How I priced my side-project

Introduction

If you asked me if I could ever write an article about pricing a couple of months ago it would probably make me laugh. I didn’t know anything about product pricing even though I’ve launched my first SaaS project. The way I priced my product was solely relying on my own intuition as well as looking how other similar SaaS products priced their services. I think this is what most beginners do.

Why on earth then write an article if you’re not an expert on pricing? Because I’ve come to realize that it’s totally okay to write about topics you’re not expert on. Chris Coyier’s tweet “Write the article you wish you found when you googled something” inspired me to start writing about things I wish I could find on google. I started to use blogging as an excuse to learn a specific topic. This article is a fruit of that inspiration and I’m happy to share it with you all.

There aren’t many articles on side-projects pricing even though the number of revenue-generating side-projects is growing. If you go to Indie Hackers you can see many of them there and many makers in the community wonder and ask questions about pricing as well.

In this article, I’ve summarized everything I learned about side-project pricing. For the last two months or so I’ve started to read about pricing and talk to people who are knowledgeable about pricing. It really helped me to understand the basics needed to create a more successful pricing model for a SaaS project. In this article, I’m using Cronhub (my side-project) as an example to better explain my view and thinking process because I believe it’s easier to digest new information using an example.

All my learnings here apply to SaaS products but I think other types of businesses can benefit from them too.

Why monetizing?

Monetizing your project from the day 1 is very important. You can think of the “monetization” as a feature that you want your product to have. This feature significantly increases the success chances of your product. Usually, you build features for your customers but this one is for you, to keep you more motivated to work on your project.

Your motivation and persistence are the key drivers to move your project forward. If you value something it keeps your motivation high. What’s the easiest way to know whether your project is valuable? Asking people to pay for it. In my opinion, if you can find 10 people paying for your project then you can find 100, 1000 and more. Finding the first customers are the hardest.

Because finding the first customers is hard it’s important to set up the right pricing model in the beginning. Pricing is a living feature and as any other feature, it requires multiple iterations until you get it right. It’s totally okay to make mistakes in the beginning and in fact, for Cronhub I’m still not sure whether I’ve got it right or not. However, I’m open to change it if need be and that’s what matters.

If your intention is to build a business from your side-project then you should charge for your project. It’s hard and more often demotivating to work for free. You value your time and others should do, too.

Pricing strategies

Since I’m not an expert in this field I can’t give you very technical answers to pricing strategies. However, one thing I can do is to explain these strategies in a more human way with simple words.

Maybe that’s even better for you? 🙂 Good. Let’s get to it.

The primary goal of the pricing strategy is to maximize your product revenue. According to the book that I’ve read “The anatomy of SaaS pricing strategy” (which a great book btw), there are three pricing strategies for SaaS products.

Cost-Plus Pricing

This is the most basic pricing model you can think of because it really makes sense. First, you calculate everything that costs money to your project and then add a healthy margin on top of it. The margin is your profit and it represents the value that you give to your customers.

Let’s take Cronhub as an example. Cronhub is a cron job (or any scheduled task) monitoring tool. Monitors cost me money because they send emails and SMS to my users. Sending emails and SMS is costly for my business. Having more monitors will increase my cost and that’s why I priced Cronhub by the number of monitors. If you want more monitors you should pay more.

I think most first-time side-project builders take this approach because it’s simple and it covers the costs. The challenge with this pricing strategy is the unpredictability of the future. If your costs unexpectedly go up in the future your profit margin will cut and you will have to increase your prices.

Competitor-Based Pricing

As the name implies this pricing strategy is influenced by your competitors. When you don’t know the initial value of your product you usually turn to your competitors. You check their pricing tables so you can come up with yours. Well, I have done it for Cronhub too.

If you’re launching a product in a new industry it makes sense to check competitor pricing because you don’t want to go too high or too low. We’re always afraid of losing customers because of the big price difference from competitors.

This pricing strategy is simple and less prone to be wrong. You can probably spend an hour or so researching competitors and come up with a pricing table that is similar to your competitors. This way your future customers won’t think that your product is too expensive or too cheap. The one downside I see for this model is that you don’t want to be guided by your competitors from day one. You want your product to have its own personality and it should be reflected in the pricing as well. Use competitor pricing as an inspiration and benchmark but not your guiding strategy. For me, I see this strategy mostly used in combination with other pricing models.

Value-based pricing

This strategy is also called customer-based strategy and is solely based on your customer surveys and research. You want to know how much your customers are willing to pay for your product and the only way to do so is to go and talk to them. Most companies use in-product surveys to collect this data.

