January 15, 2019

Should we shut down our SAAS or keep going?

My partners and I built www.hyperlogs.com and we put a lot of money, time and effort.

We think that we built a pretty polished "beta" for our web app. We know we are still missing a bunch of features.

The issue is that my partners and I are not sure if we should continue or shut it down. We have very few paying customers, almost all feedback we get is POSITIVE.

We have not done much marketing though, so part of us feels that we might be killing it too soon. On the flip side, it's been several months why don't we have more paid subscribers (i.e. more validation)?

Should we invest more money/time/effort into marketing? Product development? Or call it quits?

How do we know if it's time to pull the plug?

PS: We are both non-marketers, so any suggestions on how to find the right marketer for the product that would be great.


  1. 35

    You're making the classic mistake of confusing a product or service with a business.

    Bear with me.

    You go to a marketplace, an old-fashioned one with lots of stalls.

    There are two butchers' stalls at the market. Both sell meat, as you would expect.

    One of the stalls is unmarked and the stallholder seems to be absent.

    The other stall is different. It has the butcher's name emblazoned on the stall. The butcher has A-boards beyond his stall advertising today's bargains. To make sure the message is heard, he has a headset connected to a speaker so he can call his wares. When women approach the stall, he banters and flirts with them, throws in the odd chop for free and entices them to spend a little more than they intended. All the while, other potential customers hear the banter and smile, even if some of the puns or some of the double entrendres (this is Britain!) make them roll their eyes. So they drift over, partly to enjoy the fun and partly to see what all the fuss is about.

    And our second butcher sees these people - especially the women because they tend to make the bulk of the purchases - and calls to them as individuals. He compliments one of them and makes a slightly off-colour joke about her needing some good British sausage or, perhaps, her hubby would like a good British stew with (heavy humour alert) some dumplings (double entendre: breasts). The crowd titters. Of course it does: this is tried and tested patter.

    But, because they are now in front of the stall and because his staff are pointing people out to him and telling him what the potential customers are eyeing up, the butcher addresses people directly.

    "Do you like the bacon, missus? That's prime back bacon that is. See the price? Tell you what, love: as it's you, I'll give you the bacon for half price if you take some lamb chops and a pound of sausages."

    Everyone hears the discounts. No-one stops to do the sums. The lady buys more than she intended; he shifts meat that would otherwise rot and he attracts more customers who now want some of those meaty discounts for themselves.

    The point of this long ramble?

    Two butchers. Two stalls. One business.

    You are that butcher. You have that stall. Now you need a metaphorical headset and speaker and you need to seduce the crowd. Only after you have tried and failed to do that is it worth considering something else. Otherwise, you will just build a different product and face exactly the same problem.

    I'm not sure how well my story works in cultures other than my own but if you can get to a vibrant open market, watch and learn from the ones who are doing most of the selling. The cultural norms will differ and what is considered acceptable banter will also differ. However, the ones who sell are the ones who engage within whatever cultural norms apply.

    1. 3

      This comment will live in infamy!

    2. 2

      OMG! What an amazing reply @thomasm1964 . Following u now. :)

      Just loved the climax - "You are that butcher. You have that stall. Now you need a metaphorical headset and speaker and you need to seduce the crowd. Only after you have tried and failed to do that is it worth considering something else. Otherwise, you will just build a different product and face exactly the same problem."

      1. 1

        Join the queue! I seem to have attracted a lot of followers in the last few days!

    3. 2

      haha... thanks for the visual and taking the time to write this entertaining piece of advice.

      I got your point (and humor). I am a big fan of British comedy and grew up watching it :)

      1. 1

        All I need to know now is whether it works!

        1. 2

          me too :)

    4. 1

      Interesting. I want to add something here to the case.

      What if that stall next to you is selling the products for free, and have lots of money to do that, and if that's not too bad, the people coming to market itself is not that many. What do you do then ?

      I am in that situation right now. And I have setup my stall 60% now and I am contemplating if I should continue or stop here.

