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Considering quitting and starting over


#1

I’ve experienced kind of a rollercoaster recently in my salon scheduling software business. I struggled for a few years to find a way to repeatably generate leads/customers, then in spring/summer of this year I tried a PPC campaign which brought finally brought me consistent leads and a few customers.

I was really excited about my new wins for a while, then as a result of this activity, some things became apparent to me:

  • A large percentage of my prospects have a certain must-have feature that I don’t have, and that must-have feature varies wildly from prospect to prospect. (Examples: online booking, POS integration, QuickBooks integration.) These are highly non-trivial things to build, and it’s not like everybody is asking for the same thing. Just a few prospects want each thing, but those prospects who need something I don’t have account for most of my prospects, if that makes sense.
  • Most of my prospects don’t seem to have much money. They see a price like $50/mo as a large investment to be pondered over. (I lowered my pricing in reaction.)
  • It’s hard to sell software to non-tech-savvy people. The other day I spent like 20 minutes just trying to get a salon owner to figure out how to join my GoToMeeting. Some people have to be spoon-fed every single click and they manage to fuck up the absolute simplest things, and as a result perceive bugs where there are none because they have weird expectations.

These are the new realizations I’ve made. There are also other problems that I’ve known about for a while. I’ll try to list them in order of how big an obstacle they pose.

  • Unlike developers, designers and other office workers, stylists and salon owners aren’t on the computer all day. They do use smartphones, but not nearly in the same way we use computers. This makes it hard to reach them.
  • Salon owners have a competitive scarcity mindset. They guard their “secrets”. There aren’t local salon owner meetups.
  • Salon owners usually don’t view themselves as business owners. They’re technicians who happen to be in possession of a business. Most of them also seem to have an expense mindset as opposed to an investment mindset, which is of course an obstacle to selling.
  • Stylists and salon owners are very averse to talking with salespeople on the phone. Most of them don’t really seem to use email in my experience, and in fact many of them don’t even HAVE email.
  • I’m not a domain expert in the beauty industry. I don’t want to be, and I’m never going to be.
  • What I already do for money (programming) has nothing to do with the beauty industry. My product doesn’t feed my service business and my service doesn’t feed my product business.
  • Salons open and close like crazy. I lost a customer today because they just opened their salon and they failed to get it off the ground.

Now I’ll touch on what the future might look like if I were to quit Snip.

In the course of everything I’ve done and read over the last 7 years, I’ve learned a ton. (I’ve been working on Snip for 4.5 years but I’ve been trying to get a product business off the ground for 7 years.) I think if I take everything I’ve learned and apply it to a good idea that doesn’t have as many problems as salon scheduling software, I probably have a decent shot at success.

Here’s what I think I’d do differently this time:

  • Pick a product that synergizes with what I already do for money, programming
  • Pick a market that spends a lot of time online, searching for solutions to problems
  • Pick a market in which I can build an audience that cares about things I have to say
  • Pick a market that has money and can pay $X00/mo, not $X0/mo
  • Pick a market that has a problem that can be solved with a relatively simple product that won’t take forever to build
  • Detect the demand first, then build the list, then sell the product, then build the product (or something roughly like that)

Now if I were to decide for sure to quit Snip, the question would be how the heck to figure out a business idea that meets at least most of those criteria.

Any thoughts of any kind are very welcome and appreciated.


#2

Everything I have read of yours on this forum screams that this is a lousy market for you. Not all markets are equal. Not by a long way. It seems that you are pouring in a ton of effort and it just isn’t moving the needle. So this sounds like a good decision to me. Take what you have learned and apply it to a more promising market.

You probably don’t need to kill the product completely though, just put it into maintenance mode (no new features, no new marketing initiatives).


#3

As someone in the same market as you I can sympathize. What I have found is the small customers are the most painful, the single person salon or home business. I honestly think they have too much time on their hands to just stuff around. I have salons with 20 staff who need less support than someone who works for themselves and only has 10 customers a week. That is why I am trying to think big, go after large salons and chains (not mega chains yet, but in the 3-6 salon size). I know success is possible, we have hundreds of users but my aim is 1000+.


#4

I agree with Andy. Put your current project in maintenance mode and start doing Sales Safari for your next project. Maybe even do 30x500 if you want a peer group and don’t mind the expense.


#5

Looks like you’ve put some good thought and analysis into this so its hard to argue against. You also make a great point re: invaluable lessons for business v2.

Pick a product that synergizes with what I already do for money, programming

By this I assume you mean tool/products for developers?

