everydayCheck interview on IndieHackers

This interview was originally published on IndieHackers.com.

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hello! I’m Joan Boixadós and I’m working on everydayCheck, a simple and beautiful habit tracker to help you form new habits. The idea is that the best way to reach our goals is to work on them every single day no matter how little we do.

I work as a freelance web application developer / product manager. I studied Computer Science at the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) and did my Master’s Thesis in Munich (TUM). I then worked for start-ups until I managed to fully live from freelancing.

However, the freedom of freelancing is still too constrained for my liking, and that’s why I’ve always built products on the side. Since I have always wanted to have my own business, finding out about stories of indie hackers was very inspiring to me. everydayCheck is the first product I try to and successfully monetize. Since I started charging for it in May, it has been averaging $450/month. Right now every 240 visits convert to about 30 sign ups and 1 paid user.

everydayCheck - habit tracker to help you form good habits

By the way, I also created awesome-indie – an awesome repository of resources for independent developers to make money. Feel free to contribute!

What motivated you to get started with everydayCheck?

After a relatively dull 2016, and re-reading the great 12 months, 12 start-ups post by Pieter Levels I felt motivated to impose a challenge on me for 2017. So I came up with the idea of 12 labours, like those of Heracles. I called them dodecathlon. The 12 labours weren’t start-ups, just 12 things I wanted to do or learn in the course of a year, and guess what, January’s labour was “make a project that makes at least $1”. I had never charged for any of my side-projects before.

On the other hand, I have always scratched my own itch when it comes to productivity. I think it’s something very personal. I have developed several little apps for myself and everydayCheck is one more of them. I normally have a to-do-list on a notebook for what I’ll do each day or week. For a long time, there was something that bothered me, there were tasks that no matter if I did them or not, next day, they’d be there again. Go to the gym, eat healthy, etc. It was very frustrating because scratching them off didn’t mean I got rid of them. There was no dopamine shot to the brain, there was no visualization of progress.

It was then that I started distinguishing between to-do-list and daily to-do-lists... I had the mock-up done before I realized I even wanted to develop it. Then, I read about habits, their benefits, and also found out about habit trackers. The idea to “do a little bit every day no matter how little” had already been in my head for a few years, but I had never developed an app specifically for it.

It’s funny to remember now that one of the daily tasks was “think of 5 business ideas”.

From a business point of view, I decided to productize it when after researching habit trackers, I found that they were all mostly for mobile. Mobile apps. And there was no nice modern solution on the web. I thought, well, of course it makes more sense as a mobile app but then I thought of the Marketing for Minorities Talk by Patrick McKenzie and decided to go for it. Most of us spend the day in front of a computer anyways!

As a freelancer, you need to be very disciplined. So, I like to think I made everydayCheck thanks to everydayCheck, since it helped me to work on it every day no matter how little I did.

To validate it, I posted my app in several subreddits where I thought the app would be relevant and in most of them it caught great attention. Specifically this post on r/GetDisciplined exploded. Validating the idea very early on gave me the confidence to go on with it.

What went into building the initial product?

It took me 3 weeks to have the first working version with the landing page set up and ready to show it to people. I was dedicating between 1 and 4 hours a day, every day ;) These 3 weeks were a great exercise of discarding and prioritizing features. As a developer, most of the times you just want to develop things to try and experiment, because it’s fun. You develop little side-projects to try new techs or libs. In everydayCheck, I tried to be very critical about what I’d implement and what not. I wanted it to be so simple that I’d be embarrassed to share it. And I now realize I could’ve stretched it even more. Do one thing and do it right.

I wanted it to be so simple that I’d be embarrassed to share it.

Things I didn’t implement at first:

  • Recover password email
  • Confirmation emails
  • Account settings: change password, nickname…
  • Export data
  • Reminders
  • Customization
  • Stripe integration

I think about it now and I realize I haven’t added that many things afterwards either. My minimalist approach made sense. I now have a big list of features people have requested, but my idea here is not to add more features to be able to charge more, unless they are really needed and would add a lot of value.

I was already familiar with the tech stack so that was a good advantage. I think for the majority of projects the stack doesn’t matter at all. What matters is how comfortable you are with it to move fast. I was only concerned about the payment system and how to implement the subscriptions. Thankfully, I found about Stripe. Yeah, I know IndieHackers got acquired by Stripe, but it’s me sharing this link! As someone who has been in the community since the early days I was afraid that would kill the essence of IH. However, time proved my fears to be unfounded.

