on July 28, 2015
by Andy Jones
The marketing grind of PennyPipe as a bootstrapped startup
As the title says, PennyPipe did not earn $X (a large amount) in Y time (very short). However, we are slowly and successfully bootstrapping ourselves.
We all love the instant success stories. They feel like winning the lottery. Perhaps by reading these stories we get to share in the glow and maybe some of that luck will rub off on us. I still like these stories knowing that I want nothing to do with sudden and miraculous success.
The problem with overnight success stories is that they are often transitory. We don't see too many articles titled "I made $50k in a week, now here I am 2 years later rolling in $50MM". I have two thoughts about why this occurs: either these folks are quietly enjoying their success, or their fortune was fleeting. I lean toward the later, although I'd love more input. More to the point, the "instant success" article in a prominent publication garners quick but fickle traffic. Like fairweather friends, these hits only stick around until the sun goes down.
The marketing grind
Marketing is hard work. There is no replacement for putting yourself out there. The maxim “build it and they will come” is patently false. If there is a silver lining, however, it is this: no matter how fast technology moves, business still moves on human time scales. Developing good relationships with people is something we all can do and something technology will never replace. With that in mind, here are a few things that helped along the way...
Getting to customer #1 with PennyPipe was the hardest thing. A very unsexy thing I learned through years of bashing my head against a wall is to get customer #1 BEFORE building anything. My gut instinct when starting a new project is to start programming. I'm excited about the idea and I just can't wait to realize its full potential and roll out my plan. However, without validating that someone will pay for my eventual work, I'm simply wasting time and effort.
Measurement was and is key to the success of our business at PennyPipe. We developed our own funnel - and no I don't mean something used to chug beer. At the top of the funnel is everyone who comes to our site. At the bottom is everyone who becomes a paying subscriber. In between we have certain metrics that we measure. Step 1: did the person sign up as user? Step 2: did the user actually create a pipe? Step 3: did the pipe actually move any data?
In the words of modern philosopher Mike Tyson, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face". With this in mind we constantly change PennyPipe. At each stage in our funnel, we can validate - and often invalidate - our ideas about what works.
Most of our marketing is targeted at increasing the very top of our funnel. Change to PennyPipe is driven by the feedback we receive from users and the conversion rates for each step. I may think that feature X is what will push our business forward, however if all our users say Y, we do Y. If change Z helps increase conversions at step 3, then we're sticking with change Z. I learned not to fall in love with my ideas about what people want.
Try and try again
Persistence has been key. I come from a software background. Writing blog article, posting links, and sifting through forums for frustrated users does not exactly make me want to get out of bed. When I talk about developing relationships, I don't always mean relationships with real human beings. Starting social media accounts, writing blogs, and posting links is no recipe for overnight success. But as search engines slowly pick up your "crumbs", the number of people starting at the top end of your funnel will increase. I've managed this by setting low but attainable goals like just 1 blog article a week or 1 help page. Ironically for an overachiever, setting low goals has helped a lot.
PennyPipe will never suddenly blow up overnight. However, as we gain subscribers this month, they will become next months renewals as we continue to gain new subscribers. Subscribers start to stack in a nice way given enough time. Meanwhile, we rest well knowing that we've saved people a lot of time and helped folks make sense of their financials. All bootstrapped slowly.