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Ask HN: Should I abandon a functioning SaaS with no paying users?
92 points by benhowdle on July 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments
I'm the creator of Ekko - https://ekko.site/ - "Create your business website in seconds, using your Facebook page".

Me: I'm a full-time software consultant (https://benhowdle.im/), Ekko was intended as a side-project to generate passive income, not to be a fully fledged startup from day 1.

My aim was/is to make it incredibly simple for small businesses to create and keep their business website online and updated. The user connects their Facebook Page to my service, picks a theme and their new site is online. Every time they update their FB Page, the website (on my service) is instantly updated. This part is free, as you have a subdomain URL. To add a custom domain, it's a monthly fee.

I launched the SaaS in early 2017 and spent 3 months promoting/pushing it out to my networks online. This led to a lot of positive feedback, but almost zero paying customers (in fact, only 1 person ever paid, then subsequently cancelled their subscription due to budgetary reasons). Since then, I've occasionally tweeted about it, and gone through various phases of motivation to properly push/advertise/market it, but that side of it feels completely unnatural to me, I'm far more happier sitting behind the screen, building the product.

It gathers 1-2 sign ups a week, but zero conversions.

My specific question is, what the heck do I do with it?

In my opinion, it is my most complete piece of software that I've released. Everything works nicely, payment integrations with Stripe and GoCardless, domains through DNSimple, themes are just a set of React Components, so they'd be easy for people to build. It seems a real shame for it to be sat online, doing very little. I really don't want to abandon/take it down, because I spent a lot of time building it.

Should I try and sell it? Should I just give up? Am I missing something blatantly obvious? If anyone's got any advice, broad/specific/big/small, I'm all ears.

If you want to drop me an email, I'm at hello@benhowdle.im

Drop the free plan and lower your price point. I would also listen very closely to your customers (free or not) and even ping them for ideas. Add some features and get creative. What if you added some SEO enhancements? You are using FB as as your content interface, so, you're going to have to find out how much SEO you can do with content coming from FB. I'd also add in some free tools. What about emailing analytics to your users for free each week? You could auto sign them up from something like hotjar.

If you don't have customers then it's one of 3 things: 1. Your pricing is wrong. 2. Your value is too low. 3. Your marketing is not working.

I would ask around at https://www.indiehackers.com/ for advice as well.

If all else fails, sell it at flippa.com and try something else.

FWIW your presentation is attractive and the explainer video is a nice touch. I wouldn't give up just yet. Maybe you just haven't found your niche.

Marketing in particular is probably an issue, 1-2 signups a week probably means eyeballs are simply not getting to his page. If he's already dealing with Facebook he should probably look into an aggressive Facebook ad campaign.

I think you need to work on SEO, I just Googled "facebook page to website" and your site did not appear in the first few result pages. I'm afraid the top hit was PageVamp which seems to provide exactly the same service, is cheaper and provides more features.

Edit to add: Maybe adding some side-by-side examples would help? i.e. where you can see the Facebook page along side the synchronized website.

I think the product is good and the presentation is excellent, what are your running costs if i can ask?

Before giving up I suggest: - tracking your users behaviour (pikwik, google analytics, tamboo, etc.) - experimenting with long term bulk discounts - creating drip marketing campaigns - find 10 niches which heavily use facebook in your area (e.g. bands, djs, wedding photographers, dog trainers, etc.) and consider tailoring your services towards them: create landing pages that appeal to those niches and see which ones stick.

Try to see if the problem is FB itself, maybe other social networks (say, instagram) could work better for some niches which require a picture portfolio, some text content and a contact page.

I think that 1-2 sign-ups a week is too low for you to have enough chances of a conversion, try enlarging the funnel entrance (e.g. by doing in-person marketing, licensing your instant-website tool to small hosting companies you find on lowendbox, etc.) and see if conversion rate changes.

Should you need help w/ the above HMU, email in profile.

I apologize (but maybe this will be useful feedback to you), but I just don't see the benefit provided that would warrant me shelving out a couple of hundred bucks a year.

If I am established business, I have somebody on staff that manages social media accounts, and I have a website.

