February 25, 2018

Shared our story on Indie Hackers

Ryan Kulp @ryan

read it here: https://www.indiehackers.com/interview/fomo-05b996966c

  1. 3

    Internet marketers make me hate the internet. Lately it feels like there are more people talking about "the thing" than actually doing it. So hard to tell who is legitimate and who is just talk. Love how open and transparent this post is. Thanks for sharing

  2. 3

    Hey Ryan! Awesome post - and congrats on your success. :)

    A couple of questions:

    • How did you guys get listed in the Shopify app store? How long did it take? We submitted an app to Shopify and it's been pending review for about three months now, which is a huge bummer. We've found BigCommerce and Woo to be way more efficient. I know a few folks in this community are also building apps for ecom platforms! So any advice on getting listed and speeding up the process with Shopify would help a lot.

    • How exactly did you go about marketing the app in the early days? What channels were most effective for you? You've built up a solid list of customers, and you actively share their stories which is awesome to see. Any guidance on getting a bit of traction going would be great. Looks like you did a lot of Quora hustling in the early days etc. https://www.ryanckulp.com/quit-cold-email/

    1. 2

      hey Chris!

      thanks for the kind words.

      • yes, it takes awhile to get listed on your first go-round. however, they have a priority queue for established apps, and most recently we had a side project approved + listed in < 24 hours. we're also on Big & Woo, but find the traffic + install conversion rate is much lower on those app stores. this could also be unique to us, however, since a lot of Woo extensions are priced as lifetime service, whereas we're monthly.
      • in the early days we relied on Shopify marketing agencies and Youtubers. if we saw a "best apps" post, whether on a blog or in the Shopify forums (ecommerce.shopify.com), we'd add a note and try to be helpful too (not just spam!). TBH though, breakneck response times in customer support led to our biggest growth driver: word of mouth.

      hope this helps.

  3. 3

    Thanks for doing this. I had heard of Proof before but they are incredibly expensive (they give huge affiliate commissions) so its good to know an alternative

    1. 1

      thanks Shaun, we're an open book. :)

  4. 3

    You said you bought an app and converted it into the current business. Why did you pick that app, how much did you pay for it and how did you come up with the idea to re-engineer it?

    1. 5

      we wrote about that experience here:

      how we literally* found the business (Notify) is kinda a funny story:

      • early 2016, i had just moved to San Francisco from NYC
      • needed to swap my zip code on all my online subscriptions due to home address change
      • one subscription was for a beef jerky monthly box (lol)
      • while logged in to change my credit card, i saw a Notify notification ("XX just subscribed to our jerky box...")
      • as a marketer, i was blown away
      • emailed the founder (guessed "[email protected]" would work) to see if he wanted investors (my SF job was at a venture capital firm)
      • he said "no"
      • took him to dinner
      • did not invest, bought the company instead

      the idea to re-engineer... dreaming. :)

      humans territorial. buy a used house, you paint it. new car, you get a bumper sticker.

      same thing happens when you acquire a business; you look for ways to make it not just better, but yours.

      our goal from the start was not to simply "ride out the cash cow," but grow it significantly. in general, reliance on a single "integration" (in this case, Shopify) felt risky. rebuilding the platform and connecting to dozens of other services de-risked.

      can't share how much we bought it for, due to agreement w/ original maker.

  5. 3

    This is very cool! Thanks for sharing about your process.

    Quick question...you said that Martha Stewart & Hint Water signed up. Any sense of how they found out about you? It seems like you got a couple of big fish relatively early.

    Really cool product...

    1. 2

      hey Stephen,

      that's a great question. :)

      in general, so far all our customers have been inbound. we did a tiny bit of cold email, mostly to BigCommerce / WooCommerce stores, back in Spring 2016.

      but then we quit: https://www.ryanckulp.com/quit-cold-email/

      this year we're doing some "push" marketing, however, by attending conferences, renting booths, speaking at more events, etc.

      one thing that was especially cool about the Hint / Stewart's of the world, is that not only did they* find us* (inbound), but they also implemented our API self-service.

      in cases like this, it's really important to build [automated] feedback loops so you understand if a VIP prospect has signed up to trial your service.

      we didn't do a good job of this last year, but are getting better at it.

