Growing a SaaS from Zero To Sold with Arvid Kahl 💸

Entrepreneur & writer Arvid Kahl tells his journey & lessons selling startups & writing a hit book, Zero to Sold.

Growing a SaaS from Zero To Sold with Arvid Kahl 💸

Today on Makerlog Stories, we interview maker, writer & entrepreneur Arvid Kahl. He's grown a successful SaaS, Feedback Panda, to astronomical MRR levels – to then sell the startup & write a hit book to share his breadth of knowledge.

Hi Arvid! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Arvid, a developer, entrepreneur, and writer. I’ve been coding for most of my life, and I’ve always been interested in building businesses. Over the last two decades, I worked as a software engineer for small businesses, VC-funded Silicon Valley startups, and founded a number of bootstrapped businesses with friends and colleagues. Most recently, I sold the EdTech SaaS FeedbackPanda for a life-changing amount of money after growing it to $55.000 MRR with my partner Danielle Simpson from 2017 to 2019. The learnings from that journey have been the foundation for my book Zero to Sold.

What are you building, Arvid?

Ever since selling the business, I have been writing. I didn’t have any time to meaningfully reflect on my experiences while I was running FeedbackPanda. The moment we sold the company, I suddenly had all the time I needed to think about my experiences and translate them into stories and guidance for other founders.

I’m blogging every week, I release a new podcast episode every Friday, and I am currently working on my next book, “Audience First”.

As of right now, what are your stats?

Zero to Sold has sold almost 2500 copies in its first quarter on the market.

I don’t track much more beyond that, as having sold a business recently makes this less important. What I do track is how engaged people are with my work, and I can report that with almost 9000 followers on Twitter, this is looking pretty good.

What was the inspiration behind Zero to Sold?

When we sold the business and transitioned it over to the new owners, we quickly realized that all of a sudden, we had come to an abrupt halt after working 24/7 for years. Within a week, we went from full-time entrepreneurs to founders without a purpose.

Within a week, we went from full-time entrepreneurs to founders without a purpose.

Very quickly, I decided that I needed to turn our experience into something useful for the community that had taught and lifted me up over many years. Initially, I didn’t think of writing a book, but just writing articles. At some point, however, it was very clear that all those topics I wrote about were connected, and a book would pull them all together.

What was it like to sell FeedbackPanda?

Selling a business is incredibly exciting, and it is very scary. Most people don’t regularly sell their livelihood, and the amounts of money involved are staggering. It was a wonderful experience, mostly because our acquirer SureSwift Capital were such a joy to work with. The sale, the transition, and onboarding our replacements were delightful activities. I’d definitely do it again.

How was the process of writing Zero to Sold?

Many chapters were already written when I decided that I would write a book, as I had posted to my blog for many months at that point. The rest of them were written in an intense flurry of writing that happened over the course of two weeks.

I already had a lot of validation from my blog audience, and I knew which topics they would want me to write about because I asked them. I asked on Twitter, I asked in the Newsletter, I asked on my podcast. I was confident that the things I had yet to write were interesting because people demanded content, and I knew that the things I had already written were well-received because the blog visitor numbers painted that picture.

How did you spread the word of the book?

I utilized Twitter substantially for the promotion of Zero to Sold. On the very first day, I published a long Twitter thread with all sorts of links, insights into why I wrote the book, who it was for, and where to find it. I engaged with everyone who liked the post, thanked everyone who retweeted it, and took a lot of time to be present for my Twitter followers. Very quickly, sales took off, and I leveraged that too. I shared screenshots of climbing numbers, which themselves encouraged people to check out the book.

The next day, I launched on Product Hunt, and had Zero to Sold in the #1 spot for 18 hours. For the next few weeks, I shared a lot of sales figures, and I engaged with everyone who talked about the book on Twitter. I still do that today, and that is, in essence, the only marketing I do. I talk about the book, and I point at people who talk about it.

Did it ever cross your mind that Zero to Sold would be such a hit?

I think Zero to Sold is what it should be: it’s the book I would have loved to read 5 years ago, before I had any real idea about how to start, run, or sell a bootstrapped business.

When I launched the book, I hoped to sell twenty books on day one, maybe 50. Within the first 24 hours, I sold 350 books, and 1000 within the first week. I never thought the book would be that successful, no.

But I do recognize that Zero to Sold was an opportunity for many of my followers to finally give something back. I had written valuable content for months, for free. Now here was a chance to say thank you. Many people took that opportunity and showed me their support.

Publishing is an interesting business: how were your interactions with it? (the editing process, getting the book out there, etc.)

Once I had finished my first draft, I immediately hired a copy editor from Reedsy and had them work on the book. I knew that I couldn’t “just ship it” — after all, this is not a piece of software that can be easily deployed and updated. Once a book is in a bookshelf, it won’t change. So I had to make sure the quality of the book was high enough from the start. After the copy editing, I had a professional proofreader go through it again.

All in all, somewhere around 5000 things needed to be changed. I worked in those changes, made sure they still fit my vision, and then I was finally done. I used a number of tools to create the print and digital versions from the same source manuscript, which I then uploaded to Amazon KDP and Gumroad, making the book available within a few days as a print-on-demand paperback, as a PDF, and for eReaders.

Would you change anything in your book? If so, what would it be?

I would probably add even more anecdotes, because many people learn best from stories of other people’s successes and failures. But the book is already 500 pages, any more and it would become a safety hazard.

I think Zero to Sold is what it should be: it’s the book I would have loved to read 5 years ago, before I had any real idea about how to start, run, or sell a bootstrapped business.

What were some of the biggest challenges that you've faced as an entrepreneur?

Personally, I found that I had the most trouble delegating. This resulted in us never hiring another customer service representative or engineer, both positions that could have helped me while we ran the business.

As a consequence, I developed severe stress and anxieties, stuff that I am still working on today. If you value your mental health, consider that finding other people that can help you is a net gain, not a loss. I write about this kind of self-delusion extensively in Zero to Sold, because I want founders to understand that they can easily fall prey to their own minds, and that they’re better off understanding the demons they might be facing on their own journey.

We found out that you studied political science and computer science; how has that combination shaped your way of thinking?

Computer science and political science both depend on a clear understanding of logic. No matter if you’re looking through a codebase of a political institution, you will find infrastructure, decisions, policies, and consequences. Studying two fields that look at seemingly different topics with a similar underlying foundation has allowed me to work with multiple perspectives in mind at all times. Also, studying a social science teaches you quite quickly that “truth” is a construct, and that everything should be deeply and intentionally inspected before you act on it — just like this piece of advice ;)

How do you balance the hustle and wellness?

Digital detox vacations and no-screen time blocking have helped me. Taking long walks, best daily, also allows me to unwind and keep my mind “aired out.” I am always thinking about something work-related, so reading fiction can help pulling myself out of the constant state of working.

As a tradition, we ask makers to share the music genre or playlist that motivates them.

I am a great fan of the Pet Shop Boys. For some reason, their style of pop and dance music just makes me very happy. I often listen to their extensive discography when I need to think.

Closing question: What advice would you give to other makers out there?

Read books. Listen to podcasts. Ask questions. Learn in public. Examine any piece of advice you get, understand where it’s coming from and if it makes sense for you. Don’t fall for promises of quick riches, building a sustainable business takes time. Forge relationships with your audience, understand that they’re not just your customers, they are the reason for your business to exist.