28 Jan

Why you can’t sign up for my SaaS app

Today I announced a radical new direction for ConvertKit, my email marketing SaaS application:  You can’t create an account.

Seriously, go to the website and try to pay me. You can’t.

Like every other SaaS business, ConvertKit’s goal is to make money. So why remove every payment method from the site?

Well, I have a few reasons, but the biggest is that I am taking SaaS (software as a service) closer to its actual definition. Now ConvertKit will be including training services directly with every subscription.

Why aren’t customers succeeding?

I went through my metrics from the last six months to determine why most customers cancel. It comes down to two major reasons:

  1. They never set it up or wrote the content.
  2. They didn’t know how to best use email to meet their marketing goals.

In other words, half weren’t ready to use the product yet, and the other half didn’t know the best tactics to make it successful. It’s frustrating to watch accounts churn because of problems like this. It would be one thing if customers canceled because of problems with the product, but that is rarely the reason given.

Based on what I’ve learned over the last six months, I don’t think ConvertKit customers need just a web app. They need something more. They need hands-on help and training on how to make the most of email marketing and their ConvertKit subscription.

What am I good at?

2013 was an incredibly successful year for me. My business did over $250,000 in revenue and I sold thousands of books. That gives me confidence that I know a thing or two about online marketing. But ConvertKit didn’t do that well. Even a year after starting The Web App Challenge I still haven’t hit my goal of $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

Instead of continuing to market and sell ConvertKit like a traditional SaaS app (which isn’t working for me), I’m taking a step back and looking at what I’m good at: teaching and launching.


I make 90% of my income through teaching, yet ConvertKit customers are canceling because they still don’t know how to use email marketing successfully in their business. That’s my fault, and I need to fix it.

People who sign up and don’t know what do won’t see any results. If they don’t see results, they are going to cancel. My goal now is to clearly teach the tactics necessary to make email marketing a fantastic ROI—not just teach how to use a tool.

Next I plan to use multiple launches to increase conversion rates.

Increase Conversion Rates

I actually came up with this idea while talking to my friend Rob Walling, who runs Drip (another great email marketing provider). He was about to take Drip out of private beta/pre-launch and open it up to the public. I encouraged him to keep it private, meaning that only people on the email list could get access. He could then push new visitors to the prelaunch list.

Rob does this with his membership/training site, The Micropreneur Academy. If you go the site, you won’t find a way to join. Instead you need to get on the email list, where every month or so Rob and Mike (the co-founder of the site) open up registrations for a short period of time, letting in a small group.

This has three major advantages:

  1. New members of the group are added in batches. That means the existing community can welcome them all at once, instead of new people showing up just any time. This also helps the support requests from new members to be grouped all at once, which makes them easier to deal with.
  2. It filters out the tire kickers. No matter what your service is, people will want to sign up just to see what is going on. Especially for people like Rob who are always teaching and sharing their knowledge, people will sign up just to learn from his lifecycle emails sequence. By adding this extra barrier to subscription, each customer is higher quality.
  3. It triples the conversion rate. Rob tried allowing visitors to buy at any time, but he found that using the monthly launches to an email list resulted in 2.5 to 3 times the number of visitors converting into customers!

After our conversation Rob decided to continue with his plan to open Drip up to the public with a traditional SaaS sales page, but I still had this idea stuck in my head.

Many Launches

Product launches are one thing I know how to do very well. With each book launch I build up anticipation and excitement over time, then have a huge launch day that brings in tens of thousands of dollars in 24 hours. But after that launch, sales die down. I still make a good living from each book, but I am never as good at driving sales as I am during a launch.

There are many skills to learn when running a business, but gradually getting customers for a SaaS app is one that I just haven’t been successful with. So I’m changing the strategy to something that I know how to do better (launches) rather than what has been the standard model (sign up any time).

