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Tell HN: My Web App has 13 Users
319 points by chaddeshon on Mar 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 158 comments
There are many stories on HN about great product launches that get money from tons of people on the first day. If we hear about slow launches, the store comes years later, after the product is a success. I'm writing this so that we'll have another perspective. I'm ten days into a slow, frustrating launch, but I am hopeful and excited.

Thirteen users have signedup for my hosted PhantomJS web service (BromBone.com). That's a lie. Four of those 13 accounts are test accounts I created. Why I am so excited about these nine accounts? I have nine people who have decided to take my service for a test drive! The great thing about that is that nine is only one less than ten. Ten doubled is 20. Find another 20 and I'm up 40. That's almost half way to 100, then 200, 300, and 400. Soon I'll have a 1000.

That may be a little optimistic. I've read so much about gathering interest before launch and talking to customers. But it din't go as smoothly as I would hope. Posts to mailing lists take me longer to craft than I would like. The discussion is positive and generates some traffic. But honestly it is a trickle compared to what I need. I posted twice to HN, but no one clicked the upvote button.

Why then am I so positive? I got two sigups overnight. And I hadn't done any new marketing the day before. My traffic is tiny. But every time I do a little piece of marketing, I see a spike. The spike goes away, but it leaves behind a residual traffic increase. Additionally, the nine users I have are actually playing around with the service. They're using something I crated! I think if I keep my efforts going, traffic and users will increase.

If anyone else out there is excited about getting just a handful of signups, you're not alone. I'm sure we won't all make it big, but I think there's reason to be excited. Just because my "launch" didn't bring in a flood of users doesn't mean that I can't grow the trickle into a stream, and then a river. Or maybe this is denial. Time will tell.

In the whole first month of Buffer, we had less than 100 signups. For comparison, we now have 560,000 users (2.5 years later). We now sign up 100 people within a couple hours. It amazes me to think about it.

I had a previous startup that also started slow, but never really changed. The key difference between the two, was retention. So I would highly recommend anyone who's getting started to closely watch retention. Does anyone keep using the product into their second week after sign up? That's the first thing I'd focus on with what I know now.

I think what really helped you guys is that you've always been earnest and have done a good job becoming thought leaders as bloggers. People could learn a lot from the way the Buffer team grew out its product.

You guys created a really good template for slow-growth. Props.

Thanks! That means a lot, really appreciate you mentioning it.

Hey Joel, I'm interested to know if the first 100 users stuck with your product over time or you had to figure out how to do retention over time.

What an awesome question Adam.

Just had a look at our cohort analysis. Happy to let you know that 16% of the December 2010 cohort (those 100 people) are still using Buffer today (27 months later). It's actually fairly representative of what our retention stabilizes to after 4-5 months for almost every cohort, though 100 is not an ideal sample size!

We've certainly worked to improve retention over time, but in addition I think with Buffer I finally had hit upon a problem that was a real pain point. So, there was good retention right from the start.

Joel, what are you using for your cohort analysis? An internally-built tool? A third-party service?

Hey Charlie! We've been back and forth on this in the lifetime of the startup, but we're now doing all metrics ourselves, so it is internally built. I built an early version of the cohort analysis (which didn't scale, but that didn't matter) just a few months in and it was massively valuable. It's not too hard to knock something together.

Thanks for the answer Joel! By the way - I'm curious why you guys had to built this internally - I always get the feeling people prefer using a 3rd party service like kissmetrics than building something.

Internal BI is the way to go. It gives better vision to those who make decisions. Congratulations! :)

Solid. Thanks!

Would be an interesting third party tool. Does anyone do this already? Something as simple as receiving a list of usernames over time.

MixPanel can do this and they have a free plan.

I custom-built my own cohort reports but as number of users grow in my own app, I'm planning to replace it with MixPanel. You don't really want to put stress on your own database servers which are meant for production, not for analysis.

You should not be doing analysis (OLAP) on your main transactional database (OLTP). Moving from transaction-processing system (TPS) to analysis is done through a process call ETL (Extract, Transform, Load.) You will want to transform your data into facts and dimensions -- this is going from a relational model to a multidemensional model (using a star schema.)

but that would be another system to maintain. I'm happy to outsource this to MixPanel or some other company. My needs are pretty generic. I appreciate your response though.

Yes, I 100% believe in focusing on your core competencies. If the OLAP is self-hosted or external, the key takeaway is to not do analysis against production (once your data set is larger than RAM ;) before that, who cares?)

Cohort.ly does a great job. They are in private beta so you can request access. It has been really beneficial to us.


I really dislike this trend of only having videos to share info about a product or service.

Not even a blurb on there.

