The weekend before New Years, my girlfriend and I were talking about her trouble renting a sewing machine in San Francisco. She had found a site that did general “rent anything”, but decided against it for two main reasons: the the details made it inconvenient, and at $15/day, she could just as easily buy on Amazon for less than a hundred dollars. That got me thinking of other rental sites that I had seen fail by being too broad, renting both lawnmowers and electronics, and by renting items that weren’t prohibitively expensive. By contrast, rental sites that focused on a specific vertical (like AirBnB or GetAround ) have enjoyed some success. We started brainstorming other verticals that were prohibitively expensive but also easy to transport (if you needed to arrange pickup/delivery). We landed on camera gear for a few reasons:
- Lenses and bodies start at $200 but can easily run into the thousands
- Unless you’re a professional photographer, utilization of your equipment is probably pretty low
- Photography has been an interest of mine for a while
- The Bay Area has enough techies/photographers for a healthy ecosystem of peer-to-peer lending
It seemed like a sound enough idea to invest 5 hours the next day building a minimum viable product. Rails, Bootstrap, and Heroku make it so easy to build simple sites that at the end of my one-day hackathon, the site had three pages: landing, gear index page, and gear detail page. For gear, there were three lenses and one camera body, all my own. I added a ‘Like’ button, called it an MVP, and posted a launch announcement on my Facebook Timeline, Hacker News, and the photography subreddit.
As the graph shows, the launch got about a hundred hits. This was pretty reassuring, as was all the feedback friends had for me about it. This buzz only lasted for the first few days though, and it became pretty clear that I was going to have to do something else if I wanted new people to keep checking out the site. I found a Quora post, What’s an effective way to drive initial traffic to a simple landing page? which had a few good ideas, in addition to some that people told me about. Here’s a quick summary of the best traffic sources:
At a party on New Years Eve, a friend who started his own company recommended that I try Facebook ads. I was initially happy, especially with the “Reach” number — but reach doesn’t seem to mean much, and it was pretty expensive traffic. January 2nd to 7th, I got 19 clicks for $14 — around 75 cents per click. This was the price for targeting users with an interest in photography within 25 miles of San Francisco. I turned it off the campaign after I found StumbleUpon.
To sign up for Startupli.st , I needed to connect it to a Twitter account. Since I now had the account, it seemed worthwhile to do just more than the bare minimum of nothing. I’ve been tweeting photographs with links to the equipment used to take the photo on the site, and shooting for once a day. I also bought a copy of TweetAdder and proceeded to follow 50-200 users/day in the San Francisco area who have an interested in photography. After about a week, I have 57 followers and am following 952 users.
StumbleUpon Paid Discovery
I learned about StumbleUpon’s paid discovery from the above referenced Quora question. Basically, they advertise clicks at a tenth the cost of what Facebook Ads. There’s also the added benefit of getting “organic” traffic in the SU ecosystem. Curiously, while their Dashboard reports 282 visits, Google Analytics puts it at 176 visits. So their advertised CPC is 8 cents, but $29.90 bought me 176 hits for an effective CPC of 17 cents. Still — much cheaper than Facebook Ads. They also allow the same level of targeting (within 25 miles of San Francisco, interest:photography) than FB Ads.
I don’t really want to count 99Designs as “paid traffic”, but the result of it drove traffic to my site. 99Designs lets you launch a contest where designers can submit work for you based on your specifications. I was interested in a logo, and logos are the most basic contest offered at $299. For that, I got about 100 designs (guess the name isn’t hyperbole) — all of which were better than I would have come up with by myself. During the process, I left feedback and got designers to iterate on earlier designs. This ended up being a good way to engage friends on Facebook by using their Poll feature to get early feedback on designs I liked. And, after the contest finished, it was a “major” enough update to the site that I felt it was worth publishing to my Timeline, and that story ended up driving a fair bit of traffic, discussion and even a few signups to list equipment.
While one of the lowest traffic sources, it’s some of the most valuable traffic. Criticue launched on Hacker News about a month ago, and it’s got a simple and useful service: you review other sites for a minute or two, and you’re guaranteed that someone will leave feedback for you on yours. The reviews are varying degrees of helpful, but overall having that many eyes on the site giving succinct feedback is incredibly helpful, and has helped hone a few of the experiences (like terrible link-hover colors).
Here’s a breakdown from Google Analytics, to show the relative impacts of each different traffic source.
|Source / Medium||Visits||Pages / Visit||Avg. Visit Duration||% New Visits||Bounce Rate|
|(direct) / (none)||256||2.5||0:02:33||71.88%||54.69%|
|stumbleupon.com / referral||147||1.16||0:00:22||99.32%||66.67%|
|facebook.com / referral||127||3.09||0:01:27||70.87%||44.88%|
|news.ycombinator.com / referral||108||2.3||0:01:44||72.22%||60.19%|
|m.facebook.com / referral||44||1.59||0:01:55||34.09%||68.18%|
|99designs.com / referral||23||2||0:00:52||56.52%||73.91%|
|t.co / referral||12||3.33||0:02:37||91.67%||33.33%|
|criticue.com / referral||8||6||0:01:53||100%||37.5%|
|hnsearch.com / referral||5||6.8||0:00:41||100%||0%|
|google / organic||2||5.5||0:01:12||50%||50%|
So far, it seems promising. I’ve got a decent bit of non-paid traffic, I continue to get good feedback on it, people sign up to list equipment.. but I’ve not found anyone wanting to rent equipment yet, even if the price is free. I’m not really sure what the next step is, but I have some ideas:
- Add datepicker/CC integration to the rental form to make renters feel more secure, and the site seem less fly-by-night.
- List equipment I don’t have, but then purchase it if someone is interested in it. Obviously not a scalable solution, but could help with that first customer.
- Outreach to photography blogs, camera shops, or coffee shops with a more techie crowd.
I’d really like some advice on what to do next. I feel pretty confident in being able to build ideas, I just want to make sure I build the right ones. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’ve got ideas or any feedback. And be sure to check out CameraLends if you haven’t yet!