Using My Coding Blog to Validate and Attract Paying Customers

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

My name is Mike Dalisay, and I've been a software developer since 2010. I had a day job for four years and eight months. I quit my job in 2015 to work for myself. I started making my own money as a code blogger at codeofaninja.com, but my dream was to create my own profitable software product. Now it is coming true.

I built DSM Website Plugins, a SaaS that allows you to customize and embed social media feeds on your website. This includes Facebook page events, and feeds for Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and more! DSM was created for professional and business websites. It allows users to spend less time manually updating the social media content on their sites and more time engaging with the social media platforms directly.

DSM has been around since 2014, but for a while I wasn't smart enough to add new features and offer the service to more people. Instead I prioritized blogging.

We made significant income in early 2017, and today DSM is making $2,000 per month, with hundreds of paying users. Given the current growth rate, I expect it to grow to at least $5,000 per month before 2018.

  DSM Website

What motivated you to get started with DSM Website Plugins?

In 2011, I was blogging about social media APIs, how to use them, and how to display the information from social media to a web page. These types of blog posts became the most visited pages on my website. They have hundreds of comments (as you can see here and here).

This validated the demand for embedding customized social media feeds on websites. People want their social media feeds to have the same colors as their websites. They want it blend in with their website themes. Default social media plugins, like the Facebook page plugin, don't allow you to do that. They aren't responsive either. DSM Website Plugins can solve these problems for you.

I made WordPress plugins out of those blog posts, but not successfully. There were already a lot of WordPress plugins with these features. I'm not very good at marketing so I didn't have the energy to compete in this market, and there were so many themes and plugins to support that it just didn't work for me.

If you know a solution to a problem, build it and tell potential customers about it as early as possible.

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So I chose to build an embeddable website plugin instead. I found it easier to maintain and to update with new features. Best of all, it was able to support WordPress and non-WordPress sites.

Before becoming a full-time solopreneur in 2015, I was an employee working as a programmer for a technology services company here in the Philippines. I enjoyed my time as an employee. My colleagues were good people.

But while my salary was good, it wasn't enough to send my brothers to college, or to support my current and future family.

What went into building the initial product?

In 2014, I started developing DSM Website Plugins for my clients. They needed social media feeds with the same colors as their websites. This was back when I was still working full-time, so I rented a $100-per-month bed space near the corporate office so I'd have more time to work on the site before and after work.

In 2015, with funds coming in from my code blog codeofaninja.com (where I sell source code), I quit my job and coded day and night to release new features for DSM. These updates made my clients very happy! This is when my wife Marykris and I set up our company, Codalify Software Development.

In 2016, with my wife very kindly helping out with marketing and search engine optimization, we began receiving hundreds of signups. And this year (2017), DSM has gone through significant growth in terms of traffic and paying users. In fact, a previous server of mine didn't have the capacity to handle this growth, so DSM now uses the power of Google Cloud Platform.

Google Cloud aside, the technology I used to build DSM are very common (some people might even call them old): Linux, Apache, PHP, and MySQL on the back end. HTML5, CSS, jQuery, and some jQuery plugins on the front end.

For me, technology is important, but what's more important is the solution it provides.

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The basic building blocks of DSM's code are found on my code blog as well. In the near future, we might use modern technologies like Node.js and Angular. But DSM's current stack works just fine, and I can develop faster because I know these technologies well.

For me, technology is important, but what's more important is the solution it provides. Modern technology is nothing if it cannot solve the customer's problems.

How have you attracted users and grown DSM Website Plugins?

My code blog ranks well on Google for keywords like "display facebook events on website" or "display facebook photos on website". When someone lands on the blog they learn how to code a specific feature. But they also learn about the alternative — using DSM Website Plugins to implement that feature (or other features) for them.

So organic search has been our best acquisition channel. When I ask our customers how they found us, the answer is "Google" most of the time. Some of them says "StackOverflow" because I post our code and links to related questions there. A few customers submitted a "From my friend" answer, so referrals play a small role as well.

