Idea to Paying Customers in 7 Weeks: How We Did It

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This is the first of an ongoing series of posts called Building Buffer where we share our methods and learnings with the aim to help people and learn from others who have had similar experiences. We’d love your comments.

Rewind…

I’ve learned more in the two and a half month period since I launched Buffer than ever before. I am very excited to let you know we now have over 500 users, many of whom are active, and we are generating revenue through our paid monthly plans at a conversion rate of around 4% of people upgrading. Let’s go back to the very beginning.

A twinkle of an idea

It was a tiny idea. I wanted to take the scheduling feature of many Twitter clients and apps and make that single feature awesome. I believed that single feature was worthy of its own application. The aim was to create something genuinely useful with a delightful experience. The fundamental idea was to create a way to queue up tweets without scheduling each tweet individually. This is an idea I had after using other Twitter scheduling applications for the purpose of ensuring I didn’t flood people with 5 tweets at once whilst reading my tech & startup news in the morning. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I’d suggested it to existing apps and they hadn’t implemented it. It was time to build it myself

Keeping version 1 minimal. No, more minimal than that.

I’m an advocate of the lean startup principles which Eric Ries proposes. With my first startup, I learned a huge amount about the principles and I tried to implement them as much as I could. I found that practice is much harder than theory. I even started coding Buffer before I’d tested the viability of the business. As soon as I realised that, I stopped, took a deep breath and told myself: do it the right way this time. It was time to test whether people wanted this product.

In Ries’ guide to Minimum Viable Products, one of the key things he answers is “how minimal should your Minimum Viable Product be?”. Here’s his answer:

Probably much more minimum than you think

I had read that line so many times. I’d even told others. It was time to do it myself.

The smallest test

Here’s what we launched with:

The aim of this two-page MVP was to check whether people would even consider using the app. I simply tweeted the link and asked people what they thought of the idea. After a few people used it to give me their email and I got some useful feedback via email and Twitter, I considered it “validated”. In the words of Eric Ries, I had my first “validated learning” about customers. It was time to gain a little more validated learning.

Learning more

So we had validated that people probably wanted the product. The next thing to validate was whether people were comfortable with paying for such a product. This was as simple as adding a page in between the two which showed pricing. One extra click before they gave me their email for a notification when we launch. The extra step tests the pricing (by detecting which plan they click on) and also tests further the demand for the product (one extra click, so they must be keen). Here’s what we did:

The result of this experiment was that people were still clicking through and giving me their email and a small number of people were clicking on paid plans. After this result, I didn’t hesitate to start building the first minimal version of the real, functioning product.

The launch

I was lucky enough that coincidentally there was a little buzz on Hacker News about a “November Startup Sprint” where lots of people agreed to try and get something launched by the end of November. After initially grossly underestimating how long it would take to build the first working version of Buffer (I told people 1 week!), I decided to give myself a cut off point of the end of November, to tie in with the Startup Sprint. This resulted in building the first version in evenings and weekends over a period of 7 weeks. There were a number of features which I felt were quite vital, such as a guided step by step signup process, which I had to leave out because the end of November came round rather fast. I had committed to launch and I stuck with that commitment. Buffer went live on the 30th November and I got some great feedback from the Hacker News community.

Being prepared for a long journey with lots of course-correction

When I started building Buffer, I had already experienced building a previous product where things did not go quite according to plan. Luckily, this prepared me to be patient with uptake of the service, and to be willing to change things quite a lot until I reached something that would be truly valuable for people. It also taught be the value of customer development: to take advantage of those emails coming in by asking people questions. With my previous product, I did not reach out to enough people and say “is this a problem for you?” in order to validate whether the product was something people may want. After launching a version of Buffer I was quite embarrassed about, I was fully expecting for it to have a fairly poor uptake and to have to work a lot to adjust the product in order to gain active users and paying customers. Whether or not the goal is reached sooner or later than expected, there are always times in the ups and downs of the journey where this patience is required, so I value it as an overall mindset for Buffer.

Taking advantage when things go well

Despite being prepared for a long journey, and some things later on requiring that patient mindset, I was lucky with Buffer. It was evident that I had hit a chord with users and I am solving a problem which many people have. I also received a strong signal that the solution provided enough value to build a viable business – I had my first paying customer within 4 days of launching the “rough around the edges” product.

