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What I Learnt (Almost) Pre-Selling My Startup Idea To A Customer

The ultimate form of pre-launch validation for any SaaS startup is pre-selling a licence for your product or service. While collecting emails certainly has it’s place, nothing comes close to convincing a customer to enter their credit card details prior to your launch.

At Task Pigeon, we ran an experiment to see if we could get people to pay for our product before we started to build it.

Here’s what happened.

If you have read my previous posts you would know that I have taken a careful and considered approach to validating the idea for Task Pigeon. We started off first with our network and asked friends what they thought. We wanted to get as much feedback as possible.

Each step, we slowly refined our messaging and tweaked our landing page. We wanted to get feedback from our friends before taking the plunge and seeking feedback from people that we have never met before.

This feedback we got, gave us the little nuggets of insight that we were after. And the impetus to push ahead with the next stage of development at Task Pigeon.

But there was still one thing that we wanted to do, see if we could get people to pre-buy a license to our product.

We don’t have a massive database of thousands of subscribers. In fact, the people interested in testing our beta sits at just eighty people. (A topic for another post).

Our Pre-Selling Statistics

Email Statistics from Pre-Selling Startup Idea
Open & Click Through Rates From Initial Campaign

Here are our open and click-through rates from our initial campaign.

I wanted to be realistic.

Typically only 20% of pre-launch subscribers convert to paying customers on launch day. That would narrow the field of potential purchasers down to fourteen.

How many of those people would be likely to pay in advance? By using estimates from eighty people that signed up to Task Pigeon; it would put the numbers at something like this:

  • 10% of our subscribers = one person might pay.
  • 20% of our subscribers = three people might pay.

Or put it another way around. We had to pre-sell Task Pigeon to 1-3 people from our list of eighty.

The Campaign

The campaign experiment was kept simple. We just did some email outreach with a discounted offer.  To try and convince people to try out Task Pigeon and pay in advance, we put together a special deal.

If people pre-bought a license for six months they got a discounted rate for all of their users. They could get the first three months for free, and risk-free with our 100% money back guarantee.

I was worried that the discount and risk-free trial might cloud some of the results. But, I’m a realist. And, acknowledged that an incentive was needed to try and get pre-sales.

Email Copy Pre-Selling Startup Idea
Copy of the initial email to our pre-launch subscribers.

The email went out in the evening my time as most of our pre-launch subscribers currently reside in Western Europe and the US. To my surprise I woke the next morning to find that I had an order for 8 licences from a company in the US! Happy days!!!

But then reality set in.

To bootstrap this campaign I had used a Typeform survey to collect details. The problem was, I then had to manually create the invoice/request for payment and send this off to the user.

Given the time difference between Australia and the US, there were a couple of hours delay between the time that the user ordered the license – to when I could respond.

Unfortunately, my email (and subsequent follow up) didn’t translate into any getting the sale across the line.

In no way am I annoyed at the customer. The reason why I write this is to highlight a flaw in the approach I took. While it allowed me to run the campaign no money down, in hindsight it would have been better to pay for a premium Typeform subscription or use another service to collect the payment then and there.

Here are my reflections.

While I didn’t end up with money in the bank, the user did go through the entire process and most likely hit “submit” thinking the next stage was payment. As a result they showed an interest and more importantly willingness to pay for Task Pigeon. And yes, I acknowledge that it was only one user and I can’t read too much into it, but having someone go through that process is worth 10x as much as some random email addresses.

Moving forward, I find myself in a unique position with Task Pigeon.

We are coming into the final weeks of the year, and yet I am more eager than ever to build our subscriber base.

Experience tells me that my marketing efforts will not be as effective until early next year. Not many businesses are keen to try new tools or solutions with Christmas around the corner.

Our test was not 100% successful, but we did discover a lot of things. And now know there are rooms for improvements.

If you are interested in learning more about Task Pigeon head over to our landing page. You can also drop in your email to make sure you qualify for one final offer that we will be sending to our pre-launch subscribers before going live.

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  • Great article Paul! Love your little experiment. I think every startup that’s selling a product or service should be trying to get paying customers early.

    The earlier startups start, the more they’ll learn. With one of my projects, we got paying customers before we created the startup (ironically, that’s how we got the idea).

    People paying for something = validation ≠ product market fit. PMF is something that comes later.

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Thanks Luke. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      There’s definitely value in trying to pre-sell your product. Even if you don’t get a sale across the line you learn so much in the process.

  • Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?

    I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Hi Kiersten

      Thanks for your message.

      I current use WordPress and have been doing so for many years now. I love the flexibility it offers and would highly recommend it.


  • Very interesting read, thanks for the write up Paul.

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Thanks Francis, I’m glad you enjoyed it

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  • Great Work Paul

    • Paul Towers – Founder @ Task Pigeon

      Thanks 🙂

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