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Like a lot of you out there, we have been fans of Indie Hackers for a long time now! It is just so awesome, the way it has provided a platform for everyone to share their projects, get feedback, learn from each other… We have learned a lot, for sure, especially from the interviews and podcasts Courtland publishes. And so when it came to Scribezest, we thought, why not start with transcribing something we love? So, here we did a transcription of one of Courtland’s recent interviews…


Courtland Allen  0:07

What’s up everyone, this is Courtland, from and you’re listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show, I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it’s like to be in their shoes.

Courtland Allen  0:20

How do they get to where they are today? How do they make decisions, both at their companies and in their personal lives and what makes their businesses tick? And the goal here as always, is so that the rest of us can go on to build our own successful internet businesses. Joining me today for the second time on the Indie Hackers podcast is none other than growth expert Julian Shapiro. Julian is the founder of Bell Curve, an agency that not only helps founders grow their businesses, but also trains teams so that they learn how to grow their businesses on their own. Julian, welcome back to the show and thanks for joining me.

Julian Shapiro  0:48

I’m excited to be back, so much to cover.

Courtland Allen  0:50

…So much to cover. The last time you came on, you told the story of Bell Curve and how you got started, how you became an expert at what you do and today’s episode, I think we’re going to do things a little bit differently. Rather than just telling your story, we’re going to experiment with a little bit more educational content than normal. We’re going to talk about the things that everybody needs to know about growing their business before they get started with their business. We’re going to talk about things that people should know before they even come up with the idea for their business. And you Julian, obviously, having worked with dozens of companies to help them grow or I think the perfect person to come on and talk about this because you’ve seen story after story, lesson after lesson of what works and what doesn’t. In fact, the reason I wanted to have you on in the first place is because of a tweet you sent out a few months back, it was little bit cryptic, but you said,

“given equal founder skill, e-commerce and mobile apps succeed much more frequently than Software as a Service (SaaS) startups do”.

So you’re saying that people are better off opening an online store and selling goods or starting a mobile app, they are building a web app from scratch and trying to charge a monthly fee. So, let’s start there. What are some things that led you to that conclusion?

Julian Shapiro  2:00

So, if you look at all the clients that my agency has worked with, and look at the rate of success when dividing by the type of product they sell, say it’s SaaS, say its e-commerce, say it’s a mobile app, or even a Chrome extension, e-commerce succeeds the most frequently, then it’s probably mobile apps, particularly those that deal with transacting finance in some way. Let’s say, it’s a Bitcoin app. Let’s say it’s a friend to friend payments app, let’s say it’s like Robinhood investing. So, mobile apps that help you transact money. The third was Chrome extensions, which were super interesting to me, because they’re a wonderful Trojan horse to getting easy one-click installs. And then once you have that installed, that install base, you can piggyback off that to monetize as long as you’re offering value. But the point here is the friction to install is so minimal relative to getting someone to create a fully built-out profile on your SaaS product or even downloading and installing and signing up for a mobile app so we can get back to that. But the point is, for our purposes here that the very bottom of success frequency are SaaS apps. This isn’t to say, don’t pursue SaaS, you’re going to fail, nor to say that if you have a great SaaS idea, it’s going to perform worse than a bad e-commerce idea. It’s controlling for quality of the idea, quality of the market and founder skill, I feel pretty confident with that sort of hierarchy that I just shared.

Courtland Allen  3:38

So, I want to drive things back a little bit, because I think it’s easy for people to underestimate how hard it can be to grow something. People tend to focus on their ideas, they tend to focus on what they want to build or create. But it’s totally possible even likely that you can have a great idea and you can put in all the work to turn it into a real web app or a product or mobile app. And then it turns out that you don’t get any users, you can’t find any customers and you realize too late that growing your business is actually the hard part. How often do you work with companies whose businesses are just stagnant and not growing at all?

Julian Shapiro  4:12

It’s actually if they’re coming to us, that usually means they care about growth. And they understand the value of growth marketing, which is the type of marketing you do when you care about tracking results very carefully, and optimizing how you spend money on marketing to maximize those results, as opposed to say, brand marketing, where you’re trying to get the word out in quotes. You want to get everyone to know, about what it is you’re doing, but you’re not really tracking how much was spent that was then made profitable? What was the full experience that visitor had with your ads across both Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere? And, did they pay you more than you spent to acquire them as a customer and so it’s that sort of data-focused means of ensuring you’re spending profitably, and all of the skills that are involved in that process that is what defines growth marketing. And so if a company comes to us, and they’re cognizant of growth marketing and its importance, they’re usually not in a dead zone. So, I sort of have this odd selection, this odd viewport into companies that are more often succeeding than not, but what I do have to work with very often are companies that are just starting out, and it’s a complete blank slate. So, they don’t have any of the systems in place to do those measurements to ensure they spend profitably and sometimes they’ll start by asking me, hey, should we kick it off with brand marketing? Should we get the word out? Should we be very cautious to be consistent in our visuals? Meaning, should all our ads look the same? Should we hire a designer from day one and really hone our brand voice. And, my response is always, that is a luxury that you should indulge in once you’re actually demonstrating people want your product and that you can spend money on marketing profitably. And so it’s not to say you want ugly ads. It’s not to say that you want inconsistency. Those things are nice. But neither one of those opposites meaning pretty ads and consistency aren’t what make or break someone’s ability to do growth marketing well. It’s many other factors that we will dive into.

Courtland Allen  6:28

I like that you’re talking about ads like that. You were talking about paid acquisition channels. I was just talking to a friend yesterday who said, “Isn’t buying ads kind of like cheating. Isn’t that like a cheap way to use people to build something and people show up because what you’ve created is great?” And it gets me thinking about how much of a herd mentality that can be among founders and people who want to start businesses. We look at our first our favorite stories, look at the people that we admire. We see how they’ve grown their businesses and we think you know, that’s how it should be done. That’s the only way to do it. When in reality, there are a variety of channels and strategies that you can use to grow your business and get it off the ground. And depending on the idea you’re working on, some of these channels might be a good match or they might be a bad match. You’ve worked with all sorts of different companies, you’ve written about this online, what are your thoughts on how people can choose the right growth strategy for their companies, and how people can become more aware of all the different options for how they can grow their companies?

Julian Shapiro  7:25

So, the interesting thing about ads is there has never been a client or company I’ve seen where I could have said to them, no, don’t run ads, unless they simply cannot have done them profitably. But for any client that even approximates profitability, ads should always be run, so they’re not self indulgence. They’re not an excuse to distract yourself with other means of acquiring customers that some may argue are better and they probably are right but it’s always a complimentary thing.

It’s never a luxury to get ads to work and the reason for that is, it is the quickest, most in your control, most scalable, most reliable form of getting traffic.