I recently hacked together a product that aligns with buffer's philosophy, but is inherently different. I have about 70 users, but zero paid users and not much activity. I've been ignoring it from a development standpoint in favor of other projects. Meanwhile I still use the site daily. I hope I can put some more time into it, but for now I'm just letting it scratch a personal itch. If anyone is interested: https://tweezer.io

I was wondering why no one was tackling the issue of posting to multiple social networks, and instead all we saw were services that clone posts from one network to the next, services that usually get shut down from the networks. So I made my own a while back that can post to Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc in customized ways depending if I have a URL or not, automatically shortening it, etc. Otherwise I would give yours a try.

I'd love to see it – shoot me an email.

Do you have to constantly change your web page scraper to maintain G+ support, since it has no API?

The G+ API is read only.

This is neat. It's a key problem we've spent a lot of time thinking about (that posting the same thing in the exact same way to different networks is not the right thing to do). Good job, and good luck!

Thanks for this helpful and encouraging post.

As I was right this the main question I had was how do I know the difference between "Nobody wants what your selling" and "You need to do a better job marketing"? Retention is a great answer to the question.

Indeed, that's exactly right!

I think for us, as soon as we saw that people were sticking around we knew we had to switch to "do a better job marketing". With retention, that was validation that there must be many more people out there who would find Buffer super useful, just like the people who were staying active. In essence, we needed to make more people aware of the value we were providing.

That's really awesome to hear. At what point did you start worrying about referrals? Was there a point in time when that naturally started to grow as more users, used it? Or was it something that didn't change unless you were focused on it?

Retention vs sign ups. Interesting.

Are we talking LinkedIn style link-bait and endless 'notification' emails?

Or Dropbox/Mailbox style gamification to get more free by being 'part of the club'?

Oh, I can outdo you!

Many years ago I did an upstart that was a combination of delicious and facebook, using bayesian filtering to locate links and people you might be interested in from what you posted yourself. Incredibly clever product. Before Google had even thought of pagerank. We got funding, we had great engineers, and I was the CEO.

But you know what? We never launched. We ran out of money before we got that far.

You launched - I didn't.

Congratulations! You've made it further than most.

Pffffft. Oh Please... You got funding. That means you at least convinced someone to trust you with money. I sold 250 calendars (147 on Fab.com, 103 on http://DayOnePP.com) and didn't make a single penny of profit. In fact I LOST $300+ dollars somehow. That's how bad I am at sales (and account management apparently). Ya'll got further than I did. I think I belong in Product Design & Development and away from money.

Chaddeshon your landing page doesn't have a call to action above the fold. You're missing out on a lot of signups like that. (I can design but I couldn't sell ice water to people in hell)

MixMax, as in the cakes? You wonderful human being. Those cakes rock my world.

I had no idea it was a cake - it's just a silly name I thought up 2024 days ago when making an account for some strange newfangled startup site I'd found through reddit. :-)

Can we hear more?

If you're ever in Copenhagen and buy me a beer I'll talk all night :-)

You still got the source?

In running we say it doesn't matter how fast you went or how far you ran.

You still lapped everybody on the couch.

My advice: stop advertising PhantomJS and let me sign up for your service. Why did I have to scroll down 80% of the page to get to a sign up button? And nothing on your page convinced me that I should.

I am in your target market - I build websites for a living, and I hate testing in multiple browsers. Convince me, in one sentence, why this is a good idea, and give me the option of doing something about it.

Good luck.

This. It's a wall of text. I guarantee you, 90+% of people who go to your page are going to hit the back button long before they finish getting to the “sign up” button.

-Condense the value proposition into a few sentences, or better yet, one.

-Use pictures, include screenshots or drawings of what it does. People don’t like reading a wall of text.

-Use multiple sign up buttons. Top, bottom, and between the text. See how http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/ does it.

Good luck to the OP! This seems like a potentially useful service. Having said that, on to the constructive criticism.

It's not clear on what kind of service it's trying to be, and thus what problem it should try to solve.

If it's for running a product's suite of automated tests, then it's going to be competing with Tddium and CircleCI. I can't imagine choosing it over one of those for my company's continuous integration, because it only runs PhantomJS tests and we also have tests that don't require a browser.

If it's for making a crawler-friendly version of a single-page app, that sounds really involved to get working, and requires you to insert this new service into the loop of your interaction with Googlebot. It also makes me wonder if Google will decide this is cloaking and ban your site for doing this.

Also, each of the plan names should be clickable. Right now it looks like I'm going to get the $199/mo plan when I click on Sign Up (and when I click on that I get taken to some other domain, and I'm on a Sign In form rather than a Sign Up form). Also, typo in "absolutly".

I was to lazy to scroll the entire page, so thank you for mentioning that there is a Sign up button at the end. To the op, please remove that block of text that definitely kills conversion, show an example instead and let me play with it.

