Eelco built Muun in his own, a SaaS that allowed co-working spaces owners to run their businesses effectively. He validated the idea and after weeks, he launched it. However, once in the market, Muun had to compete with really big competitors which had much more features and a better pricing. So, Eelco decided to shut it down.NetherlandsSaaSBad MarketingBig Competitors
Founder of a failed startup.
November 7, 2018
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Hey, my name is Eelco. I create things. Born in The Netherlands, but for some time now location independent. Exploring one new city at a time, all while running various businesses, projects and doing other creative things. About a year ago I launched Muun. About two weeks ago I shut it down.
As a result of my traveling, I visited a lot of coworking spaces. I noticed that a lot of these spaces lacked processes to run smoothly. Resulting in a lot of missed opportunities, new members, and money. I asked some of the owners and managers about these struggles. They confirmed my observations. Were they willing to pay for it too? Sure, they said. That's all I needed to start building Muun. I set up a landing page outlining my vision and ideas for it and shared that with the world. That resulted in quite a few interested people. I interviewed some of them to get a better idea of their pains. This is crucial and something I learned after 10+ years of building (success and failing) businesses. If you don't have firsthand knowledge of the industry it's impossible to know which features should and should not go into that very famous "MVP". Know the difference between their biggest pain and what is nice to have.
I've been building web applications for a while and have been using the same stack for about six years. This is a big advantage for a bootstrapper. I reuse visual components, pieces of code, marketing copy and overall best practices I accumulated over these years.
The most basic version and one that I demoed to some coworking owners was done in about a week. Just built to see what their reaction would be. Whenever I start something new, I work on it full-time for a fixed period of time. This means my other businesses go in "maintenance mode" where I only do bugfixes and customer support.
I "launched" it like this with one plan for around $29, I think. The launch was just letting the interviewees know about the launch and sending out a mailing to the people who signed up through the landing page I set up.
And then… Crickets. Nothing. Nada. People visiting the site visited maybe one more page and then left. In the meantime, I had to catch up on some work on my main business, which in turn didn't help Muun. After a few weeks, I emailed the same owners and email list again, along with coworking spaces I visited myself in the past.
At first, I really tried to leverage my network. Simply (cold) emails. I also wrote some blogs writing about small pains coworking might have: setup an environment to boost productivity, how to focus on the community aspect, etc. I had a product tour video created to more easily explain how easy the product was to use.
But I didn't push any of these strategies hard enough. For all of them, I did the bare minimum. I did not continue writing useful content. I did not follow up on emails and saw no reply as no interest.
Though the blog posts generated page visits, only a really small percentage created an account.
You know this is to be expected, but it still sucked all the joy out of working on it more.
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Albeit all this negativity, I continued working on it. Asking questions to owners and managers. And a new sentiment arose: don't have enough money right now to pay for something like this. At the same time, I learned there were actually quite a lot of products promising to solve the same problems. The big difference was they were years ahead of me in the number of customers and features. Features that were passed the point of a "simple" web application. No way in its current state could I compete with the competition. I had a couple of options: hire people to work on the product, set the price to zero dollars or pivot.
I decided the latter was the only real option. Hiring people before a product makes money or giving a product away for free goes against my bootstrappers mentality (and is a poor decision generally).
I stripped most of the features out of the product and was left with only the community-building features. This was a fairly quick and straightforward process which took just a few days, including changing the marketing pages.
The product would now focus on building and maintaining a community. An overview of who and what members were in your community, easily invite them (and to Slack at the same time) by email. And some basic integration with Slack: finding users, give an overview who they were, what they did, etc.
This focused approach helped to target the right customers more easily, and it did indeed help get some more (paying) customers. But those were still not keen on paying any money, mostly because they didn't make a lot of money running their communities.
The biggest challenge, and a mistake at the same time—as is often—is pushing through even after launch the only thing you hear is crickets. Which means: having a solid marketing plan for post-launch. Continue to interact with new and existing users, helping them solving small pains by creating useful resources, like blogs, video's, guides and more. When day after day, you get people to visit your marketing pages but don't follow-through you start to doubt the product. I did the same, but the messaging could as well be wrong, or the packaging not enticing enough. Fact is I just looked at those bare numbers, without trying to dissect what they really meant.
The other big mistake was outsourcing some things prematurely, like the product tour video. If you ask me now, I don't think a product tour video is the best way for a web-based product. Rather spend the time to set up a proper (working) demo or make sign up as unobtrusive as possible.
Muun 1, or the first iteration, made exactly $0. There were people trialing but never continued using it. It did cost me a minimal amount of hosting (Heroku, S3, etc.). The costs of my time developing, designing, writing, and market, full-time for a month, would translate easily into a five-figure amount (if it was a consultancy gig).
Muun 2, or the second iteration, took way less, by removing way more and also making way more. The total recurring amount was at its peak around $200. But that was a peak and did not continue (high churn—yikes!).
This is all part of building businesses and all costs were covered by having another business.
The second "pivot" is something I just launched, called Muna. It's actually a completely new product. It will have some of the features of Muun but geared towards the next generation companies and teams.
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Keep to my go-to rules: business to business only, subscription price/value starting at $49 a month. While in fact, coworking spaces are businesses, lots of them are struggling to make ends meet.
Also, really important is, if you start in an industry with a lot of competition, make sure your product does one thing really well. Don't spread yourself too thin by having many similar features but average executed.
And the last thing—something I always struggled with—was to sell the product. Problem with many bootstrappers, makers, and creators are that they think their product sells itself. No, it won't. Running a business is 20% product and 80% marketing. The problem is to most people marketing or sales is seen a sleazy or dirty. But if you look at the most successful companies out there, you see their biggest marketing "trick" is providing (future) customers with free, useful and helpful content or resources.
One advises I keep to, now too for Muna, is having a post-product-launch plan. This is simply things to do after you have done "the launch"—in quotes because there will be many little launches over time. It includes blog posts to write, a list of people to contact and other things to keep the momentum going.
I think there are too many resources out there telling you "how to do X". So many get hung up on this and read too much, while not doing any actual work. I try to be really pragmatic about this and only read or learn about a certain topic when I have a need for it.
I otherwise like to talk to entrepreneurs, product managers or other experts over a cup of coffee. With all the traveling I do, I am fortunate to meet many. I learn the most from these interactions.
I like to keep a low-profile online and in general. I personally don't use any social media, nor do I keep a personal blog.
I plan to write some blogs for Muna. Giving some insights and things I learn along the way of building a new business (which has already a higher revenue than Muun!). You also can get updates via Twitter at @munahq_. And am always happy to help with any business-related thing, marketing or UI design whenever I can just send an email to email@example.com.
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