I built rktat in February of 2019. It was a quick and straight forward build with a simple mission: Make a CMS with built in email & SMS marketing, with a tailored process and setup specific to the needs of tattoo artists.
My wife and I had just arrived for a long term stay in Bali (with our kids), and I was considering having some new ink done. I looked around for a good artist, and quickly found a number of them. Lots of great Insta feeds and Facebook profiles. When I tried to contact an artists, however, the information on profiles was out of date, DMs went unanswered. Without fail the work was good and the presence was awful.
I didn't end up getting any work done in Bali, but I did see a major hole in the CMS/PaaS ecosystem. There are platforms for car dealers, doctors, hair stylists, etc but nothing - at all - for tattoo artists.
So I did the research.
First I needed to determine the market. There are nearly 200k tattoo artists in the US & Canada, and around 40k tattoo shops. That's a huge untapped market. I was sold there.
Next was finding out if this was of any interest to actual tattoo artists. I rang up my buddy back home who slings ink. He confirmed my suspicions; setting up and maintaining a site is just too much work, and when it does get done it gets forgotten about. He, and the other artists in his shop, find social easier and can see results. With a site there was no immediacy and no way to know what it was doing.
The last step was checking reach. I figured if tattoo artists are on Insta and Facebook they'd be reachable there. So I ran some ads. I spent ~$100 on Facebook and Insta ads, and gathered ~150 leads who provided their name, number, and email expressing interest in a better website tool that helps them better generate leads.
At about $.66 a lead, clearly I could reach the audience; and audience with a need and a size large enough to be profitable.
I was set, this was something that needed to be built.
My lady and I took the kids on a snorkeling trip up Ahmed beach that weekend, and when I got back I hit it.
Just over two weeks later I had a slick CMS, solid website page builder, and a marketing system built around Facebook & Insta with email and SMS drip campaigns for the long term engagement of customers.
Three weeks from start I had my first paying user.
And that's when I messed up.
Conversion rates were terrible. I realized it wasn't clear, especially if you've never done any online marketing, what the value was. And I couldn't find a test that resonated. What did resonate though was "more clients, better site".
So I went with that, and instead of trying to convert directly on the site I scheduled calls. Nearly 1 in 4 visitors to the landing page converted into a lead, and of that I managed to actually get on the phone with maybe 20%. Half of which converted.
It was working, but it was untenable. So I rebuilt the admin made it easier to use, auto generated nearly the entire site during signup, and had an array of email and sms marketing templates auto filled into the drip system for each user, customized for them.
Churn dipped, signups improved, and while my ad costs skyrocketed, things were humming. By the end of 2019 I had 147 paying users.
And then the US and Canadian governments forced nearly every tattoo shop in their respective countries to close. And just like that, by the start of summer 2020 nearly every subscriber was gone - and with them the $49-$99 they were paying each.
And it makes sense, if I were an artist in that situation rktat would have been the first thing I cut too.
And so for the next 10 months rktat just sat there. 3 paying users. One of them was my test card. So 2.
In April of this year I started running low budget campaigns again, and users have trickled in since. It's presently at 13 paying users, having peaked at 29 this summer.
Less than 1 in 4 subscribers stay more than a month. That's a lot of churn.
I'm not sure if the value isn't there, if post lock down artists are more price sensitive, or if it's something else - but I suspect it's a value issue causing the churn.
In October I announced, if you can call a tweet an announcement, that I would be doing a ground up rebuild. And I started on it. Rebuilt the UI, created a great signup process that full automates site and campaign creation in a very immediate and useable way, greatly improved the marketing center and planned to add advert and campaign generation tools.
And then one day in the middle of working on it I stopped. I was done. I realized, quite all at once, that I didn't want to do it. And I don't mean in that weak "lack of motivation" kind of way. I mean in a complete flat footed "I will not do this again" kind of way.
I'd built rktat twice already. And it still wasn't reaching the users the way I hoped it would, the value wasn't being taken advantage of in the way I hoped it would be. I build things. It was natural to lean into building it again when it wasn't working.
But that's stupid. If it doesn't work, and can't reasonably be made to work, move on. How many times have I given that advice to a startup or CTO? And yet here I was, on a 3rd build of something that doesn't work - I think that qualifies as "can't reasonably be made to work".
So I'm closing the book on rktat. It has some users, and some of them are even taking real advantage of it, and I'm not going to mess with that. The users helped me build it. I owe them in a certain capacity.
On January 1 2022, marking nearly three years since I started rktat, I'll be closing it's doors to new users, and converting all the paying users to free users. They'll maintain exactly the same plan features and so on, but they will no longer be charged.
I intend to maintain it until the last user's domain expires.
So "what's next?", you might be wondering, noting the incomplete nature of this piece. Well, it's Friday, almost 3PM and shortly after Shabbat, so perhaps a quick bit of Warzone and then a restful Sabbath.
And on Sunday I start on something new. 🍻