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Ask HN: Review my startup - Lean Designs Website Builder (leandesigns.com)
49 points by matt1 on April 29, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

I tried to click past the signup form so that I could try it out, but it gave me this:

  10 errors prohibited this user from being saved
  There were problems with the following fields:
  Password can't be blank
  Password is too short (minimum is 6 characters)
  Password is too short (minimum is 6 characters)
  Password confirmation can't be blank
  Login can't be blank
  Login is too short (minimum is 3 characters)
  Login use only letters, numbers, and .-_@ please.
  Email can't be blank
  Email is too short (minimum is 6 characters)
  Email should look like an email address.
Or, translated:

  These 10 arbitrary barriers just cost us a potential customer.

You guys offer a Free plan, fer cryin' out loud. Let us try your thing without filling in a form. It looks like a cool product, but it's 2011 and people stumbling in off the Internet have zero attention span and zero tolerance for hassle. If I can't get to a working demo with a single click from your homepage, I'm gone.

And so is a hefty fraction of your potential userbase.

> If I can't get to a working demo with a single click from your homepage, I'm gone.

Not only a demo but the actual product. Let me jump right in and start on my free 3 designs. Only ask for my info when I want to export to HTML/CSS.

Perhaps this is what you meant but I think this is really important.

Thanks -- a demo of the export tool is definitely something I'd like to implement, but doing so would have postponed the launch by a week or two. I made the decision to launch without it and that's that.

Appreciate the feedback as it helps me prioritize what to work on next.

Why would it take any more time?

If you absolutely need to have user accounts behind the scenes, you can just point your "Try It Now" button to a page that creates a dummy user record "guest6772343/dummypassword" and logs in as that user. Forward to the application, and you're done.

You can have this up and working 5 minutes from now.

EDIT: For an idea of why this is important to do, and how important it is to do it (in terms of how many more users you'll unbounce), here's a writeup of the day we accidentally launched Twiddla, and the consequences of going through the quick 5-minute login-bypass exercise I describe above:


You have to think about whether this person would ever actually become a customer of yours.

From my experience, you could spend the next couple weeks building a perfect sandbox for people who will NEVER buy your service, or you can leave the login restrictions in place, and the people who may actually become customers will certainly take a few minutes to get in there.

If they don't have the time to create a simple login, they may become real support nightmares anyway.

- They won't take the time to read instructions.

- They will think they can do things they can't and the service doesn't even provide.

- They are the people who expect EVERYTHING for free including your help.

Don't just jump on this. Remember, you are in charge. You know the service you are providing. This person already complained about something FREE, how much more of that do you really want to deal with?

You're making very unfair judgement about the types of people that might land on his site and not have the barrier of a form overcome by their perceived utility of his service.

> You know the service you are providing.

But someone landing on his site might not. Letting them in without any barrier but a click will let them see for themselves. At that point, a sign up form is no barrier because they have seen the utility.

This should not take weeks or days. If built this way from the start, it should add almost no extra time. You gain nothing by asking for this info upfront but gain plenty by not.

For the record, this person makes his living selling a few services in the same space as the original poster, and has been in the exact same position of having launched a product and watched tons of potential users bounce away because the "try it now" button asked for a single username and password.

I also run a service that gets 100% of its business as a result of people converting from free trials to paid users, and the biggest lesson I've learned from that site is that the more people you can put into the top of the funnel, the more come out the bottom. It's not a matter of getting more trial signups at the expense of a worse conversion rate. It's a matter of the conversion rate staying constant and income going up in direct proportion to how much friction you can remove from the signup process.

:) I didn't mean to offend you, so sorry. Your services appear to be SaaS, but I don't see much in terms of a design tool in your list.

My company needs a tool like what he's providing, and I had absolutely no trouble with his sign-up process.

Hey, can you shoot me an email? I'd like to ask you a few more questions off-thread.


"If I can't get to a working demo with a single click from your homepage, I'm gone."

Agreed. I think I'll make this a rule for my future projects.

Don't be afraid to charge people money for your service! Your free plan is way too generous. Personally, I would replace the free plan with a working demo, so people can kick the tires. But definitely lower the free plan to one design.

I think you need to address the line that says "Requires an HTML5 compliant browser." For one, it's not clear enough whether you mean the builder needs HTML5 or the output requires it. In any event, I think you should frame it by telling the user which browsers will work -- those are terms they'll better be able to understand, especially considering you're aiming for the market of people who don't know what they're doing online.

Anyway, there's my two cents. Good luck.

I completely agree. With a service like this, I think someone would know instantly whether or not they were going to use this service in the future, and having the option to do 3 designs just delays the inevitable - that they will pay. BUT, having 3 designs also gives people time to forget about the service.

In my opinion, instead of $19.95 per month, I would rather buy design "packs".

- $19 for 10 designs

- $49 for 100 designs

- $99 for 300 designs

- $499 for 100,000 designs (you're good to go plan)

I'd venture to say that for most people 10 designs is more than they'll ever use. You could pay $19 once and use the service forever (because you can just delete your old designs if you ever hit the limit). At least that was my reasoning for choosing a SaaS model, which I admit has flaws too.

