2014 was a pivotal year for us here at Gleam, we’ve gone from humble bootstrapped beginnings to now having a product that is reaching more than 10M users every month & growing at 20%. We’ve managed to ditch our corporate jobs, dictate how we work, what we work on, and most importantly – we’re having fun.
It’s hard to believe that we started this journey almost 6 years ago, and only now is it turning into the reality we had dreamed about. Very surreal.
Fast forward to now. I sit here contemplating writing a huge transparent post with all our metrics, but as awesome as that would be – it’s just not actionable. We’ve learned a lot in the last 12 months, whether it’s from failure, testing out a radical idea or simply just stripping something back to to bare essentials.
So instead I decided I’d share with you the top 5 things we’ve done in the last 12 months that have had the biggest impact on our growth.
We Only Focused On One Metric
If you do your research you might come across lot of material discussing what metrics you should be measuring for your business, particuarly if you’re in the SaaS space. MRR, LTV, CAC and ACV are all common ones that come up.
But for us, this year wasn’t about optimising our metrics. Heck, in the beginning most of these metrics didn’t even exist for us.
We had one clear, simple goal: How much recurring revenue do we need to make to support the business full time?
This figure sits on our admin dashboard, it’s the first thing we see every day when we login to the app. We instantly get to see how we’re tracking and whether the initiatives we’re working on are having an impact.
Focusing on this one number really helped me change the way I think about growth:
- When writing content I would think, how is this content likely to help me achieve my target? Will it drive signups but also provide value?
- It forced me to put more effort into cold outreach emails. How likely was I to achieve a result?
- It made us realise that we had to achieve more with less. How could we automate things to free up time to make an impact on the target?
- The target was attached to an emotional outcome (quitting our jobs). We could taste the freedom the closer we got. Which absolutely made us more driven.
- We knew that every small incremental change had an impact. But we didn’t fuss over measuring every detail, we just considered every change as a win.
Now, as a caveat. This doesn’t mean you should completely ignore all your other metrics. If I lose $1,000 whilst experimenting with Facebook Ads I just don’t ignore it, I simply wear it as a learning experience & try to improve it for next time.
We also don’t try to screw with existing things too much without measuring the results. For example, if we want to make a big change that will impact a large portion of our userbase we will always consider grandfathering existing customers, or split test the results first with a group of beta customers.
We Used Freemium As Our Marketing Engine
When you launch a new product or app that already has quite a few incumbents in the marketplace, having a free plan is a fantastic way to scale user adoption.
The number of users that signed up for Gleam this year skyrocketed, we went from 500 users to over 30k in 12 months (almost a 6000% increase).
The number of people exposed to our product every day is growing even faster, we’ve gone from under 1M pageviews a month in January to almost 30M in December (2900% increase).
More free users means more exposure to the market, which in turn means more businesses will signup. Businesses are where we make the majority of our revenue. And that has another impact, when a business starts getting good results with our product – their competitors will start signing up too!
So in 2014 we did as much as we could to leverage free views of our product to drastically increase our share of the market.
Widget Footer Branding
We tested all different types of calls to action in the footer of our widget to find the sweet spot.
In December alone we had 22k referrals just from widget footer traffic.
You can read more about all the different phrases we tested below.
Landing Page Branding
The free version of our product has Gleam branded landing pages, which users can upgrade to remove.
When users enter a contest they get an post entry notification email. Sending a lot of these (millions per month) is fairly expensive. So in return we use notifications from users on the free plan to drive signups with a call to action in the footer of the mail.
We have a bunch of different phrases in rotation to keep things fresh (and test what works best).
When a user shares something from one of our campaigns we generate a unique referral link. This link is branded gleam.io unless you add your Bit.ly API (which uses your own links/domain instead).
The advantage here is that we’re always front of mind in the social feeds of organisers & entrants, which improves our overall branding.
Nice prize. Win Starbucks + Netflix for a year. https://t.co/5RnqXHK7Nh
— Coupon Tammy (@CouponTammy) January 17, 2015
We also recently just added Twitter Cards to these links which drastically improves clickthroughs & conversions for businesses using our app.
We built our referral program during a hack weekend early in the year. To date users have generated over $15,000 in credit that they can use towards their plans (or cash out when they reach a certain threshold).
— WP Arsenal (@WPArsenal) January 11, 2015
Is Freemium The Right Model?
So you could say that our decision to have a freemium product was good for our overall user growth in 2014. But who knows what the story may have been if we were purely paid?
Freemium isn’t without drawbacks, and there are plenty (more on this in another post though).
Expect to see some experimentation with our pricing and free plan this year, any learnings of course will be shared right here.
We Focused On 3rd Party Integrations
One of our big goals for 2014 was to grow the number of services that we integrate with. Every integration that we do gives us quite a few new avenues to find new customers. We did a total of 25 new integrations in 2014, most of them were email providers.
One of the pivotal parts of this strategy is having a good integration development framework that you can reuse. For example, if a provider has good docs & a readily available sandbox API (for our integration tests) we can integrate them in less than 48 hours. Whereas integrating an enterprise email provider like ExactTarget can take many months (mostly due to delays in getting the appropiate sandbox access to their API). Every provider you work with is different, and does things in a different way. So prepare to make allowances to your workflow.
