Hey guys! Startup Radius interviewed Startup Costs – the online dashboard of startups and side projects who share their monthly costs publicly. Startup Costs inspires small businesses and startups, as well as educates them on how much it costs to run a startup. You can easily check why some startups spend $50,000 a month, while other spend just $200 on the early stage.

In this article you will learn why it’s important to start working on your ideas as soon as possible, how to grow to 60,000+ pageviews in less than a few months, why you need to test your monetization a lot, and much more. Enjoy!

Can you tell us about what you are working on? What is StartupCosts?

Startup Costs is first a collection of startups and side projects who share their monthly running costs. For transparency, to learn and inspire.

Second it’s a product discovery tool (/product-discovery) to explore new products and tools for your startup to use.

And lastly it’s a set of tools for your startup to track and manage your expenses, named “Startup Costs Pro”. This is an ever expanding set of tools to give you better insights in where your money goes.

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Why are you building this? Was there a particular source of inspiration or a money-making idea?

I first had the idea for Startup Costs late 2016. Just a simple thought: “how interesting would it be if startups and other companies share their expenses”. Already then some startups were transparent about their MRR and other numbers, but the costs was always missing from the equation. Revenue is a nice metric, but doesn’t say much if you don’t know the monthly running costs. In that period transparency or #OpenStartup was not too common and I had a hard time finding founders willing to share their costs. Nowadays this is more common and often used as a marketing tool instead.

Time for bragging! How big you are – traffic, users, anything else?

Within two months or so after I launched the first version, there were 250 startups tracking their monthly running costs. Not all of them share their costs publicly. It’s now around 300 in total and so are well under way to 500 startups using Startup Costs. Since pageviews have been at about 65,000.

Who are your main competitors, and how good/bad they are?

None completely. There’s overlap with StackShare for the Products Directory and with many accounting tools for Startup Costs Pro. Though StackShare take complete different take by including all OSS tools and including the costs per month or year. For accounting/expense tracking part their quite a lot of competitors, but the data Startup Costs (Pro) can provide is which tools are good and common replacements or what are cheaper alternatives for some of the tools we use. If you run an early stage company you have to be aware of your costs. Your revenue is not certain month by month, but your expenses are. It’s good to know you can extend your runway by going for a cheaper alternative or to cancel a subscription altogether. This is currently not (easily) possible with Startup Costs Pro, but is in the making.

Who uses StartupCosts? What is your perfect buyer or persona?

Small businesses, early stage startups and successful solo founders. Business owners who know the importance of staying on top your finances is important for the success of your company.

Were there any early ‘growth hacks’ or tactics that have contributed to your current success?

Sharing your monthly running costs in itself can be considered a “growth hack”. The typical Startup Costs user already shares much of their metrics, so sharing their monthly running costs isn’t a too big a step. When shared (through Twitter, their website, etc.) then triggered others to share their monthly running costs too.

Another important aspect, I think, early on was to make “sign up” as seamless as possible. In this case I decided to not have an email/password signup flow, but to use a unique edit link instead. This made a lot easier to add your startup and its expenses. You can now add a password to your account to enjoy many new features though.

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What were some of the biggest challenges while building StartupCosts early on and how did you solve them?

The biggest problem was to not build too much. Keep it as simple as possible. No one-time costs, no annual costs, no real authentication system. It’s easy to fall into the trap of adding “just one more feature” before launch. Yes, some did not use Startup Costs without the authentication in place, but way more people _did_ use Startup Costs even with it missing. The app is built on a Rails template I’ve used for a while and am soon launching as a separate product to help other founders get to build their web app easier and quicker.

If you could give a marketing advice to other companies, what could it be based on your experience?

I don’t think there is a one size fits all thing in marketing. What works for me, doesn’t need to work for you. I do know that many (technical) founders stay away from it thinking their all-new-shiny product sells itself. This is just not true in 99.99% of the cases.

What is really powerful, and still not utilised enough, is to have a real (niche) audience. This is the kind of advice you don’t want to hear because it can take years to build a real significant audience. But time and time again you see that made all the difference. Examples on top of my mind would be Ryan Hoover building Product Hunt. He built his audience by blogging. Also AJ from Carrd who built his audience with a (free) html template. Pieter Levels with Nomad List who built his audience sharing his journey on building his projects.

As the cliche goes: the best moment to start yesterday, the second next moment is today.

Is StartupCosts monetized? Why did you choose the current monetization method?

Monetisation is five-fold:

  • The public dashboard (of free accounts) with the monthly running costs show some decent looking ads at the bottom;
  • Startups can be promoted on the top of the homepage to get a boost in traffic;
  • Products can be promoted in the Products Directory on the homepage or in their respective category and in the newsletter;
  • Some of the links on the public dashboards and the Product Directory are affiliate links giving me one-time of monthly recurring income;
  • Startup Costs Pro is a monthly subscription.

These are still experiments and while I like the diversity of it, I haven’t settled on any one of them as it’s still early stage for all of them.