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The story of Chat Thing - Bootstrapping our first side project to £5000 MRR in under 3 months.


Jozef /

Pixelhop's Chat Thing is an AI bot platform that allows users to create bots without coding knowledge. The platform was created in under a week, launched in under a month, and reached 5,500+ users with £5,000 MRR in under 3 months. The team built a waitlist, invited users in small batches, and received support from Seth Godin and Dave Winer. Despite facing competition, the team plans to continue adding features and improving the product.

One of our long term goals at Pixelhop has always been to diversify from solely relying on our digital agency client work and to release our own products!

Chat Thing is an easy-to-use platform that enables users to create AI bots without any coding knowledge. The platform allows users to integrate their own content and configure their bot's responses.

From weekend hack to launch in under a week

Picture this: the world of AI is evolving at breakneck speed, leaving us designers and developers with a looming sense of existential crisis. Will our skills become obsolete overnight? But instead of succumbing to fear, we decided to embrace the AI revolution head-on. After stumbling upon Supabase's article about creating "Clippy," a ChatGPT bot for their docs, our minds raced with possibilities. We thought, "Hey, what else can we do with this AI magic?”

We are huge Notion fans at Pixelhop. We use it for project management, our company handbook, and anything else we can throw at it. Notion is so versatile we thought it would be perfect to hook up to ChatGPT in a similar way to Supabase and it could power all sorts of bots!

On the 27th Feb we set about prototyping the idea and by the 5th of March we had basic prototype that worked better than we could have expected.

We came up with the name “Chat Thing” because you can use to create all kinds of chat things, clever aye? Designed a quick logo, bought the domain https://chathing.ai

Finally we recorded this little demo video and couldn’t wait to show people.

We posted the video to Twitter the following day and sat their waiting to see peoples’ reactions.

Our first tweet announcing Chat Thing was a massive flop!

But oh, the rollercoaster of emotions that awaited us! The initial Twitter post garnered a mere four likes and two retweets, which felt like a slap in the face. Undeterred, we soldiered on, adding more example bots and posting the video again.

Undeterred, we soldiered on, adding more example bots and posting the video to Twitter again later that day.

Our second tweet got a much better reception thankfully!

Thankfully it did a lot better this time and people seemed excited about it! Phew!

We had our first mind blown moment when one user said they had tested it and it replied to them in Japanese. Its not often you develop a product and you don’t realise the full extent of its capabilities until your users discover them!

A tweet from a user who discovered our bot could speak Japanese!

Building a waitlist

At this point https://chatthing.ai was live but we weren’t quite ready to allow users to sign up yet. We wanted to build anticipation and fine-tune our product before opening the floodgates. So, we created a super basic landing page with a demo video, three example bots, and a call to action to join the waitlist.

V1 of the Chat Thing homepage

Slowly but surely, progress updates on Twitter began to draw attention, and our waitlist started to fill up.

By March 27th, in under a month we had gained 1,319 subscribers. This was really exciting and gave us that extra motivation and fuel to continue working on the idea.

A chart showing our waitlist subscribers in convertkit

On the 17th March we cautiously invited our first 50 users from the waitlist, and continued invite users in small batches until by the 29th of March we decided to remove the waitlist and open up Chat Thing to everyone.

First customers and a surprise in or inbox: Seth Godin!

After inviting our first users we had been patiently waiting for our first paying customer. It had been a great learning experience, but ultimately we needed it to make some money if we were to continue dedicating time to it.

On second thoughts patiently waiting for our first customer might be an exaggeration:

On the 22nd March we had our first subscriber!

Announcing our first customer via Slack

You may be pleased or disappointed to learn that no one ended up running down the street naked, but we were super happy!

Sunday morning emails from Seth Godin

We were already over the moon with how things we going, and then on the 26th of March we had an email from the one and only Seth Godin! We had a bit of a double take, triple checked that the email was real and then responded back like full on goofy fans with this picture!

The goofy pic we sent Seth Godin

Seth had asked us to help him create a bot for his famous blog: Seth's Blog (seths.blog) Of course we jumped at the chance to create a bot for one of the most famous blogs on the internet!

This was a great stress test for Chat Thing as Seth’s blog contained more than 5,000,000 words and would easily be the largest bot created on Chat Thing yet.

A day later Seth’s bot was born Seth's Blog Bot - Chat Thing and Seth was amongst are first paying customers.

On the 29th of March Seth linked to his Chat Thing bot in a blog post with the awesome title “Opening the pod bay door | Seth's Blog (seths.blog)

If you are wondering what the traffic spike looks like when Seth links to you then here you go:

The traffic spike as seen in Plausible analytics after Seth linked to us.

