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Jake Singer

How Swapstack's advertising marketplace has sent $2M+ to newsletter writers


Connecting brands to newsletter audiences for relevant sponsorships.


Monthly Revenue

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What's your personal background? What motivated you to start your own company?

I had worked at Amazon as a product manager for nearly 5 years before starting Swapstack. To be honest, after a while I realized that I simply don't like working at a big company. My primary motivation in starting Swapstack was to avoid needing to ever do that again!

What no code tools did you use to build Swapstack and what purpose did each play in the final product?

Swapstack heavily relies on no code tools! For our MVP, Swapstack was basically a web of Airtable, Zapier, and Slack automations that connected brands with newsletter writers.

Once we decided to build an actual product, we chose to build the app on Bubble, and that is still our platform of choice today. The entire app is built on Bubble, but we've used code to add a fair few custom APIs and other scripts. Similarly, we save a lot of our data in a SQL database which allows us to use Metabase for data dashboards.

For a while, our landing page was made on Webflow. We eventually upgraded that to a real coded landing page (using React & Gatsby).

The Swapstack dashboard

What were the initial costs to get Swapstack off the ground?

Our costs are almost entirely just the cost of software. We used startup credits from On Deck (the founder's fellowship) to get most of our stuff for free, so I would say it was very cheap or free to build the Swapstack MVP.

Now our ongoing software costs are somewhere around $500/month (it's a bit hard to estimate, as a lot of these are on annual plans, etc).

What was the process of building your product from idea to launching?

The initial idea came from writing my newsletter The Flywheel; I was looking for an easy way to monetize it and I wasn't impressed with the options I found on the market. I teamed up with my cofounder, and we started by building an MVP to validate whether we could solve a problem for users on both sides of this marketplace. This basically was a few databases in Airtable, which we represented as a 'gallery'. Newsletters could look up brands, request an intro to them, and if the brand said yes, we introduced them via email.

After enough signals of traction, we decided to launch a real product. The first product was very very simple; we simply allowed people to invoice on Swapstack (built on Bubble). We decided to launch with a business model that charges a fee to the payer (which is somewhat unusual), and this product allowed us to validate whether brands would be willing to pay an additional fee on top of the advertising fee charged by the newsletter.

Once we gained confidence that they would, we started building more and more pieces of the original Airtable flow into Bubble. Now the full product is on Bubble, users on both sides of the marketplace can pitch the other side, and we've been adding additional features every week.

How do you attract customers?

Right now our growth mainly comes from (1) manual outreach, (2) some automatic scraping of various directories, and (3) word of mouth. Once a user signs up, we try to talk to every one to help make sure they can be as successful as possible on the platform.

What are the biggest challenges you've overcome building Swapstack?

We're still learning a lot about how to build our business. I would say we're still seeking true product-market fit, and so every week or month teaches us something new about what users need, etc. We've had a number of weeks where we just stopped signing up new users, which were all very challenging. Thankfully none of these lasted more than a week or so.

We've also run into some issues building on Bubble - for a while the team building there was 2 (now it's back to 1), and collaborating in Bubble is still not an amazing experience.

Lastly, though this is a "good" problem, we've learned more and more about what different types of larger companies need in order to process payments, and our simple invoicing tool sometimes isn't sufficiently sophisticated for the larger brands.

What's your advice for non-technical people who want to start a company?

My biggest advice is to spend a little time learning how to code. I am a big fan of no code, but I spent a lot of time learning how to code well before starting Swapstack, and it has been really valuable even though we've relied mostly on no code tools. At the end of the day, no code websites ultimately translate to HTML, CSS, and Javascript, nocode database tools translate to some kind of database language, and no code apps translate to whatever technology they use. Could you make use of no code tools without knowing how to code at all? Of course. But if you want to really command these tools, having at least a basic understanding of how the relevant technologies work is really useful.

What are your future plans for Swapstack?

We're working on it full time, and are actually in the middle of raising a pre-seed round. Our goal is to keep growing Swapstack: we want to be one of the main ways brands find and work with creators. We plan to expand beyond just newsletters into other creator types, and build product that enables us to appeal to larger companies (whereas now we've hit a sweet spot with startups).

How do you think the rise of no code tools will impact entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is a trial and error process, and anything that can reduce the cost of trial is going to be a net positive impact on entrepreneurship.

I look at no code as just an evolution of what was already happening with software. AWS and other cloud technologies made it cheaper and easier to start a company, because they basically eliminated those first-time fixed costs of setting up servers. But you still needed to know how to code, and if you were not a technical founder, you had a "fixed cost" of finding a technical cofounder who could build your company for you.

With no code, that fixed cost is becoming less of a requirement for validation. The ability to validate business ideas is becoming approachable to anyone. Post-validation, you may then choose not to build your company on no code, but it's a lot better to make that call after you've validated an idea than before.

Update as of July 10, 2023

  1. Revenue grew from $7k/month to $20K/month
  2. We've sent $2M to newsletter writers (up from $300k)

How things have grown since the original interview in October 2021:

We've been focusing a lot more on two key priorities: (1) helping drive better marketing performance for anyone spending money on our platform, and (2) shifting from a pure marketplace to more of a platform. We've seen lots of great growth in both of these efforts, and are focusing really closely on things that drive repeatable revenue.

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