Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
I'm Ben Hoyt, a New Zealand software engineer who currently lives in New Jersey. On my daily commute to my job in New York City, I work on personal projects.
I develop and run Gifty Weddings, a simple wedding gift registry that's not tied to any specific store. Couples simply add gift ideas from anywhere, and guests come to the registry to choose a gift and cross it off after they've bought it. The site's used mostly by couples in New Zealand — we're still working on getting customers in the U.S. market.
Gifty isn't your typical Indie Hackers success story. We've been making around $150/month for the past few years, but it's a fun, low-maintenance website that keeps me and my wife's dinner-date budget in the black.
What motivated you to get started with Gifty Weddings?
Back in 2008, my brother was getting married, and I told him I'd make a simple wedding registry site as a wedding present. It wasn't much harder to add a payment system and open it up for others — so I did. I wrote most of the code in one weekend, and launched shortly afterward.
A lot of guests who attended his wedding told me how easy-to-use Gifty was. So that validated the idea, and I spent a few weeks refining a few things, integrating PayPal properly, and making the landing page a bit nicer.
Gifty was and has always been a side project for me. Apart from my own wedding, I have no real experience with weddings or gift registries — I just implemented what I would have wanted, along with a few features that others have asked for over time.
What went into building the initial product?
I wrote the initial prototype in a weekend, and then refined it over the next few weeks with feedback from family and friends. I developed it using tools I knew well (Python, PostgreSQL, and old-school web 1.0 tech) so that I didn't have to spend time learning new systems.
At the time, I was working as a software development contractor with my brothers, and they let me use one of their servers to host the site. So apart from the domain name, I don't think I paid a cent to develop it.
I'm a big believer in keeping things simple, which translated well to building a "minimum viable product". I only put features in that I thought my brother would want for his registry, so that helped avoid scope creep. There's definitely a place for learning from the competition, but for Gifty I basically didn't look at anything else that was out there or try to copy features.
How have you attracted users and grown Gifty Weddings?
The great thing about a wedding gift registry is you have dozens of people (wedding guests) coming to your site to use a couple's registry. So for every couple that signs up, you get a bunch of free, word-of-mouth advertising. A ton of folks have signed up this way over the years.
A couple of years in (late 2012), we spent a few hundred dollars on AdWords, which wasn't really break-even, but did inject a bunch of new customers, and helped the word-of-mouth thing to grow from that base.
Additionally, we dabbled in offline and print advertising (wedding magazines). It's expensive and really hard to measure, but we saw a few signups from it. And to this day we get a small trickle of couples signing up from someone mentioning Gifty in a comment on a five-year-old wedding article in a New Zealand online newspaper.
Below is a graph of Gifty signups per month since the service started. You can see the spikes in 2012/2013 due to the advertising spend. We've slowly but surely progressed from very small to merely small (now averaging about 5 signups per month):
Gifty signups between 2008 and 2017.
Today, we get about half of our customers through friend referrals and another half through Google. A handful are from other sources. Our takeaway is: maximize word of mouth!
What's your business model?
Our business model is very simple: we charge a one-time fee for a couple to use our site for their wedding (currently NZ$35 for New Zealand customers, US$25 elsewhere). The couple doesn't have to pay right away — they can create a list and try it, and they only have to pay when they want to make it viewable to guests.
Initially, we were charging NZ$20, but we found that when we raised prices to $35 it didn't seem to make much difference to the number of signups we got. We haven't been brave enough to push it past $35 yet, but we should probably test that.
As the graph above shows, we currently get 5 or 6 signups per month. Not big bucks, but it keeps us motivated!
One of the unique things about Gifty that I haven't really seen elsewhere is how easy it is to try it out. Just one click on the "Create a Registry" button and you're there. You can try it out and see what it looks like before you even enter your email address (and definitely before you pay us anything).
We started out using PayPal, but then during the Great Revamp (see below) we switched to using Stripe. I can't say enough good things about Stripe — their UI, docs, and API are all great.
We've dabbled in affiliate links, but most customers don't make use of sites we could get affiliate money from, so it wasn't worth it.
Nine years is a long time. Have you updated the site during that time?
Surprisingly, we ran for almost eight years on basically the same code and design with very few tweaks. We get a few customer support emails every month, but other than that, we've had to do very little to keep the site running.
However, last year we did a major overhaul — the site was starting to look very dated, and the UI didn't work very well on mobile phones (important when guests want to cross gifts off while they're shopping). So I redesigned and rewrote the whole thing. The tech was unfamiliar, so it probably took longer than the initial version back in 2008!
You can read more details here — lots of improvements to the registry UI, and the landing page went from looking like this:
What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?
For years it's just been one person (me) working on Gifty. Later this year — after the revamp — we are hoping to invest a bit more in spreading the word and trying to break into the U.S. market.
My wife has also come on board to help push our Facebook page and help with Facebook and other advertising. We doubled the number of staff in one day!
It's our goal in 2017 to double our revenue, either by averaging 10 signups per month instead of 5, or by increasing our price and finding other revenue streams.
Side note: the U.S. market seems particularly full. The big-name stores all have their own registry systems, and couples from the States just seem less inclined to use something simple like Gifty. But if you like flexibility and simplicity, Gifty is for you!
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
Start small — and don't be afraid of continuing small (as Gifty has done)! I have a family with three young girls, and they take a lot of my time, so we're not looking to push this to "overnight success" levels anytime soon.
My best concrete advice comes from two things we've had success with:
- Make it really easy for people to try out a demo without signing up or paying.
- Find a way to get free word-of-mouth "advertising".
Where can we go to learn more?
I've also just launched a small tool to upload versioned static files to a CDN — see cdnupload.com for details. We'll see if that goes anywhere!
Please send through any questions in the comment section below.