If I am a small business, I paid X to have a web presence, but they told me I need this social media presence, so I paid Y for Facebook presence (or I manage it myself). Why do I need to duplicate it?

If I am a savvy user, I have a professional site that's different.

If I am a novice user, why do I have to pay to display my pictures again when Facebook does it for free?

I guess, you are trying to earn a living from duplicating content already hosted on a free platform, but I just don't see target user audience that would want that.

Sorry about the negative feedback.

I have worked exclusively for small business owners (building websites and assisting online marketing) for the the last 20 years. Plenty of "established" thriving businesses do not have staff capable and/or available to manage social media, let alone make regular website updates.

After reading OP's post my first thought was "some of my clients need this!"

Once a website is built and launched, and/or a social media presence is created, the single hardest challenge we have is convincing the business owner and staff to stay engaged.

Connecting Facebook to a website (terrible as it may be) is just another tool for the small business owner who is limited on time (they ALL are!)

What if you're a small business, but haven't paid for a web presence (yet)? Seems like this is an alternative to those.

My advice isn't specific to your product, but instead focuses on your statement that this is the most complete software you have ever written. I recommend running with that - you have built your own personal boilerplate for a product. So you don't need to re-invent the plumbing ever again. Ask yourself how much faster you could write the next product, by re-using the infrastructure of this one. And run with it on some new ideas.

The Espressini example seems to be offline, which isn't always a great indicator. Your Twitter link on the team page also goes to the wrong person (no underscore). I doubt these are hugely relevant, though :)

I think for me, I'm not sure I see the value between this and the FB page itself: if I've got an FB page, I probably want my clients to interact with me there. That's where I am, where I advertise, where I collect likes/etc. This feels like an interstitial between Facebook and my users: granted, it goes on my own domain, but frankly I could just buy a domain and have that forward to my Facebook page.

Your homepage is basically solution-oriented, but not really telling me what problem it solves.

I haven't signed up, so I'm going only from what I see on the front page.

This feels more like a single feature of a larger product, than a product in its own right. I already have Facebook for my Facebook content, so putting the same thing on my website isn't really bringing much to the table. It looks like a nice zero-effort way to keep a "news" or "blog" section of a website up to date, but I'm still going to want all the other features of a website to be there.

If it were my product, I'd look at a few approaches to generate revenue:

- Your page puts the £15 a month front and centre, and makes it seem like the "free non-premium domain" is part of that package. There's no mention of a free tier.

- Forget the premium domain tier. Instead, limit your free tier to one post every 24 hours or something like that. Your current model means I can't upgrade without losing all my traffic - any my registrar will redirect my domain to the free tier anyway, so why pay you?

- Have your example sites link to the actual site instead of just popping up in the same page. Let me see and use existing sites so I know what I'm getting.

- Let me have some analytics, either my own Google Analytics ID or some inbuilt functionality. It's one of the things a website offers that Facebook doesn't, so use it.

- Give me a free trial. For something like this, I'd offer 3 months free. Combine that with a marketing campaign to encourage me to promote my new website. By the time I need to start paying, I've already got traffic and possibly stationary printed, so it's easier for me to justify the cost.

If it’s costing you very little to maintain the site, don’t shut it down. Reduce the price. I’d suggest $50/year. Your current pricing is USD 20/month or USD 240/year. I feel that's high. Have a 'yearly pricing'. I have a single page site on squarespace (https://www.peopledock.com). I pay $60 per year once a year and forget about it. Paying month-on-month is a hassle for me.

Static site, yeah? What about putting it on Github pages and not pay at all? (Or S3 and have it in the free tier)

This site looks perfect for say the bar down the road that publish a lot of stuff on Facebook. I imagine they'd be completely lost using S3 :)

As you mentioned, you are far more happier sitting behind and building the product, maybe you could hire an intern for a few months who would be happy reaching out to people and try and get them to pay and if they don't, then understand why they are not doing so. Are you really solving a problem that exists? An intern with good people skills and empathy should be able to help. Though personally I was not sure what is the value add that a website for a small business would have over a facebook page.

KFC makes money not by selling salads to people who are looking for healthy food. They make money by selling fried chicken to people who don't care about eating something healthy that day. If they want to make more money, they come up with ways to sell to the 'happy to eat unhealthy' crowd as opposed to trying to figure out how to get fitness junkies in.

