First of all, I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year if it’s not already done somewhere else. The year 2021 is starting pretty wildly!
Musk becomes the richest man on earth, Bitcoin passes the $40k mark then crashes, the Capitol is invaded by Trump supporters, and Facebook bans the same Trump from its platform. But… Life goes on!
I wanted to dedicate this edition of Behind the Curtain to the last part of 2020, a little recap of 2020 for Snowball, and some plans for early 2021. Basically, that part (you can click to enlarge) 👇:
What will you find in this edition:
—> The Co-founder Era: how I met Anh-Tho, how we decided to work together, what we did together, why we decided to split.
In this section, I’ll share with you a great document you can use in order to see if you and your potential co-founder are a great match. (Thanks Marie for sharing that with us. By the way, if you’re interested in Health Tech, subscribe to Marie’s Substack: Careviser.)
—> Back to Being a Solo-founder.
In this section, you’ll see how the dynamic changed, and why.
—> The Snowball Year in Review 2020.
In this section, you’ll find key figures and events from 2020. If you’ve already read the Year in Review I did in French and published via Snowball, nothing new in here.
—> Plans For 2021.
Some stuff I’ll work on to take Snowball to the next level.
🤝 The Co-founder Era
I ended the last edition of Behind the Curtain with these words:
My decision around May was to work full-time on Snowball for the upcoming months, and maybe years.
That’s actually when I received this message from Anh-Tho:
But, I’ll leave this for the next edition of Snowball.
So here we are. What happened between May 2020 and today?
In May, Anh-Tho contacted me on Linkedin to talk about Snowball. We met at a cafe at Belleville in Paris, and from there began to exchange ideas around the personal finance landscape.
At the end of the summer, we decided to work together on this project as we quite matched on the kind of company we wanted to build, and on the problems that needed to be tackled in the personal finance universe in France and in Europe.
It’s pretty rare, I believe, to match on so many points when you meet a potential co-founder. But it’s actually what happened with Anh-Tho.
We were both interested in building a Human-centered company that could have a big social impact while being quite complimentary on the skills/business side. It might sound like a trivial thing, but believe me, it’s not that easy to math on those levels.
For a couple of months, we got to know each other, and try to compress this time period by working on a great document that Marie, a common friend, sent us.
This Gdoc is amazing. It’ll allow you to better understand your potential co-founder and avoid a lot of problems, issues, and discussions in the future. The document looks like that:
💡If you want to use this amazing document you can just click here and copy it on your Gdrive.
After both answering the questions of this document and meeting to discuss the answers, we were quite sure that working together could be possible.
Therefore, at the end of August 2020, we decided to start to raise some money in order to bring Snowball to the next level.
The vision we had at this point remains the same vision I have today for Snowball: a product/service made for Humans to manage and grow their wealth.
Not a complicated product made for hardcore traders or only the wealthiest, but something simple enough, biased-free, and transparent made for most of us in order to better manage our financial future.
We built a simple memo on Notion and started to approach different VCs and potential Business Angels.
The feedback and the interest from the market were quite encouraging. Many VCs accepted to talk to us, and the interest was genuine.
I even got the chance to pitch Snowball in front of a billionaire haha 😂 . In February 2020, if you’d have told me that a few months from now I’d try to raise money with a billionaire, I’d have told you that you were crazy. Anyway…
We also looked for advisors, and many people were quite interested in the project. Personal finance seems to be one of the rare things in tech that hasn’t been completely cracked by a startup (yet).
After a few months though, Anh-Tho realized that what she was really interested in was not a consumer-facing startup, but something closer to a B2B SaaS company. Luckily, we did not create any legal entity at this point and did not officialize our partnership.
In good harmony, we decided to split, to stay in touch, and to help each other for our next ventures.
By the way, congrats to Anh-Tho and her co-founders from the Qonto mafia who recently launched a new venture: Lago. More about this here (in French). 🙌
🙋♂️ Back to being a solo-founder
This new configuration did not stop my enthusiasm about the future of Snowball, but it made me realize that I had more than one option in front of me. Sure raising funds could be one, but was it really the one I wanted and needed at the moment?
