Bootstrapping to 2m+ Users With Zero Employees
I’ve lived with anxiety and panic attacks, and built the solution I needed. Turns out it’s a solution that millions of others resonate with too.
Hampton member Ania Wysocka may have one of the only businesses I know of that can scale to $10m in revenue over the next two years with a staff of zero.
She's the founder of Rootd, the world’s leading app for managing panic attacks, and she's bootstrapped it to an incredible 2m+ users, 36k+ reviews across Apple & Google, and 7-figures in recurring revenue – all without a single employee.
You hear a lot in tech about VC-backed startups, hyper-growth teams, and so-called unicorn status. But you don't hear many stories like this: A single founder, with vision, patience, and a deep understanding of a specific niche, quietly building an absolute juggernaut of a company.
They're out there though, if you know where to look.
Here's how she's doing it...
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Rootd started from personal experience. Like many, I went through life thinking that anxiety and panic attacks wouldn’t happen to me, and that those who experienced them must be too “stressed out”.
But when my first panic attack came out of nowhere during my final year of University, I realized that the misconceptions I had were wrong. Far away from home, on student loans, and with no family doctor, I couldn’t find or afford the support I needed. My instinct was to reach for my phone to find an app that could help me process what was happening, but couldn’t find anything.
The way you understand panic attacks when they first happen can have a huge impact on your healing process. Once I’d done the research and discovered the techniques and strategies needed to manage and overcome panic attacks and anxiety, I knew I wanted to combine them with my love of graphic design to create a resource for others.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Rootd started with paper and marker notes, illustrations, and wireframes in my notebook. One day I drew a disgruntled monster, and that little guy has grown to become Rootd’s mascot Ron, who serves as users’ companion and supporter throughout their journeys in the app.
For version one, I turned the work in my notebooks into real wireframes and mock-ups using Photoshop. Then I found a student developer and worked with him to publish an app to the App Store and Google Play, which I launched on World Mental Health Day.
This first version of the app had way less features or functionality than the Rootd of today, but it did have Rootd’s core components of stigma-breaking design and accessibility. As it still is today, the big red panic attack button was front and center in the app, and completely free to use. Rootd started out with this very niche focus on panic attack relief and immediately resonated with users, gaining 5 star reviews.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched Rootd’s first version on World Mental Health Day in part because it helped provide a really clear story for a launch-day press release (and I continued to write press releases about major updates for years to come).
One great thing about the app stores is that after clicking “publish” your product is immediately available to every iPhone or Android owner across the world. Users have to learn about it to actually download it, but the distribution part is taken care of.
My key focuses at the start were focusing on the niche of “panic attack” and “panic attack relief” in the app’s keywords and other App Store Optimization efforts, and ensuring every user had a 5 star experience and would write a review to reflect that. I responded to every single review, and started conversations with users as much as possible.
Rootd is bootstrapped, and I’d built this first version with only a few thousand dollars. All my activities across the business shared the theme of maximum impact for minimum cost. Looking back, that helped build a strong foundation for Rootd to thrive from.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Ultimately the thing that has worked best is having an intimate understanding of the problem and solution. I’ve lived with anxiety and panic attacks, and built the solution I needed. Turns out it’s a solution that millions of others resonate with too.
Responding to user reviews and doing customer support myself has also had an incredible impact as I get to know Rootd users and hear their feedback daily. It means I work a lot of nights and weekends, but my passion for Rootd is strong enough to still enjoy it even when it’s tiring.
Another powerful growth driver has been working on Rootd’s app store optimization, as this drives organic growth. On the app stores your keywords, screenshots, description, ratings, reviews, downloads, app reliability, and more all complement each other, so building an amazing solution and clearly and attractively presenting it are pretty much critical foundations.
Beyond that, I’ve had success with finding ways to create stories around Rootd. At the beginning of each year I take out the calendar and plan what Rootd’s big story for each month will be. For example, October is World Mental Health Day, and February is stress awareness month. Then every month I am diligent about following through with new features, new in-app events, and new stories.
