How I’ve Attracted The First 500 Paid Users For My SaaS That Costs $5/mo

By Takuya Matsuyama

Inkdrop
  1. You Don’t Have To Get Covered on Large Blogs
  2. Why Churn Rate is Surprisingly Low
  3. Spend a Lot of Time At User Forum
  4. Publish Roadmaps
  5. Treat Paid Users as Special
  6. Tell Your Strategy
  7. Ignore All Competitors
  8. Accept Your Incompleteness

Inkdrop was officially released two years ago with initial users gathered while it’s in beta. Since it’s a niche product and there are already a lot of similar apps like Evernote out there, Inkdrop has not ever got covered on any major news media or blogs so far. I have even not ever used any ads. Instead, I solely focused on making existing users happier and I wrote some blogposts about my ‘successful’ strategies on my product and my freelance career. Those gradually made growth through word of mouth.

So I made engagements almost from myself. The growth was always calm and stable — It’s better than making a buzz from large media because traffic they will generate would be a big spike making your servers too busy and a lot of inquiries you can’t handle at once, resulting in providing poor user support.

Don’t hurry. It’s not a startup rushing to an exit.

Number of paid accounts deleted per month

Customers are likely to continue using it through months unless they found any significant problem once they decided to subscribe the app. The recent churn rate is 2–3%, which is surprisingly low. The reason I guess is that developers are very particular about tools. They have been eagerly testing other apps out over the years and finally chose my app. That’s why they don’t switch to other app easily, like he says:

Your application is a life changer. I’ve tried numerous markdown based applications over the years and I’m so pleased to finally find a keeper! Awesome work! — James Lilliott

But they are always looking for better tools. Like me, they even try to create it by themselves. To keep the churn rate low, the app has to be kept fresh and stable.

Stats of our user forum

As I wrote in this article, it’s important to focus on providing good user support in the early stage. And its importance doesn’t change in the growth phase. I quit using GitHub for support and deployed an official forum using Discourse, an open source discussion platform with many plugins and REST API support. I integrated Inkdrop with it with Single Sign-On(SSO) so that I can see who on the service posts. And now, there are 264 topics and 1,367 posts created so far. 620 posts of those are mine.

Spending a lot of time at the forum is not a waste of time. As the number of posts increased, the forum works as FAQs and a history of my thoughts. Users google first when they got a suggestion, problem or question, then they find existing topics on the forum — just like Stackoverflow. So they can get an answer quickly and you can also avoid answering the same inquiry many times. And it results in that I can concentrate on other things.

Since it’s a personal project, users tend to worry about the possibility of the service close. In fact, it is always possible even if by a big company. But you can talk about the future of the service, about what’s coming next, so that users can have their expectations for it. Over the years, I publish a roadmap like following:

I guess it’s effective to make customers’ subscriptions longer because they can wait for features they want to be added, like him:

Inkdrop has been my go-to note app for some time now and I’m super pumped to hear about the new features. — Luke Stacey, from a comment on the roadmap vol.3

And it even makes the app live longer — because such reaction motivates me, of course :)

Don’t be a secretive person. Open your thoughts about your product.

As I said I solely focused on making existing users happier for making growth, there are several ways I have taken to foster their loyalties.

I customized the forum to show a star badge only on paid users. It allows me to easily recognize whether a user is paid or not, and I could prioritize which topic to write a response first (though I have been replying to all quickly as possible).

Our forum has a restricted category where only paid users can view and post. I used it for discussing the next roadmap with customers. It’s a great way to make them feel special. Besides, they are so cooperative because they already understand its concept.

When developing the new mobile app, only paid users were allowed to test it out. They seemed to enjoy it and gave me many feedback. I was surprised that a few users finished their trial manually and purchased to try the beta version.

You are a part of your product. The more you got known by people, the more your product gets chances to be used. Blogging is a powerful way to attract people who potentially use your product. Yes, honestly, this blogpost is also part of my content marketing. Write anything about what you can ‘teach’, as Brian Clark says:

These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched — Brian Clark

I think he is right — I hate being pitched. I don’t believe salesmen’s talk, promoted articles and advertisements because they only try to sell their products and informations they give are not helpful, useful, or even trustworthy. But I believe people who make me happy. So there are many people like me, as he says. How about you?

Teaching something is a good way to make people happy. It is just useful. You should have something you can teach. But it would be much better if you could write strategies than tips because there are quite few people talking about strategies. There are many people who can talk about how to solve a specific problem on JavaScript coding, etc. But, for example, a blogpost about how to price yourself as a freelance developer would be more valuable. Actually, it has got 14.8k total views.

Again, you are a part of your product. Your blogposts have to be your story, not someone’s. People read your articles, then they will be interested in you. Some my customers said they would like to support me rather than my product. Telling your story would increase your product value.

You don’t have to care about competitors. It’s a waste of time. Because you know where to go. You can ignore even if they stole features your product has. Because you are the person who most understands your product, how it works and why it works.

If you often watch competitors too much, you will be affected by them and you will be too eager not to lose to them. Remember your first motivation. It is a niche product that solves your own problem, not for beating others. Similarly, they also have their own problems to solve. You can coexist with them.

People always talk about which product is the best. But it’s just one perspective on their needs. Everyone has a different need and problem. Your target is only people who are in the same boat. Keep going your direction.

Product is like a living creature. It will never be perfect. As it grew, you will get more work to do. Release it even if you think it is not perfect yet because every release is a feasibility test. You will find something new that you didn’t expect from users.

You will get many ups and downs on your way — A new feature might have a significant bug you haven’t noticed and it would cause some customers to quit. I recently experienced that but I would think it was a necessary process to make the app more reliable. You are not perfect. So is your product. Finish your work and see how it goes. Don’t be afraid.