Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! My name is Alex, I'm a 26 years old developer from Ukraine, owner of the Export Ninja.
A couple of years ago I got lucky to find a couple of services for media export from Instagram, I was really lazy about using inspector tools to grab media that I used those regardless of how ugly they were. As an entrepreneur, I was curious about how many like me were using them. To my surprise, those guys had up to 2M visits back then, that was a light bulb moment. That day I purchased a domain name and we’ve started developing a service with my friends.
Since then we’ve grown to a $12,000 per month startup with multiple products for digital marketing agencies and lead generation from Instagram.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
It’s been a long journey before I actually jumped into the world of products. I’ve been working as an Android developer for 7 years in banks, startups and grown products. I also did freelance for a couple of years as a part-timer. I partnered with a mate and we’ve started a freelance agency for Frontend and AWS development and worked on products in parallel, it’s been tough, yet was worth it for sure.
To build successful stuff you gotta have general intelligence, grow it every day.
How did I come up with an idea? The idea is as old as an ability to save something from a webpage to a pc, it’s not mine or I came up with it. It’s just solutions that were on the internet were not satisfying and I knew how to make it better. The only question was how to make it profitable and if there’s a market there and it was.
By the time we’ve started developing Export Ninja, I already spent a couple of years learning server-side development and DevOps. I also had a basic knowledge of web and mobile design, so the start was a breath. I made a couple of mockups, spun up a server and we’ve started developing. It took us 2 weeks to hit production.
We’ve attached Google Analytics and started searching for organic leads on the internet, posted on Quora and Reddit and first users started to appear. It was very satisfying.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We’ve started as a media export platform and later migrated to the data export as long as we haven’t found a way to monetize media export. The idea for Export Ninja was very simple, we provide you leads from Instagram with emails and phone numbers, so you can run very targeted marketing campaigns.
Our main design goals were to make:
- Customer can run first export with a mouse in 3 clicks
- There’s only one scenario with only 1 button on the main page
- Little to no authorization flow
- Customer can run exports for free to see how it works
- The pricing model is fair, clear and predictable
- Languages and mobile-friendly
We’ve kept our minimalistic approach to this day and our customers love it. Simple is hard.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It took us two weeks to build an MVP, when we launched it we were aiming at 3 marketing strategies:
- Paid search traffic
- Paid blog posts
- Provide leads from other Instagram related products we’ve had
In the first month, we’ve already hit solid results due to a growing demand for targeted marketing data. We have a very targeted service that solves a very narrow problem and it lets us properly market it.
We’ve attached PayPal checkout and Paddle for credit card payments, which helped us to not lose people on the payment flow funnel.
Those two above were the biggest “aha” moments. When you have a product that you can describe in a few words - you can market it. When you have a payment system that doesn’t fail - you don’t lose customers. And you also gotta have a feedback channel with multiple sources, let customers talk to you.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As of today, we have 2 main sources of lead generation. Those are bought text search ads and guest blogging. We’ve tried a huge amount of different sources and strategies and those two proved to be the best for our particular product.
What didn’t work for us:
- Product Hunt. We’ve learned a lesson “Producthunt is for product hunters”. Our service does not comply with what product hunters are looking for.
- Instagram direct messages. As long as your messages are hidden when you send those - barely anybody can see them.
- Email marketing (we didn’t have the expertise and plan to try it again)
- Facebook ads. We’ve given it a shot, yet it worked way worse than we expected. Maybe just due to a lack of expertise.
- Direct communications with a set of SMM and digital agencies. We didn’t know how to market our product for them. We now have a better understanding and we’ll try it one more time
- Partnerships and referral systems. Many tried and many failed. People did show interest but apparently were not able to properly market our service and get the referral bonuses
- LinkedIn. We tried direct messaging and it failed. Yet we will try linked ads in a couple of weeks, we have a better product for it now.
We don’t track user retention and similar metrics due to our product specifics, yet we spend a lot of time in discussions and meetings with customers to make our product better and more suitable for them.
One little thing I would mention is if there’s a pain point in the customer journey and you can’t find a way to fix it within your current product model, maybe it is a good time to make another similar product which will fit the needs of this particular audience chunk. Think about it. We did and now we have several products and they’re all successful and have their own audiences.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we’re definitely profitable and growing. I expect us to grow 10 times during next year and we’ll do whatever is needed for that.
Here’s a breakdown of our paid customers by countries:
And transactions made:
And traffic itself:
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned to think about the customer first. I’ve also made a difficult transition from a full-time developer to a manager and product manager in particular. I’ve had to migrate from “implementation think” to sort of “creative thinking”. Now there’s no time to sit and think through architectural stuff, especially at the early stages of the product. You gotta do and deliver things.
No time to touch on new things, just utilizing the skills you’ve had before. And marketing. If you don’t have to pay customers - there’s no way to exist on a product market (if you don’t have an investor of course. We don’t). For me being a product manager is to solve day to day puzzles and all of those are constantly new and very specific. So there’s no way you get a tutorial or StackOverflow answer, this is a different process.
This is what makes our product stand out and iterate fast. We think from every angle, from a customer perspective and we’re partially customer-driven. From a high-end developer perspective, we don’t spend time on stuff that’s not worth it, we usually skip a lot. From the UI and UX standpoint, that’s why it’s so easy to use us. And from a business standpoint, at the end of the day - revenue is the only KPI that lets us exist on the market.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Payments: Paddle and PayPal. Consider migrating to Stripe
- Management: MacOs TextEditor and Notes, Trello
- Communications with the team: Telegram, Whereby (appear.in previously), Spark
- Code related: Bitbucket, IntelliJ, VSCode, Hyper, Insomnia, Table Tool
- Dev Ops: Digital Ocean for VPS and networking, GoDaddy for domains, Dokku, Docker, Nginx
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
None of those. Great team and product we build inspire me more than anything else. I was reading and watching a lot.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The first and foremost lesson is getting to a first paid customer as fast as possible. You have to think about them first. You can spend months developing and tuning stuff, but paid customers are the only thing that matters.
The rest is pretty simple. To build successful stuff you gotta have general intelligence, grow it every day. Make assumptions, test them, remove what’s not working. And what most people forget - revisit assumptions.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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