Looks like a great product. I may use it later this year as I'm learning Spanish.
However, your business model is weak, because people are fickle and don't stick with language learning (I should know; I've been learning Spanish for 6 years on and off). Plus, the more you use your product, the less you need it.
However, there is a much better target market: businesses. I know a whole bunch of foreign nationals in the UK who have earned money working on rather basic translation tasks for web businesses. I can imagine a tool like this would be hugely useful for those businesses. Sure, I can go use Google translate, but having a polished user experience in-browser looks a lot nicer and more professional if a customer is watching me use it.
So, I say this year focus on selling to SMEs. If you get just a few major business contracts, it will dwarf your income from regular users. You're looking for companies that work a lot on the web and interact with organisations overseas, possibly speak a little of the relevant foreign language but can't afford to pay for bilingual speakers.
- the travel industry - travel agents, companies that organise tours, tourist visitor centres, accommodation agents, etc. Anyone who might want to quickly check a foreign website.
- government, particularly anything interacting abroad or with non-native speakers.
- SME exporters
Final point - I'm not so keen on your branding. Learning a language is an exciting, potentially life-changing experience! It can increase your employability and open your eyes to entire new cultures. This is an amazing thing. "Readlang" does not say that to me. However, it's a good name for a business interacting with the corporate market I suggested above, so it may not need changing...
Good luck, I think what you're doing is awesome and you should definitely stick with it!
1. Businesses would want features that individuals don't care about. More importantly, they would want features that I don't care about. I made Readlang to serve my own needs as a self motivated learner. I feel like I have a reasonable barometer for what's useful and what will appeal to individuals. Creating something for business would be more difficult and less fun for me personally.
2. There's still a hell of a lot of room to grow with individual language learners.
3. Even if the profit is lower, I can probably reach a larger user base with a freemium consumer product. I think that the quantity of feedback and data that this provides helps me create a better product. (On the other hand - I'm sure the revenue that may come from a B2B product would also help!)
4. I can always try selling to businesses later. And with a proven, popular consumer product this should be an easier sell.
Regarding the name & branding. I'm sure it's not optimal but I'm not an expert in this and it was the best I came up with. I'm going to run with it in the short term at least.
Thanks for the advice and encouragement!
> I feel like I have a reasonable barometer for what's useful
Those two statements right there are holding you back. 1) You should ALWAYS be considering features that users want if you're trying to become profitable. If this was a charity app then sure, do whatever you want. BUT this is not, according to your blog. Put the user's needs before your own. 2) You may have a decent feel of what it takes to learn a language but I bet you a day of true market research would open your eyes to features/enhancements that you would have never even considered.
Anyway, that's my 2 cents. I think the app is really cool!
The thing is choosing which users to listen to. For now, I've decided to make an awesome tool for individual learners. So I'm listening more to them, as well as my own gut feeling.
B2B is a lot easier than B2C. I've also fell into the trap of 'building for myself'. I kind of think that's bullshit. Sure you might start an idea to solve your own itch, but I feel like 'building for myself' is akin to falling in love with the solution vs falling in love with the problem.
You need to be building for paying customers (especially if you're bootstrapping). Would it be too hard to add more features and slap on a 'Pro' or 'Business version'?
Also, any possibility of licensing or 'white labeling' your solution?
It's great that your revenues are going up though. I wish you good luck on your venture!
Creating a product for schools and businesses requires creating:
1. A great experience for the learners.
2. A great experience for the administrators and teachers.
I'm focussed on part 1, and building a business around it selling direct to individuals. I can always add part 2 later.
Dear OP, please ignore all this sage advice from people in cushy tech jobs telling you what you should do with your baby. Life is hard. We never know if we're making the right decisions. But it sounds like you have a clear vision that is driving you - that is priceless. Don't sell it away for the smart "business" move, when you already know what you should be doing.
I stumbled my way into product-market fit by designing something that was useful to me personally, and finding that actual profitability was in the mainstream--- people who were my exact opposites in terms of tastes but still strained to use my product for themselves because it was the only thing serving a similar need.
Right now they are 98% of my client base and I struggle with the fact that I don't intuitively understand their needs. I don't have a clear vision, and instead have to do user research on a constant basis.
It took me seven years to reach that point. For the first 7 years, I was ramen profitable--certainly nothing to quit a day job about. On year 7, I made a single switch and within 1 year earned 3x the previous years revenue. The 2nd year, I earned 10x the pre-pivot revenue.
I went from being able to feed myself (barely), to being able to buy a house and support a family. Is that a fair trade off, I think it is... but your mileage may vary.
I see the 'don't sell out' motivation from a lot of small business owners in my community. For another example, there is... well was... a small greek chicken joint that operated for 15 years nearby. The owner was 1st generation american, and all he wanted to do was cook his family recipes and share them with the community. Problem is the community changed in the past decade, going from being mostly European-heritage to N. African nationals. His customer base dwindled, and he never changed his stance of doing what he loved.
A month after his restaurant closed, it was replaced with one which served all halal chicken and is now jam packed with more customers than any other business sees. It's success has convinced the owner to expand leftwards into another collapsing business.
Point is... the path to profitability is finding a customer base willing to pay you. It's not important to have a clear vision, if that vision only involves a small number of people.
It's not important to have a clear vision, if that vision only involves a small number of people.
> But it sounds like you have a clear vision that is driving you
I merely suggested that he consider expanding to businesses. I'm in no position to give advice about how to run a business but why not try?
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Hm, I must have missed the part of the original post which says "Gosh, I'm so happy to live in a black and white world where my only motivation is monetary."
steveridout, go you. You're quietly making the world the kind of place you want it to be. You're an inspiration.
There is nothing inspiring about living in poverty, particularly when it would be quite avoidable if one would only stop listening to inaccurate gut feelings.
