Ben Howdle
Ben HowdleSoftware Engineering consultant

Should I abandon a functioning SaaS with no paying users?

I'm the creator of Ekko - https://ekko.site/ | https://www.producthunt.com/post... - "Create your business website in seconds, using your Facebook page". Me: I'm a full-time software consultant (https://benhowdle.im/), Ekko was intended as a side-project to generate passive income, not to be a fully fledged startup from day 1. My aim was/is to make it incredibly simple for small businesses to create and keep their business website online and updated. The user connects their Facebook Page to my service, picks a theme and their new site is online. Every time they update their FB Page, the website (on my service) is instantly updated. This part is free, as you have a subdomain URL. To add a custom domain, it's a monthly fee. I launched the SaaS in early 2017 and spent 3 months promoting/pushing it out to my networks online. This led to a lot of positive feedback, but almost zero paying customers (in fact, only 1 person ever paid, then subsequently cancelled their subscription due to budgetary reasons). Since then, I've occasionally tweeted about it, and gone through various phases of motivation to properly push/advertise/market it, but that side of it feels completely unnatural to me, I'm far more happier sitting behind the screen, building the product. It gathers 1-2 sign ups a week, but zero conversions. My specific question is, what the heck do I do with it? In my opinion, it is my most complete piece of software that I've released. Everything works nicely, payment integrations with Stripe and GoCardless, domains through DNSimple, themes are just a set of React Components, so they'd be easy for people to build. It seems a real shame for it to be sat online, doing very little. I really don't want to abandon/take it down, because I spent a lot of time building it. Should I try and sell it? Should I just give up? Am I missing something blatantly obvious? If anyone's got any advice, broad/specific/big/small, I'm all ears. If you want to drop me an email, I'm at hello@benhowdle.im
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Lara Russo
Lara Russo@lararusso_ny · Product, Octoboard
@ben_howdle Hi Ben, yours is a brilliant, brilliant idea. There are a couple of things I would do. First check out your competition. I found uKit in about 1 minute. They launched 2 years before and charge 3.5 USD per month. You can't compete with that right now. However, there are a few things you could try. Unfortunately, you have to lower the price and go for REACH first. Only as an example: give users free usage forever as long as they host on your domain as subdomains (say, mysite.ekko.site). It will get expensive for you due to your hosting costs BUT you will get A LOT of reach and save on advertising. Google will love you and you will get serious organic traffic. This will be great "almost free" advertising. At some stage, advertise on Facebook - this is where your clients are. Target local businesses, not individuals. Pitch "Increase your business visibility, get more traffic, win new clients" (which conveniently enough is a true offering here). Then charge for additional value. Examples: 1 USD per month for a custom theme (charge for 12 or 6 months, do not offer monthlies for that price). Or 2 USD per month for hosting. I am making prices up, you can do a better price intelligence exercise based on competition. Most importantly - see what else adds value and charge for that. Businesses will pay you not for the web site but for additional leads they get from it. Until you help businesses save time or make money they will not come to you. I really think you have great potential. Do some serious competitor analysis and keep going. 1.5 years as a side project is great outcome. If it still costs you nothing - keep at it, and, oh, use your data with octoboard.com (sorry, shameless self-promotion here) :-)
David Hutcheson
David Hutcheson@hutchlsc · Digital Customer Support Evangelist
@ben_howdle @lararusso_ny This is some really valuable marketing advice that you're getting for free. If you decide to hold on to Ekko, I would certainly +1 on Lara's advice.
Benjamin Sehl
Benjamin Sehl@benjaminsehl · Founder, Kotn
@ben_howdle @lararusso_ny — I scrolled down to write that you should abandon it, thinking you're suffering from sunk cost fallacy. But reading Lara's comments, I think there's a great case to be made for keeping going if you follow her thinking and strategy. This pitch: "Increase your business visibility, get more traffic, win new clients" should be 100% of the focus of all marketing and communications. People don't want an easy to use FB CMS, they want more business without having to do more work. Personally, I didn't know that this was a big pain point for people and haven't heard any small-business friends complain about managing the content on a website. It's often a thing they do one time and then update every year or two. And if anything, I've often found solo-preneurs who care too much about their website content and get super granular. Anyway — there's certainly a way to make this viable if you really believe in it and think it needs to exist / have heard a number of people talk about how they need something like this. If that's not the case, and you're keeping it going because it's already going … I'd pull the plug and focus your obvious skill on projects that are more fruitful. If you want to serve small businesses, go ask 10 nearby companies what keeps them up at night, and see there's any common themes that your skills could address in some way.