Many other benefits come with this strategy too. You get to know your customers and their needs which helps you to build the best product. I think following this strategy you’re most likely to come up with a better pricing table. However, this model can only be applied after some initial iterations when you have a decent customer base. That’s why I believe that this model should be used as part of the last pricing iterations on your pricing table. It doesn’t mean that you should not talk to your customers from early days. Just set a goal for yourself that you eventually want to use this strategy to decide your pricing table.

You may want to re-apply this strategy every so often because your customer base is changing and the market needs do, too.

Break down your customers into groups

The reason I wanted to write about customer groups is that I strongly believe that breaking down your user base into groups is not only important to build a better product but also to model your pricing. When you start thinking about pricing you naturally measure it with only one dimension using just a single variable (like I used only the monitor count as a pricing measure for Cronhub).

However, you want to add another dimension based on your customer groups. There is a term called “Pricing Axes” which I first heard from Joel Gascoigne in our company retreat this year in Singapore. These axes represent variables that you can use to better model your pricing. For instance, Cronhub has 2 pricing axes now after launching the team plan. The first ax is the number of monitors and the second is based on the team member count.

Breaking down my customers into groups helped me to come up with the second ax for Cronhub. I have divided my potential customers into two groups, solo developers, and developer teams. It naturally makes sense that there should be different pricing for each of these groups because their needs are different. Following this strategy, I’ve created two pricing plans for the team depending on the count of the team members they need.

Of course, you can add more axes along the way and it depends on your product. I think keeping your pricing axes around 2-3 makes sense at least in the beginning. Adding more variables may confuse your users and you don’t want that.

Applying the strategies on Cronhub

I want to also talk about how I’ve applied above-mentioned pricing strategies for Cronhub and the pricing challenges I’ve faced when starting Cronhub.

Cronhub is a product for developers. I knew that developer market is not an easy one to be in but it didn’t stop me starting something I’m very passionate about. I really enjoy hanging with developers and getting to know them better. For me, what mattered most is to launch a product that will serve this market.

Being a developer I know how much developers love to use free tools. However, they’re also prone to pay for a product that provides significant value to their flow and productivity. I want Cronhub to be one of these tools. I launched Cronhub with only two plans, “Free” and “Developer ($7/month)”. I wanted to see whether this is something other developers will pay for or not.

My very first pricing model was mostly a symbolic strategy to validate my idea. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the pricing plan and followed Cost-Plus pricing strategy to use the monitor count as a divider between free and the paid plan. In the first month, I’ve got couple paid customers which made me revisit my pricing. That’s when I’ve decided to invest a little bit of time to learn about this topic.

After two months of reading and seeking advice from product people I’ve come up with these key learnings that I’ve applied on Cronhub.

  • Don’t give up too many things in the free plan
    
    We tend to give up too much in the free plan especially in the beginning. It’s quite possible that your product doesn’t offer any free plan however for Cronhub I wanted to use this channel as a way to acquire customers. Limit the free plan to the minimum.
  • Know your customer groups
    
    Knowing your customers is important to understand how much they can afford to pay for your product. Cronhub’s free and developer plans are intended only for solo developers who have projects on the side. I have two team plans “Startup $19/month” and “Business $49/month” and they are intended for engineering teams. Engineering teams should collaborate together so the team support is necessary. Team sizes are different and that’s why I’ve priced these plans by the number of team members.
  • Think about your conversion flow
    
    Picturing the customer conversion flow in your head is really helpful in understanding how pricing may work and that’s why I’ve decided to offer a free plan. The way I imagine the flow is a developer signing up for the free plan to use it for their personal projects. If he/she likes my product very much the chances are high that he/she will also promote my product in the company that he/she works at. It’s the word-of-mouth effect. Now someone from her company signs up to try the team plan and there you have your potential lead who is very likely to become a customer.
  • Your pricing is probably too cheap
    
    Don’t be afraid to raise your prices. We tend to undervalue our product because we are afraid that no-one will pay if it’s expensive. This is true especially for people who don’t have experience with pricing. Unfortunately, pricing your project very cheap may discredit the value your product provides. It can make people question the quality of your product. That’s why you want to find the sweet spot when it’s not cheap and also not expensive.
  • Pricing will affect your long-term productivity
    
    If you’re a single person team then you probably do the product support as well. Higher paying customers tend to create fewer support requests compared to the customers who have signed up for the lowest pricing plan. Think about your time and how you want to spend it. If you’re planning to stay a one-person team then this will make a huge difference. For Cronhub, eventually, I’m thinking to have only 2 plans, free and business plan. The free plan will be for developers and the business plan for small and medium-sized engineering teams. Instead of having many low paying customers (and spending many hours answering support questions) I would prefer having a small number of high paying customers (and enjoy building a product).

Thank you very much for your time. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and learned a little bit about side-project pricing. Writing is what I enjoy doing most after programming and I hope to write more articles in the future. If you don’t want to miss any of my writings then you should follow me on Twitter. Feel free to say hi to me or ask questions below!