That having been said, if the author has actually made a considered decision that, when all the tradeoffs are taken into account, poverty is what he wants, that is by all means his decision to make. But it's not clear from what he's written so far that this really is his considered decision, so the advice is worth giving.
Not that he doesn't care about his users.
This is a long shot but maybe the attention from HN could be enough ammunition to get a conversation started. I think duolingo also shares OP's philosophy of focusing on regular users as opposed to businesses.
I think the splash page need a review by a third party designer. can you get someone on a freelance site to refresh it? I think the spacing is not correct in the bunny and the button. Probably moving the bunny to the left and pushing the title off.
I think the page looks professional, but there is something about it thats not OK can't put my finger on it.
I think the contrast in the yellow bar is wrong. it stands out too much. I would move the content of the bar right bellow the title and remove the yellow background.
I read some design stuff about Content, Repetition, Alignement and Proximity and helps a bit. specially when we look on a page too long and can't see the issues anymore that are apparent to new users.
I think your pricing is wrong, you should not use 5$ its a well known marketing thing.
I would bump it to 6.99$ to new subscribers its probably your optimal price. Or 4.99$ but i think people would pay for it all the same at close to 7$.
Your best marketing tool on the internet is a blog. This gives google a lot more to work with to index your page. You are passionate about the subject I'm sure you would write great posts that would hit front page.
The blog should be on your domain readlang.com/blog. check if ghost.org supports that otherwise go for a subdomain blog.readlang.com, and make links in both directions. Don't put publicity on the blog, it would like allow competition to advertise. Put a home made add to your own product.
Took about 5 minutes rearranging stuff in chrome console:
I'll do a split test and let you know how it goes.
If immediate crazy startup growth is your desire, maybe you need to hit up businesses. Otherwise, to me it sounds like you've got good growth going, albeit not yet paying full time like everyone would want. Sounds like you ace a lot of potential to become the 5- or 10-year "overnight success."
So anyway, good work sticking to your guns, as then say. Know what you want, and bring people what you think is best. You might not have people banging the door down to give you large sacks of cash, but so what? Growth is there, and with a couple more years it sounds like you could be living pretty fine if you kept it up.
Tons of money doesn't mean success. Your personal happiness does.
I empathize with and often share this way of thinking, even if it's called out as stubbornness or poor business sense.
Doing what you want to do and getting paid > getting paid for doing something you don't want to do.
On the other hand, usually when you are great at something - whatever that something is - and well compensated for it, you grow to love whatever it is you're doing and develop a sense of pride and accomplishment.
This especially applies when the business grows into a company that needs managing. The day-to-day management of two hypothetical Readlangs, the SME-Readlang and CoolVision-Readlang might not differ much at all, while the financial rewards could differ by an order of magnitude.
But I love the product and will definitely use it, and as a user hope you will focus all effort on this - your - vision. Caveat: The product is great; get more users.
2. I'm not so sure, because your churn is 50% annually. This is going to severely limit your growth. I guess it depends how far you want to take the business. And I'm not sure you can fix the stickiness of your product, as you've said that people leave because they stop studying.
3. True. I guess you could always hire someone with the money from b2b income, so they focused on the business users and you just had fun working with personal users.
Good luck, and please make sure you post again so we can see how you progress!
[edit: removed the numbers re: churn, as it was too difficult to give an accurate example!]
Yes, but they know you don't care about them, which is why they would pay you to care about them. This is what's called being a professional. As in literally being paid for your company's proven skill and expertise.
Heres how it works in the real world. Person in a company who knows sweet FA about software design and UX asks you to add a feature cause 'they want it'. Its not cause users asked for it, its cause this person thinks its good idea and they happen to be the boss/client so you don't have a choice. Thus your project is compromised and you die a little inside because of it.
That means that a single business signup could be worth 100x a single individual signup.
Individuals are price sensitive to the point where $5/month is still something they have to think hard about. Businesses can spend a great deal more than that.
As I write this I realize there's actually fugitives trying to learn Dutch, but that's a harsh market to try and profit from unless you target the government.
They are both in "beta" and hence further down the list. The reason Chinese is in beta is because it doesn't have word boundary detection, pinyin transliteration, or word frequency lists. Arabic is in "beta" because there were some issues with "right to left" text. I think this is working pretty well now though, haven't had complaints in a while, so I can think about bringing that out of beta soon.
Great work on supporting so many languages!
One of my best friends worked with me at a large corporation. He's from Bulgaria and knows seven languages - by his account his very fluent in 3-4. Got tired of all the corporate BS so he started his own translation company. They have a web app and provide translation services to businesses.
Within a year, he had more business than he could handle. There is a definite pent up demand for translation services as he clearly found out.
Just my $.02 as a user who came to your site: The landing page is still unfortunately very confusing - what I wanted to do most is to just try it out really quickly to see how it looked.
But, it took me a while (after I had scrolled through to the bottom of the site) to understand that I had to click the start learning. Then, thre was the sign-up modal that showed up on the other page; From how it came up, it felt to me like I had no option but to sign-up, and I would've turned away at that point. BUT, because I had read a couple of your posts, I knew it was possible. So I tried clicking outside of it and then it worked. Then, I picked a language and then I had this list of items which were not clear to me what they were, exactly (from the blogs I knew this was the library). So, I clicked on one.
And then it was beautiful. Like, no joke, the actual reading experience was... perfect. It worked... flawlessly.
Your core product is very, very good! It is definitely your strongest asset. Don't hide it behind the splash page, then sign-up-modal-you-have-to-dismiss, then the library UI... get users to experience your core product as quickly as possible... that'll get 'em hooked!!!
I also followed the link to the site - the "try it right now" on the Spanish email quote is a truly fantastic idea, and well-executed - but for the low-information user (i.e. me) your UI was a tad confusing. Requiring me to sign in to look at phrase translations was also off-putting, even though I can only assume this is some kind of research usage restriction.
