In this post of "My First 1000 Users", we will cover the story of bCast and how it got over 3000 users using SEO, affiliates, and joint venture deals.
The content of this case study is taken from the podcast episode I recorded with Tom Hunt, who is the co-founder of bCast.
Without further ado, Let's dig in.
How did Tom get the idea of starting bCast?
Tom did his masters in chemistry and then spent four years at consulting companies.
He left the company in 2015 and since has spent seven years building online businesses.
In 2017, he had started a podcast to help a business, and the podcast ended up doing better than the company itself.
Then in 2019, he was working at a B2B SaaS company as a marketer and ended up starting another podcast. The podcast performed great, and Tom decided to leave the company to form Fame, a B2B podcasting agency.
The B2B SaaS company Tom used to work for became his first client.
Tom used the profit from his agency to build out a tool to host podcasts, and that is how bCast started.
So Tom was introduced to podcasting as a marketer. He fell in love with the art and then started an agency and a SaaS company around podcasting.
As Nathan Latka once said in one of his posts, the best agency owners in their 20s are the best SaaS owners in their 30s.
If you wanna get into the SaaS, but you're not sure what kind of product to pursue, start an agency first, and then build a product that solves your own problems.
By doing this, you can also use your agency as a source of funding for your SaaS.
How does Tom position bCast among all the other podcasting hosting platforms in the market?
As Tom decided what business to start next, he built a website called SaaS Marketer, where he analyzed and wrote about SaaS companies. He also sent a newsletter to his subscribers explaining how different SaaS companies grew.
Tom realized most bootstrapped SaaS companies were following a simple approach for growth. They found a growing market and then built something slightly better than the competition for a smaller niche within the market.
That is the exact strategy Tom used for bCast. He captured a growing market, i.e., podcasting, and decided to cater his services to businesses who wanted to start podcasts.
bCast communicates this through their messaging as well. They often use terms like "Podcast hosting for high growth businesses." in their headlines.
Think of an already growing market and start serving a smaller niche within the market.
First 3000 customers (and first 100 paid subscriptions)
The first 3000 customers came through lifetime deals. First through the AppSumo launch and then through a private joint venture.
There were pros and cons of getting 3000 customers through such deals. On the one hand, it acted as a pre-seed round for bCast, and they ended up collecting $200k, but on the other hand, bCast now had 3000 users they had to support for the lifetime of the product.
The first 100 paid subscriptions came from SEO and affiliate channels.
Whenever you're building a SaaS product, if you can get users to add information to your domain, it's super-valuable because those web pages may rank in search. Other people might also discover and link to those web pages.
bCast implemented a few things successfully to aid this process.
They gave their users podcast websites, so all their content is public on the internet.
This approach gets them 13 backlinks every day because they have close to 3000 podcasts on their domain.
bCast also recently launched audio message features, which enable creators to collect messages from their audience by sending them a link.
Audio messages are another way bCast has boosted its SEO game and referral traffic.
Tom got this idea from Mind Master, a mind mapping software. This software allowed users to create and share their mind maps which skyrocketed their SEO rankings.
This approach has also helped bCast rank for podcast topics on Google.
bCast doesn't have a fantastic conversion rate from this traffic, but they do get around 300 clicks a day for podcast-related searches.
The company does not do any active backlinking for an individual post.
They generally write long-form content around podcast topics like "100 potential podcast topics for your next show" and rank well due to high domain rating and automatic backlinks built through user-generated content.
Implement sharing capabilities within your SaaS.
In this case, bCast is getting a lot of top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) readers who will not start using bCast right away - but they might in the future.
How does bCast convert the traffic they get on their site?
Tom is trying to get away from the approach of collecting emails.
He is currently testing a seven-day starter podcast course.
The sign-up form for the course is added to the sidebar of all blog posts on the bCast site.
The course aims to provide all the information needed for a newbie to start a successful podcast show for their business, with bCast being a recommendation for podcast hosting if and when they decide to host their show online.
Tom wants to add value to its visitors' life regardless of which hosting service they decide to use.
It may not happen instantly, but slowly and steadily, you start making real-life fans solely because of the value you put out in the world.
What is the secret to the success of bCast's affiliate model?
bCast has over 800 affiliate partners.
Tom realized most podcast hosting services had a 30% affiliate commission rate, so he decided to provide all his affiliates a 40% recurring commission.
Also, all users who are not on bCast's pro plan will have bCast's branding on their site and their podcast player.
All conversions bCast gets from such branding placements are attributed back to the individual, and they get 40% commissions for every successful signup.
High affiliate commissions further incentivize users to keep bCast's branding on their site regardless of their plan.
Think Loom, Calendly, Linktree, Workable, etc.
You see their logos and know what they do even though you're not using their services.
For example, you get aware of Calendly every time someone sends you their Calendly link.
If you can incorporate this into your business model - you have a pretty strong foundation for getting a lot of backlinks (hence improving your SEO) and also achieving high growth with the Top of Mind approach.
But, if you can also incentivize your users not to remove the branding with the affiliate plans (like bCast did), that's a mind-blowing thing.
What role does the community play in the overall growth of bCast as a business?
bCast has an active community of more than 900 users on Facebook and almost 8000 newsletter subscribers on the SaaS Marketer website.
