On April 8th, I opened up the new subscription service for WatchMeCode’s screencasts. This included a brand new website, a new membership system, all of the existing content that I had previously recorded being made available, and a short launch sequence for the new service to try and build some anticipation. After one week of “early-access” pricing, I’m shutting off the discounted price and raising the monthly subscription fee to it’s full $14/mo point. This is my summary report of how the launch went, and how I was doing on the lead up to the launch.
Trying To Give Up
This has been an insane roller-coaster for me. Less than a month ago I was ready to give up on screencasting, entirely. I sent this email to my mastermind group:
This was me ready to throw in the towel because I had showed no growth in sales and was unable to produce the demanding high quality of screencasts that I wanted to do, on a monthly basis. Spending 30 to 40 hours to produce 1 screencast is simply not worth the time and effort in comparison to other activities that pay more.
But my cohorts in the mastermind decided that I was an idiot and convinced me that it was foolish to give up on screencasting. They told me to stick with it through the end of the year to see where it goes. I knew, though, that I wouldn’t be able to stick with the epic length, epic production value style of screencasts that I had been doing, though. So I thought it was finally time to set up a streaming subscription service for WatchMeCode and make the jump to monthly recurring revenue instead of direct sales.
From Zero To Launch In 18 Days
Actually, it was less than that. I think I went from zero to launch in about 14 days, but I don’t have exact records. So I’ll use the above email as the starting date. Having decided to go through with this, though, I knew that I couldn’t spend a lot of time working on services and writing code and doing all the things I really wanted to distract myself with. Instead, I took the advice of the mastermind group and went with a WordPress setup with a subscription service and media player plugin set (more on that setup, later). I also took a half day to record a few very short screencast episodes – the episodes that I launched the subscription service with.
I started talking about this on twitter, and people began to get excited. I got a lot of feedback that looked like this:
And who am I to argue with feedback like that?!
I knew I wanted to do something more than just put this out there and let people accidentally find out about the new site, too. So I came up with the idea of launching with early access to my mailing list. So I created a sub-domain of WatchMeCode.net, set up the new WordPress site there, and got busy porting over all my content. I think it took less than 1 working day to get the entire site up and running, including the subscription service and media player. It then took about a week and a half to get all of my content ported over to the new site.
By the time I had most of the content in place, I had set a date of April 8th as the launch. I emailed my list and let them know what was coming. I talked about it on twitter and asked people to sign up for my mailing list in order to get early access. I did everything I could think of to build an official “launch” of this service, in about a week of time that gave myself.
I nearly vomited a dozen times, writing all these emails and sending all this info to people. It was excruciatingly difficult and nerve wracking for me. Here, I was about to give up entirely and now suddenly I’m committing to a subscription model where I *KNOW* that I’ll need to pump out content on a regular basis?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
Before Launch Week: My Earliest Sales
Prior to April 8th, I gave about 10 people access to the site… only 2 of which were free. I asked people to pay for the privilege of using a site that only had half the features it needed, and 1/4th the content people wanted. And people paid.
This was the first real sign that I was on to something, honestly. Having people say they want to throw money at you is one thing… but having people actually throw money at you for something that they know is incomplete. That’s an entirely different type of ball game. That, to me, is the only true validation of an idea or a business… getting someone to actually give you money in exchange for whatever it is you’re doing.
On April 7th, I sent a “FAQ” email to my list to tell everyone what to expect. This email was based entirely on the feedback that I had received from the early subscribers – yet again, another great thing about having early subscribers.
On April 8th, I sent out the email to my list and told everyone that the site was open, and I sat back and tried not to throw up.
And then I saw the subscriptions start to come in. And I saw more and more. I saw people replying to my email saying how excited they were. I saw people on twitter exclaiming how great it was and how they loved it. I saw everything that I had always wanted in my screencasts finally happening!
By the end of the day, I had sold more than 100 subscriptions!
Through the rest of the week, I continued to improve the service. I cleaned up the site design. I made tweaks to the page with episodes. I added a better overlay feature for the video player. I set up download links so people could download the episode and take it with them. I also launched a new episode that Thursday.
With all of these changes going on, I also stayed in constant communication with everyone on my mailing list. I emailed my entire list (1430 subscribers) every day to tell them what I had done with the site, the day before. I told them about the tweaks and the new episode and the downloads, and everything else I did. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 5 days and 5 emails. I gave the list a break on Saturday and Sunday, though. I didn’t want to be too horribly pushy. I was already pushing hard.
Between Tuesday and Sunday, I gained another 100+ subscribers. My goal had been 200 subscribers in my first week, and I was told not to expect this but I hit it on Sunday! It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it! At $5/mo for the early-access subscribers, that is $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue!
Monday, the 14th was my launch finale. This day saw my final email to the list, regarding the new WatchMeCode subscription service. This was the “this is the last minute!” email to remind everyone that the early access pricing was going away. But this email was more than just a reminder. I started the email by apologizing for the bombardment of emails in the last week – and I’m glad I did that. I really did feel awful about all the email I was sending out. Through it all, though, the awesome people on my list stuck around. Sure I lost some (5 or 10 per email), but I seemed to be gaining as many as I was losing.
To my surprise, subscriptions poured in nearly as quickly as they had the first day! In a matter of hours, I was over 250 subscribers. I hit 275 total, and it still climbed. It came down the final hour of the early access pricing, and I was sitting at 288 subscribers.
At this point, it was 11pm, though. The internet is tired, and people are going to bed. At this point I didn’t really expect to hit any higher than 288. But a few stragglers come in during that last hour, to my surprise!
The Final Numbers
Here are the final numbers for my launch of the WatchMeCode screencast subscription service:
- Time to launch: 18 days (or less)
- Emails sent: 7 (too many)
- Subscribers: 292 (including a few free accounts)
- Early-access pricing: $5/mo
- Generated revenue: $1,435
Where Do I Go From Here? (other than grabbing the “air sickness” bag)
All things said and done, this was one heck of a ride for me. From throwing in the towel and wanting to quick screencasting entirely, to having near 300 paying subscribers!
This isn’t the highest revenue I’ve seen for a product or service launch. I’ve had individual screencasts sell a little more than this in their first week. This is, however, the highest monthly recurring revenue of any products or services that I’ve done.
I think there are a lot of things that I am learning from this experience, and have tried to distill these down the best I can in to the above story. One of the most important things I’ve learned, though, is that you really do need to listen to your audience at times and hear what they are saying they will pay for. Then go build the thing they need and let them throw money at you. I’ve spent the last 10+ years building an audience of developers, and I finally gave them something that they wanted. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me that so many people were so willing to subscribe. But it is.
It’s humbling, scary, nauseating and stress inducing. It’s the highest high and the lowest low that I’ve ridden in a while, and I think I’ve sprouted a dozen gray hairs from this experience. But I’m not done yet. This is only one of the many journeys that I’ve started. I’ve got marketing to do, now – the thing that really churns my stomach and makes me feel sick. I’ll be buying sponsorships on podcasts and newsletters. I’ll continue to grow my subscriber base, but at higher (non-early-access) monthly subscription fee.
Who knows, this may actually be a viable business, after all…