A programmer’s adventures in product marketing.

Summary: Launch went well with 27k unique visitors. I made $2000 in one day and $10,000 for the month. I’m still figuring out marketing but I’m currently at about 5k uniques a month and growing

I didn’t do any pre-launch marketing. Literally none. I didn’t even have any friends try it out before I launched. The first user to see (or hear about my app) was after it had already been launched on Codecanyon. I wish that I had generated some interest beforehand and collected emails to start building an email list.

‘Launched’ on Codecanyon
I’ve sold products on Codecanyon before, so when I was ready to launch, this seemed like the logical place to post it. Duet was received very well. Sales were good, but not spectacular. I didn’t do any other marketing yet because I wanted the early users to battle test it and find all bugs before I announced it to the world.

Hacker News
Once I was confident that the early adopters found the majority of the existing bugs, I posted on Hacker News. This was always my only marketing plan. I had read many articles about how much traffic a successful Hacker News post could generate. I thought that if my app got popular on HN, then the rest of the world would follow. My first post about Duet was on May 12th. It got no upvotes. I was crushed, but knew that I needed to try again. I posted about Duet again on May 15th. This time was much more successful and it was immediately voted to the front page where it stayed all day. The thread is here Show HN: I built a self-hosted Basecamp alternative. Try the demo. The response on HN was almost entirely positive, which I honestly didn’t expect, but this strengthened my belief that I would be one of the lucky ones, and “If you build it, they will come”. The post generated 27k unique visitors that day, took down my server for about an hour, and resulted in about $2000 in sales after CodeCanyon’s percentage (30%). Traffic died significantly after that day, but I still did $10,000 in sales that month. Overall, I would consider this a very successful launch. My one regret is that I didn’t have a newsletter sign up form to start building an email list. 27k visitors is a huge wasted opportunity with regard to list building.

Nothing for months
I literally did nothing with regard to marketing for months. Instead, I went back to what I know: programming, fixing bugs, adding features, etc. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky ones and Duet didn’t go viral just because it was a great product. In fact, traffic died up almost completely, which shouldn’t have been surprising, but it’s not what I expected given the positive respond I got from HN and on CodeCanyon. Neglecting marketing for months was the single biggest mistake I have made because when I finally decided to take action, I was starting from zero.

Started selling directly
Thanks to a user on Hacker News, I realized that my purchase flow was terrible and I removed the app from CodeCanyon and I started selling Duet directly to customers using Gumroad. This was a great decision because it also allowed me to collect the email addresses of my customers to start building an email list, which is something CodeCanyon doesn’t allow.

Contacted Blogs
The next step was to try to get Duet mentioned on some popular blogs. I sent out a ton of emails to popular bloggers, but most of my emails were ignored. Of the few people that did respond, most asked for money. Something about paying for reviews seems wrong so I didn’t accept any of those offers. A very small number of bloggers responded saying they would love to review Duet after trying it for a couple of weeks. I sent those bloggers copies of the app to test out, but unfortunately none of them has actually followed through on this promise yet. They all seemed like nice people so I’m sure they just got busy, but it is still a little disappointing. If you have a blog and you think your readers would be interested in Duet, please contact me and I will send you a copy of the app to test.

The freemium model works well for SaaS apps so I decided to try it with Duet by building a slimmed down version that I would distribute for free. The free version is called Solo and once installed it will very tastefully suggest that the user try out Duet. So far this has worked out great; It’s definitely been a steady source of high quality leads.

Contact more blogs about Solo
In an effort to get the word out about Solo (and therefore Duet), I contacted a bunch of bloggers hoping they would suggest Solo to their readers. I had the same issue as before; most of my emails were ignored. Sitepoint seemed interested at one point and asked me to write an article about the app, but the article was never published :(

Got Solo listed in a Newsletter
I got an email from a newsletter called eWebDesign one day. It was the first time I had seen this newsletter and I had no memory of signing up for it, but based on the content it seemed like Solo would be great fit. I emailed the owner of the newsletter and he agreed so said he would list Solo the next week for free. Having Solo listed in this newsletter was the second most successful source of new customers (HN was the first). Once Solo was listed in the newsletter it got picked up by several high traffic ‘freebies’ blogs like webdesginerdepot.com and webappers.com, which generated even more traffic. I need to find more newsletters that might be interested in mentioning Solo (or Duet) because this seems like a great way to get the word out. If you have any recommendations please let me know.

Tweets about Solo
The solo website has social sharing buttons and the traffic from the newsletter generated a lot of visits from users that tweeted Solo or liked it on facebook. This caused lots of retweets and ultimately sustained healthy traffic for a couple of weeks. I need to add some social sharing buttons to the Duet site because I haven’t been taking advantage of twitter and facebook like I should.

Comments on blogs that discuss project management apps
I manually commented about Duet on many blogs that write articles about project management apps. This was exceptionally time consuming and didn’t really generate a lot of traffic, but I’ve noticed that the users that do click through spend a lot more time on the site than other visitors, which I assume is a good thing? I also answered some Quora questions that asked about project management apps; I have no idea if this has led to any sales.

I’m addicted to Hacker News and I can’t count the number of successful entrepreneurs that I’ve discovered on HN that preach content marketing as the holy grail of marketing. That’s how this blog was born and why I plan to dedicate more time to it in the future.

Overall effect of my efforts
Nothing compares to the 27k visitors I got from HN in one day, but sales are still good most weeks and it’s slowly increasing over time. I’m currently getting about a little over 5k unique visitors a month, which isn’t great, but it’s not terrible.

Plans for the future

I’ll continue blogging, but I’m actively looking for additional marketing opportunities. Here are some idea that I have:

  • I plan to release a free invoice generation app in the same vein as Solo. This will be a mini SaaS app
  • Figure out email marketing. I have a couple hundred email addresses and I haven’t sent out any emails yet because I don’t want to piss anyone off and I don’t know what to send
  • Find some bloggers who will follow through on the promise of reviewing Duet (or Solo)
  • Revive my other blog ‘codebasehero’, which still gets some pretty decent traffic despite ignoring it for years
  • Successfully get Duet listed on some of the uber popular tech blogs like techcrunch and TNW. I’m waiting for the next release though
  • Paid marketing (one day)

Any other ideas? I would love to hear them in the comments section.

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  • beauzero

    G+ button at the bottom of the page would be good. I think the article is helpful and I would have liked to retweet…and G+. Only was able to rt. Good luck.

  • Edgar Fleming

    Really like that you’re being so transparent with you journey and sharing all the wins and challenges. Helpful as a customer and I am learning a quite a bit of insight for my endeavors – ( not related to project management ) Keep up the good work and thanks again for creating this – looking forward to a few features and bug fixes but otherwise, it’s been exactly what I needed.

    • 23andwalnut

      Sent from Mailbox for iPhone