      1. 2

        There's an interesting psychological aspect to this.

        People do not value that which is free. They may use it but they don't value it. Plenty of people on IH have commented over the last few years how their non-paying "customers" are the banes of their lives because, despite contributing nothing, they demand everything.

        You don't need them.

        You also don't need to conquer the world. You just need to attract sufficient people each year to make a living - or a decent contribution to a living.

        In your case, a couple of things came to mind immediately.

        1. Make your product look as stunning, professional, slick, responsive and intuitive to use as possible.

        2. Look at who your market is. I am going to guess that you are aiming this sqaurely at the wedding couple. Am I right? Why aren't you targetting wedding planners / organisers / venues and selling enterprise user licences so that they can offer it as an intrinsic part of the packages which they sell to their customers?

        I have no idea whether this is the right approach but my point is that you should always look at who might want to buy. In my butchers' story, I specifically mentioned that the butcher eyes up the women, not the men. This is because he knows, as any food seller should, that it is the women who make the bulk of the buying decisions when it comes to food. Single men go to the supermarket. Men in relationships know that the woman is the decision-maker at market.

        So the butcher puts a lot of time into working out who the decision makers are and what it is they want - which is why he flirts and banters with them (or, at least, did mefore #MeToo queered the pitch!).

        So who is the "woman" to whom you are selling? Is it the bride or is it someone acting on behalf of the bride, such as a wedding planner?

        I have no knowledge of this sector so consider all this as speculation but would it make sense to offer a branded service to wedding planners and the like? They integrate seamlessly with you, display their logo discreetly along with their contact details such that, every time I look at the wedding pictures, I know who organised the wedding? Something along those lines might differentiate you.

        And it is not an "either / or" situation. You can tailor the same core code to a number of different use cases and offer slight different solutions to individuals, wedding potogrpahers, businesses and so on.

        And you do not need this product / service to capture every single wedding in the world - just enough to make you comfortable and to give you the time and space to develop another product and then another so you have many irons in the fire and are not reliant on a single stream of income.

        1. 1

          Thanks and great insights @thomasm1964 and I really like your idea in the end - just enough to make you comfortable and to give you the time and space to develop another product and then another so you have many irons in the fire and are not reliant on a single stream of income.

          I understand your point on targeting the right people and there is absolutely a possibility that we can improve our messaging, our targeting etc. But I have a huge concern here which makes this decision to continue harder - our product requires more development efforts. It is usable right now, but there is still a lot of backend we need to build. So, to be able to be at par with the best player in the market is another 3- 4 months work for us. At the same time, the revenues for the biggest player in the market does not look very impressive. From the data that I could gather, they are generating around 5K monthly. Now, we are small, how much can we make compared to that? Say, 2K monthly. Not so impressive.

          But I understand, there might still be opportunities here that we could find just to be able to make some decent money from this until we find the next idea.

          1. 1

            There is at least one false premise here and that is that your competitor is marketing as strongly and as effectively as is possible.

            On what evidence do you base that assumption?

            I don't know your competitor or how big it is or how much focus it gives to marketing or what channels it goes through or what market segment it is attempting to capture ... but you should think about all of these things and seek out your competitor's weaknesses, blind spots and paths they have not thought to follow.

            If you assume your competitor has already covered all the angles in tbe best possible of all possible ways, you are already sunk. Reconnoitre the ground and see how they have disposed of their troops!

            Where do you hear about your competitor? How do you see their name pop up? Everywhere? Somewhere? Here and there? Often? All the time? Occasionally?

            Put yourself in your potential customers' shoes and look for your competitor - how do you put your name in front of them?

            As for not being quite ready, I am in a similar position but have committed to my other half to launch on 1st. March. Why? Because there is never a perfect time to get it all perfectly right. Get a good product out there and then make it better. It will take you time to build an audience anyway so put the lag time to good use.

