Where We’ve Been. Where We’re Going.
It’s been almost a week now since we saw rapid growth on Crawlr thanks to trending at #1 in r/DnD on Reddit for almost 48 hours. I continue to be humbled by the interest in this project, and I thank you all for your time, passion, words, thoughts, messages, comments and more.
In the span of a week, a lot of has changed in my mind about the next steps for Crawlr. It’s been a wild week for me, personally, and I want to share this update with you all so that you have a sense of where Crawlr’s going and how we’re going to get there.
This update will be split into two parts – where we’ve been and where we’re going. This is going to be a long update, so if you have no time to read my rambling words (spoiler alert: I was an English major for undergrad), feel free to skip to the end.
WHERE WE’VE BEEN
The version of Crawlr you see and use today is, and was always intended to be, a market test. In order to make it more quickly understandable to people, I’ve called it a beta. In all fairness, it’s quite a few steps below that.
I’m currently a Creative Business Design graduate student, and Crawlr is my thesis project. I was asked to develop a business concept and design what’s known as a minimum viable product (MVP) that could be tested by the target demographic. MVPs are not final products; they are meant to deliver the business’s core value proposition in the simplest, more bare bones way possible to see if people are interested and if the offering is valid. From there, you re-evaluate the offering, adjust, test, learn and repeat. This is part of what’s known as the lean startup methodology of business.
When I put pen to paper on Crawlr 10 weeks ago, I told my advising professors that I would aim to deliver a basic interface where users could create a tabletop RPG-themed user profile and search for other users in their city that would be interesting in starting a campaign with them. The only features listed on my official thesis statement were the ability to create a profile, search for players and send private messages. I told the board I’d find 40 interested users and get them to test it out.
Come mid-May, I wasn’t on track to hit 40 users. I had limited my discussion of Crawlr to people within my circle of friends and their acquaintances. Nervous and scared that I would fail my thesis review, I shared my project on Reddit. That’s when the flood gates opened.
We quickly hit 40 users. I opened a bottle of celebratory wine at 50 users and posted to my Instagram Story, thesis success within my grasp at last! Then we hit 1,000. Then 2,000. Then 5,000. Then, my web host was messaging me asking about what was going on and why their servers were sending so many emails. So, we shut the emails off. And it kept growing and growing and growing, never quite pausing in the span of about 36 hours. Today, we’re just south of 13,000 members.
During the growth, beta feedback tickets rolled in left and right. Facebook messages, Reddit comments, Twitter replies and more also started flowing in. It was a hectic three days following this big boom, but it was incredibly uplifting to see so many of you showing your support for this project.
Now, about a week later, I’ve had a chance to wrap my mind around Crawlr and what it can be or maybe should be. So, let’s talk about that.
WHERE WE’RE GOING
If you skimmed the last section, the biggest tidbit of information there is that the version of Crawlr you see and use today was never intended to be its final form. It’s a test product to see if the target market is interested in it as a product offering. I’d say we’ve checked the box on that one.
Looking forward to the future, a lot of you have reached out with requests and offers to help, which has been amazing. I’ve tried to get back to each one of you, and I sincerely apologize if I missed your message.
STEP ONE: Have a Plan for Funding
I’ve gotten a lot of comments along the lines of, “TAKE MY MONEY AND MAKE THIS A THING,” or “Why aren’t you monetizing Crawlr?!” Trust me, I plan to make Crawlr happen. I am going to try my hardest to make it a reality, and that will require funding.
The reason why I haven’t asked for or accepted money from you all yet is because I haven’t been able to clearly lay out what the time table looks like and what you should expect. I’m a big advocate for transparency in businesses, especially when looking at crowdfunding as the startup solution. I wouldn’t want to take a dollar from any of you without giving you an idea of what that dollar would be going towards and a ballpark estimate of when you could expect to have it. To do otherwise would feel shady, and it goes against my principles.
The reason I haven’t monetized the site and thrown ads up everywhere is along the same lines but slightly different. As I mentioned, Crawlr is a thesis project. It’s not a final form. When we first started going viral with sign-ups, I knew I could turn on ads and make money. I work in digital advertising as a day job. However, I felt that would have put my priorities in the wrong place. It should be people first, money second, and at that time I had (and still have) a good amount of work to do. A lot of business people will laugh at me for this. I understand that I’m losing money. But, what I didn’t want to happen is for the site to go live, people to join, the site to have issues and then for me to spend my time worrying about making money. I’m a firm believer that if you treat people well, you’ll make your money in the long run. I could be naïve and foolish for this, but I wanted to clearly state my opinion on the subject, as I’ve received the question a number of times.
