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Failing Fast Is Not Fun, Satisfying or Pleasant

One principle behind developing web apps is that you should aim to fail fast, meaning that if your idea isn’t working out, it’s better that you find out it’s not viable before you invest a lot of time and effort in it. The problem is: it’s not always easy to give up on your dreams.

This is what is currently happening with CampaignBar, a tool that I very much believe in, but that has not brought in a single paltry cent.

I started developing CampaignBar after getting thoroughly bored of maintaining an Excel spreadsheet listing all the details of websites I was marketing to. You look at a couple of hundred websites, and before long you can’t remember which ones you were interested in, which ones you weren’t, and which ones you’ve taken care of. Copy and Paste becomes a tiresome enemy.

CampaignBar solves these problems. I refuse to believe that I’m the only person out there having this problem, but the long and short of it is that no-one seems interested in the end result.

I originally offered three plans, from $19.99/month up to $49.99/month, depending on the number of users you wanted to be able to use the system at the same time. Last week, I let some beta testers have access to the system, who all absolutely loved it. I removed the separate plans, offered it at a flat rate of $29.99/month… and not even a single complaint of “I’d buy it at $1/month, but not a penny more!” Which, honestly, is unusual – especially from techies.

More tellingly, there have been very few trial account account sign-ups. Of the people that have reached the site randomly, a grand total of four have registered for the free trial.

Thankfully, I haven’t lost much money on this: a few weeks of development, a few tens of dollars at ThemeForest and on the domain…Β and the missed opportunities from losing my time on its development.

So, what lessons can I offer you from this?

First and foremost: don’t take a lack of success personally. I’ve spent the last few days feeling a bit down, and this achieves nothing. You can’t be a winner every time. Move on and make better use of your time.

Second, if you’re going to write a browser extension or toolbar, do not start with Firefox. I made this mistake, and it took far too long to develop the toolbar in its most basic form. I rewrote the toolbar for Chrome in a matter of hours. Admittedly, I had the API in place, but honestly – start with Chrome, it’s fanastically quick to develop for.

Third, start with finding your market, and only develop your tool once you have proof that it will make money. I started doing this with EasyEmailProtection, and given the extremely negative response to paying for the idea, I now know better (although I’m still thinking of spending an hour or two attempting to market it to divorce lawyers…).

Fourth, and finally, if you notice that things aren’t working, and you’ve given it a good shot, there’s nothing wrong in doing the same as me right now and giving up. The domain’s valid for a good few months, the hosting comes under my other web tools, so I’ll keep it live for a while… but this is the end of the road for me spending any more time on CampaignBar.

With all that said, I think if you do things properly, failing fast needn’t be annoying. Just don’t make the same mistakes I have :)

Written by Tom

Are you looking for web development or just someone who will work with your business needs and not against them? Get in touch with me here, or take a look at my business website. I’m confident I can help you.

Published inCampaignBarOpinion

30 Comments

  1. I think your landing page is not focused enough. Who’s your customer? What is he looking for? How can you target the message to suit his problems? that’s what you should have started with IMHO. But it’s not too late :-) Of course, if you have potentially better ideas, it could be a good idea to give up. But it really depends how much faith you have in the idea and how long you’re willing to spend to find a model that works.

    • Tom Tom

      It’s more a question of getting some validation for the idea – I’m not looking for a huge overnight success. The fact that’s taken off like a lead balloon is what’s led me to this.

  2. Nathan Nathan

    I agree with Tommy. The top section (No More Duplicates etc) lists the features.

    People dont buy features – they buy benefits. Benefit #1 – get control of your marketing efforts. Benefit #2 – More time for coding (because less duplication of marketing efforts etc).

    Also – what does this do that diigo.com or Evernote doesnt?

    Sorry to sound so negative – I’m really enjoying reading your posts

    • Tom Tom

      Heh, one man’s feature is another man’s problem. For me, dealing with duplicates is absolutely a benefit – and a problem solved. I realise that I may be missing the point somewhere, but am wondering where the line is drawn. I think that listing “supports multiple users” is pretty useless without any context… wrr, writing the sales page definitely isn’t easy! πŸ˜‰

    • Tom Tom

      Hehe, it sometimes takes a bit of a thick skin to put up with it certainly. Will check out your presentation, thanks!

