Let me introduce our business briefly.
Shitexpress is a service allowing people to order a box filled with horse poop and send it anonymously to anyone, everywhere in the world. Paying with Bitcoin ensures 100% anonymity of the buyer. Buy now for $16.95 - packaging, shipping and a personalized message included.
In 30 days, we made whopping $10,120 in sales, without spending a penny on advertisements or marketing in general. More than 490,000 unique visitors generated hundreds of thousands social shares, likes, tweets and comments. We got media attention from almost 500 websites; and referral traffic from 1,625 sources in total. As of December 4th, we've already shipped poop to 36 different countries.
Would you like to learn more? Proceed to more detailed information about our business.
In the past 7 years, I've gained some good experience in online business and entrepreneurship. Not only by participating in development of dozens of internet projects, websites, eshops and apps for our clients, but also by running a few own projects in various business areas.
Not all projects turned into massive success. Nevertheless, starting 3-5 projects a year, I'm pretty sure at least one of them could succeed. This is my motivation which I believe in.
Free ebooks, piano sheet music, contests and giveaway services, or some super simple infosites; that's what kept me busy for years. The rest got forgotten, but I've learned a lot from all the mistakes. I'll definitely employ all this knowledge in the future.
The idea of sending poop in mail (either fake or real) wasn't new to me. It's easy to find thousands of unusual, crazy, useless, odd or worthless businesses around. But I was curious what if such an idea became global success, with people talking about it in random places around the world.
From the many ideas I usually have I chose this particular one, which I was really curious about. It's not a piece of cake to get attention these days, so it was quite a challenge. I also realized this could be serious waste of time if it won't turn out to be a good idea to start with.
As a big fan of MVP - Minimum Viable Product, I was quite sure how to start.
Releasing the product as soon as possible helps you understand needs and collect thoughts of your potential customers. Learning from customers is the most important knowledge you can get in your business.
MVP is a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.Eric Ries, Minimum Viable Product: A Guide
As Alex Turnbull from Groove says, "Nearly every mistake we made early on can be attributed to not understanding our customers well enough."
The website was created during one long evening, including all the texts, images and functions. Everything was set up and ready to welcome first visitors... Big surprise - nobody came.
At this point the hesitation started. What if someone placed an order? How to proceed? Where to get horse poop in this city? What about suitable, yet affordable packaging? What is the right size and weight? How to wrap it? What else should be added? How to convince customs this is a real gift, valued at $3-5? And what about that weird feeling of bringing a box of horse feces to the post office?
If one is able to pose so many questions, it's very easy to start questioning even more. Hence the procrastination started.
The only one thing I was able to do from March to October was to ask a few friends, living close to farms and stables, if they were willing to do all the packaging and shipping for me. Of course, everybody was surprised by the idea, but nobody actually wanted to get involved.
I knew from the start that there was no one else to blame but me. It's the founder who has to show the biggest effort at the beginning. If there is someone else to help, the founder is the one who accepts and makes decisions.
After having procrastinated for several months, I discussed it all over again with people around me. That's often the only way to estimate the size of your “problem”. Horse manure, packaging, stickers, payment processing, worldwide shipping...is this even doable?
“You live next to horse stables and the horse manure is almost for free, duh!”
Suddenly, I realized I'm literally one step from starting this business. Somehow, I got energy from the last sun rays of September and convinced myself to sit down and start to work hard.
I did some research and found a few websites that could bring visitors for free. People like to comment on controversial stuff. Free feedback on shit - that was exactly what I was looking for.
I posted first announcement to Bitcoin Forum, since the uniqueness of this project is based on taking advantage of cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin or Dogecoin etc). I translated the website to French and Spanish and posted announcements to appropriate categories. This was a good move because the language-specific categories have less topics, which means more attention in the end.
Then, I posted a link to Reddit. I chose subreddits Bitcoin and Startups (subreddit = category). Reddit is a very good source of traffic, even if the feedback tends to be quite irrelevant and often difficult to understand. But the traffic is of high quality and you never know who appears among your visitors.
