uFincs Update #7

Reflections on Launching, Two Weeks Later

Today, on matters concerning my existence, it's still uFincs. Why would it ever not be uFincs? Well, you might have been expecting Part 3 of the DevOps Detour (check out Part 2), but today we're gonna be tackling the more business-y side of things, rather than the technical side.

In particular, have you heard that uFincs has officially launched? Yeah, let's talk about that.

Last Time

If you remember all the way back in uFincs Update #4 at the end of March, I was talking about all my wonderful launch plans and how I was gonna take the month of April to really focus on marketing and launching.

Well, it's now May, so it seems like now's the best time to reflect on how that went.

Procrastination

As much as I had wanted to set aside the whole month for marketing/launch efforts, that's not exactly how it played out. As evidenced by uFincs Update #5 and uFincs Update #6, I took a couple weeks detour to deal with some DevOps-related tasks that I had been putting off (upgrading the GKE cluster, setting up monitoring, that kind of thing).

This ended up claiming the first week of April.

Setting up an Official Blog

The second week of April I had a realization that I should really set up an official blog for uFincs. Partly so that I could have one place that would have the canonical 'launch' post that I could then link to elsewhere, and partly to have a medium for capturing emails/sign-ups for anyone that didn't want to immediately sign up for uFincs itself.

And so, blog.ufincs.com was born.

I decided to just host it on Substack because, well, it's damn simple. Plus it's where I host my personal blog (i.e. what you're currently reading) so it made sense from a consolidation POV as well.

Although, I did run into a snag when trying to set up the custom domain for the blog. Bought the $50 custom domain add-on from Substack, set up the specified DNS records, and... nothing.

All I got was a generic error when trying to finish the setup process:

As you can imagine, not particularly helpful.

Thankfully, Substack's support was helpful. After one support reply that effectively amounted to "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" (yes, thank you), it was quickly escalated to an engineer who "made a fix on the Cloudflare end". Couple hours' turnaround; pretty good Substack!

After that, it was just a matter of stretching my marketing copy muscles to pump out the announcement post.

In retrospect, the official blog didn't end up making much of an impact. Didn't get any new newsletter subscribers (which, considering it's a blog specifically for content marketing, I'm not surprised), and the announcement post got less than 50 views. Although, I believe that has more to do with me not using the announcement post as effectively as I could, in addition to the Blog link on the marketing site not being particularly well-positioned as a CTA. Will have to improve that in the future.

Anyways, at least I can feel good about having an 'official' blog (as opposed to this blog, which is utterly unofficial, even though it's the more interesting one :).

Besides setting up the official blog, that second week of April was spent writing the posts for my various launch targets: LinkedIn, Startup School, and Indie Hackers. Let's go through each of those launches, one by one.

LinkedIn Launch

LinkedIn was the first place I launched uFincs. This made the most sense to me for mostly one reason: so that I could finally fill the hole in my 'employment' history. Yes, it has bugged me that, because I didn't have uFincs officially on my resume, there was a 1+ year gap since I graduated into a global pandemic. Superficial, I know.

This also gave me the wonderful opportunity to set up an official company page!

As you might guess, I do like my 'official' things.

Anyways, on Monday, April 19th, I did three things: put up a post on the company page, put up a post from my personal account, and finally updated my employment history. Besides having a fairly small network (only ~50 people), I wasn't really expecting much considering it's, ya know, LinkedIn. Who's actively checking LinkedIn, of all places, for exciting news?!

Exactly.

Although, I was banking on one thing: the fact that this was my first post. I've seen LinkedIn app notifications come in explicitly for people who made their first post, so I was thinking that I might be able to take advantage of that system for the uFincs launch. Did it work? No idea; didn't ask anyone.

I was also expecting a notification to go out for my employment update, but again, no idea on that front.

In the end, thanks to a core few people liking and commenting on the post, I was able to get just over 600 'views' on it. Pretty good for a network of only 50!

Not only that, but I got first my (paying!) customer as a direct result of the personal post. They ended up being a 2nd level connection, before upgrading to 1st level when they inquired about uFincs (and subsequently bought a subscription).

Hey, considering my expectations were basically nil, I'd say getting my first customer through LinkedIn is pretty good!

As far as the official company post went, it got basically zero traction. Again, not surprising. Probably should have picked some more niche hashtags to slap on it, but I'm a noob to social media in general, so yeah...

Anyways, I'd call the LinkedIn launch a success!

The Startup School launch, though, is a different story...

