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The hard truth of scaling a free browser extension to 500 users | self-funded

New year - new beginning meant more for our team this year. We launched our new product in January. It’s a browser extension comparing hotel prices on different booking sites LIVE & for FREE.

RatePunk is definitely the best product I’ve worked with, and we really believe that it should succeed, but it’s way harder to push it than we thought. It’s been 5 months now, and we barely managed to get 500 users.

RatePunk

We’re an entirely self-funded startup - it makes reaching the target audience and pushing the product even more challenging: we can not invest a lot of money in advertisement.

Nevertheless, the launch was successful - we generated 390 installs in 2 months with zero money invested in marketing. That means we gained organic users by being creative on free social media platforms and other marketing areas.
Whoo-hoo!

THE CONCEPT

The main purpose of RatePunk is to save money & time: we created it as a browser extension so it would pop up only when you need it. An example: you find a hotel on booking.com for particular dates, you click it, and RatePunk pops up in seconds, showing you the prices of the same room for the exact dates on other booking websites. From our experience - savings can vary from $10 to a few hundred dollars, sometimes reaching more than $1000.

Another exceptional thing about RatePunk is that it also includes our zero-margin booking system Seathustler when comparing. Users can book the hotels there with no commissions + get a 5% cashback.

Example7

It’s available to install on 5 main browsers: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera & Edge, and we connected the 9 biggest OTAs into one system.

There’s a possibility to compare the prices on our website, as well, without installing the extension, but installs are our main focus. There is no other tool of such kind. Even Trivago or Tripadvisor aren't the same. Their deals do not have live prices. In most cases, when people click on the hotel deal’s link on these pages, the price changes & you're back to square one again. And it's disappointing. Live comparison prevents this from happening.

One of the biggest challenges: MOBILE TRAFFIC

The fact that browser extensions can only be used on desktops became our curse. I believe that it’s a problem that many browser extension creators face. Mobile traffic has wholly taken over the computer version, and we have to find ways of attracting people to use their laptops when making a reservation. Keeping in mind how easy & popular it’s to do this using a smartphone - our goal is really complicated.

We’re trying to convert more mobile phone users into actual installers when they’re on our website by offering them to get a desktop reminder later. They can leave their email address & get a notification to their inbox.

The STEPS we’ve taken so far

  1. We’ve been working with social media marketing from the very beginning: we’re active on different channels, and we managed to reach over a few hundred followers & engage the users. This is the best way for us to communicate with potential customers and search for collaborations.

We communicate from a different perspective depending on the platform & its audience. You can take a look at our techniques here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/r8punk
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ratepunk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rate_punk
TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@ratepunk
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ratepunk/

  1. We’re writing a blog, but it’s not getting much reach. We’re constantly working on SEO optimization (lately, it’s been way better, so we’re glad!). We created it using WIX, so it was a different website, but next week we’re about to migrate on our website, so it all would be in one place.
  2. One of our first steps was to get listed on already existing directories (like Top 10 extensions you won’t survive without etc.), but this was not very successful. We sent out hundreds of emails but barely got an answer. Nevertheless, we did a lot of research & got to know the industry even more.
    We sent out our press releases & were featured on quite a few, which was one of the first wins!
  3. We started to look for travel influencers - like I mentioned, our budget is limited, so our choices were just as few. After trying to work with micro & macro-influencers both, we’ve noticed that it’s a challenge to get a good price-return of investment ratio. Now we’re waiting for our first influencer to make a video mentioning us. We’ll see how it goes, we feel like this could be a breakthrough (hopefully!)
  4. IndieHackers turned out to be one of the most successful platforms for us, and I wanted to thank you all here! It’s such a motivation to be a part of this community & see the mistakes and successes like-minded people share. We’ve contacted other IndieHackers on social media and joined the recently created Twitter community.
  5. We also tested a few ad campaigns on social media, but it seems the product is too complicated.
  6. We even tried the traditional marketing - hung posters (they were hilarious, trust me) with QR codes leading to our website all over our city. It was a fun thing to plan & brought us a few installs.

THAT’S AMAZING, GUYS

We get so much positive feedback from people who try it - whether it’s the people we know or someone who found us on Facebook, etc.

Feedback2

From all 390 test users, we see that 49% are frequent users redirecting at least twice per week from one booking provider to another. That means we’re headed in the right direction because the product is in active use. It motivates us to keep working on this, but the stuck numbers bring us back to reality.