So on and so forth - the money in nearly all business is at the pointy end, that 20% who do 80% of the spending.

The problem is your market. Why sell to people who aren't convinced and can't be bothered? If they really cared about this stuff they'd pony up the cash and get a real website like the other people out there.

If they don't have the cash but still care, the bottom end of the market is Squarespace, Wix and Weebly and all of them require people to invest a fair amount of effort in order to get their site up.

If they don't have cash and don't care, it looks like you'd be the person to go to.

It's hard to imagine this going anywhere, I'm afraid. I'd pull the pin, if I were you.

(- From an experienced web design business owner who also had a Saas-ish model.)

We build websites and I think this is a good idea because many people don't need more. But I'm unsure if people would buy it directly (and with the price tag your competition is very big - squarespace, jimdo, wix, even normal wordpress). Maybe there should be a focus on web agencies, designers and developers which indirectly sell this to their clients and save themselves money and effort. This also aligns more with your character (instead of selling directly to SMEs / very similar to B2C which can be unpleasant).

Seems to be a good product for a freemium model. It can be beneficial for your career to have something which has success (in the sense that you have a lot of users) instead of focussing to make some money out of it. This can accelerate your career faster than making 200-500 bucks a month through subscriptions.

edit: I would try to sell it for you (I'm buying/selling websites), but I think it could be hard to find a satisfying price point without any revenue proofs.

I think the idea of selling to agencies etc is worth exploring (though take my experience for what it's worth).

The main thing I noticed when scrolling through the home page is that fifteen pounds a month seems like quite a lot. I was expecting it to be about a fiver. Given that your target market seems to be people who don't really want to have to bother with a website then it seems quite a high monthly fee.

From my simple experience:

1. I don't think your pricing is off. Small Businesses pay from $1000 to $5000 to create a very basic WordPress website where they add content themselves.

2. Small Businesses also don't like adding content both to WordPress and Facebook. They have trouble updating the website. The website also occasionally breaks or something happens (hacked). Or the maintenance fee is too high (no less than $300/year)

Here is what I think your problem:

1. Your sale page doesn't sell.

2. You can't easily sell the idea through a sales page. So you may want to assit the customer.

3. The themes that I saw in the videos are ugly as fuck.

4. Does it do a Contact Page? Can I add other pages? Can I add products? etc...

Your users probably want more. You need to be solution (website creator) that has a feature (link facebook content to site). Also you need nicer themes.

You don't seem to have said _why_ you believe people aren't signing up and then subscribing. I'm assuming you have the information, but it's worth going back to that. If you're getting 100 page views a day then there's a reason people aren't signing up, it could be product market fit, but it could also be something as simple as confusing messaging, underselling, etc. It would be really useful to understand this information before making a call on a next step.

If you're not getting people landing on the site at all, then it could be something to do with your pipelines. Are convinced you're in the places where your customers are, do you run ads, or are you just tweeting into the void? Again, these are most likely fixable and may not even require any changes to your site and product.

If you're getting a lot of page views a day, and a good conversion rate to creating an account and playing with the product, then there's some reason they're not becoming a subscriber. This again could be something todo with on-boarding, or with product market fit.

I'm assuming you have some idea as to why this is the case, but if you don't then you really need to find out. This is especially important if you want to sell it and get a good price for it, without knowing that you're selling a mystery product to someone.

Assuming you do have this information, it would be good to know, if you don't know then that should be your next step.

My advice is to forget the website building aspect and turn it into plugins for Wordpress and the popular website builders. A website builder is not a good pick for a side project if your intent is to generate passive income. You have to be on call 24/7 to deal with server issues (and they will happen). Starting with plugins is great for side projects because they are easier to maintain and it will allow you to gauge if there is really a demand for keeping a website in sync with Facebook.

Who are your customers?

Locate where they gather, and go meet them. Maybe small enterprises, which you could meet during a trade fair?

Which pain are you trying to fix? If it is "just having an online presence", then FB already solve it.