After the first paying customer, I took a step back, acknowledged that as a major milestone and decided a slight shift in focus was required. As a developer, it is easy to pile in more features at that point. I knew it was time to focus on marketing and further customer development. It was time to keep the balance of development, marketing and customer development with a product which had proved it was “good enough”. This has been a valuable lesson I want to take forward: when the signal is there that the product is good enough, shout about it!

What next?

There are always more challenges. Since launching I have got someone else on board to help manage the community and marketing, and I have developed a number of interfaces to the existing data in order to make sense of patterns and validate decisions. We’ve gained a huge amount of press coverage, we’ve worked closely with users on a personal level, we’ve rolled out more features, we’ve changed pricing plans and we’ve implemented an admin activity feed and done cohort analysis. I’m excited to share some of the lessons we’ve learned by doing this in another post on Building Buffer.

Have you had an experience of getting an idea off the ground, or have you had an idea and thought it would take longer to validate it? Are there things you would have done differently? I’d love to hear from you.

  • Joshgoooz

    thank you for the well written inspirational post

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Josh. Are you working on something at the moment?

  • http://blog.japanalicious.com/ Najaf Ali

    I’m absolutely stealing your testing method, that alone is solid gold.

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      That’s fantastic to hear :) Let me know if you think I can help with anything, always happy to answer any questions.

  • http://twitter.com/earlyriser Roberto Martinez

    Could you share how did you get the press coverage?

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Hi Roberto. I think it is partly due to my partial success with a previous venture, and to me being quite vocal about what I’m doing, where I want to get to, etc., especially on Twitter over some time which has helped me to build up a following. That said, I was surprised how quickly it was picked up, and this actually happened to a similar extent when I launched my previous product with less of a following and no track record. I think you might find that if you launch something that people find useful, it naturally attracts attention. We are having a lot of success now with reaching out and asking people if they’d like us to write guest posts, but to begin with we got a lot of press without explicitly asking anyone to write about us. If I was starting again, I’d simply get something live that I could tell people about as soon as I could and then not hesitate to tell people. Once you’re “in the game” you can always assess how you are doing and what you could do better. Hope that helps :)

  • mkuklis

    I love how you tested your idea first. It’s so simple yet so hard to do. As a software dev it’s easy to just start coding. It’s hard to take a deep breath. Awesome post!

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      “It’s so simple yet so hard to do” – you are so right. I didn’t fully embrace it in my first venture, and I even started building without testing this time around before I realised what I was doing. I have a post planned on my blog (http://joel.is) exploring just how important reflection is when building a startup. Thanks for stopping by Michal :)

  • Wil How

    This has been one of the most useful post I’ve read in a while. It’s short, informative and concise. I’m absolutely following your method of testing and launching the idea. Thank you so much.

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Wil, that’s great to hear. I hope you do well, and if you want to bounce any ideas off me just get in touch :)

  • Bart

    Great post and a lot of valuable information. Can you share where you got most of your traffic from? The thing is that the tests you describe are only useful if you have a certain number of people visiting your landing page(s). That is something I’ve had problems with in the past.

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Bart. I got most of the traffic from Twitter – I have been using it consistently for a while and am lucky enough to have quite a few people following me. However, I think even with just a few people clicking through and giving you their email you can get enough validation. I think there’s always a time when you have to take a leap – you can’t always feel completely sure based only on “data”. Can you go into more detail of your past experiences? I’m intrigued.

      • Bart

        I have used a similar approach as you, but my traffic came from AdWords and other forms of advertising. As you can imagine, this approach isn’t cheap when you try to stay lean. In my case, I had to find a healthy balance between investing in this trial and yet gathering enough data get an idea of the viability of the product.

        But as you say, data is only data and there will always be a point where you have to take the plunge and go for it. I’m interested to see Buffer grow.

        By the way, the name is excellent and I love the logo too!

  • http://twitter.com/lorendonelson Loren Donelson

    Great post and execution. What about design for your site? I’ve see a lot of startups on hacker news that have pretty savvy design right from the beginning. Did you hire/befriend a designer?

