When my earlier post on how I launched a profitable product in 3 hours with a $47.50 budget made it to the homepage of hacker news, the most voted comments requested that I’d go through the specifics of how I did the launch and which tools I used.
So this time we’re getting our hands dirty.
How did I end up with this system? After trying so many setups, from coding the whole website in HTML/CSS/PHP to using online WYSISYG website builders, this is the one that gave me best results in a fraction of the time and cost.
I’ve seen startups paying thousands of dollars to have someone create their websites, and spending weeks with freelancers and design agencies when they could have whipped together the whole thing in one weekend.
I am using Keynotopia as an example, which is an eCommerce site, but I’ve used the same setup and tools to launch websites for products and services before. It works for more than 80% of the cases.
This post is pretty hands-on, but I am still assuming you have some basic knowledge of HTML and CSS ( If you don’t, I highly recommend this book – It’s the only one you’ll need to read to become good enough with HTML/CSS).
Why don’t you sell something?
Before launching Keynotopia, I didn’t believe I had something that people would pay money to buy. But I looked around and saw people selling all kind of stuff: stickers, shirts, WordPress themes, icons, eBooks, etc… That gave me some courage to start selling some templates that have been sitting on my hard drive for months. I am so happy I did. Not only is this helping me bootstrap my next product, it’s also helping other designers and developers create their products faster.
I bet that there is something you’ve created, or subcontracted someone to create, that may be useful others. Whether it’s icons, source code, legal agreement, or a method you’ve successful applied for your product or service that you can package in an eBook and sell online. And if you don’t want to do all the marketing yourself, find a marketplace that sells similar items and upload yours.
You can even sell that stock option agreement you paid your lawyer $3,000 to create for you.
Unlike mainstream consumer products, when you sell professional goods/content, you don’t need big traffic numbers to become profitable. Even a thousand visitors a month can provide good revenue to keep you going and expanding. And in my experience, ads won’t even come close to matching that revenue, even with 100x the traffic.
Alright, let’s get started.
First, you need a domain name and hosting space
I know many people who obsess about domain names. I don’t. Here’s my simple criteria for coming up with one: memorable, relevant, short and hard to misspell (I also buy the misspellings later on). I’d also stay away from words missing vowels, alien pet names, and verbs.
For most of my projects, I’ve used 1and1 as a domain provider and host: their domain names costs $5 and the basic hosting package starts at $4/month. In my experience, they’ve been reliable, their customer support is responsive, and their control panel is more usable than others. With the $4/month hosting package I get 10GB of storage, 600 emails addresses and unlimited bandwidth. Not bad for a startup in stealth mode 😉
I love WordPress: It’s got tens of thousands of themes and plugins that I use to hack almost anything I want. And it’s free! I use the self-hosted version of WordPress available from WordPress.org, and I follow their 5-minute installation guide every time.
Some hosts provide one click WordPress deployment feature, but I don’t recommend it because you’ll need some control over how it is set up and how to customize it.
Add A WordPress Theme
WordPress themes transform a simple blog into almost anything. A theme is simply a collection of PHP, HTML and CSS files that specify how the content from your post and pages will show up and how users can interact with them.
For Keynotopia, I used inFocus theme ($35) from ThemeForest. It’s a flexible portfolio theme with different gallery and page styles, and it’s very well documented. I’ve also used Thesis theme ($87) from DIY themes in the past, and I highly recommended for those who don’t want to mess with the PHP/HTML/CSS of the theme. With Thesis, you can customize layouts, colors and fonts from your WordPress control panel.
I’ve also bought several themes from WooThemes for a couple of projects, and they are worth every dollar: very slick looking and highly customizable themes.
To install your theme, you’ll need to download it to the /wp-content/themes folder of your WordPress installation folder via FTP. I use CyberDuck as my FTP client (FREE), which is available for both Mac and PC.
Once you have the theme set up, customize it with your favorite colors and fonts, or just start adding content, screenshots and videos.
Install WordPress plugins
Unlike themes, which change the way your content displays and behaves, plugins add extra features to the site.
For instance, I use MyPageOrder so that I can customize the order of pages on the top navigation menu, regardless of their publish date. I also use All in one SEO pack, Contact Form 7 (for the contact us page) and Really Simple Captcha (goes with the contact form to prevent spam).
Be conservative with plugins because they can slow down your site sometimes.
Set up a payment system
To process payments, I use both PayPal and Google Checkout to make it easier for people to pay with different options. Both are free and they take a cut from each transaction. If you want to avoid both routes and process credit cards directly, you can use authorize.net or sign up for a merchant account with your bank.
Both take more time.
Set up order fulfillment and delivery
To deliver the [digital] goods after the payment is processed, I use eJunkie ($5) and highly recommend it.It connects with Paypal and Google checkout in minutes and doesn’t take a cut from the sales – I just pay a monthly fee. It also has some good features like discount coupons, affiliate setup, and allows me to list my products in their marketplace to get even more sales.
At this point, you should have added a page or two in your WordPress site about your product, ideally with some screenshots and a video. In eJunkie, every time you add a new product you’ll be provided with a “buy now” link that you can insert in your site. If you have multiple products, you can use the “add to cart” and “view cart” links instead, but for the initial launch, the simple “buy now” link is what I used.
I also know lots of people who don’t want to mess with design programs to create their Buy Now buttons, that’s why I am including a couple of them that I’ve created in Photoshop. Feel free to use and share without permission (they are PNG files with transparent background, so right click and save as…)
Create a product video
I highly recommend adding a video to your site on launch. It’s proven to be a great sales tool for Keynotopia because other blogs and sites embedded it when referring to the product, and it generated traffic back to the site. Here’s the initial video that I created for Keynotopia:
The most effective video is a product walk through with a compelling use case or story. In my case, I showed how I am testing a prototype created with Keynote on the desktop and iPad, without writing code. I kept it short (90 seconds), and posted it on YouTube.
And don’t forget to include a link to your site at the end of the video, and a call to action (buy, subscribe, try, download, etc…)
Don’t worry about sounding professional on the video. As long as you’re delivering a good story about your product, everything else falls into place. When I showed my video to my buddy before posting it, his exact words were “you sound like a squirrel who got run over by a fat kid”. I posted it anyway, it worked!
You can always do a better video later, or hire someone to do it for you once you generate some revenue.
To record my screen and do voice over on the Mac, I use ScreenFlow ($99). PC fans can use CamStudio (Free), which does pretty much the same thing. And if you feel like pulling a Spielberg, you can also use iMovie ($20) to add some music, text and visual effects.
To record a video of the prototype running on the iPad, I used a Kodak Zi8 HD camera ($99) – If you don’t care about having HD quality, you can use your webcam or cell phone camera instead.
Set up a mailing list
I also send out a regular newsletter with Keynotopia updates, feedback requests, and tips and tricks. To do that, I use MailChimp (FREE) because it connects with eJunkie so that anyone who purchases a product is automatically added to the mailing list. Saves me time.
I don’t use fancy campaign templates because they look impersonal and spam-ish. Instead, I use plain text emails, and I write them the same way I write an email to one of my friends.