Ideas and Validation June 23, 2020

How My Side Project Hit $110,424 in Sales (9 tactics, 3 scripts, 5 hacks)

Nathan Latka @RealNathanLatka

This is the story of how I launched/grew this Indie Hacker product: https://www.indiehackers.com/product/latka-magazine.

Even my mom laughed at me.

More on her in a second.

I missed the days of balsa wood, cardboard and super glue architecture models.

I was studying architecture at Virginia Tech and loved making things with my hands. This was 2011.

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Ultimately, I dropped out and launched a SaaS company but this little Indie diary entry today isn’t about that.

You see, after I exited that SaaS company, I launched a podcast and built a database of SaaS companies.

I’d record 20-30 episodes per day, be exhausted by the end, and barely able to talk:

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But I loved it.

The podcast was doing well but I was hunting for a way to take this “in the cloud” content, and make it “real”. I wanted to go physical.

Books and magazines came to mind. I ended up doing both, but in this article I want to focus on:

1) How I launched a magazine when others were going bankrupt

2) 9 Easy-To-Copy Tactics I Used to Get 1,500 Paying Customers

3) $110,014 in Sales: 5 Ways I "Price Hacked" To Get Customers Paying More

The most important commitment I made to myself was that, even if no one paid for the magazine, I’d do at least 12 issues before I quit.

I knew that if I spent everyday obsessing over if someone would pay for it, I’d lose focus on creating a killer product.

With that in mind, lets start at the beginning.

1) How I launched a magazine when others were going bankrupt

The first issue was printed back in October 2018.

It cost me $1,500 just to have it designed. Money I had saved up from my first startup, and from podcast sponsor revenue.

Looking at it now, I’m embarrassed:
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I knew I was going to try and sell this to an audience that loves data.

I figured the “God” icon for this group is an excel file download. They live in excel everyday.

You’ll notice I put “CSV download inside” in the bottom right.

Which… thinking about it… makes no sense. How could you download something from a magazine?

The point was, I printed content that felt like a big excel file. Rows and rows of revenue data from software founders:

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After I paid $1,500 to get it designed, I then needed to print it.

I had no idea how many to print because I hadn’t sold it yet. I decided to pay SmartPress.com $312.85 to print 10 copies to just ship to my house.

I figured if customers bought one of the 10 copies, I could go to Fedex and manually ship them:

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I did a ton of work here getting paper samples, picking weights, making sure designer colors matched how they printed at Smartpress, etc.

I loved playing with this sort of physical “stuff”. Felt like a kid again building those roller coaster K’Nex toys.

So, how did I get my first customer?

First 2 Customers: Magazine Free, You Pay $7 Shipping (+200 more!)

For the first funnel, I just copied Russel Brunson’s book funnel.

(There’s nothing wrong with copying and adding your own twist, more people should do it. Saves you time, energy, money).

“Free magazine, if you pay for $7 shipping”.

I built the funnel out here, then had to figure out how to get traffic to the funnel.

Decided to put a 60 second midroll on my podcast that sounded something like this:

“SaaS Founders: You know when the wifi doesn’t work on the plane and you’re left feeling unproductive? You’ll never have that feeling again when you get a copy of the new Latka Magazine. Featuring 56 pages of founder stories sure to keep your mind buzzing for the full 3 hour plane ride. Get your copy today at nathanlatka.com/magazine”

That placement ended up driving 1,525 unique page views to the funnel.

405 entered their email (26% conversion)
128 purchased (31% conversion)

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At this point, you might stop reading my little magazine diary here on Indie Hackers.

(don’t stop, you’ll hurt my feelings)

A smart person would be thinking: “Well duh Nathan, you have a huge podcast! How can I do this without your podcast?!”

Good thinking wise one :)

… and you’re right. In 2020, building a media business around your brand (software, side gig, whatever) is as important as the product itself.

It’s why I launched my podcast from scratch in 2015 and passed 10m downloads. This 40 page article explains how I did that.

Not going to re-hash all that here.

You’ll want to keep reading though because you’re going to learn:

  • How I figured out who to put on the cover (based off who would drive sales)
  • Pricing hacks and funnel edits I made over 12 months to increase average cart value
  • How I turned 1 sale into 2 sales with a little growth hack

These are all things someone with no audience can do to get going from scratch.

