Supademo · Joseph Lee

Supademo, a tool for creating interactive demos, rapidly gained success in its first year. Founders Joseph Lee and Koushik Marka share their entrepreneurial journey, growth strategies, and lessons learned.

May 12, 2023
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Table of contents

  • Founders - Joseph Lee & Koushik Marka
  • Location - Vancouver, Canada & Kansas City, USA
  • Started in 2022
  • Bootstrapped
  • 5 figures annual revenue
  • 80 paying customers, 2000 free users
  • 2000 visitors a month via SEO
  • 2 employees

NOTE: Numbers as of May 2023

NOTE: we caught up again with Joseph in early 2024 to see where he Koushik and the Supademo team where at with their journey. If you want to read that story check it out here.

What's your backstory?

I've been building companies and projects one way or another since I was about 15 or 16 years old. Growing up in Seoul and Vancouver, I've always been fascinated with the ability to create something from nothing and really go from zero to one. This is what inspired me to start my first venture, where I arbitraged bulk retail goods and sold them on Craigslist. After that, I launched a series of projects, including organic soy candles and a web agency, before landing on my first venture-scale opportunity at university.

While studying computer science and business at university for three years, I realised I was learning a heck of a lot more from building companies than from learning about them through textbooks. That's when I ultimately decided to drop out and pursue entrepreneurship full-time.

What's Supademo and how did you come up with the idea?

Superdemo is the fastest and easiest way to create interactive demos and guides. Anyone can create, share, or embed a Superdemo in under five minutes. The product idea came from Kaushik's seven years of experience running a creative agency, where he worked with hundreds of brands like Facebook and Xiaomi. Throughout his experience, he noticed a common pattern – folks were struggling to convey the value, benefits, or functionality of their products or features through just words or images alone. Worse still, they'd resort to creating long videos, forcing clients to scrub through them to find the information relevant to their use case. That's when he came up with the idea for Superdemo.

On the other hand, as I mentioned before, I've been building complex products for many years across various industries, including marketplaces and SaaS, specifically in esoteric sectors like distribution, food, and warehousing. In these spaces, a buyer's attention span is particularly short, and you have limited opportunities to showcase your value upfront and explain what you do before interest fades. As a result, I was actively searching for solutions to speed up my own product's time to value. It was during this search that I ended up meeting Kaushik.

How did you get your first 10 customers?

I know this is a popular statement within startup circles, but it's true – we got our first 10 customers by doing things that don't scale. It's easy to think that a tech or SaaS business should sell itself, but that's not really the case, especially during the early stages of company building. You need to put yourself out there and invest sweat equity to get the ball rolling and create that snowball effect.

For us, this meant DMing thought leaders and industry experts on Twitter and LinkedIn, posting and commenting in communities like Reddit and Hacker News, and generally trying to identify the core areas and communities where our target personas and customers like to hang out and congregate. We made sure to be active members and contribute to these communities while occasionally plugging in our product or service here and there to drive momentum.

How did you validate product-market fit?

The answer is simple – customer discovery. It's easy to get blinded by excitement for building and wanting to start sprinting right away, but it's crucial to have your arrow pointed in the right direction before you start running. For us, talking to potential users was the key to solving this issue. We focused on being problem-oriented rather than solution-oriented, which is a mistake many early-stage founders make with their first venture.

In practice, this meant talking to hundreds of potential users about their problems without directly mentioning our product, as it could influence and bias their answers during the discovery process. This approach helped us identify real market needs and pain points to focus on before writing a single line of code – something every early-stage founder should consider doing.

In terms of growth, our "aha" moment came when we started seeing tangible organic growth from users referring our services to their family and friends without any financial incentives. From there, we quickly grew from zero to 2,000 users in just five months and received a series of delightful and positive reviews, both publicly and privately, from our customers. Interestingly, we even noticed large enterprises and startups trying to circumvent our free trial to get value for free. While it's a bit of a headache now, it's also a signal that we're adding a ton of value, and people continue to come back and try to leverage Superdemo for their use cases.

How did you reach your first 100 customers?

To scale up to our first 100 paying customers, we continued doing things that don't scale, but now we were supported by a growing number of organic signups and referrals. We used several channels to reach our target audience:

  1. Creating posts on Indie Hackers or guest blogs, focusing on thought leadership or sharing tactical lessons we learned as early-stage founders to contribute to the broader community.
  2. Offering to create demos, which is highly unscalable. For example, I posted on Reddit's SaaS subreddit, offering to create free interactive product demos or guides for anyone who sent me a link to their product. The post went semi-viral, attracting hundreds of comments and over 11,000 views in 24 hours. While it took me a few hours to create those demos, it paid off with many new users and some paying customers.
  3. Responding to product update emails from companies with a custom interactive demo link showcasing the recently shipped feature, creating a "wow" factor and sparking an "aha" moment as quickly as possible.
  4. Investing in SEO early and often, ensuring a wide range of targeted keywords and creating content on our website that keeps potential and existing customers engaged and learning every day.