FB is good enough for a lot of people seeking online presence. It's even mandatory for some to be there, regardless than the existence of a real website. So a lot of people make to choice of "just FB" instead of "FB + website" (when "website only" is not seen as an option).

"then FB already solve it"

Yeah - quite a lot of small businesses seem to just use FB pages are their 'website'. While I can see this is a clever idea a lot of people might struggle to see why it is worth paying for benefits that might not look that obvious.

It also isolates them from the small but larger-than-last-year number of people who refuse to interact with Facebook.

I have all the Facebook domains I can find null routed in my hosts file. So I would never see a business site that was hosted on Facebook.

I have worked at a few Cafe/bars that could really use something like this[1]. The owners might have been able to keep up with posting on Facebook, while their wordpress was left to rot.

So many small business have websites that makes them look like they've closed shop years ago.

Looking at your marketing material (which looks good, btw!) I can understand that small business might not think of you as an option.

[1] places that cater to takeaway, will probably stick with something like Hungry/just eat

Yea that could be a good idea for the product, find the industries that are very active on Facebook, but bad about updating their sites. Restaurants and bars are probably the best place to start.

First impressions: This is a nonfunctioning landing page

My reason why I thought this is that your example links don't work - or at least, didn't work as I expected. I middle clicked them all open and resulted in 3 additional tabs open to your site. It turns out on closer look that they're modal popups rather than links to the examples.

Link to the examples! I'm not going anywhere, you don't need to be that paranoid! :)

You are charging ~3x competing services for something that is less powerful. Other business site builders offer a basic page for $5 a month

I think he's offering simplicity and convenience, not power. That said, I haven't tried those builders, could someone at the "can post on FB" level of technical competence easily make a site like this, without automatic cross-posting from FB?

Just taken a look and it and I can personally see a use for it within a band that I am a part of who want a professional looking website but never have people tech savvy enough to keep it up to date. I was looking into building them something using squarespace but if this was a similar price to that I would probably just suggest they use this as it requires no ongoing maintenance from them as we already have a dedicated role to deal with social media and everyone knows how to do that nowadays.

One side note: It looks like the generated pages don't process newlines from facebook properly, so stuff like bullet points just end up a jumbled mess which doesn't look ideal. Also it might make sense to include a link to the facebook page in the left hand bar under address and email rather than hidden away in the logo at the bottom.

I'll keep an eye on this site and this thread, I hope you decide to drop the pricing as I think it's a great idea and you'll get a lot of customers with a lower price point!

Couple further questions:

When you built this, did you validate the idea at all with people in your own network (or extended network) wether they wanted something like this?

What (in terms of feedback) have you received from people you judge to be your target market?

When you say people don't convert, do you mean they don't even test the product or that they don't convert to a paying subscription?

> When you built this, did you validate the idea at all with people in your own network (or extended network) wether they wanted something like this?

Having worked in 'websites' for 9+ years, I spotted the pain points people had with various aspects of updating their website - paying an agency thousands to create/update a simple brochureware site, not being able to navigate various CMS's people put in place, etc. I spoke to multiple people in/out of my network and in my opinion, validated the idea.

> What (in terms of feedback) have you received from people you judge to be your target market?

Good question. I've had less feedback from my target market, vs. my network (designers, developers, etc). I think this is where I didn't do particularly well. I validated the idea with the target market, but in terms of ongoing feedback of the product, I didn't acquire that.

> When you say people don't convert, do you mean they don't even test the product or that they don't convert to a paying subscription?

They reach various phases of the sign up process. It goes: Email/password -> Auth with FB -> Pick FB Page. Then you go through to your Dashboard, where you can view your site online, or pick a new theme, etc. People got to various stages of this, with most people going right through to the Dashboard (a created site), but rarely deciding to pay.

When you say "validate", what does that actually mean? Was it "I tell people the idea, they say it sounds cool"? Presumably it wasn't "People give me money and are sad when I tell them it doesn't exist yet"?

I tend to think validation is a terrible word for the stuff we do when building a product. As well as a product needing to offer something of value, it needs to offer that to people who are willing and able to commit money to acquire that value. If businesses are setting up Facebook pages, that puts them in the "free site" category of customer at a first approximation. Your business is actually an upsell, and I think that's tough.

