August 31, 2019

I'm a nobody on the web and have no large following online. It's been so hard to get people to try my product. How did you guys do it?

I started to learn how to code back in 2017. Since then, I feel happiest whenever I'm building something. Whenever I'm done with a product, I feel so accomplished! However, when it comes to shipping the product, it is always the most frustrating part. No matter how hard I try to make noise on online communities or social media, I always gone unnoticed. I feel envious when I see someone with a strong online presence creates something and users just flock to it with little to no effort. I want to get feedback too and see whether I'm building something people want but how can I do it without someone even trying it?

For those of you who have built a brand for yourselves from the ground up, how did you start? Did you get help from someone to jump start it? Was it literal emailing people about your product? Appreciate any help; links to articles, advice or anything.

Thanks guys :)

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    Specifically here's a list of people who built small / big followings and how they got their initial momentum:

    • @wesbos - Helped people on Stack Overflow. Wrote a web dev blog for several years

    • @patwalls - Published an article every week for Starter Story. Streamed himself build a 24hr startup. Then launched the 24hr startup challenge

    • Steve Schoger - Posted 50+ design tips on twitter all for free

    • @stephsmith - consistently wrote great articles on her blog. Several made it to HN front page.

    • @bentossell - helped out entrepreneurs in several Slack communities. Transcribing interviews, giving advice, etc ... Used that small audience, to launch some very successful products on Product Hunt giving him a bigger audience

    @lukaszmtw - Made two high quality design plugins and got traction on Product Hunt

    • @harrydry - built a dating site for kanye fans. spent a few months writing a long story about it which got traction ...

    • @levelsio - set himself a challenge of launching 12 startups in 12 months. Slowly got traction ..

    • Andrey Azimov - set himself a challenge of making $1000 recurring revenue. Wrote a blog about it.

    • Glen Alsop - Wrote a blog about SEO for 10 years

    Couple of points:

    1. I've just cherry picked these from my very narrow worldview, but in pretty much every instance getting a big audience don't just magically happen. It's normally a couple of years minimum of being useful. 5+ years in most cases. In extreme cases 12 months.

    2. Don't fetishise having a big audience. It's only useful if you're making products for that audience. You're only seeing the people with big audience and thinking it's easy. There's far more successful people who don't have twitter accounts!

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      Agreed with @harrydry here!

      1. I would also encourage you to engage with communities not just while you're launching, but throughout the process. If people see that you're only around to announce a new product, they'll view you as a constant sales pitch.

      I recently gave a talk about building in the open, and although I can't share the recording, here are the slides which show the evolution of how I shared my projects openly over time: http://bit.ly/2ZGXHoz.

      I can say with confidence that building in the open has been one of the best decisions I've made. Among other benefits, I'm able to connect with more people, stay accountable, and get consistent feedback.

      What did you learn while building Founder Hill? It looks like a great product and I'm sure many other makers could benefit from knowing more.

      1. As Harry mentioned, nothing happens overnight. Social media glorifies instant successes (which don't exist) and often not the work that went into getting there.

      For example: A year ago I had ~60 followers on Twitter, all of which were from 7 years ago when I originally created my account. While some would say that growing "my following" to 3.6k by now was fast, what's not obvious in just the numbers is that I built and launched 4 projects, a small community helping people learn to code, and a blog that has ~20 articles. I would've never grown my network had I not worked to try creating value for the community, rather than just capturing it.

      TL;DR - Constant iteration and helping others in the community will get you much further than you think!

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        Thank you for the great advice Steph, this is useful for all of us - it's really inspiring to hear your story and that commitment and consistency are rewarded.

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          Thanks Kenny! Glad you found the advice useful. 😊

          If you like the concept of commitment and consistency, you might also enjoy this blog post that I wrote: https://blog.stephsmith.io/how-to-be-great/

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        Hi @stephsmith! Thank you so very much for sharing your experience here. I really appreciate the time and effort you took to write this. And thank you for sharing those slides—they are super helpful.

        I completely agree with both of your points. It was my mistake for thinking that people would immediately notice that I'm launching even when I just joined a community seconds before launching on it. I had never contributed much in anything hence, I really shouldn't be expecting much response too.

