How I Bootstrapped a Website Builder Without Programming Skills

Hey! My name is Alex. I had been dreaming to create a website builder for years. Fear, laziness, and uncertainty used to push me back. Until one day I listened to my dreams and followed the natural flow of life.

Today I run a decent landing page builder for startups which I made within a year.

But why did I pick such a crowded niche? And how did I do that without programming skills?

Read the story to see how I learned how to code, built a SaaS and raised funds.

It began 15 years ago.

I started my path as an entrepreneur in a middle school.

I had been selling glossy varnish to girls in school. The goal was not only to make some money. That desire originated deeply inside.

My little business happened naturally: hypotheses → initial investment → product-market fit → scaling. It is fun today to realize it was an academically right approach.

Then I needed cash to make living during my University studying years. I tried to work as a promoter but very soon I got tired of an enormous amount of shit coming every day. So I just left and launched an online store within a couple of days. I found an empty niche in my city. It allowed me to successfully resell demanded gadgets from Aliexpress. It worked and I was happy 🙂

My online shop needed maintenance. So I started learning how to code.
After a few lines of code, I was immediately dragged into the magical world of CSS and HTML.

The rabbit hole was super deep and involving 😮

I closed my online shop and got a job as an HTML coder in a local agency.
It took a year to become a solid HTML coder. Then I left and started my carer as a freelancer. Growing my rate excited so much! But that excitement did not make me happy. It felt like I’m in the wrong place doing the wrong things.

Silly me thought I will become happy after reaching huge income. I grew my rate to $60/hour in 1 year. But it still felt wrong.

Then I realised that I simply must work on my own projects.

But how the hell do I do this?

One of my clients was Dima. He is one of the best designers in the city. Dima has a unique talent – predicting trends.

We heavily resonated and started to spend hours talking about our two passions: web design and entrepreneurship.

Dima had offered an idea – to create a set of HTML templates and sell it. He presented a decent marketing plan – which made me go into it. We started building.

During the next 2 years together we created a bunch of successful projects. Thanks to Dima’s talent and my decent web animation skills.

Soon our products started to generate enough revenue to quit our freelance gigs. That was so damn awesome!

Oh gosh! The 2017’s biggest thing. Bitcoin costed $3k. Guess what was next?

Our projects have been generating stable revenue, but there was no growth. Products like HTML templates and WordPress themes turned out to be very difficult to scale. We had been earning enough money for a living but not for hiring more coders and scaling.

We were dreaming to create a subscription-based project. We even started building one. But fear of failure and the need for money kept returning us back to our HTML templates.

We were stagnated and depressed. It required too much courage to do another dash.

Then crypto appeared. I was charmed by the idea of quick money. I believed it will make me free and happy. “Money will allow me to create all the projects I wish!” — I thought.

Never have I been so wrong!

We met a third co-founder (Yurii) and started to work on a new project. All existing web-design projects were frozen and we dived into the new industry.

It started delightfully. Our team quickly got solid angel investments for our new project. We started to grow. I dreamed a lot about the future, what the project will be like when we finish it. How great will the impact be.

However, due to the lack of business management experience, we failed. The burn-rate was too huge. Instead of building a product, we had been trying to establish business processes that were not important at that moment. We literally were killed by the instant cash we got.

I do not want to demean the skills and talents of my partners. They are brilliant entrepreneurs! Both have created many successful projects, heavily influenced and inspired dozens of people (including me) and contributed to the world a lot.

That was a painful failure for me. But I gained wisdom.

I have decided not to get back to Dima and start my own thing.

I was running out of money. A year ago that would make me panic. But this time I remembered the lessons I earned.

First, I needed to find out what to do.
No doubts here: let’s go back to the roots! Web design and development of course. I love websites.

But what exactly should I be doing? I’ve seen dozens of website builders. And I got my own vision.

I strongly believe a website builder must be oriented on a specific audience segment and its features must be strictly limited by problems of the segment. A website builder should NOT be universal.

A mobile application website needs its own specific features such as AppStore-branded buttons, mobile phone mockups, terms of service generator, etc. A personal website needs other specific features. A hospital website needs its own things etc.

