How We Got Our First 100 Customers, Built a Blog to 50,000 Monthly Visits and Grew A Wait List Of 1,300 People

This week we launched Fieldboom. Here's how we got out our first 100 customers, built a wait list of 1,300 people and a blog to 50,000 visits per month - all before we launched.

Saas Pre-Launch Strategy

When you launch a new business, feedback from potential customers isn’t just important – it’s everything.

There are so many books on how to launch new startups (The Lean Startup, The $100 Startup, etc) , but there really aren’t too many posts that walk you through the exact process a company takes from day zero through to launch.

Well, that’s what I’m going to share with you in this post. So if you’re looking to launch a new business, a new product or a new offering, then pay attention.

I’ll show you:

  • The step-by-step process we used to find product-market fit for Fieldboom
  • How we got 100 paying customers before we even had a product
  • How we built a wait list of over 1,300 people
  • How we iterated on our product during a 4 month closed beta

… all in about a year, on a teeny tiny (bootstrapped) budget.

(Note: If you want to check out Fieldboom and see what it’s about as you read through this post, you can sign up for a 15-day free trial here.)

How We Found Product/Market Fit

According to legendary entrepreneur and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen, product/market fit means:

“Being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

To you and, I that basically means building something people actually want to not only use, but also pay for.

When we looked at the online forms, quizzes and surveys space early last year, we saw HUNDREDS of existing options, including giants like SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics and also fast-growing startups like Typeform, to name a few.

So if there were already hundreds of established competitors in our space, why did we even decide to move forward, start doing research and actually build Fieldboom?

Are we crazy?! Well, yes and no.

In SaaS (Software as a Service – AKA software delivered via the cloud), there are two kinds of approaches you can take to building products:

  1. Platforms – These do everything. They have hundreds of features, integrate with every app in the world and generally are hard to use because so many features have been crammed into them. SurveyMonkey is a great example in our space, as is Qualtrics.
  2. Point Solutions – These focus on a small subset of features, with ease-of-use being the biggest focus. Point solutions don’t have anywhere near the breadth of features as platforms such as SurveyMonkey, but that’s by design. Small business owners and marketers (our target audience) prefer point solutions for their simplicity. Mailchimp is a great example here, as is Canva.

Building a platform takes years, dozens of engineers and tens of millions of dollars – 3 things we didn’t have, so for us it made sense to explore the possibility of (initially) launching a point solution into the market.

But do people even want another online form and survey tool? Is there a gap in the market we can fill? To figure that out as we were already building the product’s initial features, we did two things:

  1. Read reviews – We went on software review sites like G2Crowd, GetApp and Capterra and read all of the negative reviews on the established competitors in our space. We were looking for common issues and opportunities between their customers that we could use as our “wedge” to get some early traction at launch.
  2. Interview competitor’s customers – We spent money on Facebook Ads targeting followers of our competitors such as SurveyMonkey, asking them to tell us about their experience using the product and then to hop on the phone with us to chat more.

Here’s the Facebook ad we used:

Screen Shot 2018 03 01 at 8.55.06 AM

Pretty simple, right? SurveyMonkey has almost 200,000 followers on Facebook, so it was easy to reach a sufficient volume of potential customers for us, quickly.

When people clicked on the ad, they were taken to a simple Fieldboom survey which looked like this:

You can see a live version of the survey we used at https://form.fieldboom.com/273. We asked a few basic questions, including:

  • If they are a current SurveyMonkey customer
  • What they like the most about SurveyMonkey
  • What they like the least about SurveyMonkey
  • Which one thing they would change about it if they had a magic wand
  • Their first name and email address
  • Whether they would be available to talk further with us on the phone

We collected almost 300 responses in a few weeks and we saw a huge opportunity not around building more features than SurveyMonkey, but instead focusing on simplicity of the product, features that automate a lot of the manual work and of course, user experience.

We then spoke to 28 of the people who filled in our survey to dig in further. It quickly became clear that we were on the right track with simplicity. But we also heard that SurveyMonkey’s pricing was confusing and frustrating too (no refunds, ever), so we noted that down for later.

To end each of these discovery phone calls, we asked one critical question:

Would you be willing to pre-pay for lifetime access to Fieldboom at a special rate?

Of the 28 people we asked, 8 said yes. And they all paid, within a day of the call. We used Stripe with a simple (ugly!) Recurly hosted payment page to accept their payments. Nothing fancy, but it worked well enough.

The key lesson here is that hearing “yes, I’d use your product” means nothing. “Here are my credit card details” is the ultimate form of validation in the pre-launch stage of building a new product or company.

How We Got 100 Paying Customers Before Launching

So at this point (around April 2017) we had 8 customers who had prepaid $200 each for lifetime access to Fieldboom. That’s total revenue of $1,600. But more than that, it’s validation we were on the right track with our value proposition (simplicity) and initial set of features.

Our next goal was to get that number up from 8 customers to 100 as we continued to build the product based on the feedback we were collecting from the 300 people who filled in our initial survey, heavily prioritizing feedback from customers who prepaid.

