The Morning After: Startup Famous for 24 Hours


If you want me to write what I will strive to make the last book you will ever need to read about getting your software product business off the ground and running, tell me.

Write the book. I’d buy it. As long as you keep it offensive :wink:

Like all people with a development background, if I could avoid sales and marketing outright and still make money, I would do so in a heartbeat.
But it doesn’t work that way.

One thing I’d like to see is research of various agencies/services that will promote and market my software product for me.

I’m an indie dev. I’d gladly pay someone else to did this shit so I can focus on making the product better for the customer. Well, as long as it’s an affordable service. Does such a thing even exist?

This type of service should gain an understanding of the basics of my product: who is the target market, what it can do for the target market, and why it has any value for the target market. Maybe I fill out a form with this info, or we have a conference call. Then they handle the stuff like:

  1. Managing the product’s social media accounts. Gain followers. Reply to tweets. Comment on relevant posts.
  2. Scan forums, blogs, etc. for leads, comments and reply with relevancy.
  3. Contact relevant bloggers, notify of them of the product, see if they’d be interested in writing about, or having a guest post, what the cost would be, etc.
  4. Research and relay back to me the frustrations people are having with competitors’ products.
  5. Being aware of what constitutes spam, and staying the hell away from it.

If that’s too much to ask, I’d be content with this service simply doing the research and monitoring most of the above list, without doing any replies/posts/actions, and simply providing me with the info.

Most companies hire someone to manually do this right? “Marketer”, “Growth Hacker”, whatever. I can’t afford to hire an employee, and I don’t want the permanence, nor the revenue sharing, of bringing on a non-technical co-founder.

I just googled “reviews of software marketing agencies” and most didn’t really fit the above, or wanted $100-$200/hr. Per hour. No thanks.

So maybe I’m just dreaming here, but seems like something like this could be mostly automated by scraping google.

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@timbowhite how much would you pay for a service like that? I run a consulting company that both develops software and helps regular brick-and-mortar businesses with marketing, so I think we’d be well-suited to doing something like what you describe. Our going rate is usually in the $100-200 per hour range as you’ve found, but (a) you’d be surprised what we can accomplish in an hour and (b) more importantly, there is probably an opportunity for some leverage here. One person monitoring social media for multiple software companies at once shouldn’t cost each of them $200/hour :slight_smile:

I’ve never had any luck with outsourcing any marketing. At a certain scale it can probably be done, bootstrapper scale isn’t that scale :slight_smile:

The people you can afford don’t care enough about your product to do the job right because you can’t afford to pay them enough to care!

I’m pretty pessimistic on most modern marketing techniques at the bootstrapper level outside of SEO. Much of it can work in certain circumstances, but there’s so much noise that unless you have a very unique angle (and likely a unique individual personality) it’s hard to make a dent out there.

IMHO most bootstrappers should be focused on some kind of SEO plan and more importantly making sure their apps have an inherent virality. I don’t mean viral in the sense of overnight you get thousands of customers, but some manner by which users of your product are exposing your product to other people.

A common example is a ‘powered by’ link. A ‘powered by’ link doesn’t work in all contexts but that kind of idea. Where your product can be discovered through your customers audience natively as part of the experience of using the app without any extra effort on your customers part.


As long as you keep it offensive :wink:

I wouldn’t have it any other way :slight_smile:

I’m in whole hearted agreement with @Ian in that it’s tough out there to break through the noise. SEO, viral loops, and (sort of like viral loops) word of mouth are usually the primary marketing tools in a bootstrapper’s toolbox. Why? 1) they’re typically “free” to execute (like a puppy dog) and 2) they’re not high-touch. When those fail to work, I would say don’t hesitate to whip out a direct sales approach. Direct sales can often yield results much faster than passive marketing (but is very high-touch by definition). But what it usually comes down to is a lot of trial and error to find what works for you and your market. Start with the basics and only get more sophisticated/complicated/complex when those fail to yield any results.

I’m also in agreement that paying someone to market and sell your app would make a ton of sense. Unfortunately, that approach almost never works. Usually because you can’t afford to pay a dedicated person to do so. And also usually because the majority of marketing agencies tend to be 1) expensive and 2) will only operate on time and material and refuse to be pinned down by any sort of incentive-based compensation or tangible targets.

But don’t look at all of this as a bad thing necessarily.

Doing the marketing and selling yourself has actual benefits that pay off.

For starters, you’ll get to understand your customers better than anyone else. You’ll be able to use insights you have in conversations to guide your product roadmap as well as your marketing plan. And not only that, but at some point when you can afford to hire a junior-level employee, you can teach them the process that you followed (systematizing!) rather than hire an “expert” who knows nothing about your market or customers and just winds up spending a lot of your money while failing to deliver any tangible benefit.