I could try to make it more seamless by imposing this limit based on cookie or IP address if they aren't signed in yet.
Would love to know what else you found confusing about the UI?
One irritant was getting the phrasal popup repeatedly. Once it's appeared, I pretty much already know I can't do that (as noted by others already). The default should be something like deselecting the first word to allow me to look at the other. Put a non-modal message somewhere obvious that says "hey, if you log in you can see phrase translations, too".
I think your idea of seamlessness with a cookie is really promising. Let me see what it does, but warn me that I'm going to run into a limit. Maybe.
There was no real try-it-out-now link (that I saw - I'm not looking at it now, just reporting my perceptions at the time) except for trying it out on the Spanish quote - which again, I found remarkably clever. But the result is that I wasn't entirely clear about what you were actually offering. Possibly a little picture of the main UI somewhere on the front page might help. Not sure on that - as I said, it wasn't that difficult to poke around and find things once I decided I was interested, but I normally don't notice that phase at all, if you see what I mean.
Hope that helps.
The product feels like magic in the demo linked on medium.
Here are a few things I'm thinking. You probably have thought about these yourself, but anyway:
- Have you ever thought about increasing the price? I find $5/month to be at the very low-end for something that a language learner may be using regularly. If I find the product useful I'd be happy to pay $25/month or more for it. Increasing the price also has the side effect the you'll get "serious" language learners to sign up, which is probably what you want.
- Have you thought about recommending appropriate texts your users based on their difficulty? I don't know anything about Chrome plugins, but I assume that you can collect data about which pages and texts users are browsing, how often they're clicking on stuff, and so on. That sounds like very valuable data that you could use to add more value and data network effects to your product.
- Have you thought about selling to organizations (schools, classes, meetup groups) instead of individuals?
- Increasing price. Yes, it started at only $10/year, and I've gradually increased it as the product has improved. It's very difficult to know the optimal price. I use split testing for some things but it feels wrong to do this for price, and with current conversion rate it would take ages to get meaningful results anyway. I'm hesitant to push price too high because lowering it back down would be tricky. Existing users paying a higher price would be annoyed. Also, at this stage I think increasing the user base would be more valuable long term compared to milking the current users for more money. I've been wondering if I could add a higher priced tier in future for more advanced features.
- Yes! I definitely want to recommend texts to people based not only on difficulty, but also on interest. This is something that will become more valuable with more users and a larger, higher quality library of texts. It isn't highest priority right now, but hopefully in future.
- Yes. I developed some features to target at teachers managing a class of students: http://blog.readlang.com/2014/02/12/readlang-for-teachers.ht.... I got a bunch of teachers using it with real classes but decided to abandon the idea because: 1. The response was positive but usage wasn't what I'd hoped. 2. Focus. As one guy I've got enough on my plate making an awesome product for self motivated individuals. Diluting my focus and the focus of the product seems like a very bad idea.
You can do the A/B testing only on the pricing page. For ex, A would display $5 and B would display $10. When the user get to the checkout display always the lower price and tell the user he got a discount. You can measure the % that get to the checkout and the bounce rate at the checkout.
If you need to drop the price back down then drop the price for all existing users too. If you're charging monthly this is easy.
I was referring to the difficulty when I:
1. Raise prices too high
2. Conversion rate and revenue is harmed, so I then revert to the lower price
3. I now have a bunch of old users paying a higher price, and they might be annoyed when they see the price has gone down. At a minimum I'd need to alter their payment plans to give them the new cheaper price in future
I guess it wouldn't be that difficult. Still, it wasn't long ago since the last price rise and for now I'd rather focus on growing and retaining the customer base.
An example transition plan:
* switch new users to a free trial -> sign up to $5/month for continued access
* observe conversion rate from trial users to paying customers
* perform `conversion rate x existing active user base` calculation
* send apologetic email to existing users pointing out that free != sustainable, with offer to grandfather in free access to any who feel strongly enough to send you a personal email about it
Also what kind of marketing are you doing? Often with projects that one is passionate about the drive is to build more features as opposed to build a user base. I think your product is developed enough feature-wise (I am certainly looking forward to trying it now that I have heard of it), and so I wonder what you are doing to build your user base. Off the top of my head I would suggest talking to people in language learning forums & communities, creating a newsletters / reminders to keep your existing users engaged, and possibly running targeted advertisements if you haven't already.
It is much, much easier to convince a user who is already paying you money to pay more than it is to convince a brand new person to start paying you at all.
The trick is that most people won't be happy paying more for the same product - so you need to find ways to up-sell new products and features to your existing userbase.
This is another place where "business" accounts could be useful. If you were to launch a more expensive product aimed at businesses, you could market it to your existing individual users. The chances are some of them would be able to convince the company they work for to shell out - and a testimonial from an existing employee is going to be much more effective than a cold-call sales process.
Just put them back on the cheaper plan and refund them the difference, if this ever happens. It's an easy fix.
Also the on-boarding is a bit difficult, I should be able to see a few words / phrases before I install a plugin. FYI I have never installed a plugin other than an Adblocker
I've been using readlang for about a year now, and while I love the product, would never pay $25 a month for it.
It's a great product, but $25/mo is 3x more than a netflix subscription, over 2x the cost of 1TB on Dropbox, etc.
This not to mention that the vast majority of users are students and people trying to train themselves to be able to work or study in new countries.
Hundreds of dollars a year might not be a lot to you, but I assure you it is for the vast majority of people who would want this product.
I'm not saying $25/mo is a good price point, however, personal experience has taught me that (at least on products I've launched) increasing prices has always led to more revenue and profit.
There's (still) plenty of space in the market for boutique software offerings. I think it's his marketing that needs tweaking, not the pricing. Getting better copy and better targeting could mean 10x more revenue, at which point he can think about cutting prices.
