Our tiny, two-person bootstrapped software company, Highview Apps, has recently passed $100k in total revenue. This is certainly a big milestone for us and took almost 2 years to get to this point. For some reason, it didn't feel that long and felt like we actually got here fairly quickly. Looking back, I realize that part of the reason is because we celebrated the small wins, which kept us going and motivated.
When you're just starting out, getting those initial customers and revenue is tough. No one knows about you. You have zero reviews. Your app is missing features your competitors have. The time you spend making improvements to the app will seem not worth it considering the revenue the app is generating.
But you have to think long term. If you have a SaaS product, for example, you may spend 100 hours building the MVP version of the app and another 100 hours of making improvements to get it to the point to stand out enough to bring in more customers and retain them. If you're a freelance developer who charges $100/hour and have no problem finding clients, that's $20k in income sacrificed to build this app. And yet, 6 months from launch, your app may have generated only $5k in revenue. But you also know that because of the subscription-based model, in a couple of years you could be much further ahead and all that effort could pay off only if you can survive that long.
My co-founder and I both expected that it will be slow and could take about 3 years before the business gets to a point where we can replace our full-time salary as software developers. We're actually still only working on the business part-time. I still have a consulting gig and my co-founder still has a full-time job. You can tell we're both pretty risk-averse.
Acknowledging and celebrating the small wins along the way really helps. You feel good when you do it as you're seeing progress, however small. It motivates you to keep going and gets you excited to see what else is possible.
It felt great getting those first few paying customers. When you get a positive review. When you hit $1k in MRR. When you get featured on the Shopify app store. When you reach 100 paying customers. When you break the previous month's record. When your customers start recommending you to others. When those blog posts you wrote months ago finally started getting you customers. When you release a feature and actually see your customers use it. When a customer tells you they get 100x return from what they're paying for your app every month (and maybe a hint to raise the price!).
Celebrating them doesn't have to involve anything big either. Often times, my co-founder and I basically just virtual high-five each other on Slack, discuss it for a bit, and get ourselves pumped up for the day. Sometimes I'd treat myself to a nice dinner, go see a movie, take the afternoon off, or allocate additional time to play video games. The important thing is to pause for a moment, acknowledge it, and reward yourself with something.
Getting a business off the ground takes time, especially if you're bootstrapping. While you will hear stories of companies who grew from $0 to $1M in ARR in one year, that's probably rare. For most of us, we'll just have to grind it out and keep going. Celebrating the small wins can help make that journey easier.