I've tried and tested each tactic for the past 18 months and picked out the ones that worked the best.

Shall we?

9 Growth Hacks I Used to Add +1,500 Customers

  1. Put an influencer on the cover. Their human instinct will be to share it with the world. It works on top tier VC’s, and founders with 5300 twitter followers

  2. Close the cart. People have to feel like they need to take action now. Many of you have tried launch tactics like waitlists to drive behavior. Power of a magazine is that there is a real “end date”.

I’d say “Don’t miss out, I have to send shipping list to the printer today. Click here to purchase”alt text

Pro Tip: 24 hours before you close your cart, email your community. This will almost always be your highest performing email in terms of click through rate.

  1. List companies in the magazine, everyone wants a copy of themself (pic of auto-email to podcast guests after they come on)

  2. Ask people to post pics once they get their magazine on social. I do this by keeping a list of the buyers in Airtable then using the SendGrid block to email everyone 5 days after our printer shipped the magazine (around the time the magazine gets to their door).

Pro Tip: Use these pics on your checkout page like I do here.

  1. Feature conference organizers in the magazine, then ask the conference if you can do a seat drop.

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Pro Tip: Ask for what you want. When conference organizers ask me to speak, I always put in the speaking contract a magazine seat drop. Don't leave this stuff to chance.

  1. Use websites liked Paved.com to find out who has big email lists in your space. Feature article in your magazine “Top email lists to follow for founders in 2020”. Tell all the email list owners that you’ll feature them if they email their list about the magazine.

  2. Build an instagram highlight focused on users who tag you while they’re holding your magazine. This will grow over time. Update Instagram bio link last 2 days to purchase each month.

  3. Print early view copy, post tease on twitter. Example here. Tell people to comment if they want purchase link. alt text
    Pro tip: Do not put purchase link in the actual tweet. Will get less engagement. People will naturally ask in the replies for purchase link. Added benefit of more comments!

  4. Build climax around revealing who you’re putting on the cover. I'd have my designer put two faces on the cover, post on social, and whichever one got the most votes would be the cover. This consistently drove 100 likes/comments on FB posts and 5-10 new sales.

PS: I have not yet featured a female on the cover and I’m dyeing too. Know any female founders willing to give a tell-all interview on how they built their side project?!

$110,014 in Sales: 5 Ways Top Price Hackers Get Customers Paying More

  1. Test upsells. I tried upselling conference tickets, webinar tickets, excel file, membership sites. Most successful upsell was the $47 excel file and the $300 annual upsell (instead of paying $29 every month).

It's what I use today:
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The copy is important:

Analyzing all the data in this magazine will be easier in excel format. You’ll get a list of the 400 bootstrapped SaaS Companies and data on their revenue. $47 one time, only available right on this page. If you don’t check this box now, you won’t see this again later.

  1. Email past buyers who havent’ bought this month, get them to buy. Copy is critical here.
    Subject Line: your {City} shipment on hold
    Content

I think you're probably hopping out of office being the Friday before holiday week but wanted to ping you.

Hope traffic not bad in {City}

I don't see your shipping address in the excel sheet.

It's for the new January Latka Magazine.

I put 150 of the fastest growing SaaS companies of 2019 on pages 14-19.

Did you not grab one on purpose?

If you were just busy, click here real quick and grab a copy so I can add you to list before I send to printer (probably in next hour or so):

nathanlatka.com/magazine

Text me if you have any questions

415 237 9869

Have a fun weekend {First} :)

Nathan Latka

PS: Did you get the last copy you purchased? Hope you enjoyed pg 9.

  1. Drive people into annual plans. For people who didn't ugprade themselves on the checkout page, I did it manually via email after I delivered their first issue.

When they replied "yes", I just went in and updated their stripe account.

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Pro Tip: This has driven $55k+ as a tactic just by itself.