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Loren. Design is an interesting topic. I’m no designer – I’m a developer at heart. However, I did design as well as develop Buffer. The only part I didn’t do are the icons, which I actually believe are quite a key part of the design. I have had many different projects and I believe it is my experience of those which has prepared me for Buffer and my design ability has improved gradually along the way. So that would be the first thing I’d say – keep designing, even if you’re not a designer. These things take time. That said, I believe there are ways to speed up your pace of improvement.

      What has worked for me is to keep the design as simple as possible. I’ve done that in the past and I think it has come through even more with Buffer. I iterated my designs and questioned each element on the page. In addition to this, be sure to take advantage of the great communities out there. My favourite is Forrst – http://forrst.com. I have literally iterated my designs, and there are specific parts of Buffer which started out looking pretty terrible until I got in touch with the Forrst community and said “I’m not quite happy with this, what could I do differently?”.

      I hope that helps :) For what it’s worth – I’ve collaborated with a designer and I believe it can work in many cases. For me, I wanted to be able to move extremely fast, so I wanted to limit the style of design to that which I could handle completely myself.

      • http://twitter.com/lorendonelson Loren Donelson

        Thanks!

        re: icons they look somewhat familiar. Are they part of a stock set?

      • http://www.edocr.com/ Manoj Ranaweera

        Thanks Joel – was wondering who designed Buffer. Now I know. Just applied for membership to http://forrst.com. Hopefully they will let me in. I designed the top part of http://www.edocr.com and few other pages with bit of HTML – the only qualification

        • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

          Keep it up – if you’ve already done a little then it’s just a matter of more practice :) I would invite you into Forrst but I recently gave away my last invite. If I get some more I’ll be sure to get you in there, and I’ll retweet you in the meantime.

  • http://www.edocr.com/ Manoj Ranaweera

    You are a great inspiration Joel. Even I can see the value of your service now! Keep going!

    Regards
    Manoj

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Manoj. It took a little while to work out how to get the copy and marketing on the landing page right but we’re getting there :) Onwards and upwards!

  • http://twitter.com/jeffreyiacono Jeff Iacono

    Awesome, awesome post – I was wondering, you mentioned: “I had my first paying customer within 4 days of launching …” how did you handle that situation? What threshold did you sent until you implemented a payment gateway?

    • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

      Thanks Jeff. Hopefully I can clear things up a little.

      Prior to launch, the pricing page was up but the product did not exist. When users clicked any of the plans, they were shown a “We’re not ready yet” page where they could give us their email to be notified when we launched.

      When Buffer launched, there were 3 pricing plans as you can see in the screenshot in the post. The ability to pay for the plans was all built in too, which is a simple case of a little HTML code from Paypal. So in a sense, the payment gateway was implemented right away. However, the “Paypal Instant Payment Notification” functionality was not built in, which is the part of Paypal which handles automatically upgrading accounts when someone pays. The initial part with the HTML is a task which only takes a few minutes, but the IPN takes a few hours if not more to write. I had no idea whether it would be 4 months, 4 weeks or 4 days before the first person upgraded so I didn’t implement the IPN functionality. Instead I focused all precious my time on tasks which would lead to that first upgrade. Luckily, it was 4 days. It did not upgrade them right away, but I got an email and most of the time I saw that email within a few minutes and then went and updated their user level to the paid option in the database manually. The threshold before I implemented the IPN was probably around 5 people upgrading to paid plans. People didn’t mind that there was a slight delay – if they emailed me before I managed to manually change their account and email them then I just apologised and said it is still early days, thanked them for upgrading and told them to get in touch if they had questions or suggestions.

      Overall, I think it is about staying lean, which means avoiding waste. So it comes down to timing – implement things when you’ve validated that you need them.

      Hope that helps :)

      • http://twitter.com/jeffreyiacono Jeff Iacono

        Joel, thanks for the detailed response! Yeah, totally understood that the product did not yet exist when the payment page was up. I was curious how you handled people that signed up, offered to pay (maybe even did via PayPal), but then saw that there was no product yet. Emailing them personally and telling them it is early and there is more to come soon is the answer. If you are building something where there is demand, a customer will be willing to wait a bit. You did a fantastic job of incrementally validating that there was at each step and avoiding waste – Eric Ries would be very proud :)

        • http://joel.is/ Joel Gascoigne

          Eric Ries has had a huge impact, I’d be delighted if he approved of my methods :)

          Just to be sure – people couldn’t pay before the product existed. It looked like you could, but when you clicked a plan it simply asked for the email for future notification. I’m not sure it would always be the case, but for me adding in the ability to pay (just a bit of HTML) took very little time, so I actually launched with that (the real product launch, not the MVP to validate the demand). One thing I remember is that one of the paid features is the ability to use your bit.ly details and I didn’t implement that before I allowed people to pay and upgrade. I remember frantically coding that one evening after someone made it obvious in an email that it was one of their main reasons for upgrading :) I had it ready for them within an hour of them emailing. I guess that’s a good example of keeping lean!

