Growing to $4,000/mo by Scrubbing Embarrassing Content from the Web

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

I'm Ryan Angilly. I'm 35, I live in Denver, Colorado, and my first child was just born three weeks ago as of writing this! Her name is Ainsley, and she's awesome. I started programming when I was seven — anyone out there remember the AppleSoft BASIC games from 3-2-1 Contact magazines?! After getting degrees in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering, I worked at EMC building computer models of data storage systems before starting my first company in 2007. That company was a voicemail transcription company. It was kind of like Google Voice, but worse. It didn't do too well, but it did start my now 10-year long career building software businesses.

Scrubber is a product which scans through your social media history looking for potentially embarrassing content. It scans through posts you've made, comments you've made on other people's posts, comments other people have made on your posts, and (where applicable, e.g. on networks like Facebook) comments on posts in which you're tagged. It scans through multiple social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and will flag posts that contain profanity, mentions of drugs or alcohol, sex, and politics. It has a custom keywords feature so it can flag posts containing the name of a person, job, or organization.

I started putting real work into Scrubber about a year and a half ago, after letting it sit around in the background for three years not doing that much. I closed a high five-figure whitelabel deal with Brita.com in early 2017 and after being featured on Good Morning America earlier this year, and hit an all-time high of $3,800 in revenue in the month of April.

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What motivated you to get started with Scrubber?

After moving to Boulder, Colorado in late 2010, I dove into the startup scene pretty hard. For a few years I was coming up with ideas constantly. When an app called 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo (which later became Timehop) came onto the scene, I became enthralled with the idea of digital history.

It dawned on me how complex digital histories would be to manage in the coming decades. I told my girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) and she stopped me in my tracks and said, "You should build that one." I had bounced many ideas off Kim over the years, but she took to this one more than others. She was in law school at the time, and regaled me with tales of her classmates being terrified that some silly tweet or Facebook comment taken out of context would hurt their upcoming legal career.

Later that weekend, I had a prototype running on my laptop and showed it to a few friends. The response was good, but life got in the way and it sat on my laptop for another year or so before I finally launched it out into the world.

How have you attracted users and grown Scrubber?

We never had an official launch. Less than a week after buying the domain and putting Scrubber live, a writer from Cosmopolitan magazine somehow found Scrubber and wrote about it. I had 10,000 users come to the site in a day, and we were off to the races.

Since then, Scrubber has benefited from amazing word-of-mouth growth. Other great press hits like the Wall Street Journal and Good Morning America have allowed us to ride this wave successfully for some time.

Until you have users failing at completing tasks or complaining about things, the number one issue is distribution.

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In addition, early 2017 saw the launch of a pilot program for university athletic departments to bulk-buy Scrubber for their student athletes. This helped Scrubber spread through some college campuses and further increased traffic.

We've been lucky that Scrubber as a product lends itself to spreading via word of mouth. However, to be blunt, answering this part of the interview was the toughest for me because illustrates just how much more we can be doing. Maybe in a year I can write a Part 2 where I talk about the additional things we did to increase traffic and how it worked out!

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

People sign up for Scrubber for free. They provide us with their email address, connect their social media accounts via OAuth, run a scan, and see all the posts we flag. If they want to edit or delete a post we've flagged, they have two options: they can go find the post on their own (no easy task on most social networks), or they can upgrade to our Premium plan, which enables them to directly access the original post from Scrubber with just a click. We charge $19 for the initial scan with the Premium plan. If users want us to continually run scans for them as we upgrade our technology, they can pay us $9/month after the first 30 days. Most users, however, pay the $19 one time and then cancel the subscription.

Example Scrubber post

In addition to growing revenue through increased traffic, we've used a series of smart dynamic emails via Customer.io to get users to upgrade after signing up. Customer.io offers some really exciting flexibility and customization that allows us to send emails that have doubled our conversion rate from a free user to a paying user.

What are your goals for the future?

