Thomas Step

This is where I share my thoughts and experiences that I encounter developing software.

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10 November 2021

Cold Email Experience With Papyrus

Back in July, I finished a project that I called Papyrus. Papyrus was inspired by a bad experience I had with a QR code and online menu at a local restaurant. The menu did not load for about half of the group that I was with, but it did have a cool feature where multiple PDF menus were hosted on the same URL and could be selected for viewing. I looked at the provider’s website and noticed that they were selling their service for $5 / month and it did not even work on all phones. I wrote some code, learned how to upload and store files (PDF menus), and whipped up a UI. It only took me a week or two to write the code with all of the functionality I wanted for my QR code and menu hosting I wanted for my service.

The previous project I had worked on was (Crow Authentication). I had put more effort into Crow’s UI and Papyrus was just another iteration using a similar UI. At least I had some improvement on the UI, but there was another area I wanted to iterate on. Crow Authentication had not attracted any users at that point. Of course, thinking that a product would start selling within a few weeks of launch might have been hoping for too much. Anyway, I wanted to also iterate on trying to sell these products that I was creating. At the end of the day, I am a software engineer, so any full-stack project that I work on in my spare time gives me valuable knowledge. However, gaining knowledge was not the sole reason for me creating these products: I also want to challenge myself to build something that people want all on my own.

Unfortunately, I do not come from a family of entrepreneurs with a large network of other business owners, so I had nothing to go off of from the start. I knew that I needed to get in contact with a restaurant owner or manager since they would be the audience I am trying to sell this service to. I had heard about cold emailing before, so I set off on a cold email campaign with much less sophistication than I am sure many people employ. My method was simple, I searched for restaurants near me on Google, found their contact email, and reached out to them. I went through several email templates or drafts of sorts that I came up with. I attempted to make the emails unique to the restaurants where I could, but ultimately just wanted to start a conversation with someone who had a budget.

I started with my first draft offering a 50% discount for the life of the customer just to try and get someone interested. After emailing 8 different restaurants, I tweaked the draft.

My second draft was more of a question asking if and how the restaurant handled digital menus and QR codes. It was fairly open and meant to prompt a reply, but was probably not something that a person on the other end wanted to sit down and write a reply to. That draft lasted for 6 restaurants.

My third draft was a simple introduction of myself asking for a face-to-face conversation with someone about how they use technology in their restaurant. My goal was to make an appointment, get in front of someone, then ask “Mom Test” questions to see if there was even interest in how that small piece of technology works in restaurants. I have a feeling that most restaurants just Google “Free QR Code” and go from there without evaluating anything further. I wanted to know if my sales efforts were even worth it. Out of the 20 restaurants I emailed this draft to no one replied.

I then took my third draft further by only emailing restaurants I had been to in order to personalize the emails with something I had enjoyed about my meal or service. After 18 restaurants I still did not have a reply.

For my fifth draft, I went back to the first draft for inspiration except I offered the service for free. I first and foremost want to write software that people use. I would have enjoyed the process much more knowing that someone was out there using my service and asking for feedback. I also figured that if people will not even use something free compared to my competitor who charges money, then I am probably wasting my time. I finally got my first reply. I was a no. I stuck with this draft for a total of 26 restaurants before I changed once more.

Draft six had much more vulnerability injected. I let the restaurant know that I am a software engineer looking for more experience interfacing with customers. I was hoping that the vulnerability would let the recipients know that I am a real person on the other end and also explain why I am offering the service for free. I have sent 17 emails with this draft, and I am not sure if I will be continuing this cold email campaign anymore.

After 95 emails and only one reply saying they were not interested, it is a little disheartening to continue. I know that cold email campaigns are all about volume, but I am not sure if I am even doing it correctly. There are also other projects that I want to work on. While I did not have total success with trying to sell my product, at least I had a better iteration that included attempting to reach out to potential customers.

While my cold email journey with Papyrus was not great, I think that it was a good method just to get the product in front of people. There were correlations in site visits whenever I sent out emails so I know that those emails were read and the links I sent were followed. My next big entrepreneurial goal is to build relationships with business owners (I am still not sure how) to hear about the problems that they face. From there I hope to extract the problems and build solutions to help them out. I like building things, but building without a purpose is not eternally enjoyable.

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