At the time, the company I was working at was looking for a service exactly like this - a service where our app could just fling events, and then we'd do all the logic to control what emails got emitted on the basis of those events on the external service (and A/B test them). One of our "growth hacking" guys found SendWithUs somehow, and introduced us. We had a few calls with them - the service seemed like it had potential, and we got beta access to it...which was really sendwithus zero, but sending basic email.
We got most of the way though setting up an integration with them, but every time we asked when the A/B testing framework - which was what sold us on the product - was coming online, we were told "it's coming soon, it's what we're working on right now." So we held on for a few more weeks, and gave them some time...but nothing came of it. I was skeptical at the time that they were actually building it, even moreso having read this.
The positive side is that while we were being strung along by sendwithus, we found Vero (https://www.getvero.com/). They're not perfect either, but we've been on them for 6-8 months, and they've done well for us. They're responsive to our issues, are willing to Skype or chat when we try and develop some sophisticated campaigns on their platform, and have (or so it seems) rejigged their roadmap a few times to add in small features that we ask for. ExactTarget is still a more full-featured package, but I'm happy with the price/value of Vero.
So well done, guys. You've got an interesting story about how you bootstrapped your business, and you're evidently doing OK. I wish you the best, but I can tell you that you won't be getting my business (or my recommendation) - at the time I thought you were small and were actually on the cusp of delivering what you had promised us worked; now I see that we were just one more data point for a feature set that you never planned on having ready when you claimed.
I don't know when you found us, but it did take us time to roll out our A/B testing; we never intended to string anyone along.
If you're willing to chat offline about your experience, please get in touch: email@example.com
Personally, I don't see this as an accurate description of what happened. We were seriously considering sendwithus and were looking at how to integrate their product. We talked a few times (maybe 4 times?) and definitely saw the value of what they were doing and where they were going.
We also were very transparent about the features we needed to move forward and they gave us a fair time range for when they could deliver them. Originally, we were comfortable with the timeline. Of course, you sometimes want things to be built yesterday and we happened to come across Vero which had all the requested functionality already built. That's what caused the switch.
Hope that clarifies things and honestly, I'm disappointed by the above comment. Anyone who's built something from nothing knows the hustle required and sometimes you have to risk annoying people to prove there's value in what you're doing. There are many examples of this. Here's the most recent one I've seen: HotelTonight (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EER3rdWXbNk).
OP - could you elaborate on how you got these 803 unique visitors within 24 hours?
Also - could/would people click on more than one button once they found out they were non-functional? It could be that some features would be best developed in tandem with others.
Repeat clicks are definitely interesting. It makes sense that once a button was clicked and found to be non-functional, that may prevent future interaction. But that first click still holds value. It'd be interesting to pull stats on how many unique visitors generated those click events.
It's basically lying to potential customers: You're pretending to offer to sell a product that doesn't exist.
If it was like "Click here to take a survey about what features you most want in an email service" that would be one thing, but that's not the messaging in your case.
Focus groups et al. are consensual. This is deceptive.
"Yellow Walkman" story is appropriate http://www.alexandercowan.com/yellow-walkman-data-art-of-cus...
"The moral of the story is that you need natural behavior for quality observational learning."
They built an editor and then created buttons for the next functionality they wanted to build.
And for people who paid they used Zurb to service them.
Where do you see this as scummy and deceptive?
- Just because some people are using your free features, it doesnt mean they will pay for it once it is paid.
- Just because you have 5 paying customers, doesnt mean it will be easy to find out 500 more.
- Just because you have 500 paying customers, it doesnt mean what you did to acquire these 500 will scale to the next 5000.
- Just because you have 5000 paying customers, it doesnt mean that there won't be a new upstart which will dramatically undercut your offering and acquire most of these.
There is a name for this validation process - its called a 'startup'.
To me it's a lack of respect for your users and their time.
I'd have no problem if it said "there's a bunch of features not yet implemented, we have the buttons there to gauge interest and we'll work on the most needed ones".
The details of that period would make a great follow-up blog post.
Developed it back when I was doing microsites, and I wasn't really sure what to do with it. My main question: why do people visit, anyway? I figured I'd know what to do with it once I figured out why people were there.
So I did just what these guys did. I created a list of buttons down the page with all the possible things people visiting a site called paycheck stub might want. Hooked them all into Google Analytics. Paycheck templates? Fake paychecks? Loans? Payroll services? A job? Sample paychecks for school or presentations?
Very interesting results. First, about 90% didn't want any of that. God knows why they were there. But out of the other 10%, I got a couple pieces of useful information. They were looking for payroll services. So I put up some banner ads. (I think I took down the Adsense. Can't remember)
That, in turn, provided more ad revenue than simply using Adsense on the site. It also provided me with a list of topics to develop and some search terms to try to hit.
