When his post on how iDoneThis reached $1,000 in recurring revenue struck a chord with readers, Walter thought it would be enlightening to talk with other entrepreneurs about their own such journeys. One of the most interesting stories he heard was from Adam Rotman, creator of Share As Image. You can watch Walter’s full interview with Adam here, and today we offer some key takeaways from their conversation.
Adam Rotman didn’t go into creating Share As Image, a bookmarklet that allows people to turn quotes into custom images, with billion-dollar signs in his eyes. It was just going to be “a cool little app” that he and a partner hacked together after noticing the profusion of quote images on Pinterest.
His a-ha! moment arrived when he began to hear from users. He realized that what had started out as a casual side project actually meant something. When people told him, “Wow, this is so awesome. I wasn’t able to do this before,” it hit him that “wow! It’s actually a useful application…. So then you get that kind of intrinsic good feeling out of it.”
There was a similar a-ha! moment with iDoneThis for our CEO and co-founder Walter Chen, who recounts, “[A]fter we put it out there, I knew it was something that was super simple. People started saying it was like the greatest thing they’d ever used. That feeling is not only awesome … It gives you the sense of the dawning possibilities of what you might be able to create that might make people even happier.”
Ideally, a business presents a win-win for everyone. If you provide something that people value, they will be willing to pay you for it. But entrepreneurs and businesses often fall into a trap of expending tons of effort into making something “big!” without investing that magnitude of energy into finding out how, or even if, people connect with what’s being built.
Adam grew his side project into a thriving source of reliable income by keeping that conversation with his customers going to figure out what would make them even happier. Shooting for the mutual win also guided Adam’s strategy regarding partnerships, PR, and pricing.
Here’s what worked for him:
1. Look for opportunities to partner for mutual benefit.
One major boost for Share As Image is a publisher partnership with BrainyQuote.com, the world’s largest quotation site, according to its About page. When you highlight a quote on BrainyQuote, a Share As Image option pops up alongside social share buttons.
For BrainyQuote, embedding the Share As Image tool directly onto the site was “a great value add”, allowing those users to gain a unique functionality that no other quote website had. That functionality was valuable enough for BrainyQuote to forgo a typical revenue-sharing model.
In building the embed code and eventual publisher version of the product, Adam was sure to maintain wins other than his own. While the bookmarklet links back to Share As Image, the publisher version links to the page you just came from. Adam explains, “That’s a big incentive for the publishers. It’s a way for them to get more traffic to their websites.”
2. When you pitch your side project, go big and offer a useful hook.
Adam pitched the person who ran BrainyQuote with a cold email. “For some reason, I went straight to the big guy,” Adam recalls. “I spoke to many quote sites after him, but he replied.”
He took a similar approach when he was looking to gain some press coverage, going straight for the larger tech sites such as The Next Web. “It was go big or go home. I was concerned that if one of the smaller blogs wrote about it first, the bigger blogs would be less interested in it. I guess they fight over who gets the first story on something that’s new and unique.”
That wasn’t all though. Adam also pitched with purpose, targeting authors on tech and social media blogs who’d already written about Pinterest. He describes the process, “I’d search for the tag “Pinterest” or would manually look for authors who were talking about Pinterest. Basically we tried to find their email or find them on a social network … telling them, ‘Hey, check out this cool thing I hacked together. What do you think?’ I think your readers would really enjoy this.’ Right away, a bunch of the good tech blogs picked it up.”
By approaching people with something they could find valuable and starting at the top with the heavier hitters, Adam managed to gain valuable partnerships and coverage while expending less energy and time.
3. Get feedback from users to figure out what they’ll pay for.
The first version of Share As Image was completely free and didn’t offer any customization options. “It was literally just dark gray on white background, centered text. So it was pretty bare bones, but it did that fundamental core feature of just turning text into a .png.”
It was only when Adam saw that people were getting value out of the tool as hundreds of images start to appear and requests for font, color, and other options started rolling in that he began thinking about an advanced version — one for which he could charge. “It was just a matter of listening to the users and seeing what they wanted it to do, and then finding out pretty quickly that people were willing to pay to get those features.”
In first deciding how to monetize the pro version, Adam simply accounted for how much he had to pay his developer to build the new features. Originally, he decided on a fixed, one-time fee of $1.99, thinking of it as a “fixed development cost,” but eventually saw a longer view for the product that would require recurring revenue that could support iterations over time.
Recently, Share as Image came out with a new version and a revamped pricing structure. The free version offers full-featured use of the tool for up to 3 images and then it’s $5/month for unlimited use. Adam explains, “This way the user gets the full experience on a trial basis, but if they’re going to be using it for business” — such as life coaches, social media marketers, and bloggers, who can use such images to help generate revenue, “it’s a no-brainer to upgrade.”
What are some ways you grew your side project or startup with a win-win approach?
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