If so then there are cons to this (not saying don’t do, but be aware of)

  • Not Invented Here Syndrome - all us devs think we can ‘knock something up in a few hours that will be better’
  • Lots of competition (for all the positive reasons) and a lot of open source competition - devs will be much more likely to find it and get it working than non-techies who are more likely to pay for things that ‘just work’

#6

@Rhino Not necessarily a tool for devs. A good example of someone whose services and products are all arguably pretty synergistic is Brennan Dunn. So an e-book would be an example…although I don’t know that I want to do an e-book.

@pjc I’m thinking about 30x500. I would MUCH rather pay $1500 than go through another 5 years of struggle and end up with nothing tangible at the end.


#7

I’ve spent the last day thinking about this. I think I just had an especially bad day yesterday and was looking at everything through shit-colored glasses. Before I throw away 4.5 years of work, I think I owe it to myself to try at least one last thing:

For most of the history of my PPC campaign’s landing page, the landing page has been pretty crappy. It’s been crappy because a) I lacked, and still lack to a certain extent, the know-how to make the landing page good from a copywriting, etc. standpoint, and b) it just looks visually crappy because for whatever reason I’m like genetically programmed to make websites look terrible and somehow not be able to make use of canned WordPress themes. It’s a weird and frustrating handicap, which I think has to be solved by enlisting the help of an actual designer.

But building an effective landing page is probably a skill that any online business owner needs to have, and if I don’t know how to build one, I imagine I probably can’t reasonably expect to be too successful in any business endeavor, even if the idea is better than this one. So I’m willing to put some time and money into building a good landing page for Snip even if I have little hope for the business because it will be a good skill-building experience, and I can reasonably expect it to have SOME positive effect. I hate to give up when I still know I haven’t given the landing page an honest good shot yet.

If I get the landing page to a point where I honestly feel like I’ve given it a good go, and I’m still not experiencing the results I’d need to experience to have hope for the business overall, then I’ll probably quit. For anyone interested, this is the current incarnation of the landing page: https://www.snipsalonsoftware.com/landing/


#8

We’ve probably all faced the prospect of dumping years of hard work because it just didn’t work out. I’m in a similar position with http://tvcad.tv (broadcast systems wiring documentation automated) - I have worked on it for years (at least 5) but there still seems to be distinct lack of a market who gives a rat’s ass about that sort of thing, it’s always secondary to getting the physical thing working and the money always runs out before they get to the proper documentation stage. Prospects get all excited and well-intentioned when talking about it but they rarely want to actually go there. As a bonus it’s a very small market - how many TV stations in your town?

It’s a hard thing to put a bullet in the head of your kitten but don’t let the sunk cost fallacy stop your life in its tracks. Remember, it was never a total waste of time if you learned from the experience but when you’ve learned enough to know it won’t work then it’s time to move on. IMHO. I may revisit tvCAD as a productised consultancy service, I may not. I use prototype-parts of it in my day-job gigs so it’s not dead - yet - but I keep it in the basement. I still have http://cadfindreplace.com.au/ as my next big(?) thing.

This is a great recent podcast episode about this very topic: http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/episodes/episode-255-moving-on-from-auditshark – well worth a listen.

On your landing page, the headline talks all about your software - it needs to talk about what pain it cures for the client. They don’t care about features, they only care about their problems. Your lot probably can’t even extrapolate features => problems. I wouldn’t lead with the screenshot video, I’d probably even lose it. I bet a heap of prospects close the window because they don’t like the color of the app or the prospect of typing something in. Yeah, I’m serious. A/B test that. Let them see the app when they trial it.

All those questions in the survey - I’d make that your first email to them after they fire up the trial. Once they start a trial you need a drip email campaign to walk them through it. You’ll have to figure out for yourself whether it is worth phoning them, depending on their lifetime revenue value.

For copywriting tips, https://copyhackers.com/ is a good place to start. There are plenty of time-sinks on the web about landing page copy, surf away. Lead Pages and kickoff labs have blogs with lots of tips, as does Rob Walling’s blog. There are tons of them, too many. Whatever your product / business, anything you learn about that will be a universal skill so it’s not wasted on this one project.

Yeah, my landing pages are have features and screenshots but my markets are broadcast engineers and AutoCAD users, besides, I never said they were “good”.

Just call it a “pivot” and you’ll feel much better about it. Maybe.


#9

About your landing page: Basically the only feature mentioned by the title and bullet points is the text/email reminders, and you even exclude big chains for no apparent reason.

If reminders are your core feature and you want good inspiration for your landing page, simply look at AppointmentReminder. Something like “pays for itself with 1 saved appointment” would go a long way.


#10

Oh dear. I just took a look at the landing page. It has much room for improvement.

