If you don’t know Laura Roeder, let me introduce you with a quick and impressive list of facts:
- Started her first business at 22
- Named one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under 30 in 2011, 2013, and 2014
- Spoke at the White House on entrepreneurship in 2011
- Has way more Twitter followers and email subscribers than all of us
I actually met Laura years ago on my first ever Zoom meeting. Of course, she was a total pro, having run MeetEdgar as a remote-first company for years. I thought we were just having a phone call and was trying to do it from my car when I realized I needed to download an app, and then my camera turned on. So Laura’s first words to me were, “What are you doing? Why don’t you just get settled and call me back?” (This was circa 2017. I promise my Zoom skills have improved a bit since then.)
Apparently, I managed to redeem myself, because in 2021 when she decided she was ready to sell her social media management SaaS, MeetEdgar, she reached out to me by email to see if SureSwift would be interested.
We were, and we acquired MeetEdgar later that year.
Laura recently agreed to get on another Zoom call with me (I think she’ll say I nailed it this time) to share more about founding MeetEdgar, the hard parts of running a business, what no one tells you about SaaS metrics, why she loves bootstrapping, and what she’s teaching her kids about entrepreneurship.
As a veteran entrepreneur, esteemed Tweeter, and outspoken blogger, Laura is a well of inspiration and information for Founders and I especially love that she’s willing to talk about the hard topics. So let’s get to it.
An Interview with MeetEdgar Founder, Laura Roeder
I think a lot of our readers will know you, Laura! You’re a big name in the bootstrapping world. But for anybody who doesn’t, could you tell us about your background and your entrepreneurial story?
Well, I started my first business when I was 22. I was a freelance designer working on logos, websites, and business cards. Then making websites for people kind of turned into giving them advice about everything around online marketing — especially social media marketing, which was a new thing around 2008.
Twitter had just launched and businesses were trying to figure out how to use it. So basically, someone told me, “I would pay you just to tell me how Twitter works.” And I was kind of like, “Why? That sounds like the best business ever.” It felt a lot easier than coding a website, to just tell people how Twitter worked. So I started doing it for free for people whose websites I had made.
And that’s really how I got into social media marketing, which quickly turned into doing online courses. So I had an online course business from 2008 or so to when I launched MeetEdgar in 2014. And MeetEdgar actually came directly from a course I was teaching people to do manually what MeetEdgar does for you automatically.
Even though you were fairly early in the social media management game, it was an established category, so you had to compete with a lot of businesses and a lot of big VC money. How did you really differentiate yourself and grow the company?
What differentiated MeetEdgar then is really still true. It’s a different way to think about social media, where you’re building a library of your content and really viewing it as a body of work that you want to distribute instead of taking an ‘update of the day’ view.
And even though we had competitors like HootSuite who eventually had hundreds of millions in funding, we had a very different workflow. So competitors weren’t able to pop our functionality on top of theirs. It’s just a fundamentally different way to think about your social media marketing.
I also wanted to ask about integrating with these massive companies like Twitter and Facebook, and how that worked for you as a small, bootstrapped team. They have huge dev teams and they roll out a lot of changes.
I kind of knew what I was in for there, because I had been doing social media courses. Some of them were very detailed like “here’s a video of where you click on Facebook to find this setting.”
So I had already felt the pain of Facebook changing that screen. All of a sudden my video would be useless, and I’d have to create the whole thing all over again. So I knew that would be a challenging part of running a business like MeetEdgar.
What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t ever have a contact at Facebook. I thought maybe there would be some sort of human out of the thousands of Facebook employees who might be interested in talking to us. They’re not.
To this day, people will email me and ask me who my contact there is and I’m like, “Sorry, I don’t have one. Good luck.”
So the integrations part was definitely a challenge. But the way I think of it is that every business has a supply chain of one kind or another that relies on external vendors somewhere. So MeetEdgar did have some parts of it that made it more vulnerable than some businesses, but it’s a bit of a fantasy to think you’re going to have a business where no external forces can cause problems for you.
Tell me about the process of deciding to sell. What did that look like for you?
I think I always knew I would sell the business at some point — that was actually one of the things that really appealed to me about SaaS. With the course business I had before, I was the teacher and the face of it. So it was a business that didn’t have a lot of value to anyone else. So when I wanted to move on, I didn’t sell it. I basically just shut it down and used its assets for MeetEdgar.
So one of the reasons I wanted to start a SaaS was to create an asset that I could sell at some point down the line. I also think that when you start a social media scheduling tool, you don’t imagine that your grandchildren will run it someday. It’s just not that kind of business.
