As you would probably expect, the last few weeks of my life since launching OptinSkin have been absolutely crazy. I can’t remember a time when I’ve spent so much of my day with my head in my inbox, dealing with customers. I assumed that most of the feedback after the launch would be from people with feature requests, support questions and pre-sales curiosity.
As a team, we’ve definitely received enough of those, but the most common type of feedback I have received personally was totally unexpected. Dozens of people from around the world got in touch just to let me know how cool they thought it was that I actually got to do this. That I could spend my days working on a creative project of my choice and then finally get to show it to the world.
I’ve worked this way for a few years now, so it’s not something I really think about, but they’re totally right. It is cool; and definitely beats working in a clothes store.
But I want to dispel any misconceptions and make clear that it’s only cool because I love the project and because I really want to make a great plugin. If you’re not really passionate about what you’ve created then there’s no way you could live with personally replying to the number of emails we’ve responded to in the last month.
The difference is that I don’t just answer support emails because I have to, but because I genuinely want to know what people are having problems with or what features they might want to see in future releases. The best ideas we’ve had so far haven’t come from me, or Graeme, or the other developers we’re now working with.
But from you, the users.
And on that note, I want to peel away the surface layer, where all you see is that I launched a product and presumably made a bit of money, and show you the reality of what goes on behind a product launch. Or at least a ViperChill product launch.
It’s good to be writing again. Sit back, relax, and enjoy…
Usually, I recommend that people follow a ‘Monday, Wednesday, Friday’ strategy when launching a product — especially when following the Blueprint method. The idea is basically that you ‘hype’ a product up on a Monday and Wednesday, then launch it on the Friday. I did it myself when I launched Cloud Living (using videos) and had a launch far bigger than anticipated.
For OptinSkin, I didn’t follow this approach at all. My real way of building up anticipation for the product was to just go about what I was doing anyways, and drop little announcements here and there. For example I would post updates about the project to Twitter and Facebook at various times during its development. In the Cloud Niche newsletter I constantly hinted that something big was coming and I also ‘set the stage’ for the upcoming launch by announcing it in my million-dollar apps article.
The end result was that the majority of my audience knew a product was coming, and that it would be a game-changer for bloggers. I guess that all went to plan since I had people tweeting and writing Facebook updates about the launch before I did. Literally the minute my blog post went live there were people writing about it.
As far as sales go, we’re on track to reach 1,000 customers within the next week or two. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but I definitely have no complaints. As you’ll read later, there were actually times when I wanted the sales to stop completely. I really didn’t have any predictions for how many sales I could make, and honestly I’m just grateful that people are giving it a chance. I’m blown away to see how many creative uses people have had for it so far.
I have done zero promotion besides the initial launch day, with no ads on this site or further posts about the product (until now). I still have around 6,000 people to email in my own audience who haven’t heard about it, and also have a friend with a large premium plugin customer list who is going to be telling them about OptinSkin next week. On top of that, I have a deal with AppSumo that should be running soon, so there are a number of upcoming things that I think will have a big affect on the sales numbers as well.
I usually hate writing about money, especially since many of you reading this have been my customers and talking about sales figures is a little like saying “here’s how much money you’ve just made me”. That’s not how I think at all. I would rather make no money and have an awesome product than make a lot for something that isn’t transforming how bloggers run their blogs. For that reason, it’s unlikely that I’ll be writing about the sales figures again; I try to be as transparent as possible here, so that’s why I’m sharing them now.
We’ve already put money into adding two more developers to the team whose first task is to look into ways we can optimise our current code even further. Features have been added almost daily since launch day as well, so existing and new customers are going to keep getting great additions without having to pay another penny.
I’m fortunate to have a large audience to share my product with, which no doubt helped my launch figures, but I still think the ‘little guy’ can do big launches as well. Hundreds of OptinSkin sales on launch week were not mine. Pat Flynn recently announced that after just 5 days he made $4,800 as an affiliate promoting the plugin. The sales page is converting very nicely right now (more on this later) and we’re always happy to send money to our affiliates.
I’ve openly admitted on this blog a few times that I’m not the best networker in the world. I might have a fairly decent-sized audience but I really don’t have “connections” with many ‘A-list bloggers’. My personal strategy has always been to just treat connecting online like I do with regular friends; to only have a few, but have a really strong relationship with them.
I only worked with Adam Baker and Pat Flynn when it came to getting people to promote the software on launch day, and hugely appreciate both of them letting me use their sites as guinea pigs. I’ve been close to both of them for quite a while now, sometimes fixing Adam’s HTML issues on the side or just chatting to Pat about his upcoming projects. Having just a few good relationships is especially useful when you’re highly focused on creating, as I am, rather than pretending you’re building ‘strong bonds’ on Twitter or elsewhere with a huge number of people.