Here’s one big confusing problem. The video ends with:
“If you want to see more, click the “Start Free Trial” button below.”

Nice call to action, but there is no such button! There is no button immediately below at all. Way lower I found “See if Snip is Right for my Salon”…which might have been the button you meant?

I think copyhackers.com is a good place to start.


#11

Your website/landing page needs work for sure, but it’s not worth doing the work. The most you can ever make on a customer is $69/month. You can’t run a business on that (and it sounds like most of your customers are at $29), not at bootstrapper scale. So before you do anything else you need to figure out if you can make tiers like $29/$79/$199 work. If not, there’s no reason to keep going down this path as it’ll simply be impossible to find salon owners profitably.


#12

I also wanted to add I don’t think you should feel bad. I spent years half building products, never even getting them done before I found one that worked :slight_smile: Just heard a story from another fellow today who spent 7 years doing the same. So it can take time.


#13

The problems seems to be high maintenance customers who don’t have a burning need for what you are selling and don’t want to spend money. Improving your landing page isn’t going to change that. Perhaps you could try a pivot into a different market segment (e.g. bigger studios or chains)? But personally, I think I (to paraphase @cadbloke ) would have shot this kitten through the head a long time ago.

I released a product last year that go no traction (Keyword Funnel). I killed it within a couple of months of its release, as soon as it was obvious nobody was interested. It was painful at the time, but I’m glad I did it. My latest product, Hyper Plan, is looking a lot more promising.

Maybe you should set yourself a measurable criteria. “I’m going to implement A by B and if I don’t achieve C by D, then I am going to focus on something else”.


#14

Or maybe write a summary of exactly where you are with the business and send it 5 people you respect. Then ask them whether you should continue or start something new. Go with the majority opinion.


#15

@jasonswett sorry to hear this buddy - been watching your progress last few months and rooting for you. Hope you figure it out! Tough call.


#16

I spoke to my leading prospect today about tvCAD. They are a national broadcaster with a big hole that tvCAD can fill. They have been spending a year rolling out a vastly inferior product across their vast network and recently canvassed this national network for those interested in a working system.The grand total of people who might give a damn. ONE.

“Here Kitty Kitty.”

You are not alone.


#17

Have you thought that this might be an opportunity. It is actually fairly simple to build a system that uses text messages and/or call trees to do tasks. But there are not that many solutions using that. Look, for example, at something like https://www.tropo.com/

And, their phone number automatically becomes their authentication…


#18

Some very interesting thoughts. Much appreciated.

Oh dear. I just took a look at the landing page. It has much room for improvement.

@SteveMcLeod Yup, bigtime. One thing out of all this that’s pretty clear to me is that I’m unskilled at this point in time in the area of creating effective landing pages. That’s probably a skill that will hold me back no matter what. So independently of whether or not Snip is a good business idea, I can at least use this as an opportunity to develop my skill in building an effective landing page.

Incidentally I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast yesterday where he mentioned that when he got into the stock market, he optimized for learning as opposed to financial success. I think I’ll take a similar approach here.

About the video: yeah, I know. I changed the page copy out from under the video but hadn’t yet updated the video. I actually reverted the landing page back to a previous version because I discovered via CrazyEgg that most people are filling out all the “quiz” questions, but then when they get down to phone number they leave it blank and don’t hit submit.

Maybe you should set yourself a measurable criteria. “I’m going to implement A by B and if I don’t achieve C by D, then I am going to focus on something else”.

@Andy That’s probably a good idea. I’ve had a looser version of that for a long time. People would ask me when I knew it was time to quit and my answer has always been that when I’ve tried everything that could reasonably be tried and it’s still not working, then I’ll consider giving up. For now I think I’ll say that if I can’t get a 5%+ conversion rate on my landing page by the end of December, then I’ll seriously consider pulling the plug. My PPC campaign brings me roughly 220 visits per month so 5% would be about 11 leads per month. (Previously my PPC campaign has been bringing me about 30 “leads” per month, but that was when I was only requiring email address, and I haven’t found email-only to be very valuable for following up. This 5% goal would qualify a lead as a phone number which I’ve found to be much better for following up.)


#19

I’m with Andy on this. You have wasted a lot of time on people who will never pay you, no matter what you do.

You have spent years on this, so it’s not like you are giving up early.

Amy Hoy’s 30x500 was mentioned up there. I second that.


#20

I’ve thought about this even more and observed some more PPC performance. I believe I’m going to pull the plug and do 30x500. Keep the lights on until after the busy season is over as a courtesy to my customers, then shut it completely down in early January.