Finally, If you’re a developer or part of a developer team that uses cron jobs you can try Cronhub for free to monitor all your cron jobs in a beautiful dashboard.

Cronhub Second Month Report

Introduction

This is a short blog post to transparently share all Cronhub numbers for the last 30 days [April 20, 2018 – May 20, 2018]. It has been exactly 2 months since I’ve officially launched Cronhub on Product Hunt. In the last two months, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to build a side-business and I’ve pledged myself to always be open about it and share all my learnings. I’ve already shared the first-month report on Indie Hackers and the reaction from all of you was incredible. I know these reports inspire many indie hackers to start their own projects and as long as it’s useful I’ll continue writing my monthly reports and share my learnings and the challenges I face.
Now let’s get to the main topic where I share the metrics that I believe are important for any online side-business.

The main accomplishments

Cronhub has become profitable

Last month Cronhub hit the first milestone that I’ve set for myself from the day of the launch. My side-project is now a profitable side-business. This means that monthly recurring revenue covers the cost of all the monthly expenses that are required to maintain Cronhub.

Launched “Business” plan
I’ve launched the “Business” ($49/m) plan with team members support. This means that I can start targeting businesses and developer teams so they can collaborate on Cronhub to monitor their cron jobs. Along with this plan, I’ve launched the “Startup” ($19/m) plan for small teams and startups. 

First “Business” customer
One of my “Developer” plan customers converted to “Business”.  Now with the team member support, his team can collaborate on a shared dashboard and monitor more cron jobs.

First yearly customer
I’ve changed the pricing this month and before making the change Cronhub had only 2 plans, “Free” and “Developer” ($7/m). Last month, I had the first customer upgrading to the yearly plan and it was a such a great feeling to receive that Stripe notification. 

Awareness and acquisition (~5200 sessions)

In the last month, my primary goal was to launch “Business” plan with team members support so I’ve dedicated the most of my time on building this feature. I knew that the number of visitors was going to stay the same or decline because I didn’t write any articles or made an extra effort to market Cronhub. However, the next month I’ll pause a big feature development and instead focus on marketing my product as well as talking to my current users and customers.
Here is the GA chart that shows the sessions over the last month. 
Cronhub sessions on GA from April 20 – May 20, 2018
I’ve aggregated all the visitors by the top channels.
The number of the visitors declined compared to the previous month because last month the majority of the visitors came from the PH launch. However, there is one metric that I’m very happy and a little bit proud of, it’s “Organic Search”. It’s growing quite well compared to the previous month and I expect this number go up in the next months as long as I continue writing.
Organic search for Cronhub is growing!
Organic search for Cronhub is growing!
I’ve not done any SEO hacks or anything jut writing articles about Cronhub and sharing on different publishing platforms. I also have a blog where I cross-publish my articles. For instance, this article has a canonical URL to a blog post published on my blog. it’s really great that IH allows setting a canonical URL to an article. This means that all the SEO benefits from this article go to my domain blog which promotes the credibility of my domain.

Activation (650 sign-ups)

Cronhub has 650 signed up users and in the last past month, I’ve added only 150 new users. I’m not very proud of this number but as I’ve mentioned in my last report I never expect this number to be very high. Cronhub is a very niche product and I think for niche products having a high number of signups is very rare or at least in the beginning. I’m working to improve the number of sign-ups by bringing more visitors and I’ll talk more about in my future blog posts. 

Product metrics

Currently, there are 217 active monitors on Cronhub. A monitor is active if it has received at least one ping. All these monitors have sent around 5300 notification through various notification channels (Email, Slack, and SMS).

Revenue ($67 MRR and 4 customers)

Cronhub MRR and the number of customers
Cronhub MRR and the number of customers
Cronhub has 4 paying customers and the monthly recurring revenue is $67.43. This revenue covers all my expenses and it’s already great! Of course, this is only the beginning and I’ve set new goals to achieve. I have a full-time job at Buffer so I’m totally okay to have a very slow but incremental growth. As long as the numbers grow and Cronhub keeps providing value to my customers I don’t really care how fast it grows. I’m sure it would have been different if I didn’t love my current job at Buffer. I see Cronhub as a side-business and I have no plans to quit my current job as of now.

Current expenses

All my current expenses haven’t changed and it sums up to $57. I’ll try to keep it low and here is the breakdown of the services I use for Cronhub.
    • DigitalOcean to host Cronhub site as well as the blog – $19
    • Laravel Forge makes it easy to host Laravel Applications – $19
    • Gmail – $5
    • SMS Service, Nexmo for sending SMS alerts – $10
    • Mailgun for handling emails – $0
    • Hyperping for uptime monitoring – $5

Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge for me is acquiring more customers. I don’t do any sales or cold emails and I solely rely on my marketing efforts. I should probably start thinking about adding different tunnels for my free users to upgrade as well. Focusing on my current free users is key and can be a great strategy to bring more customers. I’m still figuring this out. 
 