            1. 2

              True. All the very best to you too. Let's build and grow :)

  2. 9

    You're missing the customer development aspect of running a business. Very rarely do people just show up at your landing page ready to pay, you have to go get them.

    If the "right customer" is subscribing and enjoying your product, your number one focus should be going out and finding more of those.

    1. 1

      Yes we are. We are trying to figure that out.

      1. 2

        Start with the customers you have. A simple phone call or email to ask for other people they know that may benefit from your product, and an intro if they're willing. That's where I'd start.

  3. 5

    It looks good. I wouldn't shut it down.

    But if you're stagnating, losing MRR or can't get it off the ground -- I would try to rebrand it and refocus it.

    As I'm sure you know, this is a very crowded space. There are big, established players out there with full featured products. You're basically trying to run a play straight up the middle of the field against bigger, meaner players. (You don't need me to tell you how hard that is.)

    When industries are consolidated with big players, in my experience it's almost impossible to do what you're doing. (At first, that is).

    I would nich-ify the product to a very specific sector, and rebrand it as such. Pick a single profession that's paid hourly and say: "This product is made expressly for you guys."

    Then I would add a handful of features or industry-specific customizations for that career type. And I would brand the site for them.

    It's easy to convince yourself that a niche is by definition a smaller market and therefore not worth the time. But 20% of a niche is way better than 0% of the entire market.

    1. 2

      Definitely agree with the advice to focus on one sector. When I looked at your landing page, my first question was "Who is this for?"

    2. 1

      we have been toying with the niche idea. we just need to figure out the correct niche. we don't have enough data points to make an informed decision.

      1. 3

        Start with your current customers. You should be talking with them regularly.

  4. 4

    Read this article: https://blog.ycombinator.com/growth-ama-with-yc-partner-gustaf-alstromer/

    Specifically the 2ND question/answer with 5 bullet points

    This is the most underrated piece of content for indiehackers.

    It take non-tech drive/focus to go through those 5 bullet points, if you come out the other end then you've got a business.

    1. 1

      great article. thanks.

    2. 1

      That's a fantastic article, thanks @blairanderson

  5. 3

    I'm in the same boat and already went the paid marketing route. It was really expensive for low quality users. Mostly due to my inexperience with such channels (Google Ads, Facebook, etc).

    My next step is to reach out to more people manually. I'm hoping this not only increases high quality users, but also high quality feedback.

    Do you have a group of users you could reach out to? They may would probably be able to answer this particular question of yours better than us.

    1. 1

      I do have a good size group. I run a newsletter at http://www.frontendweekly.co/ and a medium publication at https://medium.com/front-end-weekly and I created them so I can have a marketing "platform" to push my goods :)

      1. 2

        One comment about Frontend weekly.I see that you run a newsletter for JavaScript related articles.If you're planing to use it as a marketing platform for your application I'm afraid that the group you have is not exactly your target audience so I don't think the feedback from this group can be accurate for your business.

        1. 1

          why do you say that? Many developers work in companies where they have to fill out time sheets or they are freelancers and have to invoice their clients, etc... they might not be the decision makers but they will have some interaction with time tracking. right?

          In any case, this is just one marketing avenue.

          1. 1

            They interact with time tracking, but are they really your customers?

            In all cases I had to track my time, the tool was set. Either some sap shit, build on Lotus Notes, some off the shelf tool, etc. Corporate world and large agencies though, so it might be different with smaller companies.

            As contracting aka freelancer I had often to use the reporting tool of the customer anyways.

          2. 1

            I agree with you, I just wanted to say that maybe improvements can be made in this area.Anyway keep up the good work the site looks good.

            1. 1

              got it. thanks.

  6. 3

    Who says you can only work on one product at a time? Why not let it run on its own for a while while you experiment elsewhere?

    1. 1

      Please don't say that :) That's my default state but it's my 2019 goal to focus. I have always been all over the place doing too many things at the same time. I have shut down several side projects in the last few months and trying to narrow my focus to a couple that I think have potential - hyperlogs is one of them.