Introductions to another internet legend: Dave Winer

Seth was kind enough to introduce us to his friend Dave Winer who was also interested in what we were doing. Incase you don’t know Dave invented the RSS feed and podcasting as we know it. He also runs one of the oldest blogs on the internet: http://scripting.com

We were equally star struck to be introduced to Dave, its not often you get introduced to people who have invented fundamental parts of the industry you work in!

Dave wanted a bot powered by all 27 years worth of content on Scripting News! If we though Seth’s blog was going to be a stress test, this was going to be even bigger!

We soon had Dave’s bot up and running and he was really pleased with the results! Scripting News: Started on Scripting chatbot

Dave Winer's shoutout

Building fast and making mistakes

As a digital agency, our usual mindset is perfection and polish! We are used to working with clients where every details matters, and nothing short of perfect will be good enough.

As much as it hurt us, we had to throw all that out of the window if we wanted to get Chat Thing.

We literally spent a measly 15 minutes coming up with the most uninspired logo you could imagine!

We created the most basic landing page imaginable based of a TailwindUI template:Landing Pages - Official Tailwind CSS UI Components (tailwindui.com)

We focused on simple implementations rather than the fancy and slick UX we usually strive for.

And you know what? It paid off! By shifting our mindset and embracing a "get it out there" attitude, we were able to launch Chat Thing in record time.

Sure, the product wasn't perfect— we even had a bug that meant people could end up paying for multiple subscriptions when trying to change plan! Luckily everyone was extremely forgiving and didn’t mind when we rectified the problem after they had been charged!

Now that Chat Thing is established and has a solid base of paying customers, we can circle back and fine-tune the areas we initially glossed over. So keep an eye out, because we're cooking up some incredible upgrades!

Testing fonts for the Chat Thing logo

Battling side project anxiety!

One unexpected side effect of launching a successful side project is something we are labelling side project anxiety!

Its that nagging feeling that you are not shipping quick enough to stay ahead of the game. Every minute you are not working is a minute where competitors will catch up. Every feature delayed could be a customer churned! Oh no we have lost £200 MMR compared to yesterday is everyone leaving?

Not many people talk about this side of launching side projects and its taken a while for us to chill out, and just focus on shipping features our customers want, without paying too much attention to all the noise.

Its made worse for a project like Chat Thing. Within weeks of our launch, competitors started popping up left and right, like daisies in a field! It’s easy to feel like you will be swallowed up!

Back in March when we first launched Chat Thing we set some basic goals for ourselves and then completely forgot about them while we had are heads stuck in the day to day of running the product.

It was only when we stumbled across these goals again, and we could see we had smashed through Junes goals by a mile, that we realised we are running our own race!

Our original goals for Chat Thing

Where are we now

As of 5th June 2023 we currently have 5,316 users who have created 3,902 bots, created 35,698 chats, sending 227,095 messages using nearly 1 billion Open AI tokens! We never could have suspected that 3 months ago!

A screenshot of our Chat Thing admin dashboard showing the number of users and bots.

It’s going to be a while before Chat Thing completely supplements our digital agency client work but we are really happy with these figures so far.

As you can see the MRR growth has slowed down a lot in the last month as the AI hype cools off and more and more competitors come to the scene.

We are going to continue plugging away adding features that will hopefully start to differentiate us from our competitors (we have loads of ideas) and help our MRR continue to grow. We have also really sucked at marketing so far, so a big push in the department should hopefully help too!

Since launch we have been shipping super quickly!

Chat Thing now supports 5 data sources in addition to the single data source we supported at launch (Notion). We now support 5 channels (places you can chat to your bot). Initially we just supported the web UI and embeddable widget, but now you can talk your bots on Discord, Slack, WhatsApp, and via our public API!

We've added a whole host of other features and improvements too, such as bot theming, conversation viewing, web crawling and more. We want to keep up the momentum with this rapid pace of development.

Whats next for Chat Thing

Chat Thing is already a huge success for us. Because it’s a side project we don’t need it to make a huge amount of money for it to be worthwhile. It provides us with an interesting project to hone our skills on in between our client work.

That said we’ve had a taste of the pie and we like what we taste, so our next financial goal will be £10,000 MRR. At this point the project will be completely self sustaining and we will be able to afford to re-invest a lot of the profits straight back in.

Now that we have a solid foundation for the product, and we are armed with invaluable customer feedback we are going to continue implementing new features as well as improving existing ones. We have too many ideas and not enough time to implement them all so watch this space!

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