UXClub.com

Ed Vinicombe explains how he turned a skill he already had into a profitable side project by avoiding common mistakes made by others in the industry.

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

Hey! My name is Ed Vinicombe, and I run a company called UXClub.com.

UXClub.com is an on-demand video training platform for people looking to learn something new about user experience design. More often than not, our audience tends to lean towards the novice side of the industry — people who are looking to get started in UX or looking to make a switch from their current role and learn something new.

UXClub.com is not a full-time commitment, though I wish it were. Having a full-time job and trying to run a business on the side is, to say the least, challenging. But I find it possible with enough discipline, planning, and focus. Oh, and not a lot of sleep!

We began trading in December 2016, and since then UXClub.com has evolved into a profitable company, albeit only modestly so. Our annual run rate is $4,800, which is plenty to keep the site alive and to invest back into the product where and when we can.

What motivated you to get started with UXClub.com?

It was a combination of things: failed ideas, gaps in the market, and the presence of new friends I had made!

Before I even thought of starting UXClub.com I created a blog-publishing tool for UXers. It was kind of like a Medium meets UX kind of thing. When I quickly realized that this was just an awful idea and almost impossible to monetize, I was left scratching my head.

Enter Kaspar: the very friendly Lithuanian ghost/developer.

I was working with Kaspar at the time, and he had gotten wind of my idea and wanted to help. After toying with some new ideas, we both thought there was something we could do with the community I'd already begun to establish.

I had worked as a UX designer for many years, and Kaspar and I thought there might be an opportunity for me to share what I had learned with our community. There were a handful of websites that we both used that were really kicking ass in the e-learning industry, and we spotted an opening for a regularly-updated, on-demand platform focused solely on UXers.

We began to gauge the reception from our existing audience by sending out Typeform surveys. In return, we'd send them free T-shirts and other bits of merchandise as an incentive. The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive. It became clear that there was a demand for affordable UX training.

Some websites and online learning schools were (and still are) charging in the thousands for online UX courses that are rarely updated. It's obscene. What's more, even if you had all that spare money lying around, you had to get in before all the spots filled up! It was mad and unfair — and it was ultimately where the idea for UXClub.com came from.

What went into building the initial product?

My initial idea of a blog publishing-tool for UXers was built over several months, and the freelancer I hired cost me around £9K (about $11,600). I procured those funds by applying for a startup loan backed by the government here in the UK. I still have to pay the money back, but at 0% interest.

Once Kaspar and I decided to take the product off in a new direction, we quickly established that we'd have to rip up what we had and start from scratch. That wasn't easy. I had spent an awful lot of money to build my original idea, so it took a while for me to come around and see the benefits of moving the site onto a more stable platform.

We spent weeks using Trello to prepare what we'd build first. We wanted to get something out the door in a reasonable amount of time. We'd tend to meet in the pub after work, or spend hours on Slack messaging back and forth. By that time, our first priority was to get the infrastructure ported from Statamic (what the original site was built on) to Laravel, where we'd have far more flexibility and control over the codebase. We could then scale our idea from there.

Your first goal should be to get something — anything — tangible out there that people can use.

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Bizarrely, around this time the domain name UXClub.com was put up for sale. I was always looking for a better, more memorable name for the product, and this seemed like the perfect time to change it. The domain was not cheap, and I used some of my own personal savings to buy it. The name "UXClub" was nonspecific and could encompass just about anything, so if we needed to shift company focus in the future, we could do so without having the name hold us back.

We spent 6 months building the first MVP. We both had to try and find time before and after work, and that wasn't easy. Progress can really seem slow sometimes, but as we don't have a lot of time to spare, we only focus on what is important in driving the business forward, and I think that helps us massively.

In December, 2016, we shipped our product and began trading.

How have you attracted users and grown UXClub.com?

When figuring out how to promote UXClub.com I got in touch with an old friend, John O'Nolan at Ghost. He had some pretty stark advice for marketing a product: "Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks".

Looking back, I'm not sure how helpful that was. But what I took from it was that there was no real formula for marketing success. Instead, it would have to be something I discovered for myself.

There's something to be said for just getting out there and trusting your instincts.

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When we launched, we were lucky enough to get featured on uxdesignweekly.com as part of their weekly newsletter. That brought in 400-500 free account signups in our first week, which gave us a platform to work from.

After that, we adopted some of the following to keep the signups coming:

  • The standard. Facebook, Twitter, G+, and LinkedIn. Bizarrely, LinkedIn proved to be the most useful social channel for us, and still drives over 35% of our traffic! Our audience see our product as part of the professional side of their lives, so the vast majority of our social engagement comes from LinkedIn.

  • Email marketing. Just no. The majority of our audience are tech savvy and don't like their inboxes flooded with promotional material. We've pretty much stopped all email communication now, but when we used to send out emails, we'd have a 4%-6% unsubscribe rate from each email. Not good.

  • Local events. We found that getting in touch with local conferences, workshops, and meetups was a great way to promote UXClub.com. More often than not, local event planners are more than willing to lend a hand to fledgling businesses and local startups without any money!

  • Free YouTube channel. Everyone likes getting something for free! We set up a YouTube channel to cater to segments of our audience which were on the verge of signing up but weren't quite sure. We tend to upload one free lesson per course to youtube as a teaser.

  • Just get out there! This probably sounds awkwardly motivational, but there really is something to be said for just making yourself visible and getting out there within the community. Try and establish a group of well-known practitioners in your sector, and try and show them what you've done. You'd be surprised how nice people can be (most of the time).

  • Focused content. As our site steadily grows, we tend to adopt more sophisticated and long-tailed ways of building buzz around UXClub.com. Less batch and blast marketing — more focused pieces that will drive more growth in the long term.