      1. 1

        Why would you ever need to "shut down" a software product?

        1. 2

          Mostly for focus and attention. I don't necessarily take them offline but I would stop working on them or supporting them.

          As an example, I stopped working on http://www.omnihabits.com/ but it is still up and running and you can sign up, etc...

          1. 1

            I signed up for omnihabits! That's a solid looking site! Get's the job done.

            Although your facebook signup seems to need some updates.

            1. 1

              @dboots thanks - hence the point of "shutting down". it's constant maintenance and if i have 5 different things running at the same time, it's just not manageable.

  7. 2

    @emadibrahim Some quick feedback from my end. Many of the comments you already have are amazing!

    The first thing I see when I land on your site is this ad copy "Are you still using spreadsheets to keep track of time?"

    • "... track of time?" To me that is vague. Why would I track time? It seems this sentence was written to resonate with a very particular audience (your customer).

    Now your goal is to find that that audience.

    • Where do they hang out on the web?

    • What do they post up samples of their work?

    • How can you find a large list of them and perhaps reach out over email/linkedin/facebook?

    • can you create case studies of your current clients with how they use your product and how they have become more effective? Share this on your site and other places where your customer spends time.

    1. 1

      thanks.

  8. 2

    Are you ready to work on this thing for the next 10+ years? Are you excited to wake up? Do you talk about this 24/7?

    I think there's probably a separation between a good business vs. a passion for the business. If you are passionate, you will find a way to market the product or find the right person because you'll be fanatical.

  9. 2

    hi there - read a lot of the feedback you already got and I agree with most of it. One thing I would add is that if you really want to get this product out there you have to create a presence for it. Start interacting with people on social media directly - find people that might be able to use it and talk to them about the benefits. Find some youtube channels and ask them to review it for you. Get it front of people.

    On a side note, this is definitely something my wife could use in her business so I sent it along to her. Sometimes it's just the effort of putting your product out there that gets you random hits.

    Best of luck!

    1. 1

      thank you and i hope your wife finds it useful for her business.

  10. 2

    If marketing is 60% of a SaaS, you only did 40% of the work. How will you know, what a success is if the world can't find your product?

  11. 2

    Get on the phone with your existing customers who are paying. Talk to them and ask questions on what problems are being solved for them through your tool. Note down everything. Do it with every customer and then find the common patterns/benefits/features they are all specifically interested in.

    Then take those features/benefits and focus more on them on your landing page. Get more specific than general and then start targeting more customers like the ones that are already paying. That is the overall formula.

    Sales and Marketing is 90% of any business. The actual product or service is only useful if you get sales and good marketing. So yes, your business will not succeed if you cannot do sales and cannot do marketing to generate leads. Stop writing more code if not already and start focusing on understanding what has worked so far and then double down on that.

    I looked at your landing page and it is TOO GENERIC. You need to be very clear on who it is really for. If you are selling to everyone, you don't have a business. Read that again. If you sell to everyone, you don't even a business (very few exceptions like amazon but those were not created overnight. Remember even amazon started as a book selling website).

    1. 1

      yup. i am starting to see the pattern in the comments. niche niche niche.

  12. 2

    I see you had huge visitors in the first three months and then it highly decreased. Did you stopped marketing for your product? If you're product is not viral in essence, you can't stop looking for new customers in the beginning.

    Getting rid of free plan seems to be a good decision. Let the current customers on free plan still use it for free in the next 3 months, but let them know that you've changed the plan pricing. Also, give a 2 weeks free trial for new users. If those free users won't bring new paying customers for your app, there's not any reason to offer free plan.

    P.S. Glad to see you're using TheSaaS as you landing page.

    1. 1

      The first 3 months were the initial marketing stuff, posting on hacker news, social media, etc... We ran out of steam and time.

      TheSaaS is a great theme.

  13. 2

    few paying customers, beta, all feedback positive..... am I right guessing your product is freemium?

    If so, consider drop free tier and let market decide.