All new users of bCast get added to an email list and are invited to the Facebook group.
According to Tom, the impact on the community is immeasurable.
If you get engagement within the group, Facebook tends to advertise your group to relevant people.
The bCast team uses the group as a sounding board to get feedback from the community about upcoming features. It also helps Tom to learn a lot more about his users.
If you're not sure you'll be able to do that, leave it for later.
A couple of great benefits of having a community where all of your users can hang out together:
- You give more value to the customers.
- Your customer get to know you better.
- Your retention goes up.
- You get a chance to attract (and convert) a lot of TOFU leads through the community.
Does Tom see his 8k Newsletter community of SaaS marketers turning into a media company to support Fame and bCast?
When Tom was looking to start a new business, he realized he was interested in marketing, and SaaS was a new hot thing back then.
So he knew if he got the attention of SaaS marketers, he would be able to figure out a way to make money in the future.
So for the first six months before starting Fame and bCast, he studied SaaS companies and wrote an email and blog post daily about how certain SaaS companies were growing.
He shared all this information for free. Eventually, he started having email conversations with subscribers about their challenges in their SaaS business.
Tom tried to help 100s of people with their marketing problems. He was also working on a podcast for a company at this time.
One day he sent out emails asking his subscribers if they needed help setting up their podcasts, and that is how he found clients for his podcasting agency Fame.
Following the same idea, he later sent out another email asking if any of his subscribers had experience building SaaS companies and had an interest in podcasts. That is how he met Neil Morgan, who is now the co-founder of bCast.
So Tom's community of SaaS marketers helped him start Fame and bCast.
Growing and managing two companies has been challenging for Tom.
But he plans to pay more attention to the SaaS marketers community once both his businesses grow and turn the community into a media brand to aid the growth of his agency and SaaS company.
Start creating content around something you love, and your community will eventually indicate what they need.
Lifetime deal fu*k-up. What did Tom learn from it?
In Tom's view, people love lifetime deals, but most companies segregate these customers and continue building an excellent product for their paid subscribers.
bCast has never taken that approach. They have had all features open for their lifetime customers too.
Since they were almost profitable, the bCast team decided to move all their lifetime deal holders to a heavily discounted subscription plan.
Change in subscription plans caused a massive uproar among the JV partners and the customers.
There was a lot of negative publicity for the company, and some also threatened Tom with a lawsuit.
In the end, Tom had to reverse his decision and reinstate lifetime access for all LTD customers.
Tom believes all this could have been avoided if they had tested this update with a smaller group of customers before rolling it out for everyone.
Always stay true to your users, and set clear expectations.
And never forget - always listen to your customers.
What is the best takeaway from all the interviews and conversations Tom has had with prominent SaaS founders?
Tom always wondered how you could make every new customer of your business bring new users.
Everything gets more manageable if you have growth built-in within your product.
He eventually figured you need to take notice of
- What are users doing with your application?
- What information are they sharing?
- What are they creating?
And if you can somehow incentivize your users to make their creations public and share them, it automatically builds inbound SEO and backlinks for your product.
According to Tom, what is the real job of a founder?
A founder's job boils down to just keeping all the stakeholders of his company happy.
This process is just not limited to customers. It also includes employees, shareholders, and any other partners.
If you do that, the numbers and profit will increase.
While working, Tom likes to split his time between all the company’s stakeholders.
How does Tom make sure his employees are happy?
The process starts with understanding the types of people you want in your company and then building a work culture.
In Tom's case, both his companies have a 100% remote culture, and the team tries to eradicate nearly all meetings.
Tom is an introvert, and he is trying to make his company suitable for introverts.
Also, he doesn't want anyone who wants to work 50 hours a week. He aims to create a very relaxed environment for his employees. This enables the company to employ people with slightly lower salaries while keeping them happy.
Tom focuses on employees' happiness and comfort, which lowers the company's labor bill and employee churn rate.
If Tom had to start bCast again, what would he do differently?
It took Tom and his team a year to develop marketing and set up his automatic inbound SEO process. If given a chance, he would set this up way earlier.
Tom also advises everyone to start creating information on your website around your niche even if you haven’t made or released your product yet.
The SEO process takes six months to a year to show any results, so the earlier you start, the better it is for your company.
Building early distribution pays compounding results in the long run.
What is the one book that has had the most impact on Tom recently?
Tom recommends reading the book "The Advantage" by Patrick Lencioni. The book is about organizational health and clarity.
The book helped Tom learn how to teach the company's vision, culture, and mission to the employees.
The Bottom Line
Listen to your core audience, and they will tell you what you should build. Tom talked to 100s of SaaS marketers before starting his podcasting agency and SaaS company.
Think of creative ways in which your users can bring in more users. Tom's user-generated content strategy has given bCast a significant advantage over its competitors.
As a founder, always have a 360-degree vision. Your goal is not to make just your customers happy. Pay attention to all stakeholders of your organization. A low churn rate and a highly motivated team have enabled Tom to grow bCast effortlessly and profitably.
Each week, we'll be sending you a new case study like this. No BS. No Fluff. Only actionable insights on how to grow a B2B SaaS from successful examples.