Laura Roeder is known for putting together agile companies that put the customer first — including her current hit, Edgar, a SaaS product that hit a million dollars in revenue in its first year in business.
She excels at “keeping it simple” — maybe because for five years, she ran ultra-successful online education companies. She turned around and put those lessons into a software business — and she’s crushing it.
Laura leapt out on her own as a freelancer at 22, without giving it a lot of thought. As she laughingly put it in her Unemployable interview with Brian Clark, it was:
… probably the worst way to do it.
You can find that interview here: From Freelance Designer to SaaS Superstar
She hadn’t done any prep, she hadn’t lined up any clients … she didn’t even know what a proposal was.
Lesson #1: You learn by doing
While I don’t particularly recommend that approach for most of us, it underlies a key principle of starting a business:
You learn the real lessons by doing.
(If you’re looking for a lower-risk way to learn those lessons, the “side hustle” — a part-time business you can run in your spare time — is a fantastic middle road.)
Educating yourself is important — and you can find lots of techniques and strategies right here at Digital Commerce Institute.
But education is the initial, back-of-the-envelope sketch. It’s when you actually start building a project, product, and business that you really make that learning come to life.
And you can start small — with experimental products and services that don’t need you to “bet the farm.”
Speaking of which, that leads us to one of the most common misperceptions about people who launch businesses:
Is it true that entrepreneurs are extreme risk-takers?
Laura definitely has a bold, optimistic personality — it’s what led her to take that leap at 22.
But there’s a big difference between “bold” and “foolhardy.”
Smart digital entrepreneurs launch controlled, low-risk offerings, sometimes called the minimum viable product model, until they find the perfect mix of product and market.
Laura’s software business, Edgar, grew out of the needs of her online education company. And unlike a lot of software development (raise millions of dollars, spend a year writing code, then see if you can get some buyers), she was able to deploy Edgar quickly to find out if it would interest her market.
Her development costs were light enough that the tool was worth developing even if they only ever used it in-house. But instead, Edgar turned out to be a home run.
Lesson #2: Reduce risk through experimentation
One of the things that makes business interesting is the need to constantly pay attention to shifting landscapes and patterns. And that allows you to notice what’s working — even if it’s subtle — and to figure out how to do more of it.
It also helps you notice what isn’t working, so you can correct the issue.
It sounds simple, and sometimes it is, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But this kind of careful observation is the best business teacher around.
Lesson #3: Look for the bigger picture
At our company … one of the things we [ask employees] is, “Are you killing it?”
– Laura Roeder, from her interview on Hack the Entrepreneur
Laura values ownership in her company, giving each team member the information they need to make smart decisions without a lot of micromanagement.
How do they decide which decisions are smart? The ones that contribute to growth and excellent user experience — recognizing that success comes from the combined efforts of multiple teams and roles.
Rather than focus on one or two “KPIs” (key performance indicators) for each position, Laura recognizes that selling online is a matter of creating smart customer paths — and that requires a more holistic way of looking at teams and how they work together.
Her question to employees — Are you killing it? — makes room for a wider view of how the business is working.
Lesson #4: Focus on what you’re excellent at
Most founders, particularly in the early days, think of themselves as “chief cook and bottle washer.” In other words, they try to fill every single role in the company.
Laura, on the other hand, has always been strongly aware of her weak spots … which has allowed her to leverage her strengths.
As she said in her Hack the Entrepreneur interview:
“Something that I’m especially bad at is customer service”
But rather than allowing that to create an expensive blind spot that “customer service isn’t that important,” it led her to value her support team that much more.
In fact, Laura wrote a fascinating article with that point of view here: Stop Insulting Your Team by Making Everyone Do Customer Service.
A key aspect of entrepreneurial creativity is figuring out how you’re going to work with the gaps of your own weaknesses — whether that’s by hiring someone, partnering, or some other creative solution.
Lesson #5: Think like a marketer
Because of Laura’s background, she thinks like a marketer — which gives her a monster advantage as a business owner.
She’s open to new ideas, but she doesn’t fall in love with them — until she sees how they can serve the needs of her audience and expand out into a wider market.
That lets her start planning a new product, project, or company with the right question:
What audience problem is this going to solve? How will this delight the audience I’ve pulled together?
This customer-first thinking is the cornerstone for most successful business, and it’s an antidote to what I call “Inventor’s Syndrome” — grinding away to push an interesting technical idea that buyers just don’t share your enthusiasm for.
Her million-dollar business Edgar came out of an education product called Social Brilliant, which taught Laura’s methodology for social media.
Edgar was a natural evolution that came at the intersection of what Social Brilliant was doing well (advice on social media strategy) and the audience’s needs (better, simpler tools to implement the techniques).
Keeping her eyes open and her attention focused, she realized the need — then discovered from her Ruby-on-Rails programmer fiancé that creating an automation tool was totally doable.
(His assertion that “I can do that in a week” did turn out to be a bit overoptimistic. Welcome to software development!)
Hear more about Laura’s journey to SaaS founder
We’re excited that Laura will be joining us this October at our live Digital Commerce Summit in Denver, Colorado on October 13-14.
Laura’s going to spill the beans about her journey, starting as that cocky 22-year-old freelancer, becoming a high-profile information entrepreneur, and now heading a hot SaaS that hit the million-dollar revenue mark its first year in business.
Her talk is called Leveling Up: How I Went From Infoproducts to SaaS, and will take you behind the scenes to see exactly how a non-technical marketing mind used the skills she developed in online courses to quickly become a major player in a whole new industry.
Join is for a focused, single-track curriculum that will teach you how to level up to the next phase of your business — and will load you up with action steps that you can start moving on before you even get on the plane home.