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How I Went From An Idea To Paying Customers In 3 Days (planscope.io)
60 points by hboon on May 16, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

While I was reading this, especially in the beginning and again towards the end, I kept getting this feeling of this is a "long-winded sale of nothing at all".

You know those websites, where this wonderfully crafted copy leads you on and on and on about selling you something special and magical without ever really revealing what it is. Typically, at the end of the nothing-sale will be a heavily-priced video or ebook that supposedly contains a very deep insight which is so precious that its actual properties can't even be hinted at before giving the author some money right now.

This article does the same thing, but on a meta level. What we get to experience here is not the nothing-sale itself, but the marketing of the capability to make that sale. It does contain just enough hints and bits to keep you reading, just enough truisms to have you nodding along every once in a while, but at the end very little is actually being reported.

I actually admire this, but know that I can't (or maybe don't want to) replicate it on my own. I do admit that features and specifics matter a great deal to me, both when I sell something and when I consume. It's not difficult to recognize that I do have these unrealistic expectations over the need for substance which result in me being a terrible sales person.

So, hat off to people who get to make tons of cash off of this ability, more power to them and all. But in a very real sense they do exist right at the edge between online scam and shopping channel. "Sell as close to nothing as you can get away with" is indeed an interesting optimization problem, and probably an act of performance art.

OP here.

So, I'm not selling anything in this post. There is a CTA for my newsletter, but that's it.

In this post I...

* Talk about how I identified a "cash flow" (customers of X, in my case - Infusionsoft.)

* Ran a simple ad campaign that was meant to help me find other customers of Infusionsoft.

* This ad campaign drove people to an email course that covered why it's a good idea to show variable content to someone depending on where they are in your company's sales funnel.

* I talked with each new subscriber to make sure that I didn't waste my time writing something that was only my problem.

* Went on to create a very simple product that solved a very specific pain point, and how I then delivered this new product to the people I was talking to.

Not sure what's scammy / whatever about that. I've seen a lot of people — especially engineer types — who dive head first into building some massive SaaS only to get demoralized along the way and give up because it doesn't end up becoming some huge success right away.

My goal was to try to make a case for building a very simple product for a very specific pain point, get customers who have this pain and want it solved as quickly as possible, and then (possibly) add complexity and scope from there.

Hey. I'd like to re-iterate that I think you're doing a great job, something which I and many others don't have the skills or the talent for. But yeah, it sure looks like you are selling something. Not in the "act now, buy this" sense, but still.

Please understand that I'm not putting you down, on the contrary.

With all the specifics you provided, this is still a very non-specific article. It's a beautifully written description of a technique that provides a lot of detail and yet gives very little away that could actually be used to learn something off you. And again, that's perfectly OK.

I absolutely agree with you about engineer types, and I'll be the first to admit I'm a prime example of that group. In between those two extremes, there is a spectrum of course.

> My goal was to try to make a case for building a very simple product for a very specific pain point, get customers who have this pain and want it solved as quickly as possible, and then (possibly) add complexity and scope from there.

I'm not sure I agree about the pain point being the most important thing in that strategy, but that may be because after reading the article I still lack the information to judge what it actually is you solved.

  I ended up building a WordPress plugin, but what I built and how I built it is 
  immaterial here.

What other specifics could he have included? He showed his methodology in finding a problem, the way he found customers [including the copy in his ad], how he structured a email course, and the final product. The only other thing he could have included would have been the copy he used in the email course.

This blog lays out a very clear framework you can operate within, so I dont really understand where you are coming from.

Throughout the text, there are cross-promotion links for your other products:

  1. The $199 "Double Your Freelancing Rate" book
  2. The $1,799 "Consultancy Masterclass"
  3. The "five day email course" itself, through which "[you]
     cross-promote [your] products"
  4. The $197 "WordPress Conversion Funnel"
As well as indirectly for Planscope.io itself. It's actually an impressive thing and I'm curious how well these links to your other products fare. Do the links in these articles end up converting leads at a decent rate?

Yeah, I read the first few hundred of words or so, then started skipping lines, then started skipping paragraphs, then started mashing Page Down a lot.

Then I reached the bottom.

At first I felt the same way, but by the end I was actually very impressed: Their MVP for their product was a simple course on solving the problem, a course that wasn't written when the first advert went out! They wrote the course and the product pretty much on-demand. I felt stressed just reading it, but it's a story I'll be re-telling.

I still don't understand what they're selling.

I don't think I read the same article. If anything I would say that the article was not well written enough (!) - you got the wrong end of the stick so it did not put its point across for you.

I would precis it as

1. Realised something is bugging him (Website does not integrate with email tool) and knew he could code something up to fix it.

2. Before coding something to fix it, checks if there is a decent market (if email tool == free mailchimp, no; if email tool = thousands per year infusionsoft, yes)

3. Spec'd out a Facebook Adwords (or whatever its called) campaign to target only people who had `liked` infusionsoft. (basically used infusionsoft as a keyword). Probably that techie stuff is cheaper on FB than google.

4. Advertised a (non-existent but easy to write) series of emails that would basically "qualify" people - that is if you read all the email course you clearly wanted the damn solution.

5. Wrote course, collected emails, and now after getting a handful of real leads, wrote the product that did, oh who cares, it probably tags email addresses with "stage1" "stage2" etc. The important part is not what code he wrote but that he had got a market first.

