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Lessons learned from selling my side business to MessageMedia

Article by MessageMedia Product Manager, Jeremy Nagel.

Earlier this year, I sold my “side-hustle” Smooth Messenger, an SMS integration for Zoho CRM to MessageMedia, Australia’s largest SMS platform. All of a sudden, my “side job” had become my full-time job.

Selling a tech startup was a great learning experience and I thought I’d share some of the key takeaways for those who might be going through a similar process.

What triggered the “side-hustle”

After completing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, I soon encountered Zoho on a freelance assignment. After successfully building a database on the platform, I must have been noticed by the Zoho Marketplace team.

Despite having another full time job, I started getting requests to create small apps for Zoho Marketplace and in 2018 a new version of their SMS plugin for Zoho CRM.

With the support of an outsourced developer, my “side-hustle” turned into a plugin known as Smooth Messenger.
Despite the initial bugs, Smooth Messenger grew in popularity with users, and within months its subscription revenue eclipsed every other Zoho app I’ve developed. What Smooth Messenger users liked the most was its user interface, which looked like an SMS.

They also appreciated our 24-hour customer service, managed by myself in Australia and a representative in the United States. Smooth Messenger has quickly become one of the best apps in Zoho Marketplace.

Despite initial successes, we have not rested on our laurels. We hired more developers to streamline the UI, speed up the backend, and create a mobile version of the app. As we improved our product and expanded its functionality, customers arrived in droves. Soon this “parallel hustle” took up so much of my time that I reduced my daily commitment to just two days a week.

Our sale started with a LinkedIn message

Tip – check your LinkedIn messages. MessageMedia’s corporate development team reached out via LinkedIn to ask if I was interested in exploring a potential acquisition opportunity. After doing some quick research on MessageMedia, I knew they were serious when it came to acquisitions.

Although there were other potential buyers, I felt the most positive about MessageMedia and eventually signed a deal with them. It came down to MessageMedia’s willingness to work with my team and help us resolve any transition-related issues along the way. Their experience with various integrations assured me that Smooth Messenger’s technology was in good hands. I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief when I handed over my ASIC key in exchange for a deposit into my bank account.

Introducing SMS for Zoho CRM by MessageMedia

I have since become a full-time employee of MessageMedia, continuing the good work that has been done for Smooth Messenger under its new name, SMS for Zoho CRM by MessageMedia. I also oversee its integration with the company’s broader product suite. It’s nice to be able to focus full time on the parts of the business that I love – building new features and talking to customers. I no longer have to worry about accounts payable or cash flow management and I have a wide range of resources and expertise to draw on for my work.

Before the acquisition, I dabbled in marketing without really knowing what I was doing. I now have a team of super savvy marketers in Australia and the US to help me promote our products. The technical challenges my team was facing were mitigated with support from MessageMedia engineers. My product management skills are constantly honed by being part of a community of practice and learning from an entire team of MessageMedia Product Managers who are dedicated to building SMS integrations for third-party apps.

So what did I learn?

1. Customer service reps are a lifesaver.

When your customer base is overseas, receiving customer support calls at 5 a.m. is no fun. Getting help in this aspect has definitely helped me maintain some mental health.

2. Find a niche.

I may not be the best programmer, marketer, or UX designer, but I’m good enough to stand out in the Zoho ecosystem. This has allowed me to build some reputation with Zoho customers and integration partners who have helped Smooth Messenger reach critical mass.

3. Opinions matter.

One of the main reasons MessageMedia wanted to buy Smooth Messenger was the quantity and quality of customer reviews. Being well rated definitely helps you stand out.

4. UX and UI matter.

I’ll always credit a genius customer who suggested an iMessage-style interface for Smooth Messenger. Our move to an iMessage-style interface has improved Smooth Messenger’s usability and given us an edge as an SMS app on Zoho Marketplace.

5. Accept any bugs along the way

In the early stages of new technology, there will always be obstacles in the way. It is best to correct these errors before your customer base and rating increase. Additionally, bugs allow you to see the true popularity of an app. If you turn off the backend for a few hours and no one notices, that’s probably not solving customer issues. With Smooth Messenger, even half an hour of downtime resulted in a deluge of customer emails.

In the end, what matters most to all of us is that we continue to learn from everything, including our challenges, our mistakes, our successes, and even what others are doing. By learning valuable lessons from our experiences, we can continue to hone our craft and master our craft. For side-hustlers, this might even translate to a living wage, and I hope this serves as inspiration for your journey.

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