Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
Hey, there I’m Danielle. I’m a digital nomad and indie developer originally from the UK, but 3 years ago I left it all behind to travel the world and explore my own dreams.
Together with my partner James, we founded our remote web development agency Squarecat while on the road. We are on a journey to make enough money from our own projects to sustain our nomad lifestyle, but we do freelance from time-to-time when the funds run low.
Our flagship product and the main focus are Leave Me Alone, a service that makes it easy to unsubscribe from unwanted emails, with a focus on privacy. Until a couple of months ago we were making around $500 a month, but recently we’ve had some big boosts.
We were featured in Lifehacker, I was on the Indie Hackers podcast, and we launched v2.0 which was 9 months of listening to all of our customer’s feedback and re-building the product from the ground up.
All of these things really helped to get Leave Me Alone noticed, and we are now making ~$2,500 per month (although this does vary quite a lot because most of our revenue comes from one-off purchases).
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
I was 20 years old and stuck in a rut. I’ve always been interested in computers and was the “printer fixer” of my friends, so I decided to try studying computers instead and see how that worked out. I went back to University to study Computer Science, landed a graduate job in the UK Government, worked for an advertising startup for a year, and then decided I wanted more freedom, and to work for myself.
I started working on some of my own projects and teaching myself new skills. When James and I decided to leave the UK we were working on a product together that we continued to work on after we left. This was our first attempt at building a startup (which didn’t go well) but we knew that we wanted to build our own stuff together.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process? Is it just another unroll me alternative?
Not just an unroll me alternative and here’s the story!
We both dislike spending time in emails, but while freelancing we were finding ourselves in our inboxes more and more. It was difficult to prioritize and manage our time because we’re overwhelmed with so many subscription emails, and it was annoying to open them all and find the unsubscribe link at the bottom.
We searched for a tool to solve this problem for us, but we found that did not value our privacy (they were selling users data for marketing). So, we decided to build our own solution, which would be ethical and privacy-focused. This is how Leave Me Alone was born!
We put together a landing page and shared it around social media to determine if there was a need for the product. The response was very positive so we started building something.
The initial prototype took 7 days to code. In the past, we have spent too long on the building and not long enough on getting real users to validate it. This time we build a very minimal first version that focused on the core functionality; showing users their mailing lists and letting them unsubscribe.
We kept it simple. Users could signup with Google and scan their inbox for newsletters received in the last week. The user interface was just a list of emails and a toggle to unsubscribe. People loved it, and we felt like we were on to something that could succeed!
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
We did a closed beta to iron out the worst bugs and then soft-launched on Twitter and in indie founder communities like Women Make, Makerlog, and Makers Kitchen. The feedback was super positive, which motivated us to keep working on Leave Me Alone and make it ready for release to the world.
The official launch of Leave Me Alone v1.0 was on 30th January 2019. We launched from a beach town in Peru, which had only one cafe with wifi, so we camped out there for the entire day. The launch was a huge success! We reached #1 of the day and week, made over $1,000 in sales, and most importantly, validated that Leave Me Alone was a service people wanted and were willing to pay for!
Fast forward 9 months and Leave Me Alone v2.0 was ready to be released. We had spent the best part of a year working on commonly requested features and making unsubscribing even easier, and faster than ever before. We re-designed the UI, added sorting and filtering, improved the unsubscriber, and added our brand new ranking system Subscription Score.
The v2.0 launch was from a villa in Bali this time, though the internet wasn’t much better! We decided to live stream our entire launch and make it a knowledge-sharing event. Since this was a version two launch it was less about the product (and our upvotes on Product Hunt) and more about community and having fun! A whole blog post on our live stream will be coming soon!
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
One of the main things that have worked for us to attract customers is being open. Leave Me Alone is an open startup in more ways than just sharing metrics, we also share how we build the product and the decisions we make. We also talk openly about low points, struggles, and failures.
People are following more than just a product, they are following the journey of two founders, and they want us to succeed. The community we have built around Leave Me Alone has helped us when we’ve needed feedback or advice, and also when it comes to promoting the service.
A few months after the launch of v1.0 we changed our pricing from time-based to credit-based. We have several tiers for packages of credits depending on the size of your inbox. This change made our pricing model much easier to understand, and has resulted in an increase in repeat customers – many people who buy the smallest package to try us out, end up buying more credits. We don’t have stats to hand for this right now, but we have been recording the data and will be crunching the numbers soon!
We also reward customers with free credits for things like sharing their referral link, setting a reminder to come back and unsubscribe again, and tweeting about us. All of these things boost customer engagement.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
We are on a mission to help people to not just take back control of their inboxes, but to keep control. The launch of v2.0 and all of the publicity we have received recently has been incredible and has shown that marketing is our real Achilles heel. Increases in traffic are directly proportional to increases in sales and revenue. If we can spread the word about Leave Me Alone then we will be able to grow.
The next step for us is to work on growing customers on our Teams Plan. Teams and businesses are plagued by unwanted emails. In the workplace, this means interruptions and lost work time, which impacts on productivity. We have a monthly subscription to solve this for teams! Getting more monthly recurring revenue from this is a more stable income for us, and will mean we are able to continue working on Leave Me Alone for all of our customers.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
The best thing about building our own business is the freedom to work on something that we are passionate about and enjoy working on. Customers give us amazing feedback every day, telling us how much we have helped them, and how much time we have saved them. That makes all of the hard work worth it. The money pays the bills but building a product that helps people is the best reward.
What tools or services did you use?
The web-app is custom-built using Gatsby, React, Node, Express, and Mongo. We connect to Gmail and Outlook mail APIs, host our servers on Digital Ocean, cache with Cloudflare, take payments via Stripe, and make our monthly tree donations to One Tree Planted.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
Our biggest challenge is marketing and spreading the word about Leave Me Alone. As developers, selling ourselves is the hardest part of building a product. We would quite happily bury our heads in the sand and code feature after feature forever, but that’s not going to grow our customer base.
I do all of our marketing in ways that I know how to. I write blog posts about Leave Me Alone about new features, how we built something, decisions we have made, and case studies like these ‘how to unsubscribe from qemailserver emails‘. I have been working on our landing page and adding pages that target keywords for unsubscribing and alternatives to our competitors. We share all of our progress (ups and downs) on Twitter and Indie Hackers which is where most of our traffic comes from!
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
I have tried to read startup books but I have found most of them too focused on large businesses, managing teams, and getting investment which is a path I can’t relate to and don’t want to pursue. Next on my list are Company of One by Paul Jarvis and The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.
For podcasts, I would recommend the Indie Hackers podcast, especially the Quick Chat episodes, which interview founders of smaller businesses who are just starting out. I found the advice in these much more relatable and actionable than larger, more established businesses.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
I definitely don’t think that. There are incredible and successful women all over the world. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most powerful and driven people in the last 3 years, and a large proportion of them were women.
Being able to ride the waves that are founding and growing your own company has nothing to do with gender. It has everything to do with passion, determination, and who can make it through the hard times and self-doubt, to get to the success and fun.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
I interview women founders in building profitable businesses
My idea is for other women to get inspired by these actionable tell-all stories and start their own profitable enterprises.
I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.