Podcast Episode 14: Bootstrapping Your Way to Success

Travis Ketchum is the CEO of Contest Domination, an app that allows anyone to create viral contests that can be used to generate traffic and get more leads.

For anyone interested in building up their own business, Travis’ story is worth some close examination. Without any funding, he managed to bootstrap his way from a plugin to a successful SaaS business. In today’s podcast episode, he provides insights into how he managed to build and grow his company.

Podcast Video


Podcast Audio

Click here to download the mp3 file.


Click here to try Contest Domination for yourself!

As always, questions, comments and discussions are very welcome. Leave a comment below and don’t forget to share this episode, if you enjoyed it!


I'm Shane Melaugh and I'm the guy writing most of the posts on this blog. My goal is to provide you with useful, straight-forward insights on how to grow your business by creating compelling offers, driving traffic and increasing conversions.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 16 comments
meredith - April 13, 2013

Yes totally geeky, but very timely for me! I’m going to try it and am working hard to figure out a good marketing flow and contest b/t C.D. and Hybrid Connect/Sharely. THANKS~

Johnn Four - April 14, 2013

Is there an example of the app in action? The demo link at the site just shows a signup form – not many features revealed there.

    Shane - April 14, 2013

    The signup form is a vital part of the app, as I understand it. You don’t see any further parts of the content, until you opt in.

    After the opt in, you get a referral link and some social sharing buttons, so you can earn more entries by referring friends to the contest. But everyone needs to opt in first.

    If done right, I think this can be quite powerful. You have to make sure that the offer is related to your market, otherwise you’ll get subscribers that won’t really help you. If you can find something that’s super-desirable specifically to the people in your niche, that would be ideal.

Luis - April 15, 2013

Hey Shane, as always, helpful and extraordinary content. So also, as always, some questions here :)

1. It seems like the product development way starts at around 7k to up, right? Travis said that he spent like 7k (including mistakes) and well, we know that you went up to 35k (you said that in one of your podcasts). Is it possible to start at 2k or 3k a really, really good software? And where should be the first place to look for product developers (and that way avoiding those costly initial mistakes)?
2. Why do you choose not to make a WSO? You said you tend not to do that, but I think (maybe I’m wrong) that I didn’t hear you give a reason for that…or maybe I didn’t understand the reason very well :)
3. Now, about ContestDomination: how do you see it working with WPSharely? Would they complement each other? Also, I don’t know if you knew this, but last week Chris Munch launched “LoveClaw”, which intents to be a plugin for social sharing (emotional SEO he calls it)…I think that the contest idea is really powerful, but its power could be multiplied by the use of WPSharely and LoveClaw…what do you think Shane?

Thanks for the awesome information. Have a great day!

    Shane - April 15, 2013

    1) The lowest investment I ever made in a software product was about $1,500, before making the first sale. I’ve also had a couple of things developed for $2.5K to around $4K, so $7K isn’t necessarily the lower limit. Really depends on the kind of product you want to create.

    What really important is to whittle down your product idea to a minimum viable product. Don’t try to create a finished, perfect piece of software, before you start selling it. That will become very expensive, very quickly.

    I wish there was a magic formula for finding great developers, but there really isn’t. Ideally, try to get a referral from someone you trust. And put any prospective developer through a vetting process. Take a close look at their portfolio, get in touch with people they’ve worked for before etc.

    2) Some of that is explained here. In short, these forum offers are mostly in a race to the bottom and there’s also a reputation issue, especially with selling software through a forum offer. Most people focus on the “opportunity” of making money with a forum offer, but I don’t think many of them understand what’s going on in these forums, compared to markets outside of the forums.

    The forums can definitely be used to your advantage, if you know what you’re doing. But it’s something that A) I don’t need for my business and B) I’d rather distance myself from.

    3) I made a video that answers a similar question, here.

      Luis - April 15, 2013

      Thanks Shane!

      1. So I will come to you when the moment is precise…I trust you man! You are #1 among the 5 people I trust on the internet…you rock! I already have a software idea for my niche (I just need the funds, but soon they will come to have at least a MVP)…you know, probably we all start at niche sites,right? But I think that even at this business model, it could be sustainable if you become an authority site in this niche, and I guess product development and any kind of great software you develop to help your audience could give you instant authority on that niche…Please, correct me if I’m wrong, you know I’m learning.

      2. This post, oh Shane, it really generated some controversy. The comment section was on fire! Like Eric Bischoff said (ex WCW, WWE…I make the reference because I saw on one comment that you used to practice MA, so maybe you also saw some wrestling): “Controversy makes money”. Well, in that post, it was good to see controversy but based in great arguments…the “straw man” response? Unique and to the point! And well I only asked this second question because I saw you gave credit to Travis because he started on the WSO, but then he didn’t lose focus. I totally understand your point of a race to the bottom, it’s completely true…also the reputation point…I’m learning so much man!

