We Solved Our Own Problem And Built An App That Helps Grow Your Social Media Following [$72K/Year]
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Jillian Leslie, founder of MiloTree Easy Payments. I’ve been an online entrepreneur since 2009 when I started my first online company, Catch My Party, with my husband, David. We started it as a party photo-sharing site, and since then, have grown it into the largest party ideas site on the web. You can check it out today, it’s still going strong.
In 2016, we launched our second company, MiloTree (named after our favorite tree in Hawaii), a pop-up app to grow your social media followers on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, plus your email subscribers.
We built this because we needed traffic from Pinterest for Catch My Party. Pinterest traffic was (and still is) a very important way we monetize so we needed to find a way to grow our Pinterest followers.
When our pop-up worked for us (we currently have 1.7 million Pinterest followers), we realized there was a need for other bloggers and creators to grow their real, best followers as well.
With feedback from our customers, we expanded MiloTree to also allow you to grow followers on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. And there was a big demand for it to grow email subscribers, so we built out that capability as well. We made sure our MiloTree pop-up app integrated with all major email service providers.
Here’s what our MiloTree pop-up app looks like on Catch My Party.
Launching Our Podcast
Next, because I am an avid podcast listener, I decided to start my own in January of 2018, called The Blogger Genius Podcast. It is one of my favorite parts of our business.
I interview successful bloggers, like Lisa Steele from Fresh Eggs Daily and Laura Fuentes from Momables, online entrepreneurs, creators, and industry experts to break down what’s working now in online business. My podcast currently has over 250k downloads.
I’d love you to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and check it out!
Building Our Second SaaS App
In early 2022, David and I built our second SaaS app called MiloTree Easy Payments. We believe in creators (especially female creators) getting paid for their expertise. We wanted an easy way for them to monetize through paid workshops, memberships, services, coaching, and digital products.
We set out to create the easiest way to do this. No complicated tech, no platforms to learn. Free unlimited hosted sales page you can set up in under 10 minutes.
We help you get paid, manage your customers and members in one simple dashboard, connect automatically with your email service provider, and provide free and unlimited sales pages.
We think MiloTree Easy Payments is a game-changer for creators! Here’s our explainer video.
Leveraging our current audience and our MiloTree pop-up app customers, within our first 2 months of launching MiloTree Easy Payments, we’ve been able to attract 200+ customers, and are hoping to make $40k ARR by the end of our first year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
David and I love building businesses together. A brief history of our backgrounds. I have a BA and MBA from Stanford and was a writer in Hollywood for ten years. David was Head of Product at MySpace.
We joined forces in 2009 to start our first business.
We built Catch My Party because we both had experience with teens. David worked at MySpace, which was all about teens, and I wrote teen comedies.
We initially built Catch My Party for teen girls, however, we quickly learned that wasn’t our audience. It was moms with small children. We came up with the idea for our MiloTree pop-up app because we were solving our own problem of growing our followers.
We came up with the idea for MiloTree Easy Payments because of our work with bloggers and creators.
We saw them struggling with trying to monetize their communities directly and not knowing how to do it. These creators don’t have the stomach for complicated platforms, so we used that as our North Star, to create the easiest solution possible.
Take us through the process of designing your first product.
We saw the problem we were solving up close and personal.
We coach bloggers and online entrepreneurs, and while we see them put out terrific content, we also see them struggle to monetize it. We knew we could help them solve this problem by giving them away to sell their knowledge directly to their audiences.
So the first thing we did was try to understand the problem deeply by interviewing our potential customers.
Do not worry about all the bells and whistles when building your product. Get something launched and let your customers use it.
We discovered that while they are interested in serving their audiences, they aren’t interested in technology or learning a new platform. Plus they are price-sensitive and a lot of membership and course platforms can be very expensive.
We knew our goal: create the leanest solution out there where our customers could get paid by their audiences. And we decided that instead of charging a monthly fee, we would charge a transaction fee based on their sales.
Next, we started building a custom platform in Ruby on Rails. We found beta testers who could try out our product and give us feedback as we built it. I would schedule weekly calls with our handful of beta testers to walk them through pieces of our products. Their insights were invaluable.
What we learned quickly was that having email integration was key. We also learned that having a way for our creators to sell their products with easy-to-build sales pages was also key.
We tried iterating on sales pages: WordPress templates and Canva templates. When those proved to be too complicated, we built our own sales page creator and decided we would host sales pages for our customers for free, and let them create as many as they wanted.
These have all been smart decisions. Our startup costs have been low. David, my husband, builds our technology so we don’t have to hire outside developers. Also, he has been able to reincorporate pieces from our pop-up app, like our email integrations into MiloTree Easy Payments.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We soft-launched both our MiloTree pop-up app and MiloTree Easy Payments. With our pop-up app, we initially launched it as a freemium model.
