How I launched a profitable product in 3 hours



do it

Today, Keynotopia is two months old. What started as a single blog post in June of 2010 became a product that got over 1,500 customers in the first 60 days. Before jumping into the story and lessons learned, here are some quick stats:

  • Total time spent creating the minimally viable product: less than 3 hours
  • Total startup cost: $47.50 ($5 hosting, $7.50 domain, and $35 wordpress theme)
  • First paying customer within 10 minutes of launch
  • Copies downloaded in the first 60 days: 1,491
  • Page views on the original blog post: 40,894
  • Unique visitors to Keynotopia: 19,235
  • Link backs/mentions: 769
  • Total product returns: 2
  • Total variations/tests on the landing page: 29
  • Made it to Google’s first results page in less than 2 weeks for the following search terms: iPad prototyping, iPhone prototyping, Android prototyping, Keynote prototyping, Keynote wireframes, …
  • I’ve never sold any products in my life (except my old laptops on eBay and CraigsList).

The story:

I pressed the update button and took a deep breath. The website was finally online, and a surge of questions rushed to my head: What if it’s not good enough? What if people call me an opportunist for redirecting the blog post to a product page? What if no one wants to buy it?

I reminded myself that it took me less than 3 hours to put that website together, and it wouldn’t be so bad if no one buys the product. I glanced at the time on my laptop: it was 1:38 am, and my stomach was growling loudly. I put the laptop on the couch and went to prepare my favorite late-night-raisin-oatmeal.

Few minutes later, I was staring at the boiling water  on the stove, entertaining the thought of taking down the website to do some more work on it, and re-launch it few days later when it’s more ready for the public. I wasn’t used to putting half-baked products out in the wild, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Then I remembered a quote from Reid Hoffman: "if you shipped your product and you’re not ashamed of it, you’ve probably shipped too late". Pouring the oatmeal into the pot, I started thinking how this all started…

It had been less than a month since I wrote about how I’ve been using Apple Keynote to prototype iPad applications. I debated whether or not I should publish the post, thinking there was nothing new or useful about it. Yet, I decided to do it for the fun of it. What I didn’t expect, though, was for the post to be picked up by some of the most respected bloggers, becoming popular among the design and iPhone communities. In less than three weeks, the post generated more than 10,000 visits and 500 downloads of the iPad keynote templates I posted along.

I became curious to find out whether people were reading the post and downloading the templates because it was a useful idea or just a cool one. I wondered if they would pay for these templates, and how much they would be willing to pay. Since I asked people to subscribe to the blog before downloading the templates, I could just email everyone and ask. I could create a survey and ask them to fill it out, promising some freebies in return. But people are generally too busy to fill out surveys.

Then I thought about building a minimally viable product that would help me answer that question, and concluded that I could put something together quickly using WordPress. Three hours later, I had a WordPress website with an e-Junkie shopping cart and few screenshots of the templates.

DING!

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted. It was the Mac Mail client, which I’d set up few minutes earlier with my Paypal email. I walked back to the couch and stared at the laptop screen. I had an unread email. The subject: "Notification of Payment received".

Keynotopia was in business!

Lessons learned:

Sell your byproducts

Become aware of the value of internal tools, processes, or even hacks that you developed while working on your main product. In my case, I’ve been using many of these templates for my client work, and hadn’t thought about selling them until recently.

(The guys at 37Signals have a great post about this)

Kill the "Coming Soon" page

Many startups are technology focused, believing that a blog is a way to tell customers about their product once it’s launched. Before launch, they put out a "coming soon"page with an email sign up box. But that page has no value for potential customers, and little incentive for them to give out their email address.

Instead of a coming soon page, start a conversation: talk about your story, share your process and findings, and provide value even before the product is ready. There is no reason to wait for a product to be ready in order to have customers.

And if you write a blog post that becomes popular, use it as a conversion funnel for your product.

Focus on benefits instead of features

I tested over 10 variations of the tagline on Keynotopia’s landing page. The ones that performed best stated some tangible measurable benefits for the user (interactive prototypes in 30 minutes or less). The ones that had the worst performance stated what the product was (a collection of interface templates for Apple Keynote).

Give away a valuable freebie

I gave away the original toolkit I’ve been using for my work. In return, I asked for people to subscribe to the blog. The perceived value was worth giving out an email address for.

Later on, I created another wireframing set and released it for Free on SmashingMagazine. This helped tremendously with traffic and branding, and many people who downloaded the free templates come back to buy the full bundle.

Create a list, and start talking with customers

Many companies use lists to inform people about new features. I end up unsubscribing from most newsletters because they feel like ads: they feel like they are sent from a business to a business, not from a human to a human. In their attempt to sound professional, companies ignore the human side of business.

In my case, I wanted to have a conversation with everyone who’d signed up. I wrote a simple, personal text-only newsletter, I told them what I’ve been up to and asked them for feedback and ideas. I wrote it the same way I write an email to a friend, and many subscribers replied back thinking I sent them a personal email.

Create embeddable media

Almost every blogger who mentioned my original blog post embedded the youtube video I posted along. Having a YouTube video or a Slideshare document in a blog post helps spread the word: In addition to being good for SEO, it provides a good snapshot of your post to be embedded by anyone who wants to link back to it.

Never stop testing

For the blog post, I tested about 5 variations for the sign up form. Changing the title from "Enter your email to download the files" to "Subscribe to this blog to access all downloads" increased sign ups more than 500%

For Keynotopia’s landing page, I had over 29 iterations for the language and arrangements, reducing the bounce rate from 59% to 12% in less than 30 days

Don’t be afraid to charge for your product

Having a product is a good excuse to talk to your customers. Charging for your product is a good excuse for customers to talk to you. When people pay for a product, they become invested in it. In my case, many people who bought the templates email me frequently to share requests for missing UI components, or ideas for new templates that I wasn’t even considering.

