Launching a product is f'ing scary.

What’s even scarier is being totally open and transparent with the results.

Sharing transparently is something we committed to doing, no matter how our launch turned out.

So that’s what we’re about to do.

Gareth and I (Nick) want to welcome you to the Content Sleuth Journey, where we’ll share our successes, failures, and the lessons you can learn from them.

Why Be Transparent?

  • Because we’re part of a startup community. Sharing numbers, ideas, and processes helps our fellow entrepreneurs.
  • It holds us accountable.
  • There’s no hiding. There’s no way to spin it. Being open lets us be more honest with ourselves about what’s working and what’s not. And we hope that will make us work harder.
  • Transparency helps set our company culture and values. Culture is easy when you’re a team of two, plus freelancers. But what happens when the team starts expanding?
  • Transparency inspires trust. Between ourselves as business partners, between us and our customers, and between us and you.
  • This last one isn’t very altruistic, but we promised to be open and honest:transparency will probably be a source of PR, traffic, and customers (we hope).One of our main target customers is the startup/entrepreneur.We hope these stories & lessons will appeal to that potential user base.

Where Our Journey Starts

Where our journey starts

Gotta start somewhere, right?

It’s both the easiest and the hardest place to be. You have no proven demand, no revenue, no customers - but you also have the least to lose. Unless you make the mistake of syncing in a ton of money before validating.

You Can’t Really Prepare for a Product Launch

The truth is that no matter what you do to prepare, you never know if a product launch will be a success or a flop right out of the gates.

All you can do is launch (or in our case pre-launch) and see if people will pay.

I’m not saying that you should spend three months of your life and 50 grand of your hard-earned money on building a product.

But I’ve never believed that market surveys, revenue predictions, or even people’s wholehearted commitments to purchase ever mean much… before you actually have their money in your pocket.

Here’s all the data and the story behind our Kickstarter-style launch… so you can do the same.

To really understand if you have a business, money needs to change hands.

So we decided to see if people would pay (an UBER discounted price) for our service BEFORE we had anything they could use.

At that point, for us, it was not really about the money (though it’s important), but more about proving the demand and proving that WE could get paying customers.

Turns out we could. And we did.

After only five days (we cut the promo a bit short), we ended up with 21 paying customers and a monthly recurring revenue (MRR) of $725:

  • 11 users on the individual plan at $9 per month
  • 4 users on the business plan at $35 per month
  • 6 users on the agency plan at $81 per month

And we’re grateful to them all for taking a leap of faith and joining us!

Here’s what we did to get those pre-sales and validate our business.

Set Your Goal

Our goal was to get at least 10 pre-sale customers, max 25.Enough people to beta test and prove interest. Few enough so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed and could work closely with them.

Drive Traffic & Build an Email List

Before anything else, we wrote a MASSIVE piece of content that clocked in at over 9,000 words, created a content upgrade, and promoted the he** out of it.

One of the smarter things we did was reach out to influencers for quotes. Not only did they tend to share the article, but we were able to start forming important relationships.

So far, the article has received 2.1k (actually more like 2.4k+, as we lost 300+ switching to https) shares and 3,520 visits.It has generated about 177 email subscribers.

Create a Content Plan

Yeah, we got this a bit backward. But Gareth had already started on the bones of the article and it was damn good.

So we circled back afterward and created a plan to execute.

At that point, though, it was all a big experiment. We were not sure what was really going to stick.

We had multiple goals with our content:

  • get it to rank in google for juicy keywords.
  • get email subscribers.
  • ultimately, generate customers.

We’ve got no delusions about how the process works.

It’s going to take time, much more content, much more promotion, and much more effort.

But we’re in it for the long haul.

Rand Fishkin put it best in his slideshare about content marketing fails.

The process really looks like this:

How Content Marketing Really Works

If you’re curious, here’s our content strategy.Feel free to make a copy and use it as a template.

It’s a combination of Excel spreadsheets that we thought would work best for us.

Credit to Noah Kagan for the quant based marketing portions.And to Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers for the customer journey, jobs to be done, and layout.