So now, real future talk time.
The plan is to go live with a Kickstarter (or an equivalent) as soon as possible to pursue real mobile app development of Crawlr. I’ve been in talks with a number of web developers and agencies so that I can ensure that we create a crowdfunding campaign that’s built upon reasonable goals. Asking for too little would be disastrous and could lead to an embarrassing situation. Asking for too much could make it so we never hit our goal and Crawlr never comes to life.
Additionally, the plan is to ask for the amount needed to make a standard version of Crawlr. Then, we’d have stretch goals that would unlock more features. The addition of those features would involve additional development hours, thereby incurring additional costs.
I’m in talks with a UX designer to begin drafting what a true app version of Crawlr could look like so that when the time does come for you all to back us you’ll get a sense for what direction we’re taking. Again, transparency is important to me.
STEP TWO: Assemble a Team
As previously mentioned, I’m a Creative Business Design graduate student with an undergraduate degree in English. I do cool advertising things during daylight hours, and I moonlight as a web dev wannabe with Crawlr. I can’t make this app alone.
Whether Crawlr will be built by a hand-picked group of users from the internet or from an agency/shop that specializes in app development is uncertain at this time and will more than likely depend on the success of the crowdfunding campaign.
Personally, I lean towards working with an agency or shop due to their ability to guide me through the questions I may not think to ask. Plus, there’s typically added security when going through a business instead of a freelancer. However, I’m in conversation with a lot of independent developers so that I can find what’s right for our project.
STEP THREE: Figure Out What to Do with crawlr.app
As I mentioned, what you see and use here is a project, and it’s done its job. To be transparent, it’s costing me $300 a month to keep the site up and running as-is, and I’ve got an additional $300 to $500 a year on top of that for other expenses relating to the site. That doesn’t address the $800 or so I’ve already spent on it, nor does it address the feedback tickets about issues that would require additional resources to resolve.
Although Crawlr is a test, I’ve been touched by those who have mentioned the people they’ve met with here and the connections they’ve made. I wouldn’t want you all to lose that just because I’m graduating college next week. However, I wouldn’t receive any crowdfunding money until the campaign was over, and I’m about to start owing every month on my student loans — so hundreds of dollars a month in additional expenses every month wouldn’t be the easiest thing in the world. There’s also a LOT of work to be done with the features introduced here (I see you, faulty Group settings and limited Forum capabilities).
At the moment, I’m heavily considering the possibility of trimming Crawlr back to a very basic site that allows for profile creation, simple searches and private messaging. This would keep expenses and support tickets more limited so that I can focus my energy on real app development (and keeping my full-time job running; I should probably stop napping on the floor during lunch, and maybe I should start planning my wedding that’s in November).
I expect a final decision on what to do with the project you see here to be announced when the crowdfunding campaign goes live. To keep my own personal sanity in check, I would like that to be within the coming week.
In summary, the version of Crawlr everyone has access to right now was always intended to be a test. It isn’t a final form. That’s why the tickets on padding issues, color choice issues and other topics that haven’t broken the site have not been addressed. The logic is to make a testable version of the concept, test it, get feedback and chart a course for the future versus burning hundreds of calories on something that was never meant to be final.
The next step is to launch a crowdfunding campaign. I expect to announce this within the coming week.
Additionally, I will announce an update about the future of what you see and use here at crawlr.app when the crowdfunding campaign goes live. Crowdfunding money would go towards mobile app development, and I will need a solution for the costs being associated with hosting crawlr.app. Currently, I’m completely self-funded, as this was just meant to be a temporary thesis project.
Lastly, I have not done so and have no plans or intentions to ever sell your information. In my mind, either I take Crawlr to that app stage or I destroy it. I have had offers from interested buyers seeking information, and I’ve told them all no. You’ve all trusted me to this point, and I want to do right by that. And in my heart, I trust that you’ll help us get funded because of it.
Thank you for sticking around to read this entire novel. I will be back as soon as possible with additional details and updates. In the meantime, I have a literal mountain of final project homework to get through by 11:59pm on May 26 so that I can graduate on May 31. I will likely be pretty quiet this weekend while I get through it all.
Thank you for sticking with me through it so far, and thank you for your kindness and patience. It’s been immeasurably comforting during the times when I have felt overwhelmed.
All the best,
PS – If you’re interested in backing us when we go live with the campaign, I invite you to join our mailing list for crowdfunding updates.