In this post of "My First 1000 Users", we will cover the story of Tribute and how it became one of the fastest growing companies in the United States.
The content of this case study is taken from the podcast episode I recorded with Andrew Horn, the founder and CEO of Tribute.
Let's dive in.
How did Andrew get the idea of starting Tribute?
It all started with an incident on one of Andrew's birthdays; his wife Miki had planned a surprise party for him at his house.
Upon reaching the house, Andrew found out that his wife had rented a projector and had collected videos from all of Andrew's close friends and family.
On watching those video messages, Andrew started crying. It was the best birthday gift he had ever received.
Later, when Andrew thanked his wife for the gift, she told him that the experience of coordinating and collecting videos for the birthday surprise sucked.
Andrew looked for similar services on Google and found no companies were solving this issue.
This gave Andrew the idea of starting a service that helped people collaborate and create tribute videos for their loved ones.
He knew he wanted to do this because not only was this a great business idea, but it was also something very close to his heart.
Andrew had a background in branding and web development. So he took the next few months to form a business plan and then started looking for a technical co-founder.
Within three months, he found his co-founder, Rory Petty, who helped build Tribute to what it is today.
Tribute has sent over 5 million video messages worldwide since its inception. The pandemic only helped the business grow as people wanted to wish for their distant loved ones.
You don't need a big team or technical know-how to pursue your idea. Andrew created a service and a SaaS company with a background in branding and marketing.
Once you nail down your idea, start building a team that complements your skills.
What was Andrew's approach to finding a perfect co-founder?
As a founder with a non-tech background, Andrew had to articulate ways in which he could contribute to the project.
Andrew knew he had a unique talent on the branding front. Also, being a strong communicator, he knew he could be the brand's voice.
He also had experience with press, publicity and fundraising. So he was confident that he could contribute to those arenas.
It will be hard to find a co-founder if you only have a vision or an idea to give as a founder. List your expertise, and then start looking for skills that complement yours.
According to Andrew, one of the biggest mistakes businesses make is having two co-founders with matched skill sets, so the other aspects of the business get neglected.
After deciding your value proposition based on your skill sets, start going to networking areas, startup meets, and hackathons and start being vocal about needing a co-founder.
The best talent is rarely unemployed so you won't find the best talent on job boards and forums. Going on company meetups and meeting the top talent of companies can also be a great way of finding a co-founder.
You will likely meet many people who are interested in startup opportunities but don't know how to get started.
In the end, having a purpose helps. If your business is helping make the world a better place, you have a better chance of finding and working with the right talent.
Also, look for a co-founder with complementary skills who can handle segments of the business that you are weak at.
How did Andrew build Tribute's MVP and test his assumptions?
Many tech companies that end up being successful initially don't do things that scale well.
Andrew took a similar approach of doing things manually to test his assumptions. He reached out to his friends and family and offered to create birthday videos for them.
Then he hired video editors from Fiverr. Put up a landing page and started offering his services.
On getting positive feedback on his MVP, he reached out to investors stating he had a working model.
Andrew had already proved that people wanted the product and the end product was powerful. The problem and the opportunity lay in streamlining the process and making it more efficient.
First 100 users
Tribute's first 100 users came from Andrew's close network of friends and family.
One of the things that worked in Andrew's favour was the build-in virality of his product.
Since people had to invite their friends and family to Tribute to collaborate on a video project, new people were exposed to the startup daily. This baked-in virality helped grow Andrew's business tremendously.
Another thing that worked in Andrew's favour while launching his business was his experience in building companies. Due to this, Andrew had an extended network of entrepreneurs who were ever ready to try new products and give him valuable feedback.
Often people from your closest network are your first users.
The journey from 100 to 1000 customers
Andrew wanted to scale using the crowdfunding model as he thought it was the first logical step for most first-time founders. It allows you to get some working capital to work towards a prototype or MVP.
There is so much research and structure put together about how to run a successful Kickstarter launch that it becomes easy for first-time founders to raise funds.
Crowdfunding also forces you to articulate and formalize your business idea in a way that people can grasp.
A community of people are interested in trying new products from crowdfunding platforms. Also, there is a marketing benefit built-in on such platforms. So you can inherently reach new people who are on such platforms.
Andrew started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and raised 35,000 dollars. Since the campaign was on Kickstarter, it became easy for Andrew's network to support the cause.
What have been the best user acquisition channels for Tribute?
One of Andrew's most important lessons in life is the 80-20 rule.
According to this rule, 20% of your efforts will give you 80% of the results.
