The 5 Stages Of A SaaS Bootstrapper’s Grief

I’m nearly a year in to bootstrapping SignalLeaf. By most accounts, it is a successful podcast hosting service (unless you look at my P&L sheet – but I’m working on that). In the last 11 months, I’ve gone through a number of emotions regarding SignalLeaf – many of them in the same hour, day or week. And it occurred to me, just now, that a lot of the emotional turmoil that I’m facing as a solopreneur / entreprogrammer are directly mappable to the classic Kübler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief.

So I give to you,

The 5 Stages of a SaaS Bootstrapper’s Grief

5 stages of bootstrapper grief

Stage 1: Denial (of the value that you provide)

Nope. It’s not going to happen. Ever.

Stage 1 denial

There’s no way anyone will ever use what I’ve built, let alone pay for it! Why would they? It’s so easy to do this on your own. I mean, I did it and it only took me a day to do it! But now I have to go and set up all this infrastructure to support accounts and logins and payments… seriously… Why would anyone ever pay for this?!

No. I’m done. I refuse. It will never happen.

Stage 2: Anger (at not getting customers)

DAMNIT!!! Why aren’t i getting any customers?!

Stage 2 anger

I’ve got EXACTLY what you need! I do it BETTER than they do, and I am so much more hands on in my support! What is wrong with you people?! Why do you sign up for them, instead of me? Why do you get a trial account with me and then LEAVE FOR THEM?! AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH!!!!!

WHY ME?! WHY AM I NOT GETTING ANY PAYING CUSTOMERS?! IT’S NOT FAIR!

Stage 3: Bargaining (with customers)

Ok, look. I just need one more customer. Please. Just one more customer.

Stage 3 bargaining

Just one this week. If I get one more customer, then I’ll know that this is real. Then I’ll be certain that what I’m doing is worth it. 

Yeah, I realize that you’re not signing up because you don’t know me – you don’t trust me, you don’t have an entire market share of people telling you how good I am. I know that. But I am worth it. In fact, I’ll prove to you that I’m worth it. I’ll not only give you a discount to start with, I’ll give you 1:1 assistance. I’ll give you more than the usual discount, too. I’ll wash your ceilings, comb your lawn and mow your windows… whatever it takes!

I’ll bend over backwards to get you to sign up and pay for my service. I know what my service can do for you and I’m willing to give you more than ask for if you try it out.  Just don’t leave me. What can I do to keep you, dear customer? Anything… please… just one more customer…

Stage 4: Depression (about your financial state)

I only have 16 customers?! #sniff … #sigh

Stage 4 depression

I’m spending $5x more per month than I’m earning. This sucks. It’s been almost a year, and I’m not making it yet. I just needed more paying customers… but nothing I try is working, and I don’t know why. Why bother? Why try? Why go on? My bank account is going to be dry soon. The SaaS will die. I’ll be bankrupt. Why go on?

I’m not going to work on it anymore. I’ll just let it die on it’s own. I’ll ignore it. It’s going to die anyways.

Stage 5: Acceptance (of the work to be done)

I know. You’re right. You were always right.

Stage 5 acceptance

I didn’t realize just how important marketing was. I didn’t take the lessons learned that you tried to teach me seriously. I didn’t listen. But I get it now. I do. And I’m willing to change. I’m willing to learn how to be a marketer as well as a developer. I’m willing to put in the time and effort.

I know that I have a lot of work to do, and I’m not just saying I’m going to do it. I’m actually doing it now. I’ve already started. I rolled up my sleeves this week, and set a plan in motion. It’s going to take a long time, I know that. It’s going to be hard work. I get it.

It’s going to be worth it. Because when I look at what I’ve already done – the 20 customers that are already paying me, and are saying such amazing things about what I’m doing for them – I KNOW the hard work will pay off. And I know how much work this is going to be.

So I’m here, now. I’ve got my work gloves on. I’ve got my sunscreen, my shovel and my determination. I will do the work. I will earn that customer the hard way, at first. I will improve my services, my marketing and my bottom line.

I will succeed.


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  • Jarod

    Honestly, there is no market here. You should pivot asap. Start with a real problem, not the solution.nnSaaS success = LTV/.2 > CACnnHow much does it cost you to acquire a customer? How do you get them? What is your marketing strategy? Who is your target customer? What is your value proposition? Why would they use signalleaf? Who are your competitors, and what are their est revenues? So what?nn

    • http://calvinallen.net/ Calvin Allen

      Did you really just come to this post and tell him to quit?

      • http://elegantcode.com/ Jarod Ferguson

        Pivoting is not quitting, I like Derrick and am telling it like I see it. Being honest instead of backslapping BS that most people do “Great idea, you can do it.. blah blah”. Everyone knows there is no technical barrier for Derrick here.nnAn entrepreneur can put her head in the sand and keep banging away, but unlike the movies, if you build it doesn’t mean they will come. You have to run the numbers. Answer the questions above, and if there is business here it will be obvious (I dont see it, but what do I know). A lot of first timers make this mistake, esp ones that come from engineering. There are countless big time businesses that started as one thing and pivoted to huge success ( I wont bore you).nnSaas is a proven model, oh and the formula above should be: s = LTV*.2 > CAC

  • Fernando Zamora

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep at it. Seems to me that you are learning tons doing it. I imagine that you are profitable by the time I am writing this comment so keep at it. This post is both funny, educational. Thirdly it is quite inspirational.