Fiona Holder
Fiona Holder@fiona_holder
@ben_howdle Honestly, for this kind of service, £14.99 a month is a LOT. You're offering a tool for small businesses and small businesses just don't have that amount of money to spend on convenience. Also, with 1-2 sign ups a week, it will take you months to get a conversion even with the right price, I'd imagine. Hopefully with a lower price point it would attract more sign ups too.
Jason S
Jason S@jasonser · Business Development @ Bemuseful
@ben_howdle Ekko is a Great Idea with very good potential. I believe you know this from your heart. I think and feel the same as you. I think what you just need is to re-think on how you the monetization of EKKO with better marketing and sales communication. As I only came across EKKO today, do give me sometime to dwell on it and hopefully I can give you a more organized suggestions. But for now, here's what comes to my mind at first look... - Testimonial PLUS... Maybe you can add a few Real Life Case Studies from real user on top of the testimonial you had. This will help your target client to relate better with why they would want to pay for your service - On your PH page, there are quite a a few features that were not really "highlighted" if not explain and elaborate a bit in depth, again, it helps to "sell". Features like - SSL - WHOIS privacy - A variety of themes to choose from ( I know this is covered but feel you really can add more "feel is too thin personally - G Suite and Google Analytics integrations (This is covered in Q and A, but can certainly be highlighted) - SEO ( How? What does it look like? I personally will be interested to know before I pay or recommend anyone to do so) Note: Now Ben, I know maybe as a software consultant, you may prompt to think that "Less is More" for your website copy; believe me,Imyself love to keep things simple and sleek, But from my experience, for online marketing, a more in depth and longer marketing copy always sells better as long as they are engaging, especially for products and service of your nature. - Pricing I kind of agree with @myaccessibleweb that "£14.99 a month is a LOT", but not entirely. See there are a lot of choices to build a website these days for "non techie" these days, a lot of them cost even more than what you are offering. While having a lower price is one option. But there are a lot other pricing tactic you can play around - Perhaps a "Limited" Bi-Yearly or even Annual Price that have a steep discount. - Or simply a limited monthly discount for the 1st 100, 200, 300 users? - At least you can people to use it, these are your "Virgin Buyers" and you can and WILL learn a lot from them. You said you started this on early 2017, so it may be a year and the half now. The big chunk of time was spend on building it and making the back-end to be perfect I guessed. I understand you may not be motivated to do the "selling", but we at least need to figure out the "marketing" part then the selling will come easier. If you were my client, I will advise you to hang on and not give up EKKO just yet, perhaps for another year or so if you can afford, then work out a new marketing game plan to focus on increasing both paying and non paying user base, execute the plan with a time-frame and then decide from there. But as I said,even I just seen EKKO today,I love the idea, so give me sometime to dwell on it and hopefully I can give you a more organized suggestions. Cheers Jason S P/S: I don’t speak the Queen’s English but I always say what I mean and mean what I say! And I look forward to create something meaningful from our connection here, no matter how long it last!
Tayler
Tayler@tayler2412 · Builder, Designer, StudioMinted.com
@ben_howdle I would buy this and turn it into a 25K monthly rev business in 6 months. Think I am cocky - absolutely not - here is why: You killed it with concept and idea and there is a huge need for something like this, but the product isn't finished yet. 3 things you should try before pulling the plug: 1) Your market is central around facebook users, which the majority of them are an aging demographic, and seldom would need something this, either they are a small business and can afford their own lander or they are a creator, business professionals and rely on twitter, linkedin, behance, divant art. snapchat --> these are your users. Open this up to "generate your landing page with your social networks!" --> and integrate feeds from multiple sources. This would be huge and something creators, young professional would be highly excited for and easily pay 15/mon for. When your users love your product price won't matter. -- 2) Next add more themes, and showcase these upfront. In today's world customization is huge and users expect to have power over there content. 1-4 design won't be a lucrative selling point for the young-professional-audience your targeting. 3) rebrand - this is a must and here is why: your going after the same users that will be interested in squarespace, wix and cards (maybe even brandcast), so look sleek and slim like them but you will sell them on the fact that your themes are 30 second to set up and everything else is automated. 4) Bonus tip: pat yourself on the back, getting this topic out there, pushing out a prototype is huge! Your going to kill. The name is awesome. If you need design/frontend assistance i am happy to help
KP
KP@thisiskp_ · Maker, entrepreneur, product nerd
@ben_howdle Let me offer a counter-perspective to the comments here. It's a tough choice as a founder. Been there in your exact shoes recently. It was hard but I moved onto a better idea while keeping the lessons and I felt liberated. Life's good now.
