Justin Ferriman

entrepreneurship

As a non-technical tech founder, I’ve always had to rely on a different skill set for starting a software company. I don’t have a huge following, so unlike content creators on YouTube, I lack any extensive reach when it comes to my entrepreneurial projects.

Whether you know how to code or not, perhaps you are in a similar situation, and so I want to share my methodology for starting a business (specifically software products, but it could be applied to any industry).

The premise is simple: start marketing prior to, or at the same time as, building the product.

This is the process I used when launching LearnDash, a company that I grew to over 42,000 paying users before selling. I am starting GapScout using the exact same process as I did a decade ago.

For years, I’ve been telling people to start marketing at the same time as building their product. I don’t understand why this advice doesn’t stick. Maybe because too many people have shared this tip, so it feels dated? Let me assure you that it works.

In 2012, I did this and built my email list to 1,000+ people before launch, a process that took about 10 months. It’s a modest email list size, but it helped me to be profitable and gain traction from day one.

It has been 10 months since I started a blog for GapScout (you guessed it: doing marketing at the same time as build, which is just a few weeks away from being done). And guess what? After 10 months of blogging, over 1,000 subscribers.

Here’s the thing: I’m not doing anything other than blogging, and the posts themselves are simply helpful content. Just do some really basic research on themes you want to rank for in your industry and start writing blog posts around these themes. Don't try to game the system or worry too much about how Google will rank your content. Just write blog posts:

  • 1400 words minimum
  • 3x per week
  • Configure SEO (I use Yoast)

On each page of your website, have a sign-up form/call to action for when you launch. This is obviously how people sign-up to your list. That’s all.

This methodology works for many reasons, but mainly:

  1. You get early traction. You can run special deals to start recouping costs and making money. Treat these early adopters well and they'll help spread the word.

  2. New customers will come automatically. This is the most important part. My site now gets thousands of visitors per month from my blog posts. It feeds itself now, in addition to any other marketing endeavors I add (for example, YouTube).

After launch, make sure you communicate often to keep the buzz alive about your product. Announce ever update that you do, share your excitement, and always explain how your product improves their life. Constantly emphasize this. Never stop. People need to be reminded all the time. Oh, and issue refunds promptly if that ever comes up. The easiest way to piss people off is to hijack their money.

Most of all, have fun. Don't overthink the process, enjoy the flow of everything, and be flexible as you learn along the way. Listen to customers, and they'll give you their loyalty. Don't hide behind email – use chat. Be accessible. People like to do business with people, not brands.

#entrepreneurship


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When I started GapScout in August 2022, I wanted to try something different.

I had success with LearnDash, but my motivation for that business, and the online education industry as a whole, was different.

I landed on building in public.

This involves sharing more details about my journey in starting and growing a software company. I am finding it quite enjoyable, and it challenges me to go outside my comfort zone as well.

To date, I have been doing this primarily on Twitter, but plan to expand to YouTube as well.

Discussing the pros and cons to building in public.

This week, I got a chance to chat with my friends Devin and Matt.

The last time we were all in together in person was back in 2019. I have chatted with each individually since then, but not as a group. I really enjoyed catching up and “talking shop”. I always walk away learning something new.

Here is the replay of our discussion. We talk about the pros and cons of building in public, how to do it, and the results of doing it. If you are eager to learn more about this marketing strategy, give it a watch!

As a special bonus: enjoy my dad interrupting me in the middle of the discussion, even after I asked him not to interrupt because I was in a meeting. 😆

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Starting a software company has many moving parts, and an often overlooked part of the process is creating an attractive, memorable brand experience for visitors.

The previous GapScout website was created by me (and that’s not a good thing). I put together something that looked decent, and then turned my focus on building my team that would ultimately build GapScout.

Thankfully, that design is retired. I’m pretty pleased with the new look, both the logo and design overall.

