In this post I’ll be reviewing what has happened since my last post from early January. You can read up on the previous review by clicking here. To give you a summary, I used payed advertisements to find my first users for Kanji Book - a site to learn Japanese kanji using mnemonics.
Having read the previous post, you will know that my strategy for generating enough visitors to my site Kanji Book relied solely on paying for ads. This is no longer a viable option considering that my savings are getting smaller and smaller. To give you a picture at how fast I am burning through my money:
If I may quote a friend:
We would call this a “steady state decline”.
Those small bumps are almost all due to little cash infusions from my family. My investments were profitable but I was running out of cash and had to liquidate them.
It didn’t make any sense to pay $100-$200 a month for ads anymore. Hence, I needed to come up with a plan that generated enough traffic so that enough people would survive at the end of the funnel to pay me. And I succeeded at that.
To generate enough traffic to someone’s site, there are essentially 3 methods: Ads, Google Search Traffic and Social traffic. Direct traffic exists too, but they are mostly a result of either one of the others. Ads are no longer viable for me and my Google search rankings are abominable. Therefore I have to resort to social media traffic to generate paying customers.
I thought, what if I could create something that people would find useful, could be produced with my own strengths and is in some way related to Kanji Book. I had to figure out, why people wanted to learn Japanese. For one, there is the every growing Anime culture. People who watch anime know, that listening to the original voice actors is the best method to consume this content because of mostly non fitting English voice actors. Besides, English versions mostly air way later. Unfortunately, most of them have to use English subtitles because they don’t understand Japanese. It already was my idea from the get go that it had to be something novel and that the learning experience would expand beyond your regular daily vocabulary reviews. At best, you would take your learn progress on Kanji Book to different kinds of media to enrich the experience.
Given that people like to watch Anime and would kinda want to learn Japanese, why not connect both of them. Therefore I set out to create a custom video player so that you could learn Japanese while having fun. Its main purpose is to display translations for Japanese subtitles so you can learn while watching your favorite movies and series.
To validate my idea without having to create a fully fledged language processor, I thought of teasing my idea on the /r/LearnJapanese subreddit before I even built anything more complicated than a simple 1+1. Hence, I created a minimalistic player which can display subtitles from the simplest subtitle format MicroDVD (.sub) and queried the translations for every kanji. The translations would than be displayed if you hovered over a kanji via a popup. It took me just about a week to get it going, but I had a product which was worth sharing. After I had posted a picture of the player in action, the response was more than stellar. People seemed to like it and therefore I’ve decided to double down on it. At the time, I didn’t know how to actually write a sophisticated language processor and decided to build the player around the fact that you could lookup every kanji and just display the readings and the translations. I thought, if people were proficient enough in Japanese already, they could guess the meaning of a word. In Japanese there are a lots of compound words like in German, my native tongue. If you know the meaning of a single constituent, you sometimes can guess what its actual meaning is.
The best part about showing the early version to my target audience was the feedback. I got numerous comments on what they would like to see or other related technologies which try to solve this problem.
Making my first dollar
Fast forward 4 days and I posted the player on /r/learnjapanese and earned me my most upvoted post ever. Because people can sometimes be leery, I created a test account just for this marketing push so that people could try the player without having to register. To incentivize users to pay me money, I restricted the test account to 400 kanji in the beginner range so people could still use it in action.
Unfortunately, before posting the player on Reddit, I was a little depressed of constantly working every day even on my short term holiday in November without any pause and not gaining any traction or a single dollar. I just wanted to push the player out into the wild. Therefore I wrote really, really badly written blog post. The Click-To-Action was a measly anchor link and to top it all off, I didn’t even re-test the checkout flow with production numbers. Otherwise, I would have noticed that the early bird discounts were still displayed. What could have been my first $80, now are just $40.
Would I have listened to what Patrick McKency had said in his podcast episode on customer onboarding, I would be $40 richer.
I think sign‑up flows, purchasing flows, et cetera, they have a great tendency to go stale, because they get implemented by a junior Rails engineer in the first two months of the company, and since they ”work” nobody ever looks at them again, until you break them in such a way that sales go to zero.
Nonetheless I earned my very first $40 because 2 people decided to sign up for the yearly plan. Yay!
Side note: In essence, a 0.1% conversion rate. Seeing that, makes me a little pessimistic about Kanji Book and the education space as a whole.
