- 1200 upvotes on Product Hunt
- 3rd product of the day on Product Hunt
- 3500 customers from AppSumo
- $50K revenue
- Risky to build a product without customer feedback
- Need people to commit to something to get honest feedback
- Submit product to beta directories to get initial customers
- Product Hunt helps you get feedback
- Product Hunt launch does not guarantee media mentions
- AppSumo helps in getting cash injection
- AppSumo brings insane amount of traffic
- Don’t give up if you fail to scale your product
- Don’t be afraid of losing brand reputation
- There is nothing to lose for startups
Hey Xenia, thank you very much for being on the show. Really appreciate it. So, great profile. Forbes under 30 and you building a great business Planable. You've got over 700 customers. So. I would love to know who you are and why you started Planable.
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on the show.
So I started Planable about four years ago and before that I had a social media marketing agency. I have been in love with the advertising industry since I was a teenager. I think I was always dreaming before working in the ad world, maybe own my own agency, my own shop at some point in time. And that actually happens during my second year of university.
I started my first business. My first venture, I was building social media content plans for brands locally and regionally. And that's when I learned a lot about the challenges that social media managers struggle with when they build content, when they have to collaborate with other colleagues and other stakeholders and companies.
I realized how messy and chaotic the entire process of just aligning a team around the content plan is nowadays, it was all happening in, excels and PowerPoints and email. And I felt that it was just not the best way to work on moving graphic and visual content, really hard to gather feedback and centralize it.
And I felt like. Me and my team and our clients were, you know, wasting more time on just the nitty-gritty and the tedious, the boring, rather than what we were supposed to do, you know, just create a strategy and that's how, you know, Planable got started. My two other co-founders, they have worked in the industry as well.
They, you know, saw their colleagues or have experienced the problem themselves. So, you know, we got together and decided that this needs to stop. We need to find a solution and marketers deserve to work a little bit better. And yeah, I can tell you very quickly what is Planable to us for everyone that's, you know, not familiar with the company.
We're a collaboration platform for social media teams and we make it super easy for teams to prototype content so that they can actually visualize how their posts are going to look like in the end, before publishing them, and collaborate with their team in a very, easy to use interface. So, they can easily get an idea throughout review or feedback, cooperation, planning to publish in the end. So yeah, that's fun.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our customers are two ideal profiles, agencies who by default have a need for collaboration because they have to approve and discuss content plans with their clients before moving forward. And on the other side, it's for Brand’s larger teams. So a larger head count off of social media managers or marketers that are involved in social and they need to discuss collaboration.
They don't sit at the same table probably so it's, you know, they need a tool to do that, or they work from home nowadays. So they need somewhere to discuss those posts.
So now let's talk about your early days when you first started product development. Did you develop a product and then work for the customers, or you start in the beginning where you had customers lined up, not many customers, users lined up when you were talking to them and building the product at the same time. What was the process like?
Yeah, not necessarily. No. I think we build the product with this huge hope in ourselves and intuition, that this is going to work. It's crazy a bit now that you know, I'm looking backwards and realizing how risky that was, but we did it with this faith and the product that we had. I think it also helped that, you know, we were from the industry and we kind of knew how other agencies, other, you know, marketers are working.
It was risky because we didn't have experience how others from across the world were working. If that's, you know, a legit problem for them. But then we launched the product's first version, and we had a few customer development interviews. So we only had like a few prototypes, just a few sketches that we were showing to people.
We were building the product in parallel, but at the same time, you know, showing the sneak-peek.
When you were showing the sketches to customers what was the feedback you were getting?
Yeah. The feedback was pretty good. You know, people are very, I don't know how to say they're kind to people who are starting a company, so encouraging of course.
But at the same time, I felt like people were empathizing with the problem. I feel like, you know, that's actually correct. You know, this is a problem indeed in space. So that encouraged us to keep moving.
The question was because I experienced something very similar before, where we showed the sketches to early customers, potential customers and they loved it.
Yeah. They love the idea. They gave us feedback. And when we launched that and they never used it because they were just too happy with whatever they were using at the same time at that particular time. So even though we gave them something that would replace a ton of different applications and they were just not willing to switch over.
So there was a massive switching cost, which we didn't really anticipate related to it.
Good. Very good fact too. There's this book called the Mom Test that, you know, teaches you about customer development and how you're supposed to ask questions like, okay. You know, are you experiencing this problem?
Okay, good. Great. have you tried to solve it on your own? So that actually tells you, you know, if people are really struggling or if the problem is really painful for them, have you tested anything out there?