I know some people feel like they’re getting rid of their baby, and it’s this thing that they’ve been so attached to. But it wasn’t a traumatic decision for me. Obviously, it was important to me, and it was my creation. But I think knowing from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be mine forever and not being too deeply emotionally attached to it was helpful.
And part of why you decided to sell when you did was to focus on a new project, right? Tell me more about your new thing.
It’s called Paperbell, and we launched about a year ago. It’s a tool for coaches — think life coaches, not sports coaches — to run their business. So it does scheduling, billing, contract signing, and client CRM stuff. Usually, coaches are using different tools for all of those things. Paperbell is one place to bring it all together.
How’s it going so far?
It’s going well — it’s grown steadily, but not as fast as MeetEdgar. But what I realize now is that the beauty of MeetEdgar was that we were in an established category, which is interesting, because a lot of people are so scared of that.
But with MeetEdgar, people are looking for a social media scheduling tool. They find a list of them, Edgar is one of them, and they might choose it.
With Paperbell, it’s really a new category. And we’re not the absolute first SaaS in it — others do exist — but none of them have put the force behind it to make it super mainstream. So people are not Googling “which coaching business management tool should I use?” So, the marketing is totally different, where we have to just get in front of coaches with content marketing instead of people looking for us. So, in that way, it’s harder, but I can still do my content marketing thing.
And you’re bootstrapping it, right?
Yeah. We’re currently in the six figures of annual revenue. That was enough for me to feel that this is a thing and it’s working. And that was a big thing in selling MeetEdgar — I wanted to get Paperbell to the point where I knew we at least had baseline product/market fit before I went all in.
I had also listened to a lot of podcasts where people who sold their business and didn’t have their next thing ready just had a major crisis and got super depressed. And in some ways, it would probably be good to have some time in my life where I can have this huge identity crisis because I have to say I’m very attached to my entrepreneur identity. To achieve any enlightenment in this life I probably need to detach from that, but I don’t need to have that crisis right now!
Ha! Yeah, I think you have plenty of time for an existential crisis later. I really love that part of your story — that you had a specific goal for your new business before you sold.
I think there’s a real trap with successful entrepreneurs. You can get some amnesia about how hard it is when in reality doing well once takes a 5% success rate to maybe 10% on your next thing.
I know you as someone who’s really good at optimizing businesses though, and I think that along with product-market fit really gives you a leg up. Talk to me about how you found time to work on MeetEdgar, prep it to sell, and start a new business all at the same time.
Well, a key part of my story is that I was pregnant when we launched MeetEdgar. So I knew I would be taking on maternity leave within the first year of the business. We launched in the summer of 2014 and my son was born in June of 2015. So, it was really quite early in the business.
I talked to a lot of women who had founded startups to get advice on how to handle it. And basically, I decided from a business perspective that I really needed to make sure that I could take two months off. When you have a baby, you don’t know what the early months will be like. The baby could have health problems. You could have health problems.
So purely from a business planning perspective, I planned to be off for at least two months, and that just forced me to optimize things. I always joke that everyone should be pregnant when they launch a business, because it’s a great forcing function for making sure the business does not rely on you. You know the business has to keep not just going but growing. So that set me off right from day one making sure I had a business that was not dependent on me.
That’s great. When we were at Founder Summit in 2021, Moritz Dausinger, who sold us Docparser and Mailparser, said something sort of similar. He lives in France, and many people there take August off. He wants to be able to do that, too, so his business needs to be able to run without him for a month every year. Maybe we’ll change the title of this post to “Why you need to get pregnant or live in France to be a successful entrepreneur” and go viral.
Being serious though, I want to touch on something you said. You said you weren’t attached to MeetEdgar, but you also said you’re very attached to your identity as an entrepreneur. And I think that’s a really important distinction. Being an entrepreneur is different than your identity as the Founder and CEO of MeetEdgar. It’s broader than a single business. That probably makes selling and all sorts of other business decisions easier.
Totally. And I think that definitely ties into the business running without you thing, right? Because if you know that your business can run fine and grow without you, it’s easier to think of it as something that really does exist separately from you. And I think that’s a healthy attitude for any business owner.
I think pretty much every Founder needs that advice (myself included). You ran MeetEdgar for a long time, and your involvement level shifted between being lighter and heavier — especially in the last year of running it. Can you talk a little more about that final year before selling?
Yeah. We actually let the whole MeetEdgar team go at the beginning of 2021 and my plan at that moment was to put the business into a freelancer and maintenance mode. And of course that was a tough decision, and we could talk just about that for hours.