          • http://twitter.com/jeffreyiacono Jeff Iacono

            Ha! Love the story and thanks again for the insider’s look, very helpful.

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  • Good_hands

    Great read!

  • http://www.liink.it Ben Carlson

    I love it! Thanks for this, it has me re-inspired to keep working on my site!

    • http://joel.is Joel Gascoigne

      That’s great to hear Ben! Let me know if you want to bounce any questions off me when you’re trying to build your minimum viable product and get things off the ground, I know it can be a very challenging part of the process! 

      • http://www.liink.it Ben Carlson

        Thanks Joel, my site is already up, in a pretty minimal format: http://liink.it

        I’ve been working on getting the delicious import working, but am thinking that based on delicious being purchased I’ll likely pivot the direction of the site somewhat. I have a number of users, a handful that are very active, but I’ve experienced zero growth for over a month, and I had lost inspiration until now!

        • http://joel.is Joel Gascoigne

          Looks interesting Ben! Couple of questions for you:

          Why do people use liink.it instead of something like Delicious or Zootool?

          Also, do people want their email address in the URL?

          • http://www.liink.it Ben Carlson

            The first question is exactly why I’m considering pivoting… the whole reason I built liink.it in the first place was because of the news (which we now know is invalid) that delicious was closing its doors. I was an avid delicious user since 2005/2006, and have thousands of links on there that I was angry about potentially losing.

            The second question is a common one, people aren’t interested in their email being available to anyone (despite that it isn’t… it still doesn’t look good). Okay, so that being said, my thought was to monetize on that, free account->email in the URL; paid account->userid/acct number, etc. in the URL.

            So, the question I am trying to find an answer for is: what can I change liink.it in to?

  • http://twitter.com/Clark_Jill Jill Clark

    Gotta love Twitter for traffic generation!

    Great post, very inspiring and so happy to hear how much success you guys have had!! *high-five*

  • http://twitter.com/iapprovethismsg Ben Donahower

    404 error with icon set link :(

    • http://joel.is Joel Gascoigne

      Oh, try now Ben :)

  • http://twitter.com/jordan_price Jordan

    I’m going to tweak this method a bit and apply it to an ebook idea I want to launch. Thank you for this super useful post! 

  • http://twitter.com/azodi Adrian Azodi

    Helping others develop MVP and execute that test method alone would be a viable business in my opinion, particularly now, with all the action in the startup world these days. 

    Just signed up for the Pro version, excited to see where you both take this!

  • Michele

    thanks for this share here – myself it was the other way around – am primary a ‘visual’ person/designer and learned code along the way – today [after many years] it’s 50/50 for me.
    But it also has pitfalls: when you ‘have’ to delegate finally, the aspect of ‘knowing exactly not only what you want but also need – makes it often hard to work with your counter part, may it be a designer/programmer friend or employee. What a developer actually would need – too bad we are using such a small percentage of our brain as of yet – is an instant snapshot of the visual in your head – lol.

  • http://twitter.com/Ajibz Ajibz

    Reading this post has made me rethink the marketing / launch strategy for my idea. I have been toiling with potential models for some time, but i think i have finally gotten it. A great many thanks for this post. Will let you know of the outcome.

  • http://twitter.com/buzzdan Dan

    Thanks for the post. Great quote in there from Eric. We always want to build more but we should always just release and test assumptions. Difficult urge to fight sometimes.

    We had a similar breakthrough realisation lately that if we don’t have traffic (and people clicking plans & pricing like your example) nothing else even matters. So that’s now our focus.

    Great work and being seeing buffer everywhere lately.