Startup School Launch

So, why did I decide on Startup School (SUS) as my second launch point? Well, I'd been through the SUS curriculum, became "SUS Certified", and generally knew it as a positive place to launch, so it just made sense to me. Of course, I also knew that the audience wasn't particularly large, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of a response.

On Wednesday, April 21st (two days after the LinkedIn launch), I made this post to the "Show SUS" section of the Startup School forums.

And... crickets.

No upvotes. No comments. Nada.

About what I expected. It seems to be very 50/50 in terms of Show SUS posts over there.

However, it wasn't until several days later (on Monday, April 26th — coincidentally, the same day that I got my first customer from LinkedIn) that I received this comment:

This - is - f***ing - amazing.

I have no idea if the idea is any good because it's not really my area at all (I guess you'll find out!) but the execution on this is incredible.

Come join our company if this doesn't take off. The pay is sh*t and the hours are worse - but real recognizes real my friend.

Very nicely done.

Needless to say, I was having a very good day that day. It was definitely nice to finally have some external validation for all the elbow grease I'd put into uFincs. Especially validation that was so... strongly worded :)

Other than that, I got less than 10 pageviews from SUS, so I wouldn't exactly call this launch a success. But it was good to get out of the way.

Up next, Indie Hackers.

Indie Hackers

Indie Hackers is an... interesting forum. If I had to summarize it as — effectively — an outsider, it'd be "the place to self-promote to others trying to self-promote".

Cause really, most everyone posting there has a higher goal than just "posting for the fun of it". Obviously, myself included!

So, time to get in on this 'self-promotion' action. First things first, got to set up another 'official' product page! Surely no one will take you seriously without a product page.

Well, as it would turn out, no one was gonna take me seriously, period. At least, as long as we define "take seriously" as "visit my web page in large quantities".

After creating the product page, I figured I had to do some research about which group to put my launch post in. And there's a lot of groups on Indie Hackers.

Having come from Startup School (and more generally, Hacker News), I looked (and found) a "Show IH" group, so I figured that was the place to launch things on Indie Hackers... Until I realized that it was listed under the "Inactive Groups" section. And perusing the posts in the group definitely reinforced that feeling.

Yeah, that didn't seem like a good idea.

It was at this point that I figured that Indie Hackers was less about directly launching products and more about writing vaguely relevant posts that somehow feed back to your product. I mean, meta time, this post is no different. So, figuring that the actual launch post wasn't gonna matter much either way, I decided that the Landing Page Feedback group is where I'd launch.

Side note: It's only as I'm literally writing this that I realized there is a Product Launch group. So... :facepalm: on me for that. In my defence, it was more towards the bottom of the "Fastest Growing" section and, as I said, there's a lot of groups. Goes to show just how much of an outsider I am.

Anyways, on Friday, April 23rd (two days since the SUS launch, four since the LinkedIn launch) I threw up this sad excuse for a post in the Landing Page Feedback group.

And just like SUS, crickets. To this day, I still haven't gotten any response on it and only about 5 page views for ufincs.com came from Indie Hackers. Figured as much.

Like I always say, as long you set your expectations to zero, you can never be disappointed!

Launch Thoughts (So Far)

And speaking of zero expectations, that wraps up the first three launches for uFincs. I went in expecting nothing and came out with a paying customer and a strongly worded compliment.

I'll take that!

However, this isn't actually the end of the story. I would be hit with a surprise one morning only a couple of days later...

Hacker News Soft-Launch

On Wednesday, April 28th, two days after acquiring my first customer, I woke up in the morning and found this post near the top of Hacker News:

Show HN: I made a simulator for personal finance

Oh boy. Anytime something about personal finances shows up on Hacker News, it usually does pretty well. This particular post would end up getting nearly 500 upvotes, which is really good for a "Show HN".

I figured that, even though I hadn't officially launched uFincs on Hacker News, it would still be a good idea (from a marketing POV) to self-promote uFincs in this kind of thread. It was already on topic, so I just needed the catalyst...

And yep, there it is. What was, at the time, the top comment in the thread:

Looks interesting, but based on the privacy policy terms of data usage, transferability, and so forth, I can't in good faith test with real financial data...

So now, not only did I have a relevant thread (personal finances), but I had a relevant top comment about data privacy. This was the perfect storm of opportunity. I couldn't pass this up.

And you bet I took it.

For context, I have a private Slack channel hooked up to the Backend of uFincs so that I can receive notifications for when various things occur. Namely, when people sign up, subscribe to a plan, or enter what I'll refer to as 'no-account' mode.

