Focus on solving a pain for one person
It was the second week of working remotely due to COVID-19 and I had just gotten off my 10th Google Meet of the day. On all of the calls I had to click twice to join, and then manually mute my mic and set my layout preferences. It was then that I realized I could solve some of these problems I was facing.
In the month that followed I learned that problems are never experienced by just one person — when there’s one, there are others. In this case, it turned out to be more than 100,000 people who were simply trying to make their new work-from-home situation a little easier. This is the story about how that little pain turned into a $2,000 MRR business in one month.
I had previous experience with Chrome Extensions when I built Cycle Tab, and knew the power they could have to enhance the Chrome browser experience. It quickly became clear to me that a Chrome Extension could begin to solve the pains I was having with Google Meet.
Scratching your own itch guarantees you have at least 1 customer. And more than likely, if the problem you’re having occurs frequently enough, there are plenty of other folks out there who could benefit from your solution.
Through research, I further validated this idea after seeing Chrome Extensions related to Google Meet were gaining serious traction, as at the time Google was adding more than 2 million users per day on Google Meet.
I also noticed that many of the Chrome Extensions currently doing well were single feature-focused, and only solved one problem. Meaning Meet users would have to install 3–5 extensions to get everything they wanted. As an avid Reddit and Twitch user, I knew that the ‘enhancement suite’ model worked well, with Reddit Enhancement Suite (RES) and Better Twitch TV (BTTV) garnering 1M + and 2M+ users respectively.
As startups we often get fixated on dominating a market, or building something truly unique — this is a good mentality if you want to build a unicorn, but not useful if your goal is to build a lifestyle business. It’s not about taking over a market, but instead carving out a sustainable niche. A local pizza restaurant doesn’t expect to take over Pizza Hut, they just need to own the neighborhood around them.
With the idea for the product more clear and the direction flushed out, I set out to build my MVP.
In past side-projects, I fell into the over-scoping trap, where it took 6-months to build out an MVP and get it in front of users. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
You shouldn’t be afraid to release something that’s dusty — in fact by releasing something dusty you drive more user feedback that will help shape and polish your product. As Reid Hoffman likes to say: “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
In just 11 days of development we launched the first version of Meet Enhancement Suite on the Chrome Store, with a total of 6 features:
- Grid Layout: turned out to be our biggest driver of growth, but also our biggest downfall — more on that later.
- Auto-Join: a personal pain-point of mine, having to click `join meeting` 10+ times per day
- Push-To-Talk: another personal pain-point, as construction in my building would continuously trigger my mic
- Smart Defaults: these features were assumptions, I don’t personally use them but I assumed there had to be folks who wanted these turned on or off all the time
We soft-launched the extension on Sunday night and on Monday morning we began to see the wave we were tapping into, as we saw100 installs on our first day, and continuing to 3X every day following.
We hadn’t even officially launched yet as we began to reach the free-tier limits on both Mailchimp and Typeform — with over 5,500 newsletter signups in our first week.
In seeing the momentum we were building we moved quickly to officially launch the extension.
Like Justin Jackson says, ‘The market you target, matters.’ It wasn’t a fluke that people were discovering and using our extension — we purposely tapped into a large market that had a lot of momentum, and those factors alone determined our growth trajectory.
Product Hunt launch
We spent one week ironing out bugs and preparing to launch on Product Hunt the following Monday.
On launch day we reached the #5 Product of the Day, and we were also featured in 2 Product Hunt newsletters.
I felt we had something press-worthy here, as all the major tech publications were writing about Zoom, and The Verge even had a `Guide to working from home`. So using my own guidance, I put together a press kit and reached out to over 25 relevant writers. I got 25 opens and zero responses, but would later be contacted by a writer at Wired looking to cover the launch. The article went live 2 days later. Since then we’ve also been covered in Popular Mechanics and the Zapier blog.
My assumption is that our extension wasn’t press-worthy enough at that period in time. If I had waited a day or so after Product Hunt I would have had a much more impactful pitch with more impressive numbers.
But personally, one of the coolest, and most proud moments of our launch was seeing our extension being used by a Canadian teacher during CBCs Stronger Together TV show.
We peaked just two days after launch, adding over 16,000 new users in a single day, but our growth would quickly come to end when we realized Google had taken down our extension from the Chrome Store.
After receiving an email from Google’s removals team, we learned we had been taken down because of a copyright infringement claim submitted by another developer.
To power our extensions grid mode feature, we used an open-source library of an existing extension on the Chrome Store — there were probably about 10+ other extensions doing the same at the time. The developer decided they didn’t want other extensions using their code and proceeded to change their license and submit takedown requests to Google.
This experience made me aware as to just how fragile the internet is, and how little control you have as a developer building on top of someone else’s platform. This was further ingrained in my mind after watching the battle play out between Hey and Apple months later.
After explaining to Google that we had originally forked the code when it was open source, but had no problems removing it now that it wasn’t, and with some help from our good pal Serge, we were allowed to re-list our extension on the Chrome Store four weeks later.
Owning a lifestyle business has always been a dream of mine, and judging by the level of adoption after launch we felt confident this was a product we could begin to monetize. So after our extension was re-listed on the Chrome Store we picked up where we left off and spent the next 10 days building out our initial set of Meet Pro features.