    If enough upgrade with free choice gone, great. If not enough willing to pay, an answer is given.

    1. 1

      That's what my partner suggested too and we are working on making that transition and removing the free plans. It goes against all my instincts but I am going to give it a shot.

      1. 2

        I'm a fan of freemium, but its not for all products and with your question, would fastrack the answers.

        Could potentially swap your free tier with a very cheap tier, will show results whichever way it goes.

      2. 2

        Check my reply Above

  14. 1

    (not a direct response to the Q)

    Hi, I like your landing page, looks professional & good, from a customer perspective, the product is polish and ready.

    my 2cents:

    1-rise your price (6$) is too few and maybe damaging your image I expect a last 19$, believe me or not, no one would bay something that cheap, If some do, they just forget about it as the investment is too low!

    2-remove the part "alternative to" you give your competitors a lot of visibility and you give some of your potential customer ideas! (sorry riscueTime is powerful: I head good things about them in 2009!)

  15. 1

    Nice platform! I don't know what your costs are, but you need to minimize all costs and just keep going forward. Every new sign up is a instant reward derived from the fruits of your labor.

    Suggestions

    ------------------------------

    Always simplify...Imagine your site without the nav links.

    All these links should be shown to users after they signup and log in!

    [Hide these nav links - only show after registration and login]

    FEATURES, PRICING, APPS, FAQ

    [Keep]

    Login, TRY IT FREE

    Features

    --------------------------

    The features speaks for themselves. You want users to jump right in and sign up! This way, you collect all those lovely email addresses and customer info right from the gate. Now you can send out marketing emails, responsibly of course, always have unsubscribe button present and don't bombard their inbox.

    Pricing

    --------------------------

    Don't scare anyone off with pricing. Everyone always says, man that is pricey, but that's before they test drive the product! Let the product speak for itself during the trial phase, then present the pricing options. Little bites at a time...

    Apps

    --------------------------

    Not really much here, just prevents users from signing up and getting started!

    FAQ

    --------------------------

    Questions are derived while the product is being used during the trial phase. Just makes more sense to create a more focused process. Don't allow the user to choose all these options, don't create a maze, create a tunnel.

  16. 1

    This product is interesting. I'd like to talk more about it, learn what you've done and some more insight into usage/revenue. I've got some insights that might help.

  17. 1

    You just made my computer's CPU go crazy just by visiting your page. I am sorry, but that's really the worst. I wasn't able to click any subpage and I am lucky the browser tab closed after few seconds.

    You are doing something wrong.

    P. S.: Running GNOME's Web browser.

  18. 1

    Time tracking is a crowded market and that is a good thing. It seems is a very big problem where there is space for different flavours. Take a look at one of your competitors here: https://letsfreckle.com/ See the difference? If you want some ideas on how to differentiate in a crowded market, I would recomend https://www.groovehq.com/blog, the first posts in special. I would not recomend you give up now.

  19. 1

    It looks like you don't have much traffic. Don't shut a business down until you get at least a decent amount of targeted traffic to see if it converts.

    Do some SEO low-hanging fruit like optimizing page titles (your titles are poor). Some keyword research and tweaks and basic link building stuff can get the ball rolling in terms of organic traffic.

    Don't give up, there's plenty that you can do marketing/SEO-wise.

  20. 1

    Hi @eibrahim

    I haven't taken the time to read the response yet but from reading your post, it seems like you haven't built a strategy yet on finding and attracting new business and growing net new revenue. First, you have to take the time to craft your ideal customer aka, buyer persona. Who are your buyers, what do they do, how will your product impact them, are they looking to save time, are they looking to maximize efficiency, etc. Building the product is only part of the journey. Selling it is another.

    Your product looks good and I would keep it going and invest in business development. Maybe you can find some freelancers on Upworks that will do the outreach and generate leads.

    There's also LinkedIn. If you can create a beneficial whitepaper where your ideal buyer will be interested in downloading, that may be helpful in generating leads. You don't have to pay for ad space, just make a post and redirect it to your site's landing page.