  6. 2

    Installed your widget on https://zeroqode.com/ after reading this interview Ryan, works like a charm, the installation and configuration was very smooth and easy. Love the idea and I believe it's totally worth $30/month. Good job! :)

    1. 1

      woo hoo! enjoy Levon!

  7. 2

    How does this work for other ecommerce systems (not shopify)?

    1. 1

      hey there, thanks for asking.

      pretty much the same way... click a couple times, boom, connected. :)

      in the API scheme of things, we always shoot for OAuth2. our Selz.com connection uses that protocol, so users click and are instantly set up.

      for Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce, we have plugins and app listings that provide a similar experience... click to install, accept permissions, and you're all set. for other ecommerce platforms like Cratejoy (subscription boxes), Magento, and so forth, we have a "paste your API key" strategy.

      in all cases, it's very easy for users to connect, especially in the ecommerce ecosystem.

  8. 2

    Hey Ryan, nice work with Fomo. I always appreciate reading about unique marketing products. I had a few questions but it looks like you answered them already in some of your other responses. After reading your blog, it seems like you have as much interest in music as you do building tech. I recently built a music feedback app that got a little bit of traction and I’m curious to get your thoughts on it. Do you have a moment for a quick email?

    1. 1

      yep, send it over! ryan@usefomo

  9. 2

    Hi Ryan, I like your writing and website is unique indeed. One thing though: "coding is for losers. Fomo connects seamlessly with 100s of your favourite apps. Losers: here’s our API." - I would change "losers" to "nerds". While I understand this is a joke, I think it is a bit strong, especially since you serve companies.
    I will probably integrate you guys into my project. Great job on getting this to where it is! Have you seen some proper jump in sales today thanks to this interview? I wonder if IH have power to move the needle.

    1. 1

      thanks for the feedback. perhaps our self-deprecation ("losers" vs "nerds") isn't always well received, but hey, good copy polarizes.

      did we achieve extra sales from today's interview, probably.

      we got an extra handful of free trials, for sure, but leads from sources like interviews, ads, etc aren't as high-converting as organic and referral.

      time will tell, ie 7 days from now when free trials expire. :)

  10. 2

    My personal motto: all you have to do is whatever it takes.

    A great one, I might steal it 👍

    What did you spend the loan on? Paying yourself, or working with developers?

    Thanks for the read!

    1. 2

      hey Julian, please do! it's a Zach Braff movie quote anyway. :)

      spent the loan on developers, yeah. i didn't get my first paycheck until ~2 months ago, after around 21 months of freelancing / doing other jobs to pay my bills.

      1. 2

        👍 Great, disciplined approach!

        Congrats on this Ryan and a lot of success going forward!

  11. 2

    Thanks for doing the interview!

    Do you feel like opening up a Shopify store is the best way to find ideas for and launch a Shopify app?

    1. 1

      i had a blast, glad you enjoyed it.

      opening a Shopify store is a great way to find some* problems, but they'll be problems that only new Shopify stores face. like, "how to get my first sale? how to efficiently print order receipts and labels?"

      the "real $$$," however, comes from solving problems faced by much bigger stores. and opening + growing a store to be that size, just to then turn around and build software, doesn't make a lot of sense.

      i suggest browsing the Shopify forums, specifically the 2 different "App" related categories. in these discussions, shop owners are constantly requesting apps to fit their needs.

      recent ideas:

      • live art preview
      • inventory syncing between Shopify <> Etsy
      • automated newsletters whenever a product goes on sale
      • etc


      1. 2

        I did exactly this except mainly on the Etsy forums. I built crawlers to scrape specific topics daily--it's a goldmine when it comes to finding problems to solve. I reached out to tons of sellers on there, got great feedback, and eventually settled on a problem I was confident I could solve better than the competition.

        Fast forward 6 months later, I'm currently in early access with my software, Trunk, that syncs inventory between Etsy & Shopify [1]. If anyone's interested in trying it out for their business, please reach out! james@trunkinventory (dot com)

        [1] https://www.trunkinventory.com

        1. 1

          oooh awesome stuff @axsuul , my girlfriend has this exact issue, sharing Trunk with her now.

      2. 2

        Makes sense! Thank you Ryan.

  12. 2

    The shear number of comment responses makes this one of the most helpful interviews in recent memory. And to think I wasn’t going to read it. As a designer i straddle the line between causing anxiety of a purchasing design and hitting businesses goals. But I think you guys do a pretty good job of enforcing best practices.