Definitely too much copy before the sell, though long form can work in some cases. Probably too many price points with meaningless (to me) names. Maybe 3 with a lower priced entry? But a/b a/b a/b if you have the traffic. Cross browser issues is probably a topic ripe for blog posts. Charge for the testing service, give advice on identifying and mitigating problems for free.

The thing I missed the most is knowing which browsers / OS combinations are supported.

Can you specify using the API that you want a screenshot in IE9 or evaluate javascript with Firefox version 18 on Mac?

He only uses a webkit browser.

Really, setting up phantomjs is easier than making a http request with any language, so i can't see any added benefit for his service unless my IP block is already blocked and now i want to use his :)

Now, back to being serious, i integrated phantom in my test makefiles in minutes. Not even hours.

I know how hard this can be. I've been doing startup stuff for 7 years. And it's still awfully painful. I'd encourage teaching to find an audience.

I've been blogging and blogging and blogging. I ended up giving that up at one point. I thought I had more important things to do. I thought it wasn't growing enough. But that was foolish.

The biggest thing that's changed a lot of things for me in the last year is simply sticking to a schedule of writing once per week. It all eventually adds up. It eventually opens up new doors.

It doesn't happen over night either. But the audience that finds you tends to stick with you. And tends to help market all the new projects.

What about creating BromBone.com was hard that you figured out? Any hosting problems that you solved? Any bugs in PhantomJS? Anything you can open source? Did you learn anything about what kind of mailing list post gets more traffic than others? Learn anything about making collecting signups easier?

I continue to collect tons and tons of ideas as I go through life that I feel were hard and I figured out or were interesting. A bunch of people just pass on when I write about them. Meh. But then every now and then, something spreads like crazy. An open source project here. A motivating post here. And years later you find, a lot of awesome stuff has built up. People following you. People wanting to see your next project and spread it.

Doing what we're doing is a career. It isn't a lottery. It isn't going to happen in one launch. It's something that we should expect to get better and better at. Forever.

> If you launch and no one notices, launch again. We launched 3 times. - Brian Chesky, Founder of AirBnB https://twitter.com/bchesky/status/312438036929576962

Seven years is a long time. I am pretty on the same timeframe as well. I took a chance to redo everything over and this time with 5 months I have already launched my new product. My HN launch is kinda depressing as it just gave me 6 visits LOL. That traffic graph is my new motivation factor. I love to improve my writing to write blog like you but for now I am sticking to similar goal and that is to release an upgrade to my product every week.

I have to wonder if releasing an upgrade is better than other things. Also you should leave your contact in your profile! My first reaction was to email you, but I have no way to reach you.

I think releasing frequently give me an opportunity to keep user interested. So far it pressured me to keep on adding values. Either way I think it does have possible effect until I burned out :). BTW, I updated my profile so feel free to contact me.

Do you think it's better to blog on your own personal blog, or to blog on the product's blog page?

I figured you'd want SEO on the product's blog page, but on the other hand, if it tanks, or you end up doing something else, you'd want the SEO on your own blog, right?

Right off the bat.

I'm kind of buzzed so take my advice as twice as important related to usability

No pictures = not interested (for 'scripts' this is okay.. but if its something that you expect users to sign up to it must have imagery).

If its a script that you put into your own app, then make a video to show how it works.

You need a much better summary at the top of exactly what it does and why i should sign up.

You use ALL your prime real estate explaining what a headless browser is. I already know what it is, and lose interest immediately.

just my .02, now I will go back for real and look a second time in detail but I wanted to give you my raw first impressions.


At second glance, your call to actions are terrible (raw but honest, I want you to succeed).

My eyes move around the page like a dead rat rolling around in the wind.

look at examples of places that do it well:




Your signup button is literally -100/10. I can't rate it worse. I looked around how to sign up (I actually tried and still couldnt see it)

Also naming something like one of your plans after 'Katrina' brings up negative connotations

Disclaimer: I'm a hardcore phantomjs user. Add a service that scrapes results and I think you'll be overwhelmed with interest. Scraping is a pain. It takes a special niche talent -- but a ton of people want it. Let people submit what information they want off a page -- you write the script that does it for them. Pay as you go, etc. If it saves people time, they will pay for it. I do full-time consulting -- building out software systems for people, but I could just as easily keep myself 100% busy just building phantom/casper scrapers for people that have no clue how to do it -- and I'm not talking about stuff that falls into the "be evil" bucket. You're just building web services where there are none.

Just curious, but isn't this what ScraperWiki does?

Never head of ScraperWiki. Took a quick look, and it looks they do provide this kind of service. Regardless, that hardly means the market is saturated. Businesses need this kind of thing A LOT. If you do it right, it could prove quite fruitful. I'd remove all the stuff about phantomjs / headless browser and all tech jargon from the home page, and just focus on how you can provide fast value through this path.

I'll be in touch.