Within 10 seconds of posting my comment, I was already getting Slack notifications.

Within a minute, the channel had already filled the screen with messages from users entering 'no-account' mode.

Within a couple minutes, I had to mute the channel to save myself from going insane.

In fact, you know how Slack inserts timestamps every now and then to group together blocks of messages?

It took more than 4 hours before things slowed down enough for Slack to put a new timestamp:

...

My whole day was just sitting at my computer, watching the charts on my monitoring dashboard, watching the web traffic from Simple Analytics, and responding to comments/questions.

It. Was. Wild.

Received basically nothing but positive feedback. Tons of people checked out the app and marketing site. Even had a couple people reach out personally to say that they had been working on similar ideas and wanted to see about potential collaboration opportunities!

Honestly, I'm just glad nothing fell apart. It's good to know that my infrastructure could handle this kind of load without breaking a sweat. I mean, absolutely speaking, it wasn't that many views; only a couple thousand page views and around 1k unique visitors. But it was wayyy more than anything the system had seen before.

For context, here's how Nginx (our internal load balancer) fared. First, CPU usage (where 1000ms/s = 100% load, I believe):

And now requests/second:

Obviously, that spike around 12:00 PM is right around when I posted my first comment.

In fact, during all this, not only did uFincs stay up and running, but Hacker News itself went down!

Man, didn't think I'd be reverse-hug-of-death'ing Hacker News that day! /s

On top of all that, I even pushed a production deploy to fix a little something in the Backend, while everything was going on. Yes, I'm that crazy.

Finally, here's the marketing site analytics (again, courtesy of Simple Analytics) to really bring it home:

That first noticeable drop at 1:00 PM is, as far as I remember, when the top comment I replied to no longer became the top comment. And then everything just kept falling as the thread itself fell down the front page of Hacker News.

But still, I'd consider this a wild success. In my opinion, this soft-launch completely validates my thoughts that uFincs is indeed solving a hole in the market. Everyone who's given me feedback has only had positive things to say, whether it be the execution/design of the app itself or the idea as a whole. Of course, there were those that complained about the pricing, but that's to be expected (I'd be more surprised if they didn't complain).

And it's all that much sweeter once you take into account that I got my second paying customer late into the night that day. The cherry on top, as they say.

Obviously, my traffic levels have since fallen far off that peak. But I'm still averaging ~50 page views a day on the marketing site and maybe a dozen or so 'no-account' logins. Which is a significant improvement over the big fat ZERO from before. This also means that word-of-mouth is now at play — the most elusive of marketing strategies.

All this, from only a one-off comment! Albeit, a one-off comment in a thread where the involved parties were likely to be solid leads. But still, I wonder just how much crazier a Show HN of my own will be. Honestly, at this point, I can only see two outcomes:

  1. It sees absolutely zero traction whatsoever (because I didn't pray to the right Hacker News gods that day).

  2. It utterly explodes.

Considering the traction of the post that I hijacked, I think it's fair to say that 2. is a likely outcome. I wouldn't expect my post to be only 'mildly well received', but who knows — it's the internet after all.

Of course, there's only one way to find out. I'm sure my own Show HN post will be happening sometime in the near future, so keep an eye out for it!

Final Thoughts

So yeah, of my original launch targets (LinkedIn, Startup School, and Indie Hackers) only LinkedIn really panned out. And I knew that uFincs would do well on Hacker News, I just hadn't planned to get there so soon.

So what's next? Well, I think a Show HN post of my own will be my next launch target. Like I said above, that should probably happen in the next week or two. Hopefully that drives enough traffic/word-of-mouth to get to my elusive "10 paying customers" goal. It's at that point where everything basically starts turning to gravy.

Of course, I need to keep up the blogging/content marketing. SEO is, based on my research, a long-term game, so I just gotta keep pumping out these posts in the hope that it pays off in the future (well, more so for the official uFincs Blog than my own personal blog; although I like to think that my personal blog can make for some good forum posts :).

Other than Hacker News, I still have various subreddits and Product Hunt on my radar. I'll probably be doing a couple subreddit launches over the course of May, but Product Hunt will definitely be deferred for a later month. I want to have a decent customer base before I launch there, to show some level of 'maturity' (and by 'decent', I'm really just thinking > 10).

But yeah, very exciting times. I've finally gone from burning money with no income whatsoever to burning money while making a small bit of income! Surely, one of the hardest steps for any entrepreneur to take. It's only up from here!

Till next time.