  1. Use Airtable+SendGrid to send mail merge lifecycle emails. These are the 6 I send each month:
  • Reveal who will be on cover
  • first day magazine on sale
  • teaser for what’s inside
  • email 24 hours before closed cart
  • email all past purchasers who have not purchased this months version
  • when magazine ships email all customers and ask them if they’re happy/move them to $300/yr or annual plan
  1. Moved my average order value from $27.88 in October 2018 to $78 today (almost 3x increase!) alt text

  2. This is our customer breakdown today.

Follow Latka Magazine Indie Hacker page to get updates each quarter

320 customers at $7 = $2,240
619 customers at $29 = $17,951
36 customers at $47 = $1,692
344 customers at $76 = $26,144
1 customer at $104 = $104
33 customers at $126 = $4,158
3 customers at $197 = $591
5 customers at $297 = $1,485

These are all people who bought annual $300/yr plan + an upsell (excel files and/or event tickets):

45 customers at $300 = $12,500
32 customers at $304 = $9,728
55 customers at $347 = $19,085
7 customers at $397 = $2,779
11 customers at $997 = $10,967

Total: $110,424

7 Step Cheat Guide To Launching Your Own Magazine or Book

  1. Use DesignPickle, Fiverr, or Upwork to find high quality design talent for under $100

  2. Have them design 5 template pages. Your magazine will just be these 5 pages repeated over and over. First template I used: alt text

Pro Tip: Use templates to reduce design costs. This simple template of blurb on left, company data saved me a lot of money.

  1. Pick a printer. I use Smartpress.com. Quad.com is what the big guys use. For your first 100, you can pay $10-15 to print/bind at your local FedEx print center and manually mail.

  2. Set up your funnel (I use Clickfunnels)

  3. Set up ability to re-market. I use Zapier to connect Clickfunnel new customer to new Airtable record. Then do email marketing out of Airtable.

  4. Start sending traffic to your funnel.

  5. Send 6 critical lifecycle emails ever month. Do it consistently. Remember, the biggest wins come from founders who do the same thing, for the longest period of time, at increasing quality.

Before we wrap up, few lessons I learned doing these first 18 magazine issues.

3 Business Lessons I learned Building the Magazine

  1. Put your content through the meat grinder. Your time is most valuable. If you spend one hour to create a piece of content, take the time to build a business system that can slide and dice that content to spread it.

This directly scales your time/reach. 1 hour of podcast recordings for me generates: 3 podcast episode, 3 magazine articles, 3 blog posts, 3 new company profiles on GetLatka

  1. Distribution is more important than product. You must build a media brand around your business/idea. If you don’t own any media asset, you have nothing to trade with other creators.

This “trading” is what enables you to scale. I trade podcast episodes for email list sends (ill interview you in front of my 10m dl podcast audience, you email interview to your list).

  1. Commit even if know one else cares but you. Commit to something for a defined time period and quantity: 1 year, 1 per month magazine. Do this when you start, regardless of metrics. The most successful founders are the ones that do the same thing, over the longest period of time. Consistency goes a long way towards momentum. Momentum is always king.

I'll continue to use the magazine to test new no-code flows, content strategies, and sales tactics. If you want to follow along, I'll post 1 update every month or so here: https://www.indiehackers.com/product/latka-magazine

Going to hang in the comments today if you guys have questions :)

Wrapping Up With A Wiseman Story

I’ll end with one of my favorite stories about 2 shoe salesman.

Both salesmen go to a new country to sell shoes.

Salesman One scouts around for a few days and then heads for the telegraph office to contact company headquarters. He writes:

Research complete. Unmitigated disaster. Nobody here wears shoes.

Likewise, Salesman Two does his research and heads for the same telegraph office. Once there, he composes the following:

Research complete. Glorious opportunity! Nobody here wears shoes!

The point, of course, is that Salesman Two is the real entrepreneur, the person who sees opportunity where others do not. It's a story designed to motivate us all to find hidden potential, take risks, and turn obstacles into opportunities.

Launch a magazine, even when other magazines are going bankrupt. It's ok if your mom laughs at you.

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  1. 4

    Glad to see you here Nathan and as always amazing execution.
    Like you said in the freshworks video that if given a chance to restart you would focus on creating a distribution channel first. You do what you teach.
    Also, really excited and waiting for the SaaS project on Stealth mode

  2. 2

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing, Nathan! A ton of good info, as are your videos!

