Adam Wathan's Nailing your First Launch

23rd April 2020 - 14:17:36 - 8862 characters

Nailing your First Launch

Notes from Adam Wathan's Nailing Your First Launch in which he recounts his lessons learned from the digital products he created and sold.

Nitpick CI was his first product, a SaaS application. In total it sold $3650 in sales from 19 customers. This is related to Patrick

His book, Refactoring to Collections. His launch day was $28,299 in revenue and $61,392 in the first 3 days. This prompted him to leave his job. This took him from February to May, only four months.

He then moved on to Test Driven Laravel, a video course with 166 screencasts and 22 hours of content. On the first day it hit $82,919 in revenue and in $115,676 in the first 3 days.

From May 2016 to April 2018 he hit $647k in sales with $179k from the Refactoring book and $468k from the TDD course. Half a million from his first two years of selling ebooks and courses online.

Adam references the stair-step approach where you focus with a one time sale product and then move toward recurring revenue.

One time purchase products are easier to sell than recurring products. Most of the audience have bought books and courses that they've never even opened yet a $4 per month recurring charge causes existential angst. One time purchase info products can also be definitively finished. SaaS and recurring products do not have that property.

Selling subscription software is hard and courses are easy in comparison.

Building an audience

Have an audience that trust you and think you're the right person to teach them. A large audience can make up for any other deficiency in their product's launch.

The key to this is simply be useful on the internet - whether that's writing articles, interviewing prominent figures, and so on. A favourite of Adam's is small useful tweets akin to tips that might otherwise have been a blogpost.

Be useful where your audience are.

Picking the right idea

Have an idea: What content are you putting out that people are excited about? What are you personally excited about? What are you ahead of the curve on? What do people think you're better at than they are? What have you learned outside of your waterhole that you can bring back to your field? Adam brought knowledge back from the functional programming or data communities / testing from the Java and Ruby community to PHP.

Test your idea:Once you have identified something test the idea. You can start with a single tweet to see the reaction and then convert that tweet to a full fledged tutorial or article. Start cataloguing the feedback from others to use in marketing material later.

Define the product: Start small - a mini-book - such that you think it's achievable in two weeks. Adam's first book was imagined as eight blog posts. Don't be too ambitious as it'll turn out larger than you think. A smaller book can be an advantage compared to a massive tome. A three hour video course is still a substantial video course. Books have a fixed market rate ($20-40) but courses can hit a higher price. Courses likely require more time commitment however.

Putting up a landing page

Headline, information explaining what they're going to learn, and the call to action of a mailing list signup. The mailing list needs to offer an incentive to sign up as they're likely either already following your Twitter or on the fence. You can promise free content previews even if you don't have produced content yet.

"Sign up for free screencasts and a big discount when the course is released in May."

To prove your expertise you link to the material you used to test the idea and other forms of social proof. Quoted tweets from positive responses from your audience or relevant past accomplishments.

End the page with the mailing list signup again and a small "Who am I?" section linking to Twitter as social validation and any other relevant work.


Advantages: Pre-selling is the best form of product validation that exists. You'll also be able to make more money as you can promote the product whilst you're creating it. Pre-selling also provides a strong incentive to finish your work as you're on the line for sales already. Pre-sales also buy your time to finish the product.

Disadvantages: Selling multiple tiers of the product are trickier as you'll want them to buy the more costly product but the add-ons that justify the costly price are not yet done. Once you've made a pre-sale you've restricted your ability to change your scope. Pre-sales are equivalent to taking on debt and can invoke the same stress.

Building your email list

Tell your audience: Announce that you'll announce a landing page and ask for people to share.

136 retweets and 542 likes for a page telling people I want to take their money at some point.

This will give you the majority of your sign ups. You can maintain interest by sending progress updates and free content. To sustain new signups over time you should tweet when you're going to post content to your mailing list.

Repurpose content: Take a chapter from a book or a video from the course and make it into a blogpost. You can note that the blogpost content was taken from the book or course. Your mileage may vary - progress updates on social media may work better - but this still helps.

Getting it finished

Make public promises: State in an email that you'll be writing or recording a new update during this week and that you'll send a free sample on Friday.

Email on a schedule: A week without emailing people causes angst and emailing people without interesting content causes angst. You should feel angst about missing both these things.

Reducing scope: If you've worked on this for a long time and you're not where you would like to be then reconsider the scope.

The best way to reach the finish line is to move the finish line closer to you.

Figuring out pricing

Tiered pricing:

Adam opened pre-orders for the highest tier thinking he'd make other tiers in the future but the sales were so strong that he decided not to make any other tiers.

If you're going to use two tiers then use the first tier to make the second tier better. The prices should be similar.

Three tiers are great for books if you can produce bonus content. This also separates it from comparing it to Amazon book prices. A pricing strategy of {1x, 2x, 5x} works well as you want to make far more than $29 if you want it to be worth your while. This will make a lot more money than just selling the book.

From Adam's three tiers:

  • Bare Essentials (book: $29): sold 258 units for $7482
  • Premium Training Package (book + screencasts: $59): sold 427 units for $24,819
  • Complete Reference Package (book + screencasts + sample project: $135): sold 220 units for $29,091

Launch discounts: Discount it enough to be appealing - at least 30% to encourage sale at launch. Discount the higher tiers more heavily. Reverse engineer the price such that the discount is the price you want to sell your work for as you're likely to undervalue your own work.

Adam's three tiers with his new pricing and discount strategy:

  • Bare Essentials: regular price of $39 with 25% discount ($29)
  • Premium Training Package: regular price of $119 with a discount of 35% ($79)
  • Complete Reference Package: regular price of $249 with a discount of 45% ($139)

Nailing the launch

Build the sales page: Still include an email signup even if your product is released, value proposition, testimonial / social proof, what you'll learn, the course outline, tiers sorted from highest to lowest price

Announce the launch details: Include all package and pricing details, include the table of contents / content list, and any final free content preview if possible

Launch it: Send out a simple email as your details and call to action are already encapsulated in the sales page

Leverage early feedback: Once you've launched collect and integrate positive feedback to continue cementing the social proof.

Don't be afraid of giving away more free content. I've given away most of the book and had no complaints from my audience.

Closing the launch: Don't specify an ending date for the launch in advance, assess the situation in real time and send a final email to your audience saying "Last N days of launch discounts"

Adam ends the talk with a collection of material from Adam including An eBook pricing model that resulted in $100,000 in sales.