Earlier on my wife and I tried posting DSM links in different Facebook groups, Google+ communities, and on Twitter. (Mostly in groups for musicians, because at the time many DSM customers were musicians or DJs who wanted to embed custom Facebook page events on their websites.) We also tried messaging individual members of these groups about DSM.

Unfortunately, we had no way of measuring the results of these efforts — which meant there was never any concrete evidence of someone signing up through a link we posted.

The only solution to this is to develop an affiliate system to track the clicks and signups from such links, and we did. We just launched our DSM Affiliate Program. This gives us a way to know if links posted on social media will convert to customers.

We tried cold emailing too. We promoted a DSM feature allowing users to embed Facebook page events on their websites. To find the right audience for this campaign, we scraped emails from Facebook pages which used Facebook events and had websites with an "events" page. We got around 10,000 emails. We designed a 5-email series which we sent every other day. We got a lot of auto-replies and several human responses.

But only 8 people bought our product. Email marketing works a little, but it requires a lot of time and energy. I didn't have the resources to continue doing it. My wife is busy with her own projects as well. So I chose to focus more on product development and SEO. I'll have to hire someone to do email marketing for me soon.

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

Our revenue model is subscription-based. Users have the option to try our product for free for 7 days only. They can use all the DSM solutions and embed the custom feed on their website during this period. If they don't upgrade, a simple message will be displayed on their website. The message looks like this:

Customized custom feed powered by DSM Website Plugins. If you're the owner of this website, your 7-day free trial has ended. Please upgrade.

If the user chooses to upgrade, they have the option to pay $15 per month or $120 per year ($10 per month, charged annually). We started charging early because we know the value of our product for professional and business websites.

We previously implemented a 30-day free trial. After a month of this, we changed it to a 14-day free trial. Both of them worked, in that people paid after the period ended, but the money came in very slowly. Some people even tried to sign up again (and again) after their trial period ended in order to indefinitely use our service for free. So we thought, if there are users who are willing to pay for our service, 30 days or 14 days too long to wait.

The goal of a free trial is for users to realize the real value of your product. We believed a 7-day free trial could achieve this goal, and it's done just that. I suggest you do the same. From what I've learned, here are my tips about how to get people to pay for your product.

  1. Design your product to solve your customer's problems. Never assume what they need. Never spend time developing features that weren't requested by your customers. You have let them talk by either asking them directly or surveying them.
  2. Teach potential customers how to solve their problems by using your product. We did it using blog posts and YouTube videos. You can do the same. Google will reward you if you create high-quality or useful step-by-step tutorials.
  3. Offer them a free trial period. A 7-day free trial works well for us. The trial period can help your potential customers realize the real value of your product. It's also your chance to show them how useful and how easy-to-use your product is.
  4. At this stage, your potential customers will know your product was designed to solve their problems. You will have taught them how to use it, and you will have allowed them to spend their precious time with it. The next logical step is for them to pay for it!
  DSM Video Tutorials

We are using PayPal to process the payments. PayPal is amazing. They can process debit and credit card payments even without creating a PayPal account. PayPal can charge them automatically as well. Today, PayPal processes more than $2,000 per month's worth of payments to DSM, not including new customers.

For some reason, there are users who don't like PayPal. In these cases we have to use credit card processors like Stripe. Unfortunately, Stripe doesn't support our country (the Philippines). I've asked a lot of Stripe representatives when they'll support our country, and to summarize their answers: they don't know. I just applied for Stripe Atlas, but I'm not sure if this is the right solution for us.

I consider the following as expenses for the DSM project:

  • 4.4% + PhP15.00 (15 Philippine Pesos, or ~$0.30) PayPal fees for each sale transaction.
  • $135 per month for web hosting.
  • $5 per month for Google Email.
  • $25 per month for coffee.
  • $16 per year for the domain.

