How John Doherty Is Solving Customer Pain Points with Not One, but Two SaaS Businesses

by | May 26, 2022 | Marketing, SaaS Founders

There are many hats that John Doherty wears: serial entrepreneur, founder, marketer, content creator and bourbon connoisseur, to name a few.

He’s a former senior marketing manager for Trulia and former head of marketing for HotPads. Before that, he worked for a digital agency in New York City.

But his impressive resume doesn’t stop there: While working for this agency in 2013, Doherty stumbled upon a profitable idea that would soon become his first business.

Creating His First SaaS Business

At the time, he worked nights and weekends on the side, offering digital marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) consulting services to various clients. But after a series of promotions, Doherty no longer needed the extra income and decided to end his consulting side work. However, he couldn’t leave his clients high and dry and worked to connect them with other digital marketing companies.

“At the same time, I had friends coming to me who had hired bad digital marketing/SEO firms. One friend lost 70% of his business because an SEO firm got him banned from Google. I knew that I could connect clients with good providers, so I started making introductions and then realized that there was money in lead generation,” he says.

In fact, Doherty got a lucrative lead right down the street for one of his friends who runs an agency in Utah.

He recalls, “I said, ‘Hey, would you be willing to pay 50 bucks for this introduction?’ [My friend] responded, ‘Yeah, what’s your PayPal?’”

His friend went on to make thousands of dollars from that client, and Doherty decided to make his services official by creating his own business and buying a domain name for it.

Known as Credo, this SaaS business was just a side project initially. But a few years after its conception, Doherty was laid off from his job and ultimately decided it was time to work for himself. That’s when Credo became his full-time commitment.

Credo effectively fast-tracks the process of finding and hiring a reputable digital marketing firm. With its extensive network of pre-vetted digital marketing providers, Credo refers clients to ones that most closely align with their marketing needs.

The month before he took the business full-time, Doherty says he did about $80 in revenue. The next month, he did about $2,000.

Over six years later, Doherty and his small team have done over $2 million in revenue and have made agencies over $40 million by referring clients in need of their services.  

But it’s not only the agencies who benefit, but the clients as well. In fact, Credo uses a 3-step and 28-point screening process to ensure clients don’t get paired with a non-reputable agency. By doing this vetting legwork themselves and learning each client’s unique needs and goals, Credo makes the process of hiring a qualified digital marketing company more straightforward than ever.

His Experience Founding Credo

“It’s been one big learning experience,” Doherty admits. “We’ve been through multiple business models, we have rebuilt our product at least three times, and there’s always a challenge being a lead generation business—competing in search results, Google ads, market share, that sort of thing. It hasn’t been a walk in the park.”

But these obstacles left him with a wealth of knowledge and lessons learned; for instance, after trying out multiple business models, he learned the value of doing some light testing of whatever product or feature you think will work better—rather than diving into “a big launch of something you haven’t proved out.”

Doherty recommends getting a couple of people on board to alpha test the product or feature for a short period—for instance, three months. If it’s not working by the end of the three months, it’s time to discard it.

Through the journey of creating Credo and expanding his team, Doherty learned another crucial insight: It’s vital to surround yourself with the right people and trust them to fulfill their responsibilities.

“As an entrepreneur, it’s essential to find the right people to work with as quickly as possible. We could not have gotten to where we are now without working with great people,” he states.

The Origin of His next SaaS Business

In the middle of 2020, Doherty decided to test out his next idea for a SaaS business. But his passion for starting it dates back to the early 2000s.

“I’ve been a blogger for a really long time—I’ve posted online since 2001 or 2002—so I’ve probably written five million plus words,” he shares.

After producing so much content, he got tired of not seeing desired and expected results, like increased brand visibility, higher search engine rankings, and more traffic. “It produces good results, but I’ve always felt like there’s more out there.”

Additionally, Doherty grew tired of writing and sending out a comprehensive piece of content, only to be met with a response pointing out a grammatical error. “I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” he laughs.

Indeed, he got so tired of it that he finally decided to find and hire an editor.

“Along the way, I looked at a lot of SaaS company homepages and e-commerce sites and would see so many typos and so much bad grammar, and I know that it hurts revenue,” he states. “And I know that content marketers are spending too much time editing, or they’re not editing at all.”

After digging deeper, Doherty realized there were many people out there looking for editing services. In 2020, he finally decided to test out a solution that would eventually become his next SaaS business, EditorNinja.

Building out EditorNinja

In 2021, Doherty discovered EditorNinja had done $1,000 in revenue over the course of the year, even though he had only spent roughly 10-15 hours on it. This discovery piqued his interest.

He knew the founder of Design Pickle, Russ Perry, whose SaaS platform offers businesses unlimited and high-quality design work for a flat monthly fee. Doherty reached out to Perry to learn more about their business model.

“What if there’s a space for a Design Pickle for copyediting and proofreading?” Doherty pondered.

So, he began building out EditorNinja in the same way he built out Credo—with WordPress and a few plugins: Gravity Forms, GravityView and Paid Memberships Pro.

In late 2021/early 2022, Doherty officially launched EditorNinja. So far, the demand he’s seen is proof that this is a service people need.