These methods helped us connect with our target customers and promote our product effectively, leading to our first 100 customers.

Which distribution channels were unsuccessful?

Although Superdemo is still in the early stages of company formation and development, we've tried several distribution channels with mixed results. Some channels that haven't worked as well as we'd hoped include:

  1. Sales-led motions like cold calls or cold emails. These methods are fundamentally time-consuming and require a lot of follow-up, dedication, and discipline that I haven't been able to fully allocate at this stage. Additionally, our customer acquisition costs for a sales motion don't make as much sense compared to the annual contract value, especially for a product-led growth company like ours.
  2. Influencer partnerships haven't worked well for us either. While they may be great for B2C companies, we found that we mostly attracted personal emails and people who were just browsing without any real intent to become activated users or customers.
  3. Perks pages at accelerators, startups, and different communities also haven't been as successful as we'd hoped. While they offer excellent cross-promotion opportunities, there's a lot of noise and competition from more established companies looking to capitalize on the same segment. Unless you're a company like Airtable or Slack, it's tough to gain traction or go viral through these channels.

As I mentioned, there are many channels we haven't explored yet, and we're always keen to learn about what has worked for others in similar situations.

What tools helped grow your business?

There are plenty of great tools available for startups, but some that have been particularly helpful for us include:

  1. Intercom: This tool has been crucial for driving user activation. We use their onboarding checklists, onboarding emails, lifecycle emails, feature tooltips, and support chat to engage and promote adoption among users and customers.
  2. Retool: An excellent tool for building internal tools that provide visibility into our customers and users. We use it to monitor which demos are being created, which customers are active, who's signing up, and more.
  3. ChartMogul: A simple yet powerful product that offers real-time insights and analytics into metrics such as MRR, churn, customer counts, and cohort analysis. This helps us measure month-to-month performance, growth, and forecast progress, ultimately enabling us to be proactive rather than reactive in our decision-making.

These tools have been instrumental in our growth and success, and I highly recommend them to other startups looking for effective ways to scale their businesses.

How did you make the transition from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?

To be honest, I may be a bit biased here since I've never had a full-time job outside of internships and university. However, I believe the decision to transition from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship can vary from person to person. It's really all about your priorities and can be very contextual based on your own risk tolerance. For instance, are you looking to optimise for your financial situation? Do you have dependents? Are you in a relationship or do you have a mortgage to pay for? Or are you really fixated on and focused on maximising your growth and learning? I think these are all huge factors in helping you make your decision.

Personally, I think the ideal cadence for me when it comes to commitment is centred around product-market fit. So, once I start to have delighted customers, signals of virality, and my success metrics begin to compound, I think there's very little to lose by taking a leap of faith when those factors start to emerge. Job opportunities and universities will always be there and available to you in the future, but a market opportunity and a chance to really change the world fundamentally might not be there tomorrow or later down the line.

What drives you to do what you do?

I would say part of it is naivety, but I think the biggest factor when it comes to what drives me to do what I do is personal fulfillment and learning. Ever since I was a kid, I've been really steadfast and held a firm belief that creating things from nothing is the most profound way to create impact and fulfill my potential within the community at large and on earth. I absolutely love the zero-to-one process of going from idea to bringing delight to users around the world, and that just brings me so much excitement and joy that a traditional job may not be able to deliver. Thanks for reading, and I hope my story inspires you on your own entrepreneurial journey!

What are you most excited about?

I’m so excited about the prospect of applying my hard-fought lessons from my previous startups to help Supademo scale faster. I love the process of pioneering a new path forward in the zero-to-one process.

What's your most outrageous story as a founder?

When I co-founded Coastline (a demand-driven seafood marketplace), we bought a beaten-up Ford F150 to serve as our fish delivery truck. We logged thousands of kilometres on this truck and I personally delivered tens of thousands of pounds of seafood (a prime example of the less celebrated, unsexy side of entrepreneurship). I also spent a week up in Gingolx, a remote indigenous fishing community near the Alaskan panhandle, without radio, cell service, and no community grocery or convenience store within an hour's drive.

Who do you recommend for business growth advice?

Lenny Ratchisky

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Lots of substacks!

But again these are context driven based on your industry, startup, and traction. So I encourage you to do your own research!

Any quotes you live by?

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Any special offers for our readers?

Folks on Founderoo can use SUPAPLG30 to get 30% off their first year of Supademo Pro or Scale.

Your links + socials

Instagram: @jhylee95

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