Feedback1

THE REAL SAVINGS:

Feedback3

Feedback8

Feedback4

Feedback3

It’s the feeling when you know that you’ve created a promising product, it’s FREE, but you’re still unable to find the right way to show it to your audience. Or not able to find the audience.

We’re looking for different perspectives: if you’ve been in a similar position with your product or have any insights, we’re open to hear your story & try all the existing growth hacks.

Here’s our website link to take a look: https://www.ratepunk.com/

  1. 3

    You have to think about 2 points.
    how do you want to earn money in the future?
    Most web users are mobile users and it will increase. And not all desktops users install addons. So you lose a lot of potential customers. I think you should develope only a website which is optimized for Desktop, Tablet and Mobile users. It will makes also your life more easy because you can focus your development time only to one Plattform.
    Concerning marketing: i think this marketing community can help you: https://www.blackhatworld.com

    1. 1

      Hey! Thanks for your comment. We are planning to earn revenue through the affiliate model. While our extension finds the better price on the internet, we provide users with a hyperlink including our affiliate code, after the booking we got a small fraction of the user's spent money. Actually, we have mobile, desktop, and table web versions (https://www.ratepunk.com/comparison) of our price comparison, but this part we identify as a competitor to metasearch like Trivago, Momondo, or others. Our unique selling point is that our service is really easy to use as an extension. We started to develop a Safari extension that will work on mobile devices, so stay tuned. Android version for mobile users also is coming.
      Thanks for the ideas for marketing. Will take a look!

  2. 3

    All I read are ways to push your extension to your customers (brute force sales techniques). But, have you stopped to think about how the customers are satisfying their needs?

    The need: find the best price of a hotel.

    Your solution: Search in the extensions directories, install an extension, start searching several sites that you have to Google for them, then click on the app and you'll find the best price.

    Your competitors are aggregators. They already have hundreds of thousands of hotels available and they compare the price for you.

    Their solution: use the search box and you are done.

    Your competitors are those HUGE sites with HUGE HUGE HUGE marketing budgets. They can advertise on TV, Facebook and Google every single day of your life. Also, the millions of visitors they attract organically, because they have dynamic pages (thousands) that Google has indexed. You don't have that.

    Why are you trying to beat them?

    I didn't name a competitor because you know them already.

    So, don't get me wrong, I applaud you for trying to find a solution to a problem. The issue is that you thought about the technology (browser extension) before thinking how it's the easiest way to solve it (a website).

    And then, if you are now thinking of dedicating all your time to a website, well, that's an extremely crowded and very established market.

    I don't even want to start thinking about how you are going to monetize your extension.

    Still, good luck on this journey. I hope you get a way to make it work or to win experience from this and jump to the next project.

    1. 2

      I think you're not wrong but it can be great for people that don't have a habit of using aggregator sites.

      If the extension triggers when I'm looking at something automatically I can use that fact.

      If that is enough to get people to go through the friction of installing it, I don't know.

      It's true you can't compete with the marketing budgets of big aggregators and you shouldn't but maybe you can carve out a niche that you can cater to and add features that are specific to that niche that aggregators don't cover.

      Going wide is probably fighting windmills

  3. 1

    You mentioned about organic growth. So does that mean you were active on social media? Also did you send any DMs on through social media to your potential customers? And what about cold emailing?

    1. 1

      Hi! Thanks for your ideas & comments. Yes, we're most active on TikTok & Twitter, both of them have such an opportunity to push content for free. Facebook/IG & Linkedin doesn't work for us, as they are purely ads-driven platforms and it's really hard to push organic content to the skies. Any other ideas on other social media platforms to try? DMs & cold emailing are on our list. Do you have any suggestions on those two? One of the struggles could be finding emails, who would be interested in such an extension.

  4. 1

    @Justin_Alb fantastic job! I just installed it.

    1. 1

      Thanks a lot! We got an amazing feedback from users who installed it and used. Hope you will be one of them! Enjoy.

  5. 1

    Dude, I really appreciate that you are hustling and it is tough but I really get annoyed when I see blatant lies. Your website says:

    Chrome Store reviews, 1000+ users

    Sorry, that is a lie. You've absolutely lost my trust - even if you went on to win the Nobel peace price I will always remember you for this BS. Not worth doing this....