Improving my marketing skills
To not make the same mistakes again, I had to double down on my marketing skills. By chance, I had subscribed to Amy Hoy’s Year of Hustle newsletter because I discovered her content through Patrick’s podcast. I had been reading some of her blog posts and generally like her ideas. She is very bold and a bit more opinionated than Patrick, but I think one can learn a lot of her. The content is really rich. Therefore I concentrated on finding all the valuable lessons for a successful launch from her website. I read most of her blog posts and listened to most of her podcasts with Alex Hillman.
Reviewing what I’ve done so far I would be terrible student. I didn’t do any sophisticated user research as she is preaching her Sales Safari idea nor did I make any big plans for 5-10 blog posts which should give a potential subscriber a feeling of having a win. The only thing that I had was a tool that would potentially solve a theoretical pain point.
If you know Amy Hoy’ content, you will know that you will have to start by doing a so called “Sales Safari”. There, you collect and find valuable customer insights by looking at online communities where your target audience tends to hang out. After I had done that, I noticed that the Neko video player couldn’t be a better fit. Here are some of the keywords and phrases that I could find online:
- “can’t understand sentence no matter how hard i try”
- “putting words on the dictionary all the time”
- “it could be better and more fun”
After having done my research, it was time to figure out how to write the landing page. Luckily, Amy is featuring successful students of the 30x500 course online. I considered signing up for course if I had the money but she would definitely decline my application. Therefore I started to read up on their previous success stories. I found Nathan Barry’s blog post on Copywriting a landing page where one can get insights on how the 30x500 process looked like in the early days. I studied that blog post right down to the last detail. What it comes down to is that you have to structure your sales pitch into 3 steps:
- The problem statement which should resonate with the user
- What Amy calls the “Dream”. You picture to the readers what it would look like if they didn’t have said problems.
- You pitch to your reader your solution and explain how it solves all said problems.
Sometimes, at least by analyzing Amy’s 30x500 landingpage, one can squeeze in a fourth section between the dream and your solution, a kind of bridge to make the contrast not too big. Which is clever, because you aren’t slapping your readers in the face with your awesome solution but rather ease the transition. There is one small disadvantage, more to read. If some readers aren’t hooked yet and have a limited attention span for finding a solution to their problems, they could bounce. Hence, I noticed that she keeps her sentence rather short and to the point, contrary to mine on this blog post. I hope you are still with me :D. I don’t know if this is the cause or whether there is any correlation.
In the mean time, I had finished the language processor so that I can recognize around 70-80% of the subtitles. I’d say I am a little worse than Google Translate but very close in recognizing single words. After having implemented the core logic, I noticed that it takes considerable time to recognize and translate words. Therefore I had to put the translation feature behind a registration wall. I didn’t want to pay for more compute resources upfront for a single marketing push where in the worst case nobody payed me.
Putting it to the test
After I had finished writing the landing page for Neko, I was quite happy with the results. It was time to test it. This time, I wanted to try it on a bigger subreddit and decided to go with /r/anime first. To my surprise, it did great. 200 upvotes in less than 24h. Unfortunately, it got removed by the mods after 3 hours because I forgot to read their rules of not advertising for a payed product. Ouch. Anyway here is a screenshot of the original post before it was removed:
And here is a picture of Google Analytics:
I’d also like to point out some of the the comments I received in decreasing popularity:
(36) This is cool. I have no money though.
(2) Wow this is awesome. I started learning Japanese but then stopped because school became too hectic but I’ll be starting again next week. I’ll definitely try this out. Thank you!
(-10) GitHub or gtfo. I refuse to pay money for any software, regardless of how good it might be.
People are definitely leery but they see the value in the tool nonetheless. To convince people to use Kanji Book, I just have to make it better than anything else.
During those 3 hours, 12 people signed up and downloaded the player. I only can imagine what could have happened, had the post stayed up longer and gained more traction. Luckily, I came up with a new plan to market Kanji Book to the /r/anime community without explicitly selling something. I am not sure if I can pull it off. If I do, I’ll talk about in my next review.
If there is one thing you should take away from this post, it’s the video about the Sales Safari by Amy Hoy. It’s an excellent foundation to build all your marketing material and prevents you from doing bad business decisions. Anyway, my next post will come sooner than expected because it’s almost the end of February. So stayed tuned!