I teach entrepreneurship at Duke and I’m publicly growing a company — Autopest — from $0 to $100k/year in revenue in order to help entrepreneurs better understanding the process of building startups. Learn more about my journey here.
One of the challenges with any new startup is that the founders know and understand the problem their company solves, but the value proposition isn’t very clear to users.
This has been one of my challenges launching Autopest. I know exactly why/how Autopest is useful, but most of the people who encounter it (including all of you), can’t envision why they’d need it. With this in mind, I decided to create a real-world example. Let me explain…
When I started this entrepreneur-in in public (EIP) thing, I knew I wanted to keep my costs as low as possible. However, I also knew I needed reliable web servers, and web servers cost money. How could I get great, reliable hosting without creating a big monthly bill for myself? Easy! I decided I would ask my favorite hosting provider, Inmotion Hosting, to sponsor my EIP blogs.
I used LinkedIn to find the head of Inmotion Hosting’s marketing team, sent her an email, and asked if she’d give me free hosting in exchange for telling everyone how much I love their platform. Can you guess what happened?
NOTHING! She ignored my email.
Luckily, I used Autopest, which means, a few days later, Autopest sent a beautifully-crafted, AI-powered follow-up email.
She ignored the follow-up email, too, but Autopest doesn’t care. It just sent another follow-up
After two Autopests, I got a response, I met with the team at Inmotion, and — boom — free hosting!
How’s that for a proof of concept? I literally used Autopest to get free hosting for Autopest from one of the best and most reliable managed hosting companies on the Internet. It’s like startup inception!
Now do you see why Autopest is awesome?
Thanks for reading about my journey growing Autopest from $0 to $100k/year in revenue. To keep following along, be sure to subscribe!
Site Visitors: 508 uniques (+13%)
New Free Users: 47 (-18%)
Website Conversion Rate: 9.3%
New Paid Users: 0
Total Free Users: 153
Total Paid Users: 1
Total Revenue: $15
Total Costs: $20.91
Net Revenue: -$5.91
Nothing super-exciting happened at the top of my funnel this week, which was expected. Sure, site visitors swung up 13% while registrations dropped 18%, but the traffic to Autopest.com is so small, the large percentage swings don’t mean much.
The bigger issue I was dealing with last week was how many people registered for Autopest but weren’t completing the Google Auth process, presumably because it either wasn’t clear what they had to do or because Google’s draconian authorization messaging made it seem like Autopest was going to steal all their email data.
To combat that problem, I created a unique landing page for users who didn’t properly authorize their Gmail accounts explaining the issue and asking them to re-auth their accounts. Here’s what the page looks like:
Not my best design work, but it seems to be doing the job! Only 9 of my 47 new registrants last week (19%) failed to auth their Gmail accounts. In comparison, the week before, over 60% of my users didn’t auth.
I’d call that a HUGE win. Yay for rapid iteration!
Key Entrepreneurial Takeaway
Confession time: this was a terrible idea.
Not Autopest. I still believe Autopest is a great little micro-service. But the idea of building a startup in public was a terrible idea because, the more I work on it, the more I remember how much work startups are. How do people do it? I’m writing this update at 2:00 AM and would much rather be sleeping.
Even a seemingly simple project like Autopest isn’t actually simple. The coding, the bug-fixing, the marketing, the optimizing, the sales, the customer support… not to mention the stupid idea to publicly document the entire process. It all combines into a full-time job.
I’m not writing any of this to complain. I’m writing it as a reminder to everyone reading that startups don’t magically build themselves, and you can’t half-ass a startup and expect it to be successful. You’ve got to be prepared to put in the necessary time and effort.
Are you willing to do that? If not, don’t launch a startup.
I don't know if you can play the startup game without having some "Why am I doing this?" moments. I think we almost always bite off more than we can chew, which is what leads someone to live the boundary-pushing life of starting a business.
Excellent. Love the honesty! (Writing a Medium article about it. Will share soon.) Yes, you are right, you have to be a little crazy but you are creating and that makes life worth enjoying. I am currently trying to build some solutions on my side. Too early but I am enjoying the process.
Possible feedback: Do you have the option to stop sending emails after x tries?