10 Things I’ve Learned from Two Months of Launching an Online Business

It’s a lot of work.

It’s been a little less than two months since I launched UX Power Tools with a design colleague. The elevator pitch is a UI Kit built in Sketch with text styles, object styles, and symbols…something we haven’t found anywhere else online. The toolkit is filled with components and tools that make designing and maintaining large products sustainable, unlike most kits which are over-stylized, inconsistent, and poorly constructed.

Here are some notable stats from our first two months. All accounts were started at zero, with no prior activity:

- 240 Twitter Followers
- 602
MailChimp Newsletter Subscribers
- 1,210
Medium Followers
- 981
Publication Followers
- 89,813 Medium Story Views
- 43,944 Medium Story Reads
- 2,513 Medium Story Recommends
- 10,871
Website Users
- 46,251 Website Pageviews
- 1,344 File Downloads (freebies and paid subscriptions)

We’ve managed to break even, and are already turning a profit!

Numbers aside, we’ve learned a lot about starting a business, marketing, customer service, and business strategy. Everyone’s business story is unique, but what we’ve discovered seems fairly universal, so we thought we’d share.

For context: My colleague and I are both full-time product designers at the same product agency. I have a degree in computer science and a background in design, and my colleague has a Master’s in Human Computer Interaction.

UX Power Tools is our side project to create something useful for the design community, and to learn more about consumer products (most of our experience is with B2B clients at our agency).

1. People are really into newsletters.

Our strategy was to start driving people to our website by publishing design and Sketch-related content here on Medium, then push it out through Twitter. Our product was not yet released; the site was a shell describing some features that we had completed already, a couple design freebies, and a signup form to “Get notified when UX Power Tools is released!

Newsletter subscriber growth in our first two months.

Our Medium content seemed to pick up steam, and our freebies were well-liked by the community on Twitter and Dribbble. By the time we officially released, we have just over 450 subscribers on our newsletter mailing list.

2. Email is a tough channel.

Naïvely, we were very confident about our newsletter list.

If we convert just 20% of our list, that’s over $500 in monthly revenue in the first day! This is easy!
— Us idiots, a month ago

Yeah, that didn’t happen. About 55% of our list opened the email, and 23% clicked through to the site. We’ve since learned that this is actually pretty good! All told, we converted 20 users into subscribers on day one. Not bad, but we weren’t exactly skipping to the Tesla dealership like we’d planned.

Since then, our open rate has stayed high, but our clickthroughs are pretty weak, and our email conversions are…I think…one? Like we’ve converted one user. A single one. Practice makes perfect, right? We’ll get there.

3. People will share great content.

As I mentioned, we started this whole thing by publishing content on Medium. We learned something no-so-shocking: People share great content. Seriously! Find a community and take your time creating content that provides real value to people. Don’t just spout your opinions. Teach. There’s a world out there full of learners, and when they find something useful, they will spread it around for you.

We don’t have much of a gauge of the quality of our content other than our Medium and social stats, but we’re thrilled with the kind of traction our articles have seen, and the resulting traffic they’ve driven to our site. Our Sketch tips have been passed around thousands of times on Twitter, and we’ve been picked up by some really large accounts.

4. Companies will share great content.

The design community on Twitter is great, and businesses are very active with their users. We’ve been fortunate to have our content shared by some of the top thought leaders in the industry like InVision (link) and Smashing Magazine (link).

Can’t fault Smashing Magazine for the tweet…our title was pretty obnoxious :) (but it worked!)

You cannot underestimate the power of viral content. The tweet above drove over 12,000+ story views over three days, and the links in our article sent hundreds of people to our website. Note: We didn’t spend a dime with these companies to earn these mentions. Everything was organic.

5. Give stuff away…for a while.

People love free sh*t. Like…love it. Even if they just download it, throw it in a Free Sh*t folder, and never actually open it, that user is now a warm lead who has visited your website and given you their email address.

Get these, and more, over here and here!

It’s the age-old Try-Before-You-Buy model. UX Power Tools does not have a “free trial” per se, so we used our freebies to build credibility with our audience. There’s no way they would trust us with their money if we didn’t first prove to them that we knew what we were doing.

6. [Twitter] contests work.

Speaking of free sh*t, giveaways work! We’ve run two Twitter contests giving away a couple of our paid design files for free, and people loved passing around our tweet for a shot at some free stuff.

This got passed around all over Twitter, and we awarded three very lucky winners!

After notifying the winners, we emailed them their free files with a personal message about starting a membership. Half of our contest winners ended up buying a monthly membership! Cost per acquisition…nil.

Robert Cialdini mentions Reciprocity in his 6 Principles of Influence:

We feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us.

Though we 100% never expected to convert these contest winners into customers (we just love giving away free stuff), our generosity created a willingness in our users to try out our paid content.

7. Admit mistakes and correct them.

You will screw up. It’s going to happen. The trick is to respond quickly, gracefully, and with humility.

Story Time
On launch day of UX Power Tools, we emailed a discount code to our entire mailing list to give them their first month for free. Little did we know that our subscription framework didn’t actually send users through the payment gateway to create a subscription since the purchase amount was $0.00. All those subscriptions we’d gotten weren’t actually tied to ANY credit cards.
We panicked. By that time we’d gained over 20 subscribers (with a monthly subscription model, that’s a lot of money!), including several who didn’t use the discount code and paid the full monthly amount. There was nothing we could do about the free subscribers, and no way we could salvage those accounts, so we had no choice but to cancel everyone’s subscriptions, and refund all transactions.

We quickly sent a fire drill email explaining the mistake to our users, and stated that anyone who subscribed was getting their money back and could keep all of their files.

Despite our error, people were forgiving, and some prior subscribers even came back to resubscribe.

8. Be human when interacting with customers.

Be nice to people and they will be nice back. Mom and dad were right!

I remember receiving a direct message on Twitter with a screenshot of a bug on our website. We quickly fixed the issue, profusely thanked the user who found it, and sent him one of our premium files for free. He was delighted, and thanked us publicly on Twitter. Great marketing for us in the end.

What goes around comes around.

Trust in your users, and they will trust in you. They’re humans too, and you shouldn’t be intimidated by each other.

9. People have a short attention spans.

Way short. You have about 9 seconds to make an impression before [potential] users move on. Emails, website copy, tweets, blog content, YouTube videos…give users a reason to hang around, and lead with it.

Our website starts with a provocative claim: An Infinite UI Kit for just $5.99. It’s a statement that’s hard to believe, so users read on to learn more.

Hook them in (thanks, Nir Eyal!) and keep them around. Check out his fantastic book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products!

10. People loves lists.

If you made it this far, you’ve already proven my point 😊. We’ve put out 10 articles on Medium, and by far our most popular content are the horrible, Buzzfeed-worthy titles like the title of this article: “[Number] [Noun] to [Verb] [Noun]”.

We don’t do it to be trendy. We do it because it works:

It’s been a wild first two months, from earning our first subscriber, to breaking even, and being featured on the InVision blog. We’ve learned a lot about owning a business, and still have a lot to discover. Learn from our mistakes (and successes!), and don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s an opportunity to fail, grow, and improve.

Oh, and ask lots of questions. Be humble, and people will help you succeed.

Our Sketch tools are available for just $5.99. Yep, everything we’ve ever made.

Follow me on Medium/Twitter, subscribe to the UX Power Tools publication, and follow us on Twitter for updates, new content, and other groovy stuff.

Love you people.

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