I think this is a better fit for my style and will allow each customer to be more successful. Email marketing, when done well, can radically transform a business. It’s that powerful. So it’s important to me that I structure ConvertKit’s customer acquisition model around helping the customer be as successful as possible.


Introducing ConvertKit Academy

Now when you visit ConvertKit.com you’ll get the same marketing site, but it will be more focused on education. Then instead of a Plans & Pricing link like most SaaS apps have, you’ll be invited to get on the wait list for the next time ConvertKit Academy opens up. Initially I plan to welcome 10 new customers at a time, and open it up once a month. That launch will only be to the waiting list, so that’s the only way to create an account.

I am also ending the 14-day free trial and replacing it with a 30-day money back guarantee. Since only 10 people will be allowed in each round, it’s important that they are serious about email marketing and aren’t just kicking the tires of another product.

Course Content

Each new round of customers will receive a detailed, five-part course that combines the necessary tactics and strategy to grow an email list along with learning exactly how to use ConvertKit to make that happen. Seventy-five percent of the content could apply to almost any email tool, and the remaining 25% is focused on getting the best results through ConvertKit.

The lessons take you through:

  • How to create and package an opt-in incentive that will make visitors eager to join your list.
  • Delivering value so that your subscribers want to read every email you send.
  • How to set up landing pages and add relevant opt-in forms to your blog posts for much higher conversion rates.
  • Getting consistent visitors to your content so that you can grow your list.
  • And finally, the entire course teaches you how to wildly accelerate your biz through teaching!

Each day of the week a detailed lesson will be sent by email, and then my team and I will be available to answer specific questions and help with setup.

Near the end of the week we will do a live call to answer questions and help provide more tactics. I will also include Photoshop templates of book covers, landing pages, sample chapters, and other things to help make the process easier.

All for the Same Price

I decided to keep the exact same pricing, starting at $50/month, that I’ve had before, but structured in a new way. ConvertKit Academy costs $300 (one time) and includes the first six months of ConvertKit. So effectively the price hasn’t changed; customers just get a free course with it as well.

By collecting more money up front my plan is that customers will take the course seriously and put the content into action. Also they will think long term (at least 6 months) about their email marketing strategy, rather than just dumping the tool if they don’t have time for it in the first month.

Customer Success

Everything about ConvertKit Academy comes down to the idea that ConvertKit will be successful long term only if I can make my customers successful. So I am doing everything in my power to teach, help, and empower each customer with everything they need.

Customers who are growing their list by hundreds of subscribers each month and are able to sell products successfully aren’t going to cancel. They are going to see ConvertKit as a valuable part of their marketing strategy and see the monthly cost as trivial compared to the ROI they are receiving.

Quite simply, successful customers are happier and less likely to churn.

Existing Customers

Existing customers will have access to the exact same help and content as members of the ConvertKit Academy. It just may take me a couple weeks to get the same system set up. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

An Experiment

I’ve seen this model done for other online products, but never for SaaS apps. That means this is an experiment. I have no idea how it will turn out, but I’m hoping that three months from now I’ll have another 20+ success stories of ConvertKit fully implemented into online businesses and driving meaningful revenue.

As with everything I do, I’ll share the results with anyone who wants to follow along.

The First Round

If you want to use the best tool (in my biased opinion) for rapidly building a profitable email list, and hands-on training sounds good to you, join the invite list here. I’ll open up the first round within two weeks.

Get on the waiting list here: ConvertKit Academy.


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26 Responses to “Why you can’t sign up for my SaaS app”

  1. Hey Nathan,

    Interesting pivot.

    In my previous startup, Virally (now managed by new owner and team) one of the biggest realisations we made was that a content marketing tool assumes people are capable of delivering content.

    We were essentially selling a way to get more leads from any given piece of content (we didn’t offer any drip marketing services, just exporting the leads)

    Signup rates we GREAT, but everyone seemed to stumble when we asked “So give us your report/whitepaper/ebook/PDF”.