Stripe really is a great tool. The documentation and API is great, really, state of the art. And I share it because it is especially useful for small businesses that are starting like us. It solves many problems that you haven’t even thought of when starting. How to deal with a yearly recurrent subscription? I really thought I’d have to set up some sort of script that charged my customers every X days, like a cron job. Stripe has a super powerful subscription API. I remember fearing about refunds, how will I deal with that? Well, just press a button in the dashboard. Another example, recently someone asked me for a receipt for his accounting. I was like, uh, I’m not even incorporated, I started figuring out a nice way to set a template for future receipts, but then, I checked Stripe first, it gave me a link, I gave it to my customer. Everyone is happy.

How have you attracted users and grown everydayCheck?

After I finished the initial product, I shared it to a couple of friends but basically I was the only user for about a month. The app was working for me and so I added the habit to “SPAM 5 links a day”. I’ve always been very reluctant to show my work…

This habit led me to basically the following 4 milestones:

  • The r/GetDisciplined post: This was one of the first places where I shared the app. It helped to validate the idea. I got around 600 signups in one day and 200 in the following two or three. Of this 800 signups, about 100 ended up being daily users. It is important, though, to keep in mind that at the time, the application was completely free. This experience taught me also that people really enjoy and appreciate that you follow up. My small dedicated server suffered to serve all the pages, so it’s quite possible that I lost a few potential signups. Also, this completely validated the landing page. People immediately
    understood what the app was for and wanted to try it out.

  • Got featured on BetaList: Note that this took a couple of months to happen. Funnily, the app got featured 24h after I decided to close the app and made it paid. everydayCheck was the trendiest app for the day and also of the week. So that gave it a lot of visibility for several days. I can’t say the traffic it brought was crazy, but the experience served me to validate again that people liked my product, and also, that there were people willing to pay for it without trying it first.

  • The Show HN and HackerHunt’s launch day: This is late June and by that time I’m pretty sure I had already given up on trying to get everydayCheck to the main page of HN with a Show HN. Since I had already validated the product I was more focused on long-term strategies such as optimizing the site for SEO and so on. However, browsing around HN I found HackerHunt was killing it. I read what it was, a tool to give Show HN projects more visibility on HN. A ProductHunt for HackerNews products. It obviously blew in both sites. I took my chances and decided to try once more, I shared everydayCheck on Show HN. And the magic happened. As Justin Jackson would call it, I rode the HackerHunt wave. everydayCheck rapidly started receiving a lot of traffic from HN and making it to the front page, of both, HackerNews and HackerHunt. If you ctrl+f “HackerHunt” you can read a longer version in this IndieHacker’s monthly update thread.

  • On ProductHunt: I had posted my app on PH back in March, it went pretty much unnoticed. However, remember how HackerHunt got #1 on PH? Well, that brought me a hell of a lot of traffic from PH and also, people started upvoting it there. The result? It got featured again next day in PH, and to my surprise, it made it to #6 of the day. That was the hugest peak of traffic, tripling the amount of signups I had until then. It also validated my product among a community of people that are used to see several products a day. The visibility on ProductHunt also made the app to appear in several other smaller blogs and newsletters that kept the traffic coming.

All of that was with me not having a single clue of marketing. Barely planning anything. So no need to say how important the product execution is.

Of course these are the successful shares. This is a very small portion of the links I shared. So, my advice here would be, insist. Just insist. Every day.

Another important thing I did was to set up a Twitter account and share my email everywhere in the app to show proximity to the users and immediately help them out. Getting their feedback is invaluable, especially in the early stages.

In growing the user base everything counts. I optimized for SEO, I started a blog, I answered Quora questions, I answered reddit threads on productivity, I talked about it on IndieHackers every time I had the chance to (;D). These are my next steps. You have to fabricate your own opportunities.

You have to fabricate your own opportunities.

Just for the laughs, look at this post on IndieHackers where I got no response and no upvotes. Insist.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

I knew I wanted it to be a Micro-SaaS and have a subscription based business model. I had this super idea that you paid $5 a month and you’d get $1 off per every habit you formed. I even checked that I could implement it with Stripe. But then someone wise around here told me, don’t make your life difficult. People want to understand what they are paying for, make it easy for them. Don’t have variable prices. That made me think about starting simple, and decided to charge $1 a month, charged yearly. $12 / year.

So after the reddit post mentioned above, I had a relatively big user base, maybe 800 signups and 100 daily users. The idea was validated. What about the product, would anyone pay for this? I hesitated between trying to grow the user base or start charging. IH convinced me to start charging. So, in this post I asked about which was the best way to go about it.

I implemented it in the following two weeks and launched it. Basically made the Stripe integration, added a “why is it not free?” message and gave people 10 more days until it went completely closed to subscriptions. Approximately a 30% of the daily users converted! It was great!

To this day I still wonder how it might have affected these users the fact that the app was free when I showed it to them and then made it paid. Might they be pissed to have to pay for something they found valuable but they discovered as a free tool? Or they simply found it valuable and helpful but not enough to pay $12 a year?

