out on their startup journey is to try and rely on no-code or low-code products as much as possible to start with. Funding is unnecessary. I see many entrepreneurs get so wrapped up in finding investors that they end up forgetting that the essential part is to create a damn good product that provides a solution to an existing problem.
You don't need any fancy investments to do that. Keep your costs low, use free marketing tools and build a community, launch your product on ProductHunt, make some sales, and pump that money into scaling. Once you get the ball rolling, new avenues will open up for you, so don't try to plan too far ahead. Just get started.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop us a line below!
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