Before I explain the exact strategies on how we got our first 200 paid users in 6 weeks, I think it's important to first set the scene.
VEED.IO just 8 weeks ago had:
- 😯 No paid users
- 😦 No MRR
- 😥 3 months of runway left in the bank
To make matters even worse, we pretty much put all our eggs in one basket and set set our sights on getting into Y Combinator. Following an unsuccessful interview at YC's office in Mountain View we got rejected from Y Combinator we needed a plan B.
Naively, we thought it was still 2005 where you could get funding to grow a free product and work out monetisation later. But the reality is that it is now 2019 and there is no better evidence that you have built something of value than users getting out their credit card and punching in a real 16 digit card number.
Fortunately, after being rejected, one YC partner left us with the most valuable piece of feedback that we decided to focus on...
"How do you know that your users are willing to pay for what you have built"
Why weren't we already charging?
At this point, we had 35K MAU and were growing 60% month over month and it was time to see if users were willing to support us. With our dwindling runway, this was a make or break moment for us.
At this point, you are probably thinking why were not we already charging if we had 35,000 users and to be completely honest with you I don't know why we took so long to start charging. But I think it was a combination of these three fears.
- Fear of user rejection
- Fear that the product was not good enough
- Fear that we were not creating enough value
- Fear that we one more feature
We set ourselves a challenge
Due to our limited runway, we needed to act fast and would NEED to be making £3,000 MRR by the beginning of September if not the company would have to go on hold while we rebuild runway AGAIN. Therefore we needed a system that did not need loads of dev time and that would be simple for our users to understand. This means no fancy upgrade program, trial periods or a new product to upgrade to... The simplest thing we could do was watermark our videos, that was something everyone could understand and could be implemented with very little time.
The other benefit of watermarking videos was that free users would do marketing for us and all users would understand the benefits of the product without creating an account.
And just 48 Hours after our YC rejection, we deployed our update and netted our first 20 paid users! Now just 6 weeks later we have passed the £1,000 MRR and 200 + Paid users milestone.
Here are the 9 KEY points that helped us get our first 200 users and achieve £1K MRR in just 6 Weeks.
1. Charge your users
This might sound obvious and a little bit dumb, but if you are not charging your users you are not going to get any paid users. Looking back I wish we started charging users about 6 months ago. The great thing about paid users, is you learn more about what they need, why have they even paid and how to make your product better. We had a 25% churn rate in the first week of charging. Once we found out why they were leaving, we quickly plugged the holes and in turn made a better product.
2. Keep tech simple & Move fast
If you want to win you need to move fast. Dev time takes a notoriously long time to complete, so you need to know where to focus your efforts wisely. Its 2019, look around you, there are so many products out there that already have everything you need out of the box, for example:
Login -> Firebase Auth
API -> Firebase Functions
Payments -> Stripe
CDN / split tests -> Netlify
UI -> Rebass or Bootstrap
Blog -> Ghost
The key is to maximise outcomes, not output. Your users don’t care how hard you worked to get that CORS problem sorted with your API server or how many lines of code you wrote or how late you stayed up last night.
If you are a dev, your job should be releasing something useful to customers, ideally, multiple times per day. Therefore, make it easy for yourself and your teammates to do so. Use Netlify to setup continuous deployment of frontend, use one line scripts to deploy other stuff, use Trunk-Based Development (which is basically working of master).
Now when it comes to tests, write them if you are fast at it, but, in the early stages, I would suggest either only writing behavioral / e2e tests (as they give you a lot of code coverage very quickly, e.g. with cypress), or create a checklist of things to manually check before pull request is complete. (I am ready for the angry comments from devs, Tim - CTO).
Also another reason I personally dislike writing full blown test suites early on is that it feels like a wrong optimisation. It optimises for maximisation of mean time between failure (MTBF). Instead optimise to reduce mean time to restore service (MTTR), unless you work on rockets or heart implants. This way you can just ship bugs without fear and revert them quickly. But be careful with sensitive data of course (But you probably don’t even have to worry about this if you are using Firebase).
Basically do stuff that matters, use off-the-shelf services and your users and teammates are going to love you.
3. Find your acquisition channel
Back when we started we were clueless about how to get users to use our product, I had never grown a product before. We tried a bunch of different things. But over time one of the main strategies I learned was to peak over the garden fence and see what the general acquisition channel for your industry is.
The images above is another online video editing product's traffic sources breakdown from the website SimilarWeb. Every other online editors traffic looks pretty much the same, more than 50% of their traffic from search. So we made 20+ landing pages for each long-tail key word / aspect of our product such as Add Image to video, Subtitle Video, Trim Video. Over that space of 3 months we were acquiring thousands of users. Obviously, don’t take this as gospel, always try to find new growth opportunities, but, nonetheless, it’s a good way to get going.
4. Create authentic content
Digital products can feel disconnected from their makers. We took a leaf out of the YouTube handbook and decided to make things a little more personal. We took photos of us holding the names of our first 100 paid users, took photos of ourselves for our blog posts, left little personal easter eggs for some of our users and responded to emails with personal videos. Although, it is hard to track how effective this is, we enjoy doing it and feel it helps us shape our brand.
5. Ignore Competition
Ignore competition, I don't even want to waste my time elaborating on it. Not even add a photo...
6. What do users LOVE?
We found that most of our users upgraded to our Pro plan because they thought we had the best subtitle tool online. So we thought we should make it even better so we spent weeks adding automated subtitles, new styles, and multiple UI/UX revisions to improve usability and this in turn has improved our conversion.
Lesson learned: Find out that the ONE thing your users love about it and double down on it.
7. Tell your story
We have shared stories and have been transparent with our numbers since we started VEED. We have done this so our users know that we are not a VC backed company with millions in the bank. We are just two friends working around the kitchen table trying to get their startup off the ground. Kinda like a local shop! We now receive emails from great people like yourself offering to help us out or congratulating us on the progress. It is an amazing boost to our moral, Thank you
all so much!
We hope that this list of things was helpful with little to no fluff. There were no tricks, growth hacks or shortcuts. Just a lot of work, late nights, coffee and custard creams. So far we have possibly made every mistake in the book, but we keep pushing through and things are starting to work out. Now that we have hit £1,000 MRR our next big milestone is profitability (Ramen Profitability) hopefully in the next 2 months.