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

This post is about how I close the chapter on this idea.

It's been a well over a month since my last post. I took some time off for Christmas/New Years, and then I came down with Covid so that threw me off my game for a bit.

Anyway, to recap: My initial idea was to basically create a personalized "financial newsletter," which would be a weekly email that a user would get, which would track the user's financial health. That was going to be the start, and I had plans to build on that basic functionality. With my first attempt at validating the idea, I realized that the biggest hurdle was going to be gaining enough trust for users to even try it out.

Gaining trust and changing my positioning

In order to gain some credibility, I figured I needed to have a "team." Although it was just me working on the project at the time (along with some Fiverr freelancers), my plan was to build a small team to help with implementation (assuming validation). So I created a website for a dev studio (actually a collective), and referenced the dev studio in the about page: I figured this would boost my credibility. (The members of the collective are friends and acquaintances that I worked with on previous projects, and Spitbit Labs is the name I came up with for a dev agency that I was considering opening).

The next thing I did was to narrow my focus. Instead of presenting a general financial health tracker, I decided to just focus on investments. This was a suggestion that I got from feedback, when someone suggested I niche down. I reworded my copy, removed a good amount of it, and added a 3-step "how it works" section to make the whole thing as easy to understand as possible.

Finally, I removed as much friction as possible from getting prepayments. Instead of sending a demo email with a preorder button, I added the preorder button to the landing page and just removed any mention of a demo email. My first round of testing proved that getting people (even friends!) to put in their emails was difficult anyway.

What I learned from some ads

At this point, I thought I was ready to go to the next round of testing. I looked for feedback from the IndieStack community, as well as the Copywriting Course community. Additionally, I purchased some Reddit ads to drive some real traffic to my landing page.

The feedback I got suggested that I needed some more social proof. Some testimonials was a popular suggestion.

As for the ads, I created two: One that that was a "robo coach" for investments, and another that offered stock trading tools. This was right around the time of the whole GameStop debacle, and the stock trading ad performed more than 3x better than the ad for a robo coach. Unfortunately, Reddit's ad interface is a POS and I can't access my clicks or CTR anymore but I believe I got around 100 clicks if I'm not mistaken (I didn't go too crazy with my ad spend). Of those 100 clicks, I got zero conversions. No prepayments and not even a single email.

Ok, one last shot

I decided to make one more tweak based on what I had learned, and give it a shot to see what else I could learn before throwing in the towel.

The first thing I did was to add some testimonals to the landing page. I used some of the good feedback I had gotten for this.

Then I re-worded some of my copy to match the better-performing ad, and created another Reddit ad. The result? 82 clicks with a 0.180% CTR, and 1 single solitary email. That was it. So... I'm declaring this a failed validation.

What I think

I still think the idea has potential. However, I couldn't figure out a relatively easy way to validate it. Some thoughts:

The landing page still needed more credibility/social proof. I don't think it was compelling enough. A big part of this was also the design. I think it could've been better. In fact, way better. This would've probably added a lot more credibility. If I were going to give it one more shot, I'd redesign the landing page if for no other reason than to rule out the possibility that the design was a hinderance.

With the huge influx of people becoming day traders, I think there's definitely a market for this, as evidenced by the plethora of other stock-related sites that I've been seeing pop up recently. However, getting the right positioning and conveying a compelling value proposition might be tricky.

A finance-related product (especially one where I have access to user data), is going to take an enormous amount of trust for people to even try. It's probably not suited to a resource-strapped builder.

What I learned

From a technical perspective, I got to learn some MJML, which I used to create the demo email (which barely anyone signed up for haha). I also played with a few different email providers to see what they offered, and some of the no-code services that are available such as Wix and Zapier. I also learned Gatsby to set up a GitHub Pages hosted website for Spitbit Labs.

From a marketing perspective, I got to learn some copywriting and try my hand at writing a few ads. I also learned that Reddit's ad interface is abysmal. (I think they're leaving some serious money on the table here.)

From an audience perspective, I found that it can be REALLY hard to gain user's trust, and that people REALLY don't like giving up their emails.

What's next

Crypto. That's where I've decided to focus my efforts. I've been a huge believer for many years now and got heavily into Ethereum and smart contracts development before the 2017 craze, but then lost interest after the crash. Now that it's making a huge comeback (and I think one that will stay), I think it's time to get back into it. So that's where I'm headed next.