But from my perspective, I was no longer okay with the business being stagnant and I knew something needed to change.
We ran like that for a few months, but finally it just came down to the fact that I’d always planned to sell at some point, and it felt like the moment. I just felt totally ready to move on. I had to make a lot of business decisions in a short time for it to really be ready to sell.
You did a great job of that — if the business had been in decline, we wouldn’t have been able to buy it, so you really showed that it could be turned around and run profitably.
I think it’s good to talk about because you often don’t hear about any kind of ups and downs with SaaS. People just act like every SaaS business just goes up every month, forever. And then when yours stops going up every month, you start talking to other people, and you’re like, wait a minute, a bunch of other people have been through this as well.
No one blogs about it though. But once it happens to you, you can sort of start guessing what happened when the people who were always sharing their MRR stop all of a sudden.
But assuming a SaaS business just always grows forever is a pretty weird assumption, because you don’t assume that about any other business. Especially with these growth rates that we often expect from SaaS businesses — thinking that they’re gonna double every year. If you look around at other businesses, that’s not normally how things go.
So now I know that just like other types of businesses, SaaS businesses can have flat periods. They can have periods where they’re losing revenue. And they can have super high growth periods. And you don’t need to panic when the flat or declining periods come, but you do need to evaluate what your next strategic move is going to be. And that doesn’t mean that the business has failed. The business isn’t over just because you’re not experiencing the growth that you once were.
I think that’s such a great topic that is not talked about a lot in the Founder community. We do all see these charts that just go up and to the right. I can tell you from running a portfolio of SaaS that they don’t all do that forever.
Since we’re talking about hard topics, can we talk a bit about letting the team go?
Sure. I think almost every business owner would agree that letting people go is the worst part of owning a business. But it’s obviously worse for the people you’re letting go. There was just a public thing about the guy who fired like 1,000 people and was talking about himself the whole time, saying, “this is really hard for me.”
I saw that. About 10 seconds in and I was like, nope, swipe away. This is not something I want to see.
I know. I didn’t actually watch it either. We gave people a good severance and tried to help them find their next role, but ultimately, there’s just no nice way to spin it. It sucks for the person or people you’re letting go, but if it’s the right decision for the business and for you as a Founder, sometimes you have to make those hard decisions.
I would say the best thing you can do as a business owner is be really financially savvy. Do financial projections so you can see these things coming. The worst thing to do is to have to tell someone, “We’re doing a layoff and you have to go immediately and you’re not getting any severance because this was a big surprise.” But unfortunately, that happens in businesses all the time, and it doesn’t need to if you’re on top of your financials.
So, you know, it’s something that just has to happen in a business sometimes. But I think as the owner, what you can do is look at things like severance and covering insurance for a period of time. And then obviously whatever you can do to help people find their next role. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) try to put any kind of positive spin on it. It’s just a crappy thing for anyone to go through, so don’t pretend otherwise.
Thanks for being willing to talk about that. I think a lot of Founders will benefit from hearing about your experience.
I want to switch gears a little and ask what lessons you’re bringing with you from MeetEdgar to your new business. What are you doing the same that you feel like you learned the hard way already? And what are you gonna do differently this time around?
One thing that we are doing very differently is the team structure. We’re doing an agency model, meaning that we’re not hiring full-time employees and plan to continue scaling up working with freelancers and agencies.
That’s very different than how I ran MeetEdgar. We were just always really big on having everyone be on the team full-time. I wanted people who were totally devoted to it, where it was their only thing.
And now I’m doing the total opposite where no one has Paperbell as their only thing. I genuinely don’t feel like one is better or worse. This was just a model that I was interested in exploring for the new business because it’s giving us a lot of flexibility where we can focus on different things for a shorter amount of time.
With a developer, you know your tech stack and maybe it makes sense to hire someone full-time with that skill set. But with marketing, sometimes it’s all about pay-per-click, sometimes it’s all about partnerships, then later we decide we’re going to create a podcast. It can be really hard to find someone who’s going to be able to do an amazing job with all of those roles.
So going with a freelancer model gives us the flexibility to put a ton of budget into something, but maybe just for three months to get it up and running. Or we can decide we’re not focusing on it anymore at all after that. I was really interested in being able to have that flexibility. So that’s something that’s fun to play around with right now.
What about bootstrapping vs. raising? You’ve done both and I think people can get very dedicated to one path or the other — although the conversation is getting a little more nuanced lately. What’s your current take?
