First off, can you tell us about your background and your product?
Sure. My name is Sander and I’m from the Netherlands, but I’ve been traveling through Europe for the past 7 months. I actually just bought a campervan and I'm going to try to live and work in it for the rest of the year.
I’ve been interested in SaaS for about two and a half years. At some point, during my Media Design Bachelor, I chose to do a UI/UX design minor. That’s where I got really interested in digital products and SaaS. Since then, I’ve worked on three products: Wordeys – a vocabulary learning tool, Defty – a marketplace for creative in-person tutorials and now Checkout Page, which this interview is about. Checkout Page lets you create hosted payment pages that you can use to sell anything.
From a young age, I’ve always spent time in online communities ranging from gaming to bikes and mopeds to design and programming. I’m currently active in the Product People Club and Work In Progress. In the Product People Club, Alex Parker asked me in January this year if anyone knew a product that let him easily charge someone through Stripe without having to have a website or code for it. There were some recommendations, but nothing really fit. They were all too opinionated. I let that sink for a few days and then PM’d Alex to better know what he was looking for. That’s where Checkout Page was born, although it has started to live its own life.
How long did it take to build your initial prototype and how did you validate it?
I started working on Checkout Page end of January and opened it up early May. I actually barely validated it, although I did share progress in the communities I’m in. There are a lot of products in the space, but like I said before, they’re opinionated. They try to take over the whole billing process or force you to have an online store. I figured there must be people who want the flexibility of building your own, without actually building. This hooks into the rising trend of building products without code using tools like Zapier, Airtable, Carrd and Typeform. So I kind of stuck my head in the sand and just tried to get to launch.
How did you get your first paying customer and how long did it take?
When I finished the first version, I didn’t have any customers lined up! I didn’t want to launch without having beta users, so I asked some friends to try it out. After fixing some bugs and making some improvements, I started searching Quora for relevant questions and recommended Checkout Page in the answers. I then asked some friends to upvote my answer, which tricked the Quora algorithms and made them popular, causing them to be emailed to Quora users. Then people started to sign up and ta-da, there was my first customer.
Although I found it embarrassing to promote my own product like that, it’s actually a great way to reach people at the right moment. You want people to find your product at the moment when they are looking to solve a problem they have. In the beginning, you won’t be able to do this with your own website because you’re not ranked on search engines properly. There’s also no one recommending your product to people on Twitter because no one knows about your product yet. By leveraging places like Quora or other forums, you can get past that barrier.
What worked and what didn't work when finding your first users?
Although the recent Product Hunt launch was successful (600+ upvotes, 120+ signups), I haven’t actually got any customers from it yet. I am currently reasoning that that is because those people don’t have an immediate use for the product. Say they want to sell an ebook, they might not have finished their ebook yet. Or they’re already invested in another solution and don’t have time to switch right away. Currently, I’m emailing all these people, trying to figure out why they signed up and how I can onboard them.
Searching the web for people that are looking to solve the problem my product solves has been working the best for me so far. I’m saving all these questions and I’m in the process of turning these into landing pages. With that, I hope to improve my SEO in the future, so that when people search for these terms, it’s not a Quora question that pops up, but my solution.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to onboard their first users?
I think the most important thing is to take the time to analyse what your biggest struggle at a given moment is and to work on that. For me, the biggest challenge is to talk to people and listen to their problems. It feels like a daunting task where I get rejected over and over, which is something I dislike. It’s so easy to then ignore that part of building a business and focus on the easy parts instead. In the meantime, that task or challenge will only get bigger and more daunting than it already was. I think Checkout Page would have progressed further if I had spent more time focusing on customers.
What resources have helped you in the early stages?
Definitely online communities like the Product People Club and Work In Progress. Hanging out with people doing similar things is inspirational and motivating. Having a place where you can ask for more opinions is even better!.