So since I love startups very much, I’ve decided to launch a landing page builder for startups. I’ve got decent experience in marketing, so I did not worry much about promotion (it is such an irony that I did not use even 1% of my marketing tricks because I was fully into the product development. Users come from word of the mouth and SEO.).

The next important thing: check the market size. Everyday 12000 startups are created in China alone. 20x times more in the whole world. So even if I get 0.01% of the market, the product will have enough revenue to live and grow.

Certain about the product, certain about marketing, certain about the market. Certainty level: maximum!

Wait, but what about my empty pockets? I need money right now to pay the rent. Who knows when the revenue flow will start?

But as I said earlier, I have decided not to worry about money. My moto was like: “if you are doing a demanded thing, the world will reward you”.
It turned out to be true.

Crowdfunding! It is heavily underrated.

Everyone knows AppSumo but it has lots of weak points:

  1. Enormous commission.
  2. The audience got used to low prices ($49-$99).
  3. It gives too much money. And as I learned a bit earlier, too much money can be as bad as not enough money. I only needed an amount of 10 salaries to create a website builder.

What? An investment of 10 salaries? That sounds very humble comparing to everyday loud titles “Project X raised $20M in the series A!”.

But people appreciated this humility.

So I’ve decided to launch a standalone crowdfunding round. Standalone means I declare the terms on the offer by myself, independently. I also take care of getting noticed. And it is the trickiest part of the whole adventure.

My crowdfunding round was strictly limited to 50 licenses. Each costs $180.

But why exactly $9000? It was just enough money to create a landing page builder with an online content editor and hosting. My calculations were presented to the crowd and they liked that I know what the project Really needs. That I don’t just yell “give me the money”.

When you want to begin trusting someone you want the person to be serious.

So how to raise funds without the help of AppSumo?

Easy-peasy lemon squeazy:

  1. Create a page with your roadmap. People want to know where your project is moving. Declare your product tasks for the next 6-12 months. Be realistic.
  2. Present your MVP on that page. It is important to have a good enough MVP so people can make sure your team can ship the promises.
    My MVP was a static landing page generator. Unicorn Platform v1.0 produced HTML templates for export. Then users had to edit texts and images by themselves in a code editor. This may be good for coders, but definitely is a pain for regular users. That is why many of my beloved clients asked me to create an update and provide an online content editor and hosting. So I simply promised to create such a tool.
  3. Present the offer. Traditionally it is a life-time deal offer (or LTD).
    Regular future users will have to pay a monthly fee to access your service. But those lucky ones who purchase an LTD license today will access your tool for free forever. Pretty sweet!
  4. Then simply promote your page 🙂
    Yeah, as I said above, this is the trickiest part of the trip. Let’s see how I did that.

First, I presented the offer to the Product Hunt audience. I launched my MVP there and people loved it so much.
I sold about 20 out of 50 copies. Good, but not enough!

Almost immediately after the PH launch, I was reached by Nitesh Manav, the leader of the LTD-oriented Facebook group. It turned out there are a lot of LTD-oriented Facebook groups who are hunting sweet LTD offers. It is a huge underground community of marketers and founders. I did not even know such a movement existed! I agreed to sell my spare licenses in the group.

Nitesh helped me to declare the offer and create a dedicated page.

On the launch day, he was also online and super active helping me to answer questions about the offer and the builder. My LTDs were sold out pretty quickly, so the majority of questions were not about the LTD but about the product itself. Nitesh diligently learned everything about Unicorn Platform and answered every question which I missed.

The biggest surprise was that he had been carefully answering all Unicorn Platform-related questions in his group for 6+ months after the release! This is what I call dedication to his followers!

Nitesh took a reasonable commission. After all his help, this commission seemed too humble.

Let’s sum up the Facebook group LTD round success key points:

  1. Reputation (I’m kinda known maker).
  2. Cool MVP.
  3. Promising and honest Roadmap.
  4. The support of the Facebook group owner.
  5. Being active and responsive. I was firing answers with a speed of light. There were ±hundred of comments! It’s like a PH launch to be honest – the same intense level. Tons of valuable feedback.
    I could have been even more active by launching an online video stream, posting in social networks but that would be too much for a team of one.