    Mostly striking about about this interview is that you acquired an cash-flowing asset and partially funded via cheap credit. Both topics are super powerfully for indie hackers and not talked about nearly enough.


    1. What do you consider your risk profile? I think it’s an important metric for indie hackers to understand.
    2. How important was the acquisition to the overall success? Would you be as successful starting from scratch?
    3. At this point, what are you optimizing for both personally and as a company?
    1. 2

      hiya Moe! i'm glad you took the time and got some value from it.

      1. my profile has changed over time... particularly, over the course of this business. when you have personal $$ savings, for example, you might make 10x bigger risks than even 3 or 6 months before, when you might be paycheck to paycheck (just an example). currently i'm willing to risk up to 10-20% of our user base (literally and in revenue terms) on a new idea, feature, vertical, etc. FWIW, Facebook has offered companies up to ~20% of their market cap, to be acquired (ie Whatsapp for $19 billion / $100 billion value).

      2. i don't think we'd be as successful starting from scratch, no. while we ultimately rebuilt the product anyway, having a bunch of customers that we could ask for rapid feedback, was everything. we knew exactly what to build for at least 6 months, before we really needed to get creative or make gut decisions.

      3. optimizing personally - making some money, after ~1.5 years of no paychecks. as a business - doubling our user base while not* doubling our team or even our support team (how??). optimizing in both regards - deep work, and how to do more of it.

      hope this helps, thanks again for reading.

  13. 2

    Hi Ryan, fomo seems like a serious undertaking, congrats. Excellent artwork and awesome Insta. Have u ever written a blog post on the details of your acquiring notify? I'd love to read it. I am in the market to sell my app. Thanks in advance.

    1. 2

      thanks for reading! i might be interested in acquiring your app, can you email me ([email protected]) more deets?

      as for the acquisition story, check this out:

    2. 1

      Hey Grant,

      Dillon here, can you please email me when you get a chance?


  14. 2

    I just had to come back here and mention – you're absolutely killing it with copywriting. Can I hire you for all my projects? Perhaps any tips or good articles on the subject?

    1. 2

      way too kind.

      email me if you'd like a couple off-the-cuff ideas for your project.

  15. 2

    You guys got real weird with that video and I like it, keep it up.

    1. 1

      lol! just being ourselves

  16. 2

    Congrats @ryan - and thanks for sharing your story, very useful insights!

    1. 1

      appreciate the support, Jakub!

  17. 2

    Nice writeup Ryan!
    And a really cheeky FAQ section. I was laughing out at some of the FAQ answers :)

    1. 1

      thanks Suhas, we enjoy writing copy. :)

  18. 2

    Congrats on your success!

    1. What was the breaking point for you to quit your day-time job and focus on the startup? I imagine it can be hard to quantify.
    2. If you were to go back and time, what would you have done differently?
    1. 1

      thanks Mark!

      1. breaking point was mostly a sense of guilt about not performing well enough at my day job. a lot of folks have a certain revenue milestone in mind, which is rational, but i enjoy doing multiple things at once. staying full-time at another gig forced me to be efficient with my time and work on the right things. mechanically speaking, the break point was when i couldn't be at the (day job) office without my Fomo email being open all day.
      2. implemented more systems, sooner. we now have a "Fomo Bible," which is an internal wiki for our support engineers. this has so much content (that was previously in each of our brains, disconnected) that it's insane we were able to provide quality customer service early on without that kind of knowledge sharing.
  19. 2

    Congrats on your success Ryan, and thanks for sharing!

    I'm curious how your interest in social proof marketing started. Was it something you read, intuition you developed from your day job, etc..

    Also, on "reading one book a week" -- care to share any good books? :)

    1. 1

      thanks for reading!

      my friend David puts it best on his marketing analytics resource (https://codingisforlosers.com/) -- become a lazy marketer.

      frankly, if you can achieve a 1.0+ viral coefficient and achieve new users from existing users, the world is your oyster.

      the PR stunts and many many (100+) events i did with large brands taught me a lot too.

      for example, while working with Coca-Cola we'd rent a booth and give away 10,000 cans at a street festival. then when i worked at Red Bull we'd be given a 6-pack and told to make the same impact by going to the same festival, giving them to influencers, and getting kicked out.

      some good books...

      i only update this ~once a month so the last 5-7 i've read aren't there.

