I got the chance to chat with Mike Slaats on the SaaS Piratespodcast. We talked about some of my projects, including T.LY URL Shortener and Weather Extension. SaaS Pirates podcast shres actionable learnings and growth strategies from both starting and successful leading SaaS companies. Short and to-the-point interviews with founders.
Hey, everyone. Today’s guest is Tim, and he’s the founder of T.LY. And in this episode, we’re talking about how Tim scaled his business to now $5,000 MRR and some of the growth tags he applied, such as building free separate tools to attract new leads. Now, this episode is brought to you by Upvodi, which is today’s sponsor. Abodey is a user feedback tool that makes it really easy to collect and manage user feedback in order to decide what features to build next. So if you want to give it a go, head over to Uploading.com and use the promo code pirates for a discount. So, Tim, first off, Katie a bit more about T.LY. Sure. Yeah. So T.LY is really just a URL shortened with some additional features. So many people are familiar with some of the other ones that have been around for a long time, but it’s just a simple URL shortener that you can use for tracking and sharing links. All right, awesome. Sounds like a very handy tool for a lot of marketers listing right now. So let’s talk about the business model on the site. I can see you can start for free. Can you tell us a bit more about the pricing model? How are you making money? Yeah, so you can go to T.LY and create short links. You can use the URL shortener extension, create short links, and then you can also, if you sign up for a plan, that’s where you start off on a trial. And then signing up to a plan allows you to do some of the additional things, like add custom domains, analytics, use the API, smart links, and some additional things. So really, it’s free if you just want to go use it, create some short URLs, but if you want to get in there and actually customize them and use some of the additional features, that’s where an account is required and you start off on a trial. So the premium model. So, Tim, how did you start the business? Take us back from idea to launch. Yeah, so the idea kind of goes back to, I guess if I go way back to 2015, I got into building browser extensions, and I created a weather extension that kind of does what it sounds like. So you can click on the icon, you can see the current weather forecast, hourly, daily, that kind of thing. So that got me interested in extensions, which then skip forward a few years. But in more like 2018, I was looking for what could be the next extension to build, and that kind of led me to look in at doing some research, like, all right, let me see, what extension could I build that I could grow into something really big? So I actually built a tool that allowed me to index all the Chrome extensions that existed, and I was able to find some that looked interesting. And one of them that stood out was a Google URL shortener. So around that same time, Google had just announced that they were going to be shutting down their URL shortener service that everybody used, like Google often does, they have millions of users, but they’ll also decide to kill a product. So some ways that’s a good opportunity there to jump in and build something that those millions of people are going to go looking for an alternative. So I built the extension because I knew, okay, if this extension that used the Google URL shortener API was no longer around, that people would go looking for another one. So I built the extension to use multiple services. So tiny URL bitly and Google at that time before it shut down. So I put that out there in the store and let it kind of just sit there and started growing. And then around 2019, I believe, is when they actually shut it down, that’s when I saw a whole lot of growth. So the extension grew from maybe 10,000 users to 60,000 users pretty quickly and fast forward from there. That then led me to decide, okay, since I built this extension that’s seen growth, why not build my own URL shortening service? And then that’s where I kind of ended up on the T.LY. So I was able to build my own service API that the extension now uses as the default. So that’s kind of the brief history there. That’s so cool. So it came from your own interest in building awesome tools, and I guess you spotted a good opportunity. So how did you get your first users to the product? So, if we think about the extension that came from putting it out there in the extension store, and I was able to cross promote from some of the other browser extensions I’ve built. So you install my weather extension, you might see, hey, check out this URL shortener extension also from my blog and things like that. But for T.LY, the neat thing about that was as soon as I put T-O-Y out there, added it to the URL shortened extension, I went from day one having users using it because the extension had so much growth. So I kind of use my own tools to promote each other, I guess. Well, that’s awesome. I guess that’s the benefit of having existing products and users. So besides having these initial users from your own tools, what were some of the early struggles in getting to product market fit? So obviously, I think a lot of people when they think about a URL shortener and browser extensions, they think something that is free and they’re not really thinking about paying for just because most people just shorten links and don’t think too much about the cost. So I think the challenge was what features to add, to be able to add plans that made it to where, okay, this