I just noticed you're in the UK. If you're interested in a coffee/chat at some point, hit me up - I think it's a lovely looking thing, but I doubt you'd be able to sell it to someone given that it has demonstrated it doesn't generate traction so far. (I also think you've put too much work into it - but I'm guessing you already know that).

Sent you an email :)

Site looks great and I think it’s a useful idea. Here is my feedback:

1. Drop price from $15 -> $5 per mo. It’s not like you don’t have the margin for it. As a small business owner, I would not consider using this at $15 but at $5 it feels like a no brainer.

2. Start writing relevant blog posts in your niche. “How to integrate Facebook with your website”, “Top 5 small business website services” (name yours as second/third), “Small Business Spolight: Girl who takes pics” (especially good because you can partner with small biz and cross-pollinate your marketing efforts. No biz will turn down a free blog post on them, and you get free content). The trick to building your social community is give others something worthwhile to talk about online, and let your audience fill up your feed.

3. Facebook ads if you aren’t already running them. Even a $100 monthly budget will make a big difference, and I believe even more so because of your direct relation to FB.


Its a great idea but as someone pointed out, it seems more like a feature than a full product. You would also benefit from targeting a specific market.

I create a website builder for the real estate sector and I started off by open sourcing it:


This gave me some credibility in the sector and I have now been contacted by many people wanting help with their website.

I want to launch a SaaS that focuses on the real estate sector so if you are open to collaborating I'll be happy to discuss that.

1-2 signups a week means maybe 100 signups per year? Given that conversions are measured in percent, I would say it's no wonder you're not seeing any. Find a (targeted) way to send more people to your site.

After reading the comments and your original post this sounds like a useful service but your website copy just doesnt convey this well. The copy is so obviously written by a techy.

You've written out what the products does perfectly, but at no point is it clear why having an up to date website is going to make my business more successful.

If you're serious about the product then spend a few hundred dollars and hire a copy writer to tighten it up, and then another couple of hundred sending small business owners to the page.

If people are signing up but not concerting, maybe try surveying the users?

You may be able to bring down costs on your side and be more aggressive with your pricing.

My costs are a few dollars a month for the 7 sites I've set up, comes with SSL, gzip, etc.

There's a common AWS Service static site pattern that chains together four services: Serverless Computer, Object Storage, CDN, DNS.

In your mind, reframe what you do as a marketing service. Offer vanity email addresses, email marketing services. Add analytic reporting or something. Perhaps a Drift like embedded Facebook Messenger client as your customers already have Facebook?

Good luck!

So if they're getting the hosting for free on your free tier, that means you're charging £14.99 per month for them to have a domain name?

I'm in a position right now where I have a domain, I have a FB business page, and I want to use my domain a little better. I guess I'm your target market but I can't see how you plugging all these things I already have together is worth £14.99 per month.

I think you aren't focusing on the real pain point for your users. I think the pain you are solving is: "As a small business owner I want to be top of Google but not have the pain of updating my Facebook and personal website because I'm not technical and have no time". I'd verify this with customers and market the service that way.

It’s not a price or promotion problem. Let’s start here:

What pain does your ideal customer have? Figure this out (most people mistake pain for problem. That’s wrong)

Go make content around this pain. Engage with those who comment. If it makes sense invite them to a call.

Doing this you should close 20% right off the bat. If you hip fire calls you won’t. If you are laser focused on a pain => you will.

Regardless of your outcome, I really admire your effort. I run a professional services firm in Shanghai, China and am trying to create some microservices as lead generators in my free time using R/Shiny/Plumber, etc. Both good for work and my own education efforts. It is a tremendous challenge depending on domain.

Your landing page tells me what the product does, but not why I should be interested in it. The goal of your landing page should be to prove you're going to help businesses earn more money. If you can't do that, why should they pay for your service?

Your pricing is off. Check your competition. Your pricing should be in the realm of $5/mo.

You assume that small businesses who have a FB presence but do not have a web site are interested in updating their FB presence often and value those updates enough to want to cross-post them elsewhere.

That’s a hypothesis I don’t think will prove true.