A funny anecdote here: After 24h since the deployment of the paid version, no one had subscribed yet. The truth is that I had created the Stripe subscription plan in the test mode (so of course the tests worked!) but not in production, and so everyone who had been trying to subscribe had found issues. I didn’t find out until the next day and I was pulling my hair off. Thankfully I fixed it and emailed everyone who had tried excusing myself. It worked. People love to hear from you. I remember tweeting Stripe about this as feedback, their tool is not idiot-proof I guess, hehe.

At that point, I had made the decision to have the product behind a paywall, without a free trial. After all, the gif at the landing page shows what it is. I just wanted to validate it. So, I knew that some of the users who tried it found it valuable and paid, but would users pay straight away a yearly fee to try it? I got lucky once more. I hadn’t planned it at all, but the day after I paywalled the product, BetaList (to which I had applied maybe a couple of months before) featured everydayCheck. It was the most upvoted product for the day and trendiest of the week. This basically meant that it was the first thing you saw when you entered the site. This brought enough traffic to validate that people were also wanting to pay for it even before trying it out. That was great news! It validated my landing page.

However, I felt I lost a lot of signups that could have potentially converted. After all, I don’t have anything to hide, the app works! Look at me, in the last 4 months I’ve only skipped working on everydayCheck every day twice! And so, I decided to implement a 30-day trial period. Why 30? Well, we are talking about habits, and you can’t form a habit in less than that. I have observed that people who consistently use the app during the trial period convert at a 85% ratio.

Since at that moment I had validated the product, my strategy was more long term. I knew I basically wanted to take my time and learn marketing from zero. Getting featured on ProductHunt and other parallel efforts have led me to an average of 35 monthly subscriptions, $450/month.

What are your goals for the future?

3 paid signups a day. That’d be roughly a MRR of $1100. Actually, I promised myself that if I get to that MRR by the end of the year I’d go digital nomad for 2018 and try to experience other cities and places while making everydayCheck grow.

To reach that goal, with the current conversion rates (240 unique visits -> 1 subscription) I need to drive a traffic of 720 daily visitors to my site. That’s my current goal, to drive as much traffic to the site as possible, in both, the short and the long term. Hopefully, passive acquisition channels taking over as time goes by.

Thus, the real goal is to learn and enjoy marketing. One of my most powerful thoughts is to think that if I have gotten here without a clue of marketing and doing relatively little in that direction, there must be a lot left for me to do. There is so much room for improvement.

Some of the ideas I am working on are more detailed on this IndieHackers thread. Open to suggestions!

Of course the idealistic goal, and I believe I share this with many fellow IndieHackers would be to have a passive MRR that allowed me to reach financial independence. And trust me, I’m not thinking of sums much beyond the goal I set for December 31st. You don’t need to make that much in Barcelona to have a good life :P Enough to have free time to go on other endeavours, to learn new things, maybe to try to build technologically more complex start-ups, or to spend more time on things I enjoy.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

The same way one of the biggest reasons for start-ups to fail are the disputes between founders, you are your biggest threat. So, my biggest challenge has been me, finding the motivation to work on it every day, especially when doing tasks out of my comfort zone. For example, I’ve been struggling with marketing for 2 months. Mostly because of inaction and learning process than actual failing. At this point there’s no failing, there are more or less sales, but any sale is a success.

I’d try to think less. Biggest mistake is indecision, analysis paralysis. Failure is progress. There are hardly any things that you can do with good intentions that can damage your progress.

Biggest mistake is indecision, analysis paralysis. Failure is progress.

When you have never managed to make money from a product you’ve built, getting at least someone to pay for it (who is not your mum) looks hard, very hard. But once you get there, you realize it’s not that difficult, you just need to try things until you get there. However, getting to a point where the product can generate the same amount of money that you make with your job, oh well, that’s another story. I guess I see this as the biggest challenge because it’s where I find myself. But marketing is hard. As an engineer you know the outcome of your work, you have task X, and task X can be hard, or impossible, but you know you’ll conquer it eventually. And when you do, well, it’s done, it works. You succeed! With marketing you can share 700000 links and get 0 visits. And then share one link with the right word at the right time of the day to the right people and get 700000 visits. Of course marketing people will say you can make it more scientific, and I am in the process of "demystifying marketing" (borrowed from MassDebates) but you need to make a mind shift to get there. Marketing is a challenge, and it’s just now that I start to enjoy it.

I’ve been very lucky with the reactions and interest the app has grasped. However, I’m now certain that planning a launch through several channels at once can really boost your initial exposure and momentum.

Regarding the business model, I’m still in the process of finding out if going for a B2C low yearly subscription was a good decision. Obviously, a B2B monthly subscription requires you to find fewer customers to breakeven but the feature set, and thus, the amount of work both in product and marketing require much more effort. $12/year forces me to find a lot of users to make it viable. But not that many that it sounds impossible to reach, considering how wide the potential audience is.

