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0 to $2000 MRR in One Month — Lessons Learned

In March I quit my cushy full-time job to launch HodlBot — an easy way to automatically diversify your cryptocurrency portfolio into the top 20 coins by market cap.

One month later, we hit 200 paid customers, $2,000 in MRR , and ~1 million dollars in cryptocurrencies allocated into the HODL 20 index.

HODL20 as of May 2018 The HODL 20 index on May 9, 2018. Link to performance since March 27, 2018 here

Here’s what we learned along the way.

Acquisition

HodlBot Traffic Acquisition over Time

Find early-adopters in niche communities

It’s hard to get the front page of reddit. But it’s easy to get to the front page of a niche subreddit. One requires thousands of upvotes, the other just ten.

Niche communities are often neglected because they are not massive channels. But what people don’t realize is that they have an extremely high reward to effort ratio.

The first post I made on Reddit about HodlBot was on /r/cryptocurrency (669,000 subscribers). The post got 7 upvotes and was buried within 10 minutes.

I tried the same thing on /r/binanceexchange (19,300 subscribers) and got a few friends to like the post. Within ten minutes, I got to the top of the front page of the subreddit.

HodlBot reaches the top of /r/binanceexchange

We posted on /r/binanceexchange because users need a Binance account to use HodlBot

Long story short: there is much less competition in niche subreddits so you can noticed pretty easily. Plus, niche communities tend to be extremely segmented, so you can easily find members that fit your target persona.

HodlBot rising to the top of niche subreddits

Niche communities don’t just live on Reddit. IndieHackers is an example of another small community that worked well for us.

Regardless of what you’re trying to build, there are bound to be small communities you can reach out to. Go find some.

Creating high quality content worth sharing

You can only post so many times about the launch of your “amazing product”. Eventually, people will get bored and call you out for spamming.

So if you want to get views and noticed in large communities, what do you do? Create high-quality content.

Link to the data analysis here

Once you’ve earned people’s attention, you can talk about your project.

Talking about HodlBot on a top Reddit Post

Probably could have been a bit more forward with promoting HodlBot

And if you get lucky, like us, you’ll get covered by news outlets such as Bloomberg Tech, The Outline, and Investopedia.

The top HODL results on google are all about the data analysis we did

Here are a few other examples of quality content pieces we worked on:

The power of context

The single biggest day of traffic we ever got came from one single comment on Hacker News. It’s a shame our product wasn’t live at the time, but it got us 500 pre-launch signups nevertheless.

HodlBot mentioned on HackerNews Post about Coinbase Index Fund

Thank you Coinbase

Context is really a powerful thing. If you can fit into the conversation at the right time, people will pay a lot more attention to you.

Obviously, it’s hard to find these kind of opportunities. We’re trying to use tools like mention.com, google webmaster, along with our own eyeballs, to find the right ones.

Lean into Memes

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Serious companies are boring.

Take the Museum of English Rural Life for example. They gained 7k followers from this tweet.

Museum of English Rural Life Absolute Unit Tweet

Our name comes from the HODL meme. And even though that has died down in popularity, we’ve been happy to talk about other ones.

Mentions of Bitconnect on Reddit over Time Redditors respond to Bitconnect data analysis

Obligatory link to Carlos Matos

Leveraging the power of referral

Give your customers an incentive to share your product with their friends. If your customer is in your target market, then it is very likely that their friends are too.

Every time someone refers HodlBot to their friends, they get 1 month free.

We shipped referral 2 weeks after launch. So far, 10% of all paid customers are referred.

HodlBot Referral Link

how many friends I actually have IRL

Product

Reduce your scope — Just make one good thing

Our original vision for HodlBot was, and still is, a platform for people to create, share, discover, and execute algorithmic trading strategies for cryptocurrencies.

Obviously that’s not easy to build in a month. So instead, we focused on building one strategy: an automated solution for indexing the top 20 cryptocurrencies.

A lot of people build a mediocre minimum viable product (MVP) because they get too caught trying to build their entire vision at once.

But here’s the thing. No one sees the product inside your head. No one sees your grand vision. You need to have something good, now.

We took this to heart when we built the MVP for HodlBot. We did everything we could to make it a solid, standalone product from day one.

Avoid pre-mature optimization and analysis paralysis

I love data. I spent 3 years of my career being a data junkie. And I can tell you myself, that nothing is worse than pre-mature optimization based on pseudo-statistical inferences.

When people first get a glimpse of their lacklustre conversion rates, they start regurgitating Lean Start-Up buzzwords:

“Pivot. Iterate. A/B test.”

Relax. As long as your conversion rate isn’t a dumpster fire, you shouldn’t rush to fix it immediately.

Here’s why:

  • Conversion rates often have wild variances with small sample sizes. Let it settle and converge on something more tangible before making knee-jerk reactions.
  • Your traffic may be coming from poorly targeted users. If I lure 10k wine connoisseurs to hodlbot.io (assuming wine experts are not pre-dominantly crypto enthusiasts), conversion rate will obviously be bad.
  • Maybe your UI isn’t broken, but your core product value proposition is. In that case, looking at conversion rates alone won’t be enough. You need real qualitative feedback from real users.

Our conversion rate from sign-up to API keys set-up was not so great during the first week of launch. It was around 15% based on the 80 users who signed up.

We could have halted growth, and instead shifted resources to build different variants for the on-boarding page. If we did , I promise you, we would be nowhere near close to the 200 paid customers we have today.