    1. 1

      Hey! Thanks for your feedback and comments. That's true, the number you find is not the real one, now it should be 800+ users. We already fixed that, and we do not have any intentions to provide the wrong information or lie. Big apologies for that, it's a good lesson for us to make sure that all provided information is doubled checked and is correct.

  6. 1

    Nice extension!

    Two quick tips:

    • You could improve your bio on Twitter imo.
    • I think you should drop the hashtags from your tweets. They look weird.
  7. 1

    Did you have a contingency in place that would've made you stop working on this project and move onto something else? (e.g. "If we don't reach X number of installs in Y months then we will move on." )

    If yes, how were you tracking against your contigency?

    It not, how long did you plan on working on the project before deciding to move on? (Assuming it didn't take off as fast as you had hoped.)

  8. 1

    Love the design. Have faced similar issues with extensions in the past... Keep up the good work!

  9. 1

    Dude. Great write-up. Have often fantasized of building a browser extension, and it's glorious to see this journey. Thank you for sharing your learnings :)

  10. 1

    Nice extension!
    Have you tried to share your app with Travel planners?

    What I would do is search for Travel Planners on Twitter and message them directly about your app.
    I am doing a similar thing with my extension Klippper ( a notion web clipper ) https://klippper.com/
    I search for terms like "Notion certified", "Notion Ambassador" ... and DM peoples
    That's how I got the first installs.

    You could try to share your app on Reddit too.

    Hope that can help you!

    1. 1

      Thanks! Very happy to hear you like our extension. I'm so sure you will save money just by having it on your browser. In the long run we are planning to cover all travel services, not only the accommodation part.

      No, we haven't tried to reach out travel planners, it's a perfect idea. We will definitely start to try this approach to promote our extension.

      Reddit is on our list, we're also working on that.
      Kippper looks really nice, keep going! Let's keep in touch, as we have similar showstoppers on the way.

      Thanks for replying! It's really worth exchanging such a piece of information, ideas, tactics, and strategies. Keep going!

  11. 1

    Growing extensions can be tough. Have you tried promoting through places like TikTok? I could see this working well if you connect with the right person who has a large travel audience. Not sure if it's possible but could you partner with sites like nomadlist to have them promote the extension to travelers trying to save money.

    I would also look at Honey and some of their early marketing strategies. They are a similar price-saving tool.

    I just tried the extension and it kept redirecting me back to the onboarding page. Was I doing something wrong? I wasn't able to get it to work in Chrome.

    1. 1

      Hi! Yes, we're active on Tiktok ( https://www.tiktok.com/@ratepunk). Now it sure is one of the platforms where content can go viral at any time.

      Thank you for mentioning Nomad List & offering the idea about Honey marketing strategies. I'll look at both: Nomad List audience seems to be perfect for this product.

      Talking about the extension - you don't need to take any additional steps after installation. This means that after you go to a particular booking site and choose the hotel & dates, it automatically pops up. If you try to open it by clicking the icon on any other window, it'll always redirect you to the onboarding page. I hope I've answered your question. Please let me know if it's okay now!

  12. 1

    Curious if you've tried incentivizing these bloggers with money. For eg, asking if they can include you as #1 on their list for $X. Maybe you didn't get a response because there wasn't anything for them. This is not a typical advertising spot, it's more like native.

    1. 1

      Hi there! Actually, since it was one of the first steps we took, we didn't consider offering money & tried to get it through naturally. But I think we could definitely try it now. Thank you for the idea, I get your point!

  13. 1

    Hev you tried advertising with some of the bigger travel bloggers? There are quite a few them focussing on how to save money when traveling. I can imagine conversion from that audience will be great.

    1. 1

      We got prices from some of them, it's insane how expensive they are :D I do agree that they are one of the best channels to market our browser extension.

  14. 1

    This product is so underrated! I hope you make it to the top

    1. 1

      Thanks! Working hard to make it happen.

  15. 1

    Great job @Justin_Alb - this was definitely fun to read! I never thought about the challenge of mobile browsers. Thanks for sharing your experiences and how it worked out for you so far!

    1. 1

      Pleasure! Yeah, mobile traffic is one of the biggest showstoppers for us, as all PPC cold traffic is purely mobile one. I will update about our next milestone.

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