What Got Done - Month 2

July 3, 2019

8 minute read

One-Line Summary

The conversation should be about thousands of dollars, not tens of dollars.

Highlights

  • What Got Done received 32 new user sign-ups (growth of about 5x since May)
  • Zestful may be rising from the dead, with four new inbound customer inquiries.
  • Is It Keto earned $184, and Zestful earned $26, making it my highest revenue month since quitting my job.

Goal Grades

Publish a new blog post that explains why I built What Got Done

Last month, it felt like I was scrambling to get a new blog post out the door by the end of the month. I questioned whether I was sacrificing quality for the sake of hitting a self-imposed deadline. This time, I didn’t feel rushed and was happy with the quality of the writing.

The post didn’t attract a large number of readers, but it did seem to jumpstart sign-ups to What Got Done (more on that below).

Interview six email copywriters about their workflow and pain points

  • Result: Interviewed 0 copywriters because I was distracted by Zestful
  • Grade: F

I got some unexpected customer interest in Zestful, so I put the email copy project on hold and tried to pursue Zestful business.

Create a landing page to begin collecting customer emails for my next product

  • Result: Cut this, as I was distracted by Zestful
  • Grade: F

Same as above.

Inactive projects

Is It Keto

Now that Is It Keto is on the back burner, I’m not going to dive as deeply into its metrics, but here’s a summary of the most interesting ones:

Metric May 2019 June 2019 Change
Total Earnings $107.25 $184.25 +$77.00 (+72%)
Unique Visitors 10,984 14,419 +3,435 (+31%)
Total Pageviews 28,751 39,405 +10,654 (+37%)
Domain Authority (Moz) 6 6 0
Ranking Keywords (Moz) 949 862 -87 (-9%)

After my blog post about Is It Keto last month, I received some good suggestions for small tweaks to the site and spent a few days implementing those. Notably, I added a browse by category feature and made my food cards a little prettier.

Bouncing around too much

My biggest problem this month has been a lack of focus. I don’t mean, “I wish I could concentrate better.” I mean when I sit down to rationally figure out where to focus, I can’t decide.

Several of my active projects are going “okay,” but none of them is strong enough to merits focusing on it to the exclusion of all others. But each one feels urgent in a way, so I’m worried about shelving any of them. The result is that I’m jumping around a lot and not making great progress on anything.

Suddenly, everyone wants to parse ingredients

I’ll start with Zestful. It’s the ingredient parsing service I created last year that failed to attract any customers.

This month, I had calls with four different customers considering Zestful for large projects. Some are more serious than others, but most of them said that they want to use it, but it’s missing a few small features to match the workflows they want. I could probably implement all of these features in six to eight weeks of work, but I have no guarantee that it will yield real sales.

  • Pros
    • Service is already built and has paying customers
    • Gaps between existing service and what the potential customers want seem small
      • I could probably complete them all in six weeks
  • Cons
    • If I invest in adding the requested features, I have no guarantee that any of the new customers will actually purchase
    • I can’t tell if the lifetime value of the new customers is closer to $100 (not worth a month of work) or $10,000 (I’d be glad to put in a month of work)

I received good advice from Cory Zue, which was to raise prices. I frequently hear that advice in general, but until Cory said it to me, I didn’t think it applied to Zestful. The service didn’t have any significant customers at the current low price, so it seemed irrational to raise prices and limit sales further. But I realized that raising prices addresses the last item on my Cons list (uncertainty of customer lifetime value).

I originally priced Zestful hoping to make $30-100/month from smaller developers and $1,000-$3,000/month from larger companies. It’s been on the market for almost a year, and I’ve found that very few companies need a service like Zestful. Supporting customers takes time and effort, so if I only have a handful of users, prices need to be much higher.

In short, if I’m going to have serious discussions with customers about using Zestful, the conversation needs to be about a service that costs thousands of dollars, not tens of dollars.

At the end of the month, I changed my price from 0.3 cents per ingredient to 2 cents per ingredient (an increase of 566%). To avoid price gouging early adopters, my existing customers will continue with their old pricing.

A jumpstart for What Got Done

Next is What Got Done, the weekly team status app I launched last month. I promoted it on Twitter, Indie Hackers, and Hacker News, but it didn’t achieve much traction. Then, I published a blog post about it, and it jolted life into the product.

