From 15 to 40 recurring paying customers and quitting my day job
For the previous post on the journey to 1,000 recurring customers, see how I got my first 10 customers by accident.
The next 10 customers were easy to follow as the “later adopters” from my group heard the good feedback from the early adopters.
But if I was to achieve my goal to work on QuickMail.io full-time (I was having a fulltime day job at that time), I needed to validate first that people outside my group would find it valuable too. Meaning I was solving a more common problem.
I started by building a good landing page, something I knew would resonate with people having similar problems with email follow-ups and then monitor conversion (from unique visitor to new registration).
Luckily for me, at the very start, when hand picking the original first 10 users of my system, I did something that proved to be pretty smart: I asked them to share their email process frustration with me first, telling me why I should let them use my system. Originally, I wanted to make sure the pain was real and that people had a real incentive to use my tool, rather than just trying it for 5 seconds.
This simple fact instantly gave me access to 10 awesome quotes I could use for my website (and they are still on it today).
“I am struggling with the streak app not working right with my mail merge. I would love a better way to do this whole emailing process.”
The annoying thing was that they all mentioned other software they were using while trying to make things work but instead of removing those mentions or asking for another quote, I just said to myself “ho well, fuck it” and not only did I published the quotes unchanged, but I went all the way in and featured all the tools they found inadequate to solve their problem in the first place.
Next I needed to let people know about my website and although I did websites in the past, I had no freaking idea where to start, what would work or not and why. It would have been easy to feel overwhelmed at this stage. It was a bit like being lost at sea with no stars or land in sight due to a massive fog.
After 1 or 2 days pondering this, I just decided to accept the fact that I had no clue what to do or where to start, that this was part of the process and embrace the feeling instead.
The next few weeks were messy, lots of hit and miss and I remember trying a lot of different things not knowing what would be the result. Unfortunately, it takes time to start to see clearly and requires a lot of experimentations.
I remember using a few growth hacks, such as following up on tweeters your competitors followers. One competitor was 2 years in the business and all I head from people was “great idea but such a bad execution, so buggy”. Well, that was worth a shot. I ended up having a customer out of this a few weeks down the line.
What worked well for me was to find a (non-company related) good blog article for some keywords related to my product (cold email automation), then producing a small video of what that person was doing with Streak and Mail merge to show him how easy it was with QuickMail.io (http://customerdevlabs.com/2014/02/18/how-to-send-cold-emails/). He must have liked this because he shared the tool with a few entrepreneurs and one of them decided to get in touch with me.
After a quick hangout, it was clear the tool would be very useful for him and I spent some time to help him set things up.
It was obvious the tool would save him some time and money so when he mentioned something that would not be ideal for him, I told him that if he bought a license this week, I’ll build it for him the next day. He bought it the same day and I did the small change for him the next day. Win-win. My first customer outside my original group.
Sure, you can’t scale those things, but let us care about scalability once we reach that point. Because at this stage, nothing was more precious than understanding my ideal prospects and how I can add value to them.
He ended up recommending me to another entrepreneur he was in touch with and this person also became a good client after a great discovery call.
At this stage I knew I could sell the idea to other entrepreneurs, but I still didn’t have a repeatable system to acquire new customers. Not to forget that I was also developing in parallel the product to help my current customers being more successful, while having a full time day job. Fun times.
I stumbled upon what proved to be a useful channel as I answered a Quora question for an alternative to one “competitor”. I put a quick answer that people in my QuickMaill group managed to vote up and it ended up being the best response.
This started my first real inbound traffic channel. This even got some interest from bigger companies and although it didn’t end up in sales, I learnt a lot about their problems and how I could extend QuickMail.io to solve those in the future. This allowed me to position my product and communicate in a way that resonated with my audience.
At that point, I started an outbound email campaign with QuickMail.io on a list of 900 Saas business found on Angel List by a friend entrepreneur who gave it to me (so grateful for that). Still 2/3 to go at the time of writing.
At the same time, I was toping my skills in business and felt very comfortable talking with prospects about QuickMail.io so they would understand the benefit faster.
I was emailing back and forth prospects when someone asked me how I was different from my competitors. The question kind of pissed me off because I don’t pay nearly as much attention to my competitions than the problem my users try to solve and from what my users tell me, I KNEW I was different and way better, but my website didn’t communicate that clearly enough. So, I did the Tour page, I felt inspired when writing it, talking directly about people’s pains, the very ones I heard over and over in my interviews.
After my Tour page was re-worked, my conversion from unique visitors to registered users was good enough for me (10-20%) that I could focus on other things.
Things then started to pick up, and my email outbound campaign got quickly out of hand with people booking up to 2 weeks in advance (I was fully booked). In the end, I had to pause my outreach campaign. I was having 30% response rate (meaning people actually replying by email) and people responded in a very positive way.
As things started to settle a bit, someone had the good idea to feature QuickMail.io on ProductHunt.com ! Arg! I had around 1,000 new visitors flocking to my website although admittedly they were not my target audience (~6% signed up).
At that point, not only did I knew how useful my product was to founder/start-up entrepreneurs and business development people but I started to know how to communicate well and convey how much value it will bring.
I was at 40 recurring paying customers and knew I could solve problems for more than my original group. I validated my market and so I resigned from my day job to focus 100% on growing QuickMail.io