I find it odd that the hacker community likes to completely disregard non-technical people[1]. It's situations exactly like this where it would bring a huge amount of value to have someone dedicated to marketing/community outreach and evangelism for the product.

Even though it's a technical project, explained well and with patience even the most non-technical person could wrap their head around it and develop a plan to get it to market.

Being both a dev and a marketer, I've found there are two, entirely separate brainstorming mindsets: product design and development, and product marketing and execution. It is incredibly taxing and inefficient to frequently switch between these two mindsets, which is why I believe most developed companies evolve into having two distinct departments: product development and product marketing. I'm working on my own startup now in RoR doing exactly this (i.e. trying to switch between the two roles frequently) with much frustration. Luckily I have a great business partner that is entirely focused on strategy that can knock some sense into me when I become too bogged down in the development/coding thought pattern.

Going to a business school with essentially zero CS majors, I personally know a dozen people that would be interested in jumping in on a project like this, not even for the lucrative rewards of success but the experience of working on such a project and jumping into the tech world.

Just some thoughts...

[1]: Most recent example I've stumbled upon: "No marketers/MBAs/designers/unicorns/whatever." Source: http://hackerho.us/

The ultimate is when you get a marketer who understands what APIs are used for. For example, I can say that the OP should probably consider pasting his sample code higher up on the page in a more prominent position. Show the end user he can succeed easily with the product and he won't mind clicking the sign-up button. Marketers these days also need to know where you can find these users. They should have an account here, SO, SlashDot, r/programming, Quora and so on.

I'd love to have someone dedicated to to marketing/community outreach and evangelism. If someone with those skills wants to join me on the journey, send me an email (in profile).

Yeah... You couldn't pay me the 1700/month to live in that house. Sounds like a bunch of poseurs and wannabes that need help paying the rent so they can play WoW all day. "No work from home" ... ? That's like, half the hackers out there. Whatever it is, that place is sketch city (capital of the united states of douche).

I once read 'If you build it, they won't come'. I think this is the case for most people. Getting people to your website or service is the hard part, not the development. We're all in the same boat here. For a product such as yours, I can imagine going to events, posting on relevant forums etc... would be your best bet at getting more users. Best of luck with your product, what you currently have looks promising.

They won't come. At least not automatically. It requires some effort on your part, even if it's a tiny bit.

I love that quote. Is this the original source? http://jasonlbaptiste.com/featured-articles/if-you-build-it-...

Good luck to you. Not getting a single upvote for new stories on HN seems to be the norm, at least for me, so I wouldn't worry about that very much.

What you should focus on right now is whether or not the users you have actually use and like the app. If they do, then you've created something that people like and you should focus on growth. If they are not really using it after registration, then you should focus on improving the product until the usage rate goes up to acceptable levels.

My startup in 2008 spent 3 years in development limbo and never launched. My next one in 2011 launched with similar numbers to what you described here and we eventually scrapped it because we had no way to effectively promote it. We launched a new site in 2012 and we now have over 7 million unique visitors a month to our site and hundreds of partnerships with other services. The biggest change we made was focusing on building partnerships in the industry. We never went to any conferences or sales trips, everything was via email introductions. Try to find a way to make yourself useful to people who have distribution channels, at least that worked for our individual case anyhow.

Hey, I'm going to be in the same position soon. :)

I haven't launched yet, and while I feel that there's a large audience for the service I plan to provide, I feel like the majority of my potential users are content with what they have right now.

Either way, great job. I'm not sure if I could be so optimistic. Besides talking to potential users, have you tried advertising/promotions/etc?


As justhw said, a demo or two and screen shot wouldn't be a terrible idea.

And while this may not make a great difference, add a favicon and change the title.

The title is currently set to "A headless browser as a service built on PhantomJS - BromBone"

So, in my sea of tabs, all I see is "A head" which isn't as helpful when trying to find the tab as "BromBone."

First of all, congrats on actually shipping. You've already accomplished more than 99% of people.

Second of all, you're actually charging money for your product. That's awesome. When just one of those users converts to a paid plan you'll already be making more money than any of those hyped social startups with big launches that never turn a dollar profit.


Re Pricing - I'd be interested in being able to buy a number of "credits" for this service instead of paying a recurring monthly fee. Something like $20 for 500 requests that I can then use anytime over the next 12 months.

Your service looks interesting but also something I'm likely to use a lot for a few days then possibly not at all for a while so I'd be reluctant to pay a monthly fee for it. A "credit pack" or pay-per-use ability would be a great alternative


Clickable link: http://www.brombone.com/

It's down... :-(

Looks like he is reaching the tenth user today :)

I checked it out to see if it's something that interests me.

It took me a while to "get it" (i.e. understand what it does). The aha moment came with the sentence, "It doesn't display the page on a monitor."