So getting people to your website, and having that control is so important for a few reasons. One, when you’re trying to figure out what works on your website, you want to move forward through those tests efficiently. If you’re just waiting on word of mouth, organic traffic, meaning traffic coming from Google that could genuinely take months, half a year or a year to build up to any sort of significance if ever. And so if you want to run a whole bunch of tests on your website to figure out how can I improve this performance, meaning how can we get more people to buy that is going to require just from the sake of physics, a bunch of traffic so that you can test your changes on people and the more traffic you have the more tests you can run at any given period of time. And we can get more to that if you’d like.

Also, ads are very often made profitable, people just simply don’t do them, right. And so they cannot sustain the profitability indefinitely. And so you’ll hear very often people downplay the importance of ads, because they burned on them, like they tried them, they’ve got something approximating profitability. And then after three or four months of running those ads, suddenly, the performance crashed. And they were no longer profitable. And they thought to themselves, oh, so ads are unreliable. Actually, to be frank, you lack the skill or the experience to keep those ads running profitably for a long time. And that’s something we can get into. One more layer on that, and I’ll wrap up here, is that not only do people burn out ad performance very commonly, almost every client that has ever come to us reach that state prior to reaching out to us. So that happens all the times, it’s very normal.

Courtland Allen  9:58

I like that you mentioned that a lot of growth strategies can take a ton of time to kick in. I’ve interviewed a lot of founders and seen this exact phenomenon. I talked to a woman named Christie Lawrence whose app took 10 months to get built. And the entire time she was working, spending those 10 months on actually growing to ensure that when her app was done being built, it actually had an audience, she can find customers, make money. And if she hadn’t put in that time, she would not have been able to sell. I’ve talked to, also you mentioned mattresses, I talked to the founders of a mattress company called Tuft & Needle and they actually use paid advertisements in order to sort of validate their idea.

So, they got a mattress, they wanted to try selling it. Rather than doing all sorts of very slow methods of reaching customers, they literally just took out an ad and put it at the top of Google for mattresses to see if anyone were to click through their website and actually buy this mattress. And that sort of proved to them instantly, within a day that their idea was something, that at least someone somewhere would care about.

Julian Shapiro  10:56

Exactly, and improving within a day or so that people are interested in what you have, which was only achievable through just quickly spinning up ads, and spending money for an afternoon, you could have just saved yourself going down a rabbit hole for four to six months, waiting for the traffic to accrue in which time you’ve blown and wasted all these hours going down the wrong direction. So it’s not only efficient, cost-wise, it’s also efficient time-wise to just rely on ads in the very early days. And then as you get other channels working, the channel being a sort of place that you get people from. So, word of mouth is a channel, buying traffic on ads is a channel, SEO, right, Search Engine Optimization, getting traffic from Google to your blog, for example, that’s another channel. Referrals, sponsorships, there’s a whole bunch.

The idea is that until those take off, ads are great in the short term, at minimum, but the argument I want to make this even in the long term, they’re usually also great as well if you do them properly.

Courtland Allen  11:58

So, let’s talk about these channels. Because this is what I was bringing up earlier, where people aren’t really that familiar with what their options even are. For how they’re going to grow their app. They just sort of copy what they see, one or two other people doing and they leave a lot of other channels and options untouched and really unexplored. Let’s say, I’m a founder or would be founder, I’ve got an idea I want to work on how should I be thinking about evaluating which channel, which growth strategies are a good fit for the idea that I have?

Julian Shapiro  12:24

Sure. So the first framework you can consider is are you in direct to consumer business or you selling to other businesses. So an example of the first category, the B2C, business to consumer would be something like selling a toothbrush on your website, right, it’s an individual who buys the toothbrush. In contrast, a B2B business will be something like you are selling email marketing software like MailChimp, anyone’s heard of that to a company that is trying to email their users, right? Or their customers. So if you think of that, if you start in that framework, that’ll help you narrow better into which of those channels are most likely to work for you. And once you’ve decided between the two, there’s then a little bit more of sub-segmentation we can follow.

So, let me give you a few examples. So if you are a B2C business, if you’re selling to consumers, you can be an e-commerce business, that’s one sub-segment, you can be a mobile app, like we discussed earlier, or a SaaS app, or you can be just bricks and mortar, you can have a real retail physical presence. So, let me give you an example comparing those sub-segments against each other which channels are most of you to succeed. So let’s take b2c ecommerce selling physical goods. So you’ll most likely succeed. So if you succeed at all with ads, these are the channels you will most likely succeed with, based on me, or my experience, having worked with a few dozen startups over the last couple years, and talking to a bunch of other companies as well and figuring out what works for them. So most likely for B2C is going to be Instagram ads, content marketing, and a little bit of PR, public relations, to kickstart some of these organic efforts, so sponsoring influencers or getting affiliates, you can kind of bucket that partially into PR. Getting the word out through non-advertising or content means. You might also succeed with Pinterest ads, Google AdWords and Google Shopping. So, we can dive into those individually.

But right now I’m trying to give a high-level overview of some challenges, you can have them in the back of your brain. And let’s go to a couple other sub-segments that are most common. I won’t go through all them just yet. But let’s say you are a B2C SaaS app. So, you’re selling software to consumers, for example,, they are a Chrome extension, that is also a SaaS app. And what they do is they allow consumers, people like you and I to send emails in a more organized fashion. One way to think about it, they’re also for business as well. So, they will most likely succeed with Facebook ads, and content marketing. And they might succeed with Google AdWords and affiliate programs.

And let me give you one last example of that sub-segment in the B2B category. This is the business just so we can kind of get the lay of the land of what channels are out there. Let me take a look here. So, let’s say you are a broadly appealing B2B product with a high amount of revenue that you make per user, which we call high average revenue per user, so ARPU and the company like that is one that might make $1,000 per month per customer. So maybe there’s something like, I don’t know, Salesforce, perhaps, or their software that target businesses, they charge a lot per month to big companies. If that is you, you’ll most likely succeed doing sales.

So that’s one of the key differences here. If you are selling to businesses, you may have to rely less on ads, and more so on traditional sales. And sales can break down further into cold emailing, sending emails to people who you’ve never spoken to before, just traditional networking, say at conferences, and even sending sort of like cold LinkedIn messages as an alternative to cold emails. And you can also rely on lead generation. So getting businesses that might be interested in your product. That’s what a lead would be someone who might be interested, you know, you don’t yet know, they’re not yet a customer. You can do lead generation through Facebook ads, and Google AdWords and you might succeed of Instagram ads as well, and content marketing.