Side Note: The day we started building our product, we also started to invest in content marketing (blogging, guides, etc) so we could attract potential customers to our web site and start building our brand. Today our blog gets almost 50,000 visitors per month, but we only had 1,431 people visit our web site in the first month:

Screen Shot 2018 03 01 at 9.59.54 AM

To hit our goal of 100 pre-launch customers, we added a free trial sign up form to our website and a small call to action (CTA) at the end of every blog post we were publishing (about 2 per week) inviting people to give Fieldboom a try.

When you filled in the free trial sign up form, however, you didn’t actually get a trial account. Instead, you saw this message:

Screen Shot 2018 03 01 at 9.47.39 AM

We were a little worried about doing this initially as we thought it could annoy people, but during the almost 12 month period when we were collecting pre-launch sign ups, we only had 2 complaints, so we decided to stick with it.

In total, we had 1,366 people sign up to try Fieldboom before we launched. In our best month (last month, before we actually launched) we had 323 people sign up to try the product, as you can see here:

Screen Shot 2018 03 01 at 10.03.12 AM

Once people gave us their details, they would receive an automated email 2 hours later (via Campaign Monitor) asking if they’d like to arrange a quick one-on-one product demo to learn more about Fieldboom:

Screen Shot 2018 03 01 at 9.54.29 AM

We had about 15% of people respond saying they’d like a demo, which was great. For the people who didn’t open this email, we re-sent the same email (with a slightly different subject line) 3 days later.

Once a day and time was locked in for their demo, we’d simply use Zoom to show them Fieldboom (or even a clickable prototype in Invision if a specific feature they wanted wasn’t ready yet), answer their questions and at the end of the demo, you guessed it, we’d ask if they wanted to pre-pay for lifetime access.

Within 4 weeks of doing these one-on-one product demos, we not only hit our target of 100 customers before launch, but also collected a huge amount of feedback that we used to prioritize our product roadmap throughout the rest of 2017.

Note: We could’ve added hundreds more 

The reason these demos worked well is because we were upfront and honest:

  • We told people we were 6+ months away from launching
  • We told them we’re focused on ease-of-use, not hundreds of features
  • We told them we were pre-selling the product
  • We told them their feedback would heavily influence our roadmap
  • We offered a no-questions-asked refund if they signed up during the pre-launch but changed their mind later for any reason

How We Iterated On Our Product During Our Closed Beta

To quickly recap, by this point (late 2017) we had:

  • 100 customers who had prepaid for Fieldboom
  • A product that was about 60% completed
  • Almost 1,000 people on our wait list
  • A blog getting about 20,000 visits per month

Our main goal now was to figure out how we could deliver on our value proposition of simplicity as quickly as possible, while having enough features in the product for it to be useful (AKA a Minimum Viable Product).

To do that, we did three things:

  1. We launched a closed beta program and gave all 100 customers their own beta account, even though the product was barely more than half finished
  2. Set up a private community where our beta customers could share ideas, feedback, bugs, etc with our team
  3. Started sending out weekly product update emails and monthly product/market fit surveys using Fieldboom

The survey we sent out was based on Sean Ellis’s product/market fit survey. You can see one of the actual surveys we used here: https://form.fieldboom.com/275

SM2

To achieve measurable product/market fit, at least 40% of people should respond with “Very Disappointed” to the first question you can see above:

How would you feel if you could no longer use Fieldboom?

It took us 4 months of iterating on the product to hit 40%. During that time, we continued to focus on simplicity but also added quite a few important features that our beta customers needed, including:

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Our Responses Inbox, which we built during our closed beta

  • Responses Inbox – a Gmail-style interface where you can see all responses to your forms, quizzes and surveys. You can label them, star them, mark them as read or unread, leave notes, etc.
  • Email Notifications – so you receive an email instantly when someone fills in your form or survey, complete with their entire response
  • Reporting – so you can see trends in responses at a question-by-question level.
  • Exporting – so you can export all responses to Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, etc.
  • Answer Piping – so you can use the answer from one question as part of another question’s text, such as “Nice to meet you {Q1_Answer}” which would show “Nice to meet you Joe” as the question text
  • Net Promoter Score reporting – so you can see a detailed NPS report after sending out a customer feedback survey
  • Advanced Design Customization – so you can add your brand’s logo, colors, fonts, etc to your forms, surveys and quizzes
  • Auto-Advance – so you’re taken to the next question automatically when filling in a form or survey, without having to click “Next” every time
  • Tracking Code – so you can add code from Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, etc to track how many people fill in your form and also your Cost Per Lead (CPL)

These features put us in a good position to launch version 1 of Fieldboom, which we’ve done this week! 🎉

What’s Next

Now that we’ve launched, we are continuing to focus on improving our product quickly and acquiring new trial users and paying customers (primarily from our blog, which gets almost 50,000 visits per month).

2017 was a fun year for us and we learned a lot building Fieldboom from scratch. Most importantly, though, we were customer-led, so we had the confidence that we weren’t only building a product people wanted, but also one they would (and did) pay for.

If you’d like to give Fieldboom a try, you can start your 15-day free trial to check it out. If you like these kinds of posts and want to get notified when we post something new on our blog, make sure you join our email list below or follow us on Twitter.

Matt is one of the brilliantly gifted content contributors at Fieldboom. He helps us whip up useful and interesting blog posts, guides and more.