If you can, try to get to the explanation sooner, using simple words. I think I'd seen the phrase "headless browser" before but I'd forgotten what it meant.

You posted twice on HN and no one up voted you - posted this 'Tell HN' and this time you're on the front page, I'm sure that a bunch of interested hackers will visit your website now and register with your service. Keep telling the world about your service, find out what works better and do it again.

> no one up voted you

This is a problem with HN. I've submitted 6 stories with this account, all of which seem like they're definitely interesting material highly relevant to HN's audience, and rather similar to stories that have made the front page.

But they've gotten at most 3 upvotes, as of this writing. Heck, I have single comments that get more upvotes than all of my submissions combined.

I don't want to think about having the success or failure of a product riding on HN's ability to find my submission and upvote it.

If you want to personally do something about this, next time you read through the front page and still want to procrastinate, look at the New feed, and upvote some stories that don't already have a big group of people looking at them!

I passed it along to 0-7000 people, depending on how things play out in the noise of G+ and Twitter. It's not something I have a use for, but it looks interesting.

Thank you.

As a former PhantomJS user, I certainly would have used you guys. I went through a lot of shit trying to set it up (this is phantomjs v1.3 i am talking about - mainly xvfb - which kept sending shitty screenshots). I am pretty sure you have a good market out there.

My suggestions: 1. Change your name - since you are doing a hosted phantomjs browser as a service, try to have either the word phantom or browser in your name. 2. Change your design - Go with bootstrap-based template for SaaS apps. 3. Too much content on your page. Cut them down. 4. Spin off couple of specialized tasks as separate services - screenshot capture and web scraping. 5. Quite a bunch of phantomjs and casper.js user groups/mailing lists. Actively participate in them.

Good luck!

Application Error An error occurred in the application and your page could not be served. Please try again in a few moments.

If you are the application owner, check your logs for details.

I get the same thing when I go to BromBone.com - an error message...

Oh no! Heading home to fix it now.

I did nothing, but it seems to be working fine. It must have buckled under the traffic. I threw another dyno at it in case it happens again.

When the post started to get traction I booted more phantomJS instance, but I didn't think the simple landing page would have any trouble.

Anyone still having trouble?

Yes same application error.

Just figured something out - works in firefox, does not work in chrome or safari (e.g., webkit browsers)

Hm. Now that I just signed up in Firefox, it's not working there either.

I looked up your page (I'm a web developer, interested in testing, using zombiejs right now), and there are two things. First: Way to much text. Second: I don't care what you use as an underlying software stack. Tell me that you parse the whole page, executing js and everything, and get the result back to me. Thats your message. And then add some text somewhere to tell me that I can write phantom.js tests which are executed against the page.

What I really don't know is why I need a phantomjs web worker. I mean if I am that deep into testing, I have a CI which does this for me. No need to add another external service to the stack. I'm also worried that 1000 requests for $29 are a little much? I don't know about phantomjs, but zombiejs was installed in way under a minute (using npm). So while you are saving me a few minutes for installing phantom.js (doesn't look like rocket science to me), you are taking my time for integrating your API and you are charging me?

I think by refining your messages and thinking about what exactly it is you are selling you might have a decent service there.

It's odd that your site isn't coming up in a google search for brombone. That's probably hurting you a ton. You might look into that. I've had even tiny pages come up pretty quick in google searches.

Good luck to you, man. I am really glad to see a real world example of what startup life is actually like instead of those one in a million instant takeoff sites that make real people feel so discouraged.

Congrats on the start. Post it here again on Monday 9-10 am eastern time.

Like this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5362235 :)

Posting at the right time is not a guarantee you'll be seen, and you're post doesn't stay on the new page very long during peek times.

Don't worry though. I'll be back next week sometime between 9-10am Eastern with a new blog post.

There are no guarantees. But you have to keep trying until you're on the top of the homepage. Don't get too complacent with your 9 users :-)

I don't mean to sound like a scrooge but... it's really expensive! I'm super interested in this service, but before paying 29/month (that's more than what i pay for a VOS server) i want to be sure that the service 1) Is working properly according to my needs 2) It's efficient 3) will be helpful. A.K.A. Add a free plan to try it!

I'm not sure if you singed up or not. But right now all plans are free during the beta. When the beta period ends, I'll make sure there is still a free way to try the service.

One challenge I've noticed is how quickly you can become accustomed to better results. Right now, a 100 sign up day would blow you away. But when that peters out, even to a point elevated from your current state, it isn't as satisfying.

Metrics continue to mess with you, long past the earliest stages.

Impressive. Congrats on shipping and launching.

Constructive criticism: it looks like something I could actually use i.e. automation, server-side rendering, useful for SEO. But, I left the landing page and couldn't tell you exactly what the product will do for me. I have a vague idea that it might be useful for SEO or automation. I'm too busy to read the long copy. I'm not too busy to write this post, though :-)

I'd like to see different headlines (or landing pages) that speak to my pain points. "Having trouble getting your Knockout.JS website ranked?" "Frustrated by trying to automate testing of your JavaScript-heavy site?" etc.