    Instead of pivoting to providing more education and training (we were burning runway…) we pivoted our target customer. We realised that larger enterprises had BIG content teams, with teams of analysts and journalists creating reports, whitepapers, survey results.. every week. And they had large talented marketing teams with dedicated email marketing experts who could get big ROI’s on high quality lists.

    This pivot was overall showing success and behind the veneer of the SME SaaS app, a promising semi-software, semi-service consultancy began to emerge.

    So what I guess I’m saying is, been in a very similar situation to yourself, learnt a same similar lesson, and definitely agree with your choice of pivoting.

    Getting your customers to create better content and better email content is a great idea. And of course, charging upfront is something I’m now a huge fan of (see our pre-launch revenue case study on Sixteen Ventures).

    But also, I know run an analytics startup where there is a lot of educational material out there, so we don’t need to spend money on educating our customers, and its definitely a LOT easier than when we were grinding at Virally ;-)

  2. I think this is a brilliant strategy.
    Why wouldn’t it work for saas mini-launches?

    I think it will prove to be effective and quite fun to turn your saas into a series a launches.

    Good luck.

  3. Hey Nathan I’ll be interested in seeing the conversions on this. We tried something similar with http://ConvertPress.com briefly and our conversions tanked. We are now re-developing it to give people what they want (ignore the current site, it’s an MVP).

    People find it by searching for ‘wordpress landing pages’ and when they get there and see that it’s an opt in form to learn about conversions, they bounce. It’s not relevant enough for what they searched for.

    Depending on what your traffic is expecting when they hit the site, signing up for another email course may not be what they want.

    Another option could be taking a URL like on Quicksprout.com and giving them something valuable that is relevant to them (like some sort of automated conversion review) and then asking for an email. I think the main thing is where is the traffic coming from and what are they expecting when they get there?

    What is your MRR at the moment? You mention it’s under $5k. I know a lot of SAAS providers who have started in the last couple of years as solo operations and they haven’t hit that either (myself included with our software). I think selling info products and getting someone to pay every month for a piece of software are 2 very different things.

    Perhaps your results aren’t that bad? It’s a super competitive space, it would take a lot for me to change the way we do our email autoresponders.

    Either way I’m keen to see how this goes, all the best with it.

    • I second what Dan has said. Frankly, when I had first landed on ConvertKit site few months back, I found it difficult to understand why I should be paying $50 for an email provider when Aweber does a fantastic job at $20 in the starter plans and Mailchimp does it for free.

      Did you manage to find out where the customers went after stopping their ConvertKit subscriptions? Like you had said earlier many times, people always don’t always tell you the truth when it comes to their money.

      But anyways, your strategy is very interesting. Atleast I haven’t seen anyone doing this. So I am interested in knowing the results you get.

  4. Very interesting Nathan, I’ve had this thought myself actually with Snappy though for slightly different reasons. I won’t get into all that here.

    I also thought I’d chime in on why both ConvertKit and Drip didn’t stick with me. Now, UserScape is a bit bigger than the average bootstrapped co, but we’re also small enough that we don’t (yet) have a dedicated content team, etc.

    The problem for me is that drip email marketing is only one part of a larger marketing effort, yet the tools only focus on that. For a very small shop (1 person show, ebook seller, etc) this may be enough, but for anything larger than that having to always track all this conversion data across many different systems is inefficient and time consuming.

    So while I like Liam’s idea, I wonder if now that larger marketing automation tools have taking a bigger hold it will be possible to land significant large customers who probably want a more unified view of all their marketing.

    All that wraps around to a discussion we had at BOS. To me both Drip and ConvertKit are overpriced at $50. If the target market is very small shops who are probably just starting out I think it’s going to be hard to get $600/year out of them in just software.

    So I do really like your idea of making content a huge focus because that plays to the most likely audience and also can help justify the otherwise “expensive” pricing.

    Looking forward to updates!