I would say that overall the launch has been a big success, and after seeing how much the plugin has changed in just three weeks, I’m excited to see what it will look like just a few months down the road. There’s a much bigger market we can help, and a ton of additions that we’re working on to make it even better.
The end result is that regular, beginner bloggers are now doing things that professional bloggers had only dreamed of being able to do. And that’s pretty damn cool if you ask me.
Many of you will know that I think of myself as a bit of a perfectionist. It’s a trait that lets me create things that (I hope) look good and work well, but it also means projects take a lot longer than they have to and I’m not necessarily focusing on the things Glen should be focusing on.
Two big tasks involved in most product launches are the design of the sales page itself (if it’s not being launched on an existing site) and the creation of a sales video. Both things that tend to take up a lot of time and require certain skills to do a good job.
Whenever I can, I always try and do design work myself. I’m not the best developer, but I know how I want certain things to look. I would honestly just have to keep asking for too many revisions if I had hired a developer, so the entire sales page for OptinSkin was created by me with help from TextWrangler, Photoshop CS3 and Firebug (for Firefox).
The base of the sales page was actually from an existing WordPress theme called Redux (non-aff). It was created by Orman Clark, founder of PremiumPixels, who is one of the best designers on the internet right now in my opinion. If not the best. In typical ViperChill fashion, I completely hacked away at the design, creating something that only has the header and footer in resemblance to the original theme.
I like to think I put my own mark on it, and the ‘interactive’ part of the sales page which received some great feedback is something I haven’t seen elsewhere. I’m frequently asked which fonts I use on the ViperChill pages here, and the answer is Aurulent Sans and Springsteel. The fonts that I used on the sales page, just in case anyone is curious, are Qlassik Bold and Chalkboard.
It probably took about four full days to create the entire thing. The actual work part could have been done much faster, but a lot of time was spent actually coming up with the layout concept. My main aim was to design a page that has the best conversion elements of a typical sales page, but doesn’t come with the spammy feel I’m sure you’ve all come across.
One good aspect of me being fairly proficient in a number of things is that I don’t have to wait for other people to do them. If I don’t like a graphic or how something is positioned, I can do it myself, and fast. For a few weeks, I looked around various product websites and saw a number of videos I liked that showed off their respective products. I didn’t have much luck however finding the people who create these very attractive ways of displayed websites and apps.
I opted to make the video myself, and while it isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, it’s good enough. It does the job I intended it to do, and I didn’t have to spend four-figures to make it a reality.
The creation simply involved a mix of Screenflow (for recording my screen), Photoshop (for making various graphics), Powerpoint 2008 (for the animations) and iMovie to put it all together. Below you can see a screenshot of the finished result in iMovie:
I had tried three voiceover guys on Fiverr but each one – after also being judged by Graeme – sounded too cheesy to us. Also after each one, Graeme had been pushing me to just record the voice myself, as did a few people on Twitter when I publicly mentioned my Fiverr failures. Then, out of the blue, sound file number four came in.
I had forgotten that I had purchased it. It was definitely the best I had received, and an almost perfect match for the sales video. I did try a version with my voice, and honestly prefer the recording that we chose instead. It would definitely be interesting to split-test the two further down the road though.
I’m a big fan of minimalism, so when it came to the final sales page, I wanted to keep things as clean as possible. I probably obsessed a little too much about the spacings between each heading and the content that should actually be on there. Near the bottom I created a section with the heading: ‘The Answer to Every Question Below is Yes, It Does’. My inspiration came from 37 Signals who I mention often, who do something similar for their main product, Basecamp.
I listed all of the main questions that I thought people would ask, and I was right. People did ask them, over and over again. Since people were having to ask them, and the answers were already on the sales page, it clearly wasn’t doing a good enough job. After personally replying to about 20 comments on Pat Flynn’s site, I quickly started working on an FAQ page.
It answered all of the questions I had previously covered on the sales page, and included more which I added as they came in. I was then able to reply to more of Pat’s comments by linking to the FAQ page (with his permission), so new visitors would constantly see all of the answers in one place.
In the first 72 hours of launch our inbox was literally overflowing. New emails were coming in as fast as we were sending them out. Add to the fact that we keep experiencing a bug in Gmail which makes replies create a new thread (conversation style is turned on) and things were getting a little stressful.
We had tested OptinSkin on around 16 different websites before launch day, so had found enough bugs and conflicts (which were then fixed) to make us feel comfortable that we’ve done a thorough job in testing before the big launch. However, as it goes with software, there were things that we hadn’t noticed.