      • If you do watch the video, please leave a comment. That’s how I’m gauging whether to bother recording such things in the future.

  3. john john

    you are probably well aware of this viewpoint but i thouhgt i would share. I dont like time trials because at soem level it implies some kind of lock in psychologically. If you are going to use a trial make it a full trial but with some real limitation to allow me to properly evaluate the product on a small scale – then if i decide not to pay that is my choice rather than a licensing decision. Moreover you may find you get a userbase (of freeloaders admittedly but at least its relevant clearly – at one time or another – people you can market to)

    Also different payment options dont offer me value they offer me the chance to get a headache from figuring out what my needs really are. At which point ill probably go away to think and you will never see me again. wheras i may well of paid on the spot otherwise.

    • Tom Tom

      Honestly I’m torn on decisions like this; plenty of people would also complain about not being able to try the tool out properly, having to pay to remove the limitations. My personal preference is to have full access first, which is why I do it this way :)

    • Ryan Ryan

      I agree with Shane: CampaignBar is a solution looking for a problem. Why would I pay $30/month to you to do something that I can do much more effectively with Excel or Google Spreadsheets? Or with a pen and paper?

      To get a reasonable number of people to turn over $30 every single month you need to be offering much more than that.

      You need to be offering something which is core to their business. Something like BaseCamp, or the many time-tracking services offer a lot of value to their customers. They become a core part of their business. So yeah, they’re worth $30 every month.

      Now what you could do is, say, view these small projects as self promotion. Resume padding. They’re cheap to run (ads would cover costs). They look good. They show potential employers (or clients if you’re a freelancer) exactly what you’re capable of. Oh, and if you offered them for free you’d stand a much better chance of getting some actual users. Maybe you’ll then get to know your users, and find out what their real problems are….

  4. In all honesty, I came across campaign bar last week and after reading the landing page, all it seemed to me was a tool to save whether or not you’ve contacted a website. Seemed like something that could be accomplished with a simple text file or spreadsheet like you said. Not trying to put you down, just giving my first impressions from the landing page. I’m sure it’s a great tool, I just wasn’t convinced of it. Good luck!

    • Tom Tom

      It’s a fair point – and a true one. I wrote the tool because using Excel to manage the same is such a nightmare. Aimed to pitch to companies – if it saves you an hour a day, I’d hope it’d be a no-brainer :)

      • Yes, but for 30USD/month…I don’t know (although I must admit that I cannot be your intended audience)…

      • Dov Dov

        Agreed, 30/month seems really expensive for a product that ( seems) basically like a copy/paste vertical.

  5. I looked at campaignbar last week, what put me off was there was no mention of pricing that I could find on the site. If you had said $29.99 of some other rate I would have tried the free trial. Somehow though, no pricing but a free trial is a turn off.

    • Tom Tom

      Heh, I wanted to simplify the pricing options down to one which was why I removed the pricing; I’ll have a play at putting it somewhere on the homepage.

  6. Andy Andy

    Have you done any testing of different layouts? Im not sure you have the traffic for significant AB testing, but I feel like the design of your site is probably putting off a lot of people. Rewrite your copy, have the user guide, register, and login pages use the same theme as the homepage, change the top button text as it looks blurry, etc.

    Failing fast is definitely important, but not if it means you didnt at least give it a good shot [not saying you didnt, but I do feel like there is a lot more you could do without wasting much more than time]

  7. You’ve probably already heard or thought about this, but I would try to make at least 1 pivot before completely giving up on the idea. See if there’s a tweak to the product, or even a tweak to the product positioning, and see if that helps you gain traction. I’m a big believer that you can make almost any business work, but it might take a few iterations to get to a marketable product.

  8. mikes mikes

    I think the price is too high and that is causing failure – I mean something to manage the people / sites you’ve contacted? There are a bunch of tools that do part of that or maybe all of it. I don’t see the value with the price. I mean I could bookmark a site with delicious, give it multiple informative tags of my choice, mark it private and that would help me maintain information. And Delicious is free. Plus it has browser extensions and bookmarklets. Would it tell me if it’s been tagged already? Yes if I click to retag it, it will popup. And there might be another extension that can read from delicious and show you tagged sites on your browser.