I thought pretty thoroughly about the future of Snowball and the kind of company I wanted to build.
After a few days, I completely changed my strategy. I stopped talking to VCs except for the ones we had planned a call with. I realize that at this point I was not looking for explosive growth that usually comes with VC funds. I was looking for something calmer, healthier, and less stressful.
I did not downgrade the vision I had for Snowball, I just changed my strategy for the upcoming weeks, trying to bootstrap and grow my revenues as much as possible.
As for the future, am I looking for a co-founder?
I don’t think it’s the right approach. In my humble opinion, I don’t think you should look for a co-founder just to look for a co-founder. Sometimes it’s just better to be on your own, continue to move forward, and if an opportunity comes along, well fine, but I’m not roaming social networks or private groups in search of a potential co-founder.
Just like Anh-Tho appeared quite from nowhere, if a new opportunity exists somewhere, it’ll just appear at one point.
📅 The Snowball Year in Review
As some of you already know, I publish every year the Yolo Report, which is a yearly report made by a quantified-self freak: myself. Here’s the last one if you’re curious.
In the same spirit, I’ve decided to write one for Snowball, and here are some key figures and dates. Let’s start with the 2020 timeline for Snowball.
💌 13th of January 2020: the birth of the idea. Snowball was actually born in the Yolo Report 2019 where, for the first time ever, I talked about my personal finance.
💌 In late January, I publish a post on Linkedin to share this idea and test the demand. 1,050 likes and 1,077 comments.
💌 On valentine’s Day 2020, snowball.substack.com was born.
💌 on the 24th of February, subscriptions are open.
💌 On the 3rd of March, the first edition is sent.
💌 On the 19th of March, the Snowball mascot was born, but in a slightly different form. It was more like an egg in the beginning.
💌 On the 28th of April, the Premium (paid) version of Snowball is launched.
💌 24 hours later on the 29th of April, the $10,000 of projected revenues are reached.
💌 On the 27th of May, the Snowball mascot takes her current form:
💌 On the 14th of May, the Snowball app made with Glide is launched and Snowball reaches $20,000 of projected annual revenues.
💌 Early summer 2020: meeting with Anh-Tho
💌 On the 29th of July, the Snowball private community is launched on Peerboard.
💌 On the 30th of July, the $30,000 milestone is reached.
💌 Early October 2020, we decide to split with Anh-Tho.
💌 On the 22nd of October 2020, I buy Snowball.xyz for around $750 on Namecheap.
💌 On the 23rd of November, I create the charity Les Flocons (The Snowflakes in English) dedicated to young children's professional orientation.
Figures around the business model
Price: €6/month or €60/year
Substack fee: 10%
Stripe fee: 2.9% + 30cts per transaction
What I get without fees: €4.9/month or €52.10/year
Taxes: around 30% in France
What I get after fees and taxes: €3.53/month or €34.10/year. Almost half of the price tag
20% are redistributed to users and 20% to a charity.
There’s €2.06 left to Snowball for each monthly subscription, and €20.46 for each yearly subscription.
in 2020, €6,000 have been left aside for the cashback, and €6,000 for the charity.
This business model will surely evolve in the future. We’ll talk about that later.
At the end of 2020, Snowball had 7,050 total subscribers (free + paid):
Today we’re at around 8,300 total subscribers so 17.5% more than at the end of 2020.
The community grew at a 4.84% week over week rate or 20.8% month over month.
At the end of 2020, 1,385 subscribers decided to go paid:
Today, we’re at 1,630 paid subscribers or more than $100,000 of projected annual revenue:
Among these 1,630 paid subscribers, around 300 are students and do not actually pay for Snowball.
In 2020, the paid subscribers growth was around 7.12% week over week or 31.6% month over month.