J. Alexander Curtis
J. Alexander Curtis@_jacurtis · Co-Founder, Yagi Telecom
@ben_howdle @thisiskp_ I get the sense that this is more of a side-project. Just to provide some context.
Sam Bible
Sam Bible@bravo40 · App Aficionado
@ben_howdle It would be a shame to abandon such a cool project that clearly has so much effort invested in it, but there are a couple good reasons you might: 1) it's costing you more money that you can afford, or 2) you don't enjoy wearing the business hats required. It's a lot of work to wear those hats in addition to be great at building product, and it's not for everyone. It wasn't for me, and I learned I prefer working with a team to build things. Learning whether or not you enjoy that and want to do more of it in the future should be chalked up in the win column even if you walk away from the project. An option to address the business components would be to find a non-technical cofounder to work with, though that's easier said than done. However, if you're not ready to call it quits just yet and enjoy entrepreneurship, there is a lot of interesting work still to be done! A starting point should be to do some business debugging. Understanding where things are breaking down allows you to start investing your energy in the most useful areas. A great tool for this is to look at things through the lens of pirate metrics (so named be cause of the AARRR acronym: Acquisition (are enough people learning this exists), Activation (are they interested enough to try it), Retention (do they stick around), Revenue (do they pay), Referral (do they tell others about it)). Each of these areas can be measured and optimized. (See the Lean Analytics book.) Retention is almost always the most important one to start with. If you can make that work, you can grow; if not, any growth is just water in a leaky bucket. With retention, at a high level you are working on getting the product-market fit right. (Running Lean is an invaluable resource here.) A great deal of this will involve meeting with business owners who would be potential customers and asking them lots of questions. Critically for Ekko, you have to get to the bottom of the question: what is the problem Facebook Pages is not solving for them, and how does it negatively impact their ability to make more money/get new customers from their perspective? For most people, the answers they uncover along the way as they interview customers will cause the product to take a different shape that creates a stronger value proposition for potential users and also helps clarify what marketing messaging should be. If these concepts sound at all intriguing (I thrive on them), they may be worth pursuing. But this path is not for everybody and if you enjoy the building side of things more, it is great to recognize that and enjoy that path instead.
Lara Russo
Lara Russo@lararusso_ny · Product, Octoboard
@ben_howdle Accidentally, how are you getting on with Facebook approval of your POSTS API access? The deadline is in two days (Aug 1st). If Facebook no longer allows you to get and analyse user posts via API your project is as good as dead. Just being honest here ...and very much genuinely interested.
Lyondhur
Lyondhur@lyondhur · T&R Project Manager at Weta Digital
@ben_howdle this is an overly saturated space, with murderously competitive options and in a realm that — my apologies — is now dying by the hour: the need for small businesses websites. Moreover, if a small business is running with a Facebook Page with all the engagement and tools that it already provides — also likely why they are there in the first place — your first signal that users won’t need a “web skin” to their FB pages is probably obvious in the amount of non-payers. You can safely assume that they have done it because 1) is free and 2) it’s a nice to have. I wouldn’t be surprised if they drive little to no traffic from the service through their business. Stats? However bright your resetting strategy may be, all you would have to focus at is whether it hits your 1) break even and your 2) profitability goals. If it’s too far from your CAC (customer acquisition costs).. unashamedly, cut the time, energy and money expenditure; be it by selling it as assets or by shutting it down. A side note: being smart about feasibility is a lot different than “abandoning” a project. What isn’t smart is to keep placing a bet you may have enough evidence it won’t pan out already. If that’s the case, use the knowledge that you produced (which is not ever a waste) to recreate something better, something that solves a problem with a much requested solution. Next time, aim even higher than you think you can achieve. Don’t be afraid to restart. Killing a project may also mean bringing life to your newest and best ideas. Very best of luck and sincere congratulations on the great work and refreshingly embracing attitude towards your own progress. You sound and feel like the thriving maker that will, eventually, make it big. You’re the reason why we all gravitate around making stuff with enthusiasm and admiration.