One idea that someone mentioned was to buy usage time.

You pay $19 and get access to the tool for a month. Or you pay $99 and get access for a year.

That way if you only use it periodically you're not locked into a recurring plan. It's ghetto SaaS, but a few folks said they'd prefer it.

It's just got to be dead simple.

The reason I keep commenting is because I want to be your customer. This tool is exactly something I would need throughout the year.

For example. Today. Our company just received approval back on a graphic design for a new site that has a homepage and an inner page format which are different.

Now, we have to turn it into a CSS/HTML layout that we can plug into a WordPress theme.

I want to use this tool right now, but I don't want to commit to $20 per month AND I don't think I want to pay $20 just for the 1 design AND I was frustrated with the fact that I couldn't get those blocks to line-up side by side which will be required for this particular design.

You see, when a design is created and approved, this tool MUST be able to work with that design. I don't see many instances where I will use a layout editor then try to squeeze a design into it and hope the client approves.

Thanks for your feedback, especially on the pricing. As I mentioned below, I know its due for a change, but have received wide range of advice so I'm holding off for now.

I removed the "Requires an HTML5 compliant browser" -- It sounded fancy at the time, but agree that it's confusing.

Appreciate it --

I can see someone going in here, modifying one design about a 100 times, exporting them all, and then just keeping those archived.

You may want to allow the ability to create unlimited designs for free, but you only get to hit the export button 3 times :)

Yeah, that's an option too.

But again, what's the pricing model? $19/month for unlimited exports?

Maybe. Who is your customer? How many designs a month does your typical customer create?

If it's an independent designer / web developer, then they may create 2 websites a month for $2k - $4k per month per customer, and that's only 2 designs.

Then there are people who just slap up websites for $300 a piece, and may do 5 or 6.

But who's the customer?

Sure, you might say that if I'm making $2k to $4k per website, and do about 2 a month, then I should be able to "afford" $20 per month, but that's really not the way a developer thinks.

Everyone wants $20 per month from us. It seems like everything is becoming a service.

I also don't know if I'll do a single website for ANYONE next month. BUT, I can sure tell you that I'll do 10 before the year is up, so if I could just buy a 10 pack, that would make sense to me.

Lastly, I ran into some frustrating bugs while using the demo. I couldn't subscribe at this point because I couldn't do something as simple as line up 2 blocks side by side. I try to drag them so they touch each other, but it keeps bouncing back and leaving a space.

Something as simple as this becomes a deal breaker at the moment. The tool itself is still broken.

As far as the blocks go: that's a feature, not a bug. Since everything revolves around the 960 grid system, which doesn't support blocks side by side, you can't do it within the editor.

But, as imply, that's useful in a lot of cases, so it might be something to look at.

You're comments are great, btw. Thank you.

Hey guys -- I'd love to get your feedback on Lean Designs, a new web design tool for web developers.

Some of you might be familiar with jMockups [1], a high fidelity mockup tool that was the precursor to Lean Designs. The overwhelming feedback that I received was that people wanted the ability to export their mockups to HTML/CSS. Lean Designs is the result. For additional details, check out the Lean Designs blog [2].

Thank you all for your feedback along the way; the app wouldn't be what it is without your direction.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1829657

[2] http://blog.leandesigns.com/2011/04/introducing-the-lean-des...

It appears that your browser does not support LeanDesigns.

Wow, one of the few "Review my startup" posts for something I'd actually use, and I hit a roadblock on the first click.

I understand that you want to use the latest and greatest technology, and do you part to drag the rest of us kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but does mounting a roadblock in front of legitimate prospects really serve your best interests? Is HTML5 a "must have" or a "would be nice"?

I on a work desktop right now, so I'll have to wait until I'm on my own later to try this out...if I remember. Sigh.

Hey Ed -- what browser are you using? Most modern browsers with the exception of IE8 should work; if not there's something wrong on my end. The majority of my market uses an HTML5 compliant browser, so it hasn't been a major issue in the past.

I would love to get your thoughts though. If you don't remember, you can expect an email from me later today :)

Why not simply support IE8? It's not any harder than, say, supporting FireFox.

Cross browser stuff is really really easy now that you don't have to worry about IE6 anymore. Give it a shot.

Yes, it is harder than supporting Firefox.

Lean Designs makes heavy use of the canvas element and it would be impossible to implement on a browser like IE8 that doesn't support it. There are libraries like excanvas which help, but they're very limited (no toDataURL() and the like).

In order to support IE8 I'd have to severely limit what the app can do. Since this isn't an issue for 95%+ of the people visiting the site, it doesn't make sense to support it.

I can sympathize with not wanting to support IE 8, but I reckon in almost all cases it's worth it.

You should show the interface of the editor on the marketing pages somewhere. Also, the "view the source" links don't work for me in Safari Mac.

You can see the editor a bit on the homepage, but yeah, it's hard to see. I'll probably add a "Tour" section at some point, where I'll definitely include more detailed screenshots.

Re: view the source -- got it. It's a shame that Safari doesn't support it; I removed it for now and will look at alternatives later. Thanks again.