 There are also some questions I keep asking myself over and over again:
  • Who are my ideal customers?
  • How can I find them?
  • Does my product justifies the cost of the value it provides? If no, how can I improve the product? What am I missing?

What’s next?

For the next month, I have two main goals along with some minor product improvements. The first goal is to publish the article that I’ve drafted about side-project pricing. I know there aren’t many articles about how to price a side-project so I’ve decided to write one even though I’m not an expert at all (Follow me on twitter if you want to know when I publish it). The next goal is to start working on a new Cronhub feature which will allow users to monitor the “processing time” of cron jobs and set alerts on top of it.

Follow my journey

If you’re interested in reading more articles like this I’d appreciate if you could follow Cronhub on Indie Hackers. I share stories about how I make Cronhub into a profitable side-business. If you want to chat, say hi to me on Twitter

If you’re a developer or part of a developer team that uses cron jobs you can try Cronhub for free now. If you decided to sign up for a paid plan just hit me up and I’ll give you a discount. 

Cronhub First Month Report

Introduction

This is a short blog post to transparently share Cronhub’s metrics in the first month after the launch. I’ve launched Cronhub on March 20, 2018 on Product Hunt and the reaction of people were mostly positive. Every month I’m planning to write a quick report and share it with everyone. My plan is to build Cronhub openly and I’ve already shared two personal Indie Hacker articles on Cronhub in the past month. With these articles and report, I want to provide insights on what it takes to build a profitable side-business from scratch. I also felt that it inspired a lot of indie developers to start their own projects and be more open what they work on. 
This is my first report so please take this with a pinch of salt. There might be some metrics I’ve completely missed so please add the metric you would like to see in the comments below. 
Now let’s get to the metrics for March 20, 2018 – April 20, 2018.

Awareness & Acquisition (10,807 sessions)

These marketing metrics measure the reach to the potential customers and how they convert to visitors. Each visitor to Cronhub site is a session. I primarily use content marketing to expand awareness of Cronhub and acquire new visitors who I think may turn to potential customers. My market is developers. In the past month, I’ve written two Indie Hackers articles and republished them on a Medium publication. I’ve also launched Cronhub on Product Hunt which brought a lot of visitors to the site. 
The total number of sessions
The reason why referral has the biggest chunk of the pie is the PH launch which brought almost 30% of all traffic in the last month. After the launch the direct and organic search traffic started to take off which is promising. 
Traffic by source
If we break down the referral traffic we can see that publishing my articles on Indie Hackers and republishing them on Medium wasn’t a bad idea. It drove a good amount of visitors to the site. I should also keep using Twitter to provide updates and promote Cronhub.
Referrals by source
Activation (500 sign ups)
This product metric measures how many of the visitors acquired by marketing channels sign up for the product. Cronhub has 500 signed up users. As I said in the past Cronhub is a very niche product so I never expect this number to be very high. However, I want quality users who will actively use Cronhub and get a value from it and eventually turn to customers.

Active Monitors (145)

Currently, there are 145 active monitors on Cronhub. A monitor is active if it has received at least one ping. These active monitors have sent around 2600 notifications so far through different notification channels.

Revenue ($20)

Cronhub has 3 paying customers on the “Developer” $7 plan.  Current MRR is $20. 

Monthly Expenses ($57)

  • Digital Ocean to host Cronhub site as well as the blog. I’m planning to move Cronhub to Kubernetes soon so I think that will also save the hosting costs. – $19
  • Laravel Forge makes it easy to host Laravel Applications. Once I’m on Kubernetes I won’t need Forge. – $19
  • Gmail – $5
  • SMS Service, Nexmo for sending SMS alerts – $10
  • Mailgun for handling emails – $0
  • Hyperping for uptime monitoring – $5
Biggest Challenge
I think I should work on the better onboarding process for new users. Most users sign up but they don’t integrate their cronjobs with Cronhub monitors. I should make the integration part seamless. I’m working on this.
What’s next?
I’m working on a new Business/Team plan that will allow teams to use Cronhub. I may also adjust the pricing model of Cronhub. However, I know it may take couple iterations until I get it right. 
If you’re a developer or part of a developer team that uses cronjobs you can try Cronhub for free. Use coupon “indiehackers” to get 20% discount if you upgrade to “Developer” plan.

The Next 100 Days After My SaaS Side Project Launch, or How I Plan to Acquire My First Customers

It’s been exactly 2 weeks since I launched my first ever SaaS project, Cronhub. I wrote a very personal story on how I shipped Cronhub while working full-time.