Again, kudos. Something tells me this service is going to do fine... patience, right? ;-)

Great post. Those super-early adopters are awesome. I consider myself lucky that, as a high school senior and one-man team who utilizes free software and services like AWS EC2, I don't feel compelled to amass a userbase to put dinner on the table. It's really a great experience to have nothing more than $10 (for the domain name) and a bunch of (well-spent) hours invested in a web service. And the best part is: I built it for myself and anyone else who finds it valuable. I built it because I wanted a web-based alternative to iTunes on iOS. It's pure freedom - the idea that almost anyone can build something they want to use and put it online makes me appreciate the Web all the more.

To add more points of view. For me, your design is not that good. It is a mix of a website for a web framework and something with a menu plus the sign in in the same page. Copy the same design than the other service providers do. The design is not perfect. The texts are not well placed.

I think 4 different prices is too much. 3 is good or do something like "user, team, company", and then if we need to have more options we can contact you.

Your website is your biggest investment in Marketing. You should polish it. You also need to understand what your customers need. Their needs are certainly different than what you think.

The creator of Bingo Card creator I believe said on here before (or maybe on his blog) that he had a similar growth. Now it's his day job. So I'd just keep thinking about it the way you are. Good luck! :)

Although just a side project, one of the most important things I've learned with Hacker Newsletter is to just stick with it. It seems like too often we (the HN crowd) lose our passion for something a bit too quickly and move on to our next big idea.

You can see my subscriber growth rate here: http://imm.io/ZCRJ

For almost a year I could not move the needle it seemed, but then finally it happened and from there it has gotten easier. Now I have 15,000 subscribers and think I can hit 25k to 30k by the end of the year.

I'm in a similar position, except I'm not trying to get new users. In fact, I'm trying to maintain a very small set of users so I can test ideas on them before I try to go bigger.

Getting users is great, but getting traction, meaning users who keep coming back is a much better goal to aim for. So out of your 9 users, start looking at the percentage, although small, that are regularly using your app.

I'm up to 83 users with 0 marketing and I'm trying out new ideas, watching the analytic data and responding over and over. It's a great spot to be in. Keep it up.

As a practicing software developer who works on web applications daily, I did not get hooked after reading your site.

If you want to acquire me as a user you should post some instructional tutorials and videos on how I can use your service and why I would benefit from it.

New relic is doing a great job of marketing this way, with their IRC channel, reps contacting you to ask how things are going in a non-pushy way, and they're also giving out cool t-shirts (obviously an expense, but I think you could do it for someone who buys a $99 account?)

Exciting dude! I'm in the same position. I've got 57 subscribers (probably 7 from friends, ha!) already on my web app, and it hasn't even launched[1] (psst - we're launching tomorrow). I was excited to learn that the latter part of sign-ups included people I had never heard of. One of them being a former Olympic silver medalist diver who does triathlons that signed up! That's a pretty cool feeling.

[1] - http://www.competehub.com

You need more friends :)

You might consider some simplification of your web page... there was a cool automatic "tutorial" JS app posted here a few days ago... and maybe security as a selling point. I'd like to throw suspicious pages at it and see what happens if anything... big market for that and you can charge a lot more than you are if you make it remotely "cyber" related. Feel free to talk to me/pm if you want some pointers on the security side of the house.

Congrats and best of luck. You got me laughing real hard on the 4 users part.

Advice: Your site could benefit from some visuals, like a screen shot/ demo.

Hi, I just signed up, sounds like a neat service, but when I look at the lowest price plan, starting at 29.99 is pretty steep. Though not comparable, there's a reason why dropbox starts at 9.99$ a month, and salesforce starts at 5$ a month (per user). Maybe you should look into having a lower price point but with less features or less requests per month.

What sort of inbound traffic numbers are you getting? I have to be honest - I was completely turned off the landing page. Further more, the content structure reads like a blog to me - I had no idea it was service at first glance. I'd be happy to give you some action items / critique over Skype or Hangouts if you're interested.

Drop me a line - @twanlass.

Sounds like a cool test app, if you have a lot of time to click through and to double-check the results. You might want to look at https://www.rainforestqa.com , they do something similar but on a much larger scale and automated. Perhaps you'd get inspired for the next step.

Congrats on the launch.

I run a monitoring service that's built on top of PhantomJS. Happy to chat anytime about the tech or what I've learned about the business.

It would help to have a clear call to action from the homepage. One thing to keep in mind is that most major hosting companies don't charge for inbound traffic any more so pulling data is basically free.