During that day, the website received 5,584 visitors, from which 48% came from Bitcoin Forum, 31% from Reddit and the rest was a mix of direct and social traffic. I was thrilled by seeing such high and unexpected numbers. I spent almost all day by checking statistics and reading myriads of comments, mostly positive.
First four orders were paid in late hours on the same day. The transactions were confirmed and I was really surprised that someone actually paid for a piece of shit. Wow, unbelievable!
In the upcoming days, I was slowly trying to tune all details of the product. I bought various types of plastic and paper boxes, envelopes of different sizes, stickers and labels. After hours of experimenting, I found the ideal combination which does not cost a fortune.
Meanwhile, I was trying to get more and more visitors from Reddit and Bitcoin Forum. It didn't work well. I didn't want to be spammy. I knew placing the link again won't help. Forums are moderated by humans, plus Reddit has anti-spam protection which does not allow you to promote yourself vastly. You either get blocked or your posts won't be visible to anyone except you.
After 10 days of delay, first orders were shipped. Since the service is 100% anonymous, I didn't even send notifications to customers. I didn't know their identity. These days, such anonymity is not very common.
In the second half of October, Shitexpress was mentioned by Jorik Houweling on Product Hunt and by Greg Kogan on Hacker News. Both sources brought new visitors and some useful feedback.
However, activity on the website started to slow down. There were still hundreds of visitors coming each day, placing acceptable number of orders, but almost none of them were paid. I didn't understand why people do that; they filled all the necessary details, but they didn't send their Bitcoin.
Among the few customers who paid was Jason Koebler from Motherboard who actually made first purchase with Bitcoin in his life. He showed interest in shit and he sent one to himself. He made an unboxing video review on November 3rd.
One day later, Mariella Moon published an article for Engadget.
At this point, total mayhem started. The website received the enormous number of 116,620 visitors in 3 days!
I took 2 weeks off before this happened. Luckily, I was just on my way home, sitting at the airport, talking to my friends and watching the boom on my smartphone. When I got home, I checked received orders. And I was shocked.
Surprisingly high numbers, but once again, almost none of them were paid. I thought many vicious Bitcoin owners will spend their Bitcoins on this gag gift. Well, I was wrong...
Thus, I decided to add PayPal as another payment option. I thought -- not everyone is willing to buy Bitcoin just to pay anonymously for this service. There should always be more payment options, from which at least one should be well-known.
PayPal was actually a very good idea. Conversion rate went up by 370% in 1 day, while number of visitors per day declined from 48k to 30k overnight.
I think PayPal is still way better payment option than Bitcoin. At least for such a non-technical product that could be sold globally. People literally told me they don't care about anonymity that much. Christmas is coming and many consider this an ideal gift. They just want to make a quick purchase the way they are used to pay for stuff on the web.
Today, I'm not alone in this business. It's not easy to handle everything by one person. There were many people who contributed to this project. Without them, it wouldn't be possible to execute this marketing experiment.
As we want to pay attention to every customer, realtime customer support was introduced quickly. The website was translated to 24 languages and the customer support is now handled in 7 languages.
We learned very much from all the customers' questions and suggestions. A few important things on the website were changed and many bugs were fixed thanks to the patience of you, our supporters.
November was not an easy month. I made a personal record of working 40 hours in a row. I survived thanks to the excitement from all the things that were happening at the time. I cannot even describe how much fun do we have in this business.
Many people just send brief messages, saying "Thanks for this. You made my day. I love you." They cannot believe that realtime customer support for shit could actually exist. I know it's cool. :-)
After having surpassed $10k in revenues, we haven't stopped to grow. The website welcomes up to 7k visitors per day and we continue to fill new orders. I hope to make this a long-lasting experience, not just a temporary hype.
Thanks to strong support of our customers, we already developed a root base for additional services and new product line to be offered in the near future. Besides the shit, we definitely want to grow horizontally by covering more areas of business.
This is just the beginning...
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