Finally, success, of any kind, comes with persistence throughout a long period of time. As an engineer, I like to constantly try new things and start new side projects. Thus, the biggest challenge for me is to grow with the idea that I want to be working on this forever, or at least for a long time. Businesses aren't built overnight. That’s why I say that ideas are more important to the founder than to the audience. The audience will change depending on what you do, but you won’t change, and you’ll have to fight for it every day. So make sure it’s something that fills your soul and keeps your motivation up.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

IndieHackers. If you are a solopreneur, you’ll have doubts, you’ll hesitate, your motivation might wane, that’s why I think communities like these are really important. You might be feeling low and then you come here and you find other people struggling with you and you realize what you’ve already accomplished and hell, the energy comes back and you go out there get shit done! I think the amount of times I link to the forum from this interview makes it very obvious how helpful I find IH.

In this kind of communities everyone wants everyone to succeed and brings something to the table. I collected most of what helped me get started in awesome-indie. These resources helped me make lots of informed decisions that put me on the right starting path.

Now, the super obvious answer: Having a good product. There’s nothing that beats having a good product no matter how ridiculously simple it is. It’ll spread alone.

Something very advantageous is that everyone can feel identified with the message of my app. The idea of habits and the benefits of creating them is so obvious and common sense that people are willing to hear what you have to say. The same way I think having such a low ($12/year) pricing can make it difficult to me to use certain acquisition channels I believe it makes it very accessible to almost everyone in the world. The value proposition is universal and the price, almost.

The value proposition is universal and the price, almost.

Small things that I believe had a huge impact on my early success:

  • A very simple landing page, with a gif that shows both, what the app is about and how to use it at once. It’s funny that it colludes with SEO’s premise of having more content. My current landing converts well but then, there’s so little text I can barely rank for anything! Some marketers have told me that quotes such as the main one in my landing are unadvisable, since they generally don’t convert well. In this case, I believe it immediately puts the value proposition in people’s minds.

  • The title of my first post on reddit. It’s the one that started it all. Pay attention to the small details, when it matters.

  • The “why is it not free” message. It might make you lose signups, but it filters out those who are never going to pay. It builds trust.

  • Being close to your users: People like to help one-man bands if you can prove them to be reliable. If you answer to them almost immediately, if you are helpful, that’s the power of starting small, and staying small.

I also think it’s been very helpful to write about the process. It’s no coincidence that so many indie businesses out there do it. It helps you clarify your ideas and build motivation.

Finally, being user #1 of the app has definitely helped.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Bullet points ahead:

  • Do a little bit every day. This is how Pieter Levels puts it.

  • Figure out if someone is willing to pay for your product as soon as possible. Willing to pay means they actually pay you.

  • Once validated, forget about the product. Let it ripen. Efforts should then be put in sharing the app and getting to a minimum MRR that empowers you to improve the product.

  • Use the momentum. For growth but also to get stuff done. Make decisions continuously. Move fast.

  • The customer only cares about value, you need to find the shortest path to value. Prioritise tasks by less time consuming and more impactful. Don’t fool yourself with irrelevant tasks.

  • Be close and responsive: Make it really easy for people to see that you are a human being, to get in touch with you, be transparent, show your fears, ask them where they want you to go.

  • Persist. Insist.

  • Ask for what you want. Do you know why my app hasn’t been featured on Lifehacker yet? Because I haven’t asked. That’s my bad.

  • Write about the process, even if it’s just for yourself. It’s a good exercise to put order in your ideas and to build motivation.

  • Talk to everyone about what you are doing. You never know what it could lead to. Side projects are the true passions, they are more personal than our real jobs. They build connections.

  • Follow your gut. Read as much as you want to learn and to get motivated but in the end, no one has done what you are doing. Find your own path.

I’ve read a lot and I really think Tyler Tringas’ Micro Saas blog book contains a lot of value in not so many characters. I think it’s good that he had to give up on the idea of writing an ebook, so he wouldn’t feel forced to type more pages than actually needed to convey his ideas. For anything else, awesome-indie!

Where can we go to learn more?

everydayCheck: https://everydaycheck.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/everydayCheck
My microblog: https://mezod.com
Github: https://github.com/mezod

Your best chance to follow everydayCheck’s progress it to check IndieHackers’ monthly posts. I’m always super open to feedback and help, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at joan@everydaycheck.com!

I also wanted to thank and congratulate Courtland and Channing for the great job they are doing with IH. You are an inspiration for the rest of us!

Hey, I’m probably the least savvy of all the interviewees on IH, but I might also be the closest, so feel free to shoot me any questions! Would love to hear feedback from this interview too!

I like something Pieter Levels always says, if I can do it, you can too!