April seems late for a yearly report. But April 1st marks one year since I acquired Saber Feedback. So actually the report is quite timely.

(Strictly speaking, it wasn’t me who acquired Saber Feedback. It was the company of which I own 100%. But I’ll write “I” throughout this article.)

First, some history. Saber Feedback was started in 2011, and run as a one-person operation until April 2020, until I acquired it.

Saber Feedback was an attractive acquisition for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is it can be run in a low-stress manner. This is important to me. My company is a place where we get good work done at our own pace, without undue stress.

Achievement 1: Saber Feedback is now run by a team

We are five people in our team, all working part-time.

Having a team allows us to do things differently. When you run a product solo - as I know from years of personal experience - you always have too much to do. You have to do many things well just to keep the product in motion: marketing, sales, development, operations, support, product management, bookkeeping.

Running solo is challenging and interesting but at times it is difficult and draining. Some tasks that should be regularly carried out tend to get repeatedly postponed if they are not essential and urgent and need to be done this very moment.

With a team now running Saber Feedback, this has changed. We have people assigned to specific tasks, whose job description is making sure important things happen before they become urgent.

Achievement 2: Saber Feedback now has better operations

I could list everything we’ve made into a regularly repeated process, but that would be tedious.

So let me illustrate this with one concrete example.

When I acquired Saber Feedback, our sysadmin reviewed our infrastructure. While doing so he noticed that the automated database backup process had stopped working some months earlier.

Our sysadmin now manually checks each month that our automated database backups are happening, and, importantly, can be successfully restored.

I could repeat several variations of this story. The upshot is that over the past year our operations have become systematic.

Achievement 3: Saber Feedback now has a better website

Our team has experience in making a good website for a B2B SaaS product. For our flagship product, we learnt how to build and maintain a website with a professional design, high performance, and good search engine optimisation (SEO).

In the first few months after acquisition, we applied our skills and experience to Saber Feedback’s website.

This was no straightforward task.

Our content person spent 1.5 days per week for six months working on improving the website’s content and information architecture.

We started with a content audit. We went through every page of the website, every blog post and every help page. We worked out which pages were achieving what they intended, and which ones weren’t. We improved the good ones, and removed or rewrote the bad ones. We added new pages, and continue to do so with a regular cadence.

We conducted interviews with existing customers to find our why and how they used us, and used their answers to build “customer stories” for our website. We got advice from SEO experts and applied it.

Now, a year later, we’ve tripled the amount of “organic” traffic our site receives. (“Organic” traffic is traffic coming from search engines, which mostly means coming from Google.) The traffic is still very low in absolute terms, so there’s still ongoing work to do.

I believe the website we have now sells Saber Feedback better.

Achievement 4: Saber Feedback’s widget is now better

The feedback widget is the core of our product. It is what puts our floating feedback button on your web page.

Pre-acquisition, the feedback button was already a solid, full-featured offering.

But over time we found a significant problem: the widget was custom-built for each customer.

If you changed your feedback form’s settings, the widget would need to be rebuilt, a process that could take several seconds. There are good reasons for doing it this way, but it gave us one big problem: we couldn’t use modern browser-side caching techniques. Every time a user browsed a page that contained our widget, the entire widget would need to be downloaded again.

That was okay, until an ex-customer, who never removed our widget from their site, started receiving millions of page views a day. That was causing our web server to transfer the feedback widget millions of times per day. We started receiving frequent alerts from our server host warning us that we were sending out too much data.

In the last few months we replaced our feedback widget with a new version. Instead of being custom-built for each customer, the new version is now identical for everybody.

The final appearance is still customised for each customer’s settings, but the customisations are no longer built into the widget. The feedback form powered by the widget is now configured at runtime.

This new approach allows us to easily serve it from a content delivery network (CDN), resulting in much faster downloads.

This is good for us because it spares our servers from a lot of unnecessary data transfer.

This is doubly good for the end users of our feedback widget, because it loads much quicker, due to effective and aggressive caching. Instead of the entire widget being downloaded for each page view, it is downloaded once per user, and cached locally to be reused as they continue their browsing session.

Internally, we are calling this the “version 2” widget, but we haven’t made a big deal about this, because for our customers not much has changed, at least on the surface.

We also gave the widget a small visual overhaul. The designer on our team addressed small issues with spacing and typography, modernised the icons we use in the widget, and updated the existing “Powered by Saber Feedback” link to better use our brand.

