Wynter is 1 year old: retrospective

by 
Peep Laja

We launched Wynter to the public on May 5, 2020. Well, actually we launched Copytesting that day... and re-branded later.

So how was year one? Iterative. Full of experimentation and change. Solid. Just like year one should be.

Of course, the ambitious entrepreneur in me always wants more, faster. But I can play the long game, I’m patient.

Being a bootstrapped company, you can only go so fast.

In case you're unfamiliar with our origin story, I'll start there. You can skip to "Gearing up for launch" section to start with the launch.

How the idea came about

The original idea for the product came from trying to solve my own pain at CXL.

CXL has 60+ long-form sales pages for courses, and another large amount of landing pages for PPC, webinars, etc. We learned that to increase the conversion rates on those pages, we needed to improve the copy.

But how do you determine what specifically needs improvement? When a prospects land on a sales pages, what do they think? What part of the copy makes them nod their head and say “yes, I want this” - and what makes them roll their eyes? No clue.

I started to look for such a tool, but it didn’t exist. I did find a lot of people with the very same problem though.

From prototypes to launch

Once I realized there was no tool for this, I pounced on the opportunity it presented.

As I was already the CEO of CXL, I couldn’t take on this initiative by myself. We (me and my cofounders) approached a trusted, long-term team member Jaan and asked if he’d like to be the product manager, and lead the efforts to bring this product to market. He said “yes” and off we went. His personality and capabilities were perfect to take on this early PM role.

Based on our internal ideation, he designed prototypes of what the tool might look like. We conducted problem validation - interviewed 20-25 people about the problem we identified, showed them our prototypes, and asked what they thought of our proposed solution.

The feedback was extremely useful. The idea was greeted with enthusiasm, and trends quickly emerged about what people wanted out of this tool.

We summarized each interview in a Google Docs file. Excerpts of actual notes taken:

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Gearing up for launch

The development of the tool kicked off in January 2019. We first tried to build it in-house, but the developer wasn’t experienced enough so we ultimately outsourced the MVP development to an external agency (while keeping product management in-house).

The tool was in private beta for 6 months prior to the public launch, . We earned the very first revenue in December 2019 ('sup Elise?).

With the world up in corona flames in May 2020, we launched. I didn’t feel ready - but I wanted to speed up the feedback loops. We also felt it would be more motivational for the team to work on a tool with real customers on it rather than working mostly on the “concept.”

We arbitrarily picked May 5th as the launch date. In reality, folks were  able to sign up for the tool on the website before that date, but we weren't publicizing it much.

We drove the first 1000 signups from my personal social media accounts (Twitter+LinkedIn). That personal brand audience sure can come in handy!

The official launch in our case meant that we sent out a press release (which did - predictably - nothing) and also were featured on Product Hunt:

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We were the #1 product of the day, and that was rewarding. It was very good for the team's spirit.

We received some (mostly fly-by) traffic, as well as signups (mostly tire kickers with no intention to pay), but financially it didn’t move the needle much. It was good PR anyway!

Post-launch: testing assumptions

We launched with a B2C panel that you could target based on demographics and psychographics. Think "25-49 year old female homeowners that have cats and are into crypto." That kind of targeting.

We didn’t have our own panel, so we recruited the panel via public APIs from various panel companies like Amazon Mturk, Lucid, and Prolific.

When we launched, I had multiple assumptions based on my data and interviews I had conducted:

1) We're in the business of better copy.

2) Copywriters will be all over it, finally having a way to make copywriting data-driven.

3) It's best for B2C/consumer companies, especially ecommerce, as they have lots of product pages.

4) By naming the company Copytesting, this product will be the new category default.

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face," said Mike Tyson.

After the launch, the revenue started dropping. We saw a -43% MoM drop in July. Copytesting wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves.