Today, I’m writing another personal story on how I plan to grow my SaaS side-project to acquire more customers in next 100 days. The goal of this article is to share and be transparent about my thinking process. If you’re anyone like me who really wants to build a profitable side-business then I also hope to inspire you with this article to talk and share more about your product. That’s the only way we can help each other to achieve our goals.

Introduction

My name is Tigran and I’m a software engineer at Buffer. Programming is not only what I do for living but also one of my favorite hobbies. I love building side-projects. For the last year or so I’ve started to strongly think about where I want to be in a couple of years. I’ve decided that I want to build a profitable side-business as a source of income. This business will also help me to learn valuable multidisciplinary skills for life which otherwise I’d not have learned. This idea really motivated me and a couple of weeks ago I launched my first SaaS side project.

I’ve noticed that there are many articles about the launch of a product and how makers approach the launch day. It’s great. However, there aren’t many stories about what comes after the launch. It’s probably because it’s hard to share with the world the small disappointment that comes after the launch day which is very natural and I don’t blame anyone. To see the sessions or users count drop is not pleasant and hard to share with others.

In this article, I want to share how I plan to grow my new SaaS project and acquire more customers after the launch. Mainly, I want to share my strategies and thinking process with you. 

Where I’m at now

I thought that sharing first where I am right now will give you a better picture of my starting point. Let’s do a quick rundown.

I’ve launched Cronhub on March 20, 2018, and it has been two weeks now. Cronhub became the #2 product of the day with more than 800 upvotes. Seeing people upvote or comment is a great feeling. Feedback from people was mostly encouraging. On the next day of the launch, I’ve got my first and only paid user. To see the email from Stripe notifying that I have a new paid customer was the best feeling. I’d not change that feeling with anything.

For the last 2 weeks, I saw the number of sessions drop significantly after the launch day. To be honest, it wasn’t a big surprise to me since I knew exactly what to expect from the previous side-project launches.

Here is the screenshot of the Cronhub sessions for the last 2 weeks. The distribution below is by the hour. I’ve had 8289 sessions in total so far.

Cronhub GA numbers for the past 2 weeks.

Two weeks after the launch I have 1 paid user, about 450 sign-ups and 125 active cronjob monitors on Cronhub. I consider the monitor active if it has at least one ping. My MRR is $7 and I currently spend around $40 per month to cover all Cronhub expenses. I expect the expense number to grow a little bit in the future.

Now, that we know where I stand I’ll go ahead and share what comes next for Cronhub and how I plan to acquire more paid users in the next 100 days.

What’s my goal?

My goal is to find a product market fit. What does it mean to me? It means to acquire at least 10 paid customers on “Developer” plan and one customer on the “Team” plan (I’ll be launching the team plan next month). These numbers are random but also important. The reason I’m so focused on these numbers is that I believe nothing endorses the value of the product more than paid users. If I have 10-15 paid customers I can tell myself that I’ve found or I’m very close to product-market fit.

With my goal and these numbers, I want to measure the success of the decisions I make around Cronhub. My product decision domain is very broad and it’s not tied only to what features I should build next. I also ask myself how I should market Cronhub or who my ideal customer is. If you ask me now I won’t know the exact answer. Individual engineers and the engineering teams? Probably, but I have to be certain. I want to eventually find the niche market that Cronhub belongs to.

If you’re an engineer like me you know that building is most likely the easiest part and what comes next is the hardest. I’m so pumped to challenge myself, though.

Now that I have set my goal I want to talk about the steps I’ll take to achieve it. Of course, as any other goal, it’s possible that I won’t achieve it. However, what drives me is really the process of getting there. During the next 100 days, I’ll learn important lessons from all of the good and bad decisions I make and I promised myself I’d write them down in my decision journal. Decision journal helps me to reflect on my decisions so I can become a better decision maker in the future.

My strategy

Product cycles

I’m a product engineer and this step is probably the one I’m most qualified for. Spending time to build new features or even fixing bugs is the most fun activity compared to other things I have to do. However, I know it’s a myth that if you build it people will come. I don’t believe in that. Most engineers tend to measure their productivity based on how much they ship. I’m afraid I’m not an exception here, however, I try to change the way how I think about my productivity. It doesn’t always have to be materialistic. Sometimes the time you spend to think about a particular product feature is the most well-spent time.

Before jumping to the code to build a new feature I try to spend enough time to answer the following questions.

  • Is this feature really needed?
  • If the answer is yes then I ask another question. Is this the most important thing I should be working/building right now?

Usually, these two questions are enough to decide whether this feature will make it or not. Prioritizing and time management are likely the most important skills for solo-developers. As a single founder or maker, we don’t have too many resources to rely on so we do everything by ourselves. That’s where the time and prioritizing come to play.