Are you willing to pay for it, you know, and get some kind of like little commitment from them, you know, would you be willing to test it with this specific client or with this specific pilot so that, you know, you made them come in and it's called the the Mom Test because if you go to your mom and tell her an idea, she's going to love it every single time. And you need to get people to commit to something. If you want to get raw, honest feedback from them.
So let me ask you this, even after doing all of that, do you get real feedback on sketches versus a real product.
Yeah, that's a good point. I think with sketches and prototypes, you need to show people something and it's really at a very early stage where you need to realize how they're working. What are they using at the moment? Are they struggling with the problem?
What's the concerns that they're going through? So it's the first phase of the discovery with the product. It's more like feedback on your product. Actually, the other one is more about finding them.
Great. Great. So when you did a product launch, what happened?
Let's talk about your product launch, the first MVP launch, first version.
So the first version we launched during a startup competition actually, right before the startup competition we launched it on platforms such as Beta Page and Beta Lists, you know, forums like this for beta products. And we got a few subscribers.
We got, yeah, a few hundred, I would say a couple, three to 500 users that were, you know, testing the product in the span of a couple of months. So that was, you know, a sign that, Oh, this looks like something people might actually need. We might have, you know, those loads of work might actually pay off.
That was the first thing that we did but it was not scalable, so it seems like we exhausted the entire user base that was potentially interested in our product from the Beta page and Beta lists and other similar websites. And the next step that we did was launch on a Product Hunt, but that happened a few months after the initial.
Can you go back to when you had those three, 400 people who signed up, how many of those people that ended up using the product? Just for an idea, because, I know a lot of people sign up, but very few people use a product. It doesn't matter how good the product is.
We're probably not that good at analytics and funnels and all of those things that we've been for Planable but when I introduced monetization for the product, I would say that a very small percent actually stuck with us out of those that tested us initially. But I know that one or two of them actually ended up being lifelong customers or followers, which is not a bad outcome I would say.
Right. Great. So what does the product look like from the point that you launched the first version until the point you launched on Product Hunt after all that customer feedback and usage?
So we added more features. We, you know, integrated with more platforms. I think initially we just launched with Facebook.
It was a very broad project. You just had the option of connecting to Facebook page, creating posts and just commenting on those posts, like leaving feedback on them, leaving notes. And then between that moment in time, and then the launch on Product Hunt, we added more networks.
We added Twitter and Instagram and LinkedIn, and we really improved the collaboration process. We made it a bit more sophisticated, the common section, the approval system as well. I don't remember if we already had the calendar with the Product Hunt launch or if we added it afterwards, I think we did.
I think we had introduced a module where we could actually plan posts in a calendar view, not just in a feed view. So we really improved the platform quite a lot, but we already had those features in mind, even when we launched on, you know, Beta Pages and Beta Lists. And we already knew that this is something we need to have.
I think the user feedback was good cause it was validating what we had in mind, you know, with orientation.
Right. So how did the Product Hunt launch go?
That was pretty good. So we launched, you know, you have to have a product hunter, you know, that posts you on Product Hunt.
And we had the CEO of Marvel app, which is a collaboration platform for designers. And that was great just, you know, a match made in heaven and he launched us. He launched us on a product hunt and we ended up being featured product of the day and we got, I think about 1200, upvotes.
We got a few customers, a few paying customers, five to 10 paying customers, something like that. So it was pretty good. It was probably a bit better than we expected. On the other hand, you know, we didn't get like, press or media mentions, nothing fancy, you know, we didn't get on TechCrunch and stuff like that, that some other startups get when they launch it on Product Hunt.
How many sign-ups did you get?
I don’t remember. I remember paying customers so I remember we had about five to 10 paid customers.
Would you recommend someone who's listened to this, to launch on Product Hunt?
A hundred percent. I mean, if there is a fit, you know, for us there is like hundred percent faith on Product Hunt.
Because it's sort of developers, you know, people that really are into products, do not necessarily have a super strong marketing community, but we still launched and we got pretty good results.
So there's, you know, if your audience is there at least partially, I mean, it's a free network, you know, why not, at least, you know, people will notice you and, they might recommend it to someone else that might be a better fit too. Definitely worth it.
Great. So you've gone from few paying customers to over 700 now. What worked for you? What happened?
So between Product Hunt and our next step, we actually had quite a bad period of time for ourselves as founders, we were not scaling at all. We couldn't figure out what to do next and It was a bit, you know, it was a bit too demotivational for us because we spent quite a lot of time building the product and lots of hope and lots of energy poured into it.
And we were not managing to grow our revenue. So we were willing to try anything at that point. And what we tried next was launching on AppSumo.
For folks that are not familiar with AppSumo, it's a platform of lifetime deals, where, you know, as a product maker, you put your product there, you give, you know, people an option to buy it.