Jacob Berg
Jacob Berg@jakefromdubsado · Founder/CEO Dubsado
@ben_howdle Starting anything is always going to require a lot of work upfront. I'm sure you've seen in your consulting line of work, the more you put in the more you get out. It may have started off with one or two clients, but you kept working at it and built up referrals and constantly worked with past, and current clients to address any needs that might popup for them or to have your brand ringing in their ear in the case they know someone that needs your service. The same thing goes for any side project. You can build the platform, but it doesn't mean it's going to attract any real attention. The best thing to do in that case either while building the system so you can premarket, or during/after launching it, is build a community of people around it. Building a community through a a couple social media channels is going to allow you to get a heads up as to if people are really looking for the service, they'll give you little tid bids of ideas that would provide them value, and they'll be people that you can market to when you launch, bring out new features, or when you are just in a good mood and want to post a picture of your Starbucks bar code and buy everyone a cup of joe. There is a minimum amount of work involved with building a community like that. It's really tough and giving people direct access to other customers is either going to make things easier to convert into sales, or make things worse if people have complaints within the product. Either from features, or from price point. But until you start herding users to your platform, you're never really going to gather enough data to perfect your system. The online community of customers is getting more picky as to where their money goes to. If something is setup purely to generate some side cash, your possible users are going to pick up on that and possibly pass on the opportunity to even give you a try. Passion is infectious; if you can't be passionate for your product how can you expect others to be passionate for it?
Christopher Aumueller
Christopher Aumueller@chrisaumueller · CEO & Founder at FanWord
@ben_howdle I also think that this is actually a really good product and serves a great purpose. There have already been some very valuable comments, but here are my two cents. 1) If I make a very rough estimate, I would imagine you have roughly 150-200 free users (given your 1-2 users/week comment). Having converted one of those to a paying customer is not a great conversion rate, but also not the worst that ever existed. Im sure you are aware of conversion rates. So, not sure I would use that as an indicator of this product being good/bad. 2) One thing you can definitely do (and should IMO) is contact your free users and ask them what they like/dislike about the service and what other features they would like to see. If you, for example, get a consistent response that is along the lines of a particular feature, maybe thats where monetization can happen. Some good old customer research might help. 3) I understand the passive income component but I do believe that every product, especially in its first year(s) requires a lot of attention. Some fluctuating phases of motivation rarely make the trick. As a result, one other thing you could think about is your Marketing efforts. Have a look at what you have done and then check your results. How many conversions did you get (sign ups) in relation to your impressions/reach, etc. Are you doing a good job with marketing or are there a lot of lost opportunities. Maybe a "better" marketing strategy could up your weekly signups to 5-10. At the end of the day, I think you have a good and clean product. I also think you can make some money with it. So, maybe you still need a few more answers before you can decide if its worth pursuing further. a) What people like/dislike, b) what they would be willing to pay for, c) why they arent purchasing right now (is it the price point, is it the wrong value-add, etc.), d) is marketing your cause of "non-satisfying" conversions?! Those would be four things you could probably get to somewhat easily. I truly wish you best of luck and sincerely hope you can get your desired results.
@ben_howdle Heads up the 2nd website on your examples list is broken
La Voix du chat artiste
La Voix du chat artiste@cahtartiste · CEO + CTO of 42s.video
@ben_howdle 4.99 seems the right price for me, try that discount to the first 100th users and You should have quickly a few bunch of subscriptions. Don't forget that people who start with a facebook without a website to it for economical reason, and that is probably the problem of your target, small starting company existing since 1 year+ but with low budget, so unhopefully price is real issue from your potential customer.
Cadu de Castro Alves
Cadu de Castro Alves@castroalves · CTO at blastmkt.com
@ben_howdle I love it! I'm not your potential customer (I'm a developer) but I believe there is a big market here. I partly agree that the price can be a problem. Competitors like Wix and Squarespace charge less than you in their first tier plans (about 4 and 11 euros, respectively). I know that their solutions are different but the outcome customers get is the same (a website). Think about it. ;) Since you already have users, I believe you should talk to them to understand why they signed up and figure out what you can do to convert them into payment customers. All the best for you!
Daniel Roger Casanova@danirogerc · Love for business, design and technology
@ben_howdle @castroalves I agree to this.
