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Analysis of Hacker News Traffic Surge on Let's Code TDJS Sales

25 Feb, 2013

A few weeks ago, my new screencast series, Let's Code: Test-Driven JavaScript, got mentioned on Hacker News. Daniel Markham asked that I share the traffic and conversion numbers. I agreed, and it's been long enough for me to collect some numbers, so here we are.

To begin with, Let's Code TDJS is a bootstrapped venture. It's a screencast series focused on rigorous, professional JavaScript development. It costs money. $19.95/month for now, $24.95/month starting March 1st, with a seven-day free trial.

Let's Code TDJS isn't exactly a startup--I already have a business as an independent Agile consultant--but I'm working on the series full-time. I've effectively "quit my day job" to work on it. I'm doing this solo.

I launched the series last year on Kickstarter. Thanks in large part to a mention on Hacker News and then even more from Peter Cooper's JavaScript Weekly, the Kickstarter was a huge success. It raised about $40K and attracted 879 backers. That confirmed the viability of the screencast and also gave me runway to develop the show.

(By the way, launching on Kickstarter was fantastic. I mean, sure, it was nailbiting and hectic and scary, and running the KS campaign took *way* more work than I ever expected, but the results were fantastic. As a platform for confirming the viability of an idea while simultaneously giving you seed funding, I can't imagine anything better for the bootstrapper.)

Anyway, the Kickstarter got a reasonable amount of attention. I tossed up a signup page for people who missed it, and by the time I was ready to release the series to the public, I had a little over 1500 people on my mailing list.

I announced the series' availability on February 4th. First on Sunday via Twitter, and then on Monday morning (recipient's time) via the mailing list. That's about 4,200 Twitter followers and 1,500 mailing list recipients.

Before we get into the numbers, I should tell you that I don't use Google Analytics. I don't track visitors, uniques, pageviews, none of that. I'm not sure what I would do with it. What I do track is 1) number of sales and 2) conversions/retention. That's it.

So, I announced on the weekend of the fourth. There was a corresponding surge in sales. Here's how many new subscriptions I got each day, with Monday the 4th counting as "100x." (So if I got 100,000 subscriptions on Monday--which, since you don't see me posting from a solid gold throne, you can assume I didn't--then I would have gotten 48,000 on Sunday.)

  • Sunday: 48x
  • Monday: 100x
  • Tuesday: 33x
  • Wednesday: 25x
  • (Total: 206x.)

82% of these subscribers converted to paying customers. 15% cancelled the trial and 3% just didn't pay. Although I collect credit card information at signup, those subscribers' credit card didn't process successfully.

A week and a half later, just after midnight my time (PST) on Wednesday the 13th, the series was posted to Hacker News by Shirish Padalkar. It was on the front page for about a day, and was near the top of the front page for the critical morning hours of every major European and US time zone. It peaked at #7. That led to a shorter, sharper surge.

  • Wednesday: 140x
  • Thursday: 23x
  • (Total: 163x, or 79% of the email's surge.)

83% of these subscribers converted from the free trial. 14% cancelled and 4% didn't pay. The only real difference between the two surges was that a lot more of the HN subscribers cancelled at the last moment. About half actually cancelled after their credit card failed to process and they got a dunning email. It makes me wonder if HN tire-kickers are more inclined to "hack the system" by somehow putting in a credit card that will can be authorized but cannot be charged. A debit card with insufficient funds would do the trick.

Another interesting data point is that "background" subscriptions--that is, the steady flow of subscriptions since February 2nd, other than traffic surges--averages 10x per day. (That is, on an average day, I get one tenth the subscriptions I got on Monday the 4th). However, the conversion rate for those "background" subscriptions is 95%. I'm not sure why it's so much higher. Perhaps those subscriptions are the result of word-of-mouth recommendations? That would make sense, since I'm not advertising or doing any real traffic generation yet.

My conclusions:

  • For this service, a mention on HN is about equivalent to a mailing list of 1,200 interested potential customers and 3,330 Twitter followers. That's actually less than I would have expected.

  • The conversion behavior of HN'ers is about the same as the mailing list. I would have expected the mailing list to convert at a higher rate, since they've already expressed interest. But it's essentially the same.

  • Both surges led to significantly less conversions than word-of-mouth subscribers. Don't get me wrong--from my research, I'm led to believe that ~83% is excellent. But 95% is frikkin' amazing.

  • HN'ers are more likely to cancel a free trial at the last moment and use credit cards that authorize but cannot be charged.

Finally--thanks to everyone who subscribed! I hope this was interesting. You can discuss this post on Hacker News. I'm available to answer questions.

(If you're curious about the series, you can find a demo video here.)