How a Startup-Addicted Engineer Turned His Side Project Into a Profitable SaaS Business Sale

What does it take to build a SaaS business from a side project, to scale, to a sale in just 2 years?

Plus, hear from one of our product managers on what a product transition looks like at SureSwift.

Kishin Manglani’s resume reads like a “Who’s Who” of the startup world. He’s been an early employee at tech startups like Venmo, Bustle, Hatch/Tinder, and others. So it was pretty natural that his passion for startups extended into his personal life. In 2016 he founded the ChargeStripe app, which helps small businesses accept credit card payments on their smartphones. The app has now grown to work with over 25 currencies, in 120 countries and 8 different languages around the world.

As someone who loves building from scratch, Kishin quickly realized he wanted to sell the app when it grew to needing full-time attention, and he sold the SaaS business to SureSwift in 2018.

Kishin sat down with us recently to talk about what it was like to build ChargeStripe from the ground up, and how he knew it was time to sell it. ChargeStripe’s SureSwift Product Manager, Radu Irava, also chimed in with what’s been going on with the app since our purchase.

An interview with Kishin Manglani, Founder of ChargeStripe

What was the #1 reason that you decided to start your own business? Were you doing it as a side project, or was it your full time gig?

I started ChargeStripe as a side project. I love building things from scratch.

An interview with Kishin Manglani, Founder of ChargeStripe

When you were deciding on the tools that you were going to use to run ChargeStripe, how did you pick those? Was it totally through personal research, groups of peers, cost based, a bit of all the above? We’d love to hear more about this.

I mostly chose tools that were simple to use and cost effective. I wanted tools that were straightforward to use, and I could easily integrate into my current workflow, since I was building ChargeStripe as a side project. I also wanted to choose cost-effective tools because ChargeStripe wasn’t making nearly as much money in the early days. Plus, every dollar you save is a dollar earned.

Once you had money coming in and you knew this product just might work, what was your goal? Was it hitting certain MRR number? Was it selling it? Tell me a little about what your plans were once you saw ChargeStripe could generate real revenue.

At first, the goal was to increase the revenue each month. I just wanted a side project that would generate some revenue and keep me excited. Each month, ChargeStripe would shatter my expectations, and I’d meet the goals I had set much earlier than anticipated.

At what point did you know it was time to sell ChargeStripe?

Once ChargeStripe was bringing in significantly more than my day job, I knew I either needed to work on it full-time or sell it. While I was really excited by the prospect of working on it full-time, I also really enjoy working on a business in the early stages, like I mentioned earlier. I had another app in the healthcare space that was just starting to get some traction that I wanted to work on as my new “side project.” At that point, I knew the best thing to do for ChargeStripe and its customers was to leave the app in good hands to a team that cared as much about its users as I did, and that’s when I found SureSwift.

Tell me a bit about the selling process, what were you looking for and how did you know who to trust?

Since this was a side project and I was still working full-time, I was looking for a seamless, hassle-free sale. I was also looking for a team that would really take care of the product and customers like I did. And finally, I wanted someone who was looking to build out more features and improve the processes I had in place to ensure ChargeStripe was in good hands.

While I was nervous about who I could trust early on, everyone I spoke with calmed those nerves — especially SureSwift. When I spoke to the SureSwift team, I told them I was looking for a hassle-free sale and that’s exactly what I got.

Now that your product found a new home with SureSwift Capital, what are you hoping for with the future of ChargeStripe?

I was hoping for someone who would take care of my customers, take the tech to the next level with new features, and keep growing the brand.

The SureSwift team has done a great job of maintaining my high standards for customer support and has continued to grow the customer base. We’ve also launched several new features since the sale and ChargeStripe is continuing to be one of the leaders in the space.

An interview with Radu Irava, SureSwift Product Manager for ChargeStripe

We talk a lot at SureSwift about how we take care of our portfolio’s customers, and their teams after a sale. No one can share this better than our product managers, who oversee everything from bug fixes and adding new features to customer happiness and growth.

So we chatted with ChargeStripe’s Product Manager, Radu Irava, to hear what it’s like to take on responsibility for a product someone else built, what he’s excited about creating for ChargeStripe in 2020, and what the team supporting ChargeStripe at SureSwift looks like now.

Tell us a bit about what it was like to take over as the Product Manager for ChargeStripe?

I have experience in mobile product management and development, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to jump in and bring the business to the next level.

I joined SureSwift after ChargeStripe was acquired, so I didn’t have the chance to work directly with Kishin, unfortunately. However this didn't make the transition difficult. The team had good documentation of the existing processes and features so things went smoothly.

In general, I find taking over existing products very exciting because once I make an audit of the business, I can use my experience to suggest product and growth initiatives that really move the needle.

For example, in February 2019, after my first month managing ChargeStripe, revenue was up more than 50% compared to February 2018, making this the best month ever for ChargeStripe. Then March 2019 revenue was up 25% compared to February 2019. Since then we've consistently beaten those figures. This wouldn’t have been possible without the great foundation Kishin had built, and the resources the SureSwift team was able to add to the product.

You work on a couple of products across SureSwift’s portfolio, what’s your approach to product management, and what are some of your specific goals with ChargeStripe?

I have a technical background, so for me it’s always easy to work with developers to figure out what can be done from a technical perspective, what it will cost, and to negotiate estimates and scope.

On the other hand I'm very customer oriented and like to go through support tickets, send out surveys and jump on calls for customer interviews.

And I always try to keep in mind the business objectives that I want to optimize for. For ChargeStripe, some important KPIs that I’m always trying to optimize for are: revenue, profitability, labor as percentage of cost, CLTV, and CAC.

I think a good product manager should be able to balance these three domains — the technical side, customer happiness, and business objectives — really well, and combine hard skills and soft skills for the benefit of the customers and the team.

What makes something a great product to work on, from your perspective? What makes you passionate about the work?

I love connecting the dots and solving problems. I consider myself a creative person but I’m also very logical. Product management gives me the opportunity to use these skills effectively while enjoying every single moment.

For me a great product to work on is a software product with a great team behind it. By "great team," I don't mean it has to have a lot of people, but the group should be open, communicative, willing to grow and improve. I found that this is the environment in which I perform best, and SureSwift has been a great place for that.

What feature or accomplishment are you proudest of since you’ve been working on ChargeStripe and what are your next goals for ChargeStripe?

The three accomplishments I'm most proud of are consistent revenue growth, great customer reviews, and building team synergy.

There are a lot of exciting things coming for ChargeStripe: new features, better serving our customer base, and improving our online presence are all things we’ll be working on in the next 12-18 months.

Tell me a bit about the team who supports ChargeStripe now. Who are they, and what do they do?

The core team of ChargeStripe consists of: Joey, who is in charge of Customer Happiness, Brian, our iOS and backend developer, Jerome, our Android developer, and me, the Product Manager.

The nice part about working at SureSwift is that there is a great talent pool of specialized people that you can bring on board for a few hours per week or per month to help with various activities, or just to exchange some ideas with. We’re able to tap content writers, marketing and SEO experts, UI/UX designers, and other people who work across our SaaS portfolio to make ChargeStripe the best product it can be.

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