Imagine a website consisting of just a H1 tag with the name of a product, an empty product image and a "Buy Now" button connected to PayPal for a product with a value of approximately $100. Can you imagine this page converting a sale in 2018? Well it did...
Why I created the product
In the summer of 2018, Budapest Hikers, a passion project ran by my girlfriend and I was in full flow. We had been organising monthly hiking events connecting locals with expats and students while exploring the beauty of the Hungarian landscape for over 2 years and our events were almost always sold out. Each month we embarked on a new adventure with anywhere between 50 and 100 eager hikers.
Our process at this time was to allow the hikers to pay with cash on the morning of the hike while we all boarded the bus. We quickly found that this was a problem because it slowed down the start to the day and made hikers impatient while we also had people who would not show up. This was a problem on a hike with a waiting list 15 people long who would have happily joined us to explore the Hungarian countryside.
In an attempt to solve these problems we started to set up an online booking system to allow hikers to pre-purchase their ticket to reserve their place. It was while researching solutions to achieve this that I stumbled upon what was to become my first profitable digital product.
In Hungary, one of the leading payment providers is called OTP SimplePay. Surprisingly, they didn't offer a WooCommerce plugin to quickly integrate the payment gateway with a WordPress website so I requested their documentation and built the plugin myself to enable the possibility of online payments.
Why I abandoned the product
During the process of developing and testing the plugin which took around one week in total, I played with the idea of releasing it as a product. If I had encountered the problem then others must also be struggling with it as well, right? I started putting together a simple website to start selling it but mid-process I began to overthink.
- What if there are bugs in the plugin
- How will I handle customer service in Hungarian when I can barely order myself the correct beer on a Friday night
- What if someone who bought the plugin claims that they didn't get the correct amount of money
I overthought the process so much and was so afraid of failing that my ego convinced me it was better to just not try. If you'd like to read more about this, I wrote an open letter explaining how ego can hold you back.
My ego interrupted so early in the process that the I hadn't even installed my own payment plugin into the website to take payments. I had installed WordPress, created the product page consisting of just the name with no description, images or any other content at all, a price (30,000 HUF at the time) and a buy button connected to my PayPal email address.
How I accidentally sold the plugin
I abandoned the project and went back to focussing on my client work. I completely forgot about the plugin altogether until one day, 5 weeks later when I received an email from PayPal informing me of a successful sale. The product was so far from my mind that I initially thought my PayPal account had been hacked and began to investigate further.
When I realised that someone had actually purchased the plugin from that empty website I created over a month earlier I was astounded. My mind still assumed that it must be some kind of fraud. No legitimate person in 2018 would purchase a product costing so much money from a completely empty website. Would they?
I asked my girlfriend for some assistance to translate an email reaching out to the customer via email. Included in the email was a copy of the plugin (I hadn't even connected the download file to the product page yet) and one question: "How did you find the plugin?"
The response was short and sweet. They thanked me for the plugin and told me that the site was found on Google. I did some tests myself and found that my basic, empty, unoptimised website was already ranking #1 for at least one of the key search terms in Hungarian and in the top 5 for most of the others.
The ultimate product validation
I considered this the ultimate validation that other people needed the plugin too. If a customer was willing to risk $100 on THAT website then there must be a real need for this product. I spent the next two days putting together a much better version of the website and working with my girlfriend I added the Hungarian SEO optimisation and product description to further improve my rankings and build trust with potential customers.
Fast forward 1 month and my website has sold 3 more copies of the plugin in 3 weeks.
Fast forward just over 2 years to this day and my plugin has been sold 356 times and made just over £30,000 in revenue while being sold to some of the most well known brands and business in Hungary.
Not bad for a product I tried to kill sold in a language that I barely speak.
What I learnt
There were several important conclusions I came to as a result of the plugin's unexpected success.
- Ship it!
If you think it might work but you have doubts, put it out into the world anyway. It will definitely fail if you kill it, but give it the chance to live and it might just surprise you
- Don't ignore non-english speaking markets
I speak to a lot of International entrepreneurs and makers who all seem to focus solely on the English language market because "that is where the money is". It might be true in the grand scheme of things but it is also where all the competition is. I was only able to rank so highly with my website because the Hungarian market is not as competitive and I had been extremely lucky with the timing of my product.
- Timing is everything
I was unaware at the time, but when I created the plugin OTP SimplePay was a new solution to the market. Although quickly adopted it hadn't been around for very long and I was the first off the shelf option on the market. If I had done the same thing today I would be outranked by several competitors and most likely wouldn't be as lucky
For those of you who are curious, you can find the plugin at TechSource.hu.