What Got Done had almost zero sign-ups for a month, but ever since publishing the blog post, there have been three to eight sign-ups per day:

What Got Done signup graph
Sign-ups to What Got Done - June 2019

The downside is that these users are all on the free plan. I’ve had three inquiries about a Pro plan, but only one of them seems like a strong possibility.

Right now, I’m not sure whether to keep trying to encourage organic growth from free users in hopes that it will eventually lead to paid users or if I should focus on other projects that bring more immediate revenue.

  • Pros
    • Users are consistently signing up, and some are posting regularly.
    • The service lends itself to viral growth.
      • People want to share their updates with their friends/teammates, and this encourages their friends to join.
    • If it is successful, the potential market is enormous.
  • Cons
    • The current growth could be a temporary bump that will be gone in a month regardless of what I do.
    • I have no evidence that a large number of free users will ever lead to any paying users.

Slowing down on the email tool for copywriters

Lastly, there’s the email tool for copywriters.

It’s just a concept at this point, but I think it’s a promising business idea.

I had several exploratory calls with copywriters in May, but progress froze entirely in June as I focused on What Got Done and Zestful. It’s my most freezable project because I haven’t created anything for it yet, but I do worry that pausing it will kill progress with the prospective customers I’ve already contacted.

  • Pros
    • It’s a market too small to attract large competitors but involves high-value transactions.
      • It’s a small customer base to support, but they’re paying a lot because it brings them significant value.
    • Most writers I’ve interviewed with are unsatisfied with their existing tools and desperate for something better.
  • Cons
    • The market might be too niche.
      • The email copywriters I’ve spoken with all know each other, so I’m not sure if it’s just a consequence of the network where I found them or if there really are only a few dozen people who have this job.
    • The amount of work to create an MVP is higher than for other ideas I’ve had.

A brief experiment with display ads on Is It Keto

Since December, the only way I’ve monetized Is It Keto has been through Amazon Affiliate ads. This month, Ezoic approached me about putting display ads on Is It Keto. Is It Keto barely met their minimum audience requirement of 10k unique users per month, so I decided to check it out.

They promised that I wouldn’t have to do any work — just point my DNS records to their CDN, and they’d place the ads for me. I was skeptical because modifying a site layout is nontrivial, so how were they going to do it well for thousands of partner sites?

As soon as I saw the results, I hated it. I’ve never considered Is It Keto to be the most beautiful site on the web, but Ezoic’s ads made it look like cheap, spammy garbage.

Before and after screenshots of Is It Keto
Is It Keto - Before and after Ezoic ads

The final straw was when Ezoic inserted ads that screwed up my site layout on mobile devices.

Screenshot of bad ad on Is It Keto
Ezoic ad screws up Is It Keto's layout on mobile devices

I reported this to Ezoic, and they claimed that it should never happen. They asked how I observed it, and I told them I used dev tools on Chrome desktop to emulate a Pixel 2 device. Ezoic said it was just a bug in Chrome’s mobile emulation but wouldn’t happen on real devices. A few days later, I saw that Google Search was downranking me because they detected that my layout was broken on mobile:

Graph of errors in Google Search Console
Google Search Mobile Usability Dashboard - before and after Ezoic ads

I immediately turned off Ezoic and have no plans to return.

For the 11 days it ran, Ezoic generated $45.49 in revenue from 5,452 unique visitors. That’s ~$8 per 1,000 visitors, nearly double the revenue I would have earned from Amazon alone. Still, it wasn’t enough for me to reduce the quality of the site so drastically.

Wrap up

What got done?

Lessons learned

  • Even when your sales are negligible, there are benefits to raising prices.
    • Raising prices eliminates distractions from customers who can’t spend enough to make the service viable.
  • Ezoic pays pretty well, but they make sites look like garbage and screw up SEO.

Goals for next month

  • Conduct five calls with new customers (either for What Got Done, Zestful, or the email tool)
  • Implement two commonly-requested Zestful features (matching ingredients to USDA entries and support for multi-ingredient strings)
    • And then stop working on Zestful (unless a customer spends or pre-pays $100+)
  • Add two engagement-encouraging features to What Got Done:
    • Email reminder on Friday if you haven’t submitted an entry
    • Support for “reactions” to entries (e.g., thumbs up, happy face)

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