Eight months ago we launched a two page website to see if anyone was interested in paying money to design printable cupcake wrappers online. I read somewhere that 700 was the minimum word count for a page to look respectable to Google. So on the landing page we had just over 700 words describing the fun things that Cupcake Wrapper Creator could do and why you should buy it. At the bottom was a “Sign Up” button for the yet non-existent site. Clicking it took you to the “Coming Soon” page which said the service is not ready yet, but if you give us your email address, we’ll be happy to notify you when it is. We wanted to know that enough people were interested before we wasted three months of our lives building a product nobody wants.
Three months later, 36 people had said they would like to be notified when Cupcake Wrapper Creator was ready. While minuscule in absolute terms, they represented 12% of the 291 total visitors who came to the website. Having over 10% of strangers on the internet giving us their email address for a product that didn’t even exist yet, struck me as a good indication that the design-your-own-cupcake-wrappers-online niche was not being well served. Actually it wasn’t being served at all. We had done the research to know that beforehand. We took the sign-ups as evidence that, if we did build the service, people would pay us for it.
On February 27, 2011 Cupcake Wrapper Creator went live. From the next five months we’ve had the following numbers:
- 26,358 Pageviews
- 4,837 Unique Visitors
- 235 Trial Users
- 20 Paying Customers
- $283 in Receipts
- Over 4000 Designs Created
- Over 7,000 PDFs Downloaded
4.9% of people who visit the website decide to sign up for a trial membership. 8.5% of people who sign up for the trial go on to buy. And overall, 0.41% of visitors decide to purchase. If these figures extrapolate linearly, they mean that if we could increase our traffic from 1,100/month to 5,000/month, then we should get 20 purchases per month. We have two prices: $12.95 and $24.95. Most people choose the less $13 plan, but if we figure the average customer pays $15, then I would be making $300/month. This is actually sort of sad, considering the work we’ve put into the product so far, but we always thought of the cupcake site as a test bed where we would learn how to market and sell digital goods.
Building the website part was easy since I build enterprise and industrial web applications in my day job. But unlike my day job, I used the latest technologies for an ASP.NET MVC application; Such as the Razor view engine, and two nice open source projects by Troy Goode, the membership starter kit that papers over some glaring holes in the membership capabilities that come out of the box with ASP.NET, and ABsoluteMaybe, an A/B testing plugin.
I just want to take a quick monument to say, I wanted to build this site on Ruby on Rails. I’ve never build a site with RoR, but I’m convinced it’s a more modern framework that ASP.NET MVC and has community contributions for nearly every reusable website feature I could ever need. But I know ASP.NET, and though the server costs are higher, I’m productive in it and the goal of every web business should be to make server costs a rounding error. My time was just too valuable to learn a new framework.
My app is basically a PDF generator. Users customize their cupcake wrappers by choosing colors and fonts and entering text in an HTML form. But, I don’t rely on ASP.NET to process the print queue and generate the PDFs. For that, I’ve tapped into the rich Java ecosystem. At the day job, I’ve wrote a good deal of original functioning code, but for this, I’m just stitching pre-existing APIs together. I highly recommend the Jav-o-sphere for it’s abundance of APIs. Now when the twice weekly Java update pops up, I’m like, “Heck yeah! Update ahoy! ” But, I’m terrible at Java; If I have three or four Google windows open and Eclipse, I might be able to write Hello World swing app. Good thing I haven’t had to write a single line of Java for this application.
Making designs for the wrappers is hard. It’s slower than I anticipated and requires much hand editing and tweaking to get them to look just right. All of my templates start out as a Python script with some fun 6th grade geometry. This is a gating task in my process. I’d hoped to hire freelancers to make the templates, but with a budget of $30, that’s not an option.
Unsurprisingly, marketing the website consumes most of the time I spend on this project. Tasks include: promoting the website on various cupcake forums, writing blog owners, writing copy, hiring freelancers to write articles, flushing money down the AdWords commode, and constant tweaking of the website’s content as my knowledge of how Google sees my site increases. I’ve found it helpful to give my site some basic CMS functionality, so my wife, me, or maybe one day a freelancer can create new content, like the classroom cupcake wrappers page.