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Need feedback on our pivoted value proposition, targeting entrepreneurs


#1

The organization and productivity tool we built, Dynalist, is a simple list-making app that helps you manage projects and businesses (and anything complex, really).

Please help us out by reading the following pitch and see if you’re interested. Comments are much appreciated! If you don’t have time to elaborate, simply replying whether you would find it useful would help too :slight_smile: .


The pitch

As entrepreneurs, we have a lot of things to manage. I’ve tried Trello, Basecamp, and JIRA, and none of them really worked for me. For some reason, they all end up being too messy to work with after some time.

Dynalist sets out to solve this problem, with three bits of magic:

  1. Lists in Dynalist are not flat, but infinitely nestable. Each subtasks can have subtasks that have more subtasks, etc. Theoretically, no matter how big your project is, you can eventually break them down so that each piece is actionable.

  2. Each list is also a context. You can hide a context by folding a list, or focus on a context by zooming in on a list. Dynalist is your personal workspace, and you can reflect what’s on your mind onto Dynalist with a few clicks.

  3. Get quick access to the info you need.
    You can:

  4. Tags things with # or @ to group them;

  5. Bookmark any list item or search result;

  6. Switch to any document or bookmark with a few keystrokes.


Some background information (read only if you’re interested):

We launched last year and got some users. We have all kinds of users: entrepreneurs, freelancers, researchers, students, writers, software engineers, etc. For the longest time we could not figure out what our targeted audience should be.

Our gut feeling tells us Dynalist would be useful to anyone that needs to organize and keep track of a relatively large amount of information. So housewives who only make grocery lists twice a week don’t count; they won’t benefit much from Dynalist over apps like Wunderlist and Remember The Milk.

However, without better targeting, marketing was really hard.

Very recently, after coming back from a startup conference, we had a realization that entrepreneurs like ourselves would benefit a lot from Dynalist, and we should try this as the niche market to start with. Guaranteed, entrepreneurs have a lot of manage every day by definition. Lots of things happen even in the smallest startup companies. Also we have a better idea of the pain points of entrepreneurs and how to target them than almost any other group.

That’s why I’m posting to get some feedback to validate or invalidate this particular value proposition.


#2

Hmmm… I do agree that having a specific niche can help focus a product, in general.

However, I suspect that Entrepreneurs will be a very very narrow niche. so you you could see how you do with that niche but consider other niche(s).

And bear in mind that there are a LOT of programs like this out there. I used to use these a LOT. (A sign of too little focus and to much collecting of information :).

What makes it stand out from the other options (Remember the Milk, Trello, etc.) ?
Ease of use? Simplicity? Is it shareable?

Now, to answer your actual question :slight_smile:

  1. Site looks good and professional.
  2. I think the value proposition is pretty good.
  3. I’d change Sign Up to Signup - Free.
  4. Tried it a bit and it works nicely. The UI is crisp and fairly intuitive. Nicely done.
  5. Poked around and tried the Bookmarks feature. Wasn’t clear on how that worked (after 15 seconds :slight_smile:

One parting thought:

I started my own little startup 20+ years ago (still my full time job). It’s sooo easy to overlook the first part: which is finding a problem that people want solved, that is not well solved for them now, that you can solve for less than the value to them.

If you have good reason to believe this has legs, that’s GREAT! It can take a while to get traction. But be realistic if it’s not giving you any reason to believe it’ll take off.

-Clay


#3

Yes, it’s easy to use and sharable. I get you point, we should’ve picked a strong point to focus on in order to differentiate.

I’ll keep that in mind. It’s so easy to fool yourself there’s a problem you’re solving though. It takes conscious effort to ask yourself repeatedly if it’s a real problem.

Thanks for the word of advice!


#4

By shareable I meant, is it multi-user?

I think a multi-user (where someone else can see my list and check things off) AND easy to use is a good combination.

And the trick with “fooling yourself that you have product-market fit” is an external test: how would we know if we were wrong.

You realize that’s a possibility, so that’s half the battle. There are lots of stories of folks who said they had to stick with it long enough to get traction. I took us 2 years to go from $200/m to $2,000/m, at which point I figured “this has legs” . We doubled every year for several years. It’s not a $1 Million /yr business. But it’s work I love (it really helps people).


#5

It’s a neat idea. I could see this being useful to certain types of people, but I would think it’s more a personality thing than a profession thing.

