Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
My name is Justin Anyanwu. I came to the US from Nigeria in 1998. I’m now a citizen, and every day, I thank my mother for bringing me here. I love this country.
I started Innovative Bit (Company name under which Lazy Jar was created) in October of 2016, and our flagship product is Lazy Jar, a fitness app that charges users any week they fail to work out adequately.
It was started in October of 2017 as a proof of concept. We re-launched the app this year in March, today we’re averaging $250 a month from the app.
What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
Ever since I was young, I always loved creating things. My first passion as a kid was being a farmer. I loved the idea of planting seeds and watching them grow into something more valuable than the seeds they came from.
My passion changed from farming to electronics when I observed my uncle fixing televisions. The mystique of electronics had me wanting to understand them, so I took a particular interest in physics and mathematics.
Just do it! Cliche, but very true. The worst thing that can happen isn’t failing. It’s not knowing what could be.
My passion for electronics suddenly evolved into an interest in computers after I came to the United States. So I ended up studying computer engineering and electrical engineering in college. Interestingly enough, my passion for entrepreneurship hit me near the end of my college tenure. It was then I had my first foray into entrepreneurship. I built a marketplace for college students with a friend. It would allow students to bypass the greedy bookstores and sell their textbooks to each other for a much better bargain.
My passion for entrepreneurship hadn’t waned since even though I now had a 9-5 job. I started my first official business with my two brothers. It is an anime clothing brand based on original artwork. The brand is called Boomslank. It took us eight years, but we managed to grow it to $230k in annual gross revenue for 2018.
Still, my passion for entrepreneurship raged on unsatisfied. Somewhere along the lines, I took a particular interest in business models that maximized profit margins, and I decided a software company would be the best business model that met this criterion.
Leveraging my minimal experience in writing code, I decided to create Innovative Bit Inc to offer software solutions to niche groups. Our first product was called Eventloot (which ended in a spectacular failure).
While working on Eventloot, I noticed I was starting to gain weight. This was due to the fact that I had been neglecting my health. I was no longer working out as often as I used to. I always had an excuse that spared me a trip to the gym. It was the day that I had noticed a picture of myself looking a little chubby in the face that I decided that something had to give. At the time, I had a membership to a kickboxing gym. It was an excellent gym, but I rarely went. And despite the fact that I was paying whether I went or not, I still rarely went to it. So I decided my problem was one of discipline and a lack of consistent effort. It was at that point I started mulling over the idea of an app that could hold me accountable for my commitment to exercise.
This app would have to penalize me any week I didn’t put in quantifiable effort in exercising. This effort would be measured in terms of miles, calories, steps, and minutes of activity. Seeing that everyone has different abilities, I allowed users to set their own weekly goals. These weekly goals are tracked via the Fitbit or the Apple Watch. The main reason for doing it this way was to make it easier on the user. All the user has to do is make sure their wearables are synced with either Fitbit’s Web app or Health Kit for the Apple watch.
When setting up their Lazy Jar account, the user will be asked to define how long they’d like to commit to doing their best to meeting their weekly goals. They’d also be asked to define how much they’d like to be penalized when they fail. So every Monday, users are audited on their performance for the previous week. If they didn’t make it, they ended up paying the amount they defined. If they made it they got the satisfaction of knowing that they stuck to their goals and that they’re building some discipline and consistency. Two things that are key in seeing results.
As far as validating the idea, I didn’t. At the time, I simply wanted something that would solve a personal problem. And it worked quite well for me. And it was later I decided that people might also want something like this. So I launched the app on Product Hunt to a fair amount of fanfare. I was approached by a writer for PSFK to do a small feature on their site. So that was kinda motivating.
Building Lazy Jar was done by hiring freelancers on Fiverr. All expenses for its development were done out of pocket. Since I lacked startup capital, I had to get creative with obtaining users. I’d email as many writers as possible about the app and would welcome invitations to talk on Podcasts. I did run a $50 Facebook ad campaign, but it was nowhere nearly as fruitful as the free creative ideas that I described earlier.
