Meet Sai Krishna on a mission to build a super web, a greener web.
Sai describes himself as a happy person + an avid music lover. He says, “ The goal for Superblog is $100k ARR. Then take a call after that.”
Let us read through an inspirational story of a solo indie hacker…
YC – Welcome to Yellow Chapter. The idea of the interview is to get to know you. Talk about your childhood memories, college days, professional roadmap and why Superblog?
Sai – Sure, I was born in Pamur, it’s a small village in Andhra Pradesh. My dad is a very religious and straightforward person. He is very closely associated with the temple trust committee of our village. My mother is a very loving woman. My moral code has been written by her. She used to tell us a lot of stories with moral learnings.
Unfortunately, my dad had to give up his studies quite early due to financial issues. But he made no compromises in giving the best possible education to his kids.
Fortunately, my younger sister Lakshmi and younger brother Sai and I were all good at our studies. In ninth grade, my parents shifted me to a boarding school in Nellore in pursuit of better education.
Why engineering? 🤔🤔
There is an exciting incident: When I was in fourth grade, our school got a computer. I still remember our computer teacher saying, “This is the most powerful machine in the world.” I wanted to test, so I wrote a multiplication question with big numbers on a piece of paper and asked if it could be solved. I was amazed to see the quick answer. 😯😯
I was so fascinated that I just wanted to play with it. Fortunately, the same year summer camp was organized in our village to learn MS-DOS. I joined it + post-school. I used to spend hours playing on the computer.
Fortunately, my confidence got a rick boost when I could fix a minor bug in my uncle’s computer when I travelled to grandpa’s village for the summer holidays, which was used for some basic accounting.
In boarding school, I got to know about IIT. I got a seat in Krishnamurthy IIT Academy in Hyderabad. My parents were not comfortable sending me to a faraway place. I joined – Computer Science Engineering – Andhra University, Vizag.
YC – How was engineering? What would you suggest to engineering students?
Sai – 2008! Engineering was enjoyable for me. I always dreamt of having my computer and laptop. Due to financial constraints, we could not afford it earlier. In 2008 I got my first computer, and in 2009 I got my first laptop. I was on cloud nine.
I used to spend all my time on the computer reading, playing games, watching movies, and doing academics. I got into building small apps and simple games very early on.
My inspiration for building apps has always been solving the problems seen around me or faced by me. Example mHotspot – 2011 –mHotspot – Turn your windows laptop into wifi hotspot and make a virtual wifi router.
Problem statement – I did not had a wifi-router at home and buying it online will be delivered late. I couldn’t use a hotspot from a Windows laptop because Android phones back then could not detect Ad-Hoc wifi networks.
Solution – I built mHotspot which created an AP-mode hotspot. It used by different sets of users including students in IITs, NITs etc
mHotspot was a super success. A combination of solving the right problem + my Seo skills was the key. I have been blogging since I was 16 years old. About tech articles and guides. Mainly SEO properties – some of my work. With over 7 Million downloads and more than 1.5 Million active hotspot stars per month, mHotspot is growing rapidly. And yes won lots of awards, including a position in ‘Most useful software of 2013 by CNET.com‘
Suggestion – Just one – Start building things when you’re in college.
Many people usually tend to ask me, which stream should my kid join? I have one thing to say, “Don’t ask me; ask your kids what they like to do”. I want to tell the same to your young readers, “Choose what you want to do, what you love.”
@ Friends – Left: Koushi | right: Krishna Chaitanya | Girl on the left: Dr. Preethi, MBBS, MD | Girl on the right: Dr. Swetha, MBBS, DNB
YC – Can we talk about your professional roadmap and learnings on the way?
Sai – 2013-2015 – I did not pick up a job post engineering. mHotspot was doing well; I got a few acquisitions offers as well. I focused on building more apps and revenue generation. I built almost 25+ apps and games. 1BN Software Private Limited was incorporated. I was a solo indie hacker for almost two years.
Every app I built was a result of my personal need. It all happened step-by-step. Along with a friend, Aditya, I also built a few games. We did not have much success with games. But my apps did well with 10,000+ downloads.
My top five apps are:
1. mHotspot –
2. Open wifi hotspot –
3. WhatsApp secure app – It was in the top eight on Playstore
4. Battery full
5. Theft alarm
Once I hit my financial goals, I thought enough about being an indie hacker and a solopreneur. I wanted to build a bigger startup. I wanted to tackle bigger challenges.
I pitched my idea to a few VCs but was shot down. I realized three things:
- I was unable to express my idea well enough.
- I am not a business guy.
- I am not a good storyteller.
1. What should be the market strategy?
2. How should the business model canvas look like
3. How to prepare a scaling plan
4. How to fundraise.
There I met Santosh, my co-founder @ SpotPlay.
2016-2018 – SpotPlay – To serve content through wifi without internet.
Problem statement – Solving for entertainment – During long bus journeys, people get bored. There are hardly any mobile signals and no wifi when the bus is on the move.