So I’m going to pause there, the idea being there is a sort of framework here to think about what is most likely to work. And when I say most likely what I mean is not just a matter of every dollar, and we’ll come back out your way more profitably. It’s not just that it’s also whether it can be made to work at all. So for example, sales will not work at all, for many B2C companies that are selling toothbrushes, because the amount of labor that goes into a sales call, or sales email will be unjustifiably expensive relative to how much revenue you make from the sale of that toothbrush. So that is an example of how one channel might only be appropriate for one type of business. Conversely, if you’re doing Snapchat Ads, that channel might not be appropriate for Salesforce because Snapchat’s audience might be predominantly younger people who are in a frame of mind while using Snapchat that is not at all conducive to saying, “Yeah, what enterprise software should I sign my sales team up for?” Right? So there’s a contextual component there’s does your audience even exist on that channel component? Then there’s the financial component of assessing the channel, for example, is it simply too expensive to buy ads there, given how much money that I make from my average user, and then putting ads aside entirely you have things I alluded to like affiliate programs, PR, content marketing, and a few other non paid channels that we can get into if you like.

Courtland Allen  18:08

Okay, great. So that’s a lot of information to digest. And I think it really gets the point across that there’s a lot to think about here. It’s not as simple as I’m going to build an app and it’s going to work. Really should put thought into the different channels you can use and whether or not they’ll be profitable and workable for you in the short term and the long term. And there’s a ton of different options. Let’s say, I am an aspiring indie hacker. I don’t know what I want to work on. I don’t know what I want to build yet. But listen to this episode. And I’m thinking, gee, I don’t want to pick the wrong thing that’s going to be a lot of trouble to grow. And that’s not going to be successful at all. How would you think about being in that position? Julian, I know you say that e-commerce is better than SaaS. Should I start an e-commerce business as an aspiring indie hacker?

Julian Shapiro  18:52

So there’s this advice that’s out there, which says, choose what you’re passionate about, and solve problems that you have, meaning those are the criteria people often say, should lead you to the type of business you start. The reason for the passion one is that you sustain your motivation to see the business through, and the reason for solving your own problem, so that you can be your own customer. Because when you are your own customer, you have a better understanding of how to solve the problem more intimately. And when you fail to solve the problem sufficiently, you can be a good judge of that. So it’s good advice.

But I would argue, it’s the wrong advice. And this goes against much of what you would hear from other people having grown so many companies, and having seen their struggle so early on. And having seen them pivot sometimes on account of the recommendations my agency Bell Curve has made to them when seeing their struggles. I believe that in contrast, you should start with what is most likely to succeed and from there and succeed meaning profitably to whatever your milestone is for being happy financially. That is what I mean by succeeding. I’m not saying go choose the idea most likely to make a billion dollars, if you don’t care about that, whatever would make you happy, realistically. If it’s a lifestyle business that maybe pays what you would have been paid had you work for someone else and that’s what you’re looking for, awesome, start with what is most likely to achieve that. And the way that you assess that is by figuring out what is most suitable for growth. And so we’ll get back to that in a moment.

But the second step is, once you’ve identified that, then you ask yourself, okay, within those possibilities, within all these things, I think are likely to succeed, what am I most passionate about, and which of these do I actually have the problem they’re solving. So they still should be criteria for narrowing down the top level criterion of what’s actually going to work because I don’t care how passionate you are about an idea, if it’s failing miserably for half a year, you will feel miserable, you will give up and it will have been a poor use of your time.

So I really want to stress that don’t work on something doomed to fail, because there is an infinite amount of ideas you could be pursuing. So to pursue the one you’re most passionate about and disregard the growth potential of it is doing yourself a disservice and is being naive because I guarantee there is an idea out there that is both, you are both passionate about it, and it has growth potential.

So to kind of wrap this up, how do you assess whether something has growth potential, meaning, how can you get it to a point where it’s sustaining the financial lifestyle you want without too much friction. And essentially, you want to look at the data of what types of companies succeed most frequently, which is how we started off this call. So e-commerce does succeed more frequently controlling for founder skill, and the quality of the idea, more so than software.

You also want to look for, how big is the market? How badly does the market want what you’re offering? And if you can find specific examples, if there are competitors that exist that are doing great, that is a very good thing that shouldn’t scare you, you shouldn’t say, “awww too much competition”. The world is huge, the population is growing quickly, the amount of people in countries, with the quickly increasing purchasing power, and with access to the internet, it is rapidly expanding. So it doesn’t matter if competition exists, there’s a reason why there are half dozen mattress companies popping up every year or every quarter even. So they all do get a small piece of the pie. And remember, if you’re not trying to be a billionaire by this idea, you don’t need to have something that dominates the entire market. So competition is not a bad thing.

The point I’m getting to here is, it is actually a great signal that the thing you’ve identified at the intersection of you what you’re passionate about what you understand, you understand the problem that’s being solved, and has growth potential that can be assessed by that signal, or other people kicking butt doing it. And specifically, you can identify this in a couple ways.

One, you can go to, scroll halfway down the page, please, at the time of this recording, and enter the domain name of that competitor. And you’ll be able to see the traffic trend that they’ve received over time. So over the last year, for example, it’ll show you how many more visitors they’ve had in one month versus the next. And typically, not always, but typically, if you see that steadily increasing, it means they’re buying more and more traffic, usually through ads, or maybe it’s word of mouth. And if that trend holds then it means they’re probably doing pretty well. Because each month they’d be more motivated to keep pumping more money. And because when they put $1 in, they get more than $1 back.

So that’s one sign of finding out are they successful? Or are they just blasting me with ads, and they seem successful, but they’re going to be going out of business. And again, it’s not a perfect metric, but it is a place to start. Another one is, subscribe to their Facebook page, or like their Facebook page and look at the level of engagement on their Facebook ads. Is it a ghost town or are people truly engaging and is the number of engagements, likes, comments, shares, just exploding over time, right? So there are a few metrics that you can use as a proxy to assess their success.

And the reason I’m spending so much time on this point is because, much like the growth marketing mindset as a whole, you want to be data-oriented. You don’t want to go on hunches ever. Hunches can propose the things for you to try, but data should then be what validates them. Hunches should not be what concludes on experiments or concludes on really important decisions.

Courtland Allen  24:57

I like that you bring up this point about hunches. Because it’s so easy when you’re listening to other people’s stories of doing research to fall prey to survivorship bias, where you say, I see all sorts of people who say that they followed a hunch, and it worked out for their business. But you’re not really looking at all the people who followed a hunch and that growth strategy didn’t work out and their business failed, you know, they never really wrote about it.

And so, you really should take the denominator into account, that sort of the possibility that just because you see something very often doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a high percentage chance of success. And the opposite is also true. You might very rarely see people talk about making these data-driven decisions that you’re talking about. But that doesn’t change the fact that it might be a more successful approach. Can you give us any stories or examples of times where you’ve used the strategies like looking at or examining another company’s Facebook ads, and come up with a good growth strategy for yourself, or for a company that you’ve worked with?