What are your goals for the future?

My product goal is to make DSM the best place to manage custom social media feeds of professional and business websites. I believe DSM can accomplish this by constantly listening to customers' needs and adding new features based on those needs.

DSM needs to increase high-quality traffic as well. The more people that try our product, the higher our chances are of acquiring new customers. This can be accomplished by producing more blog posts, tutorials, and YouTube videos that clearly demonstrate how to use DSM.

My revenue goal for DSM is to make $10,000 per month in revenue by the end of year 2018 or earlier.

My personal goal is to build another SaaS product in 2019.

I believe these can be accomplished by building a great team of people that work toward the same goals. Hiring full-time employees is one aspect of it. The general goal is to solve customers' problems through software. It's amazing how simple and efficient software can change people's lives for the better.

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

The biggest challenge for me is marketing. I'm more of a product development guy than a marketing guy. I don't like email marketing. I don't like creating Facebook or Google ads. I don't like creating how-to videos. I like SEO, but not that much. I just want to create and develop. However, these things are invaluable for DSM's growth, so I've had to learn and do them. I'm currently doing my own SEO and how-to videos, but I'm looking forward to hiring someone to do other forms of marketing for me soon.

I also tried to hire people on Upwork, Fiverr, and even local freelance developers. I've gotten some results, but I'm not satisfied with them. I feel like these workers slow down product development. Why? Because I have to regularly communicate with them while I'm coding my own part in the project. Maybe I'm not yet good at communicating what I want to accomplish. I'm better at working with full-time developers than with part-time or freelance developers. So I'm looking forward to hiring full-time developers soon.

If I had to start over, I wouldn't wait to offer my services to more people, offer a free trial, and charge users. DSM started in 2014, and it's only beginning to see significant growth in 2017. I wasted a lot of time and did a disservice to potential customers. I knew the solution earlier than our competitors. I even blogged about it as early as 2011.

If I'd done all of this early on, DSM would have thousands of customers by now. So if you know a solution to a problem, build it and tell potential customers about it as early as possible. This is one of the most important lessons I've learned.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think one of my advantages is that I spend at least 2 hours per day consuming and learning new information. For the rest of the day, I'm executing and doing actual work.

I rented a $100-per-month bed space near the corporate office so I'd have more time to work on the site.

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I love to read websites and blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch videos that can inspire me and improve my business and personal life. The following are some of them.

Websites:

Podcasts:

Videos:

A good decision that I made was to increase the scope of DSM solutions. Originally, my plan was to limit the features to embedding only Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram content. But customers requested features for YouTube videos, Yelp reviews, and Google reviews. We've since released a DSM YouTube video feature, and have several customers who use it already. Now, I'm looking forward to expand DSM features to more social networking sites, based on our customers' needs.

My skills in coding, blogging, and search engine optimization have also been very helpful in growing DSM. I was able to develop DSM faster because of my years of experience in programming. Blogging and SEO helped people discover our product. That's how we get our sales. These skills are the basic foundation of what our product has accomplished today.

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

Do not be a perfectionist. I was a perfectionist and I struggled a lot with it. It crippled my productivity so I decided to let it go. Early versions of DSM were crappy. If you had seen it, you'd have said it was very hard to use. But people still used it because, in one way or another, it solved their problem. You just have to continue working on it. You'll figure out better ways of doing things along the way. Update your customers about your progress via email.

Once you start building the basic solution and you've got early customers or users, get them talking. Interview them. Survey them. Never assume and never try to guess what they need. Build features that they actually need.

Many of our customers say DSM is the perfect solution for them because the features are exactly what they need. Some even ask how we've read their minds. I just tell them the feature was directly requested by another customer.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you want to learn more about us, click the following links.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I'll respond to each comments, questions or suggestions there.

ninjazhai , Creator of DSM Website Plugins

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