Building a business is hard and bootstrapping one with your own money is even harder. That’s what makes today’s article incredibly impressive. We’re going to be covering the four tactics that Jon Yongfook used in order to scale his company, Bannerbear from zero to over 200K in annual recurring revenue in under two years.
By the end of this article, you’re going to have four tactics that you can start thinking about to apply to your own business.
What is Bannerbear?
Bannerbear makes it easy to auto-generate social media results, e-commerce banners as well as dynamic email images and more through an API and direct integration. The reason why this is super cool is because from personal experiences, the old school way of achieving this is to delegate some tasks to a virtual assistant and have them prep some sort of banner images for you for whatever it is that you’re creating content on.
However, what Jon’s created here is he’s made a programmatic way in which you can create those sorts of images without meeting a person involved in the process. What this means is, for example, if you had just released a WordPress post and you had a Zap that essentially cued into a Google sheet saying that this post was created, you could feed that data through directly into Bannerbear and have a beautiful image that you could use for that post on your Twitter, Instagram, or whatever social media account you wanted to share it on.
Now that we understand what Bannerbear does, let’s dig into tactic number one.
Tactic 1: Building in Public
At this point in time, you might be wondering how do I build a calculator if I don’t know how to code? Well, in this case, what you can do is you can actually turn to a site like Upwork to hire a freelancer to help you create the calculator in mind.
All you need to do is outline specs as well as a budget, and then find a developer that can help you create this sort of plugin. You might build it in WordPress. You might build it as a standalone HTML page, whatever it is, you’ll be able to find that any freelance market like Upwork. When you’re looking to hire somebody on a freelance marketplace, it’s really important that your RFP outlines specifically what the end goal is in terms of your calculator, what sort of functionality you need in it? What timeline you’re on as well as what budget you’re looking to work with.
In my past experiences of building calculators. I always try to literally mock up what I’m imagining in my head so that I can share that with the developer, when they start to work on the actual building of the calculator. Once you post your RFP, you’re going to get people to submit proposals to you, and then you’ll be able to review them, interview them and figure out who is the best for you.
Budget-wise, I typically spend anywhere from 300 to a thousand dollars for calculators when they are built as WordPress plugins. I’ve often found that it’s not so pricey when you’re able to find an Eastern European developer or Latin American developer to build your calculator.
Tactic 2: Show, Don’t Tell
The first tactic that Jon has used really effectively in growing Bannerbear is building in public. Since the very beginning, Jon has been very public on both Twitter and on Indie Hackers and sharing all of his learnings, failures, and everything along the way in his journey from getting from his goal of 0K to 20K a month in revenue.
You can scroll all the way back for a long period of time to learn about Jon as a person, as a founder, as well as the trials and tribulations of building a company itself. He also shares more in depth in long-form content, on Indie Hackers, some of the lessons that he’s picked up in his journey. The reason why this is super powerful is because this public accountability makes it easier for potential prospects of his in the future to learn more about him, what he values as well the things that he’s experiencing as a founder. So they start to like him over longer periods of time.
For example, at the beginning of 2020, he openly shared how in the prior version of Bannerbear, they’re actually failed to find product market fit, as well as where he was going from here, what he was trying to accomplish next in his building process.
This is a great example of modern day marketing because by sharing his journey openly, he gets more people to like him over periods of time and also attracts the sort of people that you want as customers. The sort of people that are following Jon are also potentially his core audience, because these are the people that are likely creating things online as well.
When building in public, Jon makes sure to position Bannerbear around him. And you can see this on the website when you scroll far enough on the page to join his newsletter. He talks about following the journey where every two weeks he shares about what’s going on in product marketing and the business itself. This is something that Alex over at GrooveHQ, as well as Nathan Barry over at ConvertKit have done so effectively over the years.
Tactic 3: Create Dual-Purpose Content & Product Marketing
The third tactic that Jon does so effectively is create dual purpose content and product marketing. Content marketing is great for engaging prospects in a topic related to what it is that your business solves but incorporated with product marketing, it becomes even more powerful. If you can find a way to address search intent and integrate your own product into that piece of content, it becomes a great natural selling opportunity for people to learn more about your business. This is what Jon does so effectively with his marketing efforts.