        On building out in the open: it means sharing stats of visitors and revenue of the project, is that right? Please do correct me if I'm wrong. Yes, I really learned a lot from building stuff on the web. I guess I should be writing more and share my experience.

        Got it! Thanks for summarizing it beautifully. I'll work harder on hope you and everyone else here will be there to witness it one day. Thank you so much again, @stephsmith.

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          No problem! I think building in the open can mean many things, but really it's about bringing people along your journey and hopefully enabling them to do something similar! So you can share stats openly, write an article about how you did X, or even stream yourself building live on a platform like Twitch. I'm sure there are additional ways of accomplishing this too. :)

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            Thanks Steph! I'll try to see how I can do it. I just saw your profile on Twitter, maybe I just see how you do it and follow your lead. Thanks so much again :)

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          This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

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        Those slides were cool. Thanks for sharing. Turns out I didn't even know the half of it!

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        I just finished going through your slides. Now I know what you meant by building out in the open. Thank you for sharing this, @stephsmith

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      Agreed! We all start small, and most of the time, the first thing(s) we do aren't a huge success, but it gives us a little push, a little bump in the right direction and we keep going until something sticks.

      In most cases people don't see the hard work, long time it takes and number of failed attempts we all have, until we get some success.

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        Hi @Mubs, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts! Appreciate the motivational advice. Really needed some guidance, and it's amazing to see that so many are being very helpful to me on this thread. I'm thankful for this.

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          Thank @csallen also for this amazing community. :)

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      Superb reply. Looping @AndreyAzimov He is on IH. :)

      @qabil Do read thekanyestory.com written by @harrydry

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        Hey, @shree :) Yeap, definitely. Amazing story.

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    Ok, lets start with the good :)

    Your product is really well designed once you get into the actual profile section. And seems to be coded really well. Great job building. I do agree with @vitabenes that you need to explain your value proposition better.

    Now, the bad! As a startup founder you've got to pick the perfect business for you. And you've chosen to try and build a community straight away and with no following . I'd love you to prove me wrong, but I think that is virtually impossible.

    Look at how successful communities start. Something useful nearly always comes before the community itself

    • Nomad List - Useful crowdsourced information on cities

    • Product Hunt - Email list of new products launching

    • Game Quitters - Fascinating blog post from the founder which went viral

    • Indie Hackers - Interviews with founders

    In every case it was the, "something useful" that got attention, not a dormant community.

    In my own case I've been spending the last 3 months pretty much solidly writing articles about marketing. And sharing there wherever I could. Slowly but surely the email list grew, and maybe in a couple of months I'll be in a position to build out a community. But if I went straight to building a community of marketers I can assure you absolutely no one would have signed up.

    You might say the value in your case is the startup quiz, but in my opinion that's not enough value. I just took one and I'm not sure it's solving real problems.

    In answer to your question of how to build a brand up, I think listen to the three Indie Hacker podcast episodes with Wes Bos, Adam Wathan, and Ben Tossell. They'll give you a good idea. And I'd also listen to this video by Bill Burr.

    To quote some of it "Become undeniable. When was the last time you went on stage and killed so hard that the person after you bombed. If you're doing that on a regular basis people are going to notice."

    Specifically, how have you been trying to "make noise" online? Let me know and I'll take a look. Perhaps give my opinion on why it didn't work.

    Also, I'd recommend joining some Telegram, Slack groups, as well as being more active on Indie Hackers and just being helpful to other people. That way when you do, "make noise" people might be there to raise the volume a little!

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      Thank you so very much for this @harrydry. I've subscribed to your content a couple of weeks ago and found them super useful and inspiring, and to have you giving me tips and a chin-up like this means a lot, thank you. And thank you for writing such an extensive reply with loads of content and referencing, I really appreciate the time and effort you took to write this.

      Yes, you're right about the impossibility of building a community from the start without a following. I have learned it the hard way when a couple of visitors who came by and left feedback via an embedded form told me that the website was pointless because there was nobody in it. So, I tried to reiterate based on the feedback I got but it still hasn't turned out right. I guess I'm still at the stage of figuring things out.