Daniel Roger Casanova@danirogerc · Love for business, design and technology
@ben_howdle why don't you consider selling it to someone else or getting a cofounder that takes care of growth / marketing / sales?
Vlad Korobov
Vlad Korobov@vladkorobov · Product Manager
@ben_howdle how much did you spend on marketing? I think there is a marketing agency who is willing to work with revenue share. So you give your product to marketers and see what will happen. May be you will try multiple agencies, but I am sure there are customers for your product.
Very Small Problems
Very Small Problems@99smallproblems · Developer
@ben_howdle Love the concept and I can tell you put a lot of work into this. Kudos. This really hits home. I love building ideas but the marketing side is tough. Not necessarily because I don't want to do it but it's just an entirely different skillset. With that in mind... I have one piece of advice. If you're not strong in the sales/marketing side, see if you can partner with others who are. Meaning, it seems like your niche is small businesses? More specifically people who don't have the time or technical expertise to make their own website. See if you can't partner with some social media, SEO, or Facebook Ad specialists in your area. If they're offering their services to businesses then maybe Ekko could be their 'recommended tool'? When I was slanging web services back in the day, I offered tiered services because I had some clients that just needed a little help and others that needed ongoing services. For the companies that just needed a little help, I generally set them up with easy to use tools so they could do it themselves. Ekko would've fit the bill for a couple of them.
Waheed Barghouthi
Waheed Barghouthi@waheeds · CEO
@ben_howdle simple answer, I would not. Keep working on it until it works! if that what you really want?
Waheed Barghouthi
Waheed Barghouthi@waheeds · CEO
@ben_howdle and I will give you 25% discount for life on dakwak.com :)
Jason Yormark
Jason Yormark@jasonyormark · Owner of MarketerGig.com
@ben_howdle I disagree with everyone on price. If you're a small business and you can't afford $15/month for your website presence, you have no business being in business. Now that being said, if competitors are charging less, you have to offer more to justify it. The bottom line is, you need a partner with a background in marketing and/or business development. You said it yourself, that's not your area of expertise or passion and you're never going to get this anywhere if you don't have someone with the knowledge, expertise and passion to grow what you've built.
Val Scholz
Val Scholz@valscholz · Head of Engagement @revolutapp
@ben_howdle How much time/effort did you spend on growing your business? You've built an MVP, now get out there and hustle. First, I'd reach out to all your customers and asked them why they chose not to progress and pay. Set up Skype calls and truly understand the needs of your potential customers. Then, set yourself daily or weekly targets and just do whatever it takes to reach this target. This can be done via Linkedin, Facebook, Quora, PH, Reddit, Forums, Blogs, Twitter, etc. - Just spend 3-4 hours a day doing it. 1st Week: 5 sign ups / day 2nd Week: 10 sign ups / day 3rd Week: 15 sign ups / day 4th Week: 20 sign ups / day Once you have a good amount of data, you can optimise the activation (onboarding) funnel. Visitors / Sign ups = Acquisition Rate Sign ups / Paying customers = Activation Rate ----- Talk to customers that haven't activated to figure out where they get stuck and how you can improve your onboarding to get more people to start paying for your service.
Justin Scheetz
Justin Scheetz@justinscheetz · Founder, Boxy Studio
@ben_howdle Agree about the pricing, but this is without knowing your costs to keep it running. And if they're ONLY paying to move from a subdomain to a custom one, the price sounds even higher. I love the concept and product, that's not where I would focus. I would try a different pricing model and push it out there again with some advertising, etc. I would try this: 1. A 30-day (or heck, 45-day) trial, full featured (even the custom domain should be included with the free trial). Give them access to everything/ 2. After 30 (or 45) days, they can choose to pay monthly or annually. No free tier. 3. Pricing is hard, but I would pin it around £8/month or save them some money and offer a £72/year plan as well. I think you'd get similar sign ups (as long as you don't request their card upfront) and better conversions with the lower price and letting them use a custom domain upfront (they've already purchased a domain, why waste it?). Good luck with everything, you have a great little product here!
Cody King
Cody King@codyking3 · UXer/ self
@ben_howdle I agree with Fiona. I think you need to find the right price point for your customers and then do some research with them. People who sign up, reach out to them (or hire a researcher) to get to the root cause. Do some A/B testing on the conversion page. I would make it a paid service regardless, but something nominal that no one would even notice, but after a trial period.
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