For example, Trello really appeals to visual people because it’s, well, extremely visual. And lots of people are visual. Plus they love dragging and dropping tasks to mark them as done. That gesture alone gets people hooked. Hence why Trello has something like 10M users.

This seems (to me at least) to appeal to people who would be more analytical by nature. I don’t think most people think in terms of hierarchies or nesting information. So the trick would be to find the types of people that have that analytical mindset (at least in my opinion).

I don’t know that all entrepreneurs fit that bill. Some entrepreneurs are very methodical and organized. Others are the more creative type and are “organized in their own way” - it comes with the territory of big picture thinking, which is a more creative pursuit. Also keep in mind that most creative people tend to be visual thinkers. In my experience, most entrepreneurs fall into the “big picture, optimist, creative” camp than the “methodical, detailed, organized” camp. Just my experience.

I would try to nail the personality profile of your best users and then build out from there. And then test those assumptions. Test, test, test. Finding the right market, the right messaging, and the right way to reach that market with that message is one of the hardest things you’ll need to nail.

Just my two cents for what they’re worth.


#6

So here’s a different thought/avenue for you. Yes, this product probably can work for anyone, which is great. However, I would seriously consider instead shifting towards a monthly like $5/user pricing basis (maybe with a free version) and really target businesses - specifically mid to large businesses that could net you $4-20k/mo type of revenue for a single sale. It would take more effort to sell, but require a lot less marketing and with only a few paying customers you could be doing quite well for yourself.

I tend to like business clients because that $5-10/mo/user pricing is dirt cheap for any moderately established company, but for that one sale - you get the revenue of the enterprise. And for the volume they bring it won’t hurt you to do custom features or special dev specifically for new big clients. Whereas a single or 5 person startup team would not bring at like $5/mo or $25/mo each even.


#7

Hi Clifford,

Excellent point. I agree it’s very possible that personality plays a big role in whether a person would find our product useful.

Do you know (roughly) how I would go about targeting a personality profile though? It seems to me that it’s much easier to target a demographic or a profession. Maybe there’s something I’m missing out?


#8

You’re right on that. You can’t necessarily target a personality profile (yet at least).

What I meant by nailing the personality profile and then working your way out from there is let’s say that you’ve found that it’s analytical people that like this app (just building off my earlier assumption there). Great! Now you can extrapolate from that to say “what kind of professions are typically dominated by analytical people?” Right off the top of my head - engineers (not software engineers, but the civil, mechanical, electrical type). And of course you can target those types of people.

The idea being - make sure you know the type of person that this would benefit. Most professions have many types of people that comprise them. If you target a profession, you’ll want to find which profession has the most saturation of the type of people you want to target.

Since this is a general purpose tool, not specific to a given profession, I feel that you’ll need to look at it from a user/person perspective and build out from there. Of course, take whatever I say with a grain of salt. It’s not my product, and I could be wrong. But just knowing what I know about people - there are some people who like pretty visual things even if they don’t have all the features and there are other people who want all the features and don’t care about the pretty things.

Think about it like this: Some developers love IDEs like Visual Studio, whereas others just want to use vi in their terminal. Different personality types is the only way to explain that, IMHO. So if you found that people that like terminal and vi are the types of people that would like your tool, sure you could target developers, but it would be better to target developers that use terminal and vi over targeting all developers.

One other idea.

If you can drive enough traffic to your site / get enough free users, you could always use Facebook Lookalike Audiences. Basically, just market and advertise until you get enough people through the door to where you can use something like that to market to more people that are similar to the people using your tool. For those of you that don’t know, Facebook Lookalike Audiences let you market to people that are similar to people already using your product. You basically get to use all of Facebook’s fancy machine learning and statistics to go find you new customers based on the profiles of your existing customers. Could be a good option, but you typically need 1,000+ customers before you can take advantage of it.

Hope this helps.


#9

Yes, it is.[quote=“Clay_Nichols, post:4, topic:4497”]
You realize that’s a possibility, so that’s half the battle. There are lots of stories of folks who said they had to stick with it long enough to get traction. I took us 2 years to go from $200/m to $2,000/m, at which point I figured “this has legs” . We doubled every year for several years. It’s not a $1 Million /yr business. But it’s work I love (it really helps people).
[/quote]

Good to hear it’s work that you love! My product is bringing a few hundreds of dollars each months, I’m just wondering if there’s a better way to deliver our message, rather than waiting for them to find us.