Additionally, charging your customers helps you find out if there is a real pain point that your product is addressing, and if people are willing to pay to solve that pain point.

Keynotopia may not be a "startup" in the typical sense of the word. To me, it was an experimental project to teach myself many things I’ve always wanted to learn. It shifted my perspective from a service-oriented mindset (getting paid for my time) to a value-oriented mindset (getting paid over and over for a value that I used my time to create). My true epiphany happened when I woke up one morning to find few hundred dollars deposited in my bank account: while I was asleep, the value I’d created was hard at work :-)

If you have a similar experience, leave me a comment below; I’d love to hear about it.

Related Posts:

        How  I launched a profitable product in 3 hours – part 2: The nuts and bolts



I highly recommend Keynotopia for designing interface mockups for web and mobile apps

Keynotopia is a user interface design toolkit that enables you to use Apple Keynote or Microsoft PowerPoint to prototype, test and demo your application ideas quickly and cheaply, without doing any design work or writing a single line of code.

It includes thousands of wireframe and high fidelity vector user interface components and royalty free icons for mobile, web and desktop apps, all designed from scratch in Keynote and PowerPoint, and can be edited and customized without needing any design tools.

Keynotopia is used by 40,000 entrepreneurs, designers, and developers in more than 80 countries.

26 Comments

  1. Inspiring story Amir. It’s great to hear that the toolkit has done well for you.

    I had a similar moment before launching my toolkit where I almost pulled the plug. I’m glad we both decided to move forward.

    Best of luck!

    Reply
  2. have you tried playing around with pricing ? who knows – you might be underselling and leaving money on the table ?

    Reply
    • Yep. And still playing around with it ;)

      Reply
  3. Fellow HNer here.

    Excellent post, thank you for sharing the inside story.

    +1 to the list of people who’d like to hear more details about the ‘how’.

    Reply
  4. I had just gotten off the phone with my best friend who has been hammering on for days about the number of downloads Tetris had gotten from the iTunes. He keeps citing the figures with a kind of despiration of, like “why can’t it happen to me?” He’s the brightest, most intelligent person I’ve ever met who has more talent and know-how in one of his toe hairs – especially with the Web, computing and coding – than the entire 2011 graduating class of computer science majors.

    I stumbled on your article via @erhanerdogan on Twitter, and was moved by your closing remark, “getting paid over and over for a value that I used my time to create.” It was, and has been my suggestion to him for more than a year now – focus on providing value to a community and the money will come to you. It was how our conversation ended since, his often-quoted complaint is that he doesn’t have the time to code his own version of a Tetris-app.

    Suffice it to say, I have forwarded him a link to your article since, I believe that if he reads it, his hesitations will be quashed once and for all. AND, if that happens, I suspect the world we live in will be a better place for it.

    Thank you for documenting your project, and I’m holding my breath to see if the mountain will move because of it.

    Reply
    • Good luck! There is no magic or innovation involved. Just making decisions and taking action.

      Reply
  5. You shouldn’t eat that many carbs before bed.

    Reply
    • Keeps me from going to In n’ Out :D

      Reply
  6. I think this is a great story and what I find really interesting is the AB testing and the stats around them. Those numbers are incredible, bounce rate going from 59% to 12%, increasing signups by 500%, etc. What I would find really valuable is to see all the iterations (hopefully you have backups of everything) so that you can show exactly what you did and what you tried, including the stats around each screen. I struggle with this type of stuff because I’m not a designer, and would like to see the steps you took, whether its moving a button left to right, changing the wording of things, or whatever. Great job and great post, thanks!

    Reply
  7. Amir, excellent, inspiring story.

    What WordPress theme were you using for Keynotopia?

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jon. I am using inFocus from ThemeForest

      Reply
      • Thanks a ton. Cheers.

  8. Thanks a ton. Cheers.

    Reply
  9. Very inspiring. Some of these lessons take years to learn, even if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur. Get out there and do it, and don’t be afraid of negative feedback!

    Reply
  10. Excellent post…very practical tips

    The product launch did not take 3 hrs…a lot of hard work went into developing the product, enriching it with features, testing it, collecting feedback, planning the launch, etc…etc..

    I think you get the point that although delivery of a baby takes just a few hours…the baby comes out in the world after full 9 months..

    Good luck..

    Reply
  11. Substantial post! Congrats on the success. May I know what services are you using for the multi-variate testing? It seemed that you were having a super easy time with it.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Eric.
      I was using Google website optimizer, but now using Optimizely and loving it!

      Reply
  12. Interesting story, and apparently, a lucrative outcome given the work involved. Just curious what you would say the main value proposition is of your product? I’m assuming most, if not all, of the graphic assets you provide are public domain by the various phone makers? If so, what is the benefit of purchasing Keynotopia?

    Reply
    • Simplicity -> Productivity -> Saving time and money. Top benefits are outlined in Keynotopia’s landing page :)

      Reply
  13. Just curious, what $5 hosting do you use?

    Reply
    • 1and. I use their basic package.

      Reply
  14. Can you give us a link to the actual 3 hour site or web app that you are describing? Can you describe more about how these templates can be used to construct a working application with a database, for example?

    Reply
  15. thanks Amir! I don’t have any website coding skills, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to prototype for my startup without paying a web developer. I’m really excited to use Keynotopia and try out what you’ve said in your blog post.

    Reply

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