What I learned in a full day marketing-for-developers sprint

A couple weeks ago I got to spend a full day with internet stuntman Justin Jackson, collaborating on marketing efforts for Rails Autoscale.

Justin Jackson

With my experience almost entirely focused software development, marketing my first real product has been challenging to say the least. Justin literally wrote the book teaching marketing to developers like me. He knows his stuff, he thinks fast, and he talks fast. I found myself drinking from the firehose in the best way.

I'm excited to share what I learned that day. But first let me tell you want didn't happen.

We didn't acquire 100 new customers for Rails Autoscale. We didn't 2X my revenue in a day. We didn't move Rails Autoscale to the #1 spot in Google.

Marketing is a long game, not a sprint. So what can realistically be done in a day? In my case, a whole lot of learning from a master of his craft.

The value of oversharing

Before we got started, Justin asked if we could live-stream most of our day together. I won't lie—this scared the shit out of me. What if I say something stupid? What if Justin laughs when he sees how bad my landing page is?

I went for it anyway. The whole point of the exercise was to take me out of my head-down-developer comfort zone. Of course none of my irrational fears came to fruition, and the live-streaming was a great move for a few reasons:

  • Publicity. Sharing the live-stream gave us a reason to talk about our day together on social media.
  • Review. Throughout the day things were moving too fast for me to take it all in. I took almost no notes. The videos let me re-live the entire day at my own pace and take tons of notes.
  • Collaboration. It wasn't only Justin an I working together anymore. We had other folks from Justin's audience chiming in with their ideas, too. We even brought one of them on the call with us. (Thanks, @mbuckbee!)

Lessons learned: Work in public, and don't be afraid to share work-in-progress. It doesn't have to be polished. Embrace the vulnerability. Invite others to participate in your process.

How to talk to customers

We hear it all the time: To grow a successful business, you need to talk to your customers. Unfortunately, no one shows introverts like me how to talk to customers. I've certainly tried reaching out to my customers, but very few email back. Asking customers to hop on a call has been a guaranteed conversation-stopper.

The day before our marketing sprint, Justin tweeted to his audience:

Folks with Rails apps on Heroku: What are you using for auto-scaling? (ie. scale up automatically when your app's workload increases)

He got many responses mentioning Rails Autoscale or a competitor. What I didn't know at the time was that Justin followed up with respondents via direct message, digging deeper. One of these DM exchanges resulted in Björn Forsberg—a Rails Autoscale customer—joining Justin and I on the live stream.

Adam, Björn, and Justin

I felt myself freezing up and not knowing what to say, but thankfully Justin led the conversation. He got very specific with questions like "what was the trigger that made you look for an autoscaler?", "what happened that day?" and "what were you thinking about when you had to add dynos?".

This call was awkward for me, but I learned so much in such a short time. It was incredible to follow Björn's path that ultimately led to him signing up for Rails Autoscale.

Lessons learned: Cast a wide net, then follow-up directly. Ask for specifics. Instead of "want to hop on a call?", ask "can I help you accomplish X?". Dig deep with "what/where/when" instead of hand-wavy "how/why" questions. Prepare questions in advance so you don't freeze up in the moment.

What makes a compelling landing page

I knew my landing page was bad. I knew I needed screen shots from the app. I knew I needed more compelling copy.

We took a chunk of the day to review my landing page, and that was the feedback I'd expected to hear. One of the first things out of Justin's mouth, though, was something I hand't expected.

"I feel like you need some human faces here",

Obvious, right? We're humans, and we connect to other humans. But I hadn't really considered it. This is the danger of working alone.

To drive his point home, Justin live-edited my landing page to add a quote and photo of Björn (my customer call from earlier).

Live editing the site

I also loved how he got the quote from Björn. I'd been procrastinating getting user testimonials because I wasn't sure how to ask for them. Justin didn't ask for them, either. He didn't ask "what's great about Rails Autoscale?" or "can I get a testimonial for the website?". Instead, he simply tried to learn about what motivated Björn, and a great quote naturally came out of the conversation.

Lessons learned: Actively seek feedback on your work, especially if you're solo. Emphasize a human connection. Make it visual. Testimonials are a byproduct of being genuinely curious about your customers.

What's next?

I've already spent too much time in my head with these ideas. It's time to take action. Here are just a few of the things I'll be tackling over the coming weeks:

  • Rewrite my landing page with a focus on benefits.
  • Add case studies and human faces to my landing page.
  • Add screen shots to my landing page.
  • Add an install button to my landing page. (Yes, this is obvious, but due to Heroku's add-on installation process, I previously didn't think it was possible.)
  • Ensure that any long-form writing I do (like this piece) has a canonical home on railsautoscale.com instead of Medium or my mailing list.
  • Rewrite my onboarding emails to be shorter and to end with a specific question. Use these questions as discussion-starters so I can learn how to best help my customers achieve success.
  • Track the success of my onboarding flow. How many website visitors install the add-on? How many trial installations actually use it? How many convert to paid?
  • Double-down on helping Rails developers be awesome on Heroku. My mailing list and Twitter feed have been a bit dormant. I'll bring those back to life, and look for other opportunities (Stack Overflow, Quora, etc.) to share my expertise.

I owe Justin a huge thanks for spending a whole day focused on my business. It was exactly what I needed to bring clarity and direction to what felt like flailing in the dark. Hopefully some of these ideas can do the same for you.

If you found this useful and want to follow along with my solo startup journey, you should follow me on Twitter!

Our monthly(ish) newsletter

Get the latest articles and updates straight to your inbox. No spam, ever. Opt out at any time.