Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Howdy! My name is Mike, and I'm a web developer based in Sydney, Australia. For the last 10 years I've made my living online. During that time I've tried almost everything: affiliate marketing, product creation, drop shipping, advertising, and lead generation. Along the way I've had many failures as well as successes. I dumped the failures, but the successes remain in my "project portfolio".
Today, I'm talking about Anatomonics. It's an audio system that helps people memorize the human anatomy, and it's typically purchased by medical students and physical therapists. They like it because it simplifies the memorization of all the human anatomy terms (of which there are hundreds).
The site's been online for 7 years, and its average income has been $800/month. That's nothing to write home about, but it's as close to passive income as you can get.
Anatomonics' homepage today.
What motivated you to get started with Anatomonics?
In 2007 I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss like so many others. It opened my eyes to a new world and a new way of working. Since I had a decent amount of savings, I quit my web development job and got to work.
Initially, I was hacking around making money with affiliate sites and SEO. After doing that for 2 years, I realized it wasn't a great long-term strategy. Every site I built would make good money for a while and then get banned by Google or outranked by someone else.
To obtain more stability around my income, I started thinking long term and decided to have a go at creating my own product. Thus, Anatomonics was born!
My goals for the product were very modest. I figured I'd be happy if I could get something up and generate a few hundred bucks of passive income per month.
How'd you come up with the idea and ensure that people wanted it?
I've always been interested in memorization, so I figured it would be a good place to start. I went to the Google Adwords Tool (now Keyword Planner) and typed in "memorize". One of the keyword suggestions was "memorize anatomy", so I went from there. After brainstorming a few ideas, I decided that combining anatomy mnemonics with audio could be a good approach.
To validate the idea, I decided to create a true "minimum viable product" (MVP). In fact, I called it an MVT: minimum viable test. The original site was a plain text one-page website with a simple logo and a few iStock images. There was no product to "order", so I added an Aweber opt-in box with the text, "To start your order simply fill in your email below."
Those that filled out their email got the message, "Unfortunately we are upgrading Anatomonics right now, so it is unavailable for order. We will email you shortly once the system has relaunched."
I drove traffic through a handful of cold emails and Adwords. Out of something like 200 visitors, eight people submitted their email addresses to my test form. This meant that 1 in 25 people were interested in a product I hadn't even built yet. Needless to say, I felt pretty good about moving forward with the idea.
Indie Hackers community member tvmaly asks: Michael, if you started a new project today, would you still use a pseudo order page?
Absolutely! In fact I've used the same technique several times since. It's the fastest and cheapest way to test something.
That being said, it's probably not the best approach for every kind of product. It's ideal for a once-off purchase product or for lead generation. However, for SaaS or a software product you'll probably need to do some direct selling for your initial test. It's harder to get a customer over the line when selling those types of products.
Thanks for the question :)
What did it take to build the initial product?
Building the initial product was not difficult, but it did require an outlay of cash, which came from my personal savings. I used Elance (now UpWork) to hire both a researcher and voice artist. The researcher went out and collected as many anatomy mnemonics as they could find and compiled them in a report. Once satisfied with the mnemonics, I had the voice artist record each one as a separate mp3. It took around 1 month and a few thousand dollars to complete the product.
The site is built in WordPress and all payments are processed using PayPal. I chose these technologies because they're free and easy to work with. Setting all this up took another few weeks. The total time from the inception of the idea to actual launch took around 2 months.
What strategies have you used to grow Anatomonics' traffic?
My first marketing strategy was to contact users who'd already entered their email into my order form. Since I was acquiring signups fairly cheaply, I'd continued using the landing page I'd built initially for validating the product.
By launch day, I had around 30 email addresses from interested buyers. I sent personalized emails to every one of them, explaining the hold up and offering a special link to purchase the product at 50% off. I made around 10 sales that day, which was very promising.