Most of the Cronhub product ideas come from the user feedback as well as my own intuition. It’s a mix of these two. For user feedback, I have a dedicated Dropbox Paperwhere I collect all the Cronhub feedback I’ve received from different people and users. This is how I’ve organized it so far.

I have a dropbox paper called Cronhub Feedback where I store all the user feedback I’ve received

I keep most of my ideas in the Trello Backlog column and then prioritize them into product cycles. At Buffer, we use 6-week product cycles and I find them very valuable. As a team, we get a lot of things done within 6 weeks. I’ve decided to do something very similar with Cronhub as well. The difference is that my cycles are a month long and I have one week in between cycles to prioritize the most important tasks for the next cycle.

Cronhub Trello board

If a single feature request comes up many times it gets higher attention from me. For instance, “Webhook Integration” was one of them and I shipped it yesterday. Every feature is broken down into very small tasks. If I need to spend more than a day on a single task then this task is not small enough. Keeping my tasks smaller has been key to see a continuous progress.

For the next 100 days, I plan to finish 3 product cycles. I hope after 3 months the improvements on Cronhub will be very visible. What features do I have in mind for the next 3 cycles?

  • I want to launch the new “Team” plan. It will be $49 per month and it will include unlimited team members with up to 100 monitors. I can start targeting teams too when I have this plan available. This plan will most likely have a “Free Trial”. I know my ideal customers are teams and not individual developers. Also, I think selling a product to businesses is a lot easier than to individual consumers.
  • I want to improve the weekly report I send to all Cronhub users. Weekly reports are super important and I want to make it more valuable to my users.
  • Product improvements and better documentation. As a developer, I really appreciate the importance of a well-documented product. I envision Cronhub docs to also include educational materials.

I think all these will keep me busy for the next couple months considering that I also have a full-time job that I love!

Content marketing

I know I have to market Cronhub no questions asked. However, I’m not sure how I should market it and what the best marketing strategy is for Cronhub. I’ve read Gabriel Weinberg’s  “The 19 Channels You Can Use to Get Traction” article (which is great btw) and it helped me to find a temporary answer.

I want to focus on the marketing channel I personally enjoy and my working competitors dismiss. 

I think that would be content marketing. None of my competitors are focused on content marketing and I personally enjoy writing articles and educational materials. After all, I come from a family of teachers.

But first, I have to define what content marketing means for Cronhub. Most of my users are developers so I roughly know that my target audiences are developers and developer teams. I should write content that acquires more developer visitors. I’ve created the following flow to better visualize my marketing strategy.

How I visualized the customer acquisition flow.
According to my Google Analytics numbers, the 15% of my visitors sign up for Cronhub. I don’t know what the industry average is but I feel 15% is not bad. Cronhub is a very niche product so I don’t ever expect a very high number of signups anyway. If my visitor/sign up rate is not low then my main challenge is to convert already signed up users to paid customers, right? For that, I have to work on the product side. I know that awareness and acquisition are all marketing efforts but activation is all about the product.

My marketing goal is to bring visitors that are more likely to convert to paid customers. Since I don’t know who exactly those potential customers are I want to bring more visitors so I can put the conversions into buckets by visitor types. This way I can differentiate the type of visitors that convert and that will probably be my niche target audience.

When I have a better idea of my target audience I can research to find out what really interests them. I’ll write blogs posts and educational articles on the topics that interest them.

But for now, I’m going to focus on the broad developer market and write content for that audience. This article is part of that strategy. Since I’m a developer it’s not hard for me to guess what type of content will attract other developers. Building a product for the market that you’re part of is really invaluable. I built Cronhub to scratch my own itch and because I believed that there have to be other developers facing the same problem. I hope I’m right.

Another reason why I think content marketing is a better fit for Cronhub is that I strongly believe that investing in a quality content now will pay off in the long run especially for SEO. I’ll probably write a different article just about SEO but in a nutshell, I’m planning to get better at the SEO game by hosting my own blog on Cronhub and constantly producing quality content for developers.

Apart from content marketing I also want to touch a quick hack I’ve done on Twitter to bring more visitors to Cronhub. Most of my Twitter followers are tech people so it fits well to use my existing audience as well.

I love Twitter and I use it to occasionally tweet updates on Cronhub. Some of my past tweets got high attention very recently. Those tweets most often earn profile clicks. Knowing that I’ve intentionally added a direct cronhub.io link to my Twitter profile so people checking out my profile are more likely to click on that link. Believe it or not, it really worked. The days when I have high tweet engagement I have relatively more visitors to Cronhub. It has become an essential part of my social media marketing plus I really enjoy connecting with my followers.

