How We Got Our First 10,000 Users

Passing 10,000 users felt awesome and we did it with three dead simple techniques that anyone can execute.

1.  Custom narratives for influential communities.  I wrote in April how we made it to 5,000 users by constructing custom narratives for Hacker News, Reddit, and Lifehacker.  We described iDoneThis to a community as both (a) a solution to the problems specific to that community with (b) an emotional hook that the community could relate to while (c) giving signals that reflect that we’re members of the community.

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Vision

In choosing to do our startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the heart of the Valley — the world center for technology and innovation — and joining an incubator run by Xooglers, we didn’t expect our company’s most powerful and transformative lesson over the past 4 months to be that in the realm of the visceral, intangible, and emotional.  What we learned first and foremost was the importance of vision and its resonance as an organizing principle.

A company is a group of people making a series of decisions.  But what continues to bind individuals together in a common enterprise?  And how do individuals with wildly variant opinions and selves make shared decisions?  The lesson we learned is that vision, not profit motive or friendship, provides the emotional glue to stick together and the axioms upon which concrete decisions — resolving data and feedback — are made.

iDoneThis started out as a side project done over a weekend by Rodrigo and me with one simple mechanic in mind — a daily prompt to record what you did that day.  In years prior, Rodrigo had kept a calendar to track daily progress and we thought to make that process easy for everyone.  People liked it.

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Crowdsourcing Product Positioning

We have a broad-based, loosely constrained web application.  Our users engage with the site in a variety of different ways for a number of reasons.  That makes it difficult to take a bunch of usage information and turn it into actionable data about how to position our product.

In searching for data to form the basis for a concise statement on our site’s value proposition, we ended up in an unexpected place.  We had built an invite system which was super simplistic.  A user could type in an email address and include an optional message.  We would email that person with an invitation to sign up to use iDoneThis (no special referral URL, just a link to http://iDoneThis.com).

It turns out that when a user invited her friend to use iDoneThis, she used the optional message, not merely to say hello, but as an opportunity to pitch her friend on using iDoneThis.  Our invite system ended up containing concise statements of how users use iDoneThis, how it works for that use case, and the value they derive from it — and gives us the language to express all of that.

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Anatomy of Three Writeups

The lean startup movement disdains the big press launch, and rightfully so. However, the polemical nature of the argument gives off the impression that press should never be sought.  Quite the contrary, press should be sought ceaselessly.  That being said, it’s important to understand the magnitude of traffic that you can expect from press and of what kind.

We’ve been fortunate to have received writeups from three of the biggest drivers of traffic for a young startupLifehacker, Netted, and Business Insider.

Lifehacker

With the tiny investment of time that it took to draft two cold emails, we got a huge payoff in getting written up by Lifehacker.  For most new startups, TechCrunch is a distant and unattainable goal, but Lifehacker will write about your weekend project if it’s got a compelling productivity hook.  To boot, Lifehacker will drive traffic on the same order of magnitude as TechCrunch with users who may actually stick around.

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Schmoozing for Introverts

I’m often asked how iDoneThis has been featured so often in the press.  Business Insider picked as one of 20 startups to watch, Bob Scoble tweeted about us, and Lifehacker, Netted, The Next Web, and The New York Observer have all written about our modest three-man band.

For us, press has come from making a case to be heard through relationships with the relevant people.  Knowing people results from schmoozing.

I’ve never been a good schmoozer.  My mom told me to be a professor like my dad, because, “No one likes you.”  I’m usually standing in the corner talking with a friend at parties, if I’m at a party at all.  I get worn out from being around people and need my alone time to recharge.

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Google Calendar, iDoneThis Sharing, and More!

Hi there.  We’re proud to announce two new features to you.  Friends, iDoneThis users, humans, Dundee the productive dog — lend me your ears.

Get your iDoneThis daily dones in your Google Calendar!  Click on the “Feed” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar.  You will receive a secret link that you can plug into your Google Calendar.

We’ve made iDoneThis calendar sharing dead simple.  Click on the “Share” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar.  You will receive a different, equally as secret link that you can share with anyone.

We take your privacy seriously.  All feeds, sharing, and secret links are turned off until you decide to turn them on.  A talebearer revealeth secrets: but it that is of a faithful website concealeth the matter.

– Walter, Rodrigo, and Jae

P.S.  We’d love it if you gave the gift of iDoneThis to your family and friends.  Send out invitations by clicking on the “Invite” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar and putting in the email address of every single person you know.

Scale Customer Service through Copywriting

Technology provides the basis for this two-man team to run a web service that has handled nearly 30,000 email entries. But going from about 600 registered users in late March to over 5,000 in mid-April not only required us to scale our technology, it forced us to scale customer service as we saw our support emails explode from 23 total requests between January and late March to about 300 over a two-week stretch at the beginning of April.

Great customer service is a highly personal process, but, of course, nothing says great customer service like a fantastic product.  In the words of 37signals, “Copywriting is interface design” and “good writing is good design”.  Here are 4 lessons that we learned as we learned how to scale customer support and knock our support email volume down from as high as 16 per 100 new users to zero by becoming better writers.

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How We Got Our First 5,000 Users

Celebrate — this week we got our 5,000th user!  This is the most users either of us (Rodrigo and I) have ever had for any web project of ours.  In the past, we’ve taken the “build it and they will come” attitude towards web development … and they never came!  Here’s the story of how we got our first 5,000 users by constructing custom narratives for influential communities.

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