In the next 12 months we want to increase revenue five fold. This will be accomplished by tackling a series of efforts in parallel:

  • Creating a more formal process for reaching out to secondary education career services and student newspapers to get blog mentions
  • Getting better at Facebook ads — we have had some success here, but never put enough time into learning to push it over the hump into a consistently profitable channel.
  • Increasing our SEO footprint
  • Put more effort into getting our users to tell their friends about Scrubber

In addition, in the next year we're going to be formalizing a "Scrubber for Teams" product where an organization (school, athletic department, sports team, business) can bulk-buy Scrubber for their members. We have already ran successful pilots with West Virginia University and Florida State.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Tools & Products

FullStory was a game-changer for us (and they're not paying me to say that!). You drop their JavaScript tag on the site, and they provide almost real-time recordings of what users see as they move around your website. We've found some pretty huge bugs, including one where our upgrade paywall wasn't scrolling properly on the iPhone 4 so people couldn't even sign up!

Other invaluable tools:

Custom Slack Webhooks

I heavily utilize custom Slack integrations to get notified on several events including:

  • Sign-up
  • Upgrade
  • Authorizes a social network
  • Hits a paywall

Each category of event gets piped into a Slack channel prefixed with activity-. Rather than provide discrete metrics (which I also get in a daily email) this gives me a good sense for the "heartbeat" of Scrubber. I can tell pretty quickly and anecdotally if something is wrong based on the cadence of the events as they pipe into various channels.

Personal Habits

I am not a person of routine. One of the things I've tried to get better at in the last couple years is establishing better personal habits around how I operate my businesses. On any given week, I can spend up to 95% of my time on other businesses, so it used to be easy for weeks to go by without spending any time on Scrubber. About a year ago, I started a new system where I put a whiteboard in my office in direct line of sight when I'm looking at my computer screen. It has three big sections: Daily, Weekly, and Tasks.

  • Daily is for repetitive tasks that I want to do every day: take my vitamins, workout, etc.
  • Weekly is for weekly repetitive tasks: get to inbox 0, meet up with one person I don't normally get to see, do an activity I don't normally do, etc.
  • Tasks are for non-repetitive things that I want to get done as soon as possible.

Every time I finish something, I check it off. Every morning, I wipe off all the Daily checks and every Monday morning I wipe off all the Weekly checks. This has helped me establish habits in the face of an ever-changing schedule.

One of the things I've tried to get better at in the last couple years is establishing better personal habits around how I operate my businesses.

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For a time, the only thing I did in a week for Scrubber was find one person to email. It could be a reporter or a potential partner. Over time, however, those outreaches stack up.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

The most surprising thing to deal with was how frequently people think that Scrubber is a scam.

It turns out that if you tell someone they used a bad word, and they don't think they or any of their friends would ever use that bad word, they get really mad. They send you emails saying awful things and threaten you. They insist that you're scamming them and they threaten to take you to the Supreme Court (Yes, that really happened).

After almost a year of tweaking using FullStory and customer interviews, we've finally found a workflow that seems to work well for people. We used to give people a summary "Report Card" and then only show them one page of results. We've done away with the Report Card and we now show people every single piece of content we flag.

I did not do enough real-life user testing early on. If I had to start over, I would have bought a few hundred clicks on Facebook right off the bat and used Fullstory to identify problem areas in the app.

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

For indie hackers, there is an innate, phenomenally strong drive to build. You want to fix that bug, or you want to add that feature, or you want to optimize that flow, or you want to upgrade that library. The inconvenient truth for us is that very rarely are those things needle movers. For sure, they cannot be ignored and can be important in the long haul, but until you have users failing at completing tasks or complaining about things, the number one issue is distribution. Everything is easier with traffic. I used to find myself sitting around thinking "Well what then? What can I do?" It's not easy, but one thing I try to continually come back to is the question "What are my users doing right now?" Answers include:

  • They're on Facebook! (Maybe I'll run some ads.)
  • They're on Twitter! (Maybe I'll go search for terms and @ them.)

Ryan Angilly , Founder of Scrubber

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