3 Days after launching my first product, Notion Startup OS as an Indie Hacker, I made $1.2K+ in revenue. However, I feel like the lessons I learned are worth more than that.
Here're 10 lessons I learned after making my first $1K as an Indie Hacker.
1. Learning builds knowledge. Doing builds experience!
During the past 3 years, like many of you, I read many books on building startups; The Lean Startup, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Zero To One, and the list goes on.
They were all great books; I learned a lot, and they paid off double time. The one misconception I had was that reading translates into learning, and learning translates into better decisions; this was wrong!
What I learned is that it launching a successful project needs experience, not knowledge. Practice launching smaller projects. You'll build experience; experience means better decisions, and that's what you need to launch successful projects.
Less learning, more doing can get you to better results, faster.
2. Attract customers first, then build the product.
As I shred in my case study, my tiny email list (1.6K subscribers) was responsible for $438, that's 36.5% of the revenue, and it costs nothing to send the emails. It's almost 348% ROI.
If I didn't share the free templates back in august last year, I wouldn't have collected these 1.6K emails, and my pre-order launch would have been much harder.
My advice is to start early, build a piece of the product, offer it for free (in exchange for email), create a landing page describing your product and why someone should care.
Remember, I'm talking about 1.6K emails; imagine what the numbers would look like If I had 20K emails! Build an email list first, then build the product.
3. Go to your customers instead of asking them to come to you.
I made a special list of 53 generous founders who paid for the free templates. I started emailing them about the new product's pre-order, sharing up to 100% discount codes to reward them for their kindness. My first 10 emails sent got 1 response.
I thought that something was wrong because I wasn't cold emailing, all of the emails I sent were tailored to each of them, yet the response rate was frustrating. I didn't give up and sent another 6 emails, and this time got 2 responses. That's a total of 3 responses out of 16 emails sent.
Then I thought maybe the email wasn't the best way to reach them, so I decided to try LinkedIn. But, since I wasn't connected to many of the remaining 37 founders, I couldn't DM them.
I purchased a LinkedIn premium plan and sent 15 InMail messages. The results were 7 responses out of 15 InMail messages and 10 responses out of 20 direct messages.
This was important because I needed to collect at least 6 testimonials to add to my landing page, which was worth the time.
2 things I want to clarify here:
- This depends on your target audience; my audience was founders. It makes more sense to contact them on LinkedIn than any other method.
- I hate how LinkedIn InMail got spammy lately, so please don't use it to spam people. Make your messages personalized, short, clear, and talk to make connections rather than get customers.
Next time email fails you, try Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. If your customers spend more time on Twitter, it's better to go to them instead of making them come to you.
4. Every customer is a unique individual. Treat them that way.
Speaking of my list of the 53 founders who were generous to pay for the free templates, when I started emailing and InMailing them on LinkedIn, I wrote all emails one at a time.
I gathered lots of -public- data about them and their startups and spoke to them as someone who knows them for a while; when I loved a product, I expressed it. When I saw a bug, I shared it. When I had feedback, I offered it, so every email was different, but they shared the same CTA.
I know this takes time. It may only work on a small scale and for certain types of customers, but my point is to look at them as humans, not potential customers; why is this important?
- First, it will help you build better connections which can lead to more opportunities.
- Second, it will act as a warm introduction for your upcoming emails/messages, so when you talk, they listen carefully.
Do you remember when your attention became 150% when a teacher said your name back in school? It works the same!
5. Grow relations, not numbers!
Growing your revenue is always a good thing. It's why we do what we do in the first place. Most importantly, it's what allows us to have more freedom.
But growing your connections, building relations can be twice as good as increasing numbers because numbers don't have feelings. Of course, you need money to buy ads, but building a solid connection with a customer can spread the word about you and your product even better.
Combine this with the 3rd & 4th lessons, and you'll build better connections & more substantial relations with your customers. Here's a little story that may inspire you.
Yesterday, I noticed that I got a new pre-order (without discount) from the email [email protected]…co, The moment I saw the email, I instantly knew who he was. He was one of the 53 founders I rewarded with a 70% discount code a couple of days ago, so why didn't he use the code!
I sent him this email:
Now, If I didn't (or wanted to) know my customers well, I'd probably missed that and would've made $26.6. Still, to me, Jason (or any other customer) is worth more than that, and I'd love to grow my relationship with my customers more than I grow my numbers.
6. Attract affiliates as if they were customers.
As I shared in my entire case study, affiliate can be one of the best ways to get new customers. Yet, you can easily forget it while you work so hard to get new customers some other ways.
