$15,000/mo in 100 days. Here's how we got here...
I'm about to hit "publish."What's the worst that could happen, right?Mm... maybe we should wait until tomorrow.Let me get back to this after taking a few calls....Alright, let's do this.*Few more hours more of pondering*Screw it. *Click*The first version of Rype was live.At this point, I was feeling too anxious to take it all in, but it propelled us on a completely new journey from that moment on.Before this, we were manually pairing up our coaches and students without a platform to stand on.Now, our members could feel and get an initial glimpse of the company we envisioned building.Was our product perfect? Far from it.But it did embark us on some of the biggest lessons we've learned about growing our company.And we thought we would share the best ones here with you today. We hope it helps you.
Why we're sharing our journey
Rype is still at its infancy. And we have a long way to go.Everyday we're learning new things about our customers, and discovering new ways to grow the company that we never could have imagined, even a month ago.While our business is currently centered around helping you learn a language, we're an education company first. This is the #1 core value that we share in our Manifesto.I wished there was a destination that shared the valuable lessons, milestones, and even failures on a company's journey, before I started my journey as an entrepreneur. And this is what we hope to accomplish here.There are companies we deeply respect that are 10x bigger than we are, who are also sharing their startup journey along the way. And we'll reference their lessons here too, as we've learned a ton from them.But while most of these companies started sharing their journey after a larger milestone (i.e. $1M/year), we've decided to share ours earlier for 2 main reasons:
1. Every time I speak with the founders that are also sharing their startup journey, they wish they would have started earlier.
"It bears repeating over and over again: content marketing has been the single biggest driver of growth for our company.
Not advertising (which we don’t do).
Not affiliate marketing (which we probably won’t do).
And not referrals (which we do but need to do better).
Like many of these lessons, if I had known better, I would’ve done this from day one"-Alex Turnbull, CEO of GrooveHQ.com
2. We can help more people with our message.
While I truly enjoy reading about the influencers in the startup world, a lot of the content they shared didn't resonate with me at first.The strategies, mindset, and resources of a company will constantly transform as the business evolves.I may love reading about how a company went from $1M to $10M today, but it didn't interest me as much when I haven't launched my business yet.
Where we are today
Every business has a slow start, and ours was no different.One of the difficulties of building a subscription business is that it takes time to build up. In our case, we're asking customers to sign up for a bigger commitment than a small one-off purchase, with the goal of delivering more.The good news is that if you're patient, provide amazing value for your customers, and stay focused on growth -- it adds up.We're on track to hit $15K/mo in revenue this month (up from $1,200 in Feb).
We're still a tiny company, but we've learned a ton getting to this stage in our company.This is what we hope to share with you today.
1. Building a Company, Not a Tool
One of the biggest lessons I learned building my previous business was the importance of building a company, not just a tool.In the early stage of building your business, getting to product/market fit should be the top priority for any company. So this is not to say that you shouldn't be obsessed with building the best possible product for your customers. It just shouldn't be the only thing you focus on.
It's interesting to think about how often the life of a silicon valley startup is simply product building rather than company building. ?
— Joel Gascoigne (@joelgascoigne) March 26, 2016
The companies I respect the most not only have amazing products, they have a powerful message they stand for, and work to design their company culture, product roadmap, and story around it.Instead of building a company around their product, they've built a product around their company and their message.This isn't easy. It involves stepping back from the day-to-day grind, and observing your business from a top-level perspective to answer what you want your company to represent, who you want to serve, and ultimately why you're building this company in the first place.
Crafting our Manifesto from Day 1 was not mandatory, but it has helped clarify some of our most important decisions, such as who we want to hire, what type of customers we want to attract, and even sharing our startup journey on this blog.
2. Shooting Bullets First, Then Cannons
"Bullets before cannons" is a term that was introduced in the bestselling book, Great By Choice. After analyzing some of the most successful companies, the author Jim Collins discovered that all of these companies adopted the same methodology when it came to growing their businesses.They shot bullets before cannons.
Bullets are miniature cannonballs. They’re inexpensive, low risk, and easy to shoot. Outcomes are obvious.Examples of shooting bullets:
- Spending $5/day on a new Facebook Ad Set
- Spending 20% of your time building side projects (ex. Google)
- Building a landing page without a product to see if visitors sign up or purchase your product
We consider bullets that don't distract us from the core business, cost little to no money, and have minimum downsides. The goal is shoot enough small bullets to maximize your chances of having a bullet catch on, while minimizing your risk.When you find something that works, it's time to fire 'Cannon balls', which means doubling down on proven channels.Examples of firing cannons:
- Hiring a dedicated person/team to focus on building a validated product
- Going from spending $5/day to $100/day on a campaign that's working
- Scaling your business from one location to multiple locations
The "bullets before cannons" approach is something we follow religiously at Rype. We could've launched with multiple languages at Rype, but we decided to focus on just Spanish first. This month, we're going to be launching French, but it took us a year to validate our core business with Spanish (bullets) before even thinking about expanding.Now we're just systematically repeating a proven process with other languages to grow our reach (cannons).
3. K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple)
The more we try to fight this advice from others, the harder we've fallen.After finally learning our lesson and putting simplicity into our pricing, landing page, product, etc., we've been heavily rewarded for this.To give you an example, we revamped our landing page recently which nearly doubled our conversion rate from landing page visitor to membership plans visitor.