Talk to Potential Customers

Yep. You’re gonna actually have to pick up the phone and talk to people.

Well, actually I used Skype, but you get it.

We already had an idea of what we were going to create, but we wanted to know exactly what issues, pains, and problems people were having.

In fact, it’s something I became obsessed with - trying to understand the problems so fully that I could describe the pain better than they could themselves.

"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute on the solution."

Those phone calls did not only influence the direction of our product, but also the marketing.

I’m guessing 25% or more of the copy that went into our landing page was taken directly from those calls.

The key here was really diving deep and asking the right questions. Letting the other person talk and to keep asking for more detail.

I’d often find myself saying: "Could you explain more?", “What exactly do you mean?”, or “Tell me more.”

Also, asking the right type of questions is HUGE. In this respect, @robfitz’s book The Mom Test helped a ton. It made me ask better questions, so I got more actionable, useful answers. And I know it’ll continue to be useful as we iterate and develop. Highly recommended.

(Just FYI, dear reader… Rob doesn’t know me, and my recommendation is unsolicited.)

Who Will Be Your Customer?

Who Will Be Your Customer?

We defined three big customer bases.

  1. Entrepreneurs & startups
  2. Small and medium tech businesses
  3. Social media marketing agencies

Do you really know who they are?

Here are some insightful questions paraphrased from Grow and Convert to help figure it out:

  • What is your customer’s biggest challenge with regards to your product or service?
  • What questions will your potential customers have before they even know they need your product or service?
  • What will they research when they have a need for your product or service?
  • What sites do they read to educate themselves about the industry you’re in?
  • Whom do they go to for advice about products or services related to what you’re selling? Google, a friend, an influencer, a magazine, a book, television?
  • What objections will they have to your product or service?
  • Who is your competition, direct and indirect?

What Should You Charge?

What Should You Charge?

Pricing is tough.

We thought about our segments of the market and researched our competitors’ pricing, which informed our decision.

In the end, we just picked prices that felt right.

No super secret method.
Not super scientific.

Keep in mind that your price is only the starting point.It proves that your product can be sold.

Thanks, Lars Lofgren, for your informative presentation on pricing.

If you’re curious, here’s the pricing we settled on:

  • Individual plan: $15/mo
  • Business plan: $70/mo
  • Agency plan: $180/mo

For the pre-launch we discounted those prices by 40%, 50%, and 55% respectively.

We tried to make it a no-brainer, without just giving it away.

Why Not Just Make the Beta Free?

We touched on that earlier: free is too easy

It’s not hard to get people to sign up for something free. But converting free to paid isn’t always easy. And until that happens, you don’t know if people will pay or not.

We want to build a business around an idea, provide a solution to a problem, and create a product that people love enough to pay for.

It’s a decision you’ll eventually have to make at multiple points. If you’re considering a freemium model, you might want to read about the downsides of it.

Don’t get me wrong. You might still want to have a free plan. In fact, we may still have a free plan at some point.

But go in with your eyes wide open, knowing that it may not be a good idea. And be ready to change if it doesn’t work.

Quick aside… Freemium success stories make noise because they’re being promoted. Still, there have been FAR more freemium failures than successes. But, we tend not to hear about them. So be aware.

Here are a couple more instructive reads:

What Will Be Included in Each Plan?

Each plan needs to come with enough useful features that make a user very happy. But at the same time isn’t so complete that they won’t upgrade as their needs grow.

In the end, we felt offering three plans was the right way to go.
That, however, wasn’t random. There’s a good bit of research and psychology behind it.

When three plans are on offer, people tend to choose the middle plan.

Your USP

You need a quick one-liner (maybe two sentences at most) that sums up your value proposition.

What does your product do? Why is it unique?

Our USP became the title for our pre-sale page.

Put up Your Landing/Sales Page

Put Up Your Landing/Sales Page

With the basics in place, it was time to let ‘er rip.

We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with our landing page.

Ultimately, the most important thing is for the page to explain what the product is (USP), address objections, and convey trustworthiness.

The design of the page was inspired by stripe.com and http://onpurple.com/science/.

Stripe’s page is super clean and explains the product very well with few words.