Because we had a robust Catch My Party email list, I was able to get to our initial 1,000 customers mostly marketing through my newsletter. We eventually switched our pop-up app to a model where we offer 30 days free then charge $9/month.
I started a podcast called The Blogger Genius Podcast in 2018, and that has been a terrific channel for marketing. I share about our products in my weekly podcast.
For MiloTree Easy Payments, I promoted it (and still do) on my podcast and in my newsletter. I also run workshops to help people set up paid workshops using the platform.
We offer lots of checklists and worksheets to help set it up.
We’ve only recently started using paid Google search ads to promote it. Grassroots and hands-on earned marketing have been our most successful strategies to date.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Building authentic relationships with our customers has definitely helped us attract and retain customers.
Also, providing high-quality free content like my podcast, The Blogger Genius Podcast, for instance, has been hugely beneficial at growing our customer base. We want our customers to know that we are real people who care about their business.
I think the personal touch has been invaluable. I also send at least one weekly newsletter where I share a little about my life, my most recent podcast episode, and what we’re working on in our businesses. I can’t stress the importance of building a community through email. It’s so underrated and yet, so powerful.
Also, I always focus on our customers and what’s in it for them! I try to provide a ton of actionable tips they can use in their business. This is how the trust grows.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our current revenue for our MiloTree pop-up app and MiloTree Easy Payments is $12k/month.
Most of our revenue comes from our pop-up app, but MiloTree Easy Payments is growing at around 30% per month.
Our LTV for our pop-up app is $95. We don’t have enough data yet to accurately calculate our LTV for MiloTree Easy Payments. We are currently running no paid ads for our pop-up app. Customer acquisition comes from earned media, like my podcast, and viral strategies.
For example, we add a link on our customers’ pop-ups to our website so people who see it can sign up for it.
Just get out there. Start building and iterating. Have your hypotheses thought out, but hold your assumptions lightly. Be willing to pivot and change.
We are experimenting with Google ads for MiloTree Easy Payments but we’re still in the exploratory and testing phase.
We are predicting MiloTree Easy Payments will become our bigger revenue source in 2022 as the creator economy explodes and creators seek more opportunities to monetize their communities.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have a few pieces of advice for entrepreneurs just starting out:
- Solve a real, tangible problem for your customers. Make sure you understand their struggle deeply.
- Build your product alongside your customers. Not only will they feel invested in your success, but you’ll be surprised by what you learn from them.
- Do not worry about all the bells and whistles when building your product. Get something launched and let your customers use it.
- Definitely do things that don’t scale. Get on the phone with your customers. Spend time with them. Hack solutions together that are ugly and fix them later.
- Just get out there. Start building and iterating. Have your hypotheses thought out, but hold your assumptions lightly. Be willing to pivot and change.
- Just go!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- We’d be nowhere without GSuite. We use it for everything!
- We also use Zoom, Canva, and ActiveCampaign daily.
- For live video, it’s Ecamm and Restream.io.
- For social media scheduling: Tailwind and Buffer.
- For the podcast: Libsyn, Hindenburg, Otter.ai, and Descript.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One book that really helped me on my entrepreneurial journey was Rework by Jason Fried. This book showed me what starting a business looked like and how the creative process can be messy. Building a business is one interaction after another.
Another book that changed the way I think was Atomic Habits by James Clear. I love books that help me hack my own brain and this is one of them. The book showed me how to set myself up for success with good habits, and that has been priceless!
And finally, a book that has helped me understand my own mind is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I’m always looking at where my system 1 and system 2 thinking is helping me and where they are leading me astray.
Here are some business podcasts I enjoy too, but personally, I like reading books that help me better understand myself as an entrepreneur, but even more, as a human.
- How I Built This
- Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
- The Prof G Podcast with Scott Galloway
- Tim Ferriss Show
- The Marketing Companion Podcast
- Social Media Marketing Podcast
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I teach this to every entrepreneur I coach: Shoot for B- work! Why?
Because B- work is above average, but it’s doable. It will get you from point A to point B fast.
Don’t overthink it. Make a decision and move forward. If it’s the wrong decision, you’ll change it.
Definitely have your roadmap thought out, and be really clear about what problem you’re solving, but be willing to change everything as you learn.
Fail fast and fail often. Do things cheaply. You need lots of “at-bats” to find success.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now I’m looking for a paid social media intern. If this is interesting to you, please reach out to me.
Where can we go to learn more?
- MiloTree Easy Payments
- MiloTree Pop-Up App
- The Blogger Genius Podcast
- Jillian Leslie LinkedIn
- Catch My Party
- MiloTree Instagram
- Catch My Party Instagram
- The Become a Blogger Genius Facebook Group
- Catch My Party Facebook
- MiloTree Facebook
If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at [email protected]!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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