How we Bootstrapped an Educational Node.js Product in 28 Days at RisingStack

This is a step-by-step guide on how we validated an Educational Node.js Product before we created it in less than 28 days, and how we built a community of raving fans during the process.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.” – Eric Ries, Lean Startup

Takeaway: This post includes 7 steps you need to replicate to achieve the same results and all the tools we used during the process.

This guide is for you if...

You're one of those Marketers and Business Owners who wants to make sure their idea sells before they invest a lot of time and money creating it.

This post is not for you if you believe development comes first, and marketing and sales come second. If you prefer a long, secretly hidden development process in the bunker – this guide won’t help you, sorry.

Our Success Story - The Owning Node.js Program

I remember when I first heard of the Lean Startup idea I was amazed. The idea of validating a product idea before investing into it was a real game-changer.

At the same time, I was honestly frustrated.

How is it possible, that they came up with this idea and no one put together a step-by-step practical guide to practically do it? - Me, a few years earlier

I thought, "this entire Lean thing seems pure theory, right?"

Well, it looks like it isn't.

Then I learned a lot about sales, marketing and launching a product. A few months before I had a step-by-step method in my hand, waiting for execution. This is what I'm going to hand over to you now.

“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.” - Eric Ries

STEP #1: Segmenting your E-mail List

Long story short, I started in a new position at RisingStack and I wanted to kick serious butt… I decided to go bold and big. Meanwhile, I wanted to reduce risk to the minimal and make sure we deliver massive value with marketing, not just pushy sales.

We had a massive email list with lots of subscribers, but the list was in MailChimp, and it wasn't properly segmented. We didn’t exactly know who’s a buyer, and who’s an engaged opener.

So my first mission was: import the list from MailChimp to Drip and remove the fog.

The secret weapon: Ask with Surveys

We decided to send out several surveys to our list. It was a key step, and we used Typeform to do it.

We just asked few simple questions in the beginning, like

  • “Do you use Node.js every day?”
  • “How long have been using Node.js?”
  • “Do you use microservices?”

After asking our subscribers who are they and what problems they face (at least a group of them), and we knew the direction we should follow and also who will be interested in our product.

STEP #2: Creating your Product Based on Actual Needs of Node.js Developers

From the results of the survey, we figured out that we should create an educational Node.js program - where we teach our followers the most crucial knowledge they said they need to become confident with Node.js:

  • Understand Async in-and-out
  • Mastering Databases with Node.js
  • Starting and Structuring Apps
  • Debugging Node.js Apps in Production

We decided to brand this Educational Product as "Owning Node.js", since we thought that the ones who'll apply would feel very powerful after learning from us.

List of must-have decisions to make at this step:

  • Give a name to your Product / Offer
  • Outline the main benefits of the product
  • Decide the price
  • Outline the contents / features of the product
  • Find a way you can ship / deliver the product

STEP #3: Planning the Launch Campaign

Okay, at this point you have a bunch of people that are your active and enthusiast followers, and you have a product (in our case an educational program consisting of screencasts and live webinars) you'd like to sell.

The next thing you have to do is to plan the launch, and figure out how you can persuade your prospects that the stuff you provide is..

  • a quality product
  • which has a reasonable price,
  • that will help them to move forward with their carrier.

To nail this step, we decided to create an elaborate launch sequence which consists of 3 pre-recorded Node.js Lessons. We decided that's the best way we persuade our fans to buy from us is to show the quality of the lessons we sell and make them wait for the next ones.

To achieve this result, we planned out an e-mail campaign which consisted a ..

  • welcome email (to let everyone know our intentions and allow ppl to unsubscribe if they are not interested)
  • 3 emails with the free, pre-recorded video lessons (so they see we provide value, and to build authority for our Node preachers)
  • an email about the beginning of the open-cart period (more on this later)
  • a bunch of emails during the open-cart period (including deadlines, frequently asked questions, and a lot of persuasion)

Okay, at this point we had our market, our product, and we planned our launch - so far with zero development, by only using surveys and our imagination.

The next step was to plan the open-card period! Let's move on..

STEP #4: Planning the Open Card Period

So, during the years I learned sales and marketing I did a bunch of product launches, and there was one element that I could outline that highly correlated with the success of my previous campaigns.

I figured out that using the open-cart method was a key element in selling products.

Why? Because adding scarcity to the launch process incentivises our prospect to buy.

If you tell someone that they have only a short amount of time to buy at a discounted price, they'll consider your offer.

If you let people to make a decision for an indefinite amount of time, you'll end up with your prospects..

  • forgetting about your offer
  • spending their money to your competitors
  • procrastinate 'till the end of time,

and so on.

Node.js Sales with open-Card Period

See this pic? Guess the date when the open-cart period ended.

For an effective open-cart period you have to..

  • set up time scarcity
  • create a great, discounted offer
  • and promise to raise the price after the deadline.

If you check these things out and set up a deadline for your offer, people will certainly buy more from you.

This method proved itself this time too. We actually made double as many sales as we targeted. The Conversion Rate was over 6%.

STEP #5 : Preparing EVERYTHING for the Launch

In our case, everything is all-caps because it's crucial. If you forget something, your whole campaign (or in the worst case, your whole business) can fail.

