How we Went from Zero Audience to Over a Thousand Beta Signups
Simply by Showing and Not Telling
Our shot glasses clinked as we rushed to throw back a shot of (cheap ass) tequila. We’d just gotten our 100th subscriber for a beta we announced the night prior. This was way more than we had expected - given we had practically no following, and all we did was throw up a landing page and kick out a few tweets.
Both of these products have existed in some half-built form for over a year - going through cycles of dev-fueled momentum and distraction-fueled neglect. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve started Minimalytics over from scratch – each time with new learning and a changing vision.
But there we were, actually getting a ton of signups. A hundred of them virtually overnight—and a thousand shortly after! I might add, with virtually no marketing outside of a few tweets.
So what was different this time around?
A Shrinking Runway and a Desire to Ship
Let me rewind for a moment to the time leading up to the launch of these landing pages. I left my job in December, confident in a healthy runway backed by savings from freelancing over the years. Shortly after, I read Drew Wilson and Josh Long’s book, Execute - which added even more fuel to my fire to start shipping product.
When Joelle joined me in March, our runway got significantly shorter, and we had no choice but to start selling product. In other words, it was time to shit or get off the pot.
The urgency was there. The execution needed thought.
See, when we finally decided to share our projects with the world and start collecting beta signups - we struggled most with the simplest of things - landing pages.
Not only did both of our products seem to lose all of their sparkle as soon as we tried to “explain” what they were, but we also needed to keep the landing pages vague - since it was way too early in beta development to start committing to features and functionality.
So we wondered, “How can we convey these products in a way that does them justice, without really telling you much about them? How can we show something that’s not built yet… hell, not even designed yet?”
Stop telling me what I want! Just show me what I need!!
A few rounds of sketches later (plus a few beers and some healthy debate), and we had the idea for the Minimalytics landing page you currently see here.
You’re right…dynamic headlines are nothing new. Plenty of websites use this technique to show the possibilities rather than tell of a primary benefit. In fact, the folks at LayerVault had even open-sourced typer.js which saved us a ton of time.
But it isn’t the use of a dynamic headline that made this landing page successful, it’s what it allowed us to do, to show.
Despite the name, Minimalytics is an incredibly complex product to try and explain in a few sentences. But once we were able to identify the true core value, showing it in this way became quite simple.
Within hours of making some initial sketches, the Minimalytics teaser was live. It was late at night, I sent a few tweets about it, and went to bed.
The next morning, I woke up to something I’ve never seen before: an inbox full of Campaign Monitor signup notifications.
As Drew would say, “I was super jazzed!” We were inspired, and excited to apply this same thinking to our other product, HookFeed.
With HookFeed, we shifted from “how can we explain this idea and make it sound interesting?” to “how can we show how it’ll actually work?”
The dynamic text explanation we used for Minimalytics didn’t quite feel right, so we explored integrating a piece of the actual product into the page.
We didn’t go quite as far as the folks at Nimber, but we did mock a bit of functionality. And, in an entirely different way, we achieved the same thing - a teaser page that conveyed the value and feel of the product without much “explanation” at all. And the results were almost identical to Minimalytics.
So What Happened?
Minimalytics now has over 1,000 subscribers and HookFeed has over 800. Our signup conversion rates average around 30%. The support from the community has fueled our momentum more than anything in the past, and we are closer than ever to launching our first public product.
All of this without any advertising, without a huge Twitter following (about 120 followers when we started - mostly spam accounts), and without much marketing at all.
We ignored commonly accepted advice about how to make a landing page, and we moved fast thanks to years of recycled code.
But perhaps even more valuable than building our audience, these landing pages have helped us commit and execute on the products themselves - something which has always been my struggle in the past.
The responsibility I now have to stay focused on Minimalytics and HookFeed has helped me follow through on executing, and I’m so excited to be releasing betas for both products in the very near future.
In the spirit of executing, we will also soon be launching a book detailing the show-not-tell process much further, making it easier for you to implement in your own products.
It will include access to our code library, as well as interviews and deep dives with other companies using this process in their own products. You can sign up here to be notified when it’s ready.
If you’d like to know more about what we’ve learned so far, you can reach me on Twitter: @SDMattG.