Hello fellow makers and enthusiasts! As you might (or might not) know, at the beginning of 2023 I created LINQ Me Up, a micro-SaaS designed for .NET developers. It is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) that allows .NET developers to seamlessly convert SQL to LINQ and vice versa, and generate LINQ code queries from a data model class or data samples like JSON or CSV.
Today, I want to share my journey, the hurdles I overcame, and the invaluable lessons I learned while building and scaling this tool.
Creating the MVP: A Laravel and AI Journey
Starting with an idea, I took the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) route, using Laravel as my framework. One of the first big steps was integrating the OpenAI API, which opened up new possibilities for smart code conversion. Whilst looking for a tool that could help me to convert SQL into LINQ code, I only came across downloadable Windows applications that were expensive and seemed to be using syntax conversion rules. My SQL samples were too complex (read: unstructured and poorly composed) for the apps to convert properly. Thus, I decided to create a tool of my own, using AI to make it more robust and enable smarter conversion.
I started the creation of LINQ Me Up during the holidays of 2022, but really started coding on my first version (only implementing SQL to LINQ C# code conversion) in January 2023. In March, I shipped the first version.
Besides implementing the core functionality, building the infrastructure for account creation, email communication, and financial transactions were (for me) new challenges. Because there are so many options available, I took a little time to find out what would work most efficiently alongside my choice of using Laravel for the product development. Here, Laravel Cashier and the Paddle platform came to the rescue, to take care of financial aspects like payment acceptance and subscription registration.
Accepting Payments and Subscriptions
Many makers use Stripe nowadays, but since I’m from Europe, and taxes can be a daunting thing to administer when your users can be located around the globe, I did some research and asked fellow makers in the WIP community, making it obvious that – particularly for handling international taxes more efficiently – Paddle would be a better fit for my project than Stripe.
Luckily for me, Laravel Cashier works like an abstraction layer, so the implementation is quite similar for Stripe and Paddle, which made it easier to implement the correct workflows and API integration using a PHP SDK.
Besides registering an account with an email and password, security features like email validation and functional flows like resetting a forgotten password require the proper emails to be sent. The Laravel framework has a lot of stuff already on board regarding this stuff, and so I mostly took the time to find out what online service had a nice API, integrated properly with Laravel, and had a good email acceptance reputation alongside a soft price tag. I looked at various known players in this field, but settled with Brevo (previously SendInBlue) since their functionality looked a lot like Mailchimp (which I knew from previous endeavours) and its sending speed, email creation tools, and a great free tier looked really nice.
Looking back, this was a good choice and for the foreseeable future I do not see any reason to switch.
Marketing: A Tough Nut to Crack
With a functional product in hand, the real challenge began: marketing. I experimented with various strategies, including the #buildinpublic movement on X (formerly Twitter) and writing valuable articles for the developer community. These efforts slowly but surely increased traffic to LINQ Me Up.
Also, learning the “rules of engagement” on each social media platform proved to be something that was a real eye-opener. Stuff that I posted and got positive engagement on Facebook, LinkedIn, and X, proved to have me banned on Reddit or got burned on developer communities.
I decided to stop “shoving in my product as a secret sausage wrapped in content” and just create valuable content articles that are still liked, followed, and bookmarked today. One of my best performing blog posts discusses how you can convert SQL into LINQ manually, putting a light on the same tedious process that my SaaS automates.
Looking back, the hardest – but most rewarding – part is diving into your target audiences’ head and thinking about what would be valuable to them. As I’m a .NET developer myself, I first looked at my own questions and experiences regarding the issue. Besides that, I contacted developers using Reddit, developer forums, and IRL.
This lead to finding the right questions that are being asked, which leads to the right topics. This enables one to write relevant and valuable content that is actually applauded and shared, which will increase the traffic towards your product. Assuming your product matches those same questions and handles the core challenges that your users need your product for, this will match and result in increasing user counts.
