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Launch a SaaS Product on New Year’s Day

by Matt Giovanisci | Last Updated: January 15, 2019 | Subscribe to get emails

This project is marked: running

We're currently in the middle of performing this challenge. There's a lot going on. Feel free to take a gander.

If this is your first time here, I recommend reading the about page. You should also check out the last two software-based challenges here and here.

A year before this challenge, I launched a premium WordPress plugin in 40 days. It was an affiliate link manager called Earnist. That was in November 2017.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my friend (and former business partner) Andrew Fiebert was working on a similar plugin called Lasso.

We teamed up again in July 2018 to co-host each other’s podcasts. But he didn’t want Lasso to compete with Earnist. This threw me back a bit. He asked if I would shut down Earnist and join him on Lasso. That felt like a blow to my ego.

Until I saw Lasso.

“Holy fucking shit,” I said. He walked me through what he had built and I was floored. It was everything I wanted Earnist to be and more. He had nailed it and I couldn’t refuse the offer.

So we agreed to merge the projects together and started a separate company called Lasso Analytics, Inc. I will be a 30% owner.

Lasso is a bigger plugin than Earnist. In fact, the plugin is only one piece of the overall software. Hence the reason we’re viewing this as a SAAS product. That and its monthly recurring revenue model.

Andrew invested in developers to help build it. But it has taken him a year and still hasn’t launched. Why?

Well, when you don’t have a scope or launch plan, you end up adding more features to the product. This is called “feature creep.” And Lasso is a feature-rich plugin. But none of the pieces are fully finished.

Now that I’m helping, I’m forcing us to launch on a deadline. It’s what we do here at Money Lab.

The Challenge

To fucking launch the goddamned product already! 

To do that, we’re putting a lot of the nice-to-have features on hold while we focus on the ones that matter. We KNOW what matters because we use the product ourselves. It does all the same things as Earnist plus a lot more.

Currently, the plugin works very similar to Earnist. You can…

  • add and manage custom affiliate links in one dashboard. You can also search and add Amazon affiliate products without leaving the plugin.
  • publish your affiliate links in beautiful display boxes in posts and pages (like this). And Amazon products can include real-time prices that automatically update every 24 hours.
  • add custom hover-over disclaimers to your affiliate links (like this).
  • cloak your affiliate links just like you can with Pretty Links and other plugins like it. For example, you can turn:

But Lasso is Earnist on steroids! So it’ll also…

  • automatically scan your site and collect all your links in one dashboard. And you can instantly monetize any link on your website with a click of a button.
  • offer suggestions for monetizing your website and make sure every affiliate link on your site is working and optimized for making money.
  • track all your affiliate link click data in Google Analytics.
  • import links from other plugins like Earnist or Pretty Links, so you don’t have to add those links all over again.

I re-read a book called Getting Real by the Basecamp guys. I pulled some quotes that I shared with Andrew on a recent call. We both agreed and laid out an aggressive launch plan based on these principles:

  • “Build software for yourself.”
  • “Constraints force creativity and also force you to get your idea out in the wild sooner rather than later.”
  • “Launch on time and on budget. Never throw more time or money at a problem, just scale back the scope.”
  • “It’s better to make half a product than a half-assed product.”

What We’re Starting With

For starters, we already have the name of the plugin and the overall branding. Andrew and his wife Laura did that a while back. And I didn’t really change much. I just cleaned up the logo design and pick a palette of brand colors.

Lasso Colors Adobe Illustrator

I’ve been using Adobe XD to design every page of the plugin. This is my first time using XD and I fucking love it!

It has saved us a lot of time by planning out EXACTLY what version 1.0 will be without coding.

Lasso Adobe XD

As I said, Andrew and his small team of developers have been working on this project for a year. And while a lot of BIG features were added, the core plugin still needed refining.

But that means there’s a lot of great code already in place. All we have to do is clean it up and put a fresh coat of paint on it.

That’s where I come in 😉.

If that all sounds cool, let me show you the designed pages of Lasso. Check out this video walkthrough of my Abode XD design files.

If you’re interested in switching from Earnist to Lasso, email me and I’ll send you a special link.

The Launch Plan

We created this plan in Asana. Andrew and his team will be coding while I build all the marketing materials.

1. Build The Landing Page, Waitlist, and Email Templates

I’m in charge of all things WordPress with this project. GetLasso.co (the marketing side) is hosted with WPEngine. But once you log in, pay, or do any web-app-related things, that’s Andrew’s department. It’s coded with Python and hosted on Heroku.