  20. 2

    Thanks for the cool insights. My question is where did you find an agency to develop your product, and are you still using the same agency/developers today? How did you evaluate whether they were the right people to develop the code? Thanks!

    1. 1


      • how we found a dev shop - my partner Justin "knew a guy who knew a guy." after a few months we hired folks in-house, including some ex-agency team members who were already familiar with the product.
      • determining if folks are the right fit... we move very quickly. 5/6 developers we hired were great, and pushed to production on Day 1. the 6th, we let go in about a week.
  21. 2

    I wish that the article went into detail early-on about what the business does, in plain English. I’m still fuzzy on it, which made this a less-engaging read for me. Nonetheless, thank you for taking time to share.

    1. 4

      I’m not a FOMO user, but I believe it’s a notification product you’d place on your website, that pops open a notification icon on page load. The notification simply states the last time a user of that website purchased a product.

      Something like “Emily W. From Ohio just signed up for XYZ.com six minutes ago”.

      It provides social proof that other people are using the website you’re on, and can drastically increase conversion rates.

      1. 3

        great pitch, Joshua! lookin for a job? :D

    2. 3

      this is good feedback, Kayce. i'll amend the opening interview question w/ help from @channingallen to distill what we do more clearly.

  22. 2

    @ryan awesome interview. Congrats on your success. Fellow engineer here, also from NYC. I passed along your "learn to code" article to a buddy, also a great article.

  23. 2

    Great story, gives me lots of motivation!
    "All you have to do is whatever it takes" - This should be a startup proverb.

    1. 3

      know what's funny? that quote is from a Zach Braff movie (The Last Kiss) for a totally unrelated context.

      Braff has an affair w/ a girl at a bar while his pregnant fiancé is at home. she dumps him and he visits her dad for advice.

      dad says "all you have to do is whatever it takes."

      he does, which means sleeping on her porch for days (weeks?) until she begins to forgive him, and they get back together.

      thanks for reading!

  24. 2

    @ryan I love the "Keep your day job. Not forever, but until your side project is bursting at the seams with needle moving todos." quote. So true.

    I've literally just launched https://chadthiele.com to create a place to showcase my art and make it available to members and you're interview inspired me to work harder -- and I can totally see how Fomo could help me when I'm ready to integrate it.

    No questions... just a big thank you for taking the time to accept the interview.

    And thanks to @csallen for conducting it.

    1. 2

      thanks Chaddeus, and good for you re the art site. my first startup was actually an art marketplace, ArtSpot.

      while plenty of folks are buying art, for some reason it's incredibly hard to sell it. more on that project here: https://www.ryanckulp.com/doing-right-by-investors/

      good luck!

      1. 1

        Wow, that’s a great read... maybe a bit demotivating, but thanks for writing it.

        What do you feel was the biggest reason ArtSpot didn’t work out?

        1. 1

          ahh sorry, that was not my intention in sharing.

          biggest reason - ingredients required for selling art are more numerous than the average good.

          reminds me of "BANT," the textbook sales strategy for qualifying leads.

          • Budget - can they afford it?
          • Authority - can they make the final decision and sign?
          • Needs - do they actually need our solution?
          • Timing - is this the best time for them to come onboard?

          in art, BANT does not apply. or if it does, it's 1/10th of the framework required to close a sale.

          other, less obvious and harder to achieve:

          • brand perception (are you "hot shit"?)
          • wisdom of the crowd (ie why art auctions are popular)
          • critical praise (sorta like brand perception, but from elitists vs commoners)
          • etc
          1. 1

            Nice, thanks!

            Right now I’m selling each piece individually, or “free” to subscribers — which is a monthly/annual membership.

            Your comment about art auctions made me think... instead of a set price per piece, do you believe a “pay what you want” model works here?

            Also, in my case, I allow commercial use so in some regards it could be regarded as “unique stock art” for projects/merchandise too.

            Was ArtSpot mostly a marketplace for connecting art with typical customers wanting the art for their home/office?

            1. 1

              i don't know much about your biz but, gut reaction is to not do "pay what you want." this violates law above of brand perception... what "legitimate" artist sells via this model?

              (excluding when Banksy sold his pieces for $60 in Central Park...)

