Going into 2021, our team behind AppSumo Originals had one BIG question: where do we go from here?
We’d already built SendFox and KingSumo into seven-figure products. They were doing well with customers and the features were stable.
But we thought we could do more.
So we asked ourselves, “What if our team became like the Amazon Basics of AppSumo?”
This would allow us to create more simple, affordable tools that people would love, which would in turn help grow AppSumo.
To test the idea, we set our first deliverable deadline: launch a new product in January.
Setting a time limit of 20 working days, or only 160 working hours, we knew we had to nail down the product idea, strategy, and approach.
The product we built became TidyCal.
And the end result with TidyCal blew away even our most optimistic expectations:
- 1,800+ total user signups
- 1,200+ paid customers (64% free-to-paid conversion rate)
- $30,000+ in revenue in four weeks ($36,024 at the time of writing!)
In this blog post, we’ll show you exactly how we did it.
You’ll learn how we built and launched TidyCal—a super successful SaaS product—in just 20 days.
Making a $30,000 product in 20 days
My name is David, and I’m the General Manager of AppSumo Originals. Over the past three years, my responsibilities have included building and growing multiple six-figure products—KingSumo, SendFox, and now TidyCal.
Having seen firsthand what it takes to grow six-figure products, we took everything we learned and put it into our new product, TidyCal, and recorded our process.
Now we’re sharing the three steps we used to launch the product, so you can use our playbook to your benefit.
Step 1: Prepare for greatness
To build a product within a set timeframe, a lot has to happen behind the scenes.
As the famous saying goes: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.
In December, before we even started putting together our first product, we started preparing.
There are a lot of opinions in business… and it’s important to have objectivity and clarity before you create anything. If you don’t know what you’re creating—and why—you’ll have a bunch of team members doing things for different reasons, instead of uniting toward a common goal.
Our first step of preparation was to come up with a list of products we could create and a ranking system.
The team got to brainstorming.
Ranking potential ideas
With all the awesome ideas being bounced around, we had to establish criteria. (Trust us, not everything was a winner.)
We used a variation of the “RICE” product-ranking framework to objectively rank a few qualities about product ideas.
The traditional RICE framework is:
So, we set to work to come up with a similar framework that fit within our goals…
The elements of our custom ranking system:
- Goal Impact. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most impactful, how much would this propel us towards our goal of growing AppSumo?
- Ease. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the easiest, how easy would the product be to develop with our small team?
- Virality. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely would this product be to go viral? This is especially important because our Originals group is a small team without a marketing budget.
- Hype. For every team member who was excited about this product, we gave it 1 vote. That’s right, it’s not just about the numbers. It’s important to ensure that your team is actually excited about building a product.
Once we had the values defined, it was easy to pick a product by just combining the scores and looking at the top 2 to 3 products.
We narrowed down our list to three products:
- A creator social community
- A chatbot
- A calendar app
We decided to go with a calendar app—which we called TidyCal.
This was the product that had the highest combined score of Goal Impact, Ease, Virality, and Hype from our team.
The concept of TidyCal was to create something simpler and more affordable than alternatives out there like Calendly, Book Like a Boss, or Doodle.
With the product selected, it was time to define the requirements and specs.
Finding the best features
To prepare for development, we first needed to clarify what our calendar product would become.
What features would it have? Just as importantly, what features would it not have?
There’s an art and a science behind defining the features of your product. Here’s what we made sure to do:
- Look at reviews of similar products and see what people both liked and disliked
- Think about what we ourselves would want as users in a calendar app
- Figure out why people purchased calendar apps in general
With all the potential features we could include, we narrowed down the most critical features to a single page in Google Docs.
It’s important to set the right expectations when it comes to feature scope. In 20 days, we weren’t going to be able to duplicate every feature from every other calendar app that’s been around for 10+ years with 500+ employees. Our pared down list kept our goals realistic, helping us prioritize and focus.
Nailing the product design
With the requirements established, we started simple mockups and designs.