We’re building a simple landing page to let anyone join our “waiting list.” If you’re interested in getting fast access to Lasso, you can visit https://getlasso.co/ right now!

Once you join the list, it’ll display your position in line. You’ll have a special link that you can share with your other affiliate marketing friends. If anyone joins through your link, you get bumped up the list.

You know? Standard growth hacking shit for SAAS companies. #gerthhacking

Also, we’re keeping Lasso exclusive. We don’t millions of customers flooding in. Yes, millions! That’s a realistic expectation [he types with zero sarcasm].

We want to make sure we’re taking care of every customer. I want to personally talk to everyone using it. These are some more principles from Getting Real:

  • “Start dropping hints. Let people know what you’re working on. Post a logo. Post to your blog about the development. Stay vague but plant the seed.” Hey, we’re doing that right now but with more detail! So meta.
  • “A few weeks ahead of launch, start previewing features. Give people behind-the-scenes access. Describe the theme of the product.” Oh shit! Doing that too! Did I even need to read this book?
  • “Encourage people to sign up so you’ve got a foundation of emails to blitz once you launch.” Please join the waitlist for Lasso! There, did it.
  • “Test your app via real-world usage. There’s no substitute for real people using your app in real ways. Get real data. Get real feedback. Then improve based on that info.” No commentary needed.

We’re doing all the marketing emails through a free MailChimp account. That part is simple. However, I want to make “every letter matter.” Another principle from the book.

So I’m paying very close attention to the copy. On everything. The plugin, the sales pages, the emails. EVERYTHING!

Copywriting is interface design. Great interfaces are written. If you think every pixel, every icon, every typeface matters, then you also need to believe every letter matters. When you’re writing your interface, always put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s reading your interface. What do they need to know? How you can explain it succinctly and clearly? Do you label a button Submit or Save or Update or New or Create? That’s copywriting.”

2. Finish Coding and Designing the Plugin

I designed the plugin in Adobe XD. This took a couple tries. Andrew and I had a lot of conversations about the user interface and experience and finally landed on something.

You can watch the video above to see the entire XD layout. But here are some screenshots in case you don’t like watching my beautifully edited and award-winning YouTube videos 😉.

Lasso Content Screen
The main report in Lasso that shows all your content and all the links within each page and post.
Lasso URL Details
Editing a Lasso URL (an affiliate link)

3. Build The Payment and Settings Pages

We’re going bare bones here. We don’t need these pages to be fancy yet. They just need to work.

That said, I mocked them up in Adobe XD in a very simple format and it’s on Andrew’s list to complete while the plugin is being coded.

Lasso Customer Settings Page
Lasso Customer Settings Page

4. Test Like a Motherfucker!

Like any good software company, we’re using GIT. And as branches are merged into Master, I’ll be in charge of downloading the zip folder and testing the plugin.

I have staging platforms for all my current websites plus Listen Money Matters (Andrew’s site). We’ll have a pretty good idea if things are working or not.

We’re trying to scratch our own itch here. So if it doesn’t work for us, it’s not going to work at all.

5. Design and Build The Sales Page

Once I get my hands on some usable software, I’ll make a sales video.

My plan is to keep the sales page very simple and focus on the video. I want people to see it in action on a real site so they understand how it would be valuable to them. Like a giant case study.

I personally think video case studies are the way to go. Plus some really funny and engaging sales copy.

6. The Pillowy Soft Launch

Hopefully, if all goes well, we’ll be letting a few real users get their hands dirty with the plugin. These will be paying customers out of the gate. The software needs to start paying for itself ASAP.

Plus, this will give us insight into how people are actually using it. That way, we can improve features and fix bugs quickly. Then, we can let more people in from the waitlist.

If you have any questions about this challenge or Lasso, please email me. I want to chat.

December 1st, 2018: The WaitList

Andrew had a quickly thrown-together landing page up for a while. But I destroyed it and built it from the ground up. Sorry, Andrew. He didn’t care.

My goal with this sprint is to design well but simple. Most of the time was spent on the words. And this was my first time designing a web page in Adobe XD before coding. Usually, I just code and futz with it then.

Lasso Landing Page

With that, I also created an image that’ll appear when waitlist members share the page. It’s a little different.

Lasso Social Share

Then, it was Andrew’s job to code the entire waitlist procedure. When you click the “Join the Waiting List” button, it takes you to a page to create an account. You can enter an email and password or just use Google.

Once you’re on the list, you’ll be given a position number and special share link. You can log in any time to check your position or re-share your link.

Lasso Waitlist Position

We wanted all this done before our next Money Lab podcast episode. We made it a point to mention the GetLasso.co domain in the episode to hold us accountable to getting this done.

