After more than 2 years of building Oh Dear, I still struggle with the most fundamental question: how are users finding our application and where should we focus our marketing efforts to maximize that?
For the last few months, I’ve been contacting every new signup with a simple e-mail, asking them just one thing: how did they hear about us?
In this post, I want to summarize those findings.
Building a SaaS is no rocket science, but getting clients is a work of art. I hope these answers can help other bootstrapped indie developers as well.
Setting the scene: who are we?
The 1 paragraph summary of Oh Dear is:
Oh Dear was founded by Freek & Mattias, two passionate developers from Belgium. Oh Dear sends notifications when your site is down, when the SSL certificate is about to expire, when it finds broken links or when the site just generally slows down.
It’s an uptime monitor, basically. But with a couple of extras.
So, where do we get our users from?
“Mostly from Twitter, yeah”
Roughly ~30% of our leads & trial users come to us because they follow either of us on Twitter.
“I saw your open revenue on Hacker News, thought it was interesting”
For a few months now, I’ve been sharing our revenue numbers publicly. A bit scary at first, but quite rewarding now that it’s all out in the open.
It was also a deliberate tactic.
How do you stand out in a world where most founders are all so similar? You do unconventional things. In our case, we share our revenue numbers.
While more & more founders are doing this, it’s still the minority.
“I’m subscribed to your newsletter”
Normally, we talk tech (PHP, open-source, Linux etc.), but our readers have come to appreciate some personal stories from time to time.
We’ve both been writing newsletters for well over 2 years now and have been able to grow our audience nicely.
“Heard about you via ProductHunt”
When we first launched, we added Oh Dear to Product Hunt. It made Product of the Day!
Even Ryan Hoover, who founded Product Hunt, commented on our clever name.
That post gained us a handful of subscribers on launch day, but more importantly still gets people talking. Product Hunt works!
“Read about it on your blog”
Both Freek and I regularly blog. You’re reading the blog right now. #inception
We both put ads at the top of our posts, we can blog/write about the technical underpinnings of Oh Dear, we can share snippets of code, …
Over the years, we’ve also grown a following with RSS readers that mostly come for the technical articles we write, but they’ll tolerate the personal articles. And that also helps us get the word out!
“Heard about it on the Full Stack Europe Conference”
Every time you have a chance to speak, you have the opportunity to show your expertise and - subtly - mention any product you’re working on. Either directly in the talk or afterwards, on social media, when sharing your slides/summary.
I’ll grant that public speaking isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great way to help you build that audience and grow a loyal fanbase.
“Saw it mentioned in the Laravel News newsletter”
We tried a paid advertising in a popular Laravel/PHP newsletter called Laravel News.
The results were mixed, and I think it’s mostly because we already are active in the Laravel space. What good would it do to reach the same users over & over again? We should probably sponsor other newsletters, outside our little bubble.
But, it did work! We got signups through it, even several months later, because a reader remembered it.
“We previous worked together at company $X”
Professional networks are powerful. When I was working as the support lead of a hosting provider, I came into contact with a lot of our clients. Both happy and unhappy. The way those conversations ended has largely shaped my professional network.
If you can turn an angry client into a happy one, by understanding their needs and providing a proper solution, you’ve made a professional relationship that lasts for a long time.
Now, whenever I share updates for Oh Dear on LinkedIn, I get to reach hundreds of former clients, colleagues and suppliers that I’ve spent years building a relationship with. This trust is earned and often well-received on the other end.
“I found a blogpost when searching for $X”
Oh Dear also has a blog, where I write as many blogposts as my little hands allow. The following posts have directly contributed to new signups and conversions.
- Resolving the AddTrust External CA Root certificate expiration
- How we used Caddy and Laravel’s subdomain routing to serve our status pages
- Using Oh Dear! to keep your Varnish cache warm
- Our Gitlab CI pipeline for Laravel applications
- Transitioning from laravel-echo-server to laravel-websockets
- How to size & scale your Laravel Queues
What I’m not showing are the 50+ other posts that didn’t convert anything. They are shorter, more product-focussed (ie: “we launched feature $Y, it’s great!").
It’s hard to say what posts will attract and convert users. In our case, it’s the more technical ones that help users, even if they’re not a customer of ours. That’s what gets noticed.
“I needed a tool in ecosystem $Z”
From our launch day, we’ve always had an API for Oh Dear. You can do about 75% of what you can do in our GUI, it’s got the building blocks for a very wide basis of automating your monitoring.
More & more, I’m getting feedback that the reason people choose for Oh Dear is our integration with $Z, where $Z can be:
- A deep integration into the CraftCMS framework
- Admin-integrations into Statamic
- The ability to manage broken links in Laravel Nova
What’s super cool here is that most of these 3rd party tools are community contributed. We help in promoting them through our social channels, but 3rd party developers have created these on top of our API.
I wish I could say “spend all your energy on Twitter” or “only sponsor newsletters”.
For us, what works is a very wide approach to marketing: be in as many places as you can afford to be.
It’s the combination of our Twitter audience, newsletters & blog posts that have consistently brought along the most value for us.
Paid acquisitions have been meh, mostly. Lots of money spent, very little value gained.
Compare that to writing proper blogposts, and that return is always greater for us.