  • Matt

    Hey Joel.  This is an awesome post.  Have you had any experience with in-person customer development, i.e. “getting out of the buildng?”  What we are trying to develop is a webapp and mobile tool for a well established industry that may not necessarily be searching for our product on the web.  It complicates things even more that I work in the industry that we are trying to innovate and I do not want to compromise my current “day job” by interviewing colleagues and clients about my start up project.  This is the first start up I have been involved with and I want to make sure I validate properly.  I have the industry contacts, credibility and experience to schedule interviews and understand the feedback, but the best approach now seems to be setting up the meetings disguised as validating an idea for a “friend,” who is actually working on the project with me.  I want to be scrappy and get things done, but at the same time want to be smart about not misleading potential clients.  Any thoughts?  Thanks alot for all your awesome start up knowledge.

  • http://byderekj.com Derek Jensen

    Truly think more startups and people either releasing products or launching a project needs to gather more data from the user instead of just their email. By testing to see if people would be interested in paying for something right away is good to adjust the marketing approach if need be. 

    On a live stream of Daniel Burka he talked about how when creating the Oink app launch page they chose to go with “Connect with Twitter” rather than email address because they were able to retrieve more data. 

    He also talked about how you can get more data out of people if you first give them a glimpse of the experience. If it is good they will please you with more data. If they don’t then you’ve got some more work to do. 

    What are your thoughts on having people feel a part of something like a Kickstarter project?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that’s a pretty darn clever way to do it: though I guess it also might anger a small percentage of people that expect the product to be ready. I agree with the whole notion of creating a minimally viable product and being able to launch something that gets paying customers from nothing in just 7 weeks is impressive. I don’t care how experienced you are, actually launching a product and shipping it is a ton of work. Even minimalist products take a ton of work. Building up a product, writing all of the copy, and then promoting it is a ton of work. Yes there are numerous ways (see http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com for example) to promote your site but the thing is that you’re always so busy coding that its hard to focus on the other stuff. 

    PS: Joel I had the idea for something similar to BufferApp a long time ago and wish you all the best and am excited to see how it works out for you and what features you add.

  • Anonymous

    I have to admit this is the first time someone saying “good enough” has
    made sense. Previously, it sounded slacker-esque and more about cutting
    corners than cutting back and staying focused. Now I’m curious. Are you using it incorrectly, or was everyone else not interpreting it correctly? :)

  • Ben

    Very interesting post, also made me read the rest of your blog which I totally liked.

    Lets say I have 2-3 ideas I would like to test this way, how can I do it with minimal investment? (one dilemma for example is whether to buy different domains names and hosting for each of those ideas? or is there a simpler more efficient solution…)

  • Chastity_girl22

    i’m late coming in and i didn’t read ALL the posts but i was wondering, do you think this method would work for any type of startup, like selling ebooks for instance?

  • http://twitter.com/bownty bownty!

    I recently wrote how the boys at a Danish daily deal aggregator (bownty.com) kick-started their startup (see here: http://blog.bownty.com/2011/08/15/how-to-start-a-business-the-bownty-story/ , and from an outsiders point of view (I joined later to do social media), who merely recorded the process in black and white, I find it very interesting how many similarities there are between success stories. Something along the lines of.. keep your headknob straight on your shoulders, think/test before you “do” and the rest will follow.

    Also – I bloody LOVE your product!

  • Anonymous

    This is great. Exactly the right way to build a business today. In fact, I was going to write up a very similar post of my business back early last year before we launched our product, took us 6 weeks from idea to product. Unfortunately, my business partners got cold feet at the last minute and refused to ship our MVP. Ah well, live and learn. Glad you guys are doing well. I am one of those paying customers ;)

  • Anonymous

    This is great advice. Wish I had come across this post sooner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=664106996 Whei Wong

    did you actually spend on marketing when you were at the beginning stage to validate if it was a viable business? as in, how did the people find your site? 

  • http://twitter.com/SSayzzz Simon Sayz

    Absolutely love the “The smallest test” method to validate your idea. I have been reading The Lean Startup and this article have shown a very good way to clearly and rapidly see if an idea have any futur. Most of the time entrepreneurs waste valuable time trying to figure out which ideas they should work on and your method is a great way to ease the choice.

    I have been working on one of my idea and when I read your blog post, I realized that I had it all wrong. Before investing too much time in it, I should make sure there is demand for it just like you did. Thanks for sharing your experience Joel and helping others just like you helped me!

