Learning From the Competition to Grow Revenue to $600/mo

Introduce yourself!

My name is Ciprian Dragoi, and I'm the jack-of-all-trades founder behind onboardX.

onboardX is a SaaS tool that helps web apps onboard new users via in-app guides. I launched it in February 2016, and I got my first paid customer 2 months later. I think it's a good product, because the learning curve is very mild, and because it's targeted at product hackers who lack programming knowledge.

How'd you come up with the idea for onboardX?

In 2013 I co-founded (as the technical co-founder) a marketing web app. During the years that we ran it, I was the only tech guy on the team of 12. The business was centered around a product that was embeddable in any kind of website (mainly e-commerce sites), and it was used by almost 1000 customers. As a result, I learned a lot about how to juggle between scalabilty, performance, bug fixes, new features, support, etc — everything about running a web product.

At some point I realized that my partner's (the CEO's) dreams were different than mine, and I decided to sell my shares and start looking for other opportunities. Immediately after I left, I started thinking about new product ideas. And of course I was thinking about the problems I encountered in recent months and different ways to solve them with technology. This was in November 2015.

One problem that stood out was onboarding new users in web products. One of my colleagues once came to my office and asked me to add some guides to the app in order to teach people how to use the product. It got me thinking about different ways to improve a poor UX without spending days/weeks/months and without depending on a web developer. This is how I decided to build the "in-app tour" creator that became onboardX. I figured LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, et al have been using these tours for years, so they should work.

Did you spend time validating your idea?

The first thing I did was to see what competitors I'd have and how I could be different. I found a few competitors (< 10), found the thing they had in common (a browser extension — usually only for Chrome), and decided to build my product so that an extension wouldn't be necessary.

I also validated my idea by looking at my competitors' ad campaigns and their content marketing results. I found that the interest/market definitely exists. In the end, all of this took about two weeks of work.

How did you get your first users?

Before I even started working on the product, I made a simple landing page and submitted it to BetaList. This got me almost 200 email addresses that I make an announcement to once the product was ready.

I was very excited about working on something new after 3 years, and I finished building the product before Christmas. But knowing that the holidays were about to start, I decided to wait until January to launch.

The most cost effective launching strategy for products like this, I think, are sites like Hacker News and Product Hunt. So I submitted to both websites and waited... and nothing happened :) The Product Hunt post got 8 upvotes and the HN post only got 3, so I didn't make the homepage.

On the same day, however, I sent a launch email to the subscribers from BetaList, and by the end of the day I had my first 30 users.

What have you done to grow your revenue since then?

In the days immediately following the launch, I created ad campaigns on Adwords, Twitter, and LinkedIn, but I ended up canceling them because the costs were too high ($2-3/click).

I didn't develop a pricing strategy until March. Before then, I was asking users how much they'd pay for a solution like onboardX. The answers were very different, so I couldn't really use them when I finally established prices, but I did learn that a tech person will pay less than a person without coding knowledge.

After I settled on pricing and started charging, I got my first 3 paid customers. I had calls with a few others as well, and I found different reasons why they weren't willing to pay. I started with $15/month and no free plan, and now the minimum is $24.59/month with a free plan that adds a "powered by onboardX" link to the tour. In the meantime, I've improved the product with small features and removed unused ones.

I choose to use PayPal for payments, because Stripe is not available in Romania. I've also asked the customers I know personally to pay upfront (for 6 months to a year), because it's less paperwork.

Revenue has grown every month since I started charging, and recently I've averaged almost $600/month. The server only costs me $50/month, so I'm already profitable. My short term goals are to reach $1000/month in the next 6 months and $3000/month in the next year. I don't plan on selling to the enterprise and charging thousands per month, but I'm thinking about increasing prices in the next 6 months.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

If I had the chance to start again, I'd start with higher prices. As a developer, I usually underestimate the value of tools, because I'm thinking I can do it by myself for nothing :)

Also, I'd try to generate more buzz before launching, because it's hard to get cheap attention after you're officialy launched. One mistake I made is that I didn't cultivate relationships with influencers and grow a bigger international network.

Now I'm focused on explaining to people why they need a tool like onboardX, and I'm glad my competitors are doing the same, because that makes my job easier. This is a very good example: https://www.intercom.com/books/onboarding.

What's your advice for aspiring indie hackers?

If I could give advice to other indie hackers, it's to create something simple with a big and visible impact on the customer's life. Don't think about money from the beginning, but leave an open door for monetization sometime in the future.

Where can we learn more about you?

I'm open for discussions and to share my expertise if you'd like to email me at [email protected] or leave a comment/question below.

Ciprian Dragoi , Creator of onboardX

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  1. 1

    Hey @CiprianDragoi the site is down. Are you still working in the project. It seems interesting. The whole onboarding process is a great way to get happy users and remove friction.