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34 Comments

Launched two years ago - didn't go viral - what now?

Two years ago I launched my first website project, www.fireleap.com, a free net worth tracker targeted for people aiming for financial independence. It was a way to learn web dev, and I also wanted such a tool myself, and though maybe others would want to use it to track their journey in public.

I did some initial marketing, posting on reddit, twitter, blogs etc, and now, two years later, I have around. 2,000 sign-ups, some of them recurring users, some not.

As it didn't "go viral" I quickly concluded that it wouldn't be a walk-in-the-park to monetize this thing, and I focused my efforts away towards more profitable ventures. There is some organic flow now, and I'm getting a sign-up or two a day.

So, the question is, what do I do with it now? Does anyone have any ideas to how I can make this thing into something, or should I just accept the fact that it didn't catch on, and move on with my life?

  1. 12

    You are making a classic indiehacker mistake.

    "Get loads of eyeballs on it and then figure out how to monetize" is a VC game. You can't afford to play that one.

    Try actually charging money.

    You can make lots of money without ever "going viral" by making people pay you for goods and services of value.

    1. 3

      Yeah, I've thought about that. Just can't imagine anyone wanting to pay. And also I thought I would get some network effects from many sign-ups. Maybe I'll try the payment thing though.

      1. 8

        Move on then.

        You built something people don't want to pay for.

        You are literally targeting the most stingy customer base in the world. Their goal in life is to slash their everyday expenses to nothing.

        Sell things to people who like spending money.

        And what network effects are you talking about? Ads? Affiliate arrangements? Your revenue is zero. You could get a million daily users and only costs would increase, your revenue would still be zero.

        Sorry for being direct. I just think this is a huge waste of time and mental energy for you. It's not a winner. You need to step into an existing stream of money, not try to squeeze blood from a stone.

        1. 2

          Honesty appreciated.

          You're probably right about abandoning, hence why I created this post to get feedback if anyone else might see any blood to be squeezed.

          My reference to network effects is basically the social component, i.e. users attracting other users. It didn't play out as I hoped. With a million users, I'm sure I would have been able to monetize.

          1. 1

            I'm sure you could have monetized with that level of traffic, yes.

            Your product looks well built and useful. A lot of skill obviously went into it. I just don't see it as a money maker. I could be wrong.

            1. 1

              Thanks. Useful, maybe, well built, hell no :)

        2. 1

          This is tough and sad but I agree. There are so much effort in this. Maybe you should pivot it into something different?

  2. 5

    Going viral is like winning the lottery. You see stories about people who did it every week, but you don't hear about all those who tried and failed.

    You should approach this like a business instead:

    1. can you think of something of value to offer that people would be willing to pay for?
    2. can you find some people who actually buy it?
    3. do you have a big enough market to be able to make a living out of it eventually?
    4. can you find a distribution channel to attract new people to your website, either for free or at a cost that is lower than what you make on every purchase?

    I'm sorry you had to learn this lesson. I've had to learn it to. Now it's time to see if you're really interested in the product building path or not. We're here to support you if you choose to keep going 😀

    1. 2

      This was a web dev learning project for me, so at least I got that from it. I've been able to create a $2.5k MRR app using those skills, so at least some upside.

      I just wish i had some semi-clear vision as to how I could likely monetize this, as I do believe it may have a value prop. I use it myself for instance. The "marketing" required to find those users you refer to seems daunting to me, after the marketing stint I did at launch.

      1. 1

        For a long time I hated the fact that I had to do marketing. If you can't bring yourself to love it, or at least to form a habit of doing it regularly, it's gonna be tough.

        But what I don't understand is why it's not a paid service. It's a financial app, which means it helps people with their money. There's a saying that the closer you are to people's money, the more you can charge...

        Also your promise is very strong "target for financial independence" is very unique.

        Maybe you could relaunch as a paid product, focused on the tracker and see what people think of that. If you can just convert a few users to monthly sub, you would get momentum to keep going. And with that marketing might not feel so bad, since now you have a "reason" for doing it (ie: make sales).

        1. 2

          Yeah, marketing is such a chore. My hope was that it would market itself over time. But here I am :)

          I keep hearing the "you have to make it a paid product". Not sure if I'm entirely convinced. But hey, can't know until I've tried.

  3. 2

    I think you should ask yourself these questions:

    1. Do I enjoy working on Fire Leap? Does it bring me fulfillment?
    2. Can I financially afford to continue working on it?
    3. Are there other things I can do with Fire Leap that I haven't already tried?

    If the answer is yes to all 3 questions, then I think you should definitely continue.

    I think I am possibly one of your target customers. I have a complex spreadsheet for tracking my net worth. I frequent many personal finance/FIRE subreddits. I found my self intrigued, but not sold on your product.

