Peter Thiel, in Zero to One, didn’t warn us about how hard starting a startup can be if we pick the wrong tools, or don’t use any tools at all… When I created Botletter, I knew getting a SaaS out of the ground alone would be a real challenge. However, with the right tools, it’s absolutely possible to quickly validate a business idea and start getting some real traction.
Botletter has been a formidable project to experiment different tools to grow quickly without spending too much. By launching it in a really lean way, those tools made the whole process smoother and more enjoyable. This article is all about sharing with you the tools I use and some tips related to launching a new business with those tools.
You want to quickly ship a Minimum Viable Product
The first step is to cope with the “wantrepreneur” problem. Start. Shipping. Now.
In a conference, Pieter Levels tells us he usually only does projects he can ship within one month. He is following the lean startup logic brought by Eric Ries, saying the first step of a project is building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP):
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
Doing so, you will be able to quickly validate your business idea: can you make money from this? Is it scalable? Are you able to build it? If you answer “yes” to all those questions, you are probably into something.
1. Wip.chat – A community of makers shipping together.
Wip.chat is a Telegram-based community created by Marc Köhlbrugge in order to motivate makers to ship better and faster. How does it work? You just sign up, add your coming tasks with a Telegram bot and tell the world when you completed one. A leaderboard shows the best shippers and their current day streak shipping.
If you are like me, needing some extra motivation in order to make things happen, Wip.chat is definitely something you want to use! No more excuse to work on something and forget about it, the community is here to remind you about your projects! It’s also a good way to connect with fellow entrepreneurs.
2. Heroku – A platform as a service that enables developers to build, run, and operate applications entirely in the cloud.
When I was a bit less experienced, just thinking about deploying my new project to a server was giving me headaches. Sometimes, I just gave up a project because I wasn’t experienced enough to set up my server. With Heroku, you can deploy any kind of applications in a matter of seconds without any hassle.
Besides, you don’t necessarily want to spend money on a new server in order to launch a project. With Heroku, you can use up to two “dynos”, the building blocks that power any Heroku app, for free. This will allow you to get your app up and running when you start: definitely a great and affordable way to validate an idea. For example, during the two first months of Botletter, it was running on two free dynos with a custom domain name. Doing so, people couldn’t even know the app wasn’t hosted on a scalable infrastructure yet.
Last, with Heroku, you can easily scale your infrastructure when you project grows. Don’t spend time setting up new servers and doing complex DevOps work. Instead, focus on improving your app and scaling the dynos you need in order to keep your performance at the top of the edge.
3. Product Hunt – A place for product-loving enthusiasts to share and geek out about the latest mobile apps, websites, hardware projects, and tech creations.
After shipping a MVP and deploying it with Heroku, you have to promote it in order to validate your idea. You’re not a marketer? No worries! With Product Hunt, you can easily show your project to the world and get instant feedback. The Product Hunt team shared some tips in this article about how to launch properly a new project.
Launching on Product Hunt for Botletter was game changer. After three months gathering feedback from early-adopters, the launch got more than one thousand new users who influenced the future development of the product. We also collected great reviews about the current product and used it to improve our messaging.
Measure everything to confirm your hypothesis
Building and launching a product is not enough in order to build a sustainable business. You are still closer to the zero than the one… After validating the idea, you want to build a product that outpaces the competition. Peter Thiel and Eric Ries both advise in their books to gather information about your product in order to consistently make it better.
This data-driven approach helped me a lot to take difficult decisions like redesigning the whole application, add a step to the onboarding or modify the pricing. The following tools are made to help you run your business and improve your product the most efficient way, without wasting your time.
4. ForestAdmin – Generate without any hassle an admin interface for your business.
In order to run a real business, you need to easily access your key metrics and give an access to non-technical people working with you to administrate your database (eg. redeem a coupon, change the plan of a user etc.). However, building an admin interface takes time and is often done in a poor way.
With ForestAdmin, you can generate a full admin interface with little configuration. This literally changed my life as an indie entrepreneur. After connecting their API to your application, you can display all your key metrics in a dashboard and see how it grows. Besides, deleting and updating records has never been that easy. It probably cuts by twice the time to update something in the database comparing to the old way: connect to the database, perform a query in order to update it. It’s also way safer… You remember this day you deleted all your user base instead of just deleting one user? Me too.
In case you are a developer, ForestAdmin is easily customizable in order to display specific metrics or group some users regarding their behavior. I also connected Stripe to see both my product metrics and the business-related ones.
5. Mixpanel – Learn how people use your product with an event-based analytics platform.
Measuring business metrics is not enough. If you want to build a top-notch product, you need some product-usage information in order to make it better. Mixpanel allows you to track specific events in your app and analyse different conversion funnels.
With Botletter, I increased by 40% our activation rate by running experiments and measuring the results with Mixpanel. This is definitely a tool you want to use for optimization after finding a product-market fit.
6. Hotjar – A all-in-one analytics and feedback tool.
Besides Mixpanel, I use Hotjar to improve my messaging and get constant feedback from my users. Hotjar is the perfect tool to improve your pages and product. For example, you can watch a recording of every single visitor in order to understand what are the pitfalls in the design of your app.
Now, when I launch a new feature for Botletter, Hotjar is part of the process in order to validate it or not. I carefully analyse how users interact with the feature, eventually spotting some bugs or usability problems. You can also add a “feedback” button on the pages you want or a small box to ask a specific question to the user. This is really useful in order to improve your messaging or add information to your pages.
7. Crisp – allows you to chat with website visitors, integrate your favorite tools, and deliver a great customer experience.
When you are developing a new product the lean way, you need to talk a lot to your users. Crisp is a simple and affordable solution to do that. I was thrilled by how easy it is to set up Crisp for your website! Once installed, people can message you at any time while using the product.
This allowed me to get tons of feedback that I could match with feedback from Hotjar’s tools. Also, having a friendly and quick customer support helped me build a strong relationship with my customers. Now, word-of-mouth is one of our key growth factor as people are more likely to spread the word about Botletter.
For those willing to use the pro or unlimited version, you get access to a lot of insights from your users and can generate a help desk. Definitely a good solution when your product gets some traction.
Time to grow your business
Now that you have a great product, it’s time to focus on growing your user base and revenues. There are many tools to help you doing marketing the right way. Thus, I only chose to share two that I use on a daily basis.
8. Buffer & Quuu – A simpler and easier way to schedule posts, track the performance of your content, and manage all your accounts in one place.
Buffer is broadly used to manage social media accounts. This is one of my favorite Social Media tools. When you are starting a business, you usually don’t have much time to handle Social Media. Here comes Buffer! It will allow you to schedule your publications during the whole week, thus creating a real social presence for your brand.
However, curation takes time. Quuu was made to automatically schedule the best content to your Buffer. The free version will post for you two articles every day! Then, you can purchase the paid version to post more often. I would advise you to find the right balance between curated content and your own content.
9. Stripe – An online payment solution, dead-easy to integrate to your website.
How could I not mention Stripe in this article? Stripe is used by many businesses to add a payment solution to their app. With little developing work, you will have a modern payment solution to get your first customers. In an afternoon of work, Botletter had a complete payment system running! We had our first client two weeks after. Don’t wait to add a payment system to your app, especially when it’s so easy to integrate. Doing so, you will be able to quickly validate your business idea and start investing to grow it faster.