Integrations Give You A Competitive Advantage
John & I both quite avid gamers in our spare time, so we always planned to do integration with Twitch.tv (a site for videogame streamers).
This integration has enabled us to grab larger customers that may have never considered our platform, plus it also helped us become a bit of a standard in the videogame streaming world.
You Get Access To An Existing Userbase
Integrations can use up a lot of your resources to implement properly, which is why it’s important to make sure that you integrate with apps that are looking for the types of services that you provide.
You can do this in a number of ways, in our case we keep a running log of when someone asked us to integrate with a particular platform. When we feel we have a decent number of people ready to use it (or the opportunity to bring on new customers is high), then we’ll invest the time to build the integration.
On the flipside you may also get approached to integrate with other apps or platforms. Back in March we were approached by Fullscreen to integrate with their Creator Platform. This is a completely native integration that allows their content creators to sign into our app without having to register with us.
This particular integration was a huge win for us, at its peak was sending us 500 new signups a day & still sends up ~200 signups every week. It also increases our reach with other streamers & brands looking to leverage YouTube in their campaigns.
Marketplaces Drive Incremental Customers
Another area that we explored heavily this year was getting listed on partner marketplaces. Most integration partners we use will have some sort of public facing marketplace of apps that their customers can implement. Customers will browse these marketplaces looking for solutions to marketing or automation problems they might have. You can see our Gleam listing on Shopify below.
Marketplaces sent us roughly 50,000 users in 2014, which resulted in just over 2,000 signups.
Good Integration Partners Will Promote You
Building a good relationship with your integration partners is the key to success. This involves joint marketing, case studies, talking with customers and of course webinars.
The advantage here is that you can expose your partner to your customers & in turn they can do the same. We recently just did a Growth webinar with our friends over at Mad Mimi. Check it out below 🙂
Good Case Studies Are Amazing
One of the biggest areas of growth (and possibly the hardest to measure) for us in 2014 was via word of mouth. We get emails every day from personal recommendations or someone saw us somewhere & wants to know more. This really took me by surprise.
But, you need to kickstart this by seeding high quality information to the marketplace about your successes. There were two particular case studies in 2014 that we felt drove more growth activity for us than we probably spent on advertising in the whole year.
Beardbrand was probably our most successful case study of the year. To date it has been read be over 40,000 people, & I’ve had countless emails from people wanting to try to replicate the same personal success Eric has had this year.
The reality of what Eric & the rest of his team at Beardbrand have achieved has been nothing short of inspiring. Sure, Gleam had a small part to play in that, but nothing we can offer comes close to the tenacity you need to make your business a success. And these guys are proof of that.
If anything, in 2014 we rode their wave of success. What’s the learning? You never know when a case study or a partnership with a smaller brand could blow up into something bigger.
Wet Shave Club
Originally this wasn’t a case study we had written up ourselves. Rather, Rohan had written an epic post on Reddit completely breaking down how he bought Wet Shave Club from a previous owner & completely turned the business on its head. The post included strategies, stats, ideas and plenty of other material to make any small business owner shudder with excitement.
The post in question quickly became one of the most popular post of all time on /r/entrepreneur.
These types of posts are my favourite, they take you step by step through the process, through the struggles, through the successes; then break down which tools or methodologies worked well for their business. The thing you will notice (once you read the post) is that Rohan focused on building a great product, then looked at ways the community could help him market it.
He was kind enough to mention how he used Gleam to achieve some of his growth numbers, which in turn lead to huge influx of excited Entrepreneurs & businesses to us.
We Failed…..A Lot
When you read blogs (like this one), you mostly hear stories about success, about how people are growing & doing all the right things. The reality is that there’s some success, but there’s also lots of failure happening behind the scenes.
Failure can get you down, but I’m of the belief that you need to fail in order to improve. If you screw something up, you won’t screw it up next time.
In fact we’ve had over 1,846 unique code related errors happen in the last year. Most are trivial, but some fairly annoying.
Here’s some of the things we failed at this year:
We Gave Too Much Away For Free
We have 4 apps currently (Capture, Competitions, Galleries & Rewards), but we only actually charge extra for one of them (Competitions). But we still have all the outgoing costs of maintaining & supporting new apps that we don’t make revenue on. We really should have thought about ways to get to market faster from a revenue perspective.
Why did we fail here:
- We failed to make allowances with our pricing features to quickly enable new products
- We only supported 1 currency (AUD), which gave us problems with US customers getting declines (costing us customers/revenue)
The upside is that we also have a number of apps gaining traction due to the fact they can currently be used for free.
Facebook Promoted Posts Suck (For Us)
I wasted almost $2,000 on promoted posts on Facebook earlier in the year. You can see an example of the ad below, and how precise the targeting is – it targets people who use popular email providers.
This particular ad ran up a huge budget, and got hundreds of likes from people completely unrelated to my target audience. I actually couldn’t explain why it was happening (and nor could Facebook). A few people told me it’s because I added the targeting to a promoted post, instead of creating the ad from scratch in Power Editor.
Either way, lesson learned. Don’t add targeting to promoted posts.
Thanks For A Great Year
2014 has been a great year, there’s been plenty of ups & downs, we’ve met more people than we care to mention, we’re excited to be working on Gleam every day, and we feel like we’re just getting started.
Here’s to a great 2015!
Stuart & John.