Andrew tried a lot of acquisition channels for Tribute, including going to conferences and events and using paid ads and social media content for user acquisition.
But Andrew realized a vast majority of users that used Tribute came from the product's baked-in virality.
So Andrew decided to take a product-led growth approach for acquiring new users for Tribute.
Andrew decided to understand every user coming through their ecosystem and map their journey so the team could utilize every opportunity to prompt users to create more tributes, return to the website, and spend more money.
Following the 80-20 rule, Andrew spent most of his efforts on product-led growth and re-engaging the existing audience, which led to the startup's consistent growth.
Andrew grew his company consistently by focussing on product-led growth, as that channel yielded 80% of the results.
How does Tribute turn friends and family of users into their customers?
As a mission-driven company, Tribute is all about gratitude and building meaningful human connections.
When someone makes a tribute for a friend, he invites people to collaborate on the project. All people collaborating on the project identify themselves as friends of that person.
So after submitting their videos, they are prompted to send gift cards to the person along with their videos.
Andrew plans to further scale Tribute's physical product catalogue to include flowers and greeting cards.
All people involved in a project also get timely prompts to create Tributes for their loved ones for a discounted price.
Tribute also helps them create a list of friends and family's birthdays and helps them remember such events.
How did Andrew grow his company and user base consistently despite not having any recurring plans?
Tribute does not have any subscription plans, but the people who find value in the tributes they make tend to keep coming back to make more tributes.
80% of the company's customer acquisition comes from people using the product.
An average user invites 25 people to each project, which helps them discover Tribute and start using it for any subsequent life event in their or their network's life.
Tribute also has a well-thought-out content and SEO strategy in place. But all of these contribute to only 20% of Tribute's revenue. Most of the revenue is still driven by product-led growth.
To increase the average order value for each customer, Tribute has strategically placed upsells throughout the creation process.
The team constantly runs split tests around discounting and upselling to maximize revenue.
For example, Tribute has recently added an upsell to their DIY module, where users can pay an extra $10 while checking out to have Tribute's editors review the final video.
Understanding strategic discounting at different times near the deadline is key while adding upsells.
Think of how you can turn your users into the biggest cheerleaders for your product.
How did Andrew implement a price increase strategy without alienating its current customers?
Andrew has had the exact pricing across the platform for the last five years. But the previous CMO of Tribute ran split tests using tools like Optimizely to test different pricing values and tiers.
This enabled them to increase the price of their core product from $24 to $29 with no adverse effects.
The team has stuck to this practice and keeps testing price values on different service components.
How does Andrew approach the content and SEO game?
Andrew worked with an SEO agency to understand the key search terms that people were searching for around special occasions, and then the team mapped out a plan to structure the content, so they directly speak to these groups of people.
After the research phase, the team is now publishing several blog posts weekly with the help of contract copy teams.
How does Andrew deal with direct and indirect competitors?
Andrew has taken a collaborative approach to indirect competitors like Cameo.
Tribute has an affiliate relationship setup with Cameo. Many blogs on Tribute's website guide users to try out Cameo for celebrity integrations in their tributes.
Regarding direct competition, Andrew believes he has created an industry category with Tribute, and after the rise of Tribute, more than five direct competitors have come into the space.
Being an athlete, Andrew loves competition as competition helps him stay motivated and learn more about the industry.
Consider what makes you different in a competitive market and keep striving to maintain your unique edge.
What would Andrew do differently if he were to start Tribute tomorrow?
If Andrew were to start Tribute again, he would establish a much more data and metric-driven strategy.
Since this was the first tech company Andrew was leading. There were a lot of assumptions made by the team without backing them up with data and projections.
But if starting again, Andrew would work with people with a much more analytical and data-driven mindset.
As a leader, measuring what you are working towards and what clear objectives you are trying to achieve becomes essential.
What is the one book that has had a significant impact on Andrew's life recently?
According to Andrew, as a leader, what it takes to create a successful company and also a meaningful life is to create a place to work that is deeply meaningful, respectful and energizing.
A book that has helped shape this philosophy is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. The author talks about how a founder must take care of his people and the company's culture. Everything else will take care of itself.
Try to focus on hiring quality talent and nurturing them, and they will, in turn, take care of everything else at the company.
The Bottom Line
You don't need a tech background to launch a SaaS product. People will resonate with your message if your intentions are clear and you strive to make this world a better place.
Andrew started with just an idea and leveraged his skills in branding and marketing to convince the world to join him in his movement of spreading joy worldwide.
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.