    I have 10 years business development experience selling a variety of things including software in the legal and accounting vertical. I'm always happy to help a fellow IH'er. Anything I can help on please don't hesitate to reach out.

    1. 1

      Thank you for the feedback @vez1132! Funny that you are in the legal/accounting space, as this is a primary vertical that we are looking at targeting. We should connect.

      1. 2

        What a coincidence. Yes, let's connect. My contact info is listed in my profile. Feel free to shoot me a quick email. I would love to see or hear what your plans are for this product.

  21. 1

    you are in a crowded space. The best solution is to niche down to a specific segment.

    You'll find out that some niches use general solutions where many features are not needed and only makes the product more clunky and lack other features specific for that niche.

    If you find your niche, you'll get clients so much easier...that will dump their old tool and will use yours. Word of mouth will kick later and it will be much easier.

  22. 1

    Agree with all the other replies regarding sales/marketing...

    We think that we built a pretty polished "beta" for our web app. We know we are still missing a bunch of features.

    How do you know this? Is it feedback coming from customers? Potential customers? Or is just your own feeling? Really consider if your lack of features is what's holding your product back. It might be, but spending more time building something into a vacuum before you get some inbound coming to your website won't do you much good.

    1. 2

      We know from customer feedback - free and paying customers. It's not a large number but it has been consistently positive.

  23. 1

    Forget paid ads.

    1. I'd suggest adding more content marketing via your blog. Post more about the benefits of the product etc etc. Stick with a schedule and be consistent. This is a classic way of getting leads. Intercom, Drift Buffer all do this successfully.

    2. Are you picking up the phone and calling your ideal customers in the B2B segment? Start with linkedin and quickly get the conversation offline (face to face meeting).

    3. Moreover, have you thought about adoptability of your product? How easily does it fit into the work flow "loop" that your ideal customers use. Everyone will say, "yes", we like this product, we need it. Then they fail to use it because it's doesn't fit into the routine of their app chain. I see you focus on browser extensions. What about a Slack or Skype plugin ?

    4. How about re-evaluating where you are and where you'd like to be with your value proposition canvas, customer profile and business canvas model?

    Hope this helps. Don't give up!

    1. 1

      #3 is a great point. we are working on slack integration which hopefully should give us some exposure and "free" marketing in the slack ecosystem.

      1. 1

        Best of luck with it. I hope you can get more traction. Keep testing and learning.

  24. 1

    As long as you're breaking even on your running costs (and a DO droplet can't be much) I'd say there's no reason to shut it down.

    I've registered and moved through the app, and to be honest I don't see what the focus is. Is it aimed at solo developers, small agencies, teams inside bigger companies, or startups?

    If you already have paying customers that are regularly using your app and enjoying it, then you technically have everything you need to grow it - like @andrew_bpco says, go find more of those.

    1. 1

      thanks. good feedback.

  25. 1

    Hi,

    After checking your site it looks cool but still needs to be more to the point i feel that u need to find a niche to do it.

    Ex; US Makers or Freelancer makers - Local businesses but even local biz needs to be narrowed down like Builders , plumbers or local taxi companies.

    Or Uber drivers are freelancers to so they will need to keep records.

    The niche needs to be companies that use the most spreadsheets who are they ? find them and narrow it down . As above.

    When u narrow it down to a niche is easy to create content.

    Also Your price is high 6$ per user if a small business have 3 to 10 people that will be a lot focus on simple prices, I think u will be able to charge that amount only if u find a niche only then.

    Give 14 days free trial - And Book a demo with u if needed . Create a Guide Video how to use the product . U can Hire someone on fiver for that.

    U need to charge for 1 user to lets say 2$ Or 5$ every 3 month.

    :-)

    1. 1

      thanks for the feedback.

      1. 2

        Is all good :-) & good luck do not shut down the project just change tactics remember u are indie hacker LOL hack ;-)