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In August, with me putting more marketing muscle behind it, we changed the downward trend and started to grow again. But still, it was clear that some of our early assumptions were not true. We began to learn:

  • Copywriters (with some notable exceptions) were not the audience for this product because A) most don’t have much money to spend on tools, and B) many voiced that they were not comfortable having their work judged by a panel.
  • Ecommerce marketers don’t tend to spend a lot of time thinking about product copy... once it gets shipped, it usually gets never tinkered with again.
  • Building features is expensive, we need to get better at validation and selecting what to build.
  • Folks used our services for B2B websites, and saw poor results.

Early on we received interest from B2B companies, but couldn’t service them adequately:


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We tried to do our best using consumer panels for B2B companies (using various screeners, etc), but the results were not good.

We knew we had to change, but needed more data about which direction to go.

Turning build-measure-learn into learn-measure-build.

To get better, we needed to learn more.

Customer research efforts got turned up: we relied heavily on live chat (an amazing channel, truly), and I was doing a lot of sales meetings and demos. We reached out to customers who had bought or leads that didn’t buy, and talked to anyone who’d take a meeting with us.

New features got shipped, we improved the usability, and constantly kept tinkering with the product. Some of the features we shipped took months to build, but in the end did little to nothing to impact new sales. That was expensive.

We decided to go all-in with no-code for product validation. Any new functionality got built by hacking together various tools (Webflow, Typeform, Zapier, etc) and doing manual work behind the scenes. The goal was to first validate whether people want the new feature, whether they find it useful, and if they are ready to pay for it. Only write code to scale it (when doing it manually become a bottleneck).

This approach became very successful for us, and is now how we do everything.

Becoming a B2B panel company

As we kept learning, we kept getting increased interest from B2B companies. While B2C panels are a widely-solved problem (except for testing copy/messaging), B2B panels are not.

We believed there had to be a company out there that could deliver solid B2B panels. Sure enough, many prominent panel companies said they could - so we ran tests.

Boy were we surprised! The quality of the B2B panels out there was outrageously bad. In fact, most of it was an outright scam. (This stuff needs an exposé, seriously). When companies use the panels for multiple choice surveys, they have no idea that most of these people are not who they say they are.

We tried doing a market research survey using a B2B panel provided by a prominent company: very low quality results. Next, we used that prominent panel company for a messaging test: the comment quality was abysmal.

We requested a panel of marketing managers, but those people were definitly not marketers. They thought ‘organic traffic’ had something to do with cars and vegetables. That panel was not cheap, btw.

So we asked ourselves - what if we built our own B2B panel? There was some doubt and hesitation. But what if we could make it work?

Through CXL, we had access to a large number of marketing people (a sizable email list), and that’s what we used to recruit the very first set of people to join our panel.

We ran a test - and it was a success. The comment/feedback quality was miles higher than we had ever gotten through those consumer panel APIs. We were onto something! Still more data was needed, and more validation before plunging ahead.

We built a dedicated landing page for our new B2B marketing panel, and promoted it to Wynter’s small email list and I shared it on my Twitter account. We received a lot of interest from folks.

Ten tests later, we noticed something - almost all of them had voluntarily posted a testimonial on social. We didn’t ask them to do it, but they were so satisfied with the outcome, they did it on their own. This had not happened before.

That decided it: we went all in with building a B2B panel. This basically meant a small pivot. We changed our target audience to B2B companies (with a focus on tech), and we changed our product. We were no longer a software company, but a panel company with a software layer on top.

I strongly believe our panel is already the highest quality B2B panel out there. And we can deliver results really, really fast! Impressing people with speed is a priority:

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We continue to work to increase the diversity and size of the panel: our end goal is to have all major job functions/titles and industries covered. Lots of learning there, with even more to come!

Re-branding: Copytesting becomes Wynter

Copytesting had been in the market now for 5 months, and I realized we have to change. Not only our product focus, but also the name.

Key reasons I decided to change the name:

1. Literal, descriptive brand names are an unnecessary handicap.

The name Copytesting is a literal, descriptive name - and hence a weak brand name. As a name, a literal/descriptive name automatically positions the offering in a mundane, unflattering, generic, and easy-to-forget way. All your marketing after the name has to overcome an initial, commonplace perception.