I am glad you launched! If I can just give my 5 cents here, it will definitely get you more users if you could summarise your test into easily readable point forms or short paragraphs to explain your product on your main website. Similarly, if you are sending out to your mailing list, you will want to keep it concise!

Yep its great. I am on similar boat for http://hirehub.me/ , trying to gain traction and get some feedback. Which is so important to improve the product.

Congratulation you made it to first page of HN which would be enough to gain traction to get useful feedback on your product.

You are still lucky that your article is up here and i am sure you have thousands of sign-ups by now. I tried with my multiplx.com - an alternative for Google Reader and I am not able to get the traffic i need neither my post came to limelight in HN. So, it all depends... not sure when and what picks up..

I'm in a similar situation and it's encouraging to read that this seems to be commonplace. I'm just about on the cusp of having one satisfied customer willing to participate in the develop-deliver-discuss cycle, which makes me very excited, but I'm not sure where to go from there.

From what I can tell, after you get one satisfied customer, you need to figure out how to get a second satisfied customer, and then a third. You hope that eventually one of you attempts to get one customer actually gets you 100.

This is probably not very important but What is the expected workflow when someone visiting your site at http://www.brombone.com/ clicks sign up and clicks cancel in the following screen? I just get an error.

Obviously I didn't test that. Why would someone cancel?

It supposed to take you back to the home page.

Like I mentioned earlier, it probably does not need to be high on your agenda. However, to answer your question why would someone cancel... because the button is there and we users are stupid.

Open up a private browsing instance and go through the workflow. You'll probably end up here[1]. Did you change something in the last hour? I thought I was getting a message from dailycred not from you when I checked before I went for my walk.

Seems like you're logging these errors somewhere. Sorry if I am muddying the error tables for you.

[1] http://www.brombone.com/account?error=access_denied&erro...

It isn't stupid to click the cancel button.

That cancel button is actually what cause a few brief periods of unavailability a couple hours ago. When a user clicked the cancel button it was taking them to the account page even though they didn't have an account, and that was crashing the server.

I have fixed the crash, but I still need to add the proper redirects after cancel is click. Thanks for reporting this. It made tracking down the problem easier.

Actually, in hindsight it was my action that crashed your server unless someone else clicked cancel as well. Sorry about that. I'm glad you were able to track and patch it quickly.

Maybe HN is a bug reporting tool as well. :)

It happened more than once.

I'm getting an application error. :(

It's back up now.

Useful service, I would use it assuming availability is good (I have jerryrigged something similar myself in the past and it was a real pain in the ass to get working smoothly). Suggested pricing seems way off though (I know it's free right now) - how did you figure out what was reasonable?

Pricing is tough. Part of setting a price is getting feedback from potential customers. Can I ask why it seems way off to you?

The price is exorbitant compared to the compute cost associated with each request, so let's assume that the value you provide here is that every other developer doesn't have to invest the setup time to build it themselves and keep it running smoothly.

I'm a developer, which I think everyone in your target market is, so let's assume I could probably roll my own version if I could dedicate a couple of days to it (that would be consistent with my previous experience). I'd expect you to set your pricing low enough that I should never even consider trying to roll my own, so low I never even bother to lookup the docs to see how hard it might be. As pseut says, the upper tiers are so expensive that you just motivated anyone considering that volume to go off and do the build/buy analysis.

I hope this is constructive feedback. There are lots of other good suggestions here on how to make your landing page convert better. If you take all the feedback on board, I do think you have a service that can provide value.

I'm not really a potential customer, but I'll jump in: $199 and $499 per month shocked me, and the range $29 to $499 completely confused me about your target customer. You should have an option marked "FREE" and in the same text as the paid options, and not just "free beta" but "free trial".

It seems like your target customer is someone who's not going to set up PhantomJS on their own, right? For 500 dollars I'll figure out how to set it up.

Another comment: the intro two paragraphs are probably more technical than they should be. The "what for" should be above the "headless browser" section; you might even put all of that stuff on a second "technical details" page to not scare people away. You're not selling "headless browsing" (anyone knows that they want that can probably set it up), you're selling "testing" and "screenshots" (and maybe other services too).

Late addition: saying "I'm not really a potential customer" isn't quite right. I'm putting together a hobby-project website with a lot of SVG images and have been thinking of looking into PhantomJS to generate pngs or gifs for browsers where svg isn't supported (preemptively in case this sounds stupid: that's way down the road, so I don't know if what I'm describing makes sense). I read your post and thought that I would be completely happy to spend a dollar or two a month (expected non-svg traffic is basically zero, but I'd like to support twitter cards) to support your project and generate the images on the fly using your service as a CGI, but 1) the pricing convinced me that the answer is "no" and 2) I'm no closer to knowing if what I want makes sense.

A few tutorials on how to do various tasks with your service would help a lot too (beyond the one-liners).