We needed the designs first, so our backend development team could get a sense of what they were building visually. The product requirements and spec details help… but only to a certain extent.
Seeing the requirements and specs brought to life with a design makes it easier to know what our development team needs to build. It’s a critical step before development.
We know when the design is finalized when it feels right. It checks off the main requirements we want, and has a general flow and layout that makes us want to use it ourselves.
After the designs were complete, we got to work on the backend infrastructure and scaffolding.
We were lucky to have a designer who could manage the frontend HTML markup while our two other epic developers worked on the backend setup.
When the markup and backend started moving along, the team was ready to begin connecting the pieces.
Once the app was tweaked, fine-tuned, and tested, we were ready to launch…
Step 2: Optimize your launch
Products need a bit of a push.
Too many entrepreneurs and businesses release something to the world and wait for success to come to them.
As Chief Sumo Noah says, you should spend 50% of your time creating something and the other 50% of your time on marketing what you’ve created.
While we were finalizing the product and making sure everything was as bug-free as possible, I was also working on the marketing plan:
- Picking the marketing channels that, from our past experiences, had promising results
- Writing the marketing copy
- Making sure all appropriate team members were involved for cross-promotion
This was a HUGE project. There were 12+ people involved across 16+ marketing channels:
With the marketing plan defined ahead of time, we moved onto “day of” launch preparation.
The ENTIRE team was ready at a moment’s notice to fix bugs, answer questions, and triage responsibilities.
The general flow worked like this:
- I was answering Q&A on the AppSumo deal page
- The support team was answering any bugs and questions via email support
- All bugs were being triaged into GitHub by me, so Garrett, Marnie, and Henrique (the awesome developers) could solve quickly
- The support team was recording any feature requests for future improvements
Having central points of responsibility helps prevent too many cooks in the kitchen, with one clear person being the point of contact.
Because of this strategy, bugs were quickly fixed and features were quickly recorded.
Step 3: Post-launch
The product doesn’t end at the launch.
With any product, it’s critical to conduct a post-mortem: what went right, and what went wrong?
As we think about building more products in 2021, we especially wanted to make sure we learned from what happened.
Most companies make a mistake of “done with this, onto the next…” without understanding that their results come with lessons built in.
Assessing the results
To keep track how TidyCal performed, we looked at four data points:
- Total number of signups
- Total number of customers (which related to our goal)
- Results from the marketing channels we pushed
- Overall rating of the product, as given by the customers
Each of these metrics helped us understand the successes—and opportunities to improve—with TidyCal.
We could take the learnings from what we expected to happen with marketing channels that we used for TidyCal and compare them to what actually happened.
This data is helpful as we keep growing TidyCal—and think about building and marketing new products.
The support we provided was also a critical cog for post-launch analysis.
With more queries, feature requests, and bug reports, we were able to piece together the puzzle and start to think about what the future of TidyCal would look like.
To further support our users, we also made sure to show them that we were continually updating the app based on their feedback. For three weeks, we sent emails to all users showcasing the key free features and improvements that we made every step of the way.
Instead of a launch and run, it was critical for our customers to know that we care and we hear them.
When people see a new product like TidyCal launch, they don’t see the behind-the-scenes work that goes behind it.
To launch a new product in 20 working days, we had to be intentional with how we built it. Here’s a summary of our process:
- Creation and pre-launch. It all starts with picking the right product based on a framework that lines up to the goal. From there, list out your core requirements, create your designs, and build the product knowing exactly what you’re building.
- Optimize the launch. We put a lot of effort into creating our product, and we didn’t want it to fall flat. Like Chief Sumo Noah says, 50% of the time you spend on a product should go towards making sure you have a great marketing plan to help it succeed.
- Don’t forget about the post-launch. Continue to show your users that you’re planning to improve. Then keep track of which marketing channels went well and which failed as learnings for the future.
There’s a lot we learned in building this product, and we can’t wait to keep making TidyCal and our AppSumo Originals even better for you. For a limited time, get TidyCal for an ultra-low one-time fee—no more paying monthly bills for your calendar and booking apps!