We had to make sure that we have..

  • all the pre-launch videos recorded, cut, branded and uploaded
  • all of the landing pages in place
  • a working payment system and check out process
  • all email campaigns set up and tested

This is hard work, you can't be lazy here. Since I know it's hard to get everything right, I laid down a few tips I learned this time. Here they come..

Pro-Tips for Preparing a Sales Campaign:

  • Start the implementation with the payment gateway. Why? You don’t want to screw up when you already implemented the 90% of the hard work, right? Always start with the trickiest part first.
  • The 4 most important components of a landing page: guarantee, scarcity, feedback and testimonial. Make sure you have all of them.
  • Survey early-adopters right after their purchase and ask their permission to use their testimonials. This will boost your sales.
  • If you’re selling digital products like screencasts, make sure you include: content outline of the upcoming product, so they know their investment's worth it.
  • Prepare all the legal terms required, including guarantee.
  • Additionally, if you have other products, just like we have with RisingStack, include a coupon for it.

STEP #6 : Do the Launch

By this point, you have almost everything ready.

You might have noticed that the reason I use "almost" is that we didn't create the actual product (the actual educational screencasts) so far, only the elements of the campaign.

Why? Because we wanted to create the actual product only in case we already have the buyers - or in other words, the money to create it.

If we didn't get enough (or any) sales, we would have just told our buyers that

"We're sorry, this isn't happening, we're sending your money back immediately!"

Fortunately, this is not what happened.

We did the launch and it was a great success. We got a bunch of testimonials, and a lot of buyers who already paid for our product.

Keep in mind that..

  • You should survey non-buyers as well. You can learn a lot from it. Ask them “why didn’t you buy?” and list the alternative answers. They will help you sell more next time.
  • After someone buys your product, you should reach out to her/him and be super-specific about what you'll deliver and when.
  • You should mention your other products as well. For example, at RisingStack we work on a SaaS tool called Trace. Our goal was not only to teach people Node, but to help them get started with Trace as well. We actually integrated the educational screencasts with Trace, so we can have more users.

Since we promised a month to deliver the screencasts (our product), we already had the money to actually record and send them.

Let's see what we did:

STEP #7 : Creating and Delivering what you Already Sold

So, we already had a lot of people paying for the product, so the last thing we had to do was to deliver it.

There's no real magic here. If you did the previous steps properly you already know..

  • What you should deliver
  • When should you deliver it
  • How should you deliver it

In our case, we had to record a bunch of screencast videos, cut them, and send them to our buyers. We also promised live webinars, so we planned out those as well.

How To Maintain Your Product and Keep Selling It

There's one more thing you should definitely do after a launch like this. If you have a successful product, and a steady flow of new email subscribers or website visitors, you can make the whole process evergreen.

After we had finished the open-cart period, we decided to keep the product alive, and earn money automatically, with practically zero input.

See that banner on the left? People click on it, check the landing and decide they want the product - even without a discount or a deadline. It's just that valuable.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You need a good reputation. If you built a company on providing value like we did at RisingStack, people will trust you and buy from you, even without heavy indoctrination.
  • You need a steady inflow of new readers and email subscribers. You'll also need a good opt-in system on your blog, and great call-to-actions to send traffic to your landing pages.

Okay, this is how we did it. Let's see what we gained from this campaign..

Results:

  • A 6% conversion rate.
  • We provided value to everyone in the Node Community with the marketing itself: Our pre-launch educational videos were available for everyone. They are on YouTube, and have around 10K views overall. We also popularized them on our Node.js blog. It was useful for everyone, not just the ones who decided to buy later.
  • We pre-validated the product content so we couldn't really fail. The method we used is bullet-proof and requires little to none guesswork. We used surveys during the entire process to make sure we sell what our community wants – and not what we think they want.
  • We received so many feedbacks from our fans that we had a new product outlined in front of us for at least a half year. That's not bad at all. If we'd like to start a new Node.js themed screencast, we could do it right now with the info we gathered.

Tools we used and Guides to Learn from:

At the beginning of the article, I promised that I'll give you the tools and methods we used. We already checked out the most important steps, and the general overview of the bootstrapping process, so it's time to deliver the rest.

The 5+1 tools you need to validate your product or business idea before you waste time and money creating it:

  1. Drip
  2. Leadpages
  3. Typeform
  4. GetDPD
  5. Stripe
    +1. Pro tip: use Zapier to connect Typeform surveys with Drip.

Recommended Strategies and Methods you need to validate your product or business idea:

  1. Moving to Drip from Mailchimp
  2. Leadpages Launch Template and Free Course
  3. Leadpages Email List Building Course
  4. Drip Evergreen Workflow

2 short videos I also recommend:

  1. VOTA by Strategic Coach
  2. The Dan Sullivan Question

Books I recommend to read if you’re just starting out:

  1. The Ask Book
  2. Launch book by Jeff Walker
  3. The Lean Startup book by Eric Ries

A Huge Thank You for all the Node Heroes

Many thanks for the Node Hero Community for taking part of this process and all the patience. We’re really proud of our screencast - but we're even more proud of the vibrant community we built along the way.

This is our way, this is how we accomplish our mission: we move the entire World to Node together.

Stay amazing Node Hero,
Zoltan