Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I’m Ali Salah, a 28 y/o maker from Egypt. I’m the creator of Instatus.
Instatus is a service where you can create a status page. A status page is a place to show your current status and notify your customers about outages. It helps you keep your customers in the loop, and avoid overloading customer support people when your service goes down.
I’m currently making ~2K MRR from it. It’s not huge by US standards, but it’s already higher than my 9-5 job in Egypt. It’s been growing around $200-300/mo. You can always follow my progress on instatus.com/open.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m originally a software developer; I graduated from Computer Engineering at AUC in 2015. Then I worked a normal 9 to 5 job for about 2 years, then quit to start my own thing.
I quit before building anything, which is scary. I don’t recommend doing this until you build something and reach some traction.
Just start. Preferably with simple, fun stuff. It helps you build the courage to launch.
I did it because my circumstances are quite different. The software development market in Egypt has a low ceiling, so I’m not leaving a huge opportunity (like FAANG). Also, it’s not a huge challenge to reach my previous 9-5 salary.
I tried building a couple of products before starting Instatus. Some I wasn’t able to launch, and some were cool but didn’t make any money, like Sipreads.
I chose the idea of Instatus since it seemed like a safer bet.
- It was simple to build an MVP. The most basic form of the status page is just a form where you enter your incident updates, and they’re reflected on your status page.
- Businesses are already paying for similar products, like Atlassian Statuspage, Status.io, etc.
So it seemed like it had zero idea-risk. I knew that if I executed, positioned, and marketed it well, it would eventually make money.
Granted, I had zero background in DevOps, who are the people that use the product inside companies. But with time and feedback from real customers, I started to understand it better and sympathize with customers.
I originally started Instatus with the name of Sup. Got nearly zero customers. My first customer churned. But I slowly got the hang of it. Re-launched on Product Hunt as Instatus with new branding, positioning, and pricing, and it started growing.
Take us through the process of building the MVP.
I spent about 3 months before launching the original version (was named Sup). I originally positioned it for startups, designed it to have a friendly vibe, priced it cheaper than the competition. All were terrible ideas in hindsight.
When Instatus started to seem like a success. I incorporated it as a C corp using Stripe Atlas. It costs a one-time $500. I filed my first tax files myself and recently filed for a trademark(costs $250 at USPTO).
Describe the process of launching the business.
I’ll talk about my second launch since it’s the more successful one (#1 product of the day on PH). Here are my tips:
- Ask a famous hunter to do it for you. I always ask Chris Messina.
I used to hunt my own products, but some of them weren’t featured, so I don’t do it anymore. Not getting featured kills your product launch. A famous hunter guarantees you will get featured.
- Create a cool video. I actually got more comments about the video than the actual product on Twitter.
- Invest time for your PH launch screenshots, GIF, description, and first comment.
- Use the video + retweet giveaway tweet combo. I copied it from Kitze, and it worked really well for me as well.
My biggest learning lesson was to launch simple and fun projects first. If the first thing you’re launching is your life project, it’s really hard to do it. You’ll keep on adding a feature, then another, and you won’t have the guts to do it.
Try smaller things first, and never treat any product as your life’s work. You’re just experimenting with different ideas and seeing what will work.
Even when you find a thing that works for you, there will always be bigger / better ideas out there to try out. So don’t get attached to ideas and don’t take them too seriously.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I learned from Sup, that my paying customers aren’t startups or smaller companies.
Smaller companies don’t have many customers, so downtimes are less critical for them.
They don’t have many people in their teams, so they don’t have time to go to a dashboard to manually write their incidents. They prefer solutions that include automated monitoring.
My paying customers are mostly medium-sized to big companies. I changed the branding to be less friendly and more futuristic/spacey. Changed the domain to feel more legit. It was supstatus.com and now it’s instatus.com.