The launch of Meet Pro was a huge success for us, and is now being used by remote workers at Google, Shopify, Netflix, Spotify, and more! Let’s break down the key components of how we brought Meet Pro to life.
We used a few different inputs to decide which features we should prioritize. This included digging into feedback from users and ranking top reported feature requests, looking at competitor offerings like Zoom, and solving personal pain-points of ours. With that in mind we released the following as our first paid features:
- Transparent Bar: makes the bottom bar transparent so it doesn’t cut off participants videos
- Auto-Full Screen on Presentation: automatically sets your Meet window to full-screen when someone begins presenting (a Zoom feature)
- Hide Mute Pop-up: hides the “Are you speaking” pop-up from appearing when muted
- Do Not Disturb Mode: hides new comments and participant pop-ups — I found these annoying when I was presenting
- Auto Google Grid Mode: automatically apply Google’s grid layout when joining a meet
We found that our current free tier features (like push-to-talk, and smart defaults) act as a powerful funnel for new installs. Because of that, we’ve decided to only ship new features as paid pro features in order to continue increasing the value of Meet Pro, and drive paid conversions. Over the one month since Meet Pro launched we’ve released an additional 5 pro features.
Subscription & Pricing
Subscription vs One-Time Payment
We thoroughly debated launching Meet Pro as a one-time payment versus a monthly subscription. The feedback we received from friends was “no one will pay monthly for this”, but we knew in our gut that monthly was the right choice — here’s why:
- High-frequency usage: our users use and get value out of our extension many times per day, and because of that we felt the perceived value was high enough to pay a monthly subscription for.
- The alternative was paid: Google Meet had recently become free for everyone, meaning any alternative (eg. Zoom) would come at a monthly cost. We figured the trade-off here would work out in our favor.
- Patreon supporters: we had set up a Patreon page early on and had accumulated 15 supporters who were paying us $5 per month. This gave us confidence that a monthly subscription was possible.
We launched with three subscription tiers: single license, 10 licenses, and unlimited licenses.
We expected the majority of our subscriptions would be single, the 10-license tier would support the average startup, and the unlimited tier would cover large companies and schools (since we had a lot of teachers using our extension).
To date, we’ve seen 95% single licenses, 2% ten-licenses, and 3% unlimited licenses.
People often think that pricing is a science, but in reality, it’s a pseudoscience — it’s a healthy combination of data and a shot in the dark.
Here’s how we thought about pricing:
- Value: since Google Meet was free, we looked to Zoom as an anchoring point. Our goal was to make Google Meet like Zoom, but we weren’t offering the equivalent value yet. We decided we were offering around 20% of Zooms value and from a pricing standpoint 20% of their lowest monthly plan.
- Indicators: our 15 Patreon supporters paying $5 per month gave us a pricing baseline to work off of
To quote Jason Fried, the only answers that matter are dollars spent. Our launch prices were meant to be temporary and a starting point. We plan to add more features and experiment with prices over time.
In January, due to large scale abuse, Google temporarily disabled the publishing of paid in-app purchases on the Chrome Store — so we, unfortunately, had to look for an out-of-platform solution.
Since we don’t have a server or user registration, we needed to find a way for users to activate their Meet Pro plan in the extension. After doing some research I found that Gumroad offered unique license key generation on every purchase. It was the simplest implementation, as we were able to setup Gumroad in about one day.
We quickly realized that Gumroad was not built for subscription saas businesses, and began running into growing pains as we scaled. For example, Gumroad doesn’t provide the ability to offer yearly subscription prices, free trials, or subscription pausing.
With the exception of the first week of June (we didn’t sell any unlimited licenses that week), our monthly-recurring-revenue has been growing on average 40% week-over-week with about 68 sales per week.
Our main source of traffic to our Gumroad page, and consequently our biggest driver of subscription growth is our ‘signup’ page, which is a new tab that opens whenever someone installs the Chrome Extension. This page shows an upsell for Meet Pro, as well as a newsletter signup.
One thing we realized after digging through our Google Analytics is that our users tend to ‘set it and forget it’. Meaning once our users enabled the features they want, they generally have no reason to return to the extension — meaning they only ever see our Meet Pro upsell in the extension once on average.
With that in mind, we also took advantage of new tabs when we release updates, as we use this to open our changelog and inform users about the new features that are available. We also leverage badging on our extension icon to notify users of new features.
The past couple of months were an adventure as we continued building this tool we originally expected only the two of us would use, let alone 100,000 people. Looking back, it’s easy to say this was all a methodical well-executed plan, but the realistic side of startups is that a lot of it was simply timing and luck.
We plan to continue building more new features that add value to the Meet Pro offering, but we also know that the wave can’t last forever. The Google behemoth is slowly but surely catching up to us in features, and building on top of platforms like the Chrome Store provides constant reminders that you’re not in full control of your own business (takedowns, rejection, etc.).
The important thing is that we now have the emails of 15,000 people who are interested in tools to make their work from home lives easier. That in itself is a wave that is only going to continue to grow, and we plan to continue riding it.
P.S. Interested in testing what we build next? It may be a Google Meet desktop app. Sign-up below to get early access👇
If you have more questions about any part of the journey above comment below and I’d be happy to answer them or email me at corey.pollock91[at]gmail.com