Building a $808 MRR TikTok influencer search engine
An Interview with Andy Cloke, creator of Influence Grid ($808 MRR)
Hey Andy, can you tell us a little about your background and what you're building?
Hey Charlie, I’m a developer in my day job. I’ve been contracting at various companies and building projects on the side for the last 3 years. Influence Grid is the first one of those projects that’s got real traction and started to generate some revenue. It’s a tool to help brands, agencies and media companies find TikTok influencers to work with.
Why did you decide to build Influence Grid?
I was searching Trennd (now ExplodingTopics) looking for inspiration for a new project, and came across ‘nano influencers’ as an upcoming trend. These are influencers with between 1 and 10 thousand followers, who are becoming increasingly important in influencer marketing. I thought about building a platform to help brands connect with them.
I started researching the market to see what was out there already and if there were any other industry trends I could tap into. I noticed that TikTok seemed to be blowing up, but all the existing platforms focused on Instagram, so thought there was a gap in the market, and decided to focus on that.
How did you validate your idea?
Perhaps not as thoroughly as I should have! I found quite a few articles describing TikTok marketing as the ‘wild west’ due to the lack of third-party platforms, which was a great sign. I didn’t actually speak to anyone doing TikTok marketing until I had something built. Maybe this was a mistake, but I knew building the MVP would be very quick, and having something built would make people more receptive to giving me feedback, which it did.
What went into building the first version?
It took about 1 month of evenings and weekends. Half of that was spent building the back-end, including obtaining the data, and half on the front-end. The initial front-end was very minimal. It kind of sucked to be honest. For example, the only thing that visibly changed when you signed up was the ‘Sign Up’ button changed to ‘Sign Out’. There was also no user account section or anything like that. But signing up meant you got access to everyone in the database, could use more filters and export search results, so although it looked like the same app there was way more value.
What’s your tech stack?
On the front-end it’s React, TypeScript, Razzle.js and Apollo. I’m also using the material-ui component library. The backend is Node, TypeScript, PostgreSQL, TypeORM, Type-Graphql and Apollo. It’s all deployed on Heroku, which is just so easy to work with.
How would you have done things differently if you started again?
I would have called it something different - people tend to think it’s called ‘Influencer Grid’ not ‘Influence Grid’. I got too excited about getting the ‘.com’ on that one. Initially I gave too much data on the site away for free. You could see the first 20 results of any search without a paid account. The day I reduced it to 4 results was the day I got my first customer, so pretty sure this would have been worth doing from the start.
Can you tell us about your business model?
It’s a standard SaaS subscription model. You can see and use a lot of the functionality on the public site, but once you click on a premium feature (e.g. the engagement rate filter), you’re prompted to sign up for a premium account. This was inspired by Nomad List. I’m not doing free accounts or free trials as I think that could lead to lots of support tickets etc for people that aren’t paying, but I might try it at some point. The other part of the business model is custom exports for individual customers, which has generated a few hundred dollars in revenue so far.
What growth tactics did and didn’t work for you?
Cold email to industry journalists went well. It led to an article on an industry blog that brought the first customers. Product Hunt went okay, and led to a couple of sign-ups, but it’s not really my target audience. I did some basic link building my submitting the app to startup directories. I also tried Quora and Twitter, but haven’t really seen any results from these. The next marketing steps will be landing pages for SEO, more cold email and potentially some AdWords. I wouldn’t say I’ve found a growth channel I’m really happy with yet, so this will be my main focus over the next few months.
What’s the grand vision for Influence Grid?
At the moment I wouldn’t say I have a grand vision, just next steps to avoid dying! Adding influencers for a second social media platform would reduce the huge platform risk I’ve got at the moment. But before that I’ll need to iterate the existing TikTok features based on customer feedback, and improve my distribution strategy.
What was your lowest point in building Influence Grid so far, and how did you get out?
Whilst stuck at a connection in Istanbul airport I had no Wi-Fi or laptop battery, but just enough signal to get an email from a newly signed-up customer saying they wanted to cancel due to a major bug. I had to wait about seven hours until I got home, thinking more customers would have cancelled. After I landed I sat on the floor next to a socket to charge my laptop and fix the bug. Turned out it was a one time bug so didn’t need to worry after all, but it was pretty stressful before I knew that.
What else have you built before Influence Grid, and what were the biggest lessons from those experiences?
My first side project was Verbly, a site for learning Spanish verbs. It got to the top 10 on Hacker News and helped me get my first couple of development jobs. It’s pretty neglected now, but still gets some users. It taught me to add Google Analytics and a mailing list sign-up form from day 0 so you can measure and capture users if your project unexpectedly blows up!
My next project was a football trivia site I built with a friend from work. My general takeaways from that were that consumer apps are very hard to get off the ground as a bootstrapper. It also brought home that it’s much quicker to find a data source or automated way of making content, rather than having to do it manually.
What are the most common mistakes you see Indie Hackers make early on?
Worrying too much about what tech stack you use is really easy to do as a developer. You can nearly always go with what you’ve most comfortable with. This includes deployment, and not optimising for scale before you have any users. The other one is probably not doing market research. Creating a spreadsheet of potential competitors’ features, pricing and distribution is a great way to work out if you should kill the idea before you go any further. Competition is fine, but if there’s 20 established competitors doing very similar, undifferentiated things with really low prices it’s going to be hard to compete.
How do you stay focused and avoid distractions?
Once I’ve started a project I tend to get fairly obsessed with it, so staying focused is never really an issue. I probably have the opposite problem. I have to stop myself from working too much, and make sure I see friends, family and keep the rest of my life in order.
How do you plan on transitioning to full time Indie Hacking?
I’ll finish my current developer contract in a couple of months, so I’m going to work on Influence Grid full time after that. I have some savings and hope to get the project to an amount I can live off. Worst case scenario it’ll be a great learning opportunity and I’ll go back to being a developer having scratched my entrepreneurial itch.
Favourite indie products?
Favourite apps on your home-screen?
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