In 2020, 109 persons have decided to leave Snowball. The churn rate is around 2.31%. In general, a healthy churn rate is in between 5 and 7%. So far so good.
71: the number of editions sent out in 2020.
291,881: the total number of words written. To give you a comparison, the entire Harry Potter saga is composed of around 1,000,000 words.
355: the number of hours (approximately) spent writing those newsletters.
2,269: number of Substack likes received.
56%: average open rate of the free version of Snowball.
76%: average open rate of the paid version of Snowball.
Other fun facts
203: the number of positive feedbacks I received by email.
73: the number of Whatsapp groups I’ve created to talk directly with founding members of Snowball (people who’ve decided to pay more than the annual price of €60).
6000: the number of newsletters I read or skimmed through in order to write Snowball.
€400: the price of all the subscriptions I pay per month related to Snowball (newsletters, tools, etc.).
2,251: number of LinkedIn followers of the Snowball page at the end of 2020.
441: number of Twitter followers.
After those facts & figures, let’s dive a little bit into the plans I have for Snowball in 2021.
🔮 My Plan for 2021
Ok, the hardest part in life. Planning…
Before talking about plans let’s quickly talk about Snowball’s vision.
As you might already know and as I already said many times, my plan for Snowball is not to keep it as a newsletter. It goes much further. The .xyz of www.snowball.xyz is part of the answer, but I’ll leave that for another edition. If we stay closer in time, my vision for Snowball is built on three pillars:
A/ Financial Education. I want people to better understand the personal finance universe and to increase their skills at this level. That’s what I’m currently doing.
B/ Personal financial advice. When you understand the basics of a topic, you sometimes need the help (or the validation) of an expert for your peace of mind.
C/ Taking action / Investing. OK, you understand how investing, budgeting, etc. works, you have access to an expert to help you, now you can actually invest your money by buying different assets.
The first half of 2021 will focus on A, and B + actually setting up Snowball as a legal entity.
Setting up Snowball as a legal entity
Today, I’m just using my freelancer (SASU) legal status to “host” Snowball. This was great to start as it was super simple to set up, but it’s reaching some big limitations:
I cannot distribute equity (especially needed to hire or if I find a co-founder).
I cannot hire anybody.
On the legal side of the spectrum, setting up a company not directly related to my ex-freelancer activities is just healthier.
My vision for Snowball as a company is to build a new and different kind of company. More open, more flexible, and more transparent. I don’t believe anymore in the old vision of what a company should be: a black box with huge walls to protect it from the outside world.
I believe in a more transparent, flexible, decentralized, and open version of a company.
On top of that, I believe that this kind of setup applied to a financial company could be a big differentiator from the competition, and a source of trust for employees, clients, and partners.
In order to do that, my plan is to open the capital of Snowball from day one.
🤯 I’d like to IPO Snowball from day 1.
By this, I mean that I’d like people to be able to invest or receive Snowball stocks from the very beginning of its existence.
I believe it could be a great differentiator, it would push me to be completely transparent with Snowball’s financial health, it would align potential clients’ interests with the company’s interests, it could be a way to reward the Snowball community, etc.
Is that even possible?
In short, Yes.
How? By using Fairmint’s product:
In short and as written on their website:
To make the most out of your equity, we created the CAFE. The CAFE lets people who love what you do buy or earn equity in your company, at any single time, directly from your website. Raise funds & share your financial success with your key stakeholders: users, customers, partners, drivers, hosts...
If I wanna do that I’d have to:
Create a French subsidiary for all the financial legal part.
This is what I’m going to tackle in the upcoming weeks.
Turn Snowball into a legal Financial Advisor (Conseiller en Investissement Financier)
At the same time, I’m turning Snowball into a legal Financial Advisor to start to beta-test the Financial advising part of the vision. In order to do that I have to:
Get the AMF (Autorité des Marchés Financiers) certification.
