Indie Bites

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I speak to Peter Suhm, co-founder of Reform, about his approach to marketing and product development.

Show Notes

Peter Suhm is the co-founder of Reform, a tool that lets you easily create simple, brandable forms. Peter is also part of the Tiny Seed 1st batch, where he was working on a product called branch Branch. After that didn't work out, he went through a period of testing and validating ideas.

One of those ideas was a investor update tool, where Peter discovered how convoluted creating a form with existing tools was. Using Twitter and a very early stage MVP, he validated the idea for Reform and got to work building.

Since then he's had #1 Product of the Week on Product Hunt and is now working through the challenges of building features and growing revenue. You might have also heard Peter on the Out of Beta podcast, which he co-hosts with Matt Wensing.

➡️ Get the uncut, 30 minute conversation with Peter on the Indie Bites membership here.

What we covered in this episode:
  • Coming up with the idea for Reform
  • Validating the idea for Reform
  • Why build a product in such a competitive market
  • Where form builders keep messing up
  • Getting to #1 Product Hunt of the week
  • When is the right time to launch on PH
  • Marketing and growth tests for Reform going forward
  • Continuing to try things that don't scale
  • Where should founders start with marketing?
  • Peter's approach to product development
  • The feedback loop of Twitter
  • The upsides of raising Tiny Seed money
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What is Indie Bites?

Short, bite-sized conversations with indie hackers that have started small, profitable and bootstrapped businesses. You'll learn how they come up with ideas, what they do to validate, find those first customers and make a sustainable income.

Peter:
People just need to get comfortable with these things. Talk about what you're doing more and more. The most important thing for developers is to start testing things as quickly as possible. It's not like I had this vision throughout my life about this better form builder. The danger is that you don't have a strong vision and then you're going to build a really bad product because you're building what everyone wants.

James:
Hello and welcome back to Indie Bites, the podcast arriving you stories of fellow indie hackers in 15 minutes or less. Today, I'm joined by Peter Suhm, who is the co-founder of Reform, a tool that lets you easily create simple, brand able, forms. Peter is also part of the TinySeed first batch, where he was working on a product called Branch. After Branch didn't quite work out, he went through a period of testing and validating ideas. Using Twitter at a very early stage MVP, he validated the idea for Reform and got to work building. Since then, he's had a number one product to the week on Product Hunt and is now working through the challenges of building features and growing revenue. You might have also heard Peter on the Out of Beta podcast, which he co-hosts with Matt Wensing.

James:
Throughout this episode, I speak to Peter about his marketing efforts on Reform. How does he know what's working and what's not? Well Peter uses Fathom Analytics for a simple bird's eye view of the performance of his website, which is why I'm happy to be partnering up again with Fathom as a sponsor for this episode. Fathom gives you simple website analytics that are easy to understand and respectful of privacy laws. They are also a bootstrap transparent and sustainable business, so I love supporting them. We are used to getting analytics for free, so it might feel a bit strange paying at first. Once you realize the true cost of free Google software, and most importantly see how awesome Fathom is to use, you'll never look back. Oh, and you can install the lightweight code on as many websites or products as you like getting a 30,000 foot view of the performance of all your sites. Head to usefathom.com/bites or hit the link in the show notes to give it a go. There's also an extended 30 minute version of this conversation available on the Indie bites membership for just £4 a month link, in the show notes, or bites.fm/membership.

James:
Peter, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Peter:
Thank you. Great.

James:
Let's talk a little bit about Reform and what happened in terms of you coming up with the idea after Branch. Talk me through your process, exactly, of coming up with that idea after Branch.

Peter:
Yeah. As you mentioned, we were testing a few different ideas. To be honest, when I had the idea for the name Reform, I knew in my mind that I had to go for it because I loved the name so much. I knew that it was going to be a challenge because it's a really crowded market. I think there are many ways you can validate a product, but we knew that we quickly needed to figure out if we could get any sort of attention for this product. It had to do really well just within my Twitter feed, because if we can't even get traction there, it's going to be really hard to get traction for a product in such a crowded space. We built a website for it, the old school way of put up a landing page, but we put a ton of energy into it.

Peter:
We sweated all the details. We spent a lot of time on the copy and the design and we built a simple prototype, which was just a form. We wanted to build a form builder, but instead of testing a form builder, we tested the output of that form builder. We built a hard coded form instead just to give people an idea what we were thinking. Then that prototype of the form also served as the early access sign up for the product. One important thing we did was we had three options you could pick from when you signed up for the early access, which was, I'm interested in this, shut up and take my money, then the last one was, I just want to follow the journey.

James:
How did that validation go? How many people did you get saying that they wanted to... you shut up and give you their money?