One problem, for instance, is that our code which interacts with MailChimp (one of the email providers we cater for) was conflicting with a little widget that MailChimp had already created for its users. Since around 25% of our users seem to be using the service, and about half seemed to already have that plugin installed, you can imagine just how many emails we were getting about it not working.
And when you aren’t instantly sure what the solution is, it’s not fun to see more emails rolling in. I was very close to disabling the payment button before we figured it out.
Another problem we encountered was with people who are using an “admin relocation” plugin. Basically, what this plugin does is move the location of your WP-Admin folder so that it makes hacking your blog a little more tricky, and makes you less susceptible to automated attacks. So instead of accessing your admin panel at yourdomain.com/wp-admin/, it would then be yourdomain.com/whateveryouwant/wp-admin/. It’s a great idea, but our plugin was looking for files elsewhere when people had this installed, so another workaround had to be built.
Here I have to really thank Graeme for putting in multiple 4am nights to make sure we could get a number of these conflicts fixed. If we hadn’t gotten them solved quickly we would have had a lot of unhappy customers, and I’m sure a lot of refunds to go with it.
Customer service was a huge part of this launch, so I’m going to go and let it have its own section. Heading and all…
I’ve already stated that we received hundreds of emails in a very short period of time. What I haven’t yet covered is the nature of those emails, and the types of personalities that you encounter when dealing with customer support.
Though I’m about to dissect these emails, I do want to first say that I sincerely appreciate everyone who purchased OptinSkin and supported my launch. It’s something I worked really hard on, and it’s a great feeling to see it running on blogs when I randomly browse the internet.
I have a strong belief that people should never have to email us. The end goal is to have someone download the product, install it on their blog, and have everything running perfectly. To have everything mapped so intuitively that we’ll never hear from them again. When that doesn’t happen, it sucks. The last thing you want to do when you buy a product is have to email support because something isn’t working or you don’t know how to use it.
It’s always our aim to make that happen. A common enquiry we quickly solved was that people were requesting their ‘Special Key’. You see, in the members backend people are given their License key, but on the plugin activation page it was called Special Key. They were the same thing, just worded differently.
Fixing this quickly stopped a flow of mails, and meant that more customers didn’t have to get in touch. Helping us reach our goal.
The ‘characters’ that got in touch were fascinating to see. Some people would email and say ‘Wow this is a piece of sh*t. I paid $47 and it doesn’t even work.” then email back two minutes later and apologise for having missed a character on their license key.
Since emails about the same problems kept occurring in the first few days, it was very easy to see the differences. Some people get really, really angry when something doesn’t work. Others will thank you for the work you’ve done on the plugin, give you props for the idea, and then say they’d appreciate it if you have the time to help them. The exact same problem, but two totally different ways that people are expressing it.
One of the angriest people who got in touch (swearing in every email, and never happy with our responses) actually added me on my personal Skype account. I recognised their name instantly, and wasn’t expecting a pleasant chat. This person was actually the total opposite of their email self, praising us for the creation and thanking us for the personal support.
I came to the quick observation that when someone is dealing with another person, rather than just an email address they can shout at, they’ll treat you with a lot more respect. It would be interesting for companies like Hostgator to try this on their live chat, by showing a picture of the person you’re talking to. I wonder if that would increase the mood of their support team and give them incentive to provide a better service?
I believe that the support we provide is as important as the product we’ve created, so this is always something I will make a huge priority. We’ve done live Skype chats and screen-sharing conversations with dozens of customers, made custom eBook graphics for random people we wanted to help and even today Graeme is helping with support by working on the computers at the Apple store in New York, because he’s taking his first break in way too long.
And just for anyone really curious, because I’ve probably made it sound like we’re getting a ton of complaints (mistakenly), at the time of writing this there are 16 separate emails in our inbox. Not bad for almost four-figure customers. Of course, I still want it to be zero.
“Do you know someone called X?” popped up on my Skype. “Yeah, they comment on the blog sometimes, why?” I replied. “Oh, just they bought the product through their own affiliate link”, typed a friend who was helping go through some sales data.
They mentioned a couple more names. Some were big bloggers making a lot of money, some people I’ve never heard of, and some I’ve been working on websites with since I was 16. All apparently buying OptinSkin through their own affiliate link to make back about $22 on the purchase. Something against the Clickbank TOS, and something we clearly advise against on our affiliates page (and have since day one).
I asked that person to email a few of them, to see if there had been a mistake, as a few of the names genuinely surprised me. I can live without making $20, but it was a matter of principle, especially when I had responded to dozens emails from some of the people, never asking for anything in return.