Julian Shapiro  25:47

Yeah, let me give you a counterexample, a different way to think about how to identify the right direction for your product beyond just looking at competitors. So if you start out with a test, and let’s see, you have a product that does a lot of things, it helps you get money back from companies that have wronged you. So maybe companies, that maybe a restaurant spilled food on your clothing, right, or maybe you bought a toaster that broke while on warranty, and the company will not refund you or exchange it. So the reason I’m giving you these examples, because that is exactly a client that we work with

So they started as a product that did exactly that. They were basically customer support as a service, they brokered customer support conversations for you, they didn’t really have a monetization strategy that was solid just yet they were exploring the market, which is an okay thing if you’re very diligent with your growth. And so they were looking for the science in those early tests, of which types of customer complaints had the highest affinity, meaning when that problem, or when that complaint occurred, customers were really passionate about seeing it through, about getting it resolved, and they’re willing to put up with anything to get to a conclusion, that would be high affinity.

Courtland Allen  27:11

So they’re in a situation that a lot of companies find themselves and where they’ve got lots of customers doing lots of different things. They’re trying to analyze all the data to figure out, okay, where’s the signal here? Where should we double down and focus?

Julian Shapiro  27:22

That’s exactly right. And that can be an okay thing, just doing growth, modestly, meaning not spending too much money temporarily, for the purpose of learning more about your market and the problems you should be solving based on what is going to succeed growth wise, that is ok to do. They did that. They found one particular use case that was by far and away the winner. And then I said to them, why don’t you double down on that now, because if we focus your product, where the only thing it does is just that one complaint resolution, it’s going to give us an opportunity to focus our growth efforts, meaning our website, our ads, the in-app experience, the mobile app, all of that can be very narrowly tailored to that use case.

And that use case, by the way, is what’s called flight remuneration, which is where if a flight is delayed by an airline or canceled depending on a few stipulations, you may be entitled to a cashback like mileage back. And so that was the thing that ticked off consumers the most, because no one likes a delayed flight, right. And so when that problem occurred, people felt a lot of anger toward the airlines, their affinity was through the roof. And that was the type of person we knew would fall in love with our app if we could solve their problem.

So we redirected all of our growth efforts, doubled down on exactly that and went from spending almost nothing on ads, because we weren’t making money. And there wasn’t enough focus on spending more per month on Facebook and Instagram advertising combined than any other client I’ve ever worked with before. Because it turned out it hit a lot of those things that I mentioned a few moments ago, it hit a lot of those criteria, you should be looking forward to assess whether your idea will succeed from a growth perspective.

So I’ll go into those in a moment. But it was only because we afforded ourselves that learning period that we had the data to be extra confident, we would then head in the right direction. And we didn’t need a competitor tell us this, we had our own data. So sometimes you can go with internal data. So really briefly, why did that idea succeed – The market is huge, everybody flies, at least everyone in the geographies that we’re targeting, North America, they get in an airplane, fly, perhaps on average, once, twice a year. And there’s a whole bunch of people, business travelers who travel so frequently, they would kill for our app, because they would be getting so many hundreds of dollars back, no exaggeration, or thousands back based on all the times they’ve been wronged by the airlines. And the market is simply huge. And the affinity like we already spoke about is high, which means the market demand is high, even though it’s latent demand, meaning people weren’t saying, “hey, why doesn’t someone build an app for me to go ahead and get money back from the airlines” because no one knew that was the thing that could even be done before Service blew up, and everyone started learning about it.

So demand doesn’t only have to be what is on the tip of people’s tongues, which would mean they already know about the solution you provide, which was not the case, it might just mean once they learn about you, they’re going to go crazy for you. That is okay demand as well. In fact, that is hidden demand related demand that usually makes for the most explosive businesses. Airbnb, nobody knew people want that for years.

But there’s no reason why could not have existed 40 years ago, there’s no reason perhaps the lack of the internet, but from an actual user’s perspective, going to someone’s home and so forth, you know, that could have been done through a mail order catalog, who knows. So it could have existed, there was a latent demand. And it took data, test that the Airbnb team did, just like the service team did – the same methodology to you use their own data to figure out okay, “you know what, there’s something here that no one else realized”. Which means not only do I have a market play here, because the growth potential is real, but there isn’t a single competitor that currently exists. So if I play my growth right, I might be the next biggest thing and Service became exactly that.

Courtland Allen  31:49

I like that you said that one of the criteria here is that the market is huge. Everybody flies, everybody has to do is delayed or canceled flights and so, the potential number of customers that this company could reach is humongous. People talk a lot about the product market fit, and I think it gets misinterpreted by a lot of people starting companies as I need to make something that people really like. And that’s great. And all you should make something that people really like. But you also need to make something that a lot of people can potentially use, like, the market you’re targeting has to be huge. It has to be a market where people actually pay money for things, how do you actually research to figure out which markets are worth targeting?

Julian Shapiro  32:27

So I would think a bit less about markets and a bit more about audiences. So one might say, how big is the market for flight remuneration? You’re like, I don’t know, it’s not really a thing. But if you said, How big is the audience? People who might want that? Okay, well, technically, let’s add all the frequent business flyers and the more casual vacation goers. And then we might have an idea of how can we break that down by affinity, who would want us the most within that audience.

So if you look at the highest affinity, probably, than business travelers, because they deal with this problem the most. So that’s affinity based on frequency, if that’s the case, or just for point of contrast, contrast affinity based on frequency versus affinity based on magnitude, meaning when this type of audience or sub-audience experiences the problem, how bad is it? Right? So there are different ways to break down an audience. But the point being, if you start with the audience, segment by affinity, then you can ask yourself, how large the audience that would want me the most. And that is typically how you want to think about whether the “market is good for you”. And there’s a few other things, there’s a few other hidden components, which are sort of self-evident, but I want to tease them out – So, is what you’re doing, actually successfully solving their problem? Is what you’re doing the sort of thing that can be conveyed very succinctly and effectively to people. You might have the world’s best problem, but if your approach to it cannot actually be digested into a really powerful, punchy ad, that gets people to click, then this might not be a very effective solution, actually, at least from the perspective of growth, which as I’ve been arguing, is kind of the most important thing.

Growth is another way of just saying, does your business function? Is it even capable of self-sustaining? And so that’s how I would normally think of it. But to answer your question more directly, if I’m trying to identify a business opportunity, what should my next business be, which I think is the real question, I will go back to that framework of what is likely to succeed. And so Service succeeds, not just because the market is huge, or because the affinity can sometimes be very high. But it also succeeds, because it can pass that test of being conveyed and being pitched very efficiently.

So we have one ad that we call a hero ad, meaning it by far, and away outperforms every other ad we’ve ever made for Service. And all it says is, P.S. Airlines will pay you up 135 bucks, when your flight is delayed, or canceled. Period. That is the entire ad, there’s no other text on the image that is responsible for seven figures in ad spend, and head, I tried spending seven figures with a lesser ad, it probably would not have been profitable.