brings enough value that you’d be willing to pay monthly for. And some of those things were like an API that allowed other developers to build tools to use the URL shortener. So if they’re sending SMS campaigns, they need short links to fit inside of an SMS they could build against the API. And then some other things like custom domains which allow people to use their own domain to create short links and then they don’t have to go out and build all the URL shortened codes. So that’s valuable to a business who’s needing short URLs for marketing SMS analytics. That type of thing. Makes sense. Now, what is the one thing that you would say has brought you the most success in either getting more customers or more revenue from your customers? Yes, good question. It’s one of those things where it feels like you do 100 things and you don’t always know what is the thing that has added the most value. I wish I knew sometimes because I would just focus on those areas, but it feels like if you just do a little bit over time, eventually it builds up. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be building other tools that are free that bring in users. So in my case, there’s a QR code generator on T.LY that allows people to create QR codes so somebody may find it from there. And then also obviously the extension has been a big driver of users to it because people are finding the extension and then they’re also then using T-O-Y and then once they see the value of that they then may or may not sign up and actually subscribe. Awesome strategy, love it. So besides these three separate tools, what is your most important acquisition channel to get new customers on board? I have a blog that has some additional content talking about how to set up some of these things, the value of a URL shortener. But I think some of my other products promoting it, that’s usually what’s driving my growth. Also, just in general, URL center is kind of viral in itself because everybody who shares T.LY URL in some ways is helping to promote it. So somebody sees that, they’re like oh, I need to create my own short link. So then they go and they see tons of people using Tioy, they may come there and create their short URL. So being the founder, what is your most valuable lesson up to this point? So for me, I think it’s just being persistent and staying focused. So over the years I’ve built so many different web apps extensions that I often will build something and then lose focus on it. So I think with T-O-Y I’m trying to stay focused on it so that I don’t get distracted and move on to whatever. The next thing that I think would be my next big idea. So that’s something that I think is really important is just to be determined, and I see there’s a lot of potential to grow. It to be really big. So that’s my most important lesson so far. Great lesson shared, and I absolutely have to agree on that. So at what stage is the product right now in terms of revenue? Yeah, so right now we’re at about 4.5K MRR. So seeing pretty good growth. I’d definitely like to see they get higher, but kind of seeing what we can do to get more features out there and find out what people are looking for and what they’re willing to upgrade for. Because really, I think about with the extension, if I could just increase the percentage of people who are using the extension that are willing to upgrade, I would see a lot of growth there. Love it. Great, Tim. Now let’s wrap it up with a lightning round of six personal questions to inspire others. If you would start a SAS today, what would be the first action to take? So if I were starting SAS, I would probably look at could I build into an existing marketplace? So in my case, the Browser Extension Store is a great way because you can put it out there. You don’t have to do a ton of marketing. People will find it organically. So I would possibly look at doing something in the App Store or something in the Browser Extension Store just because there’s marketing that comes with that. What are some of your favorite software that you can leave it out in? Running daily operations? Yeah, so I keep it pretty basic. I just use Apple Notes and Reminders to help me if I think of something. And then I’m also a big user of Cloudflare. I think they have a great service and really help to speed up your applications and prevent a lot of malicious type of things. What’s your favorite app on your phone? Maybe Twitter or YouTube. I feel like you can learn a lot of things on YouTube and then Twitter. Staying up to date with what’s going on in tech. What is your favorite book that you would recommend to people that are starting in SAS? Yes, I think something that’s important is to build good habits. And recently I just read Atomic Habits by James Clear, so that would be probably my top recommended book right now. What size brand do you admire the most? So if you’re familiar with Nathan Berry and just the story, the company he’s built, I admire him and all the work that he’s done. What is your favorite last person to follow a read? I might say it wrong, but Peter Levels, he’s pretty interesting. He does a lot of lots of different projects and for the most part solo, so I think he’s really neat with what he’s been able to build. Yeah, he’s awesome. Well, great, tim, thanks for your time today and sharing your story with us. To conclude this interview, where can we learn more about you and T? Ly? Yeah, so the best place would be if you just want to create URLs short URLs would be Ti. And then if you want to read more about me, I have a blog, timlean.com and then also on Twitter. Tim.