Your brand is your best long-term moat. In the long run, no SaaS company can compete on features or what you do (even if today we're the only one doing what we're doing). If you don’t want to become commoditized, you need to have something special, unique - including a unique name.

2. Our goal is to become a suite of products built on top of our panel

The name Copytesting indicates a single use case. For us, testing messaging is only the beginning.

We're in the business of delivering audiences, not in the business of copy. Messaging testing is just the first use case we rolled out. There will be many other ones for market and audience research, insights on non-text content (video, etc.).

More about our next products and uses cases below.

3. The people we sell to don’t care about “copy.”

Our extensive research in the matter is clear: marketing leadership doesn't care about copy. It's considered a thing anyone can do, and often gets delegated to the most junior people, or outsourced to freelancers.

But what the marketing leadership cares *very much* about is positioning and messaging. No junior person or freelancer has a say in that.

Along with changing our name, we changed our positioning.

4. The meaning of the name Wynter is ours to make

The best brand names have no preconceived meaning. You make the meaning.

Wynter - which is also a name of a person - is unexpected, less concerned with sounding corporate and serious, and is inherently more human.

It's short, easy to say, and you can have some fun with it (wynter/winter). There's quite a bit of name research that we relied on too.

Launching Wynter Games: a virtual event series

At the same time that we launched the new name, Wynter, we launched Wynter Games. Our monthly, free, live, virtual event series.

Marketing play: create awareness that we exist, and generate top-of-funnel leads.

Our DR (domain rating) is still low (38 at the time of writing this), thus we can't rank for much with SEO right now and generate leads that way. We still needed to build the email list, generate leads, and so on. So I asked myself - how can we do this?

As an experiment, I decided to launch a small scale virtual event. If it works out, we can repeat. If not, it’s a low-cost experiment.

I set 500 registrants per event as my minimum goal for success, and we announced Wynter Games. The first event resulted in over 700 registrants, so we decided to do it again. The audience for each event kept growing, with our best event capturing over 1800 registrants!

The event series itself is developing it's own mini-brand, and delivering well for top-of-funnel goals: awareness and email subscribers.

Instant, direct revenue impact is low, but that’s not the goal. It is interesting to observe how the focus/topic of the event impacts the number of demos that come from it. While our content marketing event was most popular in terms of signups, it delivered the least impact. Those are not our people.

Team

Startup life is demanding. There’s a lot of chaos, little established process, a lot of direction changing, and a whole lot of fast-paced action. Sometimes at odds hours of the day. It’s hard, and definitely not for everyone. In 2020, the team was just three full-time people (+ outsourced devs and QA). By the time 2021 arrived, our product manager had burnt out, and left the company.

At the start of the year, we brought on a new PM, and added two more team members. Besides me, Wynter has now four full-time people, two part-time folks + agencies/freelancers (software development, event management, video editing). The team has been really kicking ass, and I'm very proud!

I’m currently still a sales team of one - doing all the demos myself. It’s been very useful - I get to rehearse my pitch, see what really reasonates with folks, observe what kind of questions I’m getting, and pass any feedback on straight to the product team. Being a sales team of one has also completely eaten up my time: I’m doing 2 to 6 demos every single day. It’s nuts. Luckily, our new head of sales is starting within the next couple of weeks.

I wish I could hire more people now, but I'm not looking to hire ourselves out of business.

I’m also sending the newsletters, writing the drip emails, manning live chat, evangelizing the company on social, podcasts, webinars, and any live events I’m doing.

It’s a lot. Personal effectiveness is key. I can do anything for a short period of time. My to-do list is always longer than I have time for, so ruthless prioritization is a must for survival.

My apologies to all the 43,103 people that I owe an email reply to.

Growth

Once we changed the positioning and doubled down on B2B, things clicked. While still small in absolute numbers, our revenue growth picked up.

Since the “pivot”, our month-over-month growth rates have ranged from -13% to +76%. A small dip in January 2021 compared to December, where some companies paid up front for an enitre year, but we then broke previous revenue records in February.