I also changed the pricing to be more attractive for bigger companies who pay a lot for Statuspage. I have one flat-rate price ($20/mo) This is higher than the lowest tier of most competitors ($10/mo) But it’s a flat rate, so if you’re paying $99 or $399, you can switch to Instatus and still pay $20.
I currently only use Google Ads for marketing. To make sure that it’s profitable, I ran ads with a couple of dollars and made sure that the cost per customer acquisition CPA is lower than lifetime value LTV.
I target competitor brand keywords like Statuspage, Status.io, etc. These keywords ensure that clicks come from people who are interested in similar paid solutions.
I also have ads that run in specific countries, since Instatus supports multiple languages, and my main competitor (Statuspage) doesn’t.
I created a new landing page for every supported country featuring their flag and a statement that we support their language.
It’s also important to have ads that use your brand name as the keyword in case competitors target it with ads. In my case, a competitor targeted me, so it’s helpful to keep an eye on this so that you don’t lose potential customers who are searching for your name.
To retain customers, I prioritize customer support, a lot! I do customer support publicly on Slack. I stole this idea from Render (who has now switched to Discourse but it’s still public).
When I tried Render, their different approach to customer support stuck with me. So I made a bet that it’s good for marketing (the product will stick in people’s minds) and it fires me up to reply fast to support requests since everyone is looking! (work in public -> support in public)
I also improve the product literally every day, and I try to be very receptive to ideas and feedback, while still prioritizing stuff that is most important to the business.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Instatus is profitable, with about $2K MRR. The total status page number is ~4K, while paid customers are ~111. Here’s the most recent graph I posted on instatus.com/open.
I work from a cafe every day. It helps me avoid procrastination since I feel that people are looking (work in public, literally). I go to the same cafe every day, which helps me to have a daily routine, so I don’t have to think about basic stuff. Also started to have friends there, so it’s fun to have breaks in between work sessions.
I start the day by checking email and slack and replying to customer support. Then I work on tasks, like adding new features.
My current goal is to release private status pages, which are pages that are only accessible to people inside your company.
Next, I’ll work on moving into monitoring, which is a huge market adjacent to status pages. This will help me provide more value, and eventually be able to charge much more, and reach different types of people.
Marketing-wise, I’ll work on a website to rank for keywords like Slack status page, zoom status page, etc. Since these are the top keywords for my business.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The worst decision I made was not investing time in content marketing. It feels like work to me, so I don’t do it. I only wrote one article (on the best open-source status pages) and it gets me a lot of traffic, so I SHOULD do it more.
The best decision I made is to launch early, even a product that sold to zero people. It helped me understand the market, work with real customers on real issues, and eventually make it successful.
It will take longer than you think. It might take you many failed products and many years to reach one product that works. So, don’t quit your job until you have something that’s working.
For example, this way of displaying days (with empty incidents) felt stupid to me at first. It felt pointless to show days that had no incidents. So I just displayed incidents as a list.
But my first paid customer specifically asked for it. An incident list makes the company look bad. It looks like they’ve always been having incidents. Showing good empty days helps to improve the image of your business!
You won’t ever learn stuff like this without having real customers. Start having empathy for them, and be able to help them out.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Vercel for frontend hosting
- AWS for backend hosting (I have $5K credits there)
- Slack for customer support
- Google workspace for email
- Apple Notes for tasks & notes
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love these 3 books (links are to my summaries of them on my project Sipreads)
- Atomic Habits - How to build habits and stick with them
- The Courage to be Disliked - How to find happiness
- Traction - 20-minute guide on all forms of marketing
- How to win friends & influence people - It’s actually very helpful!
- Made to stick - How to make your ideas stick in other people’s minds
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Just start. Preferably with simple, fun stuff. It helps you build the courage to launch.
It will take longer than you think. It might take you many failed products and many years to reach one product that works. So, don’t quit your job until you have something that’s working. And keep on trying ideas and learning! It’s normal for this to take longer than you expect! Don’t give up!
Where can we go to learn more?
You could follow me on Twitter.
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