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Spinal's origin story: a Git-based CMS for content marketing
Origin stories are often interesting to read. What started the product? Where was the founder in life? I often take a lesson or two from these. So I figured I write down how Spinal came to be.
The first lines of code of what is now Spinal were written in mid February 2022. But that’s not how things started. The basis for Spinal was an internal tool I’ve used myself for years for all my previous (SaaS) businesses.
It wasn’t nearly as pretty as Spinal is and not even close to its current feature set. But it was a minimal Git-based CMS for first Jekyll and then Bridgetown (I’m a Rubyist).
When using it and telling founder friends, reactions were always along the lines of: can I use that too? And that’s when you start to take attention. Why are they not using an existing (headless) CMS option? After all, there are maybe hundreds of options out there.
Getting recognition from friends, isn’t the validation you should look for. Don’t look for confirmation, but try to break your own idea. Also related in this specific case, am I willing to through the slow SaaS ramp of death? Even more so with a saturated market of (static site) CMS’.
I learned that just a great Git-based CMS was not going to cut it. But I’ve learned that growing SaaS teams everywhere do struggle to get quality content out there that drives sales.
As I just recently sold a previous SaaS, I know was in a good spot to get started on a new venture. Enough runway for a few years for that infamous slow SaaS growth.
Let the app-building begin #
So back to February 2022 and I typed:
rails new git-cms …. The CMS was nameless and no domain yet. I started with a fresh app and only copied bits of code from my own internal tool instead. It took a few —spread over a few weeks—to get the most basic version ready for others to log in for, connect with GitHub and create, edit and publish their own content.
It now was March 2023. I cut many corners, but other were no able to update their own blog. Initially you could only update your blog (or, at least, one Content Type) with Spinal. Yes, I also came up a name a registered a domain.
I sent it to a few of the people I’ve talked to about “this CMS”. Took many notes and built a quick one-page website with a “wait list form” next. I shared this page far and wide and quickly got a few hundred people on the list.
Now, if you ever have run such a wait list feature, you know it means near nothing. But at the same time, it’s better than no-one leaving their email.
Based on the previous notes I took, I improved Spinal and slowly started to invite those on the list. All manual as I didn’t built any sign up flow.
I reached out and asked to steal some of their time. In return they would get a discount whenever they started a subscription for Spinal. Replies to these requests were not high, but those who did reply often were truly invested already (and many use Spinal on an almost daily basis).
Spinal today and tomorrow #
From there it simply was rinse and repeat. And now we are here. Just over a year later. Spinal is at a few hundreds of customers. All pretty much the target customer I had in mind: growing SaaS/software companies, looking to increase their content marketing output. And with the current trajectory and some of the upcoming features, I’m confident reaching thousands of customers is in reach.
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