One example is my most recent tweet that earned high impressions thus many profile clicks and checking GA I saw I had more visitors for that day.

https://twitter.com/tiggreen/status/981004806457245697
To sum up, marketing is hard for me and it’s okay. I know it’s hard because It’s new to me and I don’t have the necessary skillset just yet. However, I’m really interested in learning about different marketing strategies and understand what other marketing channels may work for Cronhub. Content marketing is very time consuming especially for a single person so I have to consider different channels as well at some point. However, as I said content marketing is very natural to me because I really enjoy writing!

To Conclude

Now that I’ve shared my goal and strategies with you the next step for me is to accomplish them. And this has to be without burning myself out or exhaustion. Since I have a full-time job I plan to work 1-2 hours every day on Cronhub. Rest is very important to me so spending long nights or working long hours on the weekends is not an option.

I’ll be dividing my time between product and content marketing. I’m so excited for my journey and can’t wait to share more in the future. Expect more articles like this from me.

Thank you very much for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading my story and learned at least one thing from it. Even if you didn’t maybe this inspired you.

If you’re building a product and this story resonates with you I’d love to hear from you. What have you done for the first 100 days after the launch of your product? Please feel free to comment with your questions. You can reach out to me on Twitter or email me.

If you’re a developer or part of a developer team that uses cronjobs you can try Cronhub for free. Use coupon “indiehackers” to get 20% discount if you upgrade to “Developer” plan.

How I Shipped My First SaaS Side Project While Working Full Time

This is my personal story of how I shipped my very first SaaS side-project while working full-time at Buffer. The goal of this article is to inspire you. If you’re someone like me who has a full-time job and wants to build a profitable side-business as a source of income then this story may resonate with you.

With this article, I want to show how I didn’t “hustle” or overwork and was still able to ship a real SaaS product.

Introduction

I’m a web developer and I’m very lucky that apart from playing soccer in my free time I also enjoy coding and building web projects for fun. Most recently, I’ve created Booknshelf which helps many people to organize their books online. While working full-time has a big impact on my engineering growth some of the developer skills I’ve acquired from working on my personal projects.

It was only last year when I started to think about having a different source of income apart from my full-time job. The idea of being dependent on a single paycheck is a bit scary. I knew I have the skills and passion to figure something out. I decided I wanted to start a business, probably an online business considering the skills I have. The other trigger of those thoughts were because I wanted to experience and learn what it means to build a business. I never ran any business in my life so I saw this as a great learning opportunity, a path on which I can learn skills that I don’t currently have. The worst thing that could happen is if I fail, however, I’ll end up with experience and tons of learnings.

Idea

Obviously, the first thing that any developer would do is to start thinking about ideas. Ideas were never a problem for me but figuring out which ides is a good fit always was. This time I’ve decided to try a different approach and really think through the idea before I jumped on it. There were some criteria I wanted to run each idea through.

  • I wanted to solve a real problem, probably something I personally face
  • It should be for the market I know well
  • It should not be a new idea (it’s not going to change the world)
  • It could become a business

The golden rule of any idea is that it has to solve a problem that people face. In the past, I’ve added so many ideas to my notes so it was a matter of visiting the pool of ideas I’ve saved.

My notes where I store all my ideas.

I knew from the beginning that I’d probably be more successful if I built something for developers because I know the market pretty well and most of my close friends and online followers are tech-based. I could use my network and audience to validate my idea and get a solid feedback before I commit to anything. This really filtered down all my ideas into a list of 2-3 things I could work on. One of the ideas was something I kept coming back to over and over again. It was something I’ve faced both at Buffer and during the work on my previous side-projects. A simple way to monitor scheduled cron jobs. Since one of the areas I own at Buffer is the analytics data infrastructure I have run a dozen cron jobs in the background to collect the daily analytics data for our customers. It has to be up to date. The Datadog monitoring service that we use at Buffer is really great but it’s primarily designed to monitor continuous services or servers. I wanted a simple dashboard where I could see the list of all my cron jobs, their statuses, and logs. Every day get a report of all ran jobs so I know everything is on track.

After picking this idea I wanted to see if there’re any existing solutions on the market. If there are it’s a good sign that there is a demand for certain tools. In fact, there were a couple on the market with different paid plans. I didn’t necessarily want to build something completely new because if I did it would have been so much harder for me to define and validate the market. All the existing solutions had paid plans so I knew people would pay for it. The next goal was to validate if my thinking is right by building and launching the initial MVP.

MVP

I spent 2 months to build the initial version of Cronhub (yes, I gave it a name). Something viable that I could send to a handful of my friends and Twitter followers to try. For the MVP I wanted something very simple but also valuable enough that people will pay for it. I know you may think that 2 months is a long time to build an MVP but I didn’t take the traditional “hustle” approach and instead.