              ArtSpot connected artists with venues* like cafe's, coworking spaces, etc. the customers were the clients or patrons of those venues. so, we indirectly connected artists <> consumers.

              RE your commercial arm, i spoke w/ several folks who make a full-time living helping artists sell their prints to new hotels, for example, who might need 2-3 pieces for every one of their 300 rooms at a new building. consider tapping into those folks and they can do the dirty work (sales) for you, to reputable clients that will boost your brand.

              would it be cool to be in 300 rooms at The W? maybe, maybe not.

              1. 1

                Thanks Ryan. I had a gut feeling it would kind of cheapen my art if I did a "pay what you want" model. Was curious what you thought. :)

                And yes, it would be awesome to be in 300 rooms at The W! :)

  25. 1

    Hi Ryan! Great interview! few question:

    1. What make you&Justin decide to buy Notify(Shopify app)?
    2. Before you&Justin acquire Notify, how many user do Notify have? are Notify already making money?
    3. how do you meet your partner Justin? college friend? co-worker?
    4. so both you&Justin can’t code?
    5. do you guys have HQ in bay area or remote-working?
    6. How many employee you guys have? or still working with that dev shop? how many people full-time working on Fomo?
    7. What's your major in college? You study in US/Canada?
    8. you mention you start&fail 3 companies, what these companies do, why they fail?


    1. 2

      hey Cheng!

      1. felt right, we liked the product (as marketers) and saw it's potential.
      2. Notify had about 1,000 users (some were paused, cancelled, on legacy plans, etc so hard to know exact number)
      3. we met through a mutual friend, who email-introduced us when i moved to San Francisco early 2016
      4. where did we say that? i code 30-40% of the time, usually pushing to production a few times per day.
      5. we only have 1 person in the Bay Area now, 1 in LA, couple in NYC, few in Europe, Japan, Rhode Island... yes remote.
      6. around 10. not working with any agencies or dev shops.
      7. i studied "marketing" and scored horribly on core classes.
      8. wrote about some of that here: https://www.quora.com/How-did-you-start-your-business-What-did-you-do-and-how-did-you-go-about-doing-it/answer/Ryan-Kulp
  26. 1

    Great article !
    How did you took the a decision to buy "Shopify app called Notify"
    How did you make your market research ? to choose this niche?
    what market place did you use to purchase it ?
    Thanks !

    1. 1


      we found the app ourselves, accidentally. in another comment i share that story, just search this page for "beef jerky." :)

      no market research, just a gut feeling this could be big. also, Justin was pretty involved in ecommerce at the time, so could speak intelligently as a potential customer.

      did not use a marketplace to purchase, simply contacted founder directly, took him to dinner, and made a deal days later.

  27. 1

    Nice story. But it's disappointing not to read what really occurred in between "hacking on it 1-2 nights a week" and "Martha Stewart signed up." Really? It just oozes that "any idiot could do this!" mentality, when we all know the real kind of work this takes.

    1. 1

      hey there, thanks for the feedback.

      if i did something brilliant on the marketing front to attract those kinds of customers, i would do my best to articulate it here (modestly). but frankly, that's not how it happened.

      no intention of waxing poetic, just telling it straight.

  28. 1

    FYI: It looks like the video on the homepage does not play.

  29. 1

    This comment was deleted a year ago.

    1. 1

      glad you enjoyed it!

      we have lots of non-ecommerce customers, showing off everything from Instagram posts to "requests for quotes" (ie consultants, service businesses) to blog subscribers.

      no matter what you do, your website has a call to action, something you want visitors to accomplish in order to connect with your business.

      1. 1

        This comment was deleted a year ago.

        1. 1

          right, it's all about knowing your customers, and applying the right degree of anonymity to the data you're showing off.

          we built Fomo Instant for the common use case of mapping form fields (ie Contact Us) to Fomo notifications. optionally, users can turn the customer's email into an Avatar, for example, or the visitor's IP Address into city/state/country.

          but that's optional. you may also just want to say "Someone booked an appointment 5 mins ago" or "A busy mom downloaded our PDF on ADHD." (jokes)

          we've worked with a couple Fortune 500 companies that have to abide by HIPPA, and have identified ways around those limitations to keep things safe and legal.

          1. 2

            This comment was deleted a year ago.

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