Do a demo video showcasing the application, so that users can get idea whether the product meets their requirements.

Compelling offering otherwise.

Not sure if I'd given my feedback on jmockups earlier, but this is the sort of thing I was wanting jmockups to be.

Monthly pricing - I don't know how often I go through periods where I need to design sites, so paying $240/year for the few times I'd need this is a little on the steep side, but I understand others might want/need more.

The core system looks nice - congrats.

EDIT: couple of thoughts:

change "examples" to "templates", then have an 'examples' link later with examples that people have built using the tool.

lastly, I'm slightly confused by the diff between a 'layout' and a 'mockup' (and then I also have 'designs' that I did). This is still confusing to me.

Howdy -- pricing this is an area that I need help with so thank you for your input.

Examples to templates. Great idea -- done.

Layout vs mockup vs designs: probably not as clear as it should be; agreed. Layouts are high level (regions and text only) and you can export them; mockups are detailed and you can't export them. Designs are mockups and layouts. I'll work on the copy :)

Does the builder require a HTML5 browser or does it output HTML/CSS that requires a HTML5 browser? I'm guessing the former, but that wasn't clear to me from the homepage and I'm not sure you want more text there to describe/confuse the user... Actually, I might even leave that off. Your number one goal is to get them to click the button. The more committed they are, the more they'll stick with it and maybe download chrome just to use your product.

You should explicitly list which browsers your app works on. I use FF4, is it HTML5 compliant? I don't know.

Thanks and good idea -- I see now that it was a bit confusing so removed it.

I like it a lot. I am working on something similar, but you definitely have a better distribution plan than I have. Good luck to ya!

Matt looks good I just signed up - I'll have time to tinker around with it this week. Very promising. I'm very interested in these tools and your competition (psd2cssonline.com, divine, etc.) in this field. I just moved away from Boston to Florida after 25 years but I'll be up there frequently and maybe we can catch coffee and chat.


You've obviously put a lot of work into this, but what's the advantage of using your lean designs web site builder over Boks (a free Adobe Air App grid builder) for Blueprint CSS?

Also I like that you've left your jMockups code in as the high-fidelity mock-up builder, but it might confuse new users who aren't familiar with the history behind jMockups.

Hope this helps!

Hey -- I agree that the whole jMockups & Lean Designs app in one is confusing. Without spinning Lean Designs off into its own app, supporting the high fidelity mockups (though not marketing it) seemed like the best option for now.

I haven't tried out Boks, but it may be a viable alternative to this. Long term you'll be able to design an entire site with Lean Designs, which I don't think any other tool does well right now. On that note, are there any features that Boks doesn't support that you'd like to see with Lean Designs?

Boks gets you to the same point as Lean Designs - a grid-based layout you can customize. I run into problems taking the layout from Boks and making it not look flat - rounding corners, adding shading, using good fonts, picking colors that go well together - all the little tricks that make a well-designed page look good.

What if you integrated with Adobe Kuler or a similar color-picking tool to generate a CSS file?

FWIW, Boks doesn't seem to come with any templates at all - I think that's a real value-add with leandesigns.

Have an actual designer take an hour and spruce up your design. If your target audience is designers light on coding (and likely high on aesthetics) a quality design will go a long way in getting them to stick around.

I like your idea, but be "warned" :D -> I'm building something like this for free. (And there are many others who are getting into these kind of website apps). Sent you an e-mail.

I'm not too worried - we'll see in 10 years who still exists :)

I sure hope you will, it's a great concept.

I tried it and found it really useful.

It is especially useful for people like me who aren't very well versed in CSS. I guess you should market it as WYSIWYG CSS template builder.

Thanks, glad you found it useful.

The tool as it exists now is a template/layout builder, but long term the goal is to export complete and styled websites. A kind of automated PSD2HTML service that doesn't suck. Marketing it now as a website builder vs a WYSIWYG CSS template builder serves that end.

I am confused: is it a mock up tool? I don't see any design in the examples, just mockups. You should make more clear what is it that you are offering.

Good idea in theory but I won't sign up to try it out for the first time. You should give a sandbox to play with but to export make a user sign up.

I've had this EXACT idea brewing in my head for a while. As fodder for the eternal debate: execution matters. Time to get off my sorry tail.

Nice job! This will make building sits a lot faster :). I would love a demo video on the homepage rather than needing to try it out myself.

Wow, that's a very good idea.

If anything, I think you might be able to charge more. I think 3 free designs/month is very generous.

Thanks -- I've received a lot of conflicting advice for how to price the app and honestly I'm not sure what direction to go so I'm leaving it as is for now. Might change it down the road (grandfathering in existing users) depending on the feedback. Thoughts?

PS: It's a three design limit period (not per month).

The wording on the Sign Up & Pricing also lead me to believe that it's 3 designs a month for free.

How about pay as you go pricing? I'm not going to pay monthly if I only need it every now and then, but I'd happily pay $15 per design on a non-recurring basis.

Another approach could perhaps be charging for the number of designs instead.

Nice job. More templates and integrate some color scheme templates and you've got a winner.

Will you be adding more css frameworks like blueprint ?

Maybe; depends on the demand.

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