How we went from 10 to 200 paying customers in less than 6 months 🎉
After sharing how we acquired our first 10 paying customers with our side project in our previous post, we wanted to update you on what we’ve been up to during the last four months with PixelMe. It’s been a little while since we shared anything, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened 😄
First of all, 🚨transparency alert! 🚨At the end of March 2018, we passed $4,000 in MRR with 200 paying customers and a 60+ NPS 🎉 💥 🚀
We’re so proud of this achievement! Particularly because exactly one year ago in March 2017, Tom and I created our first landing page for PixelMe in Bali — what a year it has been! 💪
Emboldened by your incredible feedback on previous posts, I’m going to share even more of our story with you — including the steps we took to increase the number of monthly fee-paying PixelMe customers from 10 to 200!
So let’s go back in time to October, back to when we only had 10 paying customers and had two key objectives in our minds.
- Create the company
When you want to validate your business idea and start charging your first customers, there is no way you want (or need, actually) to go through the administrative hassle of creating a company. At this point, you’re only trying to find out if there is demand for the service you’re offering and if they’re willing to pay for it.
So, like us, you might charge them through a service like Stripe or Paypal, and transfer the money straight into your personal bank account! This works fine for your first 10 paying customers say, but after that you’re going to need a more “official” way of charging your customers. At some point they will want copies of their purchase history and many other things 😃
This is where Stripe Atlas takes centre stage! Created by stripe (the online payment platform), it is one of the best ways to start an internet business — particularly for people physically located outside of the States. They establish the internet business in the US on your behalf, in 10 days, for just $500! BOOM! If you’ve ever set up a company yourself, you know how much hassle that saves!
So thanks to Stripe Atlas, we created PixelMe.inc in 10 days and could start charging more of our customers.
I would highly recommend their service. Their support team is amazing and makes things as smooth as possible for you 😄(The only negative I can think of is the choice of bank. They partner with Sillicon Valley Bank, which is clearly not on the same online experience level as Stripe Atlas 😱)
Sidebar: Some of you ask why we created the company in the US rather than in France, our home country. And the answer is convenience. It’s fast, cheap and not a big hassle to maintain. It is not a way to avoid paying taxes — we’re actually paying around 35%+ taxes in Delaware! Now that we’re more established and have more time to think about it, we will certainly look to bring back PixelMe to France in 2018.
- Validate product/market fit
Achieving product/market fit (PMF) is the holy grail you must reach before trying to grow your business. There are multiple ways of validating PMF. Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers, says you’ve found a good PMF when at least 40% of a product’s users, when surveyed, indicate they would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use the product.
This is a great validation for a product, for sure. But after talking with a lot of successful SaaS companies, we uncovered another consistent common factor: word of mouth! Almost every SaaS founder we talked to said that, back in the day, they got loads of organic traffic from people talking about their product and believed it to be a significant factor in achieving growth.
We strongly believe that a product with a good PMF is also a product that will generate a lot of organic traffic (and a good NPS score 😉). So we chose to focus on word of mouth and NPS as our indicators of PMF.
Of course, in the end, the ultimate validation for a B2B SaaS product is the number of users willing to pay for your product 😅
But let’s look at those two elements first, as crucial elements needed to fuel your growth engine! If you enter the “growth” stage without ensuring this checks out first, it’s a bit like filling a bucket with water that’s full of holes.
a. Word of Mouth
We looked at our data to understand which stage we were at with PixelMe, and found that 32% of our traffic was “direct traffic” and 20% came from organic search. That meant roughly 50% was coming from word of mouth!
So that first foundation for growth — word of mouth — looked pretty solid!
b. Net Promoter Score
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures the willingness of customers to recommend your product. NPS can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everybody is a promoter). Any positive NPS value (i.e., higher than zero) is considered good, and an NPS of +50 is excellent!
If you’re wanting to scale your product’s user base, you must have a strong, supportive community of users to begin with — and NPS is a good measurement of how happy people are with your product. Early users need to love your product and feel you are a “customer-first company” so they talk you up to all their friends and coworkers! Without this, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to increase your user base.
NPS will help you gather feedback and face reality. It can be a bit hard sometimes, but remember — you’re making a product for your customers, not for you!
We introduced our NPS in November 2017, using a really great tool called Satismeter. As you can see below, we started with a NPS score of +44 — which is fairly good, but not good enough for us!
So we wanted to do better. To improve in line with the needs of our users, we shared a public roadmap of our plans via Trello and asked people to vote for their most wanted features.
This helped us go from +44 to +61 by the end of February 🎉
Amazing score, right? 😜
We released some of the requested features, became totally transparent with our roadmap and made a concerted effort to provide support to users as fast as possible. And our efforts paid off!
So that’s how we came to officially establishing the company after confirming a strong PMF. Then we chose to focus on the following five areas in our growth activities.
1. Customer support
Obviously I learned from the best 😄 If you want to be successful, you must focus your whole company on your customers. To do so, you need to have an awesome customer support service that can provide support to users and keep them happy. We decided to use Intercom as a live chat tool. Just be mindful that if you choose a live chat tool, you have to provide answers fast. Otherwise just use email for your support, as people hate waiting.