At first glance, the first version may seem less complicated than the revamped version because of its length, but the user flow of the revamped version was much simpler.
Notice how the direction of the flow in the second (and more simplified version) is all leading to one direction: the membership plans page.We went a step further and displayed only one plan on our membership page.
By removing feature and pricing comparison from our visitors, we've also removed analysis paralysis and made it simple for people to take action.Only good things have come for us by keeping things simple, and moving forward, we're only going to continue to simplify our product, message, and pricing.
4. You're Probably Not Charging Enough (Raise Prices)
Raising your price is never easy. But it's necessary.If you're building a real business, cash is king. Cash helps you make your product better, hire better talent, and ultimately make your customers happier. As a bootstrapped company, customer-funding is the only capital we depend on. The biggest lesson we've learned is that customers who truly value your service will pay for what your service is worth. If you're undercharging, reconsider.
"Don’t raise money, raise prices. Sell sell sell. Get as much practice as you can. Force yourself to practice. Force yourself to learn how to make money as early as you can. You may hate it in the short-term, but it’ll make you a great businessperson in the long term."-Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp
We've increased our pricing multiple times as we continued to improve our product, and it has only helped us deliver a better experience for new customers. The easiest way to know is to look at the numbers: our churn rate has decreased by 33% and trial to member rate has increased slightly (as some trial members just lack of time, commitment, or finances).The one thing that's an absolute must is to make sure your current customers are grandfathered into the original pricing. They're the ones that have supported you to this point, and they should be able to ride the journey with you.
5. Content Is King(But Distribution Is The Queen)
We write, a lot.From guest posting on various blogs and writing on this blog, we write around 5 articles per week that are 1,000+ words long.It's work, but it has paid off -- big time.Our blog, which attracts ~30,000 uniques/month today, is our single biggest driver of growth, and it will only continue to increase over time.By spending that extra few hours to do the research, cut out unnecessary sentences, find beautiful pictures, and respond to each comment, we've reaped the benefits of making our content stand out amongst the rest.
But the biggest lesson we've learned is that while content is king, distribution is the queen.This was especially the case when no one knew who we were, and we had to get our message out there.
"It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.
Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created. Give away the house… and sell the backyard.”-Derek Halpern, Founder of Social Triggers
The exact ratio of 80/20 is up for debate, but the message is clear: spend more time promoting your content than creating more content. Content is king, but if nobody sees it, none of it matters.Start building relationships with influencers in your industry, go to forums on Facebook, Quora, and Reddit, and do everything you can to get your message out there. It pays off.
6. Making Faster Decisions(And Don't Be Afraid to Break Sh*t)
Like learning any new skill, decision making gets faster and easier with repetition and training. When we studied the top entrepreneurs in the world, they all had one common trait: ability to make faster decisions, without being afraid to break sh*t in the process.At any stage of the company, there are hundreds of small to big decisions running through your head.Whether it's deciding who to hire, whether or not to raise money, or what our next product release should be, making these high-level decisions have not been easy. But we realized that as an early-stage company, speed is everything.This is probably the biggest skill that I'm personally working to improve, and being comfortable with the uncomfortable is just something we'll all have to get used to as the impact of our decisions become greater.
7. Focusing on 10X Wins(Not 2X)
I'm often surprised to learn how much of the day can get clogged up with inessential tasks without realizing. These are small wins that don't have a big impact on our desired end goals.Maybe you can relate.When I look back to the big wins that actually moved us forward, it came from big changes. It didn't come from changing the "Get Started" button from blue to green, from experimenting with email send times, nor did it come from changing our header images.Changing pricing, launching new projects, positioning -- these were the 10x wins that helped us get 100%+, 200%+ increases in revenue, conversion rate, and engagement.Here's a useful question I always ask before I plan our goals and activities for the day, week, month, and year: "What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"
To give you an idea:
- If you want to gain weight: your ONE Thing could be doing maximum weight and low reps and only focusing on multifunctional exercises
- If you want to grow your business: your ONE Thing could be writing high quality blog posts 2x/week to build a loyal audience
This is not an easy question to answer, but if you can figure out the ONE Thing for your business, health, job, relationship -- it'll help you become much more effective in less time.
We've come a long way since we wrote our first post on this blog, and we've even made a few friends along the way (thank you!).There's so much we have planned for Rype and our vision to become "your personal coach" for languages and beyond.Over the next few months, we'll be launching new languages, exploring new marketing channels, and of course continuing to make our product and support the best it can possibly be.We've got a long way to go before we can become the company we envision.Which brings us to Lesson #8: Patience.It's possibly the biggest trait that differentiates good companies and great companies.Luckily, we're loving the journey of sculpting our vision, and we're learning more every single day.We have no doubt that the lessons we share in our next update will be very different than the ones we shared today -- as they should be. But we'll always be putting these fundamentals into practice, no matter what stage we are at in the company:
#1. Building a Company, Not a Tool
#2. Shooting Bullets First, Then Cannons
#3. K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple)
#4. You're Probably Not Charging Enough (Raise Prices)
#5 Content Is King (But Distribution Is The Queen)
#6. Making Faster Decisions (And Don't Be Afraid to Break Sh*t)
#7. Focusing on 10X Wins (Not 2X)
We hope you will too.