The Fundamental Difference Between Credo and EditorNinja

Both Credo and EditorNinja are two-sided service businesses where someone is hiring Credo or EditorNinja to connect them with someone else.

“But EditorNinja is fundamentally different in that at Credo, we are not selling the digital marketing projects to people looking to hire an agency. We’re referring them to agencies that we trust who are paying us, and it’s up to the agency to close,” Doherty explains.

“At EditorNinja, we’re actually selling them the project, ensuring they’re getting the right number of words and focusing on quality.”

Though EditorNinja’s business model has its challenges, it’s much more direct in that if they generate a lead, they get revenue. While Credo’s business model generated a fair amount of upfront revenue, it’s not recurring.

How Important Is Accuracy in Content?

Recently, Doherty conducted a study to see what percentage of B2B SaaS and e-commerce homepages have grammar and/or spelling errors. He expected numbers anywhere from 40 to 50 percent. What he found was alarming: 94 percent for B2B SaaS and 91 percent for e-commerce.

“Nine out of ten companies have some sort of spelling or grammar on their homepage, which is the doorway to their business,” Doherty points out.

“Content is the gateway to your business—it’s your gateway for potential customers. Consistency and precision in content is one of those things that people don’t really notice until it’s not there. It’s a silent killer in that way,” he states.

Data would have to agree with him. In fact, an A/B test ran by Website Planet revealed that typos on a landing page increased bounce rate by 85% and decreased time on site by 8%.

Evidently, the accuracy of your content is incredibly valuable to your business’ success. Even just one or two typos may lose a potential customer’s trust and encourage them to leave your site.

“It’s a large opportunity that a lot of businesses have and aren’t capitalizing on,” Doherty explains. “That’s why I’m so passionate about this—because I genuinely believe businesses are hurting themselves and don’t even know it because they haven’t had someone review their copy before it goes live on their site.”

Discoveries as a Growth Accelerator Marketing Coach

In addition to owning SaaS businesses, Doherty is a marketing coach for Growth Accelerator, a program designed by Dan Martell.

Every month, Doherty does a marketing coaching call with hundreds of B2B SaaS founders at all stages of their business, from a few thousand in MRR to some that are dramatically bigger.

Through working with these SaaS founders, he’s discovered a common struggle many of them encounter: not knowing how to distribute what they’re doing and generate an audience.

“Most SaaS founders are technologists, not marketers,” Doherty acknowledges. “They would rather build another feature than ‘do marketing.’”

“My mindset is: Marketing should be baked into everything you’re doing. If you’re creating a new feature, that’s a marketing opportunity for you to email your list that hasn’t signed up yet, to ask for feedback, to make sure it’s meeting their needs. It’s an opportunity to talk to your customers to discover that maybe some of them haven’t signed up because you haven’t built a specific feature,” he explains.

Advice for SaaS Founders Looking to Grow

Doherty’s first tip for SaaS founders interested in growing their business: Work on a problem you truly care about instead of following fleeting trends.

“It’s not just about seeing what opportunities are out there, but about finding one that you care deeply about solving and about the people that you’re solving it for,” he asserts.

“If you don’t like agency owners, don’t build a tool to serve agency owners, because that’s who your customers are going to be—and if you don’t like them, you’re not going to care about your business.”

Doherty has a second piece of advice for SaaS founders that has proved effective in growing his own business: “Surround yourself with a team of good people that really love doing things that you do not love doing.”

For instance, Doherty loves building business models and managing performance, but he lacks the expertise and passion to take care of the financial/accounting side of owning a business. So, he outsources this work—and other work—that he doesn’t have the interest, skill or capacity to complete.

Doherty has come to realize that a business can’t be built on misery. “I believe—and I learned this from Dan Martell—entrepreneurs will not grow their business into future pain. If you know that bringing on more customers will cause you more stress, you’re not going to make more money—you’re not going to do it,” he states.

When you have a team to do the things you can’t or don’t want to do, it frees you up to focus on the aspects you love and have the skill for. This sets you up to grow your business without sacrificing what you’re passionate about.

What’s on His Horizon

Doherty has a feeling that 2022 will prove to be a pivotal year for him.

“The last couple of years, I’ve really had my head down working on Credo,” he explains. As a result, the business has grown and stabilized. And with a great team in place, Doherty’s focus for 2022 is a bit different than in past years.

“My goals for this year are to continue empowering my team at Credo to mostly run the business without me—that means hiring to fill a couple other roles and getting someone to own the marketing strategy, so I can move from being owner/operator to really being the owner of the business,” he elaborates.

In doing so, Doherty aims to free up time for him to focus more on EditorNinja. Right now, he dedicates roughly a day and a half each week to working on the editing service. As EditorNinja picks up speed, he wants to be able to put more time into it without compromising his work-life balance.

“I’m a husband, I’m a dad, I love doing stuff outdoors, and I love spending time at my cabin up in the mountains—skiing, hiking and mountain biking,” he shares. If he didn’t keep his work in check and sufficiently manage his time, these gratifying aspects of his personal life would begin to slip.

As for his plans for EditorNinja, Doherty is focused on growing the business by bringing on more customers, scaling the number of words they’re editing and hiring new talent to fill roles he lacks the capacity for.

Check out Credo and EditorNinja to learn more.

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