    What I want to see more of:

    • More in-depth screenshots of the graphs in your tool. Are there any charts that I don't already have in my current spreadsheet?
    • How easy is it to enter data and get started. Is there an import tool? A GIF or short video could be really helpful
    • How secure is my data? What are my privacy controls? I noticed there seems to be a social media aspect to the tool, but that feels like a turn off to me, as I don't feel comfortable sharing my net worth data so openly.

    Other thoughts:

    • Is there a community/forum aspect to you tool? I see that there are some forum features, but they look more tacked on. I think this is a good way to monetize your product. Financial knowledge sharing is very easy to monetize IMO. A great example of someone who does this is: https://twitter.com/cj_johnson17th

    Good luck, and I hope you find success!

    1. 1

      Thank you. This was actually a very thoughtful response.

      From your list of questions to post myself, 2 is the one I have issues with due to opportunity cost. The others are a clear yes,

      With regards to your second item list, I'm actually quite curious what you mean by more graphs? Do you mean showing more not signed up users? My thesis with the social stuff was that you could look at others profiles to see what you can get, but that may be to demanding for potential users.

      Secondly, with regards to entering data, my thesis was to make it VERY simple, as opposed to most other similar tools that requires you to enter every nut and bolt you own. No input tool though.

      I understand security and privacy may be an issue for some. Bottom line is that data is secured by standard flask-security measures, so it should be ok. And except for me as an admin (I can see your email), no one will be able to access any info that may be traced back to you. The sharing stuff is optional if you want to share your progress to twitter etc (which some like to do). I know it doesn't help other users that I am now explaining this to you. My thought has been to check interest before doing all the privacy/security policy stuff. May have been the wrong choice. I should probably have been more explicit on this.

      Lastly, I added some very simple forum-ish features to check if I could get some more interaction going,. Tacked on is a good way to put it. May have been poorly implemented, but I think the main caveat is that reddit and the likes of it is thousand times better suited for this.

      1. 1

        With regards to your second item list, I'm actually quite curious what you mean by more graphs? Do you mean showing more not signed up users?

        I'd be happy to clarify! I wanted to see more examples of the charts and analytics your tool provides. I wanted to see what additional insights your tool would provide me. If it just displays basic net worth graphs similar to what I already have, then I probably wouldn't bother with spending time to input my private data online, but if it helps me gain a better understanding of my net worth and how it might grow in the future, then I would see a lot of value in that.

        Some charts I'd be interested in seeing:

        • Some sort of FIRE projection/trajectory based on data inputted. Something similar to this retirement calculator but more accurate because you get a lot more context.
        • Some sort of portfolio distribution/diversification chart that shows how balanced (or imbalanced) my investments are
        • Show me what kind of benchmarking data you do provide. And I would love to see benchmarking data overlayed on top of my personal net worth chart (with customize-able filters)

        I actually just realized that I could view actual portfolios of users via "Explore First" > click on a random net worth update > click on "check out my profile here". I strongly recommend replacing "Explore First" with an interactive sample profile right on your landing page. See Mailbrew's landing page for a fantastic example: https://mailbrew.com

        I also have some thoughts around monetization strategies:

        • I think you should consider doing a life-time deal (LTD) model for early users. Offer a one-time purchase for lifetime access to your tools. This will allow you to generate some income and earn some early traction. AppSumo Marketplace might be a good place to try launching (although their community is generally more B2B focused)
        • Once you build an initial user base, then you could start planning more of a sustainable subscription model. For that I would recommend some form of a community approach (paid resources, exclusive forum access). You could also start to add additional tools that require a premium membership as well.
  4. 2

    I have a few "dead" projects, but they are live and functional -- just no customers. But clients for other projects have been very impressed by some of these tools, so they've been a valuable keep on my resume/website. So I wouldn't actually shut anything down unless it's costing you money to keep this running. At the least, I'd explore an exit, even if it's very small.

    Regarding an exit, does this tool run on its own? I put one of my "dead" projects on MicroAcquire a few months back and got a solid offer. Made a few thousand dollars all at once, which would have taken a year or two to make had I just kept the project sitting there on autopilot. You never know what opportunities someone might see in your product.

    1. 2

      Thanks, maybe that can be my exit. I'll check it out.

      Due to the sensitivity of the data I have inputted myself, I am not really sharing it with anyone, except under pseudonym, so the portfolio thing is a bit challenging.

  5. 2

    You've described two of my "product" (a 9 year webapp that gets 5K visits a month and a 5 year old paid upfront iOS app that still gets a couple of downloads a month). I have no idea how to generate revenue from the webapp as ads and paid upgrades get basically nothing and the iOS app would be such a "big" product to do properly that I don't want to do anything with it.

    For now I am leaving them as a "product in my portfolio", I may come back to the iOS app but I would validate the market from scratch first.

    My advice would be to leave it be, host it on the cheapest VPS you can find (linode maybe) and move on.

