Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?
Hey, I'm Alex Moskovski, and I make and monetize software. Menumake is one of my experiments that I've built for the Russian market and for Vk.com (the Russian Facebook) in particular.
Groups in this social network have ended up becoming de facto shops that many people use to start businesses without the hassle of having to set up a standalone website. A lot of group owners there use a graphical menu fixed at the top of their group to redirect the audience to its most important parts, such as the testimonials, the pricing, and the order form.
Menumake streamlines and automatizes menu creation for them. It turned out that these people needed this solution so bad that they were willing to pay for it.
In December 2016 Menumake earned around $1200, and I think January is going to be even better.
What motivated you to get started with Menumake? How'd you come up with the idea?
It all started with my other SaaS webservice called Postio, which I built to make it easier for people to find and publish content to their social accounts and groups. As a part of its marketing strategy, I had bought and published dozens of articles on various subjects on its blog to get some extra traffic from search engines.
Then, all of a sudden, Postio started to get a relatively large amount of traffic from Google and Yandex (a Russian search engine) with keywords that have nothing to do with Postio itself... things like "create a menu", "make a menu in a vk group", and so on.
Clearly, people were having real issues with this menu thing. So I built a very simple and crude MVP and redirected some traffic from Postio to it.
It worked, and users were willing to pay for it.
What went into building your MVP? How long until you were ready to launch?
First I had to explore the possibilities of the API of the social network to determine what actions could be automated, and to what degree. It turned out that the API could do anything I needed, except pinning a post to the top of a group. All of that was too much for an MVP, so I decided to cut down a few features.
Basically what I had to make was an image generator and an uploader. Since I had a lot of code snippets from my previous projects, I had a working MVP by the third day. There was nothing fancy going on behind the scenes, just a good old LAMP stack with Codeigniter and jQuery mixed in.
I build all my projects using as few tools as I can. Sure, I realize that the LAMP stack has its drawbacks, but I prefer to stick to the tools I'm most efficient with, and that allows me to deliver as fast as I can. I've never seriously considered myself a developer. I'm just a happy generalist.
What marketing strategies have you used? How have you attracted users and grown Menumake?
Since I'd started wtih existing SEO traffic, getting my first clients was quite easy. It also turned out that they loved the service so much that they recommended it to their friends. And some of them published posts about Menumake to closed communities and chats with a lot of group owners.
Besides that, it was obvious that I should get some backlinks to rank higher in search engines. So I contacted several blogs in that niche (and a couple of them in an adjacent one) and asked them if they are interested in the affiliate program of the service. Oh, did I mention that I had already built it in? I do it for all my apps by default because it has been proven to be effective. Anyway, the bloggers were interested and willing to write and publish articles about it.
But there were a couple of other things that had contributed to the growth. Every menu had a badge with a link to the app it had been published with. I used that as an opportunity to promote the service in the most unobtrusive way since this badge is pretty small and usually goes unnoticed by general users. Also, users could put their affiliate link at the bottom of the menu and attract other users to receive 25% of the service's profit on them.
Those measures were enough to guarantee fast and steady growth.
How does your business model work? What's the story behind your revenue?
Menumake charges users on a per menu basis. The subscription model would be a much better fit, but the API of the uplink social network is pretty much unstable. So in reality this model would be a disaster, because I'd have to constantly refund the users who've been affected by bugs in the API.
Payments are collected using Yandex Kassa, one of the biggest payment gateways in the Russian market. Stripe is good for global startups, but for a small domestic player like Menumake, Yandex Kassa is more than enough.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced? Anything you'd do differently if you had to start over?
Menumake is not my first project in this niche, so the only regret I have is that I didn't build it earlier when I first spotted the SEO traffic with relevant keywords. The difference could easily be an extra $12,000 - $14,000 in my bank account.
What were your biggest advantages? Was anything particularly helpful?
I have two really strong advantages: coding and marketing skills. Both of these allow me to build, test, and promote the things I make super fast. I also have a lot of free time. Partly that's because I already have a steady income from my other projects. And partly that's because I'm still single, but I guess I should fix it at some point.
What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?
One word: ship.
Stop perfecting stuff you are not really sure someone needs. Stop thinking that what you are making is not good enough. Just build something fast and show it to people. They are the ultimate judges. Then and only then you will have a chance to perfect it.
Stop obsessing over the framework, the programming language, and what not. Facebook was written in vanilla PHP. That didn't hinder its path to dominanc, and it won't hinder yours.
And finally, don't try to read everything voraciously. Focus on what is important right now, for the very task you have in hand. If you still don't know what to do, go through Paul Graham's essays. They have everything you need to start doing something and to begin asking the right questions.
Having said that I do recommend reading these books when you have time:
- The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. This book will help you overcome procrastination and other bad habits, so you can turn yourself into the person you've always wanted to be.
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel. This has everything you should know about innovation and startups in general.
- Rework by Jason Fried. This is the bible of the lean startup methodology.
Where can we go to learn more?
I've written an article that explains everything I did to build and promote Menumake. In it I reveal some tricks that helped validate the idea, and I present a lot of data from the project. Take a look at it — it's fun.
Thank you for reading and feel free to ask me anything!