Social media has changed the way the world does business. Anyone can grow their company, earn a passive income, or switch careers using Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn. However, it all comes down to how you portray yourself or your brand online. Posting at random won’t work – it requires strategy.
Founded by Christy Laurence, Plann helps brands make thoughtful, smart, and creative social media decisions to help them build a customer base and increase sales. It’s an all-in-one auto-scheduler, social strategist, designer, and content calendar that allows people to post with intention and strategy. Making its start in Sydney, Australia, Plann has now grown to 3 million downloads with customers across 220 countries.
If the Solution Isn’t Out There, Create It Yourself
Christy, the founder and CEO of Plann, has an extensive background in digital marketing and advertising but has always been highly creative too. Alongside her full-time job, she was the person others came to for custom websites, photography, and illustrations. She says, “The further you climb in the corporate world, the more removed you are from the creative part. And I missed it. So after my day job, I would be posting artwork on social media to build my own brand.”
“I became a micro-influencer (even though that term didn’t exist yet). I didn’t have that many followers but had an engaged audience and was able to sell my artwork. I attribute that success to the way I marketed myself and my work. I market in a humanistic way because it all comes down to real people buying from real people. So rather than having generic marketing copy, I infused my account with my big personality and found that I was able to sell way more artwork that way,” Christy says.
Christy got to the point where she needed a tool that could help her manage social media and visually tell a story. If you go to someone’s Instagram account, for example, you decide whether or not to follow them based on their bio and feed. Those first 15 to 20 images have to tell a visual story of what the account stands for – it needs to be cohesive, branded, and consistent.
While there were simple scheduling tools in the market, none helped you build an effective social media strategy. Like many founders, Christy thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” She wanted to create a tool that would give people (and herself) the confidence to post, even if they didn’t have a marketing background. She says, “I thought it was a great idea and figured that somebody would build it at some point. But why couldn’t that be me?”
Christy came up with the idea for Plann in 2015 and incorporated the business in 2016. “It took me a while to have the self-belief to just go for it. It also took time to research what was already out there, what people were looking for, how much it would cost, what I would need to learn to do it, and so on,” she says.
Christy learned that people are incredibly talented, but often sell themselves short by not charging enough, not branding consistently, and misunderstanding which metrics to focus on. She felt there was room for a social media tool that would do all of the above. “People often just don’t know how to market themselves, so I wanted to put a marketing brain into a software product,” she says.
Christy spent a year teaching herself UX/UI design as well as everything there was to know about building a successful app.
Could a Pre-Launch Strategy Be the Key to Success?
Founders often wait until their product is finished and launched before they start marketing it. But Christy credits her pre-launch strategy for helping create viral success right from the beginning.
She built a website and blog for Plann before the tool was ready. Early on, she understood that search engine optimization (SEO) was going to be key. But SEO is a marathon, not a sprint, so the sooner she started writing blog posts, the better. Alongside developing, she blogged every week and built an email list of prospects.
Christy also spent a lot of time in Facebook groups answering questions about social media strategy. “It was very much hand-to-hand combat. Someone would ask me how the Instagram algorithm works and I would share everything I had learned so far. I would start in a New Zealand group and then move on to Australia, Canada, and the US, making my way across the time zones. I did this until I became a trusted member of those groups. At one point, I became ‘the girl who knows the answer.’”
She adds, “I already knew that America was the main target market for my tool. It’s a world where consumers pay for products that they can truly benefit from. And all of those influencers were like me, trying to build a brand using social media.”
All of that manual work popularized Christy’s Instagram account. She started reaching out to other micro-influencers who had built a small following in the creative field too. “If you use your personality to your advantage, you can break through the clutter. You’re not just sending an emoji, you’re being social and building a relationship,” Christy says.
She built a launch influencer group, which beta-tested Plann and shared her app when it was ready for launch. And because people trusted her, they knew the product was something they could share with their own audiences and build excitement around. As a result, the buzz surrounding Plann had started well in advance and it had become a highly-anticipated tool. On Plann’s launch day, Christy had already built an email list, a strong social media presence, an influencer database, and good SEO ranking – all for free.
Christy points out that if you don’t have the money to put into paid marketing, you need people to talk about your company organically. Even once the tool was ready, Christy waited to launch it until she had an audience who’d download and pay for it.
The founder also used a smart trick to foster viral growth. She added the Plann logo in the middle of the app’s main screen, where a user creates their visual feed, knowing that people would screenshot it and send it to their friends to ask for advice about their Instagram grid. That then brought in new customers who downloaded the app after seeing it.
