I first started working on Weebly in February 2006. I worked for about a year on it with Dan and, later, Chris' help, and we launched a (very) early version of Weebly in mid-November 2006. We were TechCrunch'ed a few days later, and accepted into Y Combinator the same day. (On the morning of our YC interview, we woke up to discover we were on TechCrunch).
Weebly has been growing ever since then, gone through two complete visual redesigns, added numerous features, and doesn't even resemble the product we launched with at all.
Here's two of our graphs from May 8th 2007 -- five months after we moved out to San Francisco and had been working on the product full-time:
The first is a graph of our new signups per day, and the second is a graph of our total user count per day. I've annotated the top graph with what events caused the major spikes.
There's actually two very interesting things to note about the top graph: First, we had already closed our angel round at this point -- looking back, our investors placed a huge amount of confidence in us.
Second, the new users per day looks like it might actually be declining a little bit.
At this point, I'd been working on Weebly for about a year and a half, and we'd been launched for over six months. Judging by the graphs, you might think things weren't looking spectacular. This is the type of situation when people give up.
I've seen it quite a bit among startups -- they spend more time developing the product than they do running it after they launch it. Several have followed the same pattern: build, build, build, launch, quit.
But you've got to keep with it to gain momentum. It doesn't usually just build overnight, it takes time. Keep building your product, and eventually you gain momentum and a critical mass of people who know about you and tell others about you.
Now, here are the graphs from a couple weeks ago:
These graphs look a hell of a lot better. There's 2 things I'd like to point out:
- First, the "build it and they will come" mentality is a fallacy. You need to build something great and have distribution in order to succeed. And distribution is hard to get.
There are many ways to get distribution. One of those is through press. If you have a great product, the more people that find out about you, the more people will know about you. And they'll tell their friends, who'll tell their friends, etc.
Another subtle press benefit: you're getting links from a bunch of very highly-regarded sites, and this helps out your rankings in search engines quite a bit, which builds more traffic.
There are plenty of other good ways to get traffic too, such as engineering for viral growth, but press can have huge benefits for the right product.
- Second, in order to get people to use your product, you have to stay alive. This sounds obvious, but a ton of people spend 6 months building a product, launch it, and give up within 3 weeks.
Plain and simple, it's going to take time for people to start using your product -- there are exceptions, but it's generally not the norm. So you need to expect that, and be willing to give it time. If you give up within a month or two, your product definitely won't be successful.
Once you launch, people start to know about you. If you launch early, you can start earlier on the process of acquiring users. Don't launch with a crappy product -- launch as soon as what you have is better than what is out there. But don't wait for a perfect product -- launch as early as you can, get user feedback, and keep improving the product.