Early on, my customers came from two primary sources:
- The large existing audience of CodeCanyon.net, the marketplace that I was publishing my products on.
- A naturally grown audience I was building through my frequent writing.
The existing audience that Code Canyon offered was critically important to my early success. Back then I had no reputation, no following, and no way to reach potential customers on my own. Leveraging the audience Envato (owner of Code Canyon) provided allowed me to build up an early customer base without having any marketable audience of my own.
Code Canyon helped me to build a small following pretty quickly that I was then able to cultivate into a much larger group through the content I was producing on my personal site, Pippin's Plugins. I was publishing tutorials, tips, and other blog posts several times per week. While my audience started out at nothing, I was able to build this into a pretty significant following fairly quickly.
Through my products and writing, I was able to grow my site's traffic from a few hundred page sessions per month to more than 85,000 sessions per month at its peak. That traffic was critically important to the success of my products early on.
I put up a special "Black Friday + Launch" deal with lifetime licenses and the Webmaster (unlimited) license priced at $99. Then I contacted several sites that were listing WordPress deals, asking if they could list our deal. It was the night before Thanksgiving here in the US. I think only two or three sites actually got the deal listed. I shared it out through some social media channels. It got the most traction from a few Facebook Groups.
In all, it was enough to get about 300 visits the week before and after Thanksgiving. That resulted in 5 awesome individuals buying our Webmaster license! It proved people were interested and willing to pay for what we were offering. It was exciting stuff. Then I got sick...
Months later, with the end of the lifetime deal approaching, I installed WP Rocket on the site and was impressed by the speed gains after configuring it properly. I posted about it on a Facebook Group for people who use the Divi theme, since that's what we used for our site. That got some traffic and attention and I believe a few people purchased it.
Josh Rohrback, a member of that group who runs Magi Web Design, saw that post. He was also a member of the group Lifetime Tech Deals Fans. He mentioned our deal there and almost immediately I started getting new order notifications in my email! I actually had to look at analytics and such to piece together what had happened. Once it was shared in that group it started selling quite fast for the minimal exposure and effort I'd put into it. From Jan. 24 through Feb 3rd, when the deal ended, another 30 people purchased the lifetime deal for a total of $3613 in sales!
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.
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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.
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.
Since I didn't have a major budget for marketing, my focus was initially on the organic and social channels. I tried generating some press for the launch but it was difficult. I did get it featured on Product Hunt, though it wasn't exactly the target audience.
I created content targeted for gym managers on the company blog, focusing on the digital aspects of running a gym — how to run marketing, do local SEO for gyms, generate funnels to attract gym members, running referral programs and so forth. I contacted many online publications in the fitness and martial arts verticals, and did some guest blogging to generate traffic and links back to my site.
At the same time, I ran a very active Twitter account that was sharing general fitness and martial-arts related content. To gain awareness of the account, I used a Twitter automation tool that is no longer available due to changes to the Twitter API. I was also very active on several subreddits where many gym owners and managers participate (specifically /r/bjj), and did a soft sell here and there without being too aggressive. I had been a longtime part of the community so I knew the right way to approach it without upsetting people. Now whenever someone posts there about gym management software, people usually refer them my way.
I contacted all the gym owners I'd been working with to develop the initial software and got them to try it out as an actual replacement to what they had. Those were my first real customers. It's a very tight community, so over time they referred others my way. Surprisingly, merchant account sellers have also been a source of referrals. After connecting with one through one of my customers, we started a cross-referral collaboration, and they referred quite a few new customers my way over time.
I tried AdWords for a little while with a small budget, but couldn't get good results there since it requires deep knowledge of competitive keywords. After a couple of months I started running ads on Capterra, a search engine for business software, where I am now ranked first in searches for "martial arts gym software". This has become my strongest source for conversions. I was initially spending around $180 a month on Capterra, and it's now closer to $400 a month. Currently, Capterra and organic search results are the main acquisitions sources for my business.
We initially acquired all of our customers through proactive outbound sales. I would call people, send cold emails, send messages on LinkedIn, and offer an in-person demo — anything to try to get the product out there. Within 14 months I did around 40 in-person demos, and used join.me to do more over the phone.
This strategy landed us our first 10 customers. While it helped us validate the idea, it was a pain in the ass and I wish the whole process had taken a lot less time. At this point, we were not relying on our website at all for sales or marketing, and I think this was a mistake.