After launch, things died down until I experimented with some article marketing (which was hot at the time) and YouTube. YouTube had the biggest impact. It drove a lot of good converting traffic and continues to send traffic to this day. I also did some SEO on the site, which brings in quite targeted (albeit long-tail) traffic.
What's the story behind your revenue?
Anatomonics is a one-off purchase, and I offer 3 different packages at varying price points. Subscription revenue would be nice, but it doesn't really fit in with this product. If it's your first time launching a product, I actually recommend working on a one-off purchase idea. It's much easier to convert a customer for a single payment, and it's a good way to get your feet wet.
Don't be afraid to charge a lot for something that contributes real value. In the beginning, I'd never have thought I'd get away with charging $87 for this, but there you go. I'd also recommend having 3 different price points on your order page. It's been proven that people are more likely to purchase the package that sits in the middle. When I implemented this on my site, I instantly started making $30 more per sale with the same conversion rates.
And of course, the beauty of selling a digital product is that once you have the initial costs covered, the rest is gravy. My expenses are minimal to zero: just PayPal fees and hosting.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
The hardest part was not knowing the first thing about the market I was creating a product in. It wasn't so bad because I do enjoy learning, but it definitely slowed me down. My advice for those who are low on time or cash would be to try launching your first product around something you know a little about.
That being said, given the nature of this project, I wouldn't do too much differently if I could go back in time. I always viewed it as a fun project to see if I could successfully launch my own digital product. By that measure it was a success.
What were your biggest advantages? Was anything particularly helpful?
My biggest advantage in all of this was luck! I was born in 1981, got to experience the dawn of the Internet, and I had a father who purchased a PC and modem when I was 13 years old. That gave me a very good foundation and understanding of the changing world, which led to an interest in computing and eventually a degree in Computer Science. But… I don't think any of that is necessary to be successful.
What's essential to coming up with ideas is your creativity muscle. I try to come up with a bunch of random ideas nearly everyday, nearly all of which I never plan to take action on. I give myself permission to have fun with it.
For example, on one day my personal idea prompt might be something like, "Come up with 10 business ideas combining the Twitter and YouTube APIs." Then the next day it might be, "Come up with 10 ideas for reality TV shows starring famous entrepreneurs." My goal isn't to come up with the million-dollar idea, it's to get my creativity working. Try it for a few weeks and you'll be surprised how much more creative you feel.
P.S. I stole this idea from James Altucher ;)
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Start small! Don't try to build the next Facebook on your first go. In fact, don't try to build the next Facebook at all. And treat it as a learning experience. That way even if it fails, you can view it as a success.
Be realistic in your goals and work output. If all you want to do is cover your basic expenses, a small project quickly launched might do the trick.
Find a good marketing channel before you even decide to create a product. Finding problems to solve can be hard if your head isn't in a particular market. Consider using alternate sources to look for demand in markets you might not be thinking of, e.g. Google Keyword Planner, forums, and groups.
Small traffic + high conversions = $$$. Don't build a product that relies on hundreds of thousands of users to generate any money. Instead think, "If I could get 100 people of a certain demographic to my site, how could I most effectively monetize those users?"
If you've read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, and The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, you know enough to get started. If you're still having trouble making money after reading those books then the problem isn't a lack of information. The problem is you!
For that reason, I'd recommend reading books on the human mind regarding focus, perception, procrastination, and productivity. Understanding why you are struggling creatively, why you're procrastinating, and why you can't seem to get something going is the best first step in combating these problems. I'd recommend:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
- Faster Better Stronger by Eric Heiden, M.D.
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
There are plenty more. If anyone is interested, please let me know in the comments and I'll recommend some. :)
Where can we go to learn more?
I'm completely off the grid in terms of social media! For someone who makes his entire living online, that's quite strange, I know.
However, I'd still love to hear from any fellow indie hackers. Please leave a comment or question below, and I'll be sure to answer. If you want a bit more information, get in touch with me through the forum. My username is benko.
Thanks to Courtland for inviting me to be a part of Indie Hackers. It's a great site with excellent resources, and I'm happy to be along for the ride!