  3. 2

    Interesting read! Thank you~

  4. 2

    Great read! Also love your podcast!

  5. 2

    Great write up and one must appreciate the hustle and drive!

    But one thing i don't get (as a person with a data analytics bg) is how do i know this data is accurate? I gather that you get it from the podcast interviews you do... thats good but to me its not really verified enough that a founder just says they make $X. Unless i suppose we can all agree that these numbers are just rough estimates?

    1. 1

      I'm not in the accuracy business. I simply ask the CEO the tough number questions, let them reply, then quote them. It's why all the data points on GetLatka.com are clickable (they link to the time in the video when the CEO gave the data point).

  6. 2

    You nailed it!
    Amazing stuff.
    Featuring it in the next week Indieletters issue.

  7. 2

    wow... read it all, although I tend to skip these kind of articles... maybe it's about the product, physical one, in the era of here's our website check what we do

    I admire you.

    I do know a female founder from Serbia, maybe you would like to check it. Let me know

    1. 1

      Would love to meet your founder friend in Serbia. Twitter DM is best :)

      1. 1

        If only I could send you a DM 😅

  8. 2

    Sup Nathan!

    For those of you who are not familiar with Nathan, Latka magazine and his book, 'How to be a Capitalist Without Any Capital' are must reads! Great to see him here!

    1. 1

      Thanks! Whats your name? Thanks for kind words :)

      1. 1

        I'm Ev Conrad. We haven't physically met, but I follow a lot of your stuff. If you're ever in San Diego, happy to treat you to lunch, drinks, or whatever :)

      2. 1

        This comment was deleted 7 months ago.

  9. 2

    Amazing idea and execution, and sharing it is the best. Thanks

    1. 2

      Glad you enjoyed :) Nice meeting you man.

  10. 2

    Very cool! Thanks for the write up! Is every issue an updated list of saas companies? I really like the magazine idea but continual content would be my biggest challenge.

    1. 2

      Yes, each magazine features a different list. I pull it from my dataset here: getlatka.com

      It makes it super easy/streamlined to generate. The top of the content funnel is me interviewing the CEO/podcast host.

      1. 1

        Very cool! Thanks for the reply

  11. 2

    This was REALLY good read! Thanks for sharing it Nathan!

    Looking forward to more

  12. 1

    Love the tip to email users to get them on an annual plan. You're a hustler!

  13. 1

    This is something every traditional publisher should read. Coming from that business, most of them are totally clueless on how to digitalize their business and how to actually survive.

    1. 1

      :) love that I can be nimble/quick and test new stuff. traditional folks in trouble.

  14. 1

    Amazing read. Hustle is everything

    1. 1

      agree. what are you working on?

      1. 1

        Several projects. The most successful is the Rankd SEO backlink database.

  15. 1

    I would like to know why make a physical magazine vs a virtual one (WordPress site, Substack, etc). Why do you choose to publish a physical magazine?

    Is it because of your personal preference?

    The cost to set up an online magazine is much lower. Distributing cost is also lower.

    I also have my collection of SaaS affiliate programs called AffTable

    1. 1

      something nice about holding an object... feels more like art. means more (bonus is that less people are doing it so its unexpected).

  16. 1

    Thanks for sharing your story! It's really interesting and useful.

    But...

    These are all things someone with no audience can do to get going from scratch.

    Someone, yes, but it was not you because I guess your audience at the moment you started your magazine was far, far bigger than zero.

    1. 2

      You have two choices:

      Disregard tactics like this using the excuse "but nathan had a big audience!"
      OR
      Study how I built an audience. The magazine was launched on the back of the podcast.

      The podcast was my first media asset. Them email list. Then getlatka.com. Then magazine/other.

      I walk through (40 pages of detail) how I launched the podcast from scratch here: https://nathanlatka.com/podcast-launch-strategies-marketing-sponsor

      1. 1

        Study how I built an audience.

        This is exactly what I meant.
        You wrote:

        These are all things someone with no audience can do to get going from scratch.

        what doesn't mean to me "the audience first, the product second". If there is no audience, someone should build it first.

  17. 1

    Hey, mate, thanks for sharing your experience. This looks like a nice blueprint for makers to apply your success to a different niche... for example.

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