Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on?
I'm Joe Masilotti, an independent developer who's passionate about clean, testable code. The “Masilotti.com Umbrella”, as I like to call it, contains a few different areas of focus: consulting, coaching, and products. I also blog on Masilotti.com about Ruby on Rails, iOS, testing, and building in public.
What motivated you to get started? How did you come up with the idea?
I was finishing up a blog post and was about to hit publish when I realized I didn't have an image for sharing on social media. It took me way too long to find and design an image by hand; almost as long as it took to write the blog post! And then I realized I go through this for every. single. post.
I realized there has to be an easier, faster way to create these images. So I built Mugshot Bot, a link preview image generator that creates dynamic images based on the content of a web page.
Now I can get an image without using design tools or even code. I'm blogging way more now because one more barrier is out of the way.
Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now?
It took me exactly one month to build the first iteration and get my first paying customer. I focused on feedback, as little code as possible, and getting something in folks’ hands right away. I wrote more about my process here.
I launched on Product Hunt on October 26, 2020 and in the next month have grown to ~$100 MRR, with a growing number of blogs using Mugshot Bot for their link preview images.
What has been your biggest failure or struggle?
My biggest struggle with Mugshot Bot is articulating what the product actually does to people. Once they "get it" they are usually very excited. But getting folks to that a-ha moment has been tough. I’ve been working through and documenting my brand positioning to make it easier to articulate my offering.
How many hours a day do you work on average & can you describe/outline your typical day?
I work on Mugshot Bot around ⅓ of my week; the rest of my week is spent on my consulting and coaching business. I try to carve out at least an hour each day and then one larger chunk of time later in the week. This encourages continuous progress while also giving me time to work on harder issues.
And what has been your biggest achievement or success?
My biggest achievement with Mugshot Bot is getting my first paying customer. I've had a number of side projects that never earned revenue so it was really exciting to see the first Stripe payment roll in. Having validation that I'm building something people are willing to pay for is invigorating.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I'm still working on that! I've mostly done manual outreach on Twitter to active customers. This has a fairly high success rate but takes a lot of time to find the person and qualify them myself.
I'm hoping to take advantage of "powered by" marketing soon. Images from the free plan have Mugshot Bot branding in the bottom right. This should help raise brand awareness and get people interested in trying it out for themselves.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After the MVP I spent as much time talking to folks as possible. Getting feedback early in the process from both customers and potential customers has been invaluable in learning how to market different features and the product itself.
After the MVP it was obvious which features to build next: Everyone was asking for them! I launched customizations so folks can tweak colors, images, and the background pattern of their images.
Did you use Betalist or Product Hunt, or other startup launching platforms? How was that experience?
I launched on Product Hunt on October 26, 2020 and finished #3 product of the day! I learned a ton about how the system works and how important it is to build an audience before going to one of these services.
I wrote some more about what worked (and what didn't!) here.
What’s your business model and how have you grown your revenue?
Mugshot Bot is free to use for your blog no matter how many posts you have. There is also a paid plan that removes the branding and unlocks new themes and some other features.
I'm actively working on a plugin for WordPress which I hope to have finished up soon. I'm really excited about this because it expands my offering to a huge audience of bloggers.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?
Mugshot Bot was born to scratch my own itch. I'm hoping to continue to use it as a creative outlet to test, iterate, and try new things.
Ideally, this becomes a substantial part of my income so I can spend more time on my life outside of work. Supporting my family, seeing my friends, and traveling, once COVID-19 is over.
Let’s talk about your marketing strategy -- how do you market Mugshot Bot and grow the service?
I'm building Mugshot Bot in public on my personal Twitter account.
This has worked pretty well as folks can watch how everything is made and chime in with their advice or feedback. It's been a lot of fun hearing from them and letting them look over my shoulder as I build!
Do you have a model to get product feedback? What’s your favorite way to get product feedback? Did product feedback help you get the results you hoped for?
Most of my feedback comes from manual outreach on Twitter and email. I've found that anything automated has a very low reply rate. Reaching out to folks directly works much better and creates a stronger relationship with my (potential) customers.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Getting a small, very engaged group of people early is super important. I've been working with a few folks on Twitter and in a private Slack group* and their support has been invaluable. Interaction with them is natural, I ask a question and they provide their honest thoughts. No surveys or NPS, just 1:1 conversations.
* P.S. The Slack group is Weekend Club , an online bootstrapper community. Every Saturday we hack on our projects together and throughout the week chat in the Slack. If you check it out, you can get your first month free with WEEKENDJOE. Or just tell 'em I sent you.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The site is built in Ruby on Rails and hosted on Heroku. Under the hood I'm using wkhtmltoimage to render the designs to images. Everything is designed with Tailwind CSS.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I'm in love with the book Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. I use her framework to position all of my products, including Mugshot Bot. This has helped me find my competitive advantages even when I only had a very small feature set.
I've adapted her approach in a Google Doc that I share with anyone who is looking to reposition their product.
What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneur who are just starting out?
Talk to as many people as possible and just launch!