Deep Dive

From embarrassing MVP to six figure business

Published on
December 10, 2023
Matthew Gira
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You know you have a minimum viable product or MVP when people think it might be a scam. The old saying is that if you’re not embarrassed by your MVP, you launched it too late and I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jean-Lean Karst, the co-founder of Secret, didn’t launch too late.

Secret is a platform for founders to save money on software. If you’re part of an accelerator, you typically get a book of perks that include credits and discounts to things like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Notion, Stripe, and other popular software tools that founders use. If you’re not part of an accelerator, well, you don’t get that book of perks.

That’s where Secret comes in.

You pay a few hundred dollars and you now have your own book of perks! Yes, you technically get a free book of perks from accelerators like Y-Combinator or Techstars, but you actually paid in equity with those. With Secret, you just pay a few hundred dollars.

I’m not here to sell you on Secret though. If you’re looking for why you should join Secret, you should check out my postthat actually goes in-depth on the Secret platform.

In this deep dive, we’re going to deep dive into how Secret got started and how they’ve now grown to a six-figure bootstrapped business.

Learn more about Secret here. Note: this is an affiliate link, so we do get some credit if you purchase a membership.

Here’s my conversation with Jean-Loup Karst, the co-founder of Secret:

Note: These answers from Jean-Loup are cleaned up from the interview, so they’re not exact quotes per se. This is cleaned up so you can read it easily!

How was Secret started? How did you find your first customers?

We are a marketplace so we need supply and demand.

There is always a chicken and egg problem related to launching marketplaces. First we negotiated a few deals. I think we had six when we launched the website. We've negotiated six deals with some SaaS, they were friends of ours. They were people in our network.

Then we had this one pager was with six deals. Selling the bundle for I think $49. The design was very poor, we were kind of ashamed. I would not have paid myself with my own credit card. We had people on Twitter asking what we were doing was legit or if it was a scam.

That was very funny. It gets back to the old saying that if you're proud of what you've launched, you've waited too long to launch your product.

We were very on this and then it's a lot of hassle to spread the word with like no budget. We leveraged a lot of online communities and those with audiences. Our goal was trying to convince them to help spread the word because of the mission, the mission to democratize entrepreneurship.

How has Secret’s growth strategies changed since finding your first customers?

I think once you have product market fit and you have some budget to allocate to to invest, you can take bigger bets. Since we are self-funded, it took us a while to have a decent budget. With that budget, you're trying to find scalable ways for the business to grow.

For us, it means investing in paid ads, investing in SEO, investing in our affiliate network, investing in channel partnerships a lot, and even white labeling our product. It's a lot of test and learn and finding the right people to take it to the next level. Once you have the right people, it’s supporting them well enough.

Methods change. We try to be more organized, more structured. Thanks to budget, we can do bigger and better bets.

If you had to restart and build Secret from scratch again, what would you do?

If I were to restart today, we would probably invest more time into scalable growth. For example, in SEO, things are scalable. At least for me, in my approach to things, it took me a long time to have a scalable approach in mind.

I was taking the time to build relationships and be manual, etc. I would focus on projects that can bring scalable revenue faster.

What do you think of building in public? Do you recommend it?

I would say it gets down to your philosophy in life. Some people build in public and they're extremely successful. We see them on Twitter, obviously, and in other places.

I have also seen some SaaS founders building in public, and then complaining about new competitors launching and stealing their tactics.

It depends on the barriers to entry for your industry and product. If it's super easy to build your product, I would recommend to be less transparent because then pretty much anyone can join the race tomorrow morning.

If you really have some technology or a product that is more sophisticated than others, I might consider it more. At the end of the day, there’s no hard rule on this. For me, I just try to be more working on my stuff in my basement and that's it.

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