It’s been a year since I launched the Closet Assistant. It’s also been a year (to the day) since I made my first dollar online.
I’m not an expert. I’m not a better marketer, developer, or founder than anyone else. I don’t always know what I’m doing - but there are a few things I know. That’s what this post is about.
Picking An Idea
I would write quite a bit about this topic here, but I already have. Check out my notes on how to pick an idea for a product that sells itself.
Once you’ve got a solid idea as to what you will be building, you can move on to validation.
Starting On The Right Foot
Validation. Validation. Validation.
There’s no question this is one of the most important pieces to creating, selling, and marketing a product.
- Do people actually want what you’re making?
- And if they do, are they willing to pay?
Answering those questions early and honestly can save you a world of turmoil. If the overwhelming response is no, it’s probably a sign that it won’t grow on it’s own very well.
If the overwhelming response is yes, then you might have a winner!
How do you validate? What is good validation? Should I build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)? How long should I spend on my MVP?
How To Validate
To validate a product, you need to reach an audience with your idea. This can either be an audience you’ve built organically over time, or an audience that already exists.
In my case, my audience was Poshmark users. I’m not a Poshmark user, but my wife is. I initially built the product for her, and then decided to turn it into something that anyone could use.
I didn’t have a Poshmark audience under my control, so I had to go somewhere else. An example of existing audiences could be Reddit subreddits, Facebook groups, forums, or tapping into someone else’s existing audience.
I decided to reach out on Reddit to see if there was any interest. There was.
But before I go any further, let’s talk about MVP’s, since that’s what I used to garner interest.
MVPs - To build or not to build?
So, an MVP is something that is the slimmest, simplest, and functioning version of the product you are going to build. If you’re building a SAAS app, this would be one core feature and some authentication for users. If you’re writing a book/course, this would be the first few chapters, or the first few lessons.
What makes an MVP so valuable is that it gives people a taste of the finished product, but also allows them to know that you’re not just blowing smoke. You’re building something, it’s just not done yet.
An MVP is something people can buy into, an idea or vision that they can associate with. It also makes it incredibly easy to build an email list when you give people free access to the MVP while you are testing and gathering feedback.
My MVP was a bookmarklet that allowed users to run a script to automate sharing their items to their followers/to a party (a common thing for Poshmark sellers).
All they would do is click the bookmarklet, it would share all of their items. No UI, no login, no payment processing, just a script.
When I launched the ‘beta/MVP’, I hid it behind an email signup. The users had to enter their email, and then they would get an email explaining how to install the MVP. The email signup was on a landing page that explained some things about the tool and what it did.
From this one post I was able to get ~150 emails from potential customers. I got emails by using Google Forms (not necessarily recommended, but it still works!).
So, to answer the question, ‘should I build an MVP?’ Yes. And a landing page to collect emails. A great way to get started with landing pages would be Launchaco or Carrd.
Talk To Your Users
So, now that I’ve made the Reddit post and gathered some emails, what now? Talk to your users.
What you should do is start an email list. This will allow you to email all of your users and get some conversations started. I recommend using ButtonDown for starting an email list. Once you start your list, embed that on your landing page and enter in any emails you’ve already obtained.
Now, here’s where the conversation starts. What I did, was I asked people for feedback and ideas in exchange for 1 month free of the tool when it launched (which in my case was basically a $30 discount). This worked really well, I got a lot of responses and ideas.
Some of the ideas were bogus, others were interesting. You need to be able to filter out the noise and notice the things that will actually help your users accomplish the thing your tool sets out to do.
Build The MVP
My application really had two MVPs. The first was a super beta version of the app - everything was stripped out except for the functionality. The second was a culmination of all of the feedback and feature ideas I got from the users.
How long should it take to make your MVP? It depends, but I wouldn’t spend more than 2-3 months on it.
My application was built in about 4 weeks. The majority of that time was spent figuring out how to integrate Stripe and process payments, while using Firebase as a backend.
I’d try to make it as slim as you can, and stable as you can. If there’s any bugs people will stop using it. If there’s too many half-baked features people will pass. You want a solid few core features that show people the reason they might pay you in the future.
Launch To Your List (This is the validation)
Getting an email list is not validation.
Anyone will put their email in for free stuff. The only validation that’s worth anything is people pulling out their wallets, entering their CC info in your app, and paying you.
For my app, I required a CC to sign up. No, it wasn’t one of those scam apps that just charges you whenever it wants. The app is very upfront about how to cancel your free trial and/or subscription.
By requiring the CC, I’m also self-filtering out people that aren’t serious customers. If you’re not willing to put in your CC info, you’re not interested in paying me later on. I’ll pass on you.
Another topic to talk about is pricing. I priced my app at $30/month. That might seem steep for a small app - but it’s all about the value you provide and what type of customers you want to deal with.