Thanks so much!


#10

Is that MRR (monthly recurring revenue)?
If so, that’s very encouraging.

Are you measuring your Funnel?
So that you know where the leaks are?

  1. Visits
  2. Tries it
  3. Engages
  4. Really Enages (heavy use)
  5. Subscribes ($)

If so, then the next step seems to be exactly what you are doing: find specific Use Cases and write about them, or somehow target users.

I still think entreprenuers might be a poor niche, BUT you can write about your own E-efforts and that might get some attention.

Suggestions:

  1. Take a look at Traction (book), The thesis of the book is that you have to try multiple channels to see what works for your product and market.
  2. Pick a niche and do some keyword research around the topic of “planning/lists/organizing for [ niche]” ( I just did this with SEOMoz’s 1 month free trial). and try ONE article. Enable comments to you can get a discussion going about planning in [niche].
  3. As part of #2, how about finding any bloggers who are writing about the organization of above.
  4. Try to identify what is hard (or often down wrong) with the skill that uses your product. (e.g., "people often have too many “irons in the fire” (and how you solve it) " use our tool both for “primary project” and "putting things on the back burner. (I’m sensing a cooking analogy for project planning.) (For more on this, take a look at Warren Buffet’s 2 list strategy (this is fresh in my mind b/c it’s somethign I just discovered.

ASIDE: I have slowly (over 20 years) learned to verify that startups I give advice to are truly serious and not Wantraprenuers. You’ve passed the test! :slight_smile: (seriously, you’re way further ahead than most. I still don’t know if THIS is will be a successful product, but YOU are doing all the right stuff. Best of luck!


#11

Oh… and as you try different marketing approaches, if you can MEASURE your customer acquisition cost (and over time, LTV - lifetime value) you’ll know easily (with enough data) where to pour more gas on the fire.


#12

Oh, and just saw your last line:

I do not think you can just “wait for them to find you”. marketing is really the hardest part of any business.


#13

Yes, that’s MRR (it’s a subscription SaaS product). Luckily the churn rate is low right now, so MRR just keeps going up (pretty slowly though). Bad news (for the business) is that some of these guys are just supporting us, like in the case of a kickstarter campaign. We have not reached the stage they desired (no mobile app, for example), but they are willing to give us a few bucks a month in the hopes that we don’t starve and give up on the project. This means our real paying user rate could be lower than what we have now (around 2%).

Yeah, we’ve set up the funnel (as described by the book the Learn Startup). The funnel looks okay; the top of tunnel is small though, so that’s the problem I’m focusing on right now.

Ahh, as a person desperate to learn some marketing, I read that book too :slight_smile:

We’re experimenting with referral program, community, and content marketing. Need to do some SEO too. A lot of the paid channels just don’t work for us, as the product is free to use for most people. Or did I jump to that conclusion too soon?

Great suggestion! :thumbsup: Free trials are good, since it’s way too expensive to me otherwise (I’m trying BuzzSumo and it starts at $99/mo).

I think I tried, but I always end of finding productivity gurus who don’t really care about tools and blog about “7 ways to better start your day”. I tried to search for bloggers manually though. With some influencer finding service this could be easier to do now.[quote=“Clay_Nichols, post:10, topic:4497”]
Try to identify what is hard (or often down wrong) with the skill that uses your product. (e.g., "people often have too many “irons in the fire” (and how you solve it) " use our tool both for “primary project” and "putting things on the back burner. (I’m sensing a cooking analogy for project planning.) (For more on this, take a look at Warren Buffet’s 2 list strategy (this is fresh in my mind b/c it’s somethign I just discovered.
[/quote]

That’s a cool analogy… I wonder why I haven’t thought of it with all the love I have for cooking. Thanks![quote=“Clay_Nichols, post:10, topic:4497”]
ASIDE: I have slowly (over 20 years) learned to verify that startups I give advice to are truly serious and not Wantraprenuers. You’ve passed the test! :slight_smile:
[/quote]

Thanks! Now onto the hard part :slight_smile:

That’s literally where some of our users are coming from. We put ourselves in a Wikipedia page and answered a few Quora questions, and lots of current users came through there. It’s pretty passive though and we’re looking to be more active to get better growth.

Thanks a lot for the thoughtful answer and the great suggestions!!