If you hop onto a site and you take a look at what he calls the marketing automation block, all of the content that he’s creating in here when I look at view all tutorials is related to topics around the things that Bannerbear also solves. If we were to hop into one of his posts on auto-generated images with Integromat, what you can see is you can see that this is an SEO optimized page. On the left-hand side, there’s the proper use of headers in order to signal to Google what this page is about.
They are clearly targeting the different attributes around this piece of content of what is intent for informational content, as well as how to content later on when it’s talking about how to actually do these things in Bannerbear. And so what Jon is doing so effectively here is he’s creating this an opportunity to fulfill search intent while also talking about how Bannerbear solves the problem that the person is searching for.
This approach is clearly working. And the best way to see this is to actually jump into the Google side of things and search for a similar phrase, to see where this post ranks. So here I am in Google searching for the phrase generating images with Integromat. Generating images with Integromat and lo and behold, what you can see is that the third result below the actual brand itself is Bannerbear.
So Jon is clearly effective here, and you can tell that because he is ranking right below the actual brand term of Integromat. What Jon is doing here is he’s pulling a play from Zapier’s playbook. If you haven’t seen my growth strategies breakdown with Zapier recently, check out this article.
Essentially, the tactic is to talk about another brand that’s closely related, but not directly competitive with you, and then to work in an integration page so that when people are searching for things around that brand, they might stumble upon your brand.
When we dig into Bannerbears’ open metrics, we see that this approach is clearly working. And the reason why is because his marketing pages are getting a thousand daily visits. This is important because this means that every single day, Jon gives himself another 1000 at-bats at converting somebody to a free trial. And then from there converting that free trial into a paid user.
Tactic 4: Optimized Pricing
The fourth thing that Jon has done so effectively with Bannerbear is he’s optimized his pricing. One of the most powerful levers for you as a business owner, especially when you’re doing everything yourself is your pricing. Back in the last company I co-founded, we went through different iterations of our pricing models every single year, because we often found that we were leaving money on the table with our customers.
They were willing to pay double or even triple what we were charging the year before, just because of the value that we were giving them on a annual basis. Jon came to a similar realization in November 2019, when he decided to 5X his pricing. He realized that a lot of Indie Hackers underpriced their products and that his $9 a month pricing was not going to scale well with this business.
This decision to 5X is pricing paid huge dividends for him because it changed the economics entirely for his timeline of being successful with Bannerbear. In the case for Jon had stayed at $9 a month per customer, he be only at around 2.5K in monthly recurring revenue. However, because he decided to 5X his pricing and attract the right sort of customers, he’s able to generate around 20K in monthly recurring revenue with under 300 customers.
I know that it can be super daunting to raise pricing on your customers. However, it’s something that I encourage you to push the envelope on to truly understand what the value is that you are providing for your customers. If you’re helping them, for example, generate a hundred K additional revenue, you increasing your annual billing from 1K to 2K shouldn’t matter to them. Also, ironically in the past, what I’ve noticed is that when you increase your pricing, you increase the perceived value of your product. So as a result, people feel more willing to pay. They are more likely to use a product and it leads to more successful outcomes for your customers.
John has done a lot of things right with Bannerbear. And it won’t be long before he doubles his ARR. But we have to realize that that this has not been just a two year journey with Jon. In fact, if you were to look at his LinkedIn profile, he spent years working in different businesses as he gained the skill sets that he needed in order to build his own business.
Before he started building Bannerbear, he spent some time being the head of digital product and design at Aviva as well as the Director at Twenty Four Twelve Systems. Jon, if you are reading this, major props to you and keep going! For everybody else reading this article, I hope you’ll realize that you don’t need to quit your job in order to build something.
All you need to do is commit to being open with sharing your learnings and commit to the process of exploring things and trying different things and providing value for others.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week. I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning the techniques Bannerbear used to 5X their ARR in less than 2 years.