This company grew to nearly $2 million MRR by building a product for a wildly niche audience.
How ConvertKit built brand recognition in one of the world's most competitive markets, then almost blundered it all away.
You may know his name from his recent investment in Cerro Gordo, a preserved 19th century mining town.
Maybe you've read his book, Authority, which has sold over 15,000 copies.
But you're most likely familiar with Nathan Barry from his software product, ConvertKit.
This little tool is consistently ranked among the top ten best email marketing tools since it launched in 2014.
A huge feat for such an overcrowded market.
It's a market that's projected to reach over $23 billion in value by 2025. There are hundreds of companies offering email marketing tools, many of which have been around for over a decade. And to top it off — there are plenty of platforms in other markets (think ecommerce and content management) that offer supplementary email marketing tools to their customers.
So how did ConvertKit break out as one of the best in less than a decade?
Nathan Barry started with a specific need
You see, Nathan built ConvertKit because he had a need for himself.
He had published three online courses, an app, and a book that taught others' how to follow the path that had made him successful up to that point.
The problem was he couldn't find an email marketing tool that was built for people like him.
At the time, that majority of email marketing software was built for large corporations with massive budgets. There were also products, like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, that served smaller businesses.
But one type of use case was constantly overlooked.
Nathan asked himself over and over:
What about us? The individual creators and creative entrepreneurs who go it alone?
He couldn't find a tool that would help him sell his courses and book. Sure, he could cobble together some workaround or hack in one of the available softwares. But this wasn't good enough.
Nathan's a product guy and so he did what he does best.
Built a product.
He then focused on a wildly niche audience
Once he had ConvertKit ready, it practically sold itself.
Nathan's book, Authority, was written for people like himself. Content creators who used their blog to sell information products.
He had a list of potential users ready to go.
He simply emailed them and told them he had built a tool just for them.
By October 2014, with only $1,000 in monthly revenue from the product, Nathan felt like he had enough momentum to focus on ConvertKit full time.
Just over a year later, the company hit 100x growth.
$100,000 in recurring monthly revenue.
So how'd he do it?
Take a look at an early version of ConvertKit's website and you'll instantly see how they stood out in a crowded market.
That tagline — "Email Marketing for Professional Bloggers" — is a lighthouse in a sea of products built for corporations.
The website doesn't try to be something for everyone. It says: if you're a content creator like me, I built this product just for you.
And at $29/month, it was affordable too.
That's the secret of ConvertKit's early success. It was a valuable product at the right price for a very specific audience.
Then ConvertKit almost blundered it all away
In 2018, ConvertKit made a weird move.
At the company's Craft + Commerce conference, Nathan Barry announced that ConvertKit was changing it's name to Seva.
After all the hard work to build brand recognition in a crowded market, Nathan decided to throw it all away. And for what?
Maybe he was finally giving in and trying to become those other products that didn't work for him when he was just getting started. Maybe they were ready to expand into small and medium sized business territory.
And he had chosen a name that also had certain religious connotations.
It didn't sit well with users. So he changed it back.
Whatever the reason for the initial change, it was a short-sighted move that could've cost this growing company everything.
Lucky for Nathan, it was two steps back, three steps forward
ConvertKit didn't suffer too much from its blunder.
Today, the company is well on its way to $2 million in monthly recurring revenue.
While it has broadened its original value promise, it hasn't lost sight of who the product was built for.
"Audience building for creators," the site's tagline now reads.
Not as strong as it's earlier tagline, but still nearing the mark.
One thing is certain.
ConvertKit still ranks number one among bloggers and informational content creators. And it still communicates directly to that audience.
It's a great example of a company that captured an underserved market early in their growth and continues to make that market its prime focus.
It's this kind of dedication to a niche audience that makes a company's marketing successful.
— Mike Doane
P.S. Don't walk away empty-handed
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