Here’s what interested me: Every single one of them replied, and all but one stated the same reason: “My virtual assistant bought the product for me and they didn’t know you can’t do that”. I was laughing by the last few emails as I knew what the response would be.
Again, I can live without the cash, and it’s not a huge deal, but it’s an interesting reality when it comes to owning a product on Clickbank. I’m also really surprised to learn that people ask their assistants to buy products for them, and the assistant intuitively thinks to use that persons own affiliate link ;).
I didn’t do anything in these cases, mostly because there were only a few of them. However, I’ve decided that I will terminate every membership that has been created this way in future (the affiliate username is usually a persons name) simply out of principle and fairness to other customers. And hey, maybe my stubbornness will make sure you aren’t banned from making future Clickbank accounts in your name.
One worry we had was not about whether people would try to save a few bucks buying through their own affiliate link, but that ‘crackers’ would null the licensing part of our software and release it for free. We looked into a number of solutions before we launched but we kept coming to the same conclusion: If someone wants to crack the software badly enough, they will.
Companies that have made billions of dollars by selling software like Microsoft and Adobe are unable to stop their creations freely leaking out to a wider audience, so we didn’t expect it to take too long for the “Blackhatters” to get involved in a plugin with far fewer millions having been spent on security.
On the second day the plugin went live I found it on a Blackhat forum.
I was pretty depressed about it to be honest. I knew it was going to happen, and there’s little I can do about it, but for it to happen so quickly was just disheartening. Knowing a (probable) ViperChill reader purchased the plugin with the sole intention of posting it on a forum for ‘reps’ is pretty sad, but it’s another reality of the world we live in.
I know we are never going to beat the Blackhat guys, but we can always stay one step ahead of them. The plugin available on torrent sites right now is literally the plugin we launched on day one, and there have been dozens of bug fixes and features added since then, so continuing to improve the plugin is one thing which we can always do to benefit real members.
I’m also having fun making their life a bit harder, filing DMCA requests with the various services that are illegally hosting the file. Again, I never expect to beat this, but if I can make their life harder and always stay one step ahead, I wont hesitate to do so.
Funnily (or not), people who don’t purchase your software will still ask for support, and a free copy so they can give it a review:
I spoke with Michael Dunlop not long after he launched Pop-up Domination and he was sad to see his creation all over Fiverr and other websites. Pretty much all software companies seem to have this problem, so all I can do is thank those who did show their support by purchasing the product ethically and continue to make it amazing for those who do so.
As mentioned earlier, some of the best (and sometimes most obvious) feature ideas have actually came from our customers. Some of the additions we’ve made since launch day are:
We have had some other great suggestions made to us that we anticipate having in the plugin within the next few days as well. I see this as something that will still be relevant years from now, so you can be sure that I’m very focused on making it better and better over time. All customers will of course get these new releases for free and you don’t lose any Skins or data when you upgrade.
The next step now is to continue to make those changes, and then focus more on the marketing side of things. I’ve been very hesitant to promote the plugin much due to the number of emails we were dealing with, but the plugin is now running perfectly on hundreds of blogs so I’m ready to start focusing on conversions.
This means I’ll be spending quite a bit of time on split-testing, and hopefully I’ll have some interesting data to share with you all here.
Finally, thanks to Pat Flynn for easing what was quite a stressful day when we launched. His Dad found this at home, and sent it over, which gave me and Graeme a laugh:
I know this has been quite a mammoth post, but I want to end it in style by announcing a mini-competition. It’s really simple. To enter the competition, simply create a design in Photoshop that we can use as a Skin for OptinSkin.
You don’t have to code it or make it customisable or anything like that. Just create an opt-in form design in Photoshop, Gimp or whatever design programs you use and send it over to us. Myself and Graeme will then look at the submissions and pick our winners. There are five prizes up for grabs, as highlighted below:
Each person can submit multiple entries, but you can only win one prize. If more than one of your designs is good enough to win, we’ll just choose the best one. By entering the competition, you agree to let us add the design to OptinSkin. For this reason, you’ll also need to ensure it is 100% your creation.
You benefit by getting some easy cash, I benefit by improving my plugin, and OptinSkin owners get new designs to use from talented designers. I don’t even know if five people will enter, so if you do have some skills, I doubt you will have too much competition.
It’s totally up to you which style of opt-in form that you choose. Please note that if your design is heavy on graphics, our customisation potential will be limited or possibly non-existant. However, we are more than happy for designs to be totally reliant on graphics. We have enough that are customisable. Choosing between the two will not change your chances of winning.
Please email all entries to HQ @ viperchill.com by March 30th. Good luck!
P.S. If you haven’t purchased OptinSkin yet, it’s apparently my job to convince you to do so. It’s really cool, honest!