Achievement 5: We polished some rough edges via “dogfooding”

“Dogfooding” or “eating your own dog food” is a somewhat odd term used in software development to describe a powerful practice. It means to regularly use your own product so you can find out what it really like for your customers.

Before I acquired Saber Feedback, I hadn’t used the product much. I had created a trial account, and clicked around, and done the basics, but I had never used Saber Feedback in a real-world situation.

After the acquisition I wanted to learn more about it, so I added it to several websites I own: the docs for Feature Upvote, the dashboard for Feature Upvote, and the website of Bootstrapped (a podcast I host).

Dogfooding turned out to be a good decision for three reasons:

  1. People actually used the feedback buttons I had added to my site. They reported bugs and errors. This was illuminating. Using Saber Feedback made my other products better!
  2. It helped my team find a few bugs and rough edges in Saber Feedback itself. These were mostly small layout issues that occurred only on certain browsers, devices, or websites. We fixed these, resulting in a better product.
  3. Finding issues with Saber Feedback we needed to fix forced us to do something we had avoided for a while: really understand exactly how the internals of Saber Feedback worked.

Challenge 1: My family got COVID-stranded

I’ve had two major challenges so far with Saber Feedback. The first was when COVID-19 left me stranded a long way from home.

As I was going through the last stages of acquiring Saber Feedback, the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold. At the time my partner and I, along with our infant daughter, were spending a few weeks literally on the other side of the world from where we live. The day before we were due to fly home, the international flight network abruptly closed down.

For several months we were stuck 16,000 kilometres from home.

Dealing with being stranded used a lot of time and mental energy. That left little energy for work. I had been planning to spend a lot of time on Saber Feedback, and that was no longer possible.

I was understandably distracted from work as I spent day after day wondering when we might be able to get home.

Luckily I had my team to rely on, and things still got done, albeit more slowly than planned.

Challenge 2: Finding a good channel for obtaining customers

My interest in acquiring Saber Feedback was partly because I thought it could benefit with improved marketing. My company had the necessary skill and experience to improve the marketing, and that would inevitably lead, I believed, to significant revenue growth.

Now, a year later, we’ve made good progress in increasing our website’s organic traffic, but we haven’t seen the same growth in revenue. Revenue has remained flat.

Now I need to work out why revenue hasn’t grown much. Perhaps SEO is not the right approach for us - or perhaps we need to keep working on SEO for even longer. Perhaps the business uncertainty caused by the pandemic is to blame - or perhaps revenue would be flat even if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.

What’s coming this year

I intentionally don’t plan too far in advance. An advantage of a small team is that we can be flexible and change our plans based on circumstances. However, there are a couple of things that we do intend to do:

First, we’ll modernise the Saber Feedback web console. (The web console where customers manage their account and review feedback they’ve received.)

Second, we will make more product improvements. We only made a few product improvements in the past year because we needed to focus on marketing instead. Saber Feedback’s marketing was well behind its product capabilities, and that balanced needed adjusting.

Now our marketing has caught up to our product, it is time to start making product improvements. We’ll do this with a clear purpose: to “wow” some customers.

How does that work?

Well, I don’t know what product improvements we are going to make. We’ll let customers tell us. When a customer requests a new feature or an improvement, if the request seems a good fit for Saber Feedback, and we can do it quickly, then we will. I want to implement it in days, or even hours, and then tell the customer.

And if it is a trial customer, and not a paying customer? Even better! We’ll try even harder to create the “wow!” experience.

That, so my theory goes, will create some word-of-mouth.

This isn’t sustainable but for a product with a small customer base I think this can be effective and powerful.

The third - and most important - thing I intend to do this year is to experiment with new marketing channels. All our effort in the past year has gone into SEO, and it has been working but much slower than I expected. It is time to try other channels, to see if we can get Saber Feedback to a healthy level of growth.

Want to know more about my journey with Saber Feedback?

Then listen to Bootstrapped, the podcast I host, where I often share my progress with Saber Feedback. Worth listening to if you want to hear more of the gritty details.

Learn more about Saber Feedback

Saber Feedback adds a feedback button to your website, online course, or web app.

Discover urgent bugs, improve your user experience, and make your content QA smoother. All with a simple feedback button you can add to any web page. Screenshot functionality included.