Become a CIF (Conseiller en investissement financier) which requires you to be part of a specific financial organization, to have your AMF certification, and to prove you’ve got the right educational background (luckily I’ve got 2 Economics Master’s degree).
Once this is done, I’ll beta-test the financial advising feature of Snowball. In order to do that, I’ll probably partner at the beginning with independent financial advisors that have the same vision as mine of the financial world.
But, in order to do that, I’ll probably have to migrate (totally or partially) out of Substack.
Migrate Snowball out of Substack
Indeed, if I want to add new features to Snowball, I’ll have to start turning it into a real app, a real tech product.
Just like I did for the newsletter by using Substack, I want to start doing this as simply as possible. I don’t want to hard code something from day 1.
Instead, I want to use out-of-the-box products (aka no-code products) to test and validate my hypothesis.
I’ve spent quite some time at the end of 2020 evaluating what could be possible with no-code products, and here’s the stack I came up with:
Content Management System / main interface to better organize the content: Webflow.
SaaS model/subscriptions: I would like to add more plans to Snowball, more than the very basic monthly vs. yearly. I’d like to have something like basic, premium, gold, etc. I’d also like to create a mix between fixed pricing and pay-what-you-want pricing. Like Jumbo is doing:
in order to do that, Pico + Stripe seems to be the right tool.
To keep sending emails (I truly believe in the power of newsletters), I’ll probably use Mailerlite.
Referral program. Not sure but probably something like Viral Loops.
An in-app chat and conversation product: probably Intercom.
Rethink the Business Model
First of all, getting out of Substack, and using all the products I talked about before will probably allow me to save some money as Substack takes a 10% cut out of every payment made by subscribers.
Still, I’ll probably have to review the business model as I’ve been quite generous when launching Snowball as a side project.
If you’re not familiar with it, I redistribute 40% of all the revenues. 20% as a cashback for paid subscribers, and 20% for charities.
I’m not sure yet, but if I want to turn Snowball into a viable product, I’ll have to rethink this. Maybe I’ll keep the same percentages, but instead of applying them to the revenues of Snowball, I’ll take these percentages from only the profits (which is quite more logical).
I (probably) won’t increase the price of Snowball, but instead create new tiers, new plans, which will be more expensive. When we’re there, I’ll write a dedicated edition.
I will try sponsorship as well for the free edition of Snowball. The first sponsor will actually sponsor the next free edition of Snowball at the end of the month. I’m very eager to see what people think of this. I had quite some mixed feelings in the beginning, but then I realized that using this kind of new line of revenues if used well, could be a nice source of revenue to accelerate Snowball’s growth. Especially if I only accept sponsors I truly love.
As a revenue goal for 2021, I’d like to reach the $250,000 milestone.
After setting up the equity model with Fairmint, I’ll probably start to evaluate the fundraising possibilities:
Raise funds only with the community.
Raise funds with the community + business angels.
Raise funds with the community + business angels + VCs.
Don’t raise funds yet.
As for recruiting people or finding a co-founder, I have no idea yet. I’ll probably work with freelancers, but who knows what could happen if things accelerate…
I’ll create a new visual charter, with the same cute little Snowball, but a bit more complex and professional. I’d like to still be able to draw myself the illustrations so I don’t want to get into something extremely complicated. I’m actually looking for a freelancer to help me. If you know someone…
I’d like to launch the first program of Les Flocons, the charity I launched alongside Snowball, and where 20% of Snowball’s revenues are currently going. The idea is to help young kids (before 15 years old) to better understand what they can do with their life. This idea actually came to me after watching this famous TED talk and discussing it with my ex-colleague from Comet, Virgile Raingeard.
That’s it for today. :)
I really can’t wait to continue building Snowball in front of you all! This is a great exercise I truly love.
If you have any remark, feedback, or idea regarding today’s edition, don’t hesitate to hit reply! I’ll always read and reply to your messages.
Also, if you believe this edition might be helpful to someone, just forward it or click there ⬇️:
Have a wonderful evening/day depending on when you open this email.