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.


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