The lesson I learned is that putting in the efforts to attract the right affiliates can get you to new customers faster and cheaper than most other ways.
In my case, I'm one affiliate Valentin Geffroy founder of Notion Everything, was responsible for 781 sales and +$150 in revenue. Since I wasn't promoting the free templates any other way, that was 47% of the total sales number and 60% of revenue. Without his contribution, I wouldn't be able to attract customers and build an email list. Thanks, Val!
I'm an affiliate myself for some of the products I use daily, and it helps me and the creators earn more while doing the things we love.
One thing I learned is that your relationship with your affiliates should be an absolute win-win. The more they earn, the more you earn, and vice versa. They do (or did) a lot of work, so be generous and discuss a commission to reach a sweet spot. (20% is a good starting point for most affiliates)
7. Test your limits before buying Ads.
This lesson might sound wired, I know that sometimes it's so difficult for new products to start getting customers without paying for it, but I think that this isn't the best way to do it. Why?
Because buying ads at the beginning can make you fall into the trap of what Eric Ries called “Success Theater“. It may also result in unclear analytics, leading to bad decisions that can break your marketing plan.
For example, you may buy google ads and completely ignore working on your SEO. In the short term, you attracted some customers from those ads, and that might make you happy, but in the long term, you may lose a lot of customers to your competitor who invested in SEO since day 1.
I also learned that not paying for ads to attract customers in the early stages of your launch (or pre-launch) can indicate how valuable your product is. Plus, it can help you, later on, to know where and where exactly you should buy ads. Because accruing your first 25 (or more) customers organically can help you find out what they have in common (cohort).
8. You MUST know why and how you made a new customer.
This lesson is also another reason you should try out every possible (not spammy) organic way of acquiring customers. It can be the most challenging thing to do, but I believe you must do it for as much as possible.
Whenever you get a new customer, ask yourself 2 questions
- How he became a customer?
- Why did he decide to purchase/subscribe to my product?
In most cases, the “how” question is straightforward; however, in my case, Gumroad analytics showed that $418 (that's 37.2%) came from my landing page, which wasn't the complete answer. So I still had to figure out how they got to my landing page. (more details in the case study)
If you already know “why” a customer purchased or subscribed to your product, that can be a good thing, but if you don't, that's even better!
Because this will give you the chance to build a relationship with your new customers by simply asking them why they purchased your product? It won't only increase their royalty but also help you improve your product to align with your customers' expectations and needs.
Knowing how and why you get a new customer can require some time and effort from your side. Yes, it can take some time and effort, but eventually, knowing the answers to these questions can save you much time, effort, and even money.
9. Analytics is a mirror, not a compass!
One misconception I had was that analytics is a compass, but I learned that it's also a mirror. For example, I shared how one affiliate was responsible for 47% of my customers. At the same time, Reddit was responsible for only 6%.
You can look at these numbers in two ways:
- Affiliate is better than posting about my product on Reddit, and I should dedicate more time attracting affiliates.
- Or I should become better at attracting customers from Reddit.
You probably guess that I used to believe that I should put more time and effort into attracting affiliates than to be active on Reddit.
Until I spend 1 day being fully active on Reddit, after 3 days, affiliate was responsible for 34 new customers with a conversion rate of 26.1%. Reddit was responsible for 35 new customers with a conversion rate of 28%.
So, if you were like me, looking at analytics as guidance, sometimes you should look at it as a mirror that shows how you're doing on different channels separately instead of comparing them to each other.
Instead of putting more time and effort into the top 3 converting sources, try to explore new channels because your highest converting customer source may not be even on the list.
10. Automation can work magic if used the right way.
Sadly, I learned this lesson the hard way; I planned every detail in my pre-order camping, I made a launch checklist of 32 things that I should do to have a successful launch.
On that last, I had “Create Gumroad Workflows” it was the 27th on the list! And it was responsible for $152. I'm 100% sure that the three workflows I created could've generated +$300 if they were the first thing on my checklist.
So the lesson is, create the system and then start the action. If your system is well planned and running since day 1, all the other work you do can get better results without much effort from your side.
Learn more about how I used Gumroad Workflows to get +$152 in sales and keeps going in my detailed case study.
These were the 10 lessons I learned making my first $1K as an Indie Hacker selling Notion Startup OS if you're looking for more details? You will find more in my case study How I made my first $1K selling Notion templates.
I'll keep sharing my learnings throughout the process, the good, the bad, and the ugly, so if you're interested in sharing that journey with me, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter, where I'll be sharing more exclusive details.