I don’t intend to spend money on ads anymore until I can confidently judge there is a significant ROI to be gained from it. So my current strategy is to rely on creative tactics that generate word of mouth and a little bit of buzz on the internet.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The design process for the initial prototype (version 1.0) and the current app (version 2.0) was basically the same.
Granted, I learned a lot from building the initial prototype; like questions to ask a developer before you hire them. It helped that I already had a technical background so I could ask really precise questions that guaranteed that the app wasn’t going to be a subpar nightmare.
I’ll give you an example - I once interviewed a developer that was going to store credit card information on the phone’s internal database. Just the idea gave me hives. The right answer would have been using a third party credit card processor like Stripe to handle all that sensitive heavy lifting. Obviously didn’t hire that person.
To get my vision of the app from my head into the real world, I followed a couple of simple steps. The first thing I did was to draw all the screens on paper first. Then I fleshed them out on a wireframing app called Balsamiq. This allowed me to create something I could send to a UI designer.
Once I have the wireframes I go browsing for UI designers on Fiverr. Once I find a designer I like, I negotiate a price and hire them to do the UI for me. Once the UI is done, I find a developer with experience developing mobile apps using React Native.
This is another lesson I learned from getting the initial prototype done. I stress React Native because it allows developers to write once for both Android and iOS. It’s just more expensive to pay twice for the same work on different platforms.
The total cost to develop both the prototype and the second version of the app was $20k. Everything was paid with high limit credit cards (RIP to my credit score). We still have roughly $2.6k to pay off, and we should be looking at a positive year soon :).
Of course, this wasn’t a smooth process, when hiring a freelancer, especially one from another country you have to deal with the fact that it will always take twice as long as scheduled. And the experience will leave you banging your head against a concrete wall sometimes. But you have to grit your teeth and recognize that this is the cost of saving money by outsourcing to an overseas developer.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Before launch, I had been a member of Product Hunt, and I had just obtained my hunter’s license on Product Hunt. So naturally, I used that new found privilege to hunt Lazy Jar on Product Hunt.
Launching on Product Hunt was just half of it. To encourage people to sign up, we needed a compelling way to communicate the premise of the app. So we paid $3k for a short animation explaining the premise of the app. I genuinely believe it was instrumental in our marginally positive reception on Product Hunt.
Getting featured on ProductHunt allowed us to get noticed by a writer for PSFK who ended up doing a short write up about us. Shortly after that, we got featured on Blavity, TechCrunch, LifeHacker and Black Enterprise.
The funny thing about getting featured on these sites is the cascading effect it tends to create. After getting featured, we were featured on the Side Hustle School podcast, and shortly after that another podcast about fitness. We even got a tweet from the CEO of Sprint now CEO of Softbank.
Sadly I didn’t fully take advantage of that momentum, cause I suddenly realized our first version of the app wasn’t a complete representation of my vision. So I decided to stop trying to get the word out.
Taking a step back, it was pretty awesome that about a year ago from the time of launch, Lazy Jar was merely an idea born out of frustration with my lack of fitness commitment. It made me realize that almost nothing is impossible. As long as you are willing to take the leap and take it one day at a time, it was just a matter of time until your vision became a reality.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The most effective thing that got us users was getting featured on popular sites like TechCrunch, LifeHacker, and Fast Company.
At the height of version 1.0, we had 500 active users. That number didn’t grow because we didn’t want it to. We decided that we needed to get version 2.0 out and ready quickly. Version 1.0 was more like a proof of concept. We needed to prove out the idea that people were willing to pay whenever they didn’t work out. I mean, the idea was a bit tough to swallow for some. Especially once they found out that we would be keeping the money. Upon seeing that people were quite ok with it and that they understood that the accountability and innovation that Lazy Jar offered was a service worth paying for, we decided to build a new version that could support other devices other than the Fitbit.
At the center of great customer service is empathy. Being able to feel the user’s frustration allows you to appreciate their pain and prioritize, helping them find satisfaction. You are pretty much setting the groundwork for loyal users that might even become evangelists for your product.