So the funds are raised (thanks to the contributors!).
Now it is time for me to get to work!

At first, I planned to hire two developers to bring my idea to life. It looked quite possible on the paper. But I forgot important details:

  1. I’m bad at hiring. Who knows how many months and $ will be buried until I’m good at it?
  2. I’m bad at management. How much time and $ do I need to waste until I’m more-or-less good at it?
  3. And the most important one.
    Now listen to me carefully if you are small and amateur. (This wisdom was gifted to me by Kostya):

if you are alone, you must be 100% sure about your product: how everything works and is set up. If it fails, you must be able to fix anything by yourself. Because if you let down your tiny bunch of customers, you will spend x3 more time finding new ones. And you don’t have that time.
Besides, knowing each little piece of the product significantly improves you as a product manager (better tasks for coders) and as a head recruiter (you know your stack and what level of a coder your need).

This is how I decided to code the project by myself. But the title of the post says “without programming”.

So how the hell would I do that?
All my previous experience was HTML, jQuery, and a little PHP. I haven’t created a single SPA. Neither did I ever produced a RESTful API and set up a working UNIX server.

I was very nervous at the beginning. But my reputation was put on the altar so the failure was unacceptable!

I kept saying to myself: relax, man. It is not a self-driving car you are making.

So I got textbooks, opened YouTube and StackOverflow and started learning the craft of a full-stack web developer.

Thanks to my friends (Kostya, Arthur, Slava – you are my heroes!) I have designed more-or-less scalable and very reliable architecture. I was moving slowly and steady. Making a step back and removing a part of code was something I got used to. But I needed a high-quality product.

I coded in mornings, learned on noons, re-coded in evenings. Pro project birth was slow but I was moving steadily.

After a year, the product was finished. Custom domains, subdomains, auto-renewing certificates, content editor, button styles editor, integrations – all works smoothly. As a bonus, now I’m a decent full-stack developer so I will be able to lead a tech team in the future.

Damn awesome!

While I was coding Unicorn Platform got on the first page on Google for the “landing page for startup” keyword. Yet the majority of new users come from recommendations.

Even more awesome!!!

I will be honest, coding a single product for a year was challenging. My only companion until dusk was IDE.

I wish I could diversify my activities, but I knew I had to focus on code because people were waiting for the results.

But the progress was too slow: I was 2 months behind the plan.

People started to get nervous:

That was an understandable reaction. But I could not speed it up without losing on quality.

But thanks to all the contributors’ patience, I succeeded to finish the product. It’s not just a beta, it a solid commercial project which is organically gaining new paying users every week and has a churn rate of nearly 0%. Hooray!

I went on vacation twice but still was burned out. I started to forget how to communicate with humans and became an introvert.

In short, I transformed into a weirdo with a pair of rings under the eyes ⚈.⚈

I believe I will feel better after hiring a cool guy: constant communication with a co-worker should bring me closer to the past me.

I have a (horned) competitor who keeps ignoring its users for months. People complain on Twitter.

I set up a mention.com for their brand name. Now each time I see a complaining tweet, I click “like it”.

This little trick increased my MMR by $100 in 1 month.

I hate planning. 9/10 of my plans fail. Screw planning!
I also hate races and KPIs.

I’m simply building my product in a confident and calm way. It doesn’t mean I’m slow.

I’m fully focused on the product and my feedback-released cycle is super short (sometimes a suggestion from a user is implemented within 2-3 minutes). You can check the progress. It is faster than in many huge 1000+ employees corporations.

Moreover, I believe the product can evolve even faster when I hire a coder. I want to get enough revenue for hiring after the Product Hunt launch. Two pairs of swift hands will produce twice more magic.

Then I plan to join an acceleration program. I believe it will expand my vision and give the product a solid boost.

There are dozens of competitors of my project – and new ones are coming every month. But I’m strongly confident in the future of Unicorn Platform. Because I know that my passion for startups and the web will never die. So while I’m alive startups will be provided with solid landing pages and my project will be growing.

I finally became truly happy only when I got enough courage to follow my real wishes. I hope you will find your way and be brave enough to follow it.

If want to learn more about me and the project, here are the links:

Thanks for your attention!

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