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When we analyzed the titles of our buyers (thanks Clearbit!), we had a surprising discovery: 80% of our buyers were B2B product marketers. They’re the classic “best-fit” customers for us: they get it, they want it.

The rest of the titles vary - from B2B demand gen to growth roles, from CTOs to agency heads.  

Personal notes

It’s been a rewarding year. Emotional roller coasters, yes - going from “oh yes I’m winning!” to “oh shit I’m losing” to “oh yes I’m winning” - but not too much.

I didn’t need to build another company, but I’m so glad I went for it.

Like I often say: if you’re not having fun or not growing, you need to change your job. Growing Wynter has been super fun, and I’ve learned more in this one year than I did in the last three.

My mental health has been good. I’m also no spring chicken anymore and I’ve learned quite bit about myself and self-care over the years. I know my limits and I have stong boundaries.

My exercise+diet regimen are solid, I don’t overwork (I prioritize spending time with my wife and kids). I try to get enough sleep (~7hr/day on avg: room to improve there).

I’ve been part of building two bootstrapped companies already: CXL and Speero. Both profitable and growing strong.

Now building a third bootstrapped company?

I’m wondering if there’d be more personal growth, learning and fun for me to try a venture-backed route? We don’t need the money: while Wynter is very early stage still, it’s making money and growing, plus we have internal resources available to invest. But from a purely personal perspective? I wonder. Getting some serious VC interest as well.

The future

We’re only getting started.

We are only slowed down by lack of resources: time, humans, money, and also some expertise. It’s frustrating at times. I’m ambitious. I want more and faster. But don’t we all?

Wynter is unique. We’ve found an interesting opening in the market, and we solve significant problems. Think about it - the overwhelming majority of companies compete on brand. Product-led differentiation is going away, very few can sustainably compete on innovation.

When you realize that you’re competing on your brand, your story, your positioning and messaging - you realize you need two capabilities:

1) know what the people you're trying influence think about the problems you're trying solve, what are their top pains, desired gains, what do they care about or not.
2) know how what you're currently saying to the market is landing on them. Are they leaning in - "tell me more" - or are they rolling their eyes.

That's what Wynter does - helps you answer these questions.

I have a very strong vision for where this company needs to go, and what we need to invest in.

Future product direction:

Since we're in the business of audiences (B2B panel), we can build any service on top of this. Let's say you're SaaS tool selling to marketing VPs and CMOs. Maybe your solution is solving a problem with content marketing. Before you craft your messaging, you will want to know what are the top problems your audience has with content marketing? What's top of mind? How big of an issue is X, Y, or Z? Do they care about this thing at all? What about that one?

Audience research is the way to answer these questions, and Wynter is perfectly set up to deliver on it.

We’re now rolling out a number of new products built on top of our panel:

  • Preference tests and competitor comparison tests
  • B2B customer development surveys
  • Video walkthroughs with B2B buyers
  • Pricing research
  • Recruiting people for customer development interviews  

...and so on.

Further down the line, product plays will include building a platform (other companies can build products and services on top of our panel API) and building an AI-based messaging effectiveness prediction engine.

Our best-fit customers are B2B product marketers. Every job role has its set of tools they use - e.g. sales has CRMs and sales engagement tools, marketers have customer engagement tools, support uses ticketing systems and so on.

Product marketing teams have no dedicated tools yet. Wynter and our product roadmap is perfect for this. We’re building a suite for go-to-market research and optimization.

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Media direction

With the exception of Wynter Games, we haven’t invested in content or SEO. And we haven’t yet spent a single dollar on ads.

That’s going to change.

I’m going to invest heavily in awareness and brand building. I’ll build a media machine on topics related to B2B go-to-market strategy and competitive strategy. Podcasts, newsletters, blog and other written content plus amplification and distribution for it all.

Thank you

If you’re a customer - thank you so much. If you’re just cheering us on - we need all the love and support we can get. Thank you.

Happy first birthday, Wynter!

Got questions about stuff that I didn’t cover? Ask me on Twitter: @peeplaja.


B2B panels

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