6. tell the list he has the product, get some feedback, refine, persuade, and sell... (more here but hell, zero to one is important)

The only slightly scammy here is 4. to whit "qualifying" customers. Thats the point of these long sales pages and in many cases these email courses, its to ensure by the time someone reaches the end then they are really interested in the thing you have been talking about.

But its not spammy if its a real product that does a real thing that someone who really wants it will pay for. Its spammy if Brennan does not stop mailing people who don't want it. For example I have had over half a dozen automated calls today asking about PPI (if you are in the UK you will know). It should be obvious that I don't want it from the speed of the hang up. But they won't stop.

So this thing Brennan is doing is called "Audience Development". And if you think its spammy, well, maybe, but the New York Times just leaked its digital strategy and that boils down to "audience development".

In the end Brennan just said "find the market first, find someone willing to give you cash for a product".

I am personally refreshing all my old blog posts and how-tos and was going to stick them out there, blogs and email courses etc. Not because I have a pain point in mind (well, being me is a pain point), but because I want to try this whole thing out.

(Disclaimer, I'm occassionally on bdunn's community google group)


There is nothing stopping this article being rewritten and titled "What Open Source Developers could learn from "white-hat-internet-marketers". I have a couple of OSS products I like and am occassionally proud of - I could, in fact hell, I will, launch a similar email course aimed at people who have the same problems as drove me to solve them, then they can pick it up and use it. Its the same techniques, the same professional approach, just F/OSS.

However, I need to realise I have missed out stages 1-2 which is finding who will buy the product (download and use the OSS code) - luckily they are basically me and people like me and I know where I hang out.

I think you summarized the steps here pretty well. A note on your first paragraph after item 6: I think to get over/around the "scammy" potential of this tactic, a good route would be to make sure the courses/articles are of true value. That is, not just fluff but something people can learn from even if they don't buy your product.

true - and to be honest I just "learnt" or perhaps consolidated a great deal from that one post - and even if that was part of a dropped course I would be happy.

no - Brennan is not doing spammy / scammy - hence my "white hat internet marketer" - Brennan is one of the good guys, it's just we have got to a stage in society where anyone selling is suspect. politicians, bankers, salespeople.

a shame really.

Edit - I think we need to accept the sales pitch as the modern day TV ad or the billboard. It does sell, it makes money and it can provide value for those who want the product. What hurts is the 20mins of ads per hour of TV or the cannot move for billboards Times Square.

the goal is to do adverts well - effective, entertaining and not too pushy. It's a hard line to walk - we made Madison age rich for finding people able to walk that line. I guess Brennan is one of the new Mad Men

I think the key takeaways from this article are: 1.) Advertise knowledge but give away for free 2.) Use knowledge (e.g. 5 day course) absorbers (users) to create an e-mail list. 3.) Create and sell product that addresses a pain point relevant to the people signing up for the knowledge.

This is a case of "priming" the consumer, in some cases you don't need to prime them but those low-hanging fruit are rarely not served already and it's usually juicier and only slightly more time consuming to drive your nail in that "middle somewhere" spot that some businesses get lazy about addressing.

So, for myself as a generalization, I'm writing it down as prime your target with something accessible (free knowledge, free feature-set, etc...) and engage them early in the funnel so you can iterate the lead-gen and the resulting product early.

The takeaway of the article is: give me your email, I want to sell you stuff.

I like the other approach better: provide useful, actionable information to assert your expertise and foster trust.

Then provide additional products and services for a fee (without stupid pricing tricks).

Bingo. The email course is the "why", the product is ultimately the "how".

Google cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttps... For me it sits there, hit Stop in the browser and it will load in though.

before building an idea | feature | company | etc, if you go through and make sure you can answer "what problem are you trying to solve?" you are much more likely on your way to success. everyone who is a builder should be asking this question frequently and I'm amazed how few people actually do. this was a great example of solving a real problem.

Solving 'real problems' is hard. Some categories 'real problems' often fall in to:

1. Problems too trivial to expend energy and time solving once and for all. (It's easier to pay the small cost each time you encounter the problem). Not marketable.

2. Problems you can solve, but everyone else already have partial or 'good enough' solutions for. Competitive, no innovation.

3. Problems you think you can solve, but you really can't. Doomed.

4. Problems you know you can't solve on your own, or with the resources available to you. Expensive.

5. Problems outside of your area of expertise.

6. Problems you have, but really aren't problems to anyone else.

The 30x500 philosophy the article mentions takes that to the extreme.

The workflow is basically:

    1. Find an audience ("wordpress consultants")
    2. Stalk their forums & chat rooms. Listen to complaints and problems.
    3. "Flip their pain" - figure out how you could trivially fix their problem. Nothing more. Don't jump straight to "web app" or even "softwarE" at this point. People in my class were working on shipping well built excel sheets, or books, or trainings.
    4. Build that thing in #3, and sell.  Normal email / blog marketing techniques apply here.  Get paying customers right away.

Comment section, 4 months ago:

"If anything tells me HN has gone down the pan, it's that this post didn't take off there. This is gold!"


Fun learning about this stuff from Pingdom (OP here.)

I'm working onsite with a client this week and just saw someone submitted this to HN. Working on getting the site back up now.

Good have you. We have a cached version posted higher up people are going off of now. Sucks a good amount of people are missing out on your knowledge!

It cost him nothing for that DB connection to be lost. He's turning a profit.

Trying not to be snarky, but I think you missed the point.

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