I was in college, but had already tried several websites before in high school. My strategy up until that point consisted of creating it and letting it sit, hoping users would come. For Like.fm, my first mildly successful free-to-use website venture, I noticed the domain was good enough that it was getting traffic on its own and a trickle of users per week. Still, I had tried something new which was to do the cold emailing strategy you always read about. It actually works (with enough persistence).
I googled for small blogs covering things in my space and manually contacted dozens of them. One of these small blogs was followed by a CNET writer, and the next thing I knew I had my first major press article: a CNET article written about one of my features. It got me my first 10,000 users and gave me the motivation to keep going and the cred to get to the next milestone.
Nowadays I run an e-commerce startup at Instapainting.com. I've learned that SEO is one of the largest sources of organic traffic that I can actually control. You can do press, but even the residual traffic from that comes from search engine traffic, both from it helping your website rank and also from people searching and finding the article itself. Whenever someone goes online to solve a problem, they'll be searching for Google and phrasing it in a specific way with specific keywords that you must target.
For Instapainting my first users were acquired by making a post on a small subreddit, where it found some immediate customers. But later I took the same strategy of contacting press to get traffic, increasing SEO, and continuing to put effort and money into press (from small blogs to large publications).
We publicly launched the new product in May of 2016 with a Medium post announcing the "public beta" and our funding.
That post immediately got picked up by the local tech publication Bostinno.
We did the typical sharing to all social networks (Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
Prior to launch, we posted on Betalist and had about 65 people on a waiting list. We also posted to all the typical directories like Stackshare, Siftery, Capterra, and AlternativeTo. Only Betalist and AlternativeTo ended up driving any significant traffic.
We decided to wait to post on Product Hunt until the product was more fleshed out and our sales funnel was working on a small scale. We ended up launching on Product Hunt about six months later and got over 700 upvotes and was the #3 spot for that day. Here's the actual Tettra page we used to plan the Product Hunt launch.
The Slack Platform: Of course another massive source of trials was the Slack App Directory. After our experience, I highly recommend launching on a platform like Slack, WordPress, or Shopify.
There's a whole chunk of functionality that you can essentially "outsource" to the platform. For us, that was authentication, user management, and access to the "work graph". You also get free distribution from the parent platform and a clear target persona you can attract.
There are definitely risks involved, but the benefits outweighed the risks in our eyes. Here you can check out more details on why you should launch on a platform from my co-founder Andy.
"Emerging" Keywords: We were also lucky enough to jump on the "Slack Wiki" keyword pretty early on an ranked in the top few slots from the get go. There wasn't much competition for that term at the time, and we've been able to maintain the top non-branded Google result for that. All we did was put the term "Slack Wiki" in our website title tags and headers, and that was good enough to rank for a new term.
Bottom of the funnel: Once we got people signed up for a trial, we got as many of them on a screen share as possible to walk them through the product and collected their credit card info right on the phone.
We tried to continue to scale a demo-based inside sales playbook, but after a lot of pushing, we couldn't get it to work. The problem was that the product was simple enough and we were selling to small enough teams that they just wanted to start using the product right way and didn't want to do demos. It was a great way to get the machine going initially, but it just didn't scale for us.
The first batch of initial users were developers I had worked with on puppeteer, chromeless, and navalia. Having the first few customers already lined up helped me validate that the idea was sound and motivated me to launch. Once I launched I posted on most of the usual culprits: Hacker News, reddit, and on a few GitHub issues. I immediately found out that because the audience for this service was small, larger sites just didn't seem to care much.
I made no front pages and didn't get featured anywhere. What did work was answering people's questions on StackOverflow and Github — even if it didn't mean a conversion right away, it started creating some backlinks into the site, which at least helps with SEO.
After about a few weeks I started seeing more and more users from those libraries I mentioned buying subscriptions. As a matter of fact the first customer bought the most expensive plan I had, so that kept me motivated to ship. The following days after I started getting inquiries from CTOs and developers, some of which bought a subscription right away, others I just answered questions for. I tried doing ads for a time, which did result in more traffic but was expensive compared to the value being generated. Since then, I've done almost no advertising whatsoever.
One thing I'd like to stress to others is that if the niche for your product is small, don't expect to get a lot of big attention, at least initially. Even now browserless only sees roughly 50 users a day, which is nothing, quite frankly. I think what's important is that it solves a problem these people are facing, so those 50 users are already far into the conversion funnel. Because of this, you don't need 100k users a day to make your product successful (though it does help), you just need to know the problem well and where to find the frustrated users.
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We got our initial users solely via niche Facebook groups of entrepreneurs and startups. I joined many Facebook groups and wrote a post asking for feedback on ManyPixels and our value proposition. My message basically was, "Hey guys, here is what we do, would you be interested in this? Yes/No/Why not?" I also experimented by promising that each person giving us feedback would have a promo code. This worked well — lots of people commented, and this was a small hack that got us a lot of buzz.
I think what we did right here was putting the right product with the right message in front of the right users. I was honest: I told them I was a digital nomad in Bangkok experimenting with a new idea and trying to validate demand. People reacted well to that (even though it was advertising in a sense) and were supportive. I honestly wasn't sure if it would be flagged as spam, but I decided to take the risk nevertheless.
Another advantage was that I was a tech entrepreneur myself. I knew exactly what kind of modern design style people liked, and I knew where online entrepreneurs met and had discussions. (Indie Hackers is one of those places.) I did not have to do a lot of customer research. All my decisions were based on instinct and probably were all very biased. I also got lucky to be in such a field and target a community that's very open to trying new ideas.
My efforts included:
- posting case studies on reddit
- being active on Indie Hackers and Hacker News
- actively contacting companies on Facebook and Angel List. Though my account got banned for a few weeks from these platforms so I will be trying a different strategy.
We are thinking to develop affiliates and referrals next, then work on more content, PR, and ads later as well as partnerships and perhaps even white labeling.
What's worked the best so far? As I mentioned earlier, it hasn't been about the tactics we've used so much as putting the right message with right product in front of the right audience. We had a 25% conversion rate on Angel List outbound emails, which was absolutely ridiculously high. We've had customers from every sales channel we've tried so far.