It worked!

Designing and Writing Email Templates

We also needed some automated emails to send people who join the waitlist and forget their password. So I coded and wrote them in MailChimp. Andrew will grab the HTML/CSS code from these emails to use in Intercom. That’s the software we’ll be using for in-app automated emails.

All marketing emails will be sent through MailChimp either by me or automated.

Here’s an example of an email you’ll get when you join the waitlist.

Lasso Waitlist Email

However, my favorite email is the one you’ll get to verify your email address.

Lasso Email Verify

December 6th, 2018: Working on the Plugin User Interface Design

Andrew is hard at work with his small team of developers trying to work my designs into their code. The functionality of the plugin is complete. All that needs to happen is making the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) match what I’ve laid out in Adobe XD (and the video above).

That’s great news! And I already knew that. I made sure to design around what I knew was already possible with the plugin. My goal was just for it all to make sense when a real user tries it out for the first time.

So Andrew and I recorded a video showcasing all the work that has been done in the last week. What’s really crazy is that you can see the plugin is already close to being finished from a UI perspective only a few days into our challenge. That’s great progress!

December 18th, 2018: Crushing Code, The Pricing Model, and Shipping

For the last few weeks, Andrew and his team have been committing and pushing the shit out of code to GitHub. I’ve been following along via email. I get lots of email updates every day.

They ‘re trying to get the first version of the plugin done before December 23rd. That way, we can spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s testing the shit out of it on our own sites.

I just got back from a week-long trip to the east coast for the holidays. I had a chance to drive to Hoboken from Philly to visit Andrew.

Listen Money Matters Meetup: December 13th, 2018 @ The Winslow, NYC.

We had a Listen Money Matters meetup at a Gin bar in NYC. Then, Andrew and I spent the next day having hungover business chats about how we’re going to market Lasso.

The biggest thing we talked about is how high-end Lasso is. It’s for serious affiliate marketers who are making good money with their site(s) and want to really scale up their revenue.

While we plan to try a more traditional marketing strategy of creating a blog, we’re going to focus more on the product itself. We believe the key to growth is getting our users to love it so much, that they jump at the chance to tell all their affiliate marketing friends.

So good ol’ fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. It should be an interesting challenge to make that happen. But I think the move is incredible customer service and just taking care of our people. Plus, building an amazingly easy-to-use and fun-to-work-with product.

The Pricing Model

Lasso will be $49 a month. The plugin connects with our cloud server. This is a similar business model to advanced image compression plugins such as Imagify and EWWW.

The price makes it for serious affiliate marketers. A site like Swim University (or even Brew Cabin) would happily pay for this service since those sites bring in more than $100/mo from affililate commissions.

We asked ourselves if we would pay $49/mo for a product like Lasso. Honestly, I would pay a hell of a lot more. This is how I make a god damn living!

Even a new site like Brew Cabin brings in $800 a month from the Amazon Associates program. So $49/mo is chump change if the software will literally make me even more money when I install it.

Lasso’s mission is to monetize underperforming sites. We believe all sites can be monetized more efficiently. And our goal is to get Lasso to cover its own cost in the first week of using it.

This is why consistently talking to our customers is crucial. 

The Nerdy Code Stuff

The following section was adapted and edited from an email by Andrew to me. Just late night nerdy musings.

Visually, a lot of the work is already done on the plugin. We only need a few days of work to get the remaining 90% done. Most of the time has been spent on features between now and launch. The guts.

I spent the vast majority of today working on a top-level database query for the link suggestions report. I’ve thought about it for days. I’m refining it a bit more tonight to make it faster.

Essentially it takes your entire dataset of links and finds fresh suggestions every time the page loads, for every affiliate, on the fly. This will ensure that the data you see is ALWAYS correct. But it’s been a bit of a challenge to make it fast.

The Content and Monetize reports are 90%+ done. I’m finding little things to fix/improve as I work forward. But for the most part, they’re what we’re going to launch with.

One of our developers is working on the licensing and plugin download/update service. Basically, every time we deploy a release in Github, we have a Lambda function that detects it and immediately creates new files so we can update all of our installs.

He’s extending it using most of the same code so we can also generate unique plugin download links per user. This will make it super easy to automate the entire deployment process and cover one of the last remaining pieces of the settings page.

Another one of our developers is getting our shortcode display finalized from a UI/functionality perspective. Once that’s done we’ll be porting the modal over for use with the monetize toggle.

What Does This All Mean For Launch?