      3. It was interesting, I didn’t think about what you said in the video before I saw it: if you use the 2 (LoveClaw and WPSharely), you might be not getting the best results because it should actually be one strategy or the other. I think both are great strategies, just not to use together. For example, if LoveClaw bases it’s argument on emotional SEO, then probably it would work much better on sites that people easily get more emotionally engaged (maybe animals, pets?). Anyway, on a final note: do you think the case that you make on that video also applies to Contest Domination? I mean, do you see yourself using WPSharely and Contest Domination at the same time? Or it’s just one or the other?

      Thanks a lot Shane!

      Have a great day!

      Shane - April 15, 2013

      1) Yes, exactly. Creating a good product gives you a huge boost in authority. It’s such a big difference whether people just read a few good posts you wrote or whether they buy and use a great product you made.

      3) The same applies to Contest Domination, yes. A contest is likely to get more traction than a Sharely bribe, but you also need a stronger incentive.
      With Sharely, you can give away something very small and get a huge increase in shares. Let’s say a simple PDF you created. Great for Sharely. But for a contest? No one is going to sign up for a contest, for just a PDF. There, you need something bigger and more valuable. But if you do have something more valuable, then that’s going to be incentive enough for people to sign up and also share the contest.

      A contest is something that you can do occasionally and you usually have to invest in it (spend some money on the prizes). Sharely can be used much more easily and more frequently. The way I see it, they are two different systems for two different purposes and it doesn’t really make sense to combine them.

C A Bird - April 15, 2013

I’m confident business schools would find Travis and your experiences an excellent case study as well as everyone else. Its brilliant both of you have built good businesses despite the austere times we live in. Personally I’ve always thought real change comes from the bottom up not from the top down.

Howard Lee Harkness - April 16, 2013

Very interesting product. I can see how it would have greatly simplified my current violin give-away (I’m giving away a violin on May 18th), but I didn’t see any way to upload the entries I already have into a CD contest. I may try it for my next giveaway (if I have one).

Iain - April 18, 2013

Do you think that having to input your email would dissuade people from participating in a contest? Does that mean you would have to have a really good prize?

Just a couple questions that came to mind when I was listening to this.

I really like the idea of a lead focused contest though. That could really make a huge difference for some people.

    Shane - April 19, 2013

    The way I see it, any barrier to entry will dissuade people from participating, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating a contest.

    As with all marketing, the goal is not to appeal to everyone. If you run a contest with no barriers and you give away something everyone wants (a large cash prize, say), what’s the value to your business? You’ll get a bunch of random traffic to your contest page and that’s it.

    Much better to qualify by adding a barrier and offering a prize that’s highly desirable, but only to people in your target market (e.g. a guitar). That way, you’ll end up with a much smaller list of people who A) you can reach and B) are potential customers for your business.

      Iain - April 19, 2013

      That is a fantastic point Shane.

      If you don’t create a barrier at all, anyone will be able to participate

      However, if you create an acceptable barrier, you will encourage only the people you want. It makes perfect sense.

      Selecting the appropriate prize could really determine what type of audience you attract.

      Great insights.

Joe Garma - April 19, 2013

Just visited Contest Domination and am wondering why they don’t offer case studies or examples of best practices?

After all, theirs is a subscription model which presumes that one is using the SAAS service regularly, which further means that customers would be offering contests on a regular, consistent basis.

Which brings me to my concern/confusion…

If you offer contests often, do they not lose their effectiveness, much like Shane’s WP Sharely would if it asked readers to “like” or “tweet” in order to finish reading every post, or to read something more that easily could have been included in the original post?

If you use Contest Domination to run a different contest every week — well, I’m thinking that you begin to mess with your site’s brand and reputation. It becomes a contest site.

Therein lies my interest in some best practices info or case studies.

Any thoughts out there?


    Shane - April 19, 2013

    That’s a good point, Joe.

    The way I see it, contests are good for running every four to eight weeks. That’s just my gut feeling about them, though, as I haven’t done any testing on this either.

    I think if you make it a regular (but not too frequent) thing, it could actually compound the effectiveness. I’d like to have a monthly contest with some really cool prizes, for example. If it’s one of the features of the site and the brand, I think a lot of people will welcome it and participate regularly.
    The main reason I haven’t done anything like that yet is just a matter of priority (other projects being more important).

    But I agree that case studies and examples would be a great addition to the Contest Domination site.

    Travis Ketchum - May 2, 2013


    We 100% agree that case studies are needed (we are busting tail on our end to prepare some amazing content that’s going to highlight some impressive success stories).

    You’ll see this stuff roll out from us over the next few weeks and then be an integral part of how we communicate with everyone how to crush it with contests.

    Shane’s right, 4-8 weeks is a good rhythm to be in – we find that many of our subscription customers end up running a contest at least once per quarter.

    Also, running contests as part of your marketing strategy does compound the results in most cases as you’re training your audience to participate, share, repeat.

    P.S. Shane, this comment thread is awesome! Everyone is asking the right questions and your responses are 100% on point. Keep up the great work and thanks for having me on your show.


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