Our first software as a service product turns one: here’s what we learned
Nearly one year ago we launched NakedSSL, our first own SaaS product, so it’s time for a recap with some nitty gritty details and insights into developing and marketing a SaaS product — and where it’s at today.
NakedSSL is a tool for developers, but more importantly, it’s a tool for ourselves, solving a simple problem: a lot of the main hosting providers don’t support the redirection of naked domains with SSL certificates. Sounds technical, but don’t worry: all you need to know is that the basic idea was to simplify and automate recurring tasks in the development process.
Jesús Espejo was sick of setting up servers with white-label SSL certificates just to redirect a naked domain. The task itself is so mundane that spending time on it over and over again just felt silly.
Anyone that know Jesús knows that he is constantly optimising his workflows, so the next logical step for him was to automate the process with an automated backend service, which essentially sparked the idea of offering the solution as a tool for other developers facing the same problems we did.
We didn’t have high hopes for this service to turn us into filthy rich billionaires as we were pretty aware that NakedSSL is a niche product, limited by its narrow value proposition. But we still liked the idea just enough to go ahead and build a consumer facing product.
As we didn’t care too much about the money we decided to “do the right thing” and offer accounts with one domain free forever, so private users can really benefit from the service and professional users can try it before buying into a subscription. We agreed that we’d only charge users that needed to redirect multiple domains in order to make at least enough money to cover the hosting costs. This decision turned out to be a little problematic, but more on that later on.
Jesús already had an automated backend service ready, but we still had to design the app, develop the API, and build the frontend and backend application. That sounds like quite a chunk of work, but if you strip away everything that really eats up your time, it’s actually quite manageable.
We like to work fast and see results early. So we decided to not bother with developing an identity, go into details in the design process and create fancy animations and delightful interactions, we simply did what we had to do to make it functional. Honestly, there wasn’t a huge design phase. On the UX side, splitting up the tasks the user had to do in the process into simple steps was probably the hardest part as I actually had to understand what the fuck Jesús was talking about, but it was also the best preparation for the days to come.
We spend a couple of hours creating wireframes in Sketch, slapped some color on it (flat design FTW), and directly jumped into developing the frontend.
We chose VueJS as our frontend framework for its simplicity and straight-forwardness and decided to integrate Stripe to handle recurring payments. Working in parallel, we developed a pretty standard Laravel backend with a REST API, and that’s that. Jesús handled all of that shit like a champ, as always, working on it after-hours and on the weekends.
tl;dr: It took us 2 weeks of part-time work to launch this SaaS product. We managed that by building what people would call a MVP, but are usually too afraid to actually release — a product that isn’t pretty, but is effectively solving a problem.
Launching and marketing it
To be honest, we didn’t really know how to market NakedSSL, so we simply launched it on Product Hunt, which gave us a nice little buzz and traffic peak, and helped our SEO with some incoming links — and woohoo, the first domains were redirected with NakedSSL 🎉.
However, conversion rates were pretty bad and most of the people that signed up didn’t end up redirecting their domains as they were just checking it out, but didn’t really know what to use it for. It was simply not the traffic quality we were looking for.
We also used all LinkedIn Ad Credits we got for free, which turned out to be incredibly useless as CPIs were high and, again, we maybe reached the right audience, but not in the right moment.
We basically had to face the fact that NakedSSL simply isn’t a tool you would use if you didn’t actually really need it.
Marketing NakedSSL is like advertising a product that helps you get rid of herpes. It’s not sexy, no one wants to see it, but boy, if you need it, you really want it.
This simple truth seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but well, everything always seems obvious in hindsight. At least at some point we realised that reaching people right in the moment when they are experiencing the same issues we were originally facing.
So we spent a couple of hours writing how to guides for the main service providers and launched these as landing pages. These guides deliver instant value to users in need and we can shamelessly plug the service at the same time. We used descriptive URLs, keyword optimised descriptions and rewrote pretty similar guides a couple of times to avoid duplicate content . We aren’t SEO experts, but we spend some time researching the right keywords and making sure we use them in our content pieces.
In the long run, that was a great decision for us as the initial time investment really compounds over time, as you can see here:
Yep, it’s not much and we still have a long way to go, but right now around 60% of our traffic comes from our landing pages, so you can really see how a long-term landing page strategy can help your product. Every month, around 80–100 new domains get added to our redirection service, growing it organically, without us actually constantly plugging or promoting it.
NakedSSL still isn’t making us filthy rich by any means, but we acquired enough customers willing to pay for the service to make it profitable. In the past few weeks we have gotten inquires from really cool companies to open up a developer API so they can integrate the functionality directly into their services and we are pretty excited about this step.
But I guess you want to see the numbers, right? Well, here you go:
→ Users: 1.092
→ Domains added: 1.513
→ Payments made: 121
(updated October 4th 2019)
Growing up in Germany in the 90’s I’ve been taught not to talk about money, but I guess you can guesstimate our revenue based on that quite well.
The major downside to our free plan approach was to see how many companies try to avoid paying for a plan and violate our terms by signing up with multiple company email addresses simply to use a free plan for every domain they have to redirect. From time to time we call them out on it, but hey, the internet and paying for shit, am I right?
Oh, we also tested out affiliate linking for SSL certificate providers, but we never earned a single cent with that. It drove traffic away from our site without providing any value, so we removed the links after a while.
We are not looking to develop crazy new features or turn NakedSSL into the Swiss army blade of developer services. We love products with a clear value proposition that solve exactly one problem, so we will continue to improve the product step by step and are excited about the new opportunities the Developer API will bring. If you are interested in using the API, feel free to reach out to us. ✌️
Also, if you want to work with a (mostly) bullshit-free product studio, hit us up: https://www.okaybueno.com/