According to Andrew, he doesn’t think they will have all the peices in place to launch on January 1st. Which is a bummer. But after building software three times, it seems to be the norm.

The biggest reason for the hold up is the time of year. It’s the holiday season, and both Andrew and the developers will be taking days off to spend with family. And we need time to test the plugin ourselves.

Andrew says, “no code gets shipped until I review it so there’s plenty of bottlenecks to go around.” Hopefully, testing will go smooth and quick to get this thing out the door in early January.

However, he thinks we can get at least one customer using the plugin in early January. So it’s not a major delay.

The First Batch of Users

I want to work closely with a few paying customers right out of the gate. We’re only letting a few people in at a time off our waiting list.

If you’re near the top of our waiting list and ready to start paying for Lasso, we’ll be in touch soon. Also, email me if you have any questions about the software I haven’t answered in this post yet.

January 1st 2019: The Hold-up

Andrew has been working his ass off trying to get this software out the door. But as with all of my coding challenges so far, something came up.

Needless to say, this challenge was not met with success. We were not able to launch on New Years Day. But we’re close.

I met with Andrew in person on December 13th. He told me that there was an issue with how the Suggestions worked in the plugin. The problem was suggestions were being reset if anything changed to a post or page.

We had no way of tracking the links across the site properly. We brainstormed some solutions. Finally we decided to build a script that would add a unique ID to every link on a website so Lasso could track and keep suggestions from being made for the same link over and over again.

It’s hard to explain, but it meant that we had a to perform addtional coding to solve the problem for the core software. This also meant pushing back the deadline.

On top of that, we still haven’t been able to test the software on our own sites. This is super important. We don’t want to release a product we haven’t even tried ourselves.

Our goal is the make the software damn near perfect. But that’ll take a lot of testing. The good news is we should start testing in the next week. And we’ll be filming a video to showcase the working plugin on one of our sites. Should be pretty exciting.

Here’s an email update I got from Andrew on the night of January 1st:

Purchasing, credit card updates, coupon codes, license key generation, and the plugin download are complete. The only work that remains is in the plugin. I’ll be testing Lasso on my own website this Friday!

Just because we didn’t launch on NYD, doesn’t mean this challenge failed. The fact that we’ll be shipping soon is an achievement. I’m not trying to spin anything here. Doing the challenge forced Andrew and his team to finish the software. And that makes this all worth it.

Challenge still accepted and going strong! Stay tuned for more updates.

Happy New Year!

January 15th: So Fucking Close

There are so many little things that need to happen before we can onboard the first user. Like…

  • how the plugin would be updated.
  • how to track where links appear across the site.
  • how to integrate with Gutenberg.
  • credit card payments and renewals.
  • improving speed.
  • etc.

As things are coded, new issues arise. And this is something that bugs the shit out of me. This is my third software project and it always goes the same way.

Jason Zook warned me about this when we were building Spruce. He said, “software is always like this. It’s always slow.” And I still don’t want to believe that. But alas, here we are.

Andrew and I want to make it great right out of the gate. Why? First impressions are crucial! It should be shockingly awesome, not mediocrely okay.

The Good News

Andrew and I spoke over Skype yesterday about Lasso. We’re testing out the plugin on our own sites this week!

That means, by January 22nd, 2019 (the following week), we’ll be ready to onboard our first customer(s). 

Hopefully.

Before we open the floodgates to the 139 people who signed up for the waitlist (according to Heap Analytics), we want to whiteglove just two users. This is to make sure that there are ZERO issues before letting more people in.

I’m personally going to hand-hold our first users through the entire process. Making sure that they understand how it works and nothing breaks too badly.

Because things will break; they always do.

My Predictions for Lasso

I believe we will be able to open up sales to the waiting list by early February. And during that entire month, we’ll be fixing bugs and improving the UI according to customer feedback.

I’ll probably spend a ton of time Skyping with customers and collecting this feedback. Which I don’t mind at all. Plus, I’ll be using the software too and providing my own insights.

During this time, I’ll also be creating the Knowledge Base. We’re planning to use Intercom to manage customer convos and our support articles. My goal is to write support articles as questions arise and answer them by sending a link to an article.

This should help us scale customer service more effectively.

By March, we should be implementing new features while keeping an eye on “feature creep.” We want the core software to work beautifully while giving flexibility to our users and ourselves.

Our goal is to have 123 paying customers by November 2019. And I think a majority of those customers will be a result of our intinal customers spreading the good word.

This is why again, IT’S FUCKING CRUCIAL for the software to be “a banger” right out of the gate.

Or in the words, “spark joy!”

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