What also made version 1.0 a little tough to sell was that we required a $30 security deposit. This security deposit was to discourage users from suddenly quitting when the going got tough. So basically if a user quit before their commitment ended, we’d keep that $30. However, if they managed to complete their commitment, we refunded them their $30. This $30 upfront deposit proved to be a significant barrier to adoption. So we decided to get rid of it and only deduct that amount only after the user quit before their commitment was over and not before. This obstacle, along with the lack of support for the Apple Watch, discouraged me from marketing version 1.0 any further. I decided that I’d stay my efforts till after version 2.0 was ready.
We just launched version 2.0 two months ago. We are currently in the middle of fixing bugs being discovered by our users. But the plan is to resume reaching out to writers for the major sites and writing blog articles that focus on the benefits of exercising.
I am also learning how to improve our App Store Optimization (ASO) since I noticed a good number of our new users are simply discovering us by searching for specific keywords in the app store. I have found that a gradual organic growth process is cheaper and pound for pound much more effective than pouring advertising cash into Google Ads or Facebook Ads.
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
Version 2.0 of Lazy Jar launched in March, and right now, I am currently fixing bugs discovered by our new users. I expect to get rid of the most critical bugs in about a week. At which point I’ll be focusing on PR.
I plan to reach as many writers as possible and maximize my chances of getting featured on the right sites. My goal is to get enough user mass that will give the app a lot more credibility, just in time for the New Year of 2020. Lazy Jar was pretty much built for people who have a hard time sticking to their New Year’s resolution of getting in shape.
At the moment we’re averaging $60-$70 a week, which rounds up to roughly $250/month. Our major expenses are over, and we have to pay off our credit card balance and focus on user growth.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Another thing I have found that works well for getting and keeping users is great customer service.
An app like ours is quite controversial, so any user that gives it a chance is treated as a precious customer. I go out of my way to make sure that their questions, concerns, and complaints are addressed in a very satisfactory manner.
For instance, we had a user give us a 1-star rating on the app store. I was able to talk to this user and find out what bothered them about the app and was able to resolve the issue in such a manner that they felt compelled to upgrade their review from 1 start to 4 stars. It wasn’t a 5-star review, but it was a sign that excellent customer service is worth its weight in gold.
At the center of great customer service is empathy. Being able to feel the user’s frustration allows you to appreciate their pain and prioritize, helping them find satisfaction. If you can show your users that you are there for them and that they can reach you anytime with concerns they might have, you are pretty much setting the groundwork for loyal users that might even become evangelists for your product.
This newfound knowledge was only something I picked up while trying working with angry users. I quickly found that their demeanor would change once you showed them that you were there to help them no matter what.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
A list of tools that I can’t live out.
Gmail: Gmail has a third party tool called Mail Merge that allows me to write and batch customized emails to writers for PR.
Heroku: An excellent and straightforward app hosting service. Unlike AWS or Azure, the learning curve for Heroku is shallow. You could argue that it might be pricier as a result; however, at only $7/month, it is easily the best hosting service out there for early startups.
Before Heroku, we used Azure, and I hated it with the passion of a thousand suns. It was bloated and needlessly expensive.
SendGrid: Sendgrid is fantastic. It allows our app to send automated emails to our users.
Evernote: I love the convenience of being able to document things I know I’ll be revisiting in the future. And knowing that it doesn’t matter where I am at the moment, I only need access to the internet to review any document I have stashed away. And its search function makes it an absolute pleasure to use.
Photoshop: If I ever need a quick graphic design that even I can handle, Photoshop has always been there to help me out.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Build something remarkable. Lazy Jar is quite controversial, and that’s a good thing. You never want to build something that inspires indifference in people. Seth’s book has taught me that I should focus on creating something worth talking about first and foremost.
Rich Dad Poor Dad convinced me that I was definitely on the right track when I picked up entrepreneurship as a passion. But it also showed me the need to create passive income and avoid depending on only one source of income.
Easily my favorite Podcast. Indie Hackers is not only a podcast but a community of like-minded individuals seeking financial freedom by building a business leveraging technology.
The most significant value I have gained from Indie Hacker is the idea that I don’t need venture capital to build something great.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just do it! Cliche, but very true. The worst thing that can happen isn’t failing. It’s not knowing what could be. You learn so much when you take a chance on your dreams.
You simply can’t go wrong by venturing out on your dreams.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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