    1. 1

      Yeah, for ads I would need so much traffic that I don't even see it as an option. I thought about maybe adding some affiliate stuff, e.g. FIRE books or crypto etc., but can't image I can make anything worthwhile of it. It's a bit sad though, because I do believe there is some value prop to the app. I'm probably just not the guy to realize that value.

  6. 1

    I hope I wasn't too late in sending this message. I think the biggest thing people forgot as indie devs is they are basically business owners. You are no longer just a dev building a product but if your by yourself you have many different hats to wear. I think if you don't like marketing you should get a cofounder who good at that. Also when creating a product I think the 2 most important things that should be done before that is how exactly will I market this product and how will I monetize and what kind of income can I expect from it. So you would be able to set measurable goals. You can have the best product in the world but if no one sees it or no one is willing to pay for it or no monetization possible then your basically creating projects for your resume for a job search. I think the website looks great but in the future you need to see how are you going to market the product and how you can make money from it because you are running a business. Even nonprofit are making revenue and they use that they expand their reach

    1. 1

      Thanks for your insight. To my defense, it's not like I went into this without understanding that it could flop, nor that it would require some marketing. I guess in the end it comes down to a balance between just getting something out there to test it and having all kind of plans for marketing and monetization. In this case I skewed towards the former.

  7. 1

    I just signed up and tried using it, but I got lot of difficulties using it and I noticed numerous things.
    • I got an error message after signing up with Google, but it worked and was quick.
    • In the Add Data page, the date is not auto-formatted so it didn't recognize what I entered.
    • Other fields shouldn't be required. If it's left empty you should assume it's 0.
    • I'd rearrange the field and make them easier to comprehend and fill, and add text placeholders.
    • The homepage UI/UX could be improved as well to demonstrate how it can be used and why.

    Overall, it's an interesting idea and you're tapping into a valuable audience.

    1. 1

      Thank you. I'm aware there are quite a few improvements to be made. Some small, some big. This is sort of the gist of the challenge I'm facing, do i continue to develop/maintain when I'm having difficulties seeing the prospects of monetization. A bit of a chicken and the egg problem.

  8. 1

    Even going viral won't help if you can't monetize the product. I've build a viral app that had 2 million downloads over its lifetime, 500k in a month and you know where it is?

    It's dead because we couldn't monetize it.

    Don't wait or hope for that but try to engineer your success with what's in your control like working on the right problems in the right market.

    1. 1

      I'm fully aligned with you on that. Question is whether there is a potential or not. I'm guessing not, but trying to get some external advice here. If I understand correctly your advice is to move on.

      1. 2

        Not necessarily, I don't have have the amount of insights that you have into your company.

        I think you should move on from hoping for it to go viral.
        I see couple main ways forward for you:

        1. Accept that it's not a business but a pet project and leave it out there as a showcase of your work

        2. Try to monetize the current solution and see what happens, people might leave but at least you know what you have then

        3. Pivot and make something out of it that can be monetized

        4. Kill it

  9. 1

    Understand your market and customer.

    Who is this person? Why do they want to check their net-worth? How often do they want do this activity?

    Can you introduce some viral growth loops inside the app? Like anonymous rankings of how well do you fair as compared to someone else in the same group?

    Then you can even make a community. r/FATFire is one of the most popular communities.

    Overall nothing goes viral on it's own. There's always some core value that makes people want to talk about it.

    Work on increasing that and making sure your product is the better / faster / cheaper financial tracker on the internet that more accessible than others or gives better insights etc.

    Once your product is proven to be a great fit (PMF) then you can solely focus on multiplying this effect and working on virality.

    1. 1

      Thanks. I didn't actually expect going viral, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. Thanks for your suggestions.

  10. 1

    One thing I've known for running my business is that going viral does not guarantee you success.

    My first few posts got me 1k users in less than 2 months but more than 50% of them fell away in the next few months. These are not an engaged and invested audience for my business.

    If you are really invested and interested in this product, there are tons of way to promote and grow your business.

    Going viral will not necessarily guarantee you success but Consistency in promoting your product will.

  11. 1

    I'm curious what features your current users find useful? On the first glance, the landing page did not seem to present the value added.

    1. 1

      That's interesting. Maybe the problem is that there actually isn't much value added. I mean it's a fairly simple "product". You just track your financial data in a somewhat public manner. I'm probably not the best marketer but I do find it difficult to fluff up the value it offers, for instance on the landing page.

      1. 1

        🤔 Perhaps the question to answer is, "How would a fire person benefit from seeing and sharing the net worth?"

  12. 1

    Well, instead of aiming for it to "go viral" maybe instead find a way to make it so that 5 people love the product?

    https://www.ycombinator.com/library/4D-yc-s-essential-startup-advice

    1. 1

      Sorry, the going viral thing was an exaggeration. I didn't really expect that. Actually, I do have at least 5 persons that seems to love the product.

      1. 1

        Well if that's the case, ask them what about the product that they love, and then build on top of tha?

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