I’m actually hardcore for bootstrapping. Even though I have raised, going down that route just made me love bootstrapping even more. But yeah, I do agree with you that the conversation is starting to change, and I think it’s a good thing that it’s starting to get less black and white and that we’re seeing more options for Founders.
But I just really value the freedom in bootstrapping. When I raised money, I felt so beholden to my investors. And that wasn’t because of them at all — my investors were angel investors that were friends of mine. So none of them were reaching out bothering me or anything.
But I found it inherently stressful knowing that I was responsible for their money. And I can’t imagine raising 100 million of someone else’s money. It would just make me feel like I couldn’t take a day or a week off because I’m supposed to be creating this outcome for someone else as quickly as possible.
So for me, I love bootstrapping. And for Paperbell, I didn’t consider taking outside money. Now I see people doing things like crowdfunding, just to get people on board. It’s sort of like a marketing channel, which I think can be a really creative way to do it. Or sometimes you have someone you want to partner with, so you give them a little bit of equity. It can mean a lot of different things. For me, I just know I love the total freedom of not having any shareholders.
Also, I have to say, when you sell your business, it makes it a lot easier. One person, one vote, you have an agreement, and that’s that.
Ha, I thought maybe Chris had at least half a vote with MeetEdgar. Maybe I read that wrong.
We did talk about it. Legally I was the 100% owner though, and he really likes to own the development side of things and I own the business and marketing sides.
He was really on board with selling the business, though. Honestly working in it was more stressful for him than for me, because as the developer if something broke, he was the one who had to fix it. And that was especially true when we didn’t have a team to support him anymore and he was just on call for anything code related.
I should back up for our readers. Chris is your husband, and he was the dev lead for MeetEdgar, and I’m assuming for Paperbell now. What’s it like running a business with your spouse? How do you keep your personal and business relationships separate?
It works really well for us. We do have very different skill sets. He’s totally happy to let me run the business. He wants to code and he does not want to worry about this stuff. He’s interested in business, but he’s not listening to business podcasts and reading business books, which is what I’m doing 24/7. He reads a lot of Hacker News and super technical articles about code and he loves that stuff.
So we have a really good partnership as far as having very different strengths. And definitely for us — and I think this is advice that applies to a lot of people, whether or not you’re also married to your business partner — the more you can separate out your areas of the business, the better.
Having very clear boundaries of what you own and what the other person owns makes things so much easier because you don’t have to discuss everything. Like if you know, ‘I own product and finance decisions, and you own marketing decisions,’ you won’t feel the need to hash out all the details with your business partner every time you need to decide something.
And in terms of our personal lives, we don’t try to not talk about work at certain times. I know some people in the same situation set rules about not talking about work during certain hours. But we’re excited about our work, so we do talk about it all the time.
Sometimes though, we do have to shut it down. We’ll start this little side conversation and then it becomes like this thing where I’m like, oh my god, we need like a wall chart right now, and we need to read all this customer research… and here we are at the dinner table with our kids and it’s gone too far.
So sometimes I think you have to put a box around if you accidentally start having this really detailed, serious discussion. But I never felt like we needed to have super clear boundaries or rules around when we can talk about work.
So you definitely talk about work around your kids, but I’m curious how do you talk about business with them? Do you want them to be entrepreneurs someday?
My kids are super young. They’re three, and then one is just about to be seven. But I do try to plant the seeds. Actually, Chris disagrees with me about this. I think that they should be entrepreneurs. He’s very much in the camp that they should just do whatever they want. And I’m like… sorta. Ha! I just think it’s really compelling to be able to earn money without being ‘at work.’
And of course I want to be respectful of how other families do things, too. I don’t want to come across as thinking, ‘it’s so much better to work for yourself and it’s terrible to have a job.’ So I don’t want to plant that idea in their heads.
But I do try to talk to them about how their dad and I run a business. Our son’s a bit older, so I’ve told him before that our business makes money all the time — when we’re asleep, and on the weekend — people are buying things from us, because they can just buy it on the internet. And I tell him that’s how we get money for our family to buy things like our groceries.
And I’ll definitely keep talking to them about it as they get older. I do genuinely think that anyone who works should know how to freelance. I just think that every person should know how to sell a skill and get money for it. So definitely when they’re teenagers, I’m gonna make sure that they start thinking about what skill that might be for them. It could be doing hair — it doesn’t have to be on the internet.
Well, I’ll give it 10-15 years, but I’ll keep an eye out for more Roeders we can buy businesses from!
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