There are two sides to every story, and so I want to tell you ahead of time, I’m not going to sugarcoat this.
Since writing this, I’ve begun the process of relaunching Kobra, check out other parts of this story here.
When I came up with the idea for Kobra.io, I thought what I had was an absolutely splendid idea. An online collaborative code editor with video and text chat built in. I wasn’t going to be like “those other guys” (C9, CodeBox, Nitrous.io, etc) where collaboration was just a feature that was tacked on, I wanted collaboration to be the feature that my product concentrated on.
So, like every project I decided to build an MVP first and foremost. I wasn’t going to add all of the features that I thought were necessary first, or all of the features my competition had. I was going to get it just good enough to prove that it was viable, then launch.
Here’s what I decided to include in my MVP:
- Full Code Editor using ACE, with most of the functionality you’re used to
- Code Collaboration using Firepad
- Text Chat
- Video Chat
- Personal Settings
- Ability to add and join multiple projects
- The ability to connect directly to your server and pull in your project.
- The ability to sync changes with your server, when you hit “save” on a file, it’s automatically saved back to your server.
Alright, awesome! That should be enough to test my idea (heads up, it failed horribly), so I’m 4 weeks into development in my spare time at this point. I project that I can get everything done on my list in an additional 2 weeks.
I throw up a landing page with a ticker counting down 2 weeks out to our extremely specific launch time. Pre-signup now, you’ll get access when this ticker hits 0. This creates a sense of urgency. Also, I called it a “Limited Public Beta” which creates a sense of exclusivity.
On top of that, I decided that for the 2 weeks pre-launch, I was going to give away one lifetime subscription every day on Twitter through a contest. This would hopefully encourage people to share it with their friends so we would get more social traffic. (Read more on landing page / launch tips here)
Here’s what the “above the fold” portion of the landing page wound up looking like:
As you can see, I also recorded a quick 5 minute video on how to use Kobra.io showing everyone how easy it was. (And, of course now that I mention it, turns out my YouTube link no longer functions…awesome.)
I set up the @KobraIO twitter account, made sure our pre-signup and contact forms worked correctly, and pushed the site live. I kept hoping, man if this thing gets 50 pre-signups in the next 2 weeks, I will be so freakin’ happy.
Now, the first mistake I made was creating an account on Hacker News and posting the site on it…nothing happened (I had no idea how HN worked, I thought that’s just how you got stuff to go viral). Soooo…I did the next best thing I could think of and had a friend post it for me. I got a good amount of traffic, but HN did not take it very well. Sorry guys! I was a n00b…won’t happen again!
During that day we got about 200 pre-signups. Not bad! I was hooked.
That night I decided to post the article to Reddit /r/programming here. That went WAY better than Hacker News. For several hours our site had 100+ people on it simultaneously, and that waned down to about 60+ over the next few days.
Then something crazy happened. Through Reddit a programmer found us and posted his referral link to a Facebook Group he was part of. We we’re getting just as much, if not more, traffic from this compared to Reddit. Looks like our Twitter contest paid off big time!
I continued to tweet out to people, answer questions via email, and bang out code for the launch. A few people picked up on us and wrote blog posts, which sent a trickle of traffic our way.
Overall Hacker News + Reddit got us about 1000 subscribers in 2 days, and the other 1200 was a trickle over the next few weeks from social referrals.
So far so good, here’s some stats:
- A little over 2200 pre-signup
- At launch, 1250 people actually logged into the tool
- 24K Page Views
- 19K Unique Visitors
Needless to say, at this point, I was pumped. I immediately put in some additional development time to make sure that our server could handle the load.
Another developer I was working on the project with and myself were sitting in a room we rented downtown to use as our office. My finger was on the “deploy” button and we were watching the counter tick down, getting closer and closer to 0.
We had our sign-up count up on a big screen, so when we hit “Launch!” we could see how many people were signing in.
We sent a few emails out during the days previous, a 2-hour countdown reminder email, and were about to push the “We’re Live Email!” That email also happened to have a coupon code for $10 of free Digital Ocean credit. (I’ll be writing another post on our email strategy soon as well)
I’ll admit, I couldn’t contain myself, I pushed to production 5 seconds early, and the second I did, we began to see the sign ups climb! We hit 50 actual sign ups in about the first 10 seconds. Then 100, then 300, all the way to about 1200 actual people in the tool (this happened after about a week).
Success! Or so I thought…
Sadly those numbers weren’t the numbers I was actually concerned about. I wanted to know how many people were actually using the tool.
Turns out, we only had about 100 users create projects out of the 1200+ that logged in. Wow…that’s not a whole lot seeing as that is the point of the tool. Out of those, only 20 of them had more than one person…also the point of the tool.
I sat down with the other developer and our business guy and we had a long heart to heart about 3 weeks after launch.
There was a lot of yelling, arguing about what we should do with the tool, and in general everyone was stressed out. “How could this happen we were doing so well!?”
Since I was the primary person working on Kobra.io, in the end it was ultimately my decision on what to do with it. And I’m not going to lie, after that conversation, I had almost zero motivation to continue it.
So what did I do? I stopped. The only thing I continued to do was pay the server bills. I stopped coding it, I stopped checking in on the site, I even stopped using the tool myself.
Here are the stats as of right now:
- 1556 Registered Accounts
- 322 Projects Created
- 68 Projects with multiple people in them
- 18 active projects in the past 4 weeks
- 9 active projects in the past 4 weeks where the project had more than 1 user in it. OUCH.
That means that only NINE PEOPLE out of my reach of over 2200 actually use the tool how it’s meant to be used.
It’s been about 4 or 5 months since I launched Kobra, and my emotions have definitely settled down. This time has also given me the chance to look at this a little bit more objectively to figure out what I think I did wrong. And I think it all boils down to one thing:
I Didn’t Actually Build an MVP
What I built was a full-blown freakin’ product. I thought it was an MVP because I didn’t have things like an in-browser console for your server.
But the reality is, I still built a full product that was going to compete with the likes of c9, CodeBox, Nitrous.io, etc. And the fact of the matter is, they have way more resources and money than I do. There’s no way I can directly compete in the “online code editor” market, whether or not I have good collaborative features.
On top of that I assumed that the way I worked on projects (remotely over SSH or SFTP) was how everyone set up their projects. I’d buy a $5/month Digital Ocean server, set up Nginx+Python or whatever I needed, then I’d use Sublime Text to connect remotely and I’d begin coding.
Since that’s the functionality I programmed, and it’s what I thought everyone did, I didn’t think to actually test something smaller than this.
In fact, the only way to create a project on Kobra was to do it over SSH.
An MVP should be built to test the absolute minimum set of features that will be viable to test your business, idea or SaaS. That way you don’t waste time developing something that might not gain any traction.
I wasted time developing a full-blown editor, and this should definitely not have been my starting point.
However, there is one thing that I did learn that is definitely a good take-away. And that is the fact that people are interested in collaborative coding.
If they weren’t interested, there is no way that I would have gotten 2200 pre-signups.
So, am I going to stop here? Definitely not.
Something huge is on the horizon for Kobra.io. Sign up for my newsletter below to follow me along on the journey to try to salvage my SaaS and see if I can still make anything of it. I’m going to be 100% open about all of the numbers and all of the work I put into this.
This time, I’m doing it right.