TII #001: How I Made $1740 With an Abandoned Startup
Actionable lessons from an abandoned startup and insights into a sales process.
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At the end of September 2021 I started working on ChronoShift.io.
I have been working on several things in the previous years, but none of those projects went anywhere. This was either because I did zero marketing, or lost faith in the idea and never launched.
This project was different.
It was my first serious attempt at building a startup.
I went into working on ChronoShift knowing I had to get over myself. Talk to people. Finally shaking the “build it and they will come mentality”.
ChronoShift is a simple time zone converter usable on any device.
I got the idea after moving from Europe to New Zealand.
I needed something to schedule calls over many timezones, as most of my contacts were in Europe or Asia.
The existing options were frustrating to use or not available on mobile.
Fast forward through a phase of validation and finding early users, I started building.
A simple and cheap tech stack was key. I wanted to reduce the maintenance effort and cost as much as possible.
Once the MVP was done, I focused on marketing.
So far so good.
I spent days filtering the latest posts on Twitter for “time zones suck” to provide the poster with a direct link to the conversion they were looking for.
Other times I would reach out to people who were frustrated with the competition or write blog posts on how to use the tool.
The turning point
Despite continuous marketing efforts over two months I saw little traction and only moderate traffic to the site.
I decided to step away.
Here is where I went wrong:
I entered a saturated market. Don’t get me wrong… competition is good. The fact that the alternatives get millions of monthly page views is good validation. Yet, my competitors are decades ahead in SEO and this showed. Getting search traffic in this niche is a herculean task.
Weak unique selling proposition (USP). My product is a bit faster, a bit better looking and worked on all devices without an extra app. That’s it. The other products mostly still solved the user’s problem. Getting people to switch from something they know is difficult.
However, because of the almost nonexistent cost/effort factor, and my own need for the product, I kept the project in a zombie state. E.g. no development and no marketing but still available.
I accepted the product as failed.
Almost 11 months later, in October 2022, I received an email.
Someone liked the service, but needed a custom solution for their globally dispersed team. Logins weren't an option for privacy reasons, and the time conversion table needed to cover many specific locations by default.
I replied within hours of receiving the email, proposing a deal to implement a custom solution.
My proposition: An initial development fee plus a yearly subscription to cover ongoing costs due after delivery. Totalling US$1740 all in all for the first year. Here is an excerpt of my sales email:
I created an invoice and a custom corporate subscription via Stripe. This was easy as ChronoShift was already set up as a business a year ago.
They paid the initial fee right away, I developed and delivered within 14 hours of receipt.
It took a while including a few reminders to receive the subscription fee, but in the end it all went through.
Why this worked:
The solution they wanted was unique. None of the alternatives offered anything like it.
When writing the sales proposition, I focused on being decisive, explicit and clear about the conditions. I aimed to cover every potential question to reduce the amount of back and forth. The less friction, the better.
I replied and delivered rapidly. This was partly possible thanks to my simple tech stack.
Know your niche/market. My plan was to monetize ChronoShift with Ads first and foremost. This requires significant traffic, which was extremely hard to acquire. I was foolish not to research this beforehand.
Make sure to have a strong USP. Better performance and design usually isn’t enough. This is especially true when entering a saturated niche.
Choose a tech stack you can maintain easily. It’s vital for Indie Hackers to choose simplicity over most other things. My tech stack not only requires little to no effort to maintain, but also allowed me to implement the special request lightning fast. Tools like Testimonial.to can make your life a ton easier.
Balance cost with simplicity. ChronoShift.io costs very little to run (<$20/mo). Keeping it available without any income for a whole year is ultimately what allowed me to strike the deal all this time later. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend money. Your time is worth a lot, so choose paid services where appropriate.
Bonus: Practice sales and negotiation early. If you are a startup founder, you will need it sooner or later. Guaranteed. Know what you are worth, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
You never know when an opportunity comes along. Be ready to strike. I’m grateful I practiced this years beforehand.
ChronoShift has a small, steady stream of users and even makes some money now.
Despite the interest, I still won’t work on this startup actively. The main issue still stands… the USP is weak.
That said, if my only paying customer has any requests, I will fulfil them in no time. A win-win for both parties.
At the end of the day, you could attribute all of this to luck. However, I put myself into the position to be lucky and I encourage you to do the same.
Build something, but make it easy for yourself.
My recommendation: Choose simple solutions that are easy to maintain.
Also, be flexible and ready to seize opportunities like this even if they aren’t what you planned for. As long as you put your products in front of people, you are on the right path.
I hope you found this article helpful.
PS: If you want to read about the tech stack I use, you should read this article.
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