So far Rootd has been featured in the app stores more than 100 times, been App of the Day and Developer Spotlight in several countries, and been featured in publications like Women's Health, Time Magazine, Healthline and more.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Rootd is now scientifically validated, won multiple awards, used by over 2 million users in over 150 countries, and has tens of thousands of 5 star reviews from people around the world who say the app has changed their lives.
A new focus is helping companies and organizations provide Rootd as a form of support to their teams and members who may be going through what I went through years ago. This helps get Rootd in more hands that can benefit from it, and supports the business with a diversified revenue stream.
Ultimately, the future looks like bringing Rootd from 2 million, to 10+ million users, and making it the go-to anxiety relief resource globally.
Did you ever have an “oh shit” moment where you thought it wouldn’t work?
From the very beginning I dreamed of Rootd to one day get a big feature on the app stores. When the time actually came, and the editors told me Rootd’s feature was coming up I got so excited. I wanted to make the most of it so I started planning and creating a promotion strategy, which included a press release.
It was a tight timeline, and I tried to run the release past them for approval, but things were moving quickly and not wanting to miss out I shared the press release with a huge list of reporters and media. Literally later that day the app store editors came back to point out a few portions of my press release that they didn’t want me to say.
After a brief moment of panic, and picturing Rootd being removed from the app stores forever (and my dreams all being over), I submitted a correction to the media who were reluctant to make the change, but did, and within 24 hours my mistake was reversed. It all ended up a happy story. But wow, that was definitely a scary “oh shit” moment!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned a ton. Rootd is my passion most days, nights, and weekends. I’ve given so much of myself to it, and it’s given so much back.
A few things that stand out are:
- Bootstrapping is absolutely a viable option.
- Build something that helps your users
- Focus on using your personal strengths rather than worrying about looking or acting like the traditional idea of a leader.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Rootd is built using tools like Creative Cloud, Figma, and Trello, among others. We communicate through Google Suite, Mailchimp, and our Instagram, Tik Tok, and other socials.
And there’s probably others I’m not thinking of. In general as a lean bootstrapped company I love tools that make a huge impact for less.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love memoirs and autobiographies like ‘Tis by Frank McCourt, Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, The Virgin Way by Richard Branson. I also find I learn a lot from good fiction, and make sure to devote time to read even during the busiest of weeks. I started listening to the Pitch, Business Wars, and My First Million during pandemic lockdowns. My First Million then led me into a community of entrepreneurs and founders through Hampton which helps since being a solo bootstrapped founder can be really lonely at times. Rootd actually got a shoutout on a recent MFM episode which felt like coming full circle.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ll echo the things just mentioned, and add that it’s important to pause and reflect on what you’ve already achieved while working towards your goals. The grind can start getting to you, so it’s good to remember you’ve already reached lots worth celebrating along the way.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m generally always interested in meeting talented Flutter developers and enterprise sales folks. Even better, ones who understand the impact of anxiety (either personally or through the experience of a loved one) and understand the urgency of the problem Rootd is solving.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: rootd.io
- Ania's personal Twitter: https://twitter.com/aniamargaret
- App Store or Google Play: onelink.to/rootd
- Rootd Instagram: instagram.com/rootd_app
- My LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ania-wys/
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Personally, I find being the CEO of a startup to be downright exhilarating. But, as I'm sure you well know, it can also be a bit lonely and stressful at times, too.
Because, let's be honest, if you're the kind of person with the guts to actually launch and run a startup, then you can bet everyone will always be asking you a thousand questions, expecting you to have all the right answers -- all the time.
And that's okay! Navigating this kind of pressure is the job.
But what about all the difficult questions that you have as you reach each new level of growth and success? For tax questions, you have an accountant. For legal, your attorney. And for tech. your dev team.
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