2017 was my second year of running a small software business. Unlike my first year - which you should read about first if you haven’t already - I didn’t launch any new paid products. Instead, I spent most of my time experimenting with my existing products: Autoplaylists for Google Music and Autoresponder for Google Chat.
In this post I’ll go over what I worked on and how it turned out.
Here’s an overview of the business on paper:
Out of these, the churn rate stands out. I’ve already started collecting feedback from cancelled Autoresponder users, but have yet to put similar effort into Autoplaylists.
Part of my coding effort went into two new yet-to-be-monetized projects.
The first is Analytics for Google Payments, which helps merchants calculate business metrics like the ones I presented earlier. Motivated by my frustration getting that data for Autoplaylists, it’s also similar behind the scenes: both are Chrome Extensions using reverse-engineered apis. While the market is crowded - Baremetrics and ChartMogul come to mind - nobody has bothered with Google Payments because of the lack of official apis. Hopefully that continues to be the case. If Google launches an api for that data, I’ll probably just let the big players fight it out.
My second new project is Repominder. It’s a SaaS that notifies forgetful open source maintainers (like me) when a release is needed. This has a less obvious path to profit than Analytics, but may have potential if marketed towards software businesses.
Outside of my new projects my programming time went towards maintenance. Based on my analytics data and customer support interactions I chose to focus on features for Autoresponder and reliability for Autoplaylists.
One of my major growth goals was to set up mailing lists. I’m pleased to have achieved that: I now have one for each product (and this blog!) combining for a reach of 500+ and 1+ per day growth. They’re used for announcements right now, but I may experiment with drip campaigns in the future.
Along with a mailing list, Autoplaylists got a payment plan tweak late in the year. It now includes a one-week free trial in addition to the existing one-autoplaylist freemium model. My goal was to give users a chance to try features that only work with multiple autoplaylists. While I haven’t noticed an effect on the bottom line yet, new user engagement has gone up since.
Autoplaylists also saw my first experiment with paid advertising, after an ad blocker mishap led me to realize that Google Music serves desktop text ads. This was about as targeted as possible, so I had high hopes. One month and plenty of AdWords fiddling later I had generated about 20k impressions, 40 clicks, and 4 installs. With the average cost per click at $2.31, this meant the cost of a new user was over $20. Even assuming 100% conversion this was already above my customer lifetime value, so I stopped the campaign.
In another marketing attempt I tried for earned media coverage. Unfortunately, unlike in 2016 I didn’t hear back from anyone I reached out to. I don’t blame them: with no launch announcements I lacked a solid pitch.
My last bit of notable business work was when I noticed an idea of mine had already been built. It seemed abandoned, so I contacted the owner to ask about buying it. This didn’t pan out either, as they had plans to revitalize it. Still, I feel good about the time spent researching and getting advice, since I expect to be in this situation again someday (maybe even as a seller).
Overall, I’m pleased with what I got done in 2017. My biggest disappointment was the lack of a new paid product. However, I’m set up to address that next year with my untapped projects and new product ideas.
I’m also eager to pursue businesses as customers next year. Autoresponder is particularly ripe for this, since I’ve noticed a user pattern of a) small business owners and b) employees of larger companies. I haven’t reached out to them yet, but I suspect they’d be willing to pay more for added features.
So, here’s to a successful 2018! Follow along by signing up below, and feel free to reach out with questions.