I'm also merely giving my feedback as someone who (1) has a very good salary (2) enjoys readlang and uses it nearly daily (3) enjoys supporting indie software developers, that even I personally would balk at paying such a steep price, as the value would not be worth it to me.
I think feedback from consumers like myself can be valuable, as I also know others who use readlang, and none of them have anything more than a part-time job or PhD stipend which would price all of those people out of the software as well.
Also, I did not say to tweak the pricing, I was responding to the suggestion above to raise prices 5x what they are currently, and that I thought it was a bad idea.
Where his pricing is now is good, and I'm seriously considering getting on board.
I pay $30/month for FluentU.com just to watch embedded Youtube videos with the Spanish transcription beneath it as it plays:
ReadLang.com ($5/mo) has much better tech for video transcriptions (Google Translate API can translate idioms and phrases like "lo que ..." instead of only individuals words).
For example, check out http://readlang.com/library/538e3607eef55e3f75000e2c/scroll/... (Extr@ - Episode 1)
An idea for OP is to split apart text and video as a first-class distinction in the Library UI. I didn't even know ReadLang had videos until I was already a subscriber - I thought it was purely for text and websites.
If you can boost the amount of video content, I imagine you can boast about your video transcription offering like FluentU.com does which is the reason they got me to pay $30/mo to them.
One thing I like about the language-learning field is the subscription model. Living in Mexico, I was paying $15/mo for Fluencia.com without actually using it. "Why would I cancel? Surely I'll start learning Spanish any day now!" I finally buckled down and starting hitting the Spanish hard and ReadLang is an essential part of my kit.
Focus on the users that get the most utility out of the product, and relentlessly focus and optimize for them. There's plenty of value there for people that truly want to learn another language. These price comparisons to Netflix are comically misleading.
If a plugin tangential to browsing history collects all my browsing history, then I'm not going to install that plugin.
If it was changed to do that, then just outright making the plugin free and selling browsing histories might be more profitable than trying to sell the plugin.
Note that I consider these individual words and URLs to be private, but in aggregate, if multiple people visit the same URL, that anonymous data is sharable. I currently rank the most popular domains that people translate words from for each language within Library -> Web Sites: http://readlang.com/links (it isn't completely automatic, every now and then I need to manually approve new entries in the list - that reminds me - I haven't done it in a while!)
Based on my recent experience getting back in the game after 5 years of self directed projects (not all of them software related) I would say definitely don't worry about this... you have something good to show for your time (i.e. readlang) and the skills required to make it are sought after. Most other job candidates will not be able to show this degree of self determination / initiative. Just come across as hyper enthusiastic and you'd be set.
Just one concern: are you working with more people? That's the only thing I regret from my ventures back then, I was also solo-preneur, now starting to make teams and delegate more and more, and I think that's the way to go...
The main temptation you need to avoid is "micro managing", and instead you just need to have faith that people will do what you ask them to do, albeit via a different path than you may have taken.
In terms of justifying the cost of labour versus DIY - it's just an "opportunity cost" argument. If you can get better returns from your time by doing something else (eg not programming, and just dedicating a bit of time for coaching your people) then it will be worth employing others. If not, then stick with what you are doing.
Hope that helps :)
So for other readers here overwhelmed at "hiring", it doesn't have to start big. It doesn't have to get big. But it can still free your time.
There's also the emotional side to consider. There's a danger of falling into a rut when you have put a lot of effort into something and nothing / or not much to show for.
I'm a long-term side project builder myself. I have been freelancing all my life and taking time off between projects to build my side projects. I never hang in long enough though, which could be the reason why none of my ideas have taken off yet.
But I have to say that I have now basically accepted that my side projects are for fun only and my freelancing is for building my egg nest. And that feels quite good. I think I'd only go into a ownership based startup with the right partner and business model.
After three years I'd surely try to put my project on auto-pilot and do some paid work. Also to gain a new perspective on things.
Not to take anything away from the product (it's great) or determination.
(Btw Steve, we met once in Madrid, hope to be able to come back to geek lunch)
Or, more likely, at some point the growth stops, and it was all for nothing.
We're actually doing a geek lunch tomorrow, usual time and place, do come along!
The stuff I'd be more interesting is data points like: Of the people who sign-up, how many of them are still active in a month? How many of the people who are active in a month become paid users? How many of the paid users are still paying after 6 months? How important is this product to the paid users? Do they regularly refer their friends? How many people would sign up for your premium membership at $10/month? $20/month?
If people are churning left and right, then I'd be less excited than if all the paying customers loved it, but it just hasn't been marketed broadly enough.
Rough figures at the moment are:
Monthly churn of monthly subscribers is about 20%.
Yearly churn of yearly subscribers is about 50%.
When I ask why people leave, virtually everyone has the same story - they really liked the product, but they didn't have the time to devote to their language studies right now.
I'll dig into some of the other metrics you suggested in a future post.
It sounds like you've fallen into the trap of an aspirational product, like gym memberships. People want to need it, but often they don't.
But with low running costs, and a large enough supply of new users, it could still be a good business. Also, there are hard-core users who really do use it all the time, for whom the churn rate will be much lower.
My belief is that "don't have time" usually means "I've lost motivation after the initial high". A huge problem with language learning is that unless you have moved to another country or otherwise in an immersive environment then it becomes quite difficult to keep motivation and discipline high. The reward of "I can read/write/speak/listen a little better than last month" starts to pale and people realize they actually don't use their new skill on a regular basis. And like many things, getting to the next proficiency level takes increasing amounts of work. The flip side being that for X weeks of study less and less progress seems to be made.
What I'm getting at is that this churn is not a problem with your product, but a broad problem with language learning. Anything you can do to solve (or lessen) these problem is a big, uncertain task. But it's probably the only way to reduce churn. The upside is that if you do manage to make headway then you've done something major. Really major.