So my point here is assessing the viability of your idea is not just a matter of assessing the market, it’s a matter of assessing how well can you pitch it and does it really solve the problem. And a few other things, I’ll give you one last item here, which is, Service also made it a no brainer to sign up. So not only was the pitch effective in the sense that, here’s what we’re doing, you’re like, “Damn, I need that solved”. But once you actually down the mobile app, you weren’t charged anything, the value proposition, meaning what they were pitching to you, as what they were going to do for you was, hey, create an account, put your credit card on file, that’s it, we’re not going to charge it, we’re going to do everything we can for free to go and try to talk to the airlines and get your money back. And if we succeed, then we’ll take a portion of what we get you back. So you have nothing to lose here.

And that was the genius of Service’s business model. That is, in fact, my last point, which is how compelling is the way you solve the problem, not just kind of be conveyed well, which I gave you the example of the ad. But do you actually solve the problem in a way that people go, “Wow, yes, sign me up for that. I don’t perceive any friction here. Go”.

Courtland Allen  36:55

So what about people who are in a situation where they maybe don’t have a great idea already? You’ve seen tons of companies, you’ve seen what’s worked, what hasn’t. What kinds of audiences do you think are being underserved? What types of channels do you think are maybe emerging, and people aren’t really focusing on and that show a lot of promise?

Julian Shapiro  37:14

So these are my two most reliable frameworks for deciding whether you should pursue an idea or perhaps more so, finding an idea you should pursue. First from the B2B side, when you’re basically looking to sell something to businesses, you should be the buyer, you should see the problem and have it yourself and you should go and talk to your own business and say, “Hey, would you guys pay to solve this problem?” If so, others may be willing to pay for it, go survey similar companies and find out. Get a whole bunch of ‘yes’s before you actually venture into building something. And that’s a very tried and true framework, nothing novel on my part there. The one that’s a bit more novel on my part is identifying ecommerce trends where branding is the differentiator. So…

Courtland Allen  38:06

Okay, What do you mean by that?

Julian Shapiro  38:08

Yes. So let’s look at Instagram data. Now, as often as I can, I’ll try to bring this back to some sort of source of data. So things trend on Instagram, there are hash tags, there are third party tools that let you assess what’s being discussed the most month over month on Instagram based on hashtags. And if you see beauty products, makeup, skincare, whatever, trending really strong, meaning there’s a new trend in there, maybe it’s using a certain type of powder, or using a certain type of medical ingredient in skin cream, and is really starting to get some traction, that might be an indication that that will explode soon. And you might want to jump the gun early and be there from day one. How do you assess that?

You then go to Google Trends, or just go to Google and type ‘Google Trends’ and you’ll be brought to a dashboard where you enter the name of that trend. And Google will show you a graph over time of how many people search for that keyword or that thing that trend month over month. And if that’s spiking up, much like the Alexa graph example from earlier, if people are searching this thing more and more and more then it might be on the precipice of exploding. And if you’re there from day one, you might be the one that wins the branding war, you own that category in the minds of all of the people who would be in your market.

And now another way to look at that. So here’s the different perspective into how to choose an e-commerce product. You can find something that is boring old, perhaps even overplayed, like everyone in the world has a mattress or some form of mattress, at least everyone in North America is going to have a mattress. So you might think to yourself, you know what, there’s nothing to be done here. I can’t bring something new to mattresses. And that very often isn’t true, because branding alone can sometimes be the differentiator, like there are people selling like the quick toothbrush, or I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of others. But the idea here is how differentiated are they really? How differentiated is one modern toothbrush from the next? Is it just prettier? Probably. Is a little bit cheaper? Probably. Is a little bit easier to buy the one personalized to you based on their website functionality? Probably. And none of those things are game changers.

You add up those small things together, it feels modern, you then paint a brand story around it, like this is the thing where your teeth are never going to be as good, you know it’s going to get it bad than that they’ve ever been, and you show people ecstatic about it, you show all the social proof, meaning you show other customers’ testimonials, and you build this bubble that you track people in where they think you are the new hottest thing and then the next time they have to buy a new toothbrush, they’ll choose you instead of going to the CVS at the local, you know, pharmacy and that I have seen become the only differentiator – branding, positioning for many companies that have succeeded wildly recently.

I don’t want to encourage a lot of people to think that way. Because I think it’s bad for the marketplace. I think it’ll burn out. And I think unless you know branding really well, you won’t actually see much success. But if you’re a branding expert, and you’re not, you know, a coder who can make a SaaS app or something, it is an honestly good option available to you.

Courtland Allen  41:47

So a lot of channels that we haven’t discussed here that I’ve seen various indie hackers use to their success – influencer marketing and getting popular famous people to talk about what you’re building, ranking high in app stores. So you mentioned Chrome extensions, most people find Chrome extensions through the Chrome App Store or the Chrome Web Store or mobile apps, the same thing. Public speaking, some businesses grow tremendously for their founders, public speaking, some businesses that doesn’t make any sense at all, how can I, as a founder, go about evaluating these sort of slower, more gradual channels to determine what’s going to be best right business?

Julian Shapiro  42:23

So the only way to assess those typically is to just do them. And it’s less about how can I tell whether they’re going to work quickly? How do I assess them, more so about how do you distribute your resources efficiently, meaning how can you run small tests and each of those channels from in parallel as early as you can, especially the ones that take a long time to pay dividends actually work, like SEO, so that you plant all of these seeds, if ads fail, you can go back to the, you know, the plants and the trees that have grown out of those seeds over time.

So start networking, start doing a little bit of PR here and there, it does serve a purpose at times. And at least for the average company, I mean, in general, serves a purpose. Sometimes it can be pretty interesting for pairing it with ads, and just don’t let anything it takes a long time to snowball build momentum, go unaddressed for too long. And back that is exact same strategy I use for all the bell curve growth clients from the ad shall front.

So even just focusing on those channels where you do have to pay money, we run a very small test and each like 500 to $1,000, which is small for them. Because these are usually companies have raised several million and we try to find a very quickly does this channel do Snapchat ads have potential and if not, we’ll stop. And we’ll come back to the later time. But we want to know early on because if it turns out that Snapchat is a quarter of the price of Instagram, and we only tested Instagram, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes that reduction in paid acquisition costs can single-handedly be what makes or breaks your business.

Julian Shapiro  44:08

So the real methodology here is to go in with an open mind, figure out what is the quickest way I can validate this particular channel with paid channels. That means is spending a little bit of money being very thoughtful, but the audiences you’re testing, with unpaid channels depends very much on a per channel basis. And I’m not an expert and say, you know, conferences and PR, both.

Content marketing –  One example of doing a small test would be something like doing keyword analysis, which is a whole different topic could probably won’t get into. But if you google something like keyword analysis for my blog, you’ll be able to figure out what are people searching for. And then you can just start writing blog posts. So the things that are most commonly searched for, that other people are not writing much about. So make it easy on yourself and see, okay, people who do come and read these blog posts that should get a decent amount of visitors. Do they actually want them converting into customers?

And one more point there on blogging, which is it’s not just a matter of “Willis, get enough traffic”, relatively speaking. But is this a topic I could write about? That would actually segue naturally into a pitch for my product.