We have a one-time fee and you give, you know, a limited version of your product. So we put our product there, we put Planable on AppSumo, people were paying $40 to $50 for a lifetime fee to get like one of our limited plans, probably the smallest one. And, you know, we were not expecting anything.
So when was that?
I think that was 2018.
Yes. How did you approach them? Did they approach you or you had to go up to them.
I don't remember. I honestly don't remember. I think they approached us and we were like, yeah, hell yes. You know, we're going to try it. We don't have anything to lose at this point.
I know for some people that really kick-started the company and really that was the starting point for them. But for some people it just didn't work at all. Well, I don't know. It worked in a negative way where the company got such bad press and feedback that it just didn't go anywhere. So how did you prepare for the AppSumo launch to make sure that nothing broke down? I'm sure you did.
That's a good question.
So. We didn't prepare that much because we didn't know that it's going to be that big. We had, as I mentioned, no expectations whatsoever. We read a few articles about people that launched products, and we're like, you know, articles, people made 200,000 without someone. I was like, Now there's something, there's something shady about this, it doesn't make any sense.
So I didn't take it seriously. I felt like it's, you know, how can you make 200K in a few, couple of weeks? I mean, and that was the number that they made, but you know, you give a, quite a big chunk to AppSumo, so they made less, but still, you know, so we didn't really prepare.
I think, you know, we prepared, like we put a few servers up just to make sure that it doesn't crash or anything like that.
But we, you know, we didn't expect it to be as big as it was. So we spent, you know, the first couple of nights, we were, you know, we had like shifts of customer support between myself and the founders and the app crashed. I have to be honest, it did crash at some point, which is like for a couple of minutes and we put it back up and the volume of the traffic was just insane.
Just an insane amount of traffic. It was really the comments and the support was just so hard to maintain. Cause people were just, it was just so many comments.
How many customers and codes did you get in then? Or how many codes did you sell and how many customers did you get in there?
So we didn't do it.
We didn't allow people to buy multiple codes. We didn't allow stacking, so people could only buy one code. So one code, one customer, and we got about, 3030, 3,500, I would say customers.
Yeah. And what was the total revenue?
I think we got about 50K from that and that was 40%. So 200K and something.
Yeah. AppSumo absolutely takes 70%. They were taking back then 70%, when we launched the product. So we got, you know, the rest of 30% and that was about 50K
More than the funding. It was about customers you've got.
How does that impact your business?
That is a hundred percent correct. So besides this being a very good cash injection on almost an angel level ticket size, you also get people to passionately write about you on social media and they spread the word and they write articles about you and they recommend you.
Some of them ended up being a subscription, recurring subscription customers, you know, they needed to upgrade to something and they, you know, stayed with us and they built our MRR.
And, some others, you know, just the entire buzz that was created around us brought us, you know, new customers outside of AppSumo that were paying, you know, a monthly subscription, which was, you know, the moment that propelled us and we never stopped growing exponentially since then.
Before that, like the beta page and the Product Hunt, that was about a year ago, I would say, where we were, you know, trying to put it on its feet. And then we launched with AppSumo.
We also hired our first marketing person, our current head of marketing. And she's amazing. So that definitely helped a lot. So those two things correlated and, you know, together, I think is what helped us.
I think that's a great lesson there. I mean, it took a long time to get to AppSumo launch where you had a cash injection, but like you said you had a rough time figuring out what you guys do to scale, but you didn't give up, you kept doing it.
So what growth channel has worked since AppSumo? Are you doing any content marketing, any paid ad or anything?
Yeah, so we've been growing for the past two years, almost entirely based on content marketing.
We recently started that in the past two quarters, we really started ramping up our paid efforts as well, mostly Google search to be honest.
But in terms of the growth, it has been fueled just by content marketing and social and, you know, everything that we've been building in terms of thought leadership.
Great. Great. So in your one last question, so if someone is watching this and thank you. Okay. I'm starting my business and they're running the early stages and they're looking at you and they're thinking, okay, Xenia has done it and she's persisted and she's really taken off that. What advice would you give them?
That's a good one.
Put it this way. If you are starting out again, what would you do differently?
I would move faster. I think with AppSumo, for example, we could have launched earlier than that, you know, we could have launched potentially six months earlier than that. So I think, don't be afraid, just don't be afraid.
There is no brand reputation to lose there because you don't have it at that point yet. There is nothing you have. There's very little, you can lose. So just don't be afraid and just, you know, break things. Don't be afraid to break things. I think that would be my advice.
Thank you very much. Thank you for being on the show and I wish you good luck for the future. And I hope I see you again.
Thank you so much. That was great. Thank you.
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