I am not one for flash, and I think the new design conveys that the value we will offer is in the AI and data. No distractions, just the facts. Clean, simple, and effective – just like the GapScout software intends to be!

Speaking of which…

BETA program is almost ready.

It has been six months since I first talked about starting GapScout. I will admit, things are not as far along as I originally envisioned. My goal was to have a beta program open by now.

You would think I’d be used to slower timelines by now, having worked in software for over a decade.

But alas, that is the nature of this industry. I am an entrepreneur, not a developer. In the end, this is for the best because I can focus on the vision and not the execution.

Building an AI tool that can provide value (i.e. help people make better decisions and make more money) is no simple task. I am thankful to have incredibly smart folks involved with this project. They are smart, thoughtful, and don’t want to rush anything. I can appreciate that.

Something quite important to me is that our first version provides you immediate value. Yes, there are plans for additional value-adding features, but right from the start I want to make sure that people are happy using GapScout. That is my personal goal.

If you like the idea of having an AI tool at your disposal to quickly analyze your business, your competitors, and your market for quick wins and in-depth insights, then invite you to become a beta tester!

#entrepreneurship


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It has been roughly six months since I started the GapScout project, and I will admit, the delays in the progress have started to get to me a little.

On one hand, I get it. I am no stranger to software development delays. I don’t think I ever had a project finish on schedule if I’m honest. But at the same time, it is frustrating. This is particularly true because the current progress (as of this blog post) prevents me from really going hard with a pre-launch strategy.

Building (another) business on a blog.

To date, all I have been doing is focusing on content marketing with blog posts. In 2012, I built LearnDash from a blog, so I guess I am just going back to my roots. I’ll admit, though, getting results from blogging today is a lot more challenging than it was back then.

From August through December, I made sure that two blog posts were being published per week. Each article is 1,500-2,500 words. The tone used is informative and the goal is to teach or help someone understand a business related concept.

At the end of the day, helpful content builds trust, and that’s my goal with the content created on the blog. It’s a simple formula, but one that I know can help drive revenue.

I have been using a “Pillar & Spoke” strategy that was first told to me by my good friend, Ross Johnson. The concept is fairly simple:

  • Pick “pillar” keywords that are broader in nature (i.e. “Market Research”).
  • Find related, longer-tailed keywords for that topic, called “spokes”.
  • Link the spokes together, and point the spokes back to the pillar. The pillar then links out to the spokes.

Google likes this kind of linking, and it adds some extra “weight” to your posts in the eyes of the search engine. Well, that’s what we believe, anyway. Who really knows?

Upping to three articles per week in 2023.

Posting twice per week was working, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I felt as if the site should be getting more visitors and sign-ups for the beta release (which is currently the “goal” of the website that exists today).

So, starting in January 2023, I have increased the publishing schedule to three posts per week. It’s still early, but current signs show that just increasing to three times per week is having a positive effect. Traffic is up, and impressions are up as well. Just have a look at the upward trajectory that starts in the new year.

I will continue with this plan going forward, and I expect to see these positive results continue to snowball over time.

Key takeaways for your business.

Look, I’m not an SEO expert. Anything I know is because people way smarter than me have helped me out. With that in mind, here are some tips that I live by with the GapScout blog that, I think, will help you as well.

  • Publish three articles per week.
  • Write articles that are a minimum of 1,200 words.
  • Use the pillar & spoke strategy outlined earlier.
  • Share articles on social media (Twitter is quite effective).
  • Use an SEO tool to optimize your articles (I use Yoast).
  • Reach out to other related blogs for contextual mentions.*
  • Be consistent, and patient!

*From what I have noticed, getting backlinks is still very much an important factor for building your presence in Google. Just a few mentions on reputable domains can really help boost your visibility!

This is my strategy. Nothing fancy. It’s working, but admittedly, there are probably things I could be doing that would make this more effective.

I will be sure to report back again this year on how things are going with the three posts per week. So far, I’m very optimistic with the impact that will have for the business.