Our goal was to have a response time under 5 minutes, even though we’re only three people 🙂
Here are a few analytics on our experience:
2. Goal setting
After validating your foundations for growth (strong PMF + NPS score) it’s time to switch from “discovery mode” to a more “systematic and organised” approach to growing your customer base.
For us, the ultimate goal is to reach $10k in MRR before the end of September 2018.
Why? Because we keep the burn rate of the company under $1,000/mo, and that will give the three of us an extra $3,000 in revenue 🙂
Not too bad when it’s not your first source of income, right?
Thanks to the data we got from the first month (visitors, signups, trials and paying customers) we’ve been able to break down monthly and weekly goals. So every week we can check where we are with our goals and see what we need to adjust 🙂
Here’s our monthly dashboard:
Which meant it was definitely time to think about traffic acquisition 😅
3. Acquire a community
When you’re a brand new product on the market and you’re targeting marketers and social media managers, there aren’t a million options to quickly acquire a decent community of users that can be turned into promoters. Product Hunt is usually the first idea that comes in mind. Depending on what type of market you’re targeting, Appsumo can also be an awesome option as well.
a. Appsumo (total 4,248 users)
I already shared a lot about our Appsumo promotion in a previous blog post. The most interesting outcome from this promotion, apart from the sales, is the number of users you can acquire in a week (4,000). Those users will share a ton of feedback and more than likely become promoters of your product 😃
Even five months after the promotion it’s still generating a lot of “word of mouth” for us!
b. Product Hunt
We launched our Product Hunt (PH) campaign on November 14, 2017. It went really well with 1,000+ upvotes at the end of the day. We were the #2 upvoted product on PH that day, behind Firefox Quantum, which ended up with 3,000+ upvotes 😅
It drove quite a lot of traffic to our website 😄
Plus around 180 signups! Which is a 20% conversion from upvotes to signups! Not awesome, but not bad either 🙂
4. Funnel optimisation
a. Using Wisepops to increase acquisition
You’re driving a steady stream of traffic to your website, but you’re likely losing 95% of your traffic 🙂
We have a lot of traffic (so cool!) but our average conversion rate from visitor to signed up user is only 5% (we’ll share all our data soon). We wanted to use Wisepops to improve our conversion rate.
We collected another 339 emails thanks to Wisepops, in the same time period that 2,660 people signed up.
B. Changing our onboarding process to increase activation
PixelMe adds a retargeting pixel to every link you create. In the first version of our product, right after signup we were bringing users straight to the dashboard, without much guidance on how the product was working. We looked at the data and realised 62.5% of our new sign ups were adding at least 1 retargeting pixel; and 83% of them were shortening at least 1 link.
So we designed a new onboarding process, asking new users to add their retargeting pixel as a first step after sign up.
And what happened was really cool to observe!
After a couple of weeks, 75% of our new sign ups were adding at least 1 retargeting pixel; and 97% of them were shortening at least 1 link. 🚀
So with this simple idea, we significantly increased our activation rate! 🙌
c. Using drip campaigns to increase our retention and conversion rates (aka revenue)
Drip campaigns — also referred to as drip marketing, automated email campaigns, lifecycle emails, behavioural emails, autoresponders and marketing automation — are a set of marketing emails pushed out automatically according to a pre-defined schedule or based on triggers such as signing up for a service.
We started to create complete sets of drip campaigns with Intercom, based on our user actions after signup.
It worked pretty well with our retention and conversion rates!
This is how we increased our retention rate with one email in particular. We created an email letting our users know when they would reach “100 clicks” on their links:
After a couple of weeks, you can see that 63% of the people who received this email logged in to PixelMe again straight after! 💥
Then the email below helped us increase our conversion rate, as we identified that while we told people all links set up in their trial would remain valid, we didn’t make it clear the retargeting pixel would stop firing — and that’s really the whole point of PixelMe.
After a couple of weeks, you can see that 13% of the people who received this email became paying customers 🚀
5. Channel optimisation
After completing all of these steps, there is one other thing you need to understand: where do your best paying customers come from?
For us there are three main sources of traffic.
We’ve written quite a few blog posts in the past months and realised this was our main source of acquisition. We’re now focusing on creating two types of content: use cases and PixelMe updates 🙂
Based on the type of users our content leads to our website, we decided to remove the use cases from Medium and host them on our own blog for SEO purposes. We’ll continue to post the transparency updates about PixelMe on Medium as a way to keep building the brand 🙂
2. Affiliate marketing
We rolled out our first affiliate program back in November 2017, using a tool called Growsumo — which removes the burden of managing partners, transferring fees etc. It’s a really great tool and super simple to use. We offer 30% on all sales so long as the customer pays all our partners. So far we’ve generated just shy of $2000, as you can see below.
Somewhat surprisingly we discovered that a lot of people were sharing their PixelMe stories, including how they personally use it to leverage their own paid marketing efforts. Thanks to our affiliate program 🙂
So we reached out to them and made a specific deal — so they’re even happier to talk about PixelMe now 🙂
There are multiple ways we could look to leverage these influencers. This is probably going to be one of our next focus areas 🙂
I realise this blog post is longer than I initially thought it would be. I hope you like it. If you’ve been through a similar process of growing a product from 0 to $15k MRR, we’d love to hear your feedback. The specific steps you took, as well as everything else that helped achieve your goal 🙂
See you again soon for our next update 🤞