#14

Had another thought:

One other thing to write about (I think maybe you do is using your product for Getting Things Done.
(BTW, some products I’ve seen will have an option to put it in a mode for different methods, so it uses their terminology.

MORE GENERALIZED APPROACH TO THIS
How about brainstorming a bunch of productivity methodologies, especially ones that could benefit from your list product like: Getting Things Done, etc.

So imagine a Venn diagram of

  1. What your product does well
  2. Specific methodologies that involve Lists (especially sharing lists) especially light-weight methodologies.
    Then look to see how where you might be able to rank for each of those. (using SEOMoz or the service you mentioned, whatever)
  3. Methodologies that are popular
  4. Methodologies that you would write something interesting and useful about.

Then write about them in some novel (and human-interesting) way and link. If it seems like you might be able to rank well then it might be worth your while to really do some research into comparing the methods, and the obstacles to each one.


#15

I like this approach. I think this could have some legs for what you’re doing.


#16

Thanks, Clay!

I happened to think about GTD for marketing purposes a few days ago. I came up with an idea: maybe we can propsoe a Dynalist-flavored GTD, just like GitHub has GitHub flavored Markdown (a speicial type of Markdown syntax). Dynalist-flavored GTD would take full advantage of Dynalist’s features but still preserve what GTD has to offer.

Now I think about it, maybe it would anger some die-hard GTD fans for ruining GTD… so I don’t know.

What you proposed seems like a better way, both in effectiveness and low chance to backfire at us…


#17

The [magic] trick is knowing what potential customers will pay for.

If you KNEW that 1,000 GTD’ers would buy it in the next year (for only a
$1,000 marketing cost), it’s a shoe in :slight_smile:
If Ifs were SHIPS I’d be sailing the seas.

-Clay


#18

Test, rinse, repeat… :slight_smile:


#19

I maybe did not catch the essence of the idea, but there are lists managers like that. I, for instance, use Checkvist for both personal and professional tasks.

I do not believe the way the list is organized really makes a core of the business. The job those lists are doing for me is to focus on the different levels of the list at different time, so your idea of “context” looks promising.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that your pitch is too feature-centric, while to win a new user you need to show scenarios, use-cases, where a prospect who was lost before get a clear vision into the tasks at hand. Gains control. Being in control is happiness, you know that? :slight_smile:


#20

Hi, Erica. The site is beautiful, and the approach looks interesting. As I look at it, though, it feels like the marketing is what’s missing. There’s just not a unique message. Let me try to expand on that…

Lists/Todos/productivity is a crowded market. Having a niche would be great, but finding and focusing on the things that make it different would be better. For example, the heading and sub-heading on the home page could go on any list app in the world. “Effortlessly stay organized (Product) is the easiest way to be organized and stay on top of things.” What makes Dynalist different? That heading doesn’t explain it. It sounds like one of Dyanlists’s key features is the ability for lists to evolve/expand/spinoff into their own projects as they grow.

The rest of the site talks about features, but people don’t sign up for a feature list, they signup for a solution. “Dead simple format. Dates. Search and tags. Drop and drop. Search n’ link. Zoom. Fold.” Imagine a car commercial listing “Wheels. Air conditioning. Drivetrain. Reclining seats.” :slight_smile: A feature list is often helpful, but it should be secondary.

If those features are differentiating factors, then great, but listing them doesn’t illustrate the difference. Backpack used to be great at this. 37signals/Basecamp had dedicated examples for use cases. Planning a wedding. Planning a garage sale. Planning a move. What are those real problems that this could solve for people? How could people use this in their day-to-day life? Sell them on that. A lot of products lately have created dedicated pages for each of these use cases, and it works because it connects people with a more singular and relevant purpose. Being organized is aspirational. Everyone wants to be organized, but it’s not always easy to see a path to organization. Providing those example use cases gives them a vision of how organized they could be and how Dyanalist could help them get there.

The demo is a good start, but what if you could skip that? A tool like this could be a great candidate for killing the signup form. What if the home page said, “What do you need help organizing or planning?” and then gave them options or suggestions. Let them dive right into trying it out and give them a tour with a real-world example. Then, use cookies to save it and just remind them that if they’d like to save it permanently they need to create an account. At that point, they’re invested and have some motivation to signup.

I hope that helps. Let me know if I can clarify or expand on any of that.