Shifting product links to the footer and/or author information proved to generate increasing traffic over time, without throwing your product into the reader’s face whilst consuming your articles.
One last thing: don’t be afraid to share your experiences with other makers, product developers, and alike. Many makers are afraid this leads to competition or people “stealing your idea”, but the truth is: if your idea is worth it, it gets copied anyhow.
I took the time to interact with people in the Work in Progress community by Marc Kohlbrugge, interacted on Product Hunt, and on developer forums. The feedback that this got me, outweighs any risk of “being copied”.
Target Audience: The Quest for Paying Subscribers
A significant challenge I faced was reaching the right audience. While the product attracted users from various countries, converting them into paying subscribers, especially from lower-income regions, was tough. I realized the importance of targeting prospects with the willingness and ability to pay for a subscription. I’m still struggling to find my path to the regions where people are more likely to see the value of my product and pay for it.
By adding more features over time, I hoped to bring more value for developers for the same price tag. After my initial product version, which converted SQL to LINQ C# code, I added:
- SQL to LINQ Visual Basic code
- LINQ code to SQL conversion
- LINQ generation based on a data model class or data sample (JSON,CSV, ..) along with your query prompt
I have the advantage of having created a service for a niche market (.NET developers that work with SQL database interaction), and the potential of reaching other uses, like .NET developers with SQL experience that want to learn LINQ.
This, alongside existing – but limited – competition, makes it worthwhile. But building a product for end-users is said to be amongst the hardest of product types to build.
I’m glad that I took this focused product idea and shipped a simple version within weeks. It taught me a lot about the value of shipping stuff fast and easy (a GIT post to main triggers a deploy on Digital Ocean, which proves a blessing when shipping small improvements or new features fast), providing value instead of selling your product, and getting your product in front of your “ideal users”.
Although LINQ Me Up is profitable, its MRR hasn’t surpassed $100 yet. The fact that I don’t have to pay to keep it up and running, and the chances it gives me to learn how to improve its value along with figuring out how to increase revenue, turned this nifty micro-SaaS into a very interesting project.
Beyond Features: Focusing on Core Value
In my quest to add value, I also implemented several features like an advertisement manager and a referral program. These were features that might not directly add value for users, but seemed interesting to build and might prove valuable when the user base of LINQ Me Up increases.
I learned a critical lesson: adding features doesn’t necessarily strengthen the core value of the product or contribute significantly to the revenue stream. The key is to enhance the primary service that your product offers.
The value in adding these features proved more to be learning points for myself (how can I implement these features), although I must say that the referral functionality is increasingly used.
What was becoming obvious, was the relation between a large amount of lower-income region-based users, and the amount of people trying to abuse the referral functionality. The increased time that I needed to monitor abuse of the referral system proved to me that adding features that aren’t necessary / adding to the core value don’t just cost time to make, but can also increase the time you need for managing your SaaS product.
Key Takeaways for New Makers
Here are the takeaways that I’ve learned from almost a year in with my first micro-SaaS product:
- Focus on Core Value: Always prioritize improvements that enhance the main functionality of your product. Every piece of functionality that you add that doesn’t enforce the core value, might take up more time to manage or maintain, so keep this in mind when shipping features.
- Target the Right Audience: Understand who benefits most from your service and tailor your marketing to them.
- Manage Expectations in International Markets: Be mindful of the varying economic backgrounds of your potential customers. Figure out who and where your ideal users are, and if your product provides enough value for their money.
- Learn from Every Step: Each challenge is an opportunity to learn something new that can be applied to future projects. Try not to fall into the trap to build stuff that can potentially increase the strain on your time when it doesn’t increase revenue.
Building LINQ Me Up has been a journey of growth, learning, and adaptation so far. The world of micro-SaaS is full of challenges, but also brimming with opportunities. To my fellow makers, I hope my experience inspires you to focus on what truly adds value to your products and encourages you to embrace the learning process in this exciting journey.
Let me know if you liked this story and/or if you can relate to it.
And whatever you do, remember:
Also published on Medium.