      As a start, I have updated the landing page to include some value propositions that I could think of. I really hope you can still make a little bit more time to go through it and let me know your thoughts—I would truly appreciate that.

      Noted, I'll try my best to be more useful in communities and see where I could contribute. Also, by 'making noise', I meant by launching or posting about what I've been working on to online communities like Reddit, Product Hunt, Startup School, and Twitter. But then again, I had little to no presence and you were right, I literally signed up on those communities for the sake of launching while never really contributed to anything. Why would people raise the volume, right? That was really my mistake.

      Thank you so much again for this Harry. Appreciate you helping out like this, I hope great things come your way.

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    Answer these questions:

    • Who are the people that'll benefit the most from your product?

    • Where do they hang out?

    • Why should they sign up?

    • Why would they tell someone else to sign up?

    Regarding Founder Hill - how is it better than AngelList?

    Btw, your landing page is too simple. Looking at it, I don't feel at all motivated to join or create a profile. Why should I take the effort? You need to add copy to motivate people to join.

    • What are the benefits your product will bring me?

    Food for thought.

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      Thank you @vitabenes.

      Is the landing too simple? I see. I'll change it and let you know in a bit, I hope you can still make a little more time for feedback.

      Founder Hill is not trying to be AngelList but its more of an about me page specifically for founders and their startups.

      In terms of benefits, you can quickly create an easy-to-read one-page profile about you or your startup which you can share around online. You can set links and redirect users to your newsletter page, your Product Hunt page or even ask for funding via PayPal or Patreon—all in one page.

      Here's an example of a founder profile:

      https://www.founderhill.com/founder/qabil

      Here's an example of a startup profile:

      https://www.founderhill.com/startups/founder-hill

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        Thanks.

        In terms of benefits, you can quickly create an easy-to-read one-page profile about you or your startup which you can share around online. You can set links and redirect users to your newsletter page, your Product Hunt page or even ask for funding via PayPal or Patreon—all in one page.

        This is 100x better than your homepage - put these benefits there and show the sample page (I'd put it directly on the homepage or somewhere easy to find).

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          Hey @vitabenes, I've just updated the homepage. Please do have a look at it! Anyway, it's 3am at where I am right now (in Malaysia) and my mind is already fleeting away...will reply back to everyone in a couple of hours :) Thanks so much guys, you're all super amazing

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            I like it better.

            Suggestions:

            • Emphasize the "See this Founder page" (make it colorful and bigger, and change the copy (text) to something like "View an example Founder page"

            • I'd emphasize 3 main benefits by putting them into a 3 column section on your site.

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              The 3 main benefits—that's a brilliant idea. Thanks, @vitabenes

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    Find your niche group of users and go to the places they go. It really depends on the kind of product you're trying to build - my side project is for knitters, who are already a niche group that rarely have thing built for them so I'm lucky because they are captive and highly engaged audience already.

    If your target users are less niche, then find a more specific group of them to focus on. We did this at Poetica a few years back (we were building a writing platform). We noticed we didn't get much traction because we were being too generic - "For anyone who writes on the internet". So we focussed it into a set of users that we could seek out and talk to. For us that was WordPress users who had countless local groups. Even though the tool wasn't only for them, it gave us a place to get in a bit deeper in a community

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      How did you build rapport with your potential users at first? Did you offer something to entice them to sign up? Or were they really captivated by what you're building and sign up organically?

      Thanks @Abbyio :)

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    Hey. Just read this piece from @mijustin that might help you figure out if you’re trying to sell something people really want...

    https://justinjackson.ca/beach

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      Hey @pauldmet, this is great content. Thank you very much for this.

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    You should make a post on https://mikrosom.com - they're giving free advice on startup websites and finding your first customers.

    My thoughts on visiting your website, which I hope are helpful:

    • The website looks slick, but at first I had no idea what the offering is

    • Rebranded name sounds like a very good move - founder hill is fine and good for an international english site.

    • The website doesn't use URLs sometimes, this is a Bad Thing - I couldn't link to the profile hosting page, which I think is much clearer than your home.

    • The home presents me with two choices, but I don't know why I would want either at that stage. You need to sell visitors in 5 seconds to stick around - why do I want this, what problem of mine does it solve? Better to have one choice which you sell to them with a phrase like 'You have this problem (e.g. connecting with cofounders), here is how we fix it.