If you charge $1/month, get ready to fend off a host of customers that will demand your time and demand features to be added to your app. You want to charge high enough so that people who don’t understand it’s value complain that it’s too expensive, and people that do understand it’s value think it’s a steal. That’s my criteria.
So, launch day comes. You’ve got your list. You send out an email saying ‘buy it now!”. Now you wait to see what happens. This is where your idea gets validated.
I had a list of about 200 people by the time I launched my app. The first month I launched I went from $0 to $350/month in revenue. That’s roughly 11 customers. That’s actually a pretty standard conversion rate for an email list - 5%. So, you can imagine, the larger the email list you can build when making the MVP, the more sales you will make during your launch.
There of course will be haters. Some people won’t want to pay for your app. But, those aren’t your customers. You needn’t worry about them.
Here’s what happened in public when I launched my app on Reddit.
Growth And Communication
I bet on SEO. It was a good bet.
So, there’s a lot of ways to grow a SAAS app. You can do Facebook Ads, Content Marketing, AdWords, Influencer Campaigns, the list goes on.
I decided to be on Content Marketing. It’s something that I have seen be successful time and time again, and it builds the kind of long term marketing juice that I was striving to have.
Early on, after making the Closet Assistant, I wrote some blog posts. The Poshmark niche is under saturated as far as SEO goes, so I was able to rank pretty quickly for several terms.
Here’s what my SEO stats looked like over the past year.
As you can see, my search traffic was almost nothing for the first 3-4 months. The only way I actually grew the app during this time was by creating features and launching them to my email list and on Reddit. I did that at least 3 times.
But, once my organic traffic began to grow, I started to see the app grow by itself without me needing to post on Reddit.
So, this was my growth process.
- Make a feature.
- Blog about that feature (targeting keyword).
- Launch to list.
- Talk to customers on the site.
That’s about it. I would make a new feature and launch it to the list. That would generate some new interest and some sales.
Then I would start to see some traffic coming in from the targeted blog post about the feature.
Communication is paramount.
On that page, I had Drift installed. I encouraged people to contact me if they had any questions or concerns. This was invaluable. Being able to talk someone through your product not only helps turn them into customers, but it also helps you build a better product.
You start to see where customers are always asking questions and tripping up in your onboarding. Then, instead of asking questions over and over again, you can address them once in the documentation or on another landing page.
Another thing that’s valuable about Drift (or any other instant chat on your site), is that the customers perceive it as great customer service. When you’re there in less than a minute to help them out with what they’re struggling with, it leaves a good taste in their mouth.
Speaking of customer service, always give people their money back when they ask for it, and always go out of your way to give them value when your product doesn’t live up to their expectations.
One person that you refuse to give a refund can be the one person that convinces everyone to not use your product. Conversely, you can convert an angry customer into an advocate simply by being nice and giving them their money back with no questions asked.
I’m getting to the point now where sometimes my chat is a little bit too much to handle. I constantly have to update the documentation and add pages explaining features so I can cut down the time I am spending talking to people.
So, that was the rough guide to how I grew the Closet Assistant from $0 to $4500 in a year. What does that mean for next year? How do I plan on going to $10k, or even $50k? Here’s my list:
- More content.
- More features.
- More stability.
- More automation.
- Free side-products.
More content is simple. There’s some whale sized keywords that I’m missing out on that could bring lots of traffic to the site. I’ll be writing lots of content, but I might give an SEO farm a shot. That would allow me to focus on building tools instead of writing.
There’s a lot of features I want to add to the Closet Assistant. This will make it way more valuable. I plan on doing a 2.0 launch this summer, and when I do I want to increase the price (while retaining legacy pricing for those who sign up early).
Stability is a must for growth. When you have 1000 users, and there’s a bug in your software, you hear about it. It’s not good. Every feature needs to be tested and tested again, and then pushed out with the utmost confidence that it’s going to do exactly what it is supposed to do.
Automation is obvious, but there’s certain things I am doing that I can automate when I scale bigger. I won’t be able to manage the chat interface one-on-one for much longer, so I will probably invest in the more premium features of Drift to build out documentation and use their bot to filter my inbox by helping people out before I need to chat with them.
That, and creating better profile/account management pages for users. This would allow users to be able to better control their own accounts, and they won’t have to ask me to do stuff for them.
Onboarding needs to be optimized as well. The interface needs to be much more intuitive, and easy to get going without visiting the website documentation (such as, if they’re installing the Chrome Extension).
Free side-products is something that I believe is one of the best ways to get new customers and traffic to a product. There’s a few reasons:
- People love free stuff and will give up a lot to get free stuff.
- You’re adding value up-front to a potential customer, so they’re more likely to pay you.
- You’re giving them a taste of what your premium products look like.
- It is much more likely to go viral on social media or forums.
Thanks For Joining Me!
If you’ve been following my story on Twitter, thanks for following along! My only hope is that I can inspire more people to ship new products and make money doing it.
I hope you got something out of this blog post. If you did, feel free to share it!