Table of Contents
- Tell us about your product and what inspired you to start it?
- How long did it take you to acquire your first 50 customers, and what was your growth strategy?
- Which technology stack are you using and what challenges and limitations does it pose?
- What are some of the most essential tools that you use for your business?
- What have been some of the biggest insights you've gained since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
- Your recommended books/podcasts/newsletters etc.:
Vance Lucas is the founder of BudgetSheet - a tool for live bank transactions + Google Sheets
Tell us about your product and what inspired you to start it?
BudgetSheet is a Google Sheets Extension that allows you to easily and automatically import bank transactions and track balance updates over time. No more copying & pasting from CSV files or bank file exports.
I made BudgetSheet for myself because I was frustrated with other alternatives. Some of the alternative budgeting apps are clunky, lock you into budgeting a particular way, take multiple clicks and screens to do basic things like mass re-categorization, or just simply prevent you from really digging into your own bank data. I found myself constantly saying "all I want is my own data in my own spreadsheet".
How long did it take you to acquire your first 50 customers, and what was your growth strategy?
Once I made the extension for myself, it wasn't too much extra work to put it on the Google Workspace Marketplace for others to find and use too. I didn't have a marketing strategy initially because I mainly just put it out there to see if it would be useful to anyone else and if the idea would have any traction.
Despite MANY flaws in early versions of BudgetSheet, people really seemed to like it (the initial version was a VERY rough MVP). It took about 9 months to acquire 50 paying customers with several hundred free users as well. I limited the free account to a single bank account connection. That allowed people to try it out with 1 bank account, and then pay for a subscription to link more if they liked it.
I got some early users and fans from a Reddit post I made before building it in the /r/personalfinance subreddit. I advertised shortly after launch on BetaList (bought a paid listing for $199 and provided a coupon code), paid $149 for a pinned post on a large Facebook group for Google Sheets and Spreadsheet lovers, and a DEV.to listing I had free credits for.
The vast majority of my users though come from the Google Workspace Marketplace for Addons and Extensions and the website via more long-tail SEO plays and search keywords.
Which technology stack are you using and what challenges and limitations does it pose?
BudgetSheet is full stack TypeScript. The whole website, API, and webservice are built with Next.js and deployed to Vercel with AWS Lambda functions for serverless API endpoints. The PostgreSQL database is hosted on AWS in the same region.
Serverless deployments provide a ton of upsides like no servers to manage or maintain, no worries about scaling, no SSL certs to manage, PCI and SoC compliance built in, etc. but it does come with some tradeoffs. I had to upgrade to a paid Vercel Team account early on due to low runtime limits for Lambda functions. The 1-second runtime on the free plan was cutting off responses that took longer than that to fetch bank transactions. If a user had a lot of connected banks or was fetching transactions for a large date range, it often takes longer than a second to retrieve these. The paid plan gives each endpoint up to 1 minute runtime, and I have not hand any more issues since.
Serverless functions can also create too many database connections as they scale because each function run creates a new database connection (no long-running process). So if you are receiving a lot of requests, this can be an issue as you scale. I created my own database pooling proxy service to deal with it (AWS has a basic one too, so you don't have to do this). That service may eventually turn into another whole SaaS business, because it's a pretty useful service for me that records and monitors query performance over time and can be used in any Serverless environment or V8 isolate runtime (GitHub Actions, CI/CD pipelines, Cloudflare Workers, etc.) where typical database connections are not allowed.
Overall, Next.js + Vercel has been an incredible platform and experience. Very little downtime, no scaling issues or worries, awesome GitHub integration for deployments and preview deployments from PRs, and no stress about uptime, reliability, or security. I would 100% make the same technology choices again.
What are some of the most essential tools that you use for your business?
Gumroad is essential for collecting payments and issuing License Keys. It was the easiest way to get started collecting payments for BudgetSheet without having to build my own web service for it since Google Addons and Extensions don't have any payment service built in.
What have been some of the biggest insights you've gained since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
You don't have to do something new or fancy, and you don't have to follow any trends. Just solve a well-known need in a slightly different and better way. Personal finance is a well understood problem and is a very crowded space with lots of competition. Embracing "old school" spreadsheets isn't on trend. I don't have a fancy mobile app or web app. Yet despite all of this, BudgetSheet is a project where I have had the most success with the least amount of marketing effort out of any other project I have ever made. It solves a clear need in a direct way, and meets customers where they are - in the spreadsheet itself.
Your recommended books/podcasts/newsletters etc.:
If you only read one book, read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. It's a great book about how to talk to people and appeal to them in a real and genuine way.
Some podcasts I regularly listen to are "Akimbo" by Seth Godin, which is great for more general life advice and bigger picture things. "Startups for the Rest of Us" by Rob Walling is great for tech specific startups with actionable and tactical advice. And "My First Million" by Sam Parr and Shaan Puri, which covers a lot of different business ideas of all kinds and is just really fun to listen to.