Solution – Bringing in the software from mHotspot into a hardware device. The device can be installed in buses and cabs. The bus operators can now connect the loaded pen drive to the device. The device will generate a wifi network without internet. Passengers can watch the movies on their own devices.
My co-founder Santosh pitched the idea of wifi based entertainment in the buses. We started building, got a few pilots, and raised small funds. We were one and a half years into it, and then India’s Jio revolution hit us.
Now every passenger has a Jio phone. We could see there was no need for our product anymore. We got the biggest dent in the business model. We tried to salvage it. We tried to do some pivots. But eventually, we shut it down.
We got selected for StartUp Chile as one of the only five startups from India. Chile has an extensive bus network because it’s a lengthy country. Flights are super expensive so people tend to take buses. Chile is much more receptive to new technology. We went there and tried to solve the problem there, but had a different set of problems.
My learnings from SpotPlay:
1. Never deal with any products that have lots of operations. It would either require a lot of capital +energy + time. So if I’m doing anything next, I wouldn’t do that. That’s probably the biggest one.
2. Hardware startups are much more challenging to run and establish than software startups. You can give out 100 licenses for free if it’s a SaaS subscription. But you cannot give 100 devices for free if it’s hardware.
3. Be watchful of the timing of the market.
@ With Santosh, SpotPaly
2019 – 2020 – CTO @ Digibooster. co – An influencer marketplace providing deep insights on campaigns and influencers for brands to make data-based decisions. Founded by Nandini Mansinghka. I built the entire tech stack after hired asthe CTO.
Initially, the plan was to build a content license marketplace. But we pivoted. Seeing the data, we realized we should connect the creators and brands.
Within five months, we had the MVP; revenue started coming in. But then COVID hit, + there were some management changes. I decided to take a break.
My learning from Digibooster was:
1. Never try to build a marketplace. You have to deal with the cold start problem + the chicken and egg problem.
2. Marketplaces require a lot of capital to seed the transactions initially. I wouldn’t do that without venture capital again next time. So that’s the biggest learning.
3. Need a big community or a clear plan to get the first 100, then 1000 and then 10,000 transactions on the marketplace.
@ Team Digibooster
Why Super blog – I’m a blogger; I have built SEO properties with more than 165k+ pageviews a month. I wrote a post on Medium on – How I saved $400/year by switching from Bluehost VPS to Netlify + Migadu. Later I published an open source repository to use the technology.
So suddenly, it struck me that this could be SaaS. Instead of paying freelancers, people can pay annually and get all SEO benefits and conversions, server maintenance, and everything built in.
I saw there is a massive gap in the market. Only well-funded startups and big companies can afford an SEO team. I did some soft testing with a few founders. My blogging experience + market gap + founders’ feedback were good enough validation for me to start building. Dec 2020 Super blog – The world’s fastest blogging platform with auto-SEO was born.
YC – Can we talk about some numbers?
Sai – I have close to 1100+ signups and 106 paying customers. I have 35%, international customers. By December 2022, I plan to get to $3000MRR. Right now, I am at $1300MRR. This means having around 150 to 170 customers.
My goal is to reach $100K ARR.
Ideal customer – Startups that want a blazing fast and SEO-focused blog but don’t want to spend a lot of time or money on it.
Competition – Ghost – It is a free and open-source blogging platform. I know it’s very tough to compete with them, but it’s happening. I do not consider WordPress a competitor; it is now much more than a blogging platform.
1. Solve real problems, and your product market fit is solved.
2. I knew marketing was not my strength, so I took the approach of building in public. #buildinpublic. I knew getting the initial customers would be tough as Superblog is an All-in product. Building in public helped me create a community around my product and get my initial customers.
3. Solving for trust – Being a solopreneur, I decided to share my technical architecture, revenue and other details with the community.
4. Do not over-engineer; this is specifically for techie founders.
5. I write my updates on LinkedIn; I think it’s essential to keep the people in the loop for whom you are building.
6. Don’t try to sell to people who don’t need your solution. Just try to find out who will need a solution and then pitch.
7. Interviews – Initially, I was not very open to interviews, but then I realized what worked from zero to 100 customers to $1000 MMR won’t work for $5000 MMR.
I tried Google Ads and hired freelancers but realized I should stick to my knowledge and experience for SEO only.
Five SEO tips for founders:
1. Focus on SEO from day -60.
2. Focus on SEO from day -60.
3. Do not pay for backlinks.
4. Learn the basics of SEO by yourself first: https://ahrefs.com/seo
5. Do not try to be Paul Graham or Reid Hoffman when you start writing on your blog. Instead, pick topics that are searched by your target audience.
YC – What keeps you going?
Sai – I like my work. I’m just playing every day. I enjoy building optimized code. I like doing R&D for new technology and architecture + A secret; I’m an avid music lover (this is the only profession where I can listen to music and work.)
YC – Sai, I genuinely believe many people contribute to where we are in life. They are our family, friends, teachers, mentors etc. People you would like to thank in your journey so far?
Sai – My family, friends and teachers.
Sai, it was a great conversation. Thank you for your time. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best in your future journey.