Peter:
I don't remember the exact numbers, but it was definitely enough that we felt like we had to go forward with it. The tweet got 100,000 impressions or something like that, which is a lot for my amount of followers. We got 500 signups. I think we ended up having 12 or 1300 when we actually opened up the early access.

James:
What made you pursue Reform as one of those ideas that you wanted to get validate? I know you did it quickly, but you did spend a lot of time on building that landing page. Was there anyone that was speaking to you and going, Peter, we need a better form experience.

Peter:
Yeah. In the beginning I was skeptical because there are so many form builders out there, but I didn't find one that I liked. When I talked to other people, I got the same vibe that they were frustrated that there wasn't a form builder that was really easy to put a form together and make it look like your own without having to do a ton of customization. They described it like a [Stripe 00:04:37] checkout, that's so native looking that it just almost feels like a part of your operating system.

James:
Where are the other form builders messing up so badly? Surely it's quite a simple thing to do.

Peter:
I think they're just over complicated. They have too many options. They're putting a lot of design decisions on you or they're overly restricted. Some of them only allow you to put one question on a page because the form needs to be conversational. On the other end of the spectra, you have a million different templates with stock photos and stuff like that. In what I learned is that when people need a form, they just want to quickly put something together because they thought about it, and they're not looking to have a creative outlet. I'm actually realizing that a product like Reform, were almost competing with something like a poll on Twitter. The same frictionless I have a question I want to ask this group of people. Let me get a form really quickly.

James:
Certainly was very impressed when I saw it. I was instantly like, "Yes, the world does need this." Especially when the likes of [Typeform 00:05:42] just ended up being difficult to use. You shared this with the world with your [Product Hunt 00:05:48] launch. You got number one products of the week. Huge congratulations on that, Peter. It's not easy to do. Can you tell me how you went about getting to number one products of the week on Product Hunt?

Peter:
I think the important lesson for me with Product Hunt is that I followed the playbook, the same that [Corey Haines 00:06:03] has been promoting. I think the important part about a Product Hunt launch is it shouldn't be your first step when you're testing an idea. For me it was more of I did some validation first. I really worked on the positioning of the product, so I knew that it resonated with people. Then a couple months later when there was an actual product, we launched that. That also worked well. It told me that our positioning was still working, and that the activation... the product was working as well. I felt more and more comfortable that it's time to put this on Product Hunt and see how that goes. It's a step in the go-to-market strategy for the product.

Peter:
If you put your heart and soul into a Product Hunt launch, it might not work. [Pieter Levels 00:06:44] can launch something on the same day and you're in your screwed. But if it works, it's a good sign that if you pour a ton of leads into your funnel, it will work.

Peter:
I followed the playbook, which means I had prepared everything in advance. I had someone to hunt it. In my case, it was my friend Derrick. You need to take it seriously. I see people with thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter, but they'll put it on Product Hunt 10 hours after the voting has started, and they don't really promote it much, and they get 27 votes. It doesn't work. You can schedule it in advance. You can have your assets prepared and uploaded for a week. You can record your video, maybe do a few takes so it's good.

Peter:
What I think is extremely important, and something Derrick also told, me is wait until you have some really happy customers because you're going to need that support. I had probably a list of 30 people that I knew was happy paying customers of Reform that I reached out to in advance. I was, "Hey, we're going to Product Hunt this day. If you have anything nice to say about the product, it would be really appreciated if you would do it that day." What that means is now, of course we made product of the week, which was awesome. Also if you go to our Product Hunt page, which people will do in the future because it ranks really well in Google, is this repository of 100 people or something like that saying really nice things about our product. That's something that's really valuable.

James:
You explained the playbook really well there. I'll leave a link to the episode I did with [Derrick Reimer 00:08:14] where he explains how him and Corey did really well on Product Hunt. It's good to see your success with it. You've taken all the steps, validated the idea, got initial users, initial customers, did your Product Hunt launch, done well. What's next now for Reform in terms of future growth? How are you thinking about what features you're going to build? What marketing you going to do to grow further?

Peter:
I see every step of this go-to-market strategy as a test as well. I feel like it's passed the test so far. I feel really good about starting to find more scalable channels that are more long term than Product Hunt. We're a pretty low priced product, a highly self serve. I think in our space, it is important to somehow figure out SEO to some extent. That's definitely one thing. The product in and of itself has some viral components because you share your form link, which is interesting as well for us to explore. There are a lot of like classical growth things that we can play around with. I'm not 100% percent sure that I'm completely done with all these things that don't scale. I think people tend to skip that step too quickly. What I've seen, especially with the Product Hunt launch, is that there is a ton of value in spending a week or two on something, even though you're only going to do it one time. Do it really well. All of these things are not long term growth plans, but you can get pretty far. Maybe even to a [Default Alive 00:09:46] stage just by doing all the one-off things.