I started http://www.cameralends.com about two months ago, and have gone from a handful of visitors/day to about a hundred/day, and regular signups to boot. Hang in there, the fun is just starting :)

After 16 hours, you must have gotten a lot of users? Will you share the total user count now?


Probably not as many as most people suspected, but it is a niche service that not everyone needs.

I would recommend for BromBone to simply say first thing on your site that you provide a service to get screenshots of a web page. Could eliminate most of the rest of detailed explanation about headless browsers. Never even heard that term.

I didn't understand the product on the first scroll. You should put the product in easier words. What is the use case? Why should I use it? A video demo/lots of screenshots would fit better. And get a template from wrapbootstrap.com

I really suggest you to change your pricing names. "Hans Plan ... Ichabod Plan"?! Change them into something much more meaningful to your users: the name of your customer segments. like "freelancer" then "design studio" and so on...

I've just finished reading The Lean Startup. There is so much in there that is relevant to this if you haven't already read it I highly recommend you check it out. Especially the sections on engines of growth and metrics.

Pfff. 13 users are much more than my pet project (http://www.DNSDigger.com) has. It is a couple of years old but i recently started with paid accounts and API-access.

That's actually a pretty cool service! I was looking for a reverse dns lookup site like that a while back.

A few thoughts:

-You should make the explanation of what your site offers a little bit more clear. It took me a few minutes to figure it out.

-What is the Google Analytics/Adsense lookup Database part? I can lookup sites that use a specific google analytics or adsense id?

Yes. If you put in a Google Analytics code the site will show you what other site share the OwnerID-part. Same with adsense (and soon AddThis). I am not a designer and the first thing i would do if i had some money over would be to hire a designer to make my site look more pro.

WOW! Thats pretty sweet. Would be nice to see some v6 (psst. may be one more feature for the paid account ;)

Thanx! Yes IPv6 support should be implemented soon (within this year). But as i am not actually making any money at all right now (i suffering from depression & ADD) i have problem scaling the site with the much needed extra hardware and design. This is something i put together first for fun and now it has grown a bit hehe. To be able to serve the data i do i have to resolve hunders of millions of hostnames/domains and spider the net. That takes hardware, software, time and bandwidth which i only has time of hehe. Looking for sponsors when you are trying to be a commercial service is a bit hard but if anyone here has a hosting company that could give me access to dedi and/or VPS (low outgoing bw and HIGH incomming) i would love to trade "powered by COMPANY" and maybe banners.

I think a trial or atleast a demo will go a long way for brombone. Also, it doesn't look like you are selling something from the first look at the website. It looks like an article or a blog post to be honest.

Just Make Lemonade. If you start with a low base (9 sign ups), then just focus on percentage increases in user growth rather than actual users. This can make your growth charts look great for several months.

Is your service available in country's that restrict access to certain websites? It could help them to access them. May be get some attention from vpn provider to increase visibility for that kind of matter.

My first impression when I opened your site was "Oh, another open source project!" — I think this was not the impression you wanted me to have :) Apart from that, very interesting service, well done :)


Do you plan to license this for self-hosting? If you do, I think you might be surprised at the enterprise buyin on this sort of thing. I can immediately think of $confidential projects that could use this.

You should consider this. This could be useful for automated testing, but that will all be on an internal network.

If someone were interesting in self-hosting, I would talk to them.

OK. Can you send me an email (In HN profile)?

Working on a web product for +1 year here and we are still a few months away for release. Personally I think I'll cry when I see the first sign up that isn't a test account. If I ever see it.

If you're like me, you'll probably spend ten minutes Googling trying to see if the account is from a bot or a spammer of some sort before you convince yourself that it is real.

I was just wondering if you were planning to integrate CasperJS too, which is an awesome addition onto PhantomJS. If not, it'd be interesting to have access to an online PhantomJS REPL.

I've been seriously considering it. However, I've never used CasperJS myself, so I'll have to get a better handle on what it is offer first.

Same thing happened to me, posted twice to HN with no up votes then I got my first sign up and I was super excited. From that point there really should be no turning back.

Having great ideas and failing to get any traction is something me and I would be many people are familiar with. Of course we mostly hear about the successes.

You should definitely do something with your landing page. Other than that seems like an interesting service, hope you'll do well with it.

> Beta accounts are absolutly free and have the same privileges as the Baltus Plan.

either typo or ingeniously relevant reference to beverage

Wish you the best of luck. Btw, is it possible to submit html + JavaScripts to your service, not only the site URL?

That isn't possible yet, but it is something I want to support.

I'm also getting the 500 error page. Sorry, but this is a big problem. Stability counts, uptime counts.

But I really want to try it!

It's all about who you sleep with. Good luck to you and remember that we all share this experience.

I think it's a useful program. Keeping it in mind.

Good luck man :)

Good luck dude!

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