  9. How many people have seen this landing page? If you’re talking about hundreds, for a product with pricing, and you haven’t sold any, that isn’t an indication of anything. What you need to do is tap a company who has 10 media buyers/planners and see if you can save them a few hours a week in time. Give it to them free forever in exchange for a little feedback and a testimonial.

  10. I see a part of a product here, and not a full fledged thing. This is the beginning of a CRM system, and what you’ve identified is one segment “marketing prospects”, you need more though.

    When was my last contact?
    What was the contact outcome?
    What follow-up is required?

    Now you’ve got the beginning of something, but even then, we’re looking at a $10.00 / year product. Adding more features, so some deeper CRM can happen, and you can add more contact segments can be added would result in you being able to charge more.

    Your ideas are good, and I admire how quickly you’re churning them out, but I feel like you’re only scratching the surface.

  11. Jed Jed

    Hi Tom,

    I just had failed web-app myself. Before killing the project, try to recuperate by getting lots of sleep, exercise and read lots about marketing. example: http://www.ericsink.com/Marketing_for_Geeks.html

    Just stop coding for 2-3 days

    To be honest, I spent 10 minutes on the landing and 5 minutes after sign up and I still don’t know what Campaign Bar is for and what problem does it solve.

    Maybe a video tutorial might help. Just my 2 cents.

    • Tom Tom

      Hi Jed! You’re not wrong, the web copy sucks in the extreme. I’ve just rewritten it for the Nth time, and hope it’s something of an improvement πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the link, am reading now :)

  12. Wow, this is something I’ve been looking for (CampaignBar), I even tried to create my own some time ago. I’m really surprised you found no traction.

    Next week I’m starting a campaign, and I’ll definitely give this a try.

    • Tom Tom

      Fantastic! I’ve just added functionality to send emails directly from within the admin area, so please do let me know how you get on :-)

      • Just registered – want some feedback?

        On my account, when I click “Buy more”, an empty page appears, with a spinner at the bottom.
        Also – I couldn’t find a price for the service at the product website. I usually don’t sign up for trials of things if I don’t know how much it will cost me after the trial ends.

        One more thing – for a service costing $29.90 I’d usually require a longer trial – like 2 weeks, or even better – a very basic free account, so I can test out the service for an extended period of time, and start paying once I begin using it more heavily.

      • Some more issues:
        – The app has cut off the final 3 lines of an e-mail I sent
        – The e-mail sending form is awful – it wouldn’t take you much work to make the title field larger, and also the content field :)
        – I’d like to have the option to turn off the “e-mail read check” functionality – I don’t want to add tracker images to the e-mails I’m sending

  13. alessio alessio

    Hey, regarding avoiding failure, some of you tried to test an idea on linkedin first? I ask this because I think that many small apps could be made for businesses, but I never managed to get a good feedback from linkedin and I am wondering how to go forward.

  14. My suggestions:
    Draw people in with a 2-3 month free trial, so they can actually get a feel for how they could run campaigns. If a tool brings in money for them, and shows it could be indispensable, why would they not upgrade?

    Increase your added branding on all free trial emails. (at the very least the ones to subscriber, if not all or some of the ones they send out). That gives an incentive for upgrading and an opportunity for more viral traction.

    Use your tool to market your tool. Does it have all the features you were looking for? Has it helped you with your email campaigns? Has it increased your response/read rates? If so, show a personal case study. If not, improve and try again.

    Finally, if copy is your weak point, hire someone like http://www.pixelingo.com/ who did some for http://veerle.duoh.com/
    I’m sure you can clarify your target audience by working with a copywriter, you’ll need to explain everything to them first, before they can punch it up, and their qualifying questions will also help you narrow and hone your copy.

    Finally. your submit button for this form I’m typing in has a typo, it should be ‘Send MeSsage’. Best Wishes, Stacie

    • Tom Tom

      Fantastic advice, thank you! πŸ˜€

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