James:
Lots of different, smaller, things that might not be hugely scalable or long term, but you focus on them, do it well. I think that's great advice. How are you approaching building new features and product development in general for it?

Peter:
This is an important one because if you do well on Product Hunt, you are going to get a lot of feedback and feature requests and stuff like that, especially with a product like Reform. We were literally just testing ideas. The second one we tested strongly resonated with a lot of people, so we decided to build it. It's not like I had this vision throughout my life about this better form builder. The danger is that you don't have a strong vision. Then you're just going to build a really bad product because you're building what everyone wants. I think the way we compete with a competitor with 500 employees is not on features. The way we can be different is by having a simple product. The way we prioritize things right now is, everything that we think about putting into the product we think about... Will this complicate the product and make it harder to get started with or will it make it faster to use the product and a better experience?

James:
You are really active on Twitter, Peter. You're actively talking about how people should do marketing. The experiments you've done with marketing. So many developer founders really struggle with where to start with their marketing. Where should they start with it?

Peter:
Follow great marketers. Corey Haines puts out a lot of stuff these days. When I started thinking more about marketing, [Justin Jackson 00:11:25] was putting out a lot of things. Marketing for Developers, I think is still a great resource. People just need to get comfortable with these things. Talk about what you're doing more and more. The most important thing for developers is to start testing things as quickly as possible, and challenge yourself. Do you actually need to build a form builder, or can you just build a early access form that looks like the form you want people to be able to build and put it out?

James:
I've actually found on Twitter just over the last week... Sharing my process of what I'm doing and what I'm working on, has not only helped me with meeting people and building that publishing and sharing muscle, but it's also helped me a lot with growth.

Peter:
I have a really good feeling now about what Tweets will do well and what Tweets people don't care about. If your Twitter account is you complaining about other companies and stuff like that, no one wants to follow that. If you are a solo founder the way you're going to get customers is you're building in public, you need to be able to generate buzz and you need to be able to put out something that's interesting. By tweeting a lot, you actually get a ton of feedback, and you get to see what does well. We've had three launches so far with Reform. We launched the website that we announced that we're working on the idea. That was a test to see if we should continue. Then we launched the product, which got even more traction. The first tweet got a 100,000 impression. The second tweet got 150,000 impressions. The third launch was the Product Hunt launch. We're learning how to do things and seeing what does well. When to tweet and who to talk to before. What made a big difference in terms of who retweeted it? There's so many little tricks. Tell everyone that can help you possibly, because then they'll probably help you. You learn all this by keep doing it. It's a feedback loop and you get better at.

James:
There's a ton of useful tips in there. I think if anyone follows that advice and gets to share and stuff regularly, they're going to start to see success with it or start to see progress. You mentioned getting funding. You were part of the first batch of TinySeed funding. Why was it at that point with Branch did you decide that funding was right for you? How does TinySeed differentiate to a VC fund, for instance?

Peter:
We have money from TinySeed, but also from more traditional VCs. I've seen different sides of it. For me, when I joined TinySeed, it was not so much about the money, and much more about the people. I'd probably pay to be part of it. I will say, after getting the money in your bank account... It's nice to have some funding and the strings are attached to something like TinySeed money is not... they don't feel very tight. I think in the indie hacker space, people have very strong opinions about something they probably don't have a lot of experience with. As long as you haven't raised a Series A and you have a board, you probably still have most of your flexibility. I decided on the terms. It's also allowed me to work full-time on this business since the summer of 2019, while having a child and having a life at the same time.

James:
I end every episode on three recommendations, a book that's inspired, you a podcast, and an indie hacker or entrepreneur people should follow.

Peter:
I will say the Traction book by [Gabriel Weinberg 00:14:49] and [Justin Mares 00:14:50], the OG podcast for me is the Tropical MBA.

James:
Then indie hacker entrepreneur?

Peter:
It's kind of bad, but I will have to say Derrick Reimer, because I'm taking so much inspiration from him. He's been a huge support as well on this journey.

James:
Peter, thank you so much for joining. I'll make sure I put links to everything we discussed in this episode in the show notes. Appreciate your coming on.

Peter:
Thank you for having me.

James:
Thank you for listening to this episode with Peter Suhm. If you want to hear more from Peter, I'll leave links, his Twitter in the show notes, or you can hear the 30 minute long episode on the Indie Bites membership at bites.fm/membership. A big thanks to Fathom Analytics as always for supporting the show. Love those guys and love the product. See you next week.