Until next time!

#entrepreneurship


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Allow me to paint a scenario…

You have passed the first six-months as a software startup. You have paying customers, and there is some buzz around your product. Your customers are pretty happy, and surprisingly understanding to the fact that your product still lacks some functionality compared to the competition.

Naturally, you want to repay them for their dedication and trust. You want them to know that you are listening to them, so you decide to publicly publish your product’s roadmap, so they can see what you are working towards.

They are happy, and you are energized. Everything is good!

The truth is, product roadmaps can be helpful in the first year of business, but then become a liability.

In the early years of a business, product roadmaps are a good way to get (and keep) people excited about your software, but at the end of the day, they do more harm than good – particularly in competitive markets.

When I was running LearnDash, I used to always look at my competitors roadmaps to see what they were working on. It gave me insight into what they (and their customers) thought was most important.

But here’s the thing. Occasionally, there were times when I would swipe their ideas and get it to market quicker. In the process, snapping up more market share and tempting their users to come over to my product.

Any worthwhile industry will be competitive, and public product roadmaps are the equivalent to showing your competition your cards before you even play, giving them an opportunity to play their hand accordingly.

Public roadmaps can frustrate customers.

I think most entrepreneurs think that having a roadmap available is a way to give customers confidence in the direction of the business. It shows movement and dedication. This is certainly true to a degree.

But what is often overlooked is that the roadmap can also be a source of frustration for customers. This is particularly true if it does not include features that they really want or believe are necessary. Worse, they may disagree with the entire direction and think that you’re out of touch with the market.

I know this to be true because I experienced it first-hand. I once had a roadmap where I shared the development priorities. For a while (during the first year of business) it was a value-add. However, I noticed that people would write into support increasingly frustrated with the roadmap.

From what I recall, the complaints fell into one of the following areas:

  • They wanted a certain feature that was not on it.
  • They thought it was taking too long for features in development.
  • They didn’t think it was being consistently updated.

I noticed that the more vocal critics would often cite the roadmap in their public complaints, which meant that I had to jump in and “defend the roadmap” at times in lengthy back & forth conversations. Both sides getting more and more frustrated.

This experience made me realize that the roadmap had a negative impact on the business and just gave any customer who was already annoyed fuel for their fire.

So, I scrapped it and immediately didn’t have to deal with any of that BS anymore.

Customers hardly noticed its absence.

Product roadmaps are a distraction.

Look, many folks love having a roadmap for customers. If it is working for them, then that’s great.

But they aren’t necessary. In fact, they are more often a distraction for both you and your customers. They also give your competition some incredible insights.

So, if you never had a roadmap and feel like you need to add one, then I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to bypass it and just focus on more important parts of your business.

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Ever since I was around 18-years-old, I have been trying my hand at starting new businesses. I recall coming home after my first semester of college and working over the holiday on a website and info product. I loved every second of it, but I was beyond naive.

As you would expect, nothing came from that effort. I went on to fall for pyramid schemes, bought an endless number of info products on making money online, and started countless other projects that never went anywhere.

I look back fondly on this time because with each effort, I was learning something new that would help me later in my entrepreneurial career. I got practice building a website, honing my sales messages, networking, blogging, and building a brand.

During the summers of those university years, I worked as an intern at a large company creating e-learning, which actually was the beginning of a lucrative career path. I had a cubical and wore the “uniform” (dress shirt & pants with a key badge attached to my hip). I was there to learn the ways of corporate America.

Except, I was hardly doing work.

I would spend my eight, long hours searching the internet for business opportunities and brainstorming ideas. When my boss would walk by, I’d quickly pull up my email or some random Excel document. My dad used to ask me how my days were going, and I would tell him about all the businesses I wanted to start. It drove him crazy!

While I put in the bare minimum regarding the work, my internships did teach me something: I learned that I did not want a corporate career.