So you can write about all sorts of stuff. But if it doesn’t usher people toward a sale, you have to think about what is the value is versus trying a different topic for the purposes of assessing content marketing as a channel in an efficient manner. So put yourself in the best possible position to win in these channel tests.

Courtland Allen  45:39

Yeah, like your emphasis on testing, you keep using the word testing. And I think for people learning how to build a company from scratch, we see these examples of other companies that have succeeded and we only really see what worked in the end and they say, Oh, yeah, I put up this type of ad or I started doing this type of link building strategy or I reached out to these influencers and my website blew up but often times those people tried dozens of things that didn’t work beforehand and they were just very efficient about ruling out what wasn’t gonna work and I’ll be on to the next thing.

I want to ask you some specific questions around topics that we talked about a lot on the Indie Hackers podcast and see how you would approach those from a position of growth. So the first is how would you go about creating a small to moderately sized e-commerce business quickly? People listening in might be saying okay, I’m sold, e-commerce might be the way to go. What sort of your roadmap would you do first? And what can other people sort of learn from that?

Julian Shapiro  46:36

So let me first tie back to something I said earlier in the chat, which is I want to substantiate, why is e-commerce better than SaaS, at least for the frequency of it succeeding financially or profitably?

Julian Shapiro  46:51

So with e-commerce typically you’re selling a good like a toothbrush or mattress that people are already buying. Think about that for a moment. So if I’m creating SaaS software, in contrast, are people already buying is the average person in America is the average adult already buying a tool to allow them to live chat with business customers on their website and get analytics for the live chats. Like that’s a very niche thing. So when you’re selling a niche thing, particularly through the lens of growth, meaning you’re pitching it to someone through an ad, a niche thing has to be explained from multiple levels of a ladder of product awareness.

Number one, why do I have to solve this problem? Oh, because when you have chats with people on your website, X, Y, Z, it’s okay, in explaining the problem, you’ve now taken up half or more of the real estate available to you in your ad to actually pitch why your solution is amazing. And so let’s compare that back to e-commerce. If everyone knows the toothbrush is, and I run an ad pitching a toothbrush, all I have to do is point out why mine is amazing. I can just show how pretty it is, I can show a couple of its cool features like bullet point 1, 2, 3.

This is why it is awesome. I don’t have to pitch the problem of why somebody needs a toothbrush or a mattress, they already know. And so you save or you can more efficiently use a real estate, and running as many ads as I have, I know full well that efficiency is the key to ads, you have to get to the point quickly, if you ramble too much, people stop reading. And people don’t click. And then it’s very expensive to run as profitably. So this is a huge component.

The second component is kind of the flip side of this coin, which is if people already buy this thing, it means they’re going to buy it again, just a matter of how expendable is that good. So they’re already going to want to buy it no matter what. So if you show your ad to them at a point in their life, when they’re ready to buy, you have an extremely good chance to get that sale.

Part of the hustle of growth marketing, running ads competently, what we do for clients is we figure out how do we most narrowly identify those individuals who do in fact need that good right now in their life? What are the signals, what are the patterns or behaviors that correlate with someone about to buy a mattress. I’ll give you a specific example. So on Facebook, they allow you to do something called behavioral targeting. That means you can target your ads to people on Facebook based on the behaviors Facebook detects in them. One such behavior might be they recently moved, so they went from New York to California. That is a perfect example of what I would call a trigger for introducing someone into our ideal audience of buying a mattress – when you move, if you’re not driving your you know, the truck with your mattress across the state across the country, you’re going to have to buy one. There we go. And sure enough that will outperform generally targeting all Facebook users as a second type of ad set – an ad set is sort of like the means by which you target someone on Facebook, it’ll always perform better.

So, just wanted to tie all that together for answer your question of why is e-commerce awesome? Those are two reasons. Maybe a rapid fire a couple more off the top my head because I think people are interested in this because we’ve spoken so much about why e-commerce, why e-commerce – it’s visual. Usually, people also know they have a price expectation. So people get in that people have an idea that for a mattress, they’re going to be spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Julian Shapiro  50:52

Now for a SaaS app, in contrast, they usually use what’s called value-based pricing. Because there’s no actual concrete marginal cost that is in the hundreds of dollars when trying to sell some things that’s software based usually. So they’re like, let’s just charge 500 bucks, because we think it provides that much value to our customer. And so we can get away with it because they’ll be happy paying. So that’s however, purely conjecture, or maybe that’s substantiated by some user testing, but the point is, you simply don’t know if people will really put their money where their mouth is, and say, yes, that I’m willing to pay that as as as much value as I theoretically get from that software.

In comparison to e-commerce, if you are selling a mattress, and one of your key selling points is that you cost $400, as opposed to $3,000 for an extremely premium mattress, people are like, wow, I know for sure, that’s how much a mattress cost normally. So I know for sure you’re giving me the deal of a lifetime, and I have no problem paying your $400.

Julian Shapiro  52:03

I can go on about why e-commerce is awesome. And this is not something by the way that almost anyone that I’ve spoken to in the entirety of Silicon Valley, other than investors who are savvy enough to figure this out and double down on it even know about or talk about ever. It’s never spoken. And I think part of that has to do with a lot of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, in Northern California and elsewhere, there’s a heavy emphasis on technical founders. And when you’re a coder founder, and you’re trying to follow this advice and solve your own problem, usually the problems you have are software related or your reflex when solving a problem is to ask yourself, “how can I use software to do so?” And none of that is conducive to coming up with e-commerce ideas.

And e-commerce is also sort of dismissed as a sort of non-sexy, archaic, Costco level warehousing thing. Plus the logistics of actually shipping things across the country can be very intimidating. Fortunately, however, falsely intimidating because there are tons of full solution providers that will do all that for you.

One last note on this is there is a part of North America that’s crushing e-commerce. And that’s Los Angeles. They’re sort of like Hollywood first, brand first, marketing first, Instagram, social influencers, celebrities, all that stuff fosters and environment or e-commerce is better supported emotionally, Data wise, what your friends are doing, what investors are looking for. And if you go look at the startups coming out of LA, how many of them are signed physical goods is relatively high, people don’t realize this, and very successful, super high rate of success. So something to chew on.

Courtland Allen  53:55

Yeah, it’s interesting how much as founders, we tend to over-focus on what we already know. So we look at our role models and our peers, we see what they’re doing, we copy that we don’t realize how much that limits our perception as to what’s possible, because there are so many people outside of whatever bubbles we’re in, outside of whatever books we are reading or podcast listening to, or people we talked to you or cities we live in, who are doing things a totally different way.

I think that’s one of the cool things about talking to somebody like you who runs an agency or talking to an investor because people in those positions, you guys see a lot of companies from all over the place. And so you don’t really get limited by just saying the same types of examples over and over.