It seems like it might be complicated to administer, but I think the psychology works well for an aspirational product because people will like the idea of making a commitment to a personal improvement but will probably over-estimate their future activity.
(Then again, extracting a year of revenue from someone who only uses it a month or two might not be your cup of tea.)
If at all I would do something like, if you have been a previous paid subscriber, and your subscription has lapsed, you can come back at 50% of the subscription for 50% of the time you were subscribed for (so if you were there for 6 months you would have 3 months at 50% off), this way you would encourage people to come back without completely losing out on additional income
I suggest reading through alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/
He has excellent tips. For example, to paraphrase, "just open up a lesson, don't aim to finish one, because that'll feel like too much work, and you won't find the time".
I have a language learning site, and we changed our suggested method to its users because of that better approach.
That comes down to communicating how to use your product to your users. I have to do more of that too.
It's meant to encourage people to translate or recall just 10 words per day, which is a very small amount which should be doable every day. If they do this they'll build up an "X day streak" - similar to what Github or Duolingo do.
Oh and read everything by Patrick. Here are a few worth reading in your situation [0,1].
This wasn't immediately obvious to me because I accidently clicked a phrase first and it told me I had to sign up. I considered leaving at that moment, but pushed through and got the one word translation so I understood what it did. I liked that a lot. But reading through the comments, I realized I missed out on the core product. That it is a browser extension and I could do this anywhere on the web.
Without HN comments, I would've never gotten that from the example because I thought it was a bit cool, but didn't see the use case and thus didn't visit the splash page.
I'm not your target market, but now that I know what it does I will probably tell people I know who would be interested. My recommendation would be to make it super easy to understand what is going on in any of your demo's. Especially if you plan on going that route in the future.
Best of luck!
The small quote I linked to isn't at all representative of the kind of text people typically read. So not the ideal introduction to the product I agree, but it did was a neat way to get a lot of people to click through into the app to see it working.
Thanks for your encouragement!
10 years ago when I moved to Germany I had a similar learning system. I read books, I highlited the words I wanted to learn and once or twice a week I wrote them up in a small book. After a while a wrote a small VBA flashcard app for tracking my progress and randomizing the words. And that took a hell lot of time. With an app like yours I could have saved 30-60 minutes every week (2-4 hours every month) which is worth of 20-40€ a month (on minimum wage). That´s why a recommend you to spend way much more time marketing your app and finding the right customers, which means:
- already learning languages (don´t get fooled by "If I had enough time, I would use it")
- learning languages because they have to (living abroad or working international)
- saving 2-4 (or more) hours a month is worth them at least 10€ (no students spending more money on boose than on books)
IMHO you can find a lot of young professionals on forums like the "new in wahetever city" groups or expat groups in facebook.
I've had many responses from people who had an idea to create something like Readlang, but only a handful who actually built their own app like you did :-)
I agree I need to get better at finding those ideal customers, for whom Readlang should be a very easy sell.
Anyhow, I signed up for a premium account.
I couldn't figure it out how I can terminate the account if I take the monthly payment plan. You should make this clear at the beginning of the sign up process and not at the end:
and should also put it here:
I anticipatied some trust but I generally don't sign contracts without knowing how I can get out of them. This may scare the customers off.
If I were you I would do this:
- or I would find somebody who has experince with the business side of this, I would share the profit with him (the 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing)
It is up to you, but if you want to stay a one man show you have to learn how to make online business. Otherwise you have to find a business guy.
I do think your pricing options should be more prominent. Perhaps you could have a 'Go Premium' link in the top bar for those who haven't signed up for this yet?
I was looking around your site and checking some bits and couldn't help but notice that there's not a lot of SEO specific marketing activity on the site. I couldn't help but feel that there must surely be some very common phrases in various languages that people naturally tend to search for online when they have an interest in a language. If your site could provide this information, you might rank well and people would naturally progress to try your app?
I also thought there there must be LOTS of content on your site that people have curated for their own learning that you might (without breaking privacy of course) be able to capitalise on for search engine ranking. I'm thinking something along the lines of the music lyric websites where people tend to submit their content and it's publicly visible? You would need to curate it, but it just seems like madness that there's so much well organised translated content that is currently locked away from Google's view.
Tell me to shut up if this isn't an area of marketing you're interested in, but maybe something in the above will spark an idea. Regardless, all the best with this, it's lovely to see another semi-UK based bootstrapper on he HN homepage :)
I have a premium subscription, but the only reason I got it was that I wanted the product to not disappear :) The features you get with the premium subscription would not have been a reason to upgrade for me at all. I don't know if this is a problem (I used to feel that way about Evernote as well), but maybe something to consider.
I even made a prototype (roughly two years ago) that looks _a lot_ like Readlang. I wasn't motivated to continue because I mostly wanted to learn French, not build this app, none of the apps I tried (Duolingo comes to mind) worked well with the way I like to learn.
This is even better than my fantasy, the ability to upload ebooks, for example :D Great job. You have my subscription! Good luck!
One question - do you translate many multi-word phrases? If you do then you would find the free plan restrictive. If you mainly translate single words then the free plan is probably fine.
May consider restricting the free plan a bit more in future. For now I'm happy to have a lot of free users to help spread the word and grow.
Profit is not counted before wages. Wages are the primary expense in a software company. This means that the company is sort of break-even, but only when paying below market rate wages. Perhaps a little confusing is that the term "ramen profitable" is mostly a euphemism, not actual profitability.
Anyway, it's different in the UK, a company needs a minimum of 2 officers, you can be a sole-trader though. A sole-trader takes drawings from their business account, but it's not necessarily the whole revenue less costs - you might be saving for capital investments and you wouldn't want to pay income tax and Nat.Ins. on that money.