    • Quizzes don't seem compelling, I'd drop this idea personally and go with something around profiles.

    • I found a more enlightening bit of text about what you want to do on your indie hacker profile: "When I started my first startup, ​Pollieglot, I had to basically scour the internet for information on how to begin, where to go, who are the experts, who are those that can help me, what tools to use for my application, etc -- and those really took a while for me to gather."

    Perhaps you could for example offer to connect founders with other cofounders (I notice you're looking for one), or with experts, or offer regular chats between founders. Perhaps you could connect marketing experts with founders, or experts in early startups etc. This project would probably be a multi-year slog to build a community by using other networks to get people interested, so you should decide if you're really passionate about this particular problem and if so commit to at least a few years of gradually building an audience and contacts, as it would take that long.

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      Hi @kennygrant, thank you so much for this exhaustive feedback—truly appreciate the time you took to write this and going through my website.

      Thank you. My initial intention of creating Founder Hill was to help early-stage founders navigate their way in the startup world by consolidating all the necessary information they need on a single platform. It was also meant to be community-driven where users can contribute their tech stacks and share opinions. I did exactly that at first, however, a couple of visitors who came and left feedback via a form I embedded told me that they saw this being pointless because there's no one else contributing on it i.e. there are no users. But the one thing they complimented was the design. So I thought, maybe I would need to offer something more engaging to attract users. I decided on the profile hosting because quite a number of my initial users loved the layout. But at the same time, I didn't want to stray away from my initial intent of creating this platform: to help early-stage founders. Hence, the idea of quizzes. I'm not really sure how this would work out though. Maybe I really should drop the quiz, and focus on profile hosting instead.

      Lastly, I agree, the landing page confuses so many visitors. It's amazing how I felt it completely made sense to me but not to everyone else. Feedback is really very important. I'm thankful that so many people have given out constructive feedback on this thread.

      I have updated the page now, hope you can still make a little bit more time for feedback. Thanks so much again Kenny :)

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        Happy it was helpful. Lots of great advice from others higher up too. Keep going and keep talking to other founders. On reading some of the other advice I'm going to try building in the open too - it's a great way to meet other makers and even customers and stay accountable.

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    I too get massive satisfaction from building something that someone uses and have failed many times. What worked for me was to find the customer first and then build for them. I chose to build for small businesses as I believe it’s easier to market to them than consumers. I chose a niche, like vets, massage therapists, karate gyms etc... and phoned a bunch of them to ask them how they run their business and what problems they experience - eventually you will find a common pain amongst a niche. I then proposed building a solution using wireframes and got them to pay to fund the solution (They will if the problem is worth solving) and then build for your customers and iterate on their feedback...there are many paths to Rome - good luck!!!

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      Thanks, @NickNaks! This advice is priceless—got me thinking hard. Thank you for sharing them with me. Good luck to you too! Take care :)

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    what do you mean about "so hard to get people to try my product" you are talking about page visitors or actual people creating profiles?

    from visiting your page I feel you need to showcase the benefits of creating a profile. and the landing page should be more structured but at the same time simple. and you need to make your site mobile friendly... when images are scaled down you cant read the text on it..

    I'm a UX designer, contact me if you are interested in more in depth tips

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      Hey @robrt, thank you very much for your comment. I was referring to actual people creating profiles. Since there's a free version, I was hoping people would want to at least try it but that doesn't seem to be the case, unfortunately.

      I agree, the landing page was almost completely devoid of mentioning the benefits of creating a profile. Anyway, I have updated the page. I really hope you can take some time to go through it again and leave me some feedback, thank you so much again.

      Thanks for the tip, I'll fix the images in a bit. Thank you, Robert.

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    I feel you. Very similar happens to me.

    With colorsandfonts.com.

    But bit a bit am getting traction, I do it like this, i keep listing and listing in directories.

    Launching, cold email to blogs asking to featured the my web app. I just want it so bad that i keep going, and now is listed in 20+ places.

    Comments, comments wake up people's curiosity and look through your profile and see the link.

    Followers is other story, I have issues also there.