But there are small businesses that do this: bands and venues/bars. Bands especially often either don't know how/don't have time to update show times, but will keep Facebook updated and could benefit from a presence outside FB. Perhaps drop the price and drill down the marketing to focus on these types of customers. Because parent is right, there are a lot of small businesses that, if they have a website, don't really have any need to ever update it. Why would a salon or mechanic need to update their site more often, that is time better spent elsewhere. So focus on customers that can benefit from this service, since it does appear to be a good product.

Ditto to the 'who are your customers' question.

You may find that, say, food van operators are keen on a tool that turns their Facebook page into just the type of website that a food van operator needs.

Ditto for a dozen other possible segments.

It looks good. Transform that to a non-profit. I'm sure you can find a free place to host that (contact me if you don't).

Bit of a side note - the second example site (Expressini) doesn't work, and the third one has a really blurry hero image.

Give me 80%, keep 20%, I'll make it work.

You need marketing; maybe try to raise prices, some people never subscribe when they think it's too cheap.

One click registration please since you are using Facebook. Let customer fill their details later.

How does this compare to the other website builders e.g. Wix or Weebly, or the common standard for blogs, Wordpress? There are various means to cross-post from Wordpress etc.

https://ekko.site seems like such a terrible name. Its not memorable at all. It doesn't seem to relate to anything your selling either. You should rebrand the name first and foremost. Use a .com domain or google's new .app, or a .io domain

You should give it a more generic branding (With some twists) if possible, since its mostly handling niche cases anyhow. For instance, "facebook2webpage.com" (its not registered BTW) or something would be a good example along those lines. Before you say what about "trademark names" just plan ahead that everything on your site including videos can be made to accodomate a 2nd backup domain name that you registered already as well. Such as "easywebpages.com" (that's registered though, but you get the point)

$15 euros a month is alot of money for someone using facebook as their main source of presence. you have to understand that these people are not going to pay for webhosting and or webdevelopment, and are on the lower tech end spectrum.

I would suggest drop the rate to $9.99 or lower. If it doesn't hit go to $5. If it takes off you can always jack up the price if people REALLY rely on your product everyday, a year from now, and just quote dev costs. Also, offer a 20% off for a yearly rate, low tech users may not be keeping track of their finances that well

Don't go free either your going to be wasting your time. Offer a free 14 day trial (no longer or shorter) to speed up conversion, a low tech user is going to want to see results to feel its worth their investment.

Don't ask for credit card information right away. After 14 days up disable the hosted site and paywall it. While your at it send an email asking about all the lost social media presence their not getting anymore. If you want to play really low ball you could also, in that 14 day trial, divert fake traffic to it and then publish a d3 or excel like chart showcasinig how many more impressions there getting on the side IN the email itself. Note these numbers need to be real, or else legal liability

When you run a business you have to really just cross the borderlines of what you consider ethical IMO. There's no such thing as ethical marketing. You have to step outside your dev comfort zone and seize the oppurtunity

Lastly, learn lowtech social media marketing. Theres a great case study here on reddit about adding potential clients as facebook friends to publish an alternative agenda (e.g. guerilla marketing). https://www.reddit.com/r/freelance/comments/35lpsc/i_charge_... . You would learn some great lessons there. If your going to do this - I would make a seperate facebook account potentially. I personally wouldn't want to tie myself to that level of unethical marketing and get messages all day asking for techsupport (I only go their to look at my friends social feed, etc)

This is probably the best advice you will get, I agree heavily with the 14 day trial instead of a complete free tier--he loses out on nothing this way.

Just looked at the site:

For me the required(?) link to Facebook is already a showstopper. I also don't understand what info is being pulled from there. It's also not clear from the sign up page whether there is a trial.

Considering that the subscription is not exactly cheap I don't think I would sign up.

The product is for the creation of a site from a Facebook page. How would they do that without requiring a link to Facebook?

I guess I don't understand the value proposition then. Why would you do that?

I don't want to be too harsh. It's just my honest feedback.

I assume, because you're already using an FB page for your business, and you want to create a website but don't want to hire someone to update it or waste extra time doing it yourself (and especially having to learn a new CMS).

Is that a real need? I can see it is an add-on to another site builder but not as standalone.

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