In the UK the owners of a company can be employees too, you can then get money as wages as well as getting dividends as an owner.
[Disclaimer: I'm not a financial advisor, check this detail before relying on it.]
You're quite right though, see Ch.2 at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachm....
or see https://www.gov.uk/limited-company-formation/appoint-directo....
Unfortunately I can't add an errata above as editing that post is no longer allowed.
Having a steady 400% yearly growth is awesome, this could really turn into something big in a few years.
Btw, how much time do you spend on developing vs marketing?
Hard to say how much time is spent developing vs marketing. Probably something like 90% design, development, user support, and 10% marketing. Where marketing means writing blog posts and
engaging on social media (mainly reddit, facebook, twitter).
I tried some paid advertising experiments a couple of years ago but they didn't work well at all. May try another experiment this year now that the product is more polished and has a higher value.
Regarding marketing we are in a similar spot. Only 10% of time goes to marketing and paid advertising doesn't work. I recommend reading Traction (http://tractionbook.com/), it gives you a good model on how to go about growing your company.
Good stuff with your software and I enjoyed reading your post. You need to increase your pricing though - and it seems to me you haven't fully figured out the true value of your product, so that you can "value price" it.
Email me if you'd like help putting the value proposition together. (My contact details are in my HN profile). I'm by no means an expert in what you do but I've been in sales for 15 years... so can probably still help you a bit.
I see you mention user support as a potential time suck in one of your comments. I founded a startup which essentially provides user support on behalf of busy founders. I'd be willing to offer free support credits to you (in addition to a helpdesk software which is free for all) if it would make life easier for you. I'm hoping it might save you some time. We love people who bootstrap and let me know if we can help in any way. My email is in my profile. You can check us at:
I know how hard it is for a solo founder to take care of everything himself and what it feels like to put 15 hours a day without an end in sight.
Reading something like this is quite encouraging. I too left my day job and one of the things that I am focusing on is my own projects. I make apps and in the last few months I haven't made more than 20$.
Anyway, working on my apps gives me more time for contributing to open-source and writing blog posts explaining how I solve problems, which can be rewarding on it's own.
Cheers for sharing your story and good luck!
Could you please add a field on the site where I could paste the URL of a webpage? That would work for me as a workaround to using the extension.
I avoided the "paste a URL" solution because that would mean that my server would need to fetch the content from other websites instead of each user's browser doing the work.
Until I have a better solution, for now you could resort to copying and pasting articles you'd like to read into the upload page: http://readlang.com/upload - it's not ideal perhaps, but should get the job done.
Couldn't you keep it alive by working a few hours a week, and take on contracting jobs in addition to get additional income?
I've been also working alone on a project for 3 years in my spare time (SaaS). I'll soon switch full time on it.
News are usually full of startup stories funded with millions. As readers we're blinded with only the tip of the iceberg when the real hard work and pain is rarely mentioned.
It's great to read a true story like this and for people like me it gives a invaluable point of comparison both in terms of personal experience and business success. It's also a source of encouragement.
If you're making a freemium (upgrade using in-app) mobile app that, every time you spend $5 in FB, you consistently get ~100 new users, but none of them ever upgrade (let say you're targeting people who apparently can't afford to pay), what would you do?
It's like a "good problem to have" (predictable user acquisition), but it's still a problem (no money coming).
I wouldn't consider a full time job at the moment. I'm not sure how people manage to hold down a full time job and build a startup on the side. I can imagine doing it while working a job which wasn't mentally demanding. But people working as full time programmers, I can only guess that they don't give 100% at work, or perhaps they have more energy than I do!
I've considered taking on the occasional short contract. But I'm not actively looking, I've got enough to keep me occupied with Readlang right now. (Plus, I've got a 1.5 month old baby, and they tend to reduce your free time!)
edit: I Worry this comment comes across the wrong way. I've been desperate to do a startup for years, but the financial aspect of it has always scared me. I was told at a Hacker News meetup that I probably don't have the entrepreneurial spirit, which the more I think about it, the more I agree with. I'm curious as to how your mindset works :)
I've never felt the need for lots of money to be happy. What I really value is being able to do interesting work that I'm proud of. So I'm very motivated to make money to the extent that it provides freedom to work on interesting things. And perhaps even to contract people to help out. I guess that's a philosophy shared by many of the people here.
I couldn't agree more. I'm in the same ramen profitable situation (very similar amount). I love the challenges the product throws at me. Money is indeed just a means to be able to work on those.
For those who don't agree: the average person has about 60-ish years in his/her life where he/she is able to decide what they do with their time? Why postpone doing things that interest you?
1. It feels strange to promise to provide an ongoing service for a one-off payment (I'm guessing Sublime Text doesn't have a server component, there's a big difference there). It sounds risky from my point of view. Am I still obliged to keep providing you the service in 20 years even though you only paid once?
2. The people willing to pay up-front are probably the ones most likely to stick around for the long term and provide a lot of recurring revenue. (Hypothesis - may not be true.)
3. More one-off payments makes my revenue graph much spiker and less predictable.
That said - perhaps you're right. If people are much more willing to pay up front I should trade some of the predictability of SaaS for the lucrative but volatile one-off payments. Something to consider when I revisit pricing.
You built a business, designed and built a product grounds up, you made profits, you have users. You did this all alone.
You are in the top 1% of the product/engineering managers out there.
Believe me, those who do not hire you have more to lose. Any sensible company would want to hire a person like you.
I have a profitable sidebusiness and so I feel I can relate.
You have proven a need for your product and you've done it the best way you can. You built it for yourself and it turns out other people like it too.
If your growth trajectory continues you can be doing 6 figures in a couple of years. If you have the patience and can support yourself I would recommend you do that.
Now here comes the tricky part.