Purple Mattress does an awesome job selling. It’s got personality, is a bit funny and quirky, and just makes you like the company. So the combination was perfect for us.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea: it took quite a bit of hard work and time to put this together. It’s not like we just threw it up.

You’ll need to spend a considerable amount of time thinking through if your page adequately sells your product by overcoming objections and explaining your product.

Your page doesn’t have to be perfect. It shouldn’t be. Just launch it.

Your customers will ask questions and point out what they don’t understand.

For Example:Pete M (who is awesome and runs https://www.blogpilot.net)made this sweet, unsolicited screen capture as he checked out our landing page.


Thanks again, Pete. We took your suggestions to heart.

Once you get or ask for feedback, then you can go back and do a better job covering that issue.

Is an Explainer Video Worth It?

The video was watched 98 times. And on average people watched 73% of the video.

Not too shabby.

It would be interesting to know if there’s a correlation between who watched the video and who purchased. We didn’t track it, but we will in the future.

Promoting, Promoting, Promoting (but only to select groups)

Gareth and I spent a solid week promoting.

We hit up all our email contacts (in a friendly, not too pushy way).

We posted in Facebook groups, forums, and other spaces where we’re especially active.

We also sent a couple of emails to our email list.

You might be thinking, that doesn’t sound like a lot of promotion.

Well, yes and no.

We purposely limited the pre-sale promotion.

And cut the promo a bit short because of some snags in our development that could delay our beta release.

Promoting in facebook groups & similar forums:

Every post we created was tailored for each individual group. Some posts were longer and more detailed. While in groups, where we had already planted the seed and knew that members were open to our idea, the posts were more to the point.

Plus, we made sure to contact all the group admins if we weren’t sure that the post would be ok.

Email Marketing

We created multiple emails.

One to go out to blog subscribers with a gentler approach.The other to people who had signed up to beta testing.In that email, we were more direct in selling, because of the already expressed interest.

The majority of our customers came from people who had already signed up to beta test and from Facebook groups.

Plus, we had to be Johnny on the spot and answer questions as they came up.That meant sending lots of Facebook messages, offering to jump on Skype, and explaining anything that wasn’t clear.

Surprises

The pricing table was designed to push the middle plan. We added emphasis with color, positioning, and size.Studies show that when people have three options, they tend to pick the middle option.

Funny enough, most people either took the lowest plan or the highest.

(Though not by a huge margin. And of course, this might change over a larger sample size)

What We Got Wrong

We got quite a few similar questions that we’re going to address for the beta launch (another benefit of a pre-sale).

Some of our features were unclear, so we’ll have to put out a more robust features page.

People wanted to see the tool in action. Of course, we couldn’t show them because it hadn’t been built yet.That is something to keep in mind.

We didn’t explain well enough what would happen after signup. Moreover, we didn’t have an autoresponder set up to welcome new users and set expectations.

We got a couple of messages saying, "Well, what can I actually do now?"Because it’s a pre-launch, there’s basically nothing for our customers to do until the beta comes out. But it seems like that wasn’t 100% clear.

We didn’t build in enough of a time buffer to account for potential delays in development. (Even though we thought we had.)

What We Got Right

The messaging on the sales page hit home.

Around half the people took a higher plan, encouraged by the discounted price and the additional features.

We started promoting and marketing before building the product.

We promoted to people and groups that were most likely to support us and want the product.

We started building an email list before promoting the product.

We’ve been very responsive. And have already tried to provide the best customer service possible and will continue to do so.

What’s Next?

What's Next?

In the end, we got 21 awesome customers.

A big thank you to each of them for believing in us and in Content Sleuth.

We’re committed to building something amazing with their help.

Gareth will be hard at work coding, together with some freelancers who’ll be implementing smaller features.

I’ll be working on getting more traffic and email signups.

It looks like our traffic has leveled out at about 350 people per week.

The goal is to grow by a minimum of about 20% by publishing our next article, "The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing". It’ll be published in a series of posts, and probably turned into an e-book or even a course.

We are psyched to have you on this journey with us (and happy to answer any questions you may have).

Cheers,

Nick & Gareth