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  • Billy Han

    Joel,

    Thanks for this gem of a post. This mirrors, well, actually, it clarifies and reinforces much of what I saw at your presentation. So again, thank you for the inspiration!

  • http://twitter.com/keithrozario Keith Rozario

    this is inspiring man…Thanks. I love buffer and continue to use it for promoting stuff on twitter, but I really loved the story behind it . Amazing!

  • http://twitter.com/ediblelandesign Edible Landscaping

    Incredible article … so many great launch ideas! … and I ADORE Buffer, I tell all my webmaster buddies about it. You are saving my binge-tweeting life (not to mention that it makes weekends a breeze!). I’m seeing all sorts of benefits from tweetin’ round the clock. Keep up the good work!

  • http://twitter.com/igorsyl Igor Sylvester

    Joel, would you mind sharing the html for this landing page?  Or, explain what tools you used to build it?

    • Michael Thomas

      Hey Igor,

      I’m not Joel, but I think I can help :) For all my landing pages I use a tool called Unbounce. It’s really intuitive and has been the easiest to use so far.

      http://www.shelfbeta.com is one of my most recent landing pages and as you can see it doesn’t look too shabby!

      I’ve also used WordPress and Weebly in the past, but I don’t think they are as quick and I find I don’t have full control over my design.

      • Andrew

        it looks pretty crappy mate

  • Jay

    Brilliant!
    Thanks for sharing, and inspiring:)
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4713057 Scott Lieberman

    Great use of the Lean Startup principles! I love to see when people actually apply them in the real world instead of just theory. I work at Intuit (not exactly lean) and managers have started to use the terminology in all of the wrong situations – it’ll be great to have a tangible example I can point them to. Good work and thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.johnmcfarlane.me.uk/ John McFarlane

    Joel, how organised were you with what you were going to build before actually building the app and testing whether there was interest with the method you write about here?

    It makes a lot of sense not to build until you know if you should but i’m wondering how many (including yourself) are still working on the app with preparation, not coding yet but maybe sketching the UI, or making a tiny list of features or having a designer ready, or if a designer then getting a developer ready, or do you leave all of that aside until ready to code?

    What if you cant design or code and will outsource the work? I think it will be a good idea to still work on what will need to go into the early coded working app.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christine.mcveigh2 Christine Mcveigh

    Thanks for sharing Leo. Great post!

  • http://www.guotime.com/2012/03/3-simple-ways-to-stay-inspired-motivated-as-an-entrepreneur/ grant

    I imagine you had lots of ideas and tried to see which ones you would like to work on, how did u filter out all the other ideas and decide to “test” this one. I find myself struggle with finding the focus once I’m in the exploration phase (ie. evaluating opportunities after a few failures)

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      It may be different for the Buffer team, but something that has worked for my teams has been evaluating ideas based on size/scope (e.g. will this take one day to create/implement, a week, a month?) and predicted impact (e.g. will this return a lot of really useful information or one specific tidbit?)

      More often than not things that were scoped to take only a few minutes were queued to test quickly, but items that were large in scale and had a predicted large impact were always higher on the list of things to work on.

      Hope that helps.

  • http://www.hacktabs.com/ Anoop Sudhakaran

    This is a powerful blog post. Love the way you tested the viability of your business before (soon after) starting to code your app. Thanks for posting behind the scenes of this awesome app. Have been using Buffer for quite sometime.

    One suggestion I have is to let users have custom URL shorteners. I haven’t been able to find this in the app.

    Thanks. :)

  • Bogdan Neacsu

    I’ve listened by chance in Umano App the article posted on Lifehacker.com and I found it very helpful and motivating. This article helped me to find BUFFER and it’s blog. Both are right what I need at this moment. I appreciate your willing in helping others to learn something from your experience with Buffer and previews early startups.
    THANK YOU!
    You said that your previews experience and mistakes you made helped you in creating BUFFER.
    Can you tell us more about your previews achieves and mistakes?

  • Michael Thomas

    Hey Joel,

    Awesome post! I found this post after Carolyn (on your team) suggested I check it out, so thanks to both of you.

    I’d love your thoughts on my most recent project: http://www.shelfbeta.com

    I’m also a big proponent of lean startup and landing page validated ideas. In the last two days since launching the site, I have about 100 pageviews and 20 sign ups.