To grow your company into those 6 figures and beyond, you probably now have to stop building for yourself and start building it for other people too.
But good luck it's great to see others out there doing things from scratch.
A small thing: could you please support https, especially for logins?
The login request is always sent via https, even when you are using the site over plain http. So your password should always be encrypted.
The site does work over https (try it - https://readlang.com), and at one point I redirected all http traffic to https, but there was a big problem. I use external dictionaries in an iframe to provide additional definitions and these are almost always only available over http: https://readlang.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/279539...
It worked OK for a short while, but then Chrome and Firefox both refused to display http content within a https page. Chrome displays a very subtle shield icon that the user must click on to reload the page allowing mixed content. This is far too unfriendly to expect my users to do, so I had to resort to using http again :-(
Of course, the ideal solution would be for me to have access to dictionary definitions so I could integrate them properly instead of using an ugly iframe, but with 50+ languages supported, that's a tall order!
Though it doesn't stop someone (eg. malicious software on a wifi router) altering the login form itself to submit passwords to a different URL...
1. As you say, could be against t&c.
2. Tons of requests for the dictionary page coming from my server's IP address may lead to being blocked.
3. The user can edit the URL template to fetch any site they like, and I don't like the idea of my server fetching content from any arbitrary website.
4. Would add extra bandwidth and load on my server.
As a side project it's awesome, as a business not so much. IF you want to make a business from this you need to start thinking on how to market, price and develop new features for clients that will pay more or at least to find ways to get power users.
I saw on a reply of yours that you don't want to add some business requested features because individuals don't want them or you don't want them. Well, do you want higher revenues, higher growth or do you want to keep it like it's now(not saying that current state is bad)? Saying also that you know what's more useful is quite wrong, it's a mindset you need to change, once you target someone that is not you, you must at least assume that they have different needs.
Even though individuals don't want those features, they are not the ones who'll bring the most money and if you really wanted you could create a business version like many other SaaS do, and you know this.
From your replies I sense that you want to focus on individuals, that's great. In this case, forget about pricing, revenue, etc focus on building the user base, more likely a good stream of word-of-mouth sign ups. That's what most B2C apps do.
(Long ago, I led the design of the Chrome extensions platform)
Any chance for integrating the Yandex Translate API? (I am learning Russian. The MT quality between Google and Yandex for Russian is sort of a toss; I would say 70% of the time Google is better, but 30% of the time Yandex is.)
so basically what you show in (#2 Click to Translate) should be an embedded within the page itself. you obviously don't need the extension if it's on your own page.
you won't know until you try but I'm going to call it out now that it will increase your conversion rates
I'm three years into bootstrapping a company - still pre-revenue. Most of it has been done while dayjobbing in the enterprise.
On the positive side, things are changing rapidly. I've recently picked up two valuable co-founders, so I'm not alone and have more bandwidth. The current revision is strong and on its way to production-ready (the last revision I thought was a beta, but it turned out to be an alpha and a learning experience, sigh). The product is really targeted at the enterprise space, and between the three of us, we have over 50 years of enterprise computing experience. My co-founders are with me because they've directly experienced the pain that drove me to writing it.
Hopefully, in a year, we can all make a living at it. But it's going to suck for a while, because we're also all three used to the incomes of enterprise contracting, and we all have kids in college. This is why older founders are so rare - it's really a huge financial risk in a way that startups aren't when you're in your 20s.
The "loading" page was a bad first impression for me. It was super fast, and I wouldn't have minded at all if the page were loading "normally" during that time, but the fact that you put up a loading page reminded me of Flash sites and over-developed crap in the mid 2000's. It was odd, and not in a good way.
The site design, as another person pointed out, needs a little work. I know that you like serif fonts, and want it to feel "warm" and inviting and non-threatening, but you have to be really careful about piling too much on at once, especially when you're trying to promote how fantastic and slick the extension is :) The rabbit logo was a little childish. Rabbits connote "speed" books connote "learning" but the logo design itself didn't really make me say "Oh, super fast, slick, easy learning in a browser extension I should definitely download and trust with my personal data!" I put together an example of what might be improved (note: the logo here is just something random I found on Google images. Probably super duper copyrighted!) http://i.imgur.com/Ix7ubvR.png
Getting rid of some of the border-shadow/rounded corner stuff might help, as well. It looks a little out-of-date with modern design trends. Not saying you need a trendy site, but you probably want something a little more timeless :)
Also, adding a little more variations on the "green" theme could probably help. I really like this website for color palette inspirations: https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/
Loved the About page, the testimonials, and the obvious care that you had in the product. After exploring the site and installing the extension, it felt like a really cared-about (if that makes sense) well-maintained company and product. The fact that you had your personal address and mobile number there was awesome!
Not a designer, I'm a software engineer, so take my advice with a grain of salt!
However, do you mind sharing some of your stats? Which language pairs are mostly used on Readlang?
- English - 16,037
- Spanish - 13,840
- French - 5,857
- German - 5,187
- Russian - 1,776
- Italian - 1,760
The first language is almost always English, except for those learning English, whose first languages are:
- Russian - 3,799
- Spanish - 2,263
- English - 1,440 (haha - this shouldn't be allowed and the users will get a notification when they try to translate something)
- Italian - 1,220
- Chinese - 713
And of the paying subscribers, here are the top 6 languages:
- Spanish - 174
- French - 105
- English - 89
- German - 86
- Russian - 47
- Italian - 24
Did you try different price points? Do you have data to share about this?
Did you have a full-time job while you were building it?
It's really hard to give you good data since the numbers of conversions are relatively low. The conversion rate from signup to paid has stayed at roughly 1.5% the whole time. But the product has been improving too. If I charged the current price 2 years ago when the product wasn't as polished, the conversion rate would probably have been lower. But I can't know for sure.
Didn't have a full time job. I saved up and have lived fairly frugally. I did take a break to do contract work in 2014.