Julian Shapiro  54:30

Exactly. Also, I’m realizing now that we’ve done a nice chunk of me rambling, so I would love to just maybe segue into some growth stories and hear what maybe you’ve experienced Courtland, based on some of the anecdotes I’ve shared or some of the data I’ve shared, and maybe I could share a few as well. Is that sounds cool?

Courtland Allen  54:48

Yeah, that sounds great. And we’ve got a ton of questions from people on Twitter that we can make sense of well.

Julian Shapiro  54:54


Courtland Allen  54:55

One question from Twitter is how do you target a niche? If you know that you’re specifically going to be looking at a very small group of customers, very specifically, that’s different from other people? Does this affect the channels that you can target and the ways that you can grow?

Julian Shapiro  55:09

Great question. So when you’re going niche, let’s say you’re targeting people who love widgets, there are a few ways to leverage the popular social networks to find widget lovers. And this is important because if you’re just targeting a quarter million people who would be the perfect fit for you, for your product, if you try advertising on Facebook, just very broadly, where there’s, you know, over a billion people, and over 200 million in the US alone, something around that, it’s going to be wildly inefficient ad spend – so be targeting and spamming everyone.

So if you look at Twitter, there’s something very cool, which is you can target Twitter users based on who Twitter users follow. And those are very niche signals. If I follow widget code, or widget fans are widget photos, that’s a pretty strong sign that I care about widgets. On Facebook, you can target people based on the page that they like. However, many pages, particularly those smaller audiences, so who’d been like less frequently or to a smaller degree, Facebook will simply not allow you to target them at all. But Twitter gives you that full unfettered access even the most niche of things based on the accounts people follow. Further, Twitter can be used to target keywords. So if someone’s publicly tweeting about widgets, you can target people who entered those keywords into their tweets. Pretty cool. The downside is, Twitter is one of the worst ad channels, it’s usually worst performing then Facebook, Instagram, even Snapchat, meaning the cost per click to your website is very high, people’s intent to buy one they reach your website is pretty poor. But if that’s the only place you can identify your audience, it’s going to be probably your best channel.

Also, SEO, piggybacking off keywords like widget when people Google that, you can have blog posts that cover what’s called the full long tail of the niche topics that all aggregate together to be a meaningful number of topics, you can cover those in individual blog posts, even people searching very small amounts per month, maybe you can dominate that in aggregate.

And then one more thing I’ll say on this because I want to try to rapid fire these better than I am sorry about that. But in regards to Facebook, they have something called ‘lookalike targeting’ which is where as long as you have some people already visiting your website and engaging and buying, you can, without you having to do anything technical, instruct Facebook through their dashboard, how to target people who have the same sort of demographic and purchasing behaviors as the people on your website. So they can identify similar people and extrapolate backward from there. Very cool, extremely effective.

Courtland Allen  58:06

Another question several people asking us on Twitter. What about virality? What about referrals? What if you’re someone who doesn’t want to deal with any of this gross stuff and you want to build a product that’s going to grow based on word of mouth alone? What are your tips for doing that?

Julian Shapiro  58:22

So virality does work. It can work. It probably will not work for your product, and let me be more specific. There are a few types of virality – there’s inherent virality which occurs as a natural function of your product’s day-to-day use. For example, if you’re paying someone on PayPal, your payment’s recipient needs to first join PayPal in order to get that payment. Right? And so who’s not going to sign up to get paid – it’s an extremely compelling offer in your email inbox, “Hey sign up and you can get your friend’s thousand dollars that he’s paying you.” So no wonder PayPal’s user base exploded, that’s inherent virality occurring as a function of your product’s everyday use. That’s the best virality there is, because you don’t have to introduce artificial gimmicks like here’s 10% off, here’s 25 bucks. here’s some swag, you don’t have to rely on that stuff which never works as well as an inherently compelling reason for someone to go ahead and sign up for the product, and because one person will pay more than one recipient in a year usually, it’s one to many. Right?

Julian Shapiro  59:29

Dropbox is another great example of inherent virality. In order for me to use Dropbox in my business, I have to share it with my whole team. That’s step one. Step two and I wanted to share a Dropbox file with my people outside of the team, with a client or something. I may have to invite them and now they have to sign up and that’s inherent virality, that’s the best, doesn’t have to be incentivized, it works organically. No reason PayPal or no surprise Gmail, Hotmail PayPal, Airbnb, Dropbox all exploded – that’s those are all examples of inherent virality. Word of mouth is the second type, you guys know what that is? Basically just focus on building a product experience where people are overjoyed and want to on their own volition practically recommend your product.

And lastly, I think that’s a conversation for another podcast, product experience. So I’ll skip past that. Next is artificial virality, that is the sort of contrived reward systems getting cash or access for referring others. Everyone’s trying this, every app I have ever used like, hey get 25% off, hey get a month free, hey get 25 bucks back. Here’s the problem with that I want to just a moment on that…

Julian Shapiro  1:00:44

This artificial virality is a matter of moving the focus off of why people are using your product, that is a bad thing. Every single part of your customer’s journey should be doubled down on, hey use the product more and get more value out of it. Not here’s me paying you because I don’t know how to get you to invite other people organically or inherently. And so first. So I guess the first point is trying to avoid it as your only means of referral. If you have better options like inherent or word of mouth, if you are going to do it, here’s how I would do it…

Julian Shapiro  1:01:22

Either offer a huge bounty like get the product for free. If I refer five friends that’s much more tangible than get $5. I don’t need some fraction of the minimum wage. That’s not why I signed up for your service. But if you tell me that I get a free lunch, that gets more people to take action including wealthy people.

There’s some sort of weird psychological trick at play there, even though it’s not even worth an extremely wealthy person’s time. Let’s say there’s some billionaire. If you tell them, hey, you get this thing for free. Don’t be lazy. All you have to do is invite three people, you shift the emphasis of the reward system away from here’s money to don’t be lazy. You can do yourself a huge favor, which is get this for free if you just invite three friends.

So as an interesting perspective shift there that circumvents sort of wealth class and get more people to take action. In summary, offer a huge bounty where it just becomes free, whatever that thing is, for some amount of time, and usually get financially justified on your end as the product offering, something for free. You’ll want to figure out how many people does this person have to refer for it to be profitable for me to then give it to them for free. Also, there’s much more to say, but I’ll stop there.

Actually, I’ll do a quick plug because it’ll be helpful for people listening. Go to, click on this guide called “Marketing”, and there’s a page called onboarding in this long guide that I’ve written on marketing. And the onboarding page goes pretty in-depth into virality.

Courtland Allen  1:02:58

Another question that came up a few times on Twitter is about emerging or futuristic channels. So the idea here is that as more and more people know about a channel, like say, Facebook ads, they use it more, thus driving up the price of Facebook ads and making it a less effective channel. Are there any tips that you have for how to find new and emerging channels that are promising and do any particular channels come to mind?