  5. I’ve been disillusioned in the same way with client work…people have aspirations to use tools (like a website) to grow their business, but are mostly unprepared to actually make it happen because they a: don’t know how or b: would rather have somebody else do it for them.

    Looking forward to seeing where this new education-centered model takes you!

  6. “Seriously, go to the website and try to pay me. You can’t.”

    Not trying to be flippant here, but I was just able to sign up. ;-)

    Found your pricing plans page and you can still signup from there. Just sharing this so you can fix it, unless of course you wanted some of us to be able to get through. ;-)

  7. Helen says:

    This method makes sense, it’s the same as committing to write 1000 words per day really! Instead of waiting for motivation (or in this case customers)to show up, you’re focusing on consistent blocks of measured progress. It’s much easier to work towards getting 10 conversions a month than just generally aim to ‘grow a business’. :)

  8. Thanks for the article. I’d be fascinated to see how this works out for you. There’s a couple of things from your conversation with Rob that didn’t make sense to me though.

    “Rob tried allowing visitors to buy at any time, but he found that using the monthly launches to an email list resulted in 2.5 to 3 times the number of visitors converting into customers!”

    juxtaposed with

    “After our conversation Rob decided to continue with his plan to open Drip up to the public with a traditional SaaS sales page”

    Why would he do that when he’s getting 2.5 – 3 times conversions using monthly launches? That’s a vast difference.

  9. Hey Nathan,

    Interesting idea. Thanks for sharing it. We might try this with our own SaaS…which finally has a name: KontentFlow


  10. So I was trying to remember the company that did something in this vein of thought and I remembered, it’s InfusionSoft.

    They FORCE everyone signing up for their $199+ /mo product to also pay a $1999 “kickstart package” (http://www.infusionsoft.com/services/kickstart). Hubspot used to do this too, not sure of they still do?

    But everyone I know (smaller company’s <20 employees) have always had a bit of bile in the back of their throats when they find out they have to pay this setup fee. The ones who don't care are the bigger guys.

    HOWEVER… InfusionSoft has some good revenue and has been around for a while, so it's probably working for them within the customer segment they've found…they're very sales team focussed though… "call for demo, book a demo"…. so I'm assuming their sales teams just ram this $1999 down throats

    Anyway, just some additional food for thought Nathan. Love that your totally transparent and you'll likely share the results of the experiment with us :)

  11. James says:


    For me, the problem was that it’s too expensive for people that aren’t *already* successfully doing email marketing. Way too expensive for a tool with such a narrow purpose.

  12. Hi Nathan,

    It’s Mitch — we met on the Norway trip last year. A friend forwarded this on to me today — we’re working on starting our own SaaS. I really love this idea. It was just yesterday, I was looking at creating my first automated response for signing up to my list (I’m using MailChimp), and I noticed I can purchase emails for a little as $9 for 300, or $0.03 each. I thought, “Great! I don’t have a big list, and I don’t know what I’m doing. They understand that I don’t want to pay a monthly fee before I understand how it works. I can get my feet wet with $9 and learn first and then commit when the time is right.” It seems like exactly what you’re doing, with a more hands on approach to the learning. If you teach your customers, you’ve eliminated that major hurdle. Thanks for writing! Have a good one!

  13. hi Nathan,

    Why not BUILD learning INTO your product and lower entry level price (as low as free) to help people get started? Analyze every activation metric and add overlay tutorials and help widgets, instructional copy, examples, whatever on the steps that people struggle with. Tweak your starting page non-stop until you actually see a lift in product activation. The teaching makes sense in new/original products in a new marketplace (ConstantContact in 2005), but it seems explanations on how to use a product should be integrated into the product itself.

    When customers have a learning curve with a product, I think freemium model still works best – users get to try out the product risk free and then decide if they want ongoing benefits they pay for.

  14. Great Strategy

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  20. Saar Kagan says:

    HubSpot also makes you purchase their “training” component. Similar approach?

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