    Shelf is something I want for myself, because I’ve always been interested in what thought leaders are reading right now and find myself sharing a lot of articles directly with friends. For example, I’d love to know what you’re reading right now as a mid to later stage startup founder. Once built my thinking is that the user flow looks like this: you use a Chrome extension to put an article, blog post or essay on your Shelf, then tag it (ie. leadership, social media, politics) and then eventually receive suggestions based on what content you’re reading. Your friends and “followers” would then be able to see what you are putting on your Shelf.

    In many ways, it would act like the right side bar in Spotify that shows what your friends and favorite artists are listening to but instead this would tell what they are reading.

    I think it differs from Twitter and Facebook because I’m not always interested in reading the same content as my friends post. However, I do care about what they are up to and I’d never unfriend them just to have a more focused newsfeed.

    I’d love your thoughts on the idea!

  • Amit

    Hi Joel – great write up. The validation philosophy is one that Noah Kagan of AppSumo also promotes and its absolutely the “Street Smart” way of doing things. Also the fact that you used existing products that were lacking and that your feedback was not worked upon just goes to show that a business opportunity lies EVERYWHERE and that NO company can afford to ignore the smallest feedback. I really believe that the most powerful contribution a customer (free or paid) can make to a business is a good critical feedback. It is a free source of consultancy around UI, Functionality, NPD, etc. I absolutely love Buffer, your company culture + values + transparency and both your and Leo’s blogs. Its also great how much new age entrepreneurs (you both, Noah, Tim Ferris, and countless others) are giving back to the worldwide community. Kudos.

    I think Buffer will be a breakthrough company in the history of Internet marketing – its a product that every individual & company needs to manage their online image. I’m tracking you guys and the company’s growth very eagerly. Godspeed.

  • Wilson

    Hi Joel,

    Great post! Could you further explain your reasoning on why you decided to go with a 2 page MVP instead of a 1 page thus eliminating one extra step.

    From my understanding, you decided to go with 2 pages because by making the user click one more time, it proves that they are more eager for the product to have to go through more work? Could you confirm if this is your intent?

    Thanks,

    Wilson

    • http://www.readysetstartup.com/ Susan Jones

      Leadpages has shown that you get a better conversion rate with a two step opt-in process. The theory is that you get them to commit with a no-brainer action first (a click) and then once they have made that commitment they are more likely to put in their email address in the next step.

  • Reymon Reyes

    I like this article so much. It gave me an idea how to I could improve my side project which I’m about to launch soon.

    http://www.yurreka.com
    ideas | discover | explore

  • paruls86

    Great post. I am working on an idea with my partner and both of us know as much about coding as we know about rocket science. I put up a basic page just for the sake of it and have started talking about it in some startup communities. This helps a lot

  • kokfi

    Hi, thanks for having shared your experience. I have one question if you do not mind. what channels did you use to publish your page (ex: adwords.)? thanks in advance.

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  • Jobsamuel Núñez

    Awesome story!

    Thanks for made me realized that I need to validate my idea in order to keep coding and building my startup. I going to follow this approach before June ends.

    Regards from Venezuela, Joel.

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  • Dallas Goldswain

    This is the most inspirational post i have read on my new journey, i love the idea and it is a great aid to Eric’s book which i am reading. I am going to use this to help test the viability of my service as a product idea i have.

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  • DianeMonroe

    Great article, thanks Joel

    I thought about going a bit further, with my web based idea. It’s online calendering for a very particular industry.

    1. Work out approximate costs (to me) for a year, for the first 100 users. See if I am willing to stand that.

    2. Offer it free. With no mention of paid version. Shut down to new users if/when I get to 100

    3. Promote like mad.

    4. See who signs up, if they use it. IOW, is it viable.

    5. Then offer the paid for versions. And close down the free one.

    6. Decide whether I’m prepared to leave the original free users as is, or ‘force’ them to upgrade.

    Or some version of that. It is just a bit further than the ‘see what interest there is’ version. But essentially I’d just be paying a bit (hosting, traffic) for market research.

    Some of the original users might be upset, but as they didn’t pay anything there’s probably no legal recourse. Or if I leave them as is but offer the ‘extra features’ to paying customers they’ve nothing to complain about.

    How does that sound?