So I developed those topics and tried to do better on those search terms. At one point I was almost ready to jump into online payroll. Fun times!
Then Google killed my search ranking -- I wasn't paying for links or spamming. Beats me why. I got so frustrated with them I gave up.
Still get quite a bit of traffic, though. But now, I'm sure, the traffic pattern is completely different. I wonder if, for static sites with a lot of content, this is something you should repeat every year or so?
Like these guys, I found it a rewarding experience, both for my understanding of the site and for my readers. The reason I'm posting is that many times we view this as a step on the way to creating SaaS, but it can be just a great way to connect with your readers. I bet it's extremely applicable for a lot of blogs.
Wish I could have figured out why those other 90% were there.
Your current site again looks like a spam site. It contains heavily SEOed text that looks like it came from a content farm, some ads, and many of the sort of links that a parking site contains; lots of internal links to more heavily SEOed text.
Basically, you tripped up against heuristics because you look almost exactly like the sort of spam that Google is trying to clear out of its indexes, whether you had good intentions or not.
My current site is a micro-site. I and my wife wrote the material. I hand-designed the layout, hand-coded all the html. As a programmer and a writer, I was pretty excited about the idea of microsites a few years ago. Here was a chance to combine my love of writing and programming to create online magazines around particular topics. I envisioned writing dedicated applications, doing some live updating of relevant information, and so on. It was (and is) a pretty cool idea: a spot between a blog and a dedicated topical site. As far as the guts of how the site works, using internal links, scoring highly on search terms, etc? Read that in an article somewhere. The goal is to create a small spider site around a topic such that people land on one page and see the top 3 or 4 related pages immediately, allowing them to browse tangentially if they're in the wrong spot. There's probably a better way to optimize around that than I did, but I never got around to it. And as far as Adsense, I added on ad unit to pay hosting costs. As I said, once I figured out why folks were visiting the idea was to get rid of it. But Google kept emailing and suggesting I bump it up to three units. Go figure.
And yep, Google killed me because everybody else in the microsite business used content farms, cranking out thousands of pages of crap, loading up with Adsense, flash ads, grabbing emails, and so on.
I still think the microsite idea is a great one, although, you are correct, anything that looks like one is going to get penalized. That's a shame. There's still a lot of potential there. Check out my microsite for books that hackers might like for an idea http://hn-books.com (This is also a good example of a totally-static site that still has a database and lots of interactivity)
In either case, Google's algorithm decided my couple of hundred hours of programming, design, and writing effort wasn't worth it. After horsing around with the idea for a year, losing valuable time, I gave up. As somebody who was not out to game the system, I was collateral damage in the bigger war against crappy content.
But when you have a site with traffic, you end up with tons of data and very little insight. The button thing moves the needle a little bit, and that's better than nothing.
ADD: One other thing: there's also a minimum amount of traffic you need to make this thing work. 100 visits isn't enough. I'd imagine between 1-5K? Otherwise there's too much noise. Was that your experience as well?
I have a problem with this phrase. Seems to me it needs justification maybe just a verb? I don't immediately think of "transactional email" as a problem...
From a user perspective, I think there are both good and bad ways how this technique can be used:
I actually like the way Sendwithus used it - as part of a very very early "pre-alpha" version where you're not yet interested in providing a reliant service and just want to get a feel for the demand. As a user you're informed early-on that you're looking at a version in development - so you will not be surprised by missing or incomplete features and will maybe even motivated to provide additional feedback.
The downside of this approach is of course that the data you're gathering is really only good for that - an early overview. Your test group will likely be very different from the actual people who will later use the service. The usage patterns will be as well.
The second way to use the technique is how Nick Kishfy describes it in the "button to nowhere" article. In that approach, "buttons to nowhere" are not just inserted into an early preview/development version, but into the actual product as a continuous part of the development process.
This would solve all of the above problems and would give you a much richer set of data over a much longer time span - but from a user perspective that would be the worst thing possible.
We're working on a followup story on how we do customer development/feedback with a established product.
We knew that transactional email was a problem worth solving
I think that your comment isn't a bad one, but should go more in depth. Some markets really are unassailable - others aren't. The reasons are many and sometimes complex, so analyzing one is often quite interesting.
Or.. just something to worry about when people come knocking? :)
We actually also use these semi-live demos instead of mock-ups (since we'll be implementing the same pages afterward anyway) since only one of us is proficient with Photoshop but everyone is comfortable with Bootstrap. It serves as a testing ground for various approaches for JS code too.
A random order for the menu items might have been better. Or maybe not.
If someone is willing to use it even when it's absurdly cumbersome then they are going to turn into customers. Once you build it you can iterate to find the best patterns.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive; people were excited that we were building something in this space.