  • Long-term SEO plan. Ultimately, I want to be able to step back from the day-to-day marketing and spend more time focusing on content creation. A solid SEO plan is going to make traffic more reliable and hopefully require less of my time for maintenance.

  • Company partnerships. More recently, I've been reaching out to companies in the UX space who might be interested in cross promotion. These partnerships help build our external links and start relationships that we can come back to throughout the year.

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

UXClub.com uses a subscription-based business model. In our initial market research surveys, we openly asked our audience how much they'd like to pay for our service. I had a hunch that a low cost Spotify/Netflix structure would work, and I was right — over 85% of our replies said $9/month. We also give the user the chance to sign up for a year at $86 (saving 20%).

Month MRR
December 117
January 389
February 458
March 449
April 423

The model is simple to understand, and makes our own user experience simple to follow and easy to design for.

We were toying with which payment processor to use, Stripe or Braintree. Stripe was easier to implement, but Braintree ran with PayPal. PayPal is super easy to use, and considering we were a new business I thought that PayPal would help bridge that initial trust for our users to make a purchase.

After sending another Typeform survey out on Twitter, I found I was right. Over 70% of our responses agreed that PayPal was a safer choice when purchasing from a new website. Braintree it was.

A personal goal of mine from the outset was to keep the expenses as low as humanly possible. I knew I'd have to keep funding this idea at the start, and I didn't want it costing me the earth.

UXClub.com costs roughly $75/month to run. This includes:

  • Digital Ocean @ $35/mo
  • Deployment software @ $20/mo
  • GitHub @ $7/mo
  • Vimeo @ $13/mo

Our margins are low, and I like it that way. When we need a new piece of software that will cost the business money, we usually try and find a way we can do it ourselves for free!

When you've successfully earned your first dollar, it's difficult to know where to most effectively invest it. Do you put something back into advertising? Do you upgrade your stack? Do you pay for more help?

My advice is to take your time and think about your next move meticulously. Paid advertising with Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn is as good as burning your money then and there. If you're keen to re-invest your money in advertising, look for more niche opportunities with companies that operate solely in your sector. You'll find your ROI will be a lot healthier!

What are your goals for the future, and how do you plan to accomplish them?

Establishing your own personal motivations is as big a challenge as anything that I've mentioned here — especially if you also work full time.

Balancing my own free time, full-time job, and UXClub.com is a constant struggle. I find that I'm my own worst enemy when setting out commercial targets for UXClub.com. I have to remember that there are only two of us working part time on this!

I tend not to look years in advance when planning for UXClub.com. Plans change too frequently, and our time is sporadic. Instead, I look at the next 3-6 months, and try and establish a loose theme for what we'll try and achieve.

For the next 6 months, my goals are not monetary but content-focused. Producing the content that our users consume is demanding and can be stressful. Personally, I'd like to look for ways that we can smooth the production process and make filming the lesson content easier.

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

Time has been our biggest enemy.

As mentioned, we both have full-time jobs, partners, and lives, so dedicating time to UXClub.com can be challenging. It's up to us how successful we want it to be, and that can depend solely on the time we have available. It's a bit of a catch 22, annoyingly.

We've had our run-ins with bad software, and I could have definitely chosen a better initial platform to build on, but what can I do now? Reflecting back on it, I'd advise getting input from as many people (preferably developers) from day one as to the right software to use. Discuss, in depth, what you're hoping to build, and what you'd like your product to do. Spending time establishing the right approach is crucial, and will ultimately save you a lot of time and money.

What's more, don't be afraid to share your idea with friends, family, and colleagues. It's difficult facing negative feedback for an idea that you're excited about, but you better start building a thick skin now! More often than not, the feedback you'll get early on will help answer those hard questions that you cannot avoid.

What were your biggest advantages? Was anything particularly helpful?

Without a doubt, meeting my business partner and friend, Kaspar. I guess you could say I was in the right place at the right time, and we just clicked. We both share the same ambitions and enjoy the creative and technical freedom we have working on UXClub.com.

Besides that, I would most definitely say knowing how to code is a bonus. I wouldn't say I can write production-ready code, but I know enough to put the front end of a website together. This alone has saved me more time and money than I could have possibly spared.

Lastly, the name UXClub.com has given us some pretty big advantages. The name and power of the domain alone gets people talking to us, and gets us that extra level of notability.

It's still so important to carefully plan out the name and branding of your product. It's the first thing you can offer that might resonate with people, and it's vital you get it right.

I can't stand products that repeat letttters in their nammme. Think of a better one!

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

I'll throw this one out there straight away — I really dislike reading or hearing about books that profess to know how to make a product successful.

There's something to be said for just getting out there and trusting your instincts. Decision-making doesn't have to be hard if you just stick to common sense. If you're thinking about starting a business, you're obviously going to be better off working in a sector that you're familiar with. Stick to what you know!

Secondly, when you say you'll do something… do it! There is nothing more embarrassing than putting up a landing page with a release date that is constantly moving back. Your first goal should be to get something — anything — tangible out there that people can use. I've seen so many people take out loans, ransack savings, and all sorts of things to just waste it all on a half-baked idea. You must release something.

There really is something to be said for just making yourself visible and getting out there within the community.

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Lastly (sorry to sound so dour!), be prepared to hear the word "no" a lot. I couldn't count the amount of people that have shut the door in my face. It's hard not to take it personally. It's pretty easy to think, "Fuck it, no one wants what I'm making."

Ignore them.

Having someone say "no" to you just means that you can't do business with them. You'll do it with someone else instead.

Their loss!

Where can we go to learn more?

In case you haven't guessed already! You can checkout UXClub.com and you're more than welcome to fire me an email to ed [at] uxclub. I'm also on Twitter at @edvinicombe. :)

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