Brian Casel is an entrepreneur focused on bootstrapping online businesses that combine software with productized services. Since starting his self-employed career as a professional freelance web designer back in 2008, he has built and later sold web design/SaaS business in 2015. He now runs Audience Ops, a content marketing service focused on helping B2B software companies grow their audience and customer-base.
He writes and teaches about entrepreneurship and freelancing through his blog and newsletter at casjam.com. He also creates and sells courses and ebooks there, most notably his course, Productize, which teaches consultants how to build, launch, and grow a productized service business.
His work and articles have been featured or published in Mashable, Smashing Magazine, Mixergy, Entrepreneur Magazine, and others. He has spoken at industry conferences such as MicroConf and Double Your Freelancing Conf. He also co-hosts the Bootstrapped Web podcast with Jordan Gal, where they talk behind-the-scenes of bootstrapping their online businesses.
Being in full-time business
Brian left his last full-time job at a wed design agency in January 2008 which translates to about 9 years in business. He started doing freelance web design while also working on different product ideas that didn’t take off. Started RestaurantEngine in 2011 while still doing other freelance work. Launched RestaurantEngine in 2012 and in 2013 starting working on it full-time till 2015 when he sold it.
The first product business that Brian worked on was creating Wordpress themes that he would sell as digital downloads. This made him some income every month but he sold the business to someone else in 2015.
Inspiration behind leaving formal employment to freelancing then to business
While still working at the web design agency, Brian noticed that the company used to hire freelancers occasionally. He realised that the freelancers were making a living from that, which prompted him to learn freelancing through free online resources. In 2008, he decided to start doing freelance work which actually helped him through the economic downturn and gradually led him towards starting his own business.
While building websites for different clients in diverse industries, he realised how difficult it was for small business owners to build and set up their websites even on platforms like Wordpress. That inspired him to create a hosted platform built on top of Wordpress in order to make it easier for business owners to build websites for their businesses. While in the planning process he realised that he could not standardize the platform for all types of businesses so he had to specialize it to one business sector and he settled for the restaurant sector because restaurants always require the same content on their websites like menus, etc. Focusing on one industry/niche made it easier for him to market the product.
Going full-time into RestaurantEngine
Brian was balancing his freelance work with working on RestaurantEngine for 2 years before he could go full-time into it. He had three people working for him in customer support, one in sales and one in content marketing. He built the site himself and had one developer on-call to support when needed.
Determining the viability of the RestaurantEngine idea
Brian didn’t know whether the idea would work but it worked out eventually. He had to invest a lot in terms of time, hard work and personal finances in order to build the platform before it even launched and started generating revenue.
Tip: Validating a new product idea or business idea before going into it is very important
Transition from RestaurantEngine to Audience Ops
By the time he was selling RestaurantEngine, he had already started building Audience Ops. The sale closed in June 2015, and Audience Ops had launched and gotten its first clients in May 2015.
Reason for the sale was because Brian eventually became too disconnected from RestaurantEngine due to his core focus being more on working with SaaS-oriented businesses.
Audience Ops idea
Brian got the idea for Audience Ops from RestaurantEngine because he used to use content marketing as the only marketing channel for RestaurantEngine. That formed the foundation for Audience Ops because while doing the content marketing he came across numerous SaaS businesses that had great difficulty trying to apply content marketing in their internal marketing activities. Brian built Audience Ops around the concept of an end to end, start to finish content marketing system that could be easily plugged into any SaaS business.
He launched Audience Ops and got the first paying customers within a 30 day period. RestaurantEngine took 6 months to launch.
Serving the first Audience Ops clients
Audience Ops started serving the first clients immediately they signed up. One of Brian’s goals when starting Audience Ops was to make sure he wasn’t the one writing the content required by clients so he could concentrate more on building the company. He therefore hired a team of two freelance writers while he handled project management, sales calling and bringing in new clients.
Growth strategy then
Brian continued to use his podcast and contacts he met at conferences he spoke at, to generate solid sales leads. He also did in-house content marketing, used paid ad campaigns, webinars, different podcasts, and got different referrals from people in the software industry.
Productized services are focused manually done-for-you services that can take on a lot of forms, for example, Audience Ops is a done-for-you content marketing services platform. There are different productized services built around different problem areas of running a software business.
Audience Ops’ growth
By November 2016 the business was generating $5,000 monthly recurring revenue (MRR) from the productized services which grew gradually to reach the current $50,000 MRR. The company’s team has so far grown to 20 employees, both full-time and freelancers, with some of them based in the US and others abroad.
Current Audience Ops products
Brian is currently working on a new product called “Audience Ops Calendar” which is a content calendar planner with checklists and automated systems built into it to help businesses automate the processes of managing their content marketing activities.
He is also working on a training product that will teach people how to do content marketing by plugging in Audience Ops’ strategies, systems and procedures into their businesses.
Moment of real failure
Brian worked on a lot of businesses where he struggled and got discouraged many times but never gave up. He has faced different challenges while running both RestaurantEngine and Audience Ops. Currently, work life balance is still a challenge for him but he manages to allocate his family and the business sufficient time.
Tool and Resources
- WordPress – formed basis for his first product.
Book recommendation for entrepreneurs:
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It – Michael E. Gerber
- The Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable – Seth Godin
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