Instead, we doubled down on acquisition. This time, we got a lot more targeted users to sign-up, and we saw our conversion rate drastically improve.

Here’s our funnel today:

Hodlbot's conversion rate funnel

I blame our poor early conversion rates exclusively on fickle friends & family. (sarcasm)

I’m not saying iteration isn’t important. Just don’t go down the optimization rabbit-hole too early. It’s a time sink.

Get some more targeted users on your site. Talk to people who make it through. The reason your conversion rate sucks may very well be unrelated to your UI.

Make people pay for something, even if it is $1

It’s hard to prove your product is valuable if you are giving it away for free. Proving that your product is valuable is really important if you want to achieve product-market fit.

When you ask for money, you’re asking people to consider “how much is the product worth to me”. If that answer is > $0, then be assured that you’ve built something valuable.

We ask our customers to pay $1 for the first month. Do we really need the $1? Not really. But it forces our customers to have skin in the game. When they pay for something, they have expectations for it and are far more demanding. This is good. You’ve tricked them into giving you feedback on your product.

Good customer service can make up for your MVP flaws

One of the best decisions we made was to plug in FB messenger live-chat as a widget on our website. It literally forces us to have conversations with customers.

Facebook Messenger Plugin in use at HodlBot

FB chat widget in the bottom-right corner. It’s free to use.

In the last month, I’ve had 89 conversations with customers and visitors.

Total HodlBot Facebook Messenger Conversations

Imagine how many more FB conversations we’d have if not for Cambridge Analytica

What the data doesn’t show you is how many messages were sent. If I had to guess, it would be in the thousands.

Like any early product, ours had bugs aplenty. But for some reason, nobody ever got angry at us when something broke as long as we promptly replied.

In fact, people seemed happy when they had an issue, as long as we were able to reach out quick enough and fix it.

I can’t shake off the feeling that the customers we helped had better experiences than customers who journeyed through the happy path alone.

Humans are weird. We like interaction.

Establish a community for your users

After having so many great one-on-one conversations, I realized how sad it was that the only person everyone else got to talk to was me.

Compared to the rich, dynamic personalities of our customer base, I’m plainer than rye bread.

So I created a Telegram group for HodlBot users to discuss all things crypto. Currently, a quarter of our customer base are active in chat.

Getting feedback from a group of your users is much better than getting feedback from them one-by-one. For one, it’s faster than e-mailing everyone individually. But the truly awesome thing is that users will discuss what they want amongst themselves and arrive at a self-organized consensus. Here’s an example of an organic product feature bubbling up from the conversation.

Telegram Group Chat for HodlBot

Late night conversations spark new product features

Seeing how well this worked, prompted me to make a public product roadmap and share it in the chat. This is the same roadmap we work on internally. It’s a living document.

We’re lucky to have so many intelligent, thoughtful customers. I credit them for their brilliant ideas, critical feedback, and impactful assistance.

I’ve even received offers from customers offering to code for HodlBot free of charge. Right now, we’re not in the right shape to give open access to our codebase without compromising our security. But in the future, I will strongly consider making parts of the project open-source to take advantage of our talented user base.

Team

Live by one north star metric

It’s hard to care about every single metric. After all there are so many of them.

Pick one that is really important, set a goal for it, and rally the entire team behind it. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

We chose # of total active customers — total paid customers minus churn — as our north star metric.We set a goal to hit 500 this month.That’s 12 everyday after conservatively accounting for churn.

We build team morale when we’re collectively chasing the same goal. When new paid users sign-up, we get a notification in slack. We celebrate these numbers fiercely.

HodlBot Stripe Notifications

Async teamwork & self-sufficiency

Teamwork is good. But don’t be fooled. Too much teamwork and inter-dependency slows down teams.

The more people rely on each other for their day-to-day work, the more time goes into the planning, organization, and logistics.

You can’t escape this when the complexity of your team grows. But start-ups are small. They don’t need to sit in on 2 hours of meetings every day. Instead they go out there and get shit done.

In my opinion, the best start-ups prioritize speed above all else. And one of the best ways to getting faster is by having a self-sufficient team.

This is what I mean by a self-sufficient:

  • They can make good decisions on their own
  • They don’t rely on other people to help them get through their day-to-day job

This is why I’ve built a a versatile team of people who can all code, design, and write, and think strategically.

When I need to scrape some data in order to put together a data visualization for Reddit, I don’t need to take off spare cycles from Lucas our back-end engineer. I can just do it myself.

Obviously we still ask each other for feedback and criticism. But teamwork happens because we want to, and not because we have to.

When we can remove our own blockers, we don’t have to sit around waiting for someone to come along to fix our problems. We can do our jobs without being a burden on others.

Parting Words

This article focuses on the key lessons I’ve learned growing from 0 to $2000 MRR.

But there’s a lot of really important things we did in pre-revenue that I haven’t talked about:

  • how to build a capable team
  • how to validate an idea without a MVP
  • how to do a good pre-launch
  • what the MVP sprint should look like

I’ll be going in reverse chronological order to talk about this next week. Afterwards, I will be sharing details about our second month as it unfolds.

Here are some things we’re focusing on for month 2:

  • raising seed capital (telling a good story for investors)
  • customer retention
  • brawling with competitors
  • managing product expectations
  • shipping product updates

I hope you guys will join us our journey. I’m happy to share everything we learn. Like always, I’d love if you guys could check out hodlbot.io and give us some love.

Anthony Xie

Founder of www.hodlbot.io


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