Plann took off as soon as it launched. This extensive pre-launch strategy drove the first million downloads of the app, without the need to spend any money on marketing. Christy was able to leave her day job and work on Plann full time. She scaled the company herself for the first three years and then her husband, Tim Laurence, joined as the COO and CFO.
Making Your Startup More Sustainable as You Go
When you’re bootstrapped, you have to reevaluate your business constantly, asking yourself what it needs to generate more revenue. “When you’re bootstrapping, you care only about revenue and you don’t get as many chances to hit against the net for fun. You have to make educated guesses and take calculated risks,” Christy says.
“I launched Plann and then I was just holding on for dear life for three years. While amazing, viral growth is difficult because you don’t know where leads are coming from and you don’t know what is and isn’t working. All we knew at the time was that something was working. We had to keep shotgunning, without any real strategy.”
Christy’s husband, Tim, joined Plann in 2018 to help make the business more sustainable. Tim’s background is in finance and business operations. While Christy was working on Plann, he worked full-time in corporate finance. Tim says, “There came a time where it made sense for me to join Plann full-time. We could see a real opportunity to grow the business together.”
“I focus on making sure the business is financially sound, that we are building the team, and running the operations right. That then frees Christy up to focus on improving the product and getting it into people’s hands.” Christy adds, “We never really looked at each other and said, ‘You’d be the perfect business partner.’ It just happened and it works!”
Three years after launching, it was time for the startup to evolve. Plann initially launched as an app with a one-time, upfront cost. Christy says, “I didn’t know much about apps back then, but when it started taking off, I realized that it wasn’t a sustainable business model. Tim helped me understand the SaaS world and the business model I needed to make sure Plann remained successful.”
Within six months, they transitioned Plann from a one-time payment app to a SaaS payment model. Customers now subscribe to Plann monthly, choosing from different levels and upgrades depending on their needs.
Tim says, “It was a conscious decision to move from an upfront payment model to a monthly subscription, even though we knew it was going to be difficult. Suddenly, you no longer get a certain level of income and your product is about 10 times cheaper per month. We knew there was going to be a significant revenue hit in the beginning.” Christy adds, “That was hard. We went from about $8000 to $3000 per month, which was less than half. But we made that decision for long-term sustainability and it paid off.”
With that switch in the business model came a sharper focus on customer retention. “Even if it’s a monthly fee of only $3 (which it was in the beginning), customers expect something of value every month. So I put pressure on myself to have something new every month to keep customers coming back,” Christy says.
Over the years, Plann has evolved from an Instagram scheduling tool to an all-in-one planner for Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, TikTok, and LinkedIn. It now integrates with the biggest names like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Canva, to make the content creation process easy. Even if someone is a complete novice at social media marketing, Plann can help them find success by offering pre-written captions, royalty-free libraries, a strategy builder, a unified brand calendar, and an image editor.
The other big change was how Plann delivered value to its customers. They realized that it was more difficult to convince consumers to pay for an app than to convince them to buy software for their computer. Christy says, “Consumers don’t think apps are worth paying for. We’ve been conditioned to think apps should be free, even though (native) apps are more expensive to build than web apps. If you want people to pay for your app, you have to provide extraordinary value.”
Plann started as a mobile application, but they’ve now flipped their flagship product to a web-first solution with the app as a companion. This has made it easier to increase customer acquisition, reduce churn, and grow the business overall.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Many entrepreneurs come to Christy for advice about building an app-based startup. After learning it the hard way, the founder’s response is almost always: “Don’t do it. Start with a web version first.” She advises that if your product idea is not something that’s templated and straightforward, don’t spend the thousands of dollars it takes to build a custom app.
Instead, build a minimum viable product (MVP) through a web-based application. It will allow you to create the first version of your product for a lot less money. Then focus on getting your first customers, iterating on the product, and, if it’s successful, building a companion app.
Christy says, “That’s the way forward. Because if you build a native app as a bootstrapped startup, you’ll spend all your money to develop it and fund it for at least a year before it makes any profit. We’ve met people who’ve spent $250,000 on building a custom app and they still haven’t gotten a return on investment.”
On top of that, the willingness of consumers to pay for computer software is much higher than for apps. As a result, you’ll have an easier time acquiring those first customers and growing your business if you package it in the right way. So, before you start building your big idea, take some time to figure out the most viable path to get there.
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