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@napoleond my budget is $50-$100/month. Obviously that’s not enough to pay for someone else to sufficiently interact with social media on my product’s behalf.

But I do think that is a fair price for robust, automated monitoring of forums + blogs + social media of anything having to do with my product, my competitor’s products, or my target market. Send me a daily summary email of all the chatter that matches my product space. Give me some control of how fine-grained it is. Maybe perform some sentiment analysis on each piece of chatter and categorize it, anything to make it easier to digest. I’m not aware of any services out there that do this well (ie. I have not had much success with Google Alerts simply picking up forum threads or blog comments).

I may have just convinced myself of the next thing I should work on :wink:

@ian @cliffordoravec thanks, very helpful info. Sounds like it is far more valuable to just focus on the basics (ie. SEO, virality,discover-ability), and just man up and actually interact with some human beings :slight_smile:

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Don’t knock it until you try it :wink:

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I think the critical thing is that marketing works best when it gathers info about what the customers want and think, and that only works if it can influence development, both in terms of which features you build and also the User Interface (terminology you use in buttons, etc.)

That’s going to require a good working relationship with a lot of trust on both sides.

Also, good marketing takes a long time to show results. And, similar to development, there’s a lot of up front work with a very “long tail” of revenue.

So, we are back to trust again. The service they provide may indeed be worth $100 an hour over an “evergreen” period of several years.
I.e., lets say that for $20K a consultant:

  1. Creates some good inbound content (that attracts exactly the right kind of visitors, who convert)
  2. Builds a Drip email campaign (again, that converts

And lets say that is then fully automated and brings in $4K in new business a month. Business you didn’t have before.

That’s a 5 month Payback period with probably a 2-3 year lifespan (maybe longer) and an ROI of 1500%

Q: is the issue that you don’t know WHAT you should do in terms of marketing, or that you just have zero interest in it?

Q: is the issue that you don’t know WHAT you should do in terms of marketing, or that you just have zero interest in it?

I think my biggest issue is that there’s no guarantee of that $20K plunk-down (from your example) ever paying off. That kind of gamble might be ok for a larger company, but not for most bootstrappers.

nitpick: $4K/month over 3 years = $144000, so w/ initial $20K investment that’s 620% ROI, no?

EDIT: nevermind, if that’s a compounding $4k, 1500% ROI sounds about right

You are quite right. There are no guarantees, and I wouldn’t roll the dice to find out @ $20K.
But also, don’t make the mistake of an Economist who knows the cost over everything and the value of nothing ;0).

If I were providing such a service (or looking for one) it seems like having some introductory offer as a starting point (and trust builder) for, say $500 (assuming that I have some confidence in this person) to achieve some goal, perhaps with some part of payment contingent on accomplishing that goal in a measurable way.

  1. Do you know what your Conversion rate is for a visitor?
  2. And, hence, what a website visitor is worth to you?
  3. Do you know what your Customer Acquisition cost is? (ideally your incremental cost to acquire one more customer)?
  4. Do you know what your Lifetime Customer Value is?


That’s exactly what affiliates do. Have you considered offering an affiliate program for whatever your product is? To find your first affiliates try reaching out to your existing customers. Many payment processors already have the functionality for you, you just need to add some extra js to your website to cookie referrals. Start out at 50% commission. Sounds steep, but the other 50% is money you probably wouldn’t have made without the affiliate.

@Clay_Nichols “No” to all those questions because I’m actually launching the product in question this week. I have setup event/goal tracking in Google Analytics so hope to know soon enough.

@shanelabs that might be worth considering, although I’m not aware of any payment processors that offer affiliate program integration for merchants? (well besides CCBill, but they’re mainly for porn) I am aware of affiliate networks (Commission Junction, Shareasale, etc) - they help to onboard new affiliates and manage the payouts, but of course they take an additional cut. The other options are buying software like Post Affiliate Pro or rolling your own - but that means means you have to spend time paying out affiliates, and protecting yourself from fraud (ie. cookie stuffing, affiliates competing with you on Adsense, redirects from typo domains, etc).

fastspring have the option for affiliate payout. The issue is to get “trusted” affiliates.

  1. With no data, then definitely no reason to even consider outsourcing Sales & Marketing
  2. Are you planning to test your analytics after after a bit of data? (I may be particularly clumsy w/ gAnalytics but I often have small mistakes in mine and most gAnalytics data is not retrospective. I.e., if a Goal isn’t defined right and you fix it you have to gather new data.(the fix isn’t retroactive)

I find it very hard to accept that estimate that even very good inbound content has that kind of lifespan.

