Eloquis: Losing $20,000 with a Bootstrapped SaaS

Eloquis was all about bringing personalization to mobile apps. The problem? Early in the market and targeted the wrong customer segment.

United StatesSaaSUnprepared MarketNot Practical

Rohit Nallapeta

Founder of a failed startup.

November 7, 2018

What will I learn?

You will learn why arriving too early to the party is as bad as arriving to late. You just need to look for the precise moment.

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Hi Rohit! What's your background, and what are you currently working on? 👨

I am a builder by heart, while I continue to consult and build things. I started out as a programmer, evolved into an analyst, e-commerce manager, engineering manager, and product builder. I am currently working on a product idea called Market Canvas - think ProductHunt for marketing software. A discovery engine that helps marketers find right and latest marketing tools.

 

What was Eloquis about? How did you build it? 🚧 

Eloquis was all about bringing personalization to mobile apps. What I saw was that the web evolved from being hello user to “Hello Bob, it’s great to meet you on a wonderful December day” - whereas the mobile app was the same except for the social app e.g. FB, Twitter, 4Square etc. The rest of the apps treated the user very transactionally. We thought a way to remedy that was to offer a personalization platform and humanize the apps.

 

Which marketing strategies did you use to grow Eloquis? 📈

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a strong marketing strategy. Our strategy was to get a set of small user groups in the mobile dev world to adapt our product. Once we did that, we started with email outreach and LinkedIn outreach which had very less impact.

Which were the causes of Eloquis failure? 💀

We spoke to a few interested parties initially and the feedback we received were:

- Personalization was not an immediate need as of that day in the app world. We failed to realize how big a problem like that was, and somehow assumed the market would see the value in the product.

- We approached the wrong end or segment of the market. A mobile dev house is the last mile for an app that’s being developed, so personalization software sale targeted towards them is not a great idea.

- We were yet another software in the already crowded mobile software field. There were no case studies or a quantifiable way to articulate our value proposition except for drawing parallels to the web. This failed to capture the interest of any prospective customers.

- We were early to the game of personalization of apps and our marketing strategy and approach was wrong.

- Our brand name was a disaster and most of the traffic that we got, for free, was looking for an alternate name called “Eliquis” a drug from Bayer. There was no way we would win the SEO game. We had no SEO strategy or any other ecosystem strategy to piggyback our marketing on.

- We were early and spent our energy on different things rather than focusing on building a case for ourselves and personalization needed in apps. We failed to educate the market.

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Which were your investments? Did you achieve some revenue? Did you lose any money? 💰

Our investments include: 

  • Domain name ~ a costly one to start with and a disaster at the same time
  • Building design and HTML for web front admin console
  • Marketing and outreach programs

 

We lost about 20,000$ and a countless number of productive hours. We achieved no revenue.

 

If you had to start over, what would you do differently? 🕛

A few things:

- We would validate the idea at the conceptual level by creating a few ad campaigns and digital marketing campaigns to gauge user interest and need. We’d interview the target or potential customer segments and try to understand the problem and not assume a need.

- I would definitely not put a lot of emphasis on domain name or invest a lot of money without researching the potential of the name.

- I would build the product in its entirety as an API, SDK rather than a service and launch it toward the developer network e.g. like Twilio only focused towards personalization.

- I would find an ecosystem to market to as it’s hard to acquire customers directly. I would also educate, engage and involve myself in the world that my initial customer segment lives in.

- I would create a much better customer acquisition strategy either via personal recruitment or ecosystem mining. I definitely would start with a SEO strategy and not mess up on the brand name as I did before.

What did you learn? 🤓

I will use some expressions to summarize my learnings

  • Don’t put the cart before the horse
  • Don’t assume a market need, validate it.

PRO Tip: Mechanical Turk your business solution just to ensure you’re not drinking your own Kool-Aid

  • Come up with a solid marketing strategy, no matter how great you think the product is going to be

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Apart from failures, what are other sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting? 🗞

I believe that we’re all inundated with quite a lot of learning/how-to articles than we care to read or manage to read. However, being selective and choosing your learning sources is something that I actively do now. My key goal is to learn from anything I read and listen.

Here are a few blogs that I think are amazing: 

- Farnam Street: A blog dedicated to learning and reading

- AVC: For a great VC perspective on various subjects

- FirstRound Blog: Great entrepreneurship stories and life lessons for founders     running companies

- Ben Evans: A great site for broad industry trends

And some podcasts:

- a16z: Hands down the most educational podcast on topics relating to technology,     startup, hiring, tech culture and leadership

- Masters of Scale: Great lessons in scaling and company building

- 99% Invisible

- HBR Ideacast

- Economist

 

Which entrepreneur book would you recommend? 📚

Here are some books that had an impact on me and some that are on my to-read list:

 

Read & Impactful:

Zero to one - Peter Thiel: Talks about the sins of competition and teaches business philosophy of differentiation, speed, and thinking of marketing strategy

The Art of Strategy - A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business & Life: Great lessons in thinking and game theory and importance of game theory in decision making

The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable: Achieve deep thinking and not arrive to simplistic explanation.

Unscalable - Charlie Guo: On same great stories of how successful businesses were initially built with very rudimentary and non-scalable techniques.

The Story of Philosophy - Will Durant: A good history of philosophy and origin of western rational thought

The Innovators - Walter Isaacson: Quick innovation history that covers Silicon Valley greats

Almost Perfect - W.E. Pete Peterson: A history of Wordperfect, computer applications history

 

To-Read Books:

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It by Chris Voss

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Many more...

 

Where can we go to learn more? 👌🏻

You can check out the old relic of our website and message me on Twitter to learn more. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here. Our new website, Market Canvas, helps people find the right marketing tech in one place and you can sign up here for early access!

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