This is my story of trying to launch a startup. Told as it happens, from inception to (hopefully) launch.

This post is about my first attempt to validate the idea.

Recap: So now I had an idea. A personalized financial newsletter. Show me what my accounts look like, how my investments were doing, how much I saved and spent, and hopefully some interesting insights. Frictionless financial tracking.

The Plan: Create a landing page and take some pre-orders.

Actually, the plan was a bit more complicated than that. I came up the idea to send a demo email so the user would get a good sense of what the email would look like. I'd get their email address, they'd get to see the vision, and I could pitch them right in the email. I thought it was brilliant.

So the full plan, as it was in my head:

  1. The user would hit my landing page and my amazing ad copy would convince them to give me their email.
  2. They'd receive the demo email showing off the vision and be so impressed that they'd click the "Shut up and Take My Money!" button at the bottom of the email.
  3. That would take them to a Gumroad page where they'd happily fork over some of their hard-earned money for an amazing pre-launch deal.

This is what it would look like:

Now the tasks were:

  1. Create the landing page
  2. Create the demo email
  3. Create the Gumroad product page
  4. Tie everything together and launch the landing page

The Landing Page

Getting the landing page designed wasn't going to be a problem. I knew I was going to find someone on Fiverr to do it. I just needed to come up with the ad copy first. That was something I knew I couldn't outsource. I had to learn how to sell right?

So, taking what I had learned from The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, I put together what I thought was a decent start. My heading and subheading were:

The Easiest Way to Track Your Finances: From Your Inbox

Staying on top of your money will never be a hassle again.

From there I tried to convey that I understood the user's problem of tracking finances and tried to convey my value proposition: Effortless financial tracking via email.

From there I offered a "sneak peak" of the service by offering to send a demo email if they signed up with their address. Easy peasy.

Once I had the first draft of my copy I found a designer on Fiverr to take care of the design.

The Demo Email

I knew the type of information I wanted in the demo email, but I wasn't sure what a good way to display it would be. Design is NOT part of my wheelhouse and email can be a tricky thing when trying to get it to display properly and consistently across clients and devices. And since this was THE product, I figured I'd need to go to a professional. So I went to Upwork instead of Fiverr thinking I'd find some higher caliber talent.

The first designer I found turned out to be a disaster. The design was just bad and it was clear that he didn't understand what I was going for. My mistake was thinking that if I just conveyed the vision, the designer would be able to use his creativity to come up with a cool design. Maybe I wasn't clear enough.

I found the second designer on Fiverr. Having learned from the first experience, this time I got a lot more specific. I asked the designer to focus on the data layout and NOT the graphics, fonts, colors, etc... I wanted the focus to be on UX and only cared about creating the best way to communicate the data.

Once I got the first revision, it was painfully clear that I was just going to have to roll up my sleeves. So I did some research, found a few responsive frameworks for building emails, and settled on MJML. It seemed to have everything I needed and I had worked with it a bit on a past project. It turned out to be a great choice. Here's a sample of the responsive email I was able to put together (just ignore my color choices):

By this time the landing page was finished, and I was ready to set everything up to ask for feedback.

Here's what I set it up:

  • A Wix site for the landing page
  • A Zap to automatically subscribe an email from the landing page to a marketing list in Mailjet
  • A Mailjet workflow to automatically send the demo email to anyone that was added to the marketing list.

Here's a sample of what the landing page looked like:

Then I sent a text to my friends to check it out.

Feedback Round 1

Of the maybe 10 or so close friends I sent the landing page to, less than half were even convinced to put in their email. When I asked why, the answers I got were:

  1. Security
  2. Privacy
  3. Not knowing enough about how the product worked (even though this was a DEMO!).

By far, the biggest concern was security. Nobody was comfortable getting their transaction data sent in an email. A close second was privacy, followed by lack of transparency.

I knew I had to address all three items before releasing it to a wider audience, so I added a new section to the landing page detailing how the product would work and how security was handled. And in the interest of full transparency, I also added a new page specifically focused on privacy and security  Then I asked for feedback from my FB group and a couple different subreddits.

Feedback Round 2

In general, the feedback I got was positive. Plenty of people liked the idea, were impressed with the demo email, and agreed with the pain point that the product addressed. It felt good but at the end of the day it was all just fluff, since nobody purchased a pre-order.

But almost every user had a 'but,' and that but always revolved around privacy, security or trust/credibility. And once again, financial data in an email turned out to be a huge concern. I did get some more valuable feedback and suggestions on how to tweak the messaging in the landing page though.

What did I learn?

The biggest (and most obvious) piece of information I learned was that nobody was going to pay for my idea in its current incarnation.

Privacy, security, and trust were going to be the biggest hurdles. But, even if I could overcome those issues, was this even a big enough problem for people to take out their wallets? Intuitively, not being on top of your money could potentially be a HUGE problem, but one that you could be blissfully unaware of. Was there a way I could highlight the risk while increasing my value proposition?

I decided I'd make some tweaks and try again.

Next Steps

The two biggest questions I need to answer now are:

  1. Can I get users to trust me with their data?
  2. Is this problem even a big enough pain for users? i.e. Is there even a product here?

So here's my plan:

  • build some credibility
  • work on my messaging/marketing
  • try variations on the initial product idea

In order to build some credibility, I'm going to start building a presence and start using something I've always stayed away from like the plague: social media. In fact, this is the reason why this blog was started.

For marketing, I need to see if I can increase my value proposition and find a bigger pain point to attack. This is related to trying different variations of the initial idea. Maybe "effortless financial tracking" is too broad and doesn't really address an obvious pain. Perhaps something more like "stop losing money on your investments" would resonate better. I'm excited to find out.

In episode #3 I'll go over everything I did and do a postmortem. At that point I'll decide whether to pursue this idea or scrap it.