That is where your scenario falls down for me - I would want to see some very compelling examples of such work which had remained a good source of inbound attraction for that period.

I am not a marketer. Whilst I have my own, currently small startup, I have also had a day job at Realm for the last 18 months and watched their superb content marketing machine in operation. They give away, and now sell, developer tools and put a vast amount of effort into content generation. That gives me a level for the gold standard both in cost, effort and continual engagement. I really struggle to compare that with the one shot $20K engagement.

In particular, content marketing has been accelerating for the last few years to the point where we are utterly drowning in content. Without a continual, adaptive strategy, how can any business keep up?

An example of content that still delivers after 16 years: The Joel Test. I suspect this single article has delivered a ton of traffic and visibility.

I’m currently adding a “poker statistics guide” to my website (for my poker analytics software) which I’m hoping will deliver good traffic for years. Some fields just don’t change that quickly.


This is a great idea. It really fits the bill of “evergreen” content. Not only that, but I can see this having high “shareability” attributes. Nice idea!

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You are right. It is hard to believe. There is a lot of content out there. But good writing is rare. And the more poor content there is, the more your gold content rises to the top.

Yep, it would definitely be hard to know in advance that an article will last 2-3 years. And it takes some expertise to find the right topic and write a good article that humans will find useful. That article needs.

I’m in the top 5, 6 years later
The way I discovered this myself is I saw that we get a lot of (accidental) traffic for “how to fix my windows microphone”. I looked and we (Bungalow Software) are in the top 5, for this article I wrote 6+ years ago.

But there was a problem with this article. Can you guess what it is?

The problem is that this article isn’t the right kind of traffic for us. We make speech therapy software. The Mic page was just a FAQ for our users. But that traffic is incredibly untargeted. If we’re lucky .001% of those folks are interested in speech therapy software. So I did a little experiment. I spent a few hours doing keyword research and wrote an article on a therapy technique. We are #1 for searches on that topic and it’s converting at about 1% to free trial signups. (A bit too early to tell how many paid signups that will generate. (It’s generating as many free signups/month as would cost us $200 via adwords). (And past conversion calculations show that we at least breakeven on Adwords traffic.

But my article is soo much better than anything out there that I’m confident it will stay highly ranked for a long time.
So it’ll be interesting to see how it does.

I recently updated that article and spent wayyyy too much time on the graphics, etc. But I enjoyed it. Total time invested on that page is probably 15 to 20 hours. BUT… if it has a life of 5 years then that’s $200 x 12 x 5=$12K.

You almost need to engineer/design the articles. A bit of up front effort could really increase the Benefit/Cost ratio. The mic article took me maybe 2 or 3 hours to write. Much less than the new article.

I apologize for (deliberately) being vague on the ROI on the new page I created. I don’t want to provide a competitor with too much information. (We have a VC funded competitor to the tune of $4M or so).

The Tipping Effect
If you have the #1 spot for a topic, you get a huge “tipping effect”. The longer your article is around, the higher google tends to rank it. So, if you can keep that #1 rank for 6 months or so, i’d suspect you can easily keep it a lot longer (especially if you do a small tweak to it ever now and then).

See what our own Patrick McKenzie wrote about evergreen content


  1. Content must be very specifically target to your market niche, and complement your marketing.
  2. The content must be the best (as rated by humans) on the topic. It should be the canonical article on the topic.
  3. Topic should be evergreen. Don’t write about the latest headline. Write something timeless. Like, How to fix your microphone or How to measure the quality of your software work enviroment
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Do you think that Realm’s content marketing (every article) meets these criteria?

  1. Ties in to their marketing. (I.e., the article naturally leads users to what they are selling. eg., my Mic article would be GREAT for someone selling tech support services, but not for someone selling mics or speech therapy software. BTW, Dan Norris is the one I stole that idea from in (Content Machine). He is extremely strategic about his topics.

  2. Evergreen - solves a problem/question that users will have for many years to come.

  3. Is the canonical source for the above problem/question. Is clearly the best resource for humans (solves their problem.)

BTW, the above are actually not a lot of work. (For my new article it was probably 30% of the total effort). But it is by far the most important.

Where you aim is far more important than how often you shoot or the caliber of your bullet!

Have you read Content Machine by Dan Norris?

Did you do any research on competing articles on poker stats?

I kinda view content like a product:

  1. Can I do a better job than the existing products?
  2. What is the pain I’m solving?
  3. How long will this pain be around?