After more than 2 years of building Oh Dear, I still struggle with the most fundamental question: how are users finding our application and where should we focus our marketing efforts to maximize that?
For the last few months, I've been contacting every new signup with a simple e-mail, asking them just one thing: how did they hear about us?
In this post, I want to summarize those findings.
Building a SaaS is no rocket science, but getting clients is a work of art. I hope these answers can help other bootstrapped indie developers as well.
The 1 paragraph summary of Oh Dear is:
Oh Dear was founded by Freek & Mattias, two passionate developers from Belgium. Oh Dear sends notifications when your site is down, when the SSL certificate is about to expire, when it finds broken links or when the site just generally slows down.
It's an uptime monitor, basically. But with a couple of extras.
So, where do we get our users from?
Roughly ~30% of our leads & trial users come to us because they follow either of us on Twitter.
Conclusion: start by building a presence on Twitter, it's priceless.
For a few months now, I've been sharing our revenue numbers publicly. A bit scary at first, but quite rewarding now that it's all out in the open.
It was also a deliberate tactic.
How do you stand out in a world where most founders are all so similar? You do unconventional things. In our case, we share our revenue numbers.
While more & more founders are doing this, it's still the minority.
Don't be afraid to open up, you will attract readers and a new audience.
Normally, we talk tech (PHP, open-source, Linux etc.), but our readers have come to appreciate some personal stories from time to time.
We've both been writing newsletters for well over 2 years now and have been able to grow our audience nicely.
Invest the time to start a newsletter and build a personal brand. Consistently delivering good value via your newsletter will let people come back for more.
When we first launched, we added Oh Dear to Product Hunt. It made Product of the Day!
Even Ryan Hoover, who founded Product Hunt, commented on our clever name.
That post gained us a handful of subscribers on launch day, but more importantly still gets people talking. Product Hunt works!
Submit your idea to Product Hunt!
Both Freek and I regularly blog. You're reading the blog right now. #inception
We both put ads at the top of our posts, we can blog/write about the technical underpinnings of Oh Dear, we can share snippets of code, ...
Over the years, we've also grown a following with RSS readers that mostly come for the technical articles we write, but they'll tolerate the personal articles. And that also helps us get the word out!
Your (personal) brand matters. If you have a blog, write regularly, share your thoughts, start building that audience.
Every time you have a chance to speak, you have the opportunity to show your expertise and - subtly - mention any product you're working on. Either directly in the talk or afterwards, on social media, when sharing your slides/summary.
I'll grant that public speaking isn't for everyone, but it's a great way to help you build that audience and grow a loyal fanbase.
Public speaking works. Deliver value in your talk and you'll have enough credit to (subtly) mention your SaaS.
We tried a paid advertising in a popular Laravel/PHP newsletter called Laravel News.
The results were mixed, and I think it's mostly because we already are active in the Laravel space. What good would it do to reach the same users over & over again? We should probably sponsor other newsletters, outside our little bubble.
But, it did work! We got signups through it, even several months later, because a reader remembered it.
Consider sponsored content in newsletters. You can use the author's credibility to help promote your product.
Professional networks are powerful. When I was working as the support lead of a hosting provider, I came into contact with a lot of our clients. Both happy and unhappy. The way those conversations ended has largely shaped my professional network.
If you can turn an angry client into a happy one, by understanding their needs and providing a proper solution, you've made a professional relationship that lasts for a long time.
Now, whenever I share updates for Oh Dear on LinkedIn, I get to reach hundreds of former clients, colleagues and suppliers that I've spent years building a relationship with. This trust is earned and often well-received on the other end.
Every time you interact with a client or a supplier, you're building your professional network. Think of every interaction like a job interview for your product in the future.
Oh Dear also has a blog, where I write as many blogposts as my little hands allow. The following posts have directly contributed to new signups and conversions.
What I'm not showing are the 50+ other posts that didn't convert anything. They are shorter, more product-focussed (ie: "we launched feature $Y, it's great!").
It's hard to say what posts will attract and convert users. In our case, it's the more technical ones that help users, even if they're not a customer of ours. That's what gets noticed.
Write helpful posts, both for your customers and your potential customers. Don't be afraid to share some of the internals of your organisation. Opening up might seem scary, but that's what a reader wants to know.
I wish I could say "spend all your energy on Twitter" or "only sponsor newsletters".
For us, what works is a very wide approach to marketing: be in as many places as you can afford to be.
It's the combination of our Twitter audience, newsletters & blog posts that have consistently brought along the most value for us.
Paid acquisitions have been meh, mostly. Lots of money spent, very little value gained.
Compare that to writing proper blogposts, and that return is always greater for us.
Your mileage may vary, but for us the content marketing strategy will be our main focus going forward. Write quality blogposts, newsletters & tweets. 🔥