Julian Shapiro  1:03:20

So anytime a social network is gaining traction, it is almost a given that they will introduce some sort of ad platform because that is the primary way to monetize a social network is to introduce ads. So Tinder, sure enough, at some point introduced ads, all of its competitors have or will. And so when you’re looking at those nascent social networks that aren’t as big as Facebook or Snapchat, if you can get on their ad platforms, the moment they release them, subscribe to their blogs, create Google Alerts – go to Google, literally Google the phrase Google Alerts, you’ll be able to set up your email notification anytime there’s news about these companies.

So make an alert for like Snapchat ads, or Tinder ads or whatever product has yet to actually release in that platform and get on there as early as you can. I was on Quora super early and was able to take advantage of the fact that no one else was advertising on Quora. That is the first sort of emerging channel I’ll share with you guys that’s worth playing around with.

There’s also Snapchat, is not an emerging product nor new emerging ad platform per se, but it is getting much better as an ad channel, so is Pinterest. So they’re emerging in a sense that they are now actually performing okay. Whereas in the earlier days, neither performed that well, when I say performed, I mean, they simply worked very hard to be profitable, but they were hard to get people to actually go ahead and buy from you once they click through to the ad.

Point being, not only do you want to look for new channels, you want to periodically assess old ones because they have hundreds of people spending the majority of their days doing nothing but trying to improve the performance of their ad platforms. And so give Pinterest and Snapchat another shot.

There are some of these audio platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and so forth, which are releasing their ad channels, rather, ad platforms give those a whirl. I know, Spotify recently introduced ads. And in terms of other upcoming nascent ones. I’ll pause there on rapid fire these. So what else?

Courtland Allen  1:05:27

This is a vague one. But the question is, do you have any advice specific to grow in mobile apps?

Julian Shapiro  1:05:33

Mobile apps? Yeah, here’s an incredibly high leverage piece of advice. Most people running mobile app advertising direct traffic directly to the App Store or Google Play store. That might work best. But usually what works better meaning if you do it, I’m about to suggest, you will see people purchase at a much higher rate, so your install rate will go down.

But those who actually do install will purchase more, meaning your actual revenue will go higher up, what matters where your profit if you do the following, which is put a landing page in between the ad and the App Store. A landing page means a website, a page. So people click on the ad, they go to your website, the website links them to the app store, that in all of my client tests, has drastically improved performance.

And the reason for that, one, the Play Store or the App Store, the actual pages in the stores don’t do a very good job holistically and convincingly pitching your product, the creative is minimal, there’s not much room to play with their, the copies of the mean, the text of the description is very minimal, and not fun to reach, like wall of text, right. And by creative a moment ago, what I mean by creative is the imagery and the videos.

And so if you have a website, instead, you can do your full normal pitch, you can show off videos, you can show off an interactive walkthrough, and you can have really pretty stylized text and small digestible chunks, it can be everything they need to know. So, by the time they get into your app, they actually buy from you. Whereas if they just go to the App Store, it’s so boring.

And they’re so used to skipping past App Store pages anyway, that they skim them entirely that by the time they get into your app, actually know nothing about your app, they just know the broad category that helps me learn how to play guitar or something, but they don’t know any of the specific features that warrant them actually buying your product. But when you have that page interstitial, a landing page in between, you give them that pitch, because they are going to skip breeding the app store page.

Courtland Allen  1:07:50

Another question from Twitter is people want to know, how do you sell SaaS to consumers? Assuming you have a SaaS business? You’re not targeting other businesses? How do you get consumers to actually buy your SaaS app?

Julian Shapiro  1:08:03

Same way you would do e-commerce? What is it? It’s actually it seems like a kind of a generic boring question. Actually, a great question because it gives me the opportunity to tell everyone that which ad channel you use to identify your target audience doesn’t matter very much. Here’s what I mean by that.

Julian Shapiro  1:08:25

Our best performing ad for one of our big enterprise B2B clients, they sell $50,000 machine learning computers, their best-performing ad is an Instagram ad, of a computer with dog ears on it, which is super counterintuitive, right? Because you’re thinking to yourself, okay, B2B. So maybe we got to target business people.

So maybe we got to target them on LinkedIn. That’s where business people hanging out. LinkedIn has an ad channel. Or maybe you got to do sales, and maybe sales and LinkedIn do work. But the point is that as long as you’re targeting the right person on Instagram, it doesn’t matter that you’re using Instagram to target them. So the platform meaning Instagram ads is just a conduit to get to the people who you know, to be the best audience fit for you.

So if you’re setting up your Instagram ads to target people who do really want to buy machine learning computers, because let’s say you figure out a way to target using that criteria using Facebook’s dashboard, which is possible. That’s all that matters. Because a person is a person is a person, I’m going to be learning buyer and I’m on Instagram, I’m on LinkedIn, it doesn’t matter. I’m still the same person, the context of my usage of the individual social network, whether I use it for business or for personal reasons, like Instagram will not significantly affect my likelihood to actually respond to a B2B or B2C consumer app and that is a huge learning we found early on in Bell Curve in working with B2B clients. And it holds true across every channel, not just Instagram.

Courtland Allen  1:10:07

I think that’s a kind of a good topic to close out on. Is there anything that you found in your time at Bell Curve that we haven’t covered, that is counterintuitive, that others haven’t really talked about, haven’t discovered that even the Indie Hackers audience would benefit from hearing and knowing while they go off and try to grow their own companies?

Julian Shapiro  1:10:25

Yeah, great question. So I’ll give you two. First would be, video ads almost always outperform image ads, if you attract people’s eyes, when they’re going through their feed, do it. Another one I’ll give you is, demographics do actually respond differently to different selling points.

So, a man in his 40s might respond significantly better. And when I say respond, of course, I mean, click through to higher rate, and all that stuff with the ad to one type of message, then a woman who’s younger, this might seem really self-evident. But I’ve looked at a lot of ad accounts, and I’ve never once seen a client, I really don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, and after we’ve come in and changed things, who’s segmented out demographics for the purpose of giving them the ads that are most appropriate for them.

And those ads should then lead to landing pages, just a fancy growth way of saying pages on your website that are themselves tailored to that demographic. So think about the full journey of each person you’re targeting thinking but think about them as separate people too.

Courtland Allen  1:11:40

All right. Well, we have gone on for quite some time. Thank you so much, Julian for coming on the show and sharing so much of your wisdom and advice and learnings with the audience. Can you let listeners know where they can go to find out more about what you’re up to with Bell Curve and how they can learn how to grow their businesses before they even get started?

Julian Shapiro  1:11:56

Sure. So let’s start with what’s free and easy to access. So, You can go check out many thousands of words I’ve written recapping almost everything here and going much more into depth. Also, at, we work with companies to train their team members, how to do growth marketing as well as we do, and we also have a job board for helping hire growth marketers. That’s really it. So, and And I’m super grateful you have me back on Courtland and thank you.

Courtland Allen  1:12:31

Thank you, Julian.

Courtland Allen  1:12:38

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