IMHO your real problem is that Readlang do
es not offer enough features that would differentiate it from other free offerings.
- Store all your translations, along with their contexts, to your account?
and have a accompanying web-apps which let you:
- review those translations with flashcards, prioritizing the most frequent words in the language, and utilizing a spaced repetition algorithm so that you spend more time on the words and phrases you find difficult?
- export of those flashcards for use in other apps such as Anki
- upload novels to read in a distraction free, paginated reading interface which works well on mobile devices?
- watch videos with sync'd transcriptions?
- share and vote on native texts and videos with a community of language learners?
If so, please let me know!
And if you didn't realize any of the above - I take the blame for not communicating it better on the landing page. The problem is that overwhelming users with info usually isn't a great idea either. Hard to strike the right balance.
I don't expect everyone who installs the Google Translate extension to install Readlang - since mine is targeted mainly at intermediate and advanced language learners.
This has been on near constant loop in my head for the last year. It's really, really hard to be productive when you're worrying about the future. I don't know if I could do this if I wasn't married. I mean, I'd probably be living in a rural hell-hole somewhere and getting by financially, but that would ruin me emotionally.
I'd love to hear how it goes! If you don't mind, after giving it a whirl, let me which model you have and how well it works :-)
The word is getting out about Readlang. There's no paid advertising and I'm a n00b at marketing but slowly learning. It seems to be growing, but please lend a hand by telling your friends :-)
Songs tend to be popular, here are a couple of good ones:
http://readlang.com/library/551261a4573e272265223327 - Je Veux, by Zaz - French
http://readlang.com/library/55da3bacfe102b520f05d9ba - Lento, by Julieta Venegas - Spanish
Of course then, have a button right next to that one, that says "read text?" with a picture of a microphone. Which can be used for people to upload the spoken text.
Do the same thing, but with written translations. Therefore, people can translate the text to their native language and upload it to the community for other people to read.
Next, I think you should add a finish/next button to the top of the text OR to (one of the) the sidebar(s). I know there's one at the bottom. Add one to the top/sidebar.
Clicking the finish/next button should go straight to the next text. Instead, you seem to hound people with 3 straight pop-ups! Then return them to the list of text. Wrong, in my opinion. Take them immediately to the next unfinished text that they haven't read yet.
Sharing via social media
Move the share on social media dialog to each text page, just always present. Don't make the user click past it everytime they read a text.
Stop congratulating people when they did something, or keep it to a minimum don't make them click past it.
In general, I just think you're not utilizing the community enough. Use them to upload free and quality content. That way, they become more engaged, and you get free content.
 by text, I mean the foreign language text that they're trying to learn, for example: http://readlang.com/library/568a5501ddb6ae5b165d2c33/from/0
If you want to a discount right now for upgrading two accounts, do the following:
1. On the checkout page, there's an "I'm feeling generous" button which increases the yearly price from $48 to $60 (idea borrowed from NewsBlur)
2. After upgrading, email firstname.lastname@example.org letting me know the email address of the other person, and I'll upgrade their account manually.
This'll work out at $30 each instead of $48. If you have an odd number of people, email me and we'll work something else out.
Nice work Steve!
I'd managed to save about £40,000 GBP by the end of 2012. Then in 2014 I took some months off from Readlang and earned roughly £30,000 GBP doing some contract work. No other sources of income. I've never been close to running out of money, if I did I would certainly ease back on Readlang and look for more freelance work.
BTW: The freelance work I did wasn't using technology I enjoy or want to focus on in future, and was offered to me without having to look for it. I did it because of the money and because I liked the people. I've never actually had to actively look for freelance gigs myself. So I'm still not sure how easy it is to find good clients with interesting work.
I currently work for a small start-up also working in the education sector (albeit more directly). The general story isn't too dissimilar to yours, though, in that it's been a bit of a slog for not a huge amount of profit, although things are slowly looking more and more promising.
I wish you continued success with Readlang.
Keep on and I think people will love it!
Not saying that would work better, but it's something I thought would be cool.
Was covered in Lifehacker here: http://lifehacker.com/5907432/language-immersion-for-chrome-...
Seems like it's broken now though. I have a hunch he was trying to use Google Translate without paying for their API. Either that, or he really was paying for the API which is unsustainable for a free extension.
I don't think it's a great idea anyway. If you want to learn French, you should read French written by a native speaker, not a machine translation of English into French. Readlang uses machine translation as an aid to understanding native texts, which is far more acceptable IMO.
Don't know who wrote this; these are Spanish words, but as a sentence, it is barely understandable.
Thanks for sharing your numbers and story. Super helpful as somebody trying to bootstrap my own thing.
- Servers running Ubuntu hosted at Linode (outages recently have been worrying)
- NodeJS & express framework
- MongoDB replica set with primary, secondary & arbiter
## front end
- gulp for build & deploy script
- RequireJS for modules
It's been going fairly well on the whole. This is my first web-site with a back end, so I don't have experience with Python, PHP, MySQL, etc... to compare it to. Given that, it's hard to say whether I'd choose differently if I started again. I would probably play around with PostgreSQL since a relational DB may suit my needs better. Also, MongoDB can be worrying. I added a replicaset member running the latest stable version 3 with the WiredTiger storage engine to try it out but it kept crashing - not what you want from a database! I'm still using the older, very disk-space hungry version 2.6.x for now.
only if i lived with my parents could i survive on so little money. lots of people including myself would do this if they were able. I'll do this some day when my landlording project earns enough (now its just enough to live for free but i still need my salary) & I dont have any chick.
in any case congratulations on your succes :) . its a great achievement.
I'm trying to reproduce this but I can't, although I do have error logs that show some users are getting google sign in related errors - if you could give me instructions to reproduce this bug I'd be really grateful!