"Be useful on the internet"
👆 That's Ben Orenstein's advice for aspiring indie hackers.
Screenhero was beloved by the developer community, and it eventually got acquired by Slack in 2015.
A couple of years later it's pair programming features were killed.
With Screenhero gone, the Tuple team knew they could offer a similar product and serve the pent up demand.
And Ben had the ideal customers for Tuple - a large audience of software engineers.
The audience and the demand was the perfect combination that allowed the Tuple team to do more than $8,000 in sales immediately without even offering access to the full product.
And more than $20,000 in sales without even a pricing page.
That was pre-pandemic.
During the pandemic, as the entire world started working remotely, Tuple's revenue quadrupled.
They are now making millions in revenue.
This is the Tuple story👇
Tuple - The Product👨💻
Tuple is a low-latency pair programming software product.
It lets two developers share their screens with each other and write code in parallel.
Two people can code features together, hand off control to each other, and have a conversation on a parallel video call.
All while using less CPU power than it takes to run Chrome!
That's a tough technical problem to solve.
But the company's marketing strategy is what allows them to thrive.
Tuple is a niche product -
- Meant only for developers.
- Who have a Mac.
- And who aren't happy with generic solutions like Zoom or Slack video.
That's a very narrow niche to target.
And the founders knew it would work, because they were rebuilding a hero.
Rebuilding a Hero🦸♂️
Developers loved Screenhero.
Within the first 5 months of its launch, Screenhero was making $1M ARR.
They could have continued to run the company independently, but ultimately sold the company to Slack so it could reach more people.
Once it was bought, Slack killed Screenhero and merged it with its video conferencing features.
Ben knew there was a void in the market, and that he could build a profitable business there.
But he wasn't sure he could build the product.
And he wasn't sure how many people would pay for it.
He teamed up with co-founders Joel and Spencer to build the product.
Joel took the official title of COO and Spencer became the CTO.
Spencer's coding chops gave them all confidence that the product could be built.
But it would take a while to make it work well.
For 8 months Joel and Spencer built the first version of Tuple.
They had to build it, scrap it, and rebuild it a couple of times.
And even after several rebuilds it barely worked!
They launched the alpha to 12 teams and $8,000 in revenue.
The success of the launch was due to Ben having already cultivated an audience.
Power of an Audience👨👨👧👦
While Joel and Spencer were writing code, Ben was trying to sell the product.
Before starting Tuple, Ben had worked at thoughtbot, a product studio that helps clients design and develop their ideas into tech products.
As part of his job, Ben had worked on multiple SaaS apps.
A core part of thoughtbot's culture was "be useful on the internet."
And Ben is a strong proponent of that.
He was writing blog posts, building info products and small tech products for many years.
Had an active Twitter audience and an email list. His audience was primarily software engineers.
While building the audience, he didn't know what use would it be? He wasn't sure how he could benefit from the audience he had built.
Until he started Tuple. The perfect app for his audience.
There were 5000 people on Tuple's mailing list before the app launched.
And most of them were willing to give them money even before there was a product.
This is what one of the customers told Ben -
“I will pay you several hundred dollars just to support what you're doing because I've gotten so much value from you over the years. I don't even need what you're selling. I just want to support what you're doing here.”
Now it was only a matter of figuring out the right price for the product.
And for that, Ben employed some sales wizardry!
Ben had around 5000 people on the Tuple mailing list. He didn't set up a pricing page and blasted out an email to them.
He segmented the list in batches of 500. And reached out to them to speak 1:1.
With every conversation, he tested a different pricing structure, ranging from $149/month per user to $599/month per user.
He even tried quarterly and annual plans, and also offered team plans.
At the time, Ben didn't even have a product to demo. He just told them about the features, about their story of building a screenhero alternative, and asked them for money.
And people paid up!
Every conversation was a signal to the correct price point.
Eventually they honed in on the ideal price and set up a self serve pricing page.
By then they had already done more than $20,000 in sales!
Today Tuple is priced at $25/month per user. And enterprises can get it at $10,000 per year.
Tuple's revenue quadrupled during the pandemic, way past anything they could have expected. So much that now they aren't sharing revenue numbers publicly.
They just say that they have "millions in revenue with tens of thousands of paying users".
Their product is used by engineers at Shopify, Stripe and Netflix!
The team has grown beyond the three founders, they've hired developers and customer support people. They are building a Linux client now, and even hiring a product designer!
Ben's advice to Indie Hackers is to be useful on the internet -
"...It's just – how can you be useful? How can you be helpful? How can you put out good things in the world? It's less about how many email subscribers do you have or how many Twitter followers? And more like, how many people have seen you do good things and gotten value from it?..."
Be useful, build an audience.
At least help people and have a presence on the internet, so by the time you launch something, you have a few friends backing you!
Let's look at key lessons from Tuple's success👇
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