Hey everyone! This is Allen from Stagelight.io, a company that's providing a "demo as a service" for SaaS websites and products. In the points below, I've tried to summarize my journey from building a startup from scratch to launching it and getting our first paying customers.
Just a bit more background on the company, Stagelight aims to help websites integrate anything and everything (videos, images, chat, Calendly schedules, html/css) into a modal slideshow widget that you can embed on your site or show on a public website. Stagelight.io helps businesses create interactive demos to increase conversion and win more businesses.
With that being said, I've listed out the most important aspects in my mind below.
We Didn't Offer a Free Plan
I've gone back and forth between how to price certain aspects of the product, and if I've learned anything about pricing, it's that it's dynamic and always changing. There are pros and cons to every approach that you take, whether it be a freemium model, or paid from day 1.
We personally decided to make it paid from day 1 just because Stagelight.io is currently completely bootstrapped which meant that we need $$$ in validation right from the start. I would say the biggest challenge being in a startup is the CONSTANT voice in your head that tells you your product isn't good enough and then it swings wildly to "Omg my product is so awesome everyones going to love it." Charging from day 1 will objectify all of that and signal to you whether or not people really do like your product and give you that confidence boost when you're really down.
If you ask money from the very beginning the best case will be someone does pay for your product. Worst case, you've found out that no one is willing to pay, you can stop wasting your precious time and pivot into a more profitable direction.
Reading "The Mom Test"
If you haven't heard of "The Mom Test" before, its basically a book that a teaches you how to communicate with customers in a more meaningful way and avoid the vanity of getting approval from your friends and family, hence the name. When someone first suggested reading "The Mom Test", I was like pfft I've already created a startup (https://loopd.com) that raised millions of dollars before, I definitely know how to interact with customers. The truth is that I didn't. Reading the mom test seems like a intimidating issue because at the end of the day, its telling you to invalidate your product, a product that you might have already poured your heart and soul into and any trace of rejection might seriously demotivate you from exploring further.
But what I realized more when actually reading this book was beyond the simple "Do you like my idea or not", but rather it reframes your thinking on how you should approach customers. For instance, instead of asking "I'd like to build feature A, do you think it's something you would buy?", you shouldn't even bring up what your idea is but ask around the circumstances around what your product is trying to deliver.
The big point is this - don't treat your customer conversations as a source of validation - treat the conversations as a source of learning and that way you'll be able to cut through the bullshit that your ego wants you to hear. If you want to find out more about "The Mom Test", check out this link: http://momtestbook.com/.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask People To Pay
Man this was a tough one. The way I usually approach sales is to basically be the super nice guy that tells people money doesn't matter, creating value for the customer is what matters. But after talking to many people about the product and offering free trials I realized I only had so much time to spare. Who should I really concentrate on getting feedback from and improving the product for? That's when I realized that money was the answer as asking for payment is a good natural filter and indicator if you are moving in the correct direction.
I honestly felt bad when I asked for a friend to pay for a service when they asked to use a trial, which ended up with them then not replying anymore. But you know what? I realized that they weren't really serious about using the product. If I gave them a free trial, excitedly thinking that I would build a kickass campaign for them and create real value, I would have gone down a real long-ass rabbit hole with no end in sight.
Big point is this - money is the real indicator of intent. Nothing else. Ask people to pay for your product as soon as possible.
Creating Value First
The big way that I first started getting out was trying out multiple ways to access people across multiple media sites, mostly through reddit, facebook, and entrepreneurship slack groups. Along the way I've met some awesome people that really I wouldn't have expected to meet until I took the first step. The two primary approaches I took were:
- Open beta asking for people's help - you'll be amazed at how many people are willing to give their input and who will get excited about your product for you
- Creating free demos for users - I basically offered to record people's video demos and on-boarding tutorials for them for free
The above two methods allowed me to access a lot more people than I would have, and people that I didn't even think would pay did end up paying. Be open to serendipity and more importantly, talk to as many people as you can. The most efficient way to do that is by offering value first.
As an engineer, this was the most difficult thing for me to do because I'm almost obsessive about getting it right the first time. But as the adage says, "Fuck it, ship it" is the best thing you can do for your product because you'll know what people want and need without wasting your time.