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      Hey @Michael_Andreuzza, thank you so much for sharing your experience—I really appreciate it.

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    Hey Qabil

    As a dev, I had the same questions. I wrote about how B2B SaaS companies are figuring this out.

    Micro Marketing for B2B SaaS Founders

    It looks like you're already doing a couple of things: Participating in forums and offering live chat.

    Hope this helps

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      Wow @dru_riley, this is great. I love going through case studies like these, it's so much easier to relate. Thanks so much for this.

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        Glad that it helps 🙂

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          Thanks again, Dru :)

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    Based on my experience it does not matter how many subscribers do you have, because your subscribers != users of your product (in most cases). So it's better to consider two ways of solving user attraction strategies:

    a) Involve somebody who has some marketing experience

    b) Define ads budget and experiment with it

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      Hey @Fruzenshtein, thank you for sharing your experience—appreciate it.

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    First, LUCK. Don't believe any who don't believe in Luck. It's a matter a lot.

    It's true that you need to be true and active in ur focus group but you should look in Collaborating with other product makers to gain visibility and engineer virality in your product.

    just check ur site. Didn't understand what it does. Why should I give the quiz or why I need to host a profile.

    Tell me one reason why you would share your site to your friend and what would he or you gain from it.

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      Thanks @shaqqs for the tips and key feedback.

      I guess I'm confusing people with the quiz and the profile hosting. I'll redo the page and let you know about it. Hope you can still stick around to give additional feedback? Thanks Shaqqs

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        I just saw the links below and got an idea what ur building. My question, who is it for?

        If it's for the founders to create a shareable page when there are many similar like Angellist and LinkedIn with network. Plus Founder are not job seeker, How is an online CV type even useful to them.

        If it's for developer and makers then why won't they make a Landing page custom to them as they know how to develop it.

        Your product need to save or earn me, money or time or fame. try to pivot to include one or more of these.

        Let me know if u got some idea.

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          Cool, thanks for visiting the website, @shaqqs.

          Good question—I don't know. I initially created this website to help early-stage founders learn about the startup world by having all the information they need in one place. It was also meant to be community-driven but the problem is, there was no community.

          However, some of my early users really love the design of their profile page, and I really like designing beautiful web pages. Maybe I'll just carry on from there for now.

          Why don't you try to create a profile, @shaqqs? It's quite easy, and free too. Once you're done, let me know. I'll give a shout to you and your startup, with a tagline/intro of your own on Founder Hill's Twitter page periodically until we gain 1k followers.

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            It's just one more place that will need to be maintained and updated. I understand the value in your help with the shout out and appreciate it but I am just trying to say that you need to pivot if you wanna make this a business. As a fun project, I think it's awesome to display your technical skills.

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              Yes, you're right. I'll let you know if I pivoted or anything, ya? Thanks, @shaqqs :) Wish me luck

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      Yeah, I also didn't know what the site was about at all.

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        Really needed that honest feedback, @tbotnar, thank you.

        The site is supposed to be a place where you can create an about me page for yourself and your startup, and share it with everyone.

        Here's an example of a founder profile:

        https://www.founderhill.com/founder/qabil

        Here's an example of a startup profile:

        https://www.founderhill.com/startups/founder-hill

        I guess I failed to deliver the message across—thank you for pointing this out. Hope I can still ask for your feedback again once I change the pages.

        Thank, Tal!

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          I also agree that I couldn't tell what the site was about from viewing the landing page. Now that I understand what profiles and quizzes are, I am also confused about why they are combined in one product. They seem like two distinct products.

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            Hey @stevenkkim, appreciate the feedback :) The initial intent of creating this website was to actually help early-stage founders find resources about the startup world because I had a hard time doing it at first. However, as I iterated from the feedback I'm getting, it turned out to be quizzes, and then profile hosting and in the end, it became too complicated. It was my fault for not recognizing which to prioritize. Thankfully, all of the comments by others in this thread were very helpful to set my mindset. Thank you, and thank you all.

            Anyway, I've changed the landing page. Appreciate your feedback on this again. Thanks so much.

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    This comment was deleted a month ago.

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      Thank you @meesterfox. I learned it the hard way and am still learning how.