Eventually, I had my first taste of success.

None of my projects produced any money. Maybe $5 here or there, but nothing substantial.

That changed when I was in grad school.

I had already secured a job with Accenture, but I still had another semester to go. I was in bed one night. I think it was around the beginning of February. It was dark outside, with snow on the ground. I was about to fall asleep, and it hit me…

Free domain names!

Ha, it’s funny to think back on this now, but I was convinced this was a revolutionary idea at the time. I mean, who wants to pay $10 or more for a domain when you can get it for free, right?? 😆

The business model was pretty simple:

  1. Get someone to tell me the domain they want

  2. They sign up for CPA offer

  3. I got paid a commission from the company, and used it to buy their domain name

I found someone to build my website for $300-500, then used Dreamweaver (remember that?) to make edits as needed. On the homepage, I had a field where someone could enter the domain that they wanted. This field would check to see if that domain was available, and if so, a button would appear for them to register.

Sounds basic, but in 2008 this was super slick. It was very “Web 2.0”.

Even though I was pretty familiar with WordPress at that point, I started a blog on Blogger instead.

My blog posts were bad. I mean, terrible. They were mostly all about self-promotion. No images or anything engaging, just short 250-word blog posts.

But the real magic came with… wait for it… MySpace.

Yes, you read that right. MySpace.

There were chat rooms on MySpace for various interests, one of them being business and entrepreneurship. I would participate in those chat room (most of the time, it was people just sharing their MLM programs).

Through the noise, though, there were folks who were looking to set-up their own website. Of course, they needed a domain, so I would chat with them.

My efforts paid off. I made $40-$120 per day with this strategy, and it was only the first month or so!

As you can imagine, I was pretty freaking excited! I had a job waiting for me in consulting after grad school, but I was seriously thinking about going all-in with this new success. Success that I finally achieved after so many years of trial-and-error.

So, I kept doing my thing, making good money by just sharing with people my new business. All was good in the world. I had my taste of success and a ton of confidence.

But I came crashing down from my high when payouts were due.

Reality hit hard when the company that was giving me the commissions nullified about 85% of them, which meant that I actually was operating at a loss after buying the domains for the customers!

Ugh…

It felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I called the CPA network and tried to reason with them, but it was a lost cause. They said the leads I had produced were not “high quality”. So, the business was sinking before it even had a chance to begin. I was only a few months away now from starting my consulting career.

In the end, I configured the site to use another CPA program that would pay me per email lead ($1 per email). It made about $300/mo passively. After three months, I sold it for $3500 on Flippa. A small success, but not the one that I had hoped for.

Reluctantly, I started my consulting career. It paid well and had great benefits, it just wasn’t what I wanted. That said, I was doing e-learning consulting and I did enjoy that industry. Little did I know it would translate to me finally achieving my dream with LearnDash.

Entrepreneurs never fail, they just learn.

I’ll admit, the side hustles that didn’t work out felt like failures at the time, but now that I have more perspective I see that these were not failures but rather lessons learned along the way.

True entrepreneurs never stop. We keep trying. There is a burning desire that cannot be satisfied by a normal 9-5 job. I kept trying, taking the tactics and lessons learned from previous endeavors with me and applying them to new ones until it all came together: my interests, skills, and market timing.

Because that’s the thing… if you never stop, you’re bound to get the timing right eventually. There is not a single entrepreneur out there who found success on their very first attempt. I tried countless times until finally getting it right.

Now that I have had experience with LearnDash at all parts of the business process, I am taking those lessons with me as I start GapScout. Entrepreneurship is about continuous improvement. Learning from past mistakes, and then using those experiences to be better.

#entrepreneurship


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When I was in middle school, my principal used to say:

“The hardest part about any project is starting it.”

I had this in mind when starting GapScout, my second foray into the world of software, but first as a traditional SaaS. I learned a lot during my time building (and selling) LearnDash, and I can't wait to apply those learnings to this new venture.

