An email subscription service that send users cheap flight deals.
We often pay for air tickets more than necessary. And most of us know about that. However, we sometimes just have no time or patience to find better deals. That’s the reason why email subscribing services, sending their users notifications about advantageous flight deals, have recently become popular. They commonly work as freemium services offering free or paid subscription plans. Since this market is relatively young, we saw an opportunity to enter it with our product and launched our Manyflights system in late December.
What is Manyflights?
That’s a service where users specify their home airport and start receiving emails with available cheap flight deals to various destinations. The system tracks dozens of popular destinations simultaneously and sends notification emails to users once it finds prices lower than regular ones for specific flights.
In our Premium plan, we have expanded the functionality with filters like date range, trip duration, and the possibility to select specific destinations for which our users want the system to find cheap flights.
From a business point of view, Manyflights is a SaaS product built on the bootstrapped model, meaning it was developed without any third-party investments.
Why we decided to build this product
I flew from Europe to Latin America several times over the past year. I’ve realized that we often overpay for flights, especially when it comes to distant trips like transatlantic flights. They are traditionally expensive and make up a significant part of your travel budget. However, you can save a lot on them if you can wait for the lowest price. Manyflights is designed to help you seize the moment and free you from the necessity to track the cheapest flight fare rates manually. Once we find a good deal, you’ll get an email notification about it.
I already had some expertise in this area. In 2017, we launched the Telegram bot to monitor air ticket rates. It has actually gained some popularity and currently boasts a user base of more than 80,000 subscribers. Nonetheless, that’s a niche product, and it is rather challenging to scale. So, this time, we decided to develop a service for a substantially larger audience.
How we differentiated from our competitors
Sure, we are far from being the first on the market, but we differ from our competitors primarily in filters allowing our users to get relevant flight deals:
In our next product version, we are presenting regional searches (Europe, Asia, Latin America, etc). We’ve talked to our customers and found out that users from the United States, for instance, want to get more flight deals to Europe. On the other hand, considerably fewer users are interested in Latin America. Europeans, though, have quite diverse preferences: some want to travel to the most far-flung corners of the word while others are interested in European inland flights. The possibility to choose a destination region should satisfy all users as it excludes irrelevant flight deals from the mailing list.
To develop our product, we use PHP, Symphony, and MySQL. This stack allows us to build up functionality quickly and validate ideas.
We get data via the official Skyscanner API, with which we’ve been working for quite some time on other projects. Skyscanner provides us with maximum market coverage and the best flight deal rates.
We’ve chosen the SendGrid service to send emails to our customers. Because the service is rather simple to integrate, it allowed us to make a quick start. We use Paddle to accept payments. As of this moment, we are fully satisfied with the way everything works.
How we validated the product
MVP and Reddit helped us with that. The initial Manyflights version was as simple as possible — a landing page with a title, subtitle, and a single button “Get started.” Having clicked it, users specified their home airport and started to get cheap flight deals to their email addresses.
Even at that point, we implemented a Premium plan purchase option. It was only available in one website usage scenario, and we didn’t expect any conversion. Moreover, the early functionality was rather rough. Nonetheless, we sold our first Premium plan as early as at a closed beta testing stage. That was surely a good sign and an incentive to keep on moving ahead.
A more massive and critical audience joined us from Reddit, the place where you are a negative and hated character by default. That is actually a fine place to get criticized. You shouldn’t take it personally, though, as Reddit is the environment where you can see both polite, tolerant people and many trolls and haters.
Reddit has specific rules. If you know them, you can get what you come for: users or feedback. For instance, r/Entrepreneur, r/Startups, or r/SideProject subreddits suit well for idea evaluation and feedback collection.
That’s the very place where we received proofs of our product viability and insightful feedback. Based on this data, we built the next version of Manyflights and launched it publicly some time later.
Launch and results
To launch our service, we used several channels with plenty of technology people like startup supporters, indie makers, and entrepreneurs. Each platform is specific and needs a unique strategy to launch a product. It’s far from enough to be lucky for a successful launch. The correct sequence of actions is much more important.
Below is a list of platforms where we gained our audience:
The launch process took us about a week through our successive appearances on each of the resources listed above. Our focus was on the Product Hunt campaign. It ensured the best results: most paid subscriptions came from this platform.
Frankly speaking, I had hopes for selling just 1 paid subscription because Product Hunt traffic tends to convert worse than regular organic traffic. But the very first day, we sold 12 premium plans. Actually, every 30th US subscriber had registered as a paid user.
However, you have to be skeptical about many positive reviews on platforms like Product Hunt or Indie Hackers. You have to keep in mind that this is the place where people with similar minds come together. They are the people who understand that you spend a lot of time and energy working on your startup. Most of them just want to support you as an indie developer, and if your product is blatantly lousy, no one will say it straight to your face.
While launching our product on Reddit, we didn’t expect large user gains as we started there mainly on business and startup subreddits. However, we got several partnership offers and 2 offers to sell our product there. It happened just a week after the public launch took place.
We never got to a negotiation phase on the real sale price, but I think no one would have offered a suitable amount of money at that point.
We started to build relationships with our users via our customer support at the very beginning. Even though our subscribers are scattered all over the world and in different time zones, we try to respond promptly to all user messages.
Later on, after the launch, I interviewed our most active users and those with whom I had established contacts on how satisfied they were with our service. Then, we analyzed the feedback received and started building a plan to optimize our product.
However, the best way to know your weak points is to talk to users unhappy about your product. Where would you find them? If you are building SaaS, someone will eventually ask you to unsubscribe or make a refund. And here it is — the appropriate moment! It is vital to take advantage of it and ask an unhappy user why they didn’t like the product. You can get much more from such users than from those who are satisfied with the service. We had two unsubscribe requests, and the users agreed to provide detailed feedback in both cases. It allowed us to comprehend our weak points. Eventually, we persuaded one of these users to change his mind and remain our subscriber.
What we will do next
We started late compared to our competitors, and we are now at the very end of the peloton. However, we have slightly different goals than struggles for the market at the moment. We are currently striving to gain a product-market fit achievement. That is why our priority for the next few months is to optimize our service and build a true product for users based on their feedback.
In March, we plan to release the second iteration of our product with an advanced search algorithm and other functions to appeal to the mass user. We are still teaching our algorithm to tell good flight deals from secondary ones. For instance, if a direct flight fare is just a little higher than a transfer flight price, our system should select a direct flight. That is what most users would do.