Sneez

Tom Hunt explains how he used Facebook groups to find his first 20 paying subscribers within two months of launching his new business.

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

I'm Tom Hunt.

I am a TEDx Speaker, Dragons' Den failure, and Internet entrepreneur. Before all that I studied chemistry at Imperial College London and followed the herd to a management consulting job in the city of London. Eventually I got bored and built an online marketplace connecting entrepreneurs with Filipino virtual assistants, and from there I went into other ventures.

Sneez enables eCommerce brands to incentivize their customers to create authentic branded content, then use that content to improve conversion rates on their product pages.

My co-founder and I came up with the idea in January 2017. Two weeks later we had an MVP up, and six weeks later we had 20 monthly subscribers. We've only been growing from there.

What motivated you to get started with Sneez?

We love when brands that matter... win.

And a key indicator that a company is building a worthwhile brand that their customers actually care about is the amount of (unpaid) content and promotion its customers do for the business.

Four years ago I started an eCommerce store selling leggings for men. We built a strong cause and mission around liberating the modern male from conventional fashion.

This strong mission drove many of our customers to create authentic, branded content and share it for us on Instagram. We then used this content to increase engagement and conversion rates on our product pages.

The only issue was that incentivizing our customers and then collecting the content was taking our manager 1-2 hours per day.

We started Sneez to automate the process of incentivizing customers to share, and then creating a shoppable Instagram feed for each product page to massively increase conversion rates through social checkouts.

What went into building the initial product?

We started building on January 11th, 2017. We had a residual amount of cash left over from fundraising for our previous (failed) startup, and we used this to fund the early development.

We knew we had to get users into the product as early as possible to help drive the roadmap, and within two weeks we had a number of Shopify store owners testing the product for free.

Get something into the hands of those who can pay for it ASAP.

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We hosted calls where I would show customers how Sneez works, and then offer them a 50% lifetime discount on the product if they subscribed right there and then. This is how we reached 20 monthly subscibers (paying $25-50/mo) only two months after having the idea.

In the meantime, I've made cash by selling information (most notably, this book that outlines the full process we used to build Sneez), and my business partner James contracts with another startup.

How have you attracted users and grown Sneez?

We had no launch. The majority of our early users have come from Shopify-related Facebook groups.

By building a repuation through posting insightful and relevant content, I was able to earn the respect of the group owners, enabling me to post a "call to action" for beta testers.

Aftwards, we launched a content marketing challenge following the growth of our male leggings Shopify store from $6.5k to $100k per month in sales. This was ideal content for our desired customer: someone looking to scale their Shopify store.

I started posting a weekly update tracking the progress of the store as the challenge progressed with Sneez being the official sponsor. I was also able to go back into the Facebook communities and post weekly updates with the content, driving further free traffic.

I would then retarget the people that engaged with the challenge (but didn't sign up) by driving them to a pre-sell page that explained the story of Sneez and why they, too, should create a free account.

In May 2017 our site hit 5,000 sessions and 69 people signed up for free Sneez accounts, all from a total of $300 spent on paid aids.

One mistake we made was enlisting the help of partners too early. We signed up 40 affiliates offering 30% lifetime comission on the monthly subscription. The issue here was that we were pre-product/market fit (the point at which your product is good enough to satisfy the market), so our conversion rate from "free signup" to "paid subscriber" needed to be optimized.

Wait until you have solid product/market fit before investing in growth.

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Having a partner send you a boatload of leads that result in little to no sales is not the best way to start the relationship. Therefore we have stopped promoting the partner program for now to focus on in-house promotion methods such as content, search engine optimization (SEO), cold email outreach, and the Shopify App Marketplace.

In summary, my advice for marketing an early product is to focus on driving free traffic from relevant communities to content that people actually care about, and then using retargeting to direct that traffic back to your signup page.

Once this is providing an acceptable cost per acquisition (CAC), then you can layer on some SEO optimization on the content and chuck in some cold emailing. Once you have product/market fit and reliable LTV/CAC ratio calculations (i.e. you make more money from each customer than it costs to bring them in), you can reach out to partners to promote your product.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Sneez generates revenue via monthly subscriptions.

At the same time, however, we are building an engaged community of Shopify store owners that we could potentially market other related products to in the future.

We currently have 23 paid subscribers paying between $25-50 per month. Our peak was slightly higher than that, but then we experienced pretty heavy churn when we realized that the product was oversold and didn't live up to its promises.

Month MRR
Jan 0
Feb 125
Mar 475
Apr 725
May 550

We plan to continue to invest our focused time and attention into Sneez each and every day, and scale to 300 paying subscribers by the end of 2017. This would bring us to a monthly recurring revenue of $7,500, allowing each of us to focus on Sneez full-time.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

Our biggest challenge has been building something innovative enough to differentiate us from potential competitors while at the same time trying to focus on early revenue due to our being bootstrapped.

We also tried to scale a little too early, as I mentioned earlier. We recruited partners and focused on growth before we had true product/market fit with a specific customer segment. In the future I would wait until we have strong product/market fit before scaling.

What's been most helpful on your journey so far?

I've spent four years selling things online, so finding early traction was not that tough.

My cofounder James is a full-stack developer, so building an MVP was also not much of a challenge.

We believe that these two skillsets are crucial when bootstrapping a software comapny in the early days, so they were definitely our biggest advantages.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

  1. Get something into the hands of those who can pay for it ASAP.
  2. Wait until you have solid product/market fit before investing in growth.
  3. Find a technical or marketing/sales cofounder if you don't have either of those skills.

If you want to learn more about the process we used to build Sneez from idea to 20 paying subscribers in two months, you can check out the Kindle book I wrote as we executed.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions about any of the above answers, please leave them in the comments below and I will get back to you :)

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