One of those lessons learned was building an audience before and during the build process. For that project, I started content marketing 10 months before the product was built. I built an email list, got a good solid footing in Google, and was able to build buzz. This made the launch a success.

For GapScout, I am using this same formula (except we won't have to wait 10 months for launch this time)! 🙂

The content marketing strategy will be taking place at the same time as product development. I tapped my network and was introduced to a couple of content marketers who will be helping me in this area. As always, I like to start out with a few trial articles to see how things go. So far, so good for the both of them!

Smart content creation is just the first step.

I’d like to first build a solid footing in Google (seeing as this is a brand-new site), at which point I will begin the outreach process to start building relations with bloggers and websites in the same niche.

When you start a business, it's not always about the “big milestones”, it's nice to recognize the smaller achievements along the way.

Recently, the GapScout website celebrated one month. While developer conversations are happening in the background, the content marketing has started to make progress. There is no “hack” for content creation. It's a slow, long process. But it pays off!

In 30 days, the GapScout website has seen 2,083 unique visitors.

No secrets, just keyword research, writing quality articles, and sharing the content on the normal social channels.

I do intend to use paid ads as well, but not quite yet, as I'd prefer to do that when there is a product ready to use. So for now, the content marketing approach will continue, it definitely is paying off.

Want early access to GapScout? Get on the early adopter list!

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Well, that didn’t take long.

Closing in on one-year since the sale of LearnDash, and I am jumping back into the software industry. This time, with a micro-SaaS as opposed to WordPress.

I’ll discuss a little about the why, but first let’s talk about what.

Meet GapScout!

In a sentence, GapScout is the easiest way to identify the profitable gaps in a market. It does this by analyzing reviews of your product or service and highlighting common themes & opportunities.

Reviews are a goldmine for a business. Not only your own reviews, but the reviews of your competitors as well. They can reveal desired features, opportunity areas, and influence your sales messaging so that you are saying the right thing, to the right people, at the right time.

From experience, I can tell you that sifting through reviews and knowing what to look for can be confusing and time-consuming. Especially if you are a solopreneur or a small business. GapScout systemizes the process and does the heavy-lifting for you. All you need to do is decide which action to take with your newfound insights.

When I was running LearnDash, I was constantly keeping an eye on the pulse of the market. What people were saying about my product, and also my competition. As a result, I was able to:

  • Improve my current offers
  • Find new opportunities
  • Spy on competitors
  • Improve sales copy

This was my secret sauce. I know it works, and I am excited to be building a solution that lets others benefit from it as well.

Sounds cool, but why start a software company (again)?

When my role with LearnDash ended, I was able to catch my breath. I’ll admit, I was a little burnt out from doing software (especially, WordPress). As I searched for inspiration outside of tech, I was originally attracted to land investing. Truth is, it’s something I’ve been interested in doing for a long time.

I was just about to pull the trigger on my business (everything was set up), but I stopped. Something didn’t feel right. I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew that I needed to pump the brakes again for some more self-reflection.

I realized that what energizes me the most, what I love to do, is to compete. To think creatively, to give people tremendous value, and to try to “win” in the game of business. The absolute best place for me to express this desire has been in software. It’s fun for me, but only if I believe in the software that I am building & selling.

I feel this way with GapScout. I completely believe in the value it can provide solopreneurs and small businesses selling services or products. I can’t wait to help people make more sales!

Even though it’s only the beginning of this journey, the response I have been getting from folks has been overwhelmingly positive. They want this product, and I’m excited to bring it to fruition.

If GapScout sounds cool to you, and you’re interested in getting early access, you can sign-up here. An early, pre-beta phase is targeted for the October/November timeframe.

Also, I am building GapScout in public, so if you like occasional updates, then follow me on Twitter as I post insights into the process there frequently.

#entrepreneurship


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