  • Worked only 1-2 hours every day
  • Slept 8 hours every day
  • Watched Netflix whenever I wanted to
  • Fully rested on the weekends
  • Used the tech stack I felt most comfortable with

Since I have a full-time job I worked on Cronhub usually from 7 to 8:30 pm. I could also work in early mornings but I spend most of my mornings at the gym. There were some days when I felt mentally very exhausted after work and I took it easy but most of the time I stuck to my routine. I knew if I wanted to finish this project I had to keep the momentum and commit every day even if it’s a small change (can be a single line commit). Consistency has always been super useful for me to stay on track and ship. I used Trello to break down my project tasks into small milestones.

My trello board for Cronhub.
1

I tried to make each task very small so I can start and finish in a single day. Keeping tasks small helped me to ship faster and see my daily progress. When you see a progress it motivates you a lot and keeps you going. I think it’s a mind trick, maybe? Working on big tasks slows you down and eventually, you give up because you get bored and you want to jump on something else.

I never worked overnight. I went to bed around 10:30 every day and woke up at 7. Having a proper sleep is my number one priority. It defines the mental energy I have during the day and I can’t sacrifice it. Besides sleeping well I decided to spend most of my weekends on doing something completely different like playing soccer, watching movies or hanging with friends and family. Even though I love coding I know it’s easy to burn yourself out. Weekends helped me to refresh my brain.

I think as a developer you always want to use the hottest and coolest technologies. And it’s okay. I want that, too. However, my goal was different and I wanted to build and ship Cronhub as fast as I could with the technologies I already knew. I stayed focused on my goal and used Laravel and Vuejs. Cronhub is a single page application using Laravel for the backend.

Closed Beta Launch

On Feb 20, I finished the bare-minimum of Cronhub and was ready to invite the first pool of early adopters to try Cronhub. After my tweet around 20-25 people reached out to me on Twitter asking for an invitation and the feedback I got from them was super valuable.

This tweet was my closed-beta launch 🙂

There were couple reported bugs and some great feature suggestions that I’ve added to my feedback document. Keeping track of user feedback is an important step because it helps to identify the obvious patterns you can refer when you make product decisions. Overall the first impression and feedback were encouraging. Now I needed to continue improving the product and make it ready for the first public launch. I planned the first public launch to be within a month.

Public Launch

After three months, today, I’m launching my first SaaS side-project to the public. Yay!

Obviously, I’m nervous and don’t know if this is going to work out or not. However, I know this brings me one step closer to my goal. The goal to make Cronhub into a profitable online business where I can learn and experience all the hidden secrets of running a business. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’d learn so much!

I know maybe I’m too much focused on thinking about profitability but after building couple side-projects for free in the past I know it’s time for me to take my time a little bit more seriously. Time is the most valuable asset I have and I want to spend consciously. Building a paid product is way more motivating and it pushes you forward. Also, maintaining side-projects for free is expensive and I know it from my experience.

Lessons Learned

The past 3 months were really great timing for reflection as well as to evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. Every time I build a new project it’s a new learning experience. Each project is unique and requires a different thinking process around the product. As a product engineer I want to develop my product mindset and this helps.

Overall, I’ve learned many lessons that really helped me to start and launch an idea. I want to share the most important ones with you.

  • Solve a problem you personally face. This is so key because essentially you build the product for yourself, always keeping you in mind. This makes it a lot easer to make good product decisions. You know what questions you should ask and chances are higher that you ask the right questions.
  • Keep your tasks small. When you break down your project into pieces try to make them smaller. A good way to measure the size of the task is to ask yourself “Can I do this task in a day?”. If the answer is “No” then probably it’s a big task and you can break it further.
  • Sleep well and rest. I can’t stress how important the proper sleep is. You don’t have to work overnight. Focus on incremental progress and small daily commitments. If you don’t take care of yourself you will get tired soon and eventually give up.
  • Choose a market you know well. I’m a developer and I know this market well. I know what it takes to be a developer and how developer teams collaborate. This gives me a sense of things that will and won’t work out in this market. Of course, I can still be wrong but chances are a lot less.
  • Talk about your project. This is a challenging one for me and I’m still adapting to this. I don’t really like to talk about myself. I like listening more. It’s not easy for me to talk about the project I’m building because I’m a bit shy and don’t want to make an impression that I constantly talk about myself. However, I know I have to get the word out and market my project. That’s how others will discover it in the beginning. This article is an example of that.

To conclude

Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story and learned at least one thing from it. I would love to hear from you, please feel free to comment with your questions. You can reach out to me on Twitter or email me.

If you’re a developer or part of a team that uses cron jobs you can try Cronhub for free. Use coupon “indiehackers” to get 20% discount if you upgrade to “Developer” plan.

Cronhub is on PH today if you want to support me 🙂

Keeping shipping – Tigran