100 businesses paid to use Stable before we wrote a line of code — here’s how we did it

Collin Pham
August 12, 2021

Stable is a virtual address and mailroom for business. We’ve helped hundreds of companies like Fast, InDinero, and Lugg establish a permanent business address and digitize physical mail.


The Stable of today looks different from when we first launched — our minimum viable product (MVP) was email and Google Drive. These tools were our core product experience until we had about 100 paying businesses on our platform.


This post is about how and why we made those early product decisions.


Launching Stable


We launched Stable as vaporware — a simple landing page meant to test whether or not people would pay for the service.


Before launch, we spoke with users until we understood how something like Stable could be useful, and spent a few days designing a landing page (my co-founder is great at design).


The launch went well, which meant we had users who wanted to pay for a product that didn’t exist. This situation was the forcing function that led to our MVP — we had to figure out how to deliver a functioning product as quickly as possible because users wanted Stable today.


The first version of the Stable Landing page


Building an MVP

We had users that wanted Stable now, so investing months or even weeks in building real software just wasn’t on the table. Once we freed ourselves from the obligation of software development, the world seemed bigger.

From our initial conversations with hundreds of users we knew that customers really had two requirements for Stable:

The fastest way to provide a permanent business address and digitize mail was going to be with a partner, so we went on Yelp and called every reputable CMRA in San Francisco. Some of those providers seemed interested in working together, so we met them in person. A few days later we had a deal signed for our flagship Market Street address.

Operationally, we now had a way to provide business addresses and mail digitization. Next, we had to figure out our user-facing product.

Again, we went back to our conversations with users and made a list of requirements:

To us, this looked very similar to the requirements of file storage products. We decided to use Google Drive as the MVP of the Stable Dashboard. Each customer would have a folder shared with them. The folder would have a Google Doc with their Stable Address, a sub-folder for images of new mail, and a sub-folder for images of documents within the mail.

We’d send notifications to users manually over email and collect payment with a hosted Stripe Checkout page.

There’d be a lot of manual work to make this flow end to end, but we could get it up and running today and the experience for the user would be magical:

Stable Dashboard MVP



Onboarding the first customer


Once we knew how we were going to implement the Stable Dashboard, we started thinking about how we were going to turn prospects into paying customers.

Getting users onboarded with Stable was going to be complicated — we needed to answer their various questions about business addresses, orient them with the product, and have them complete regulatory forms required by law.

First impressions matter, and we needed our customers to have an amazing first impression of Stable, not a confusing checklist of action items to complete on their own.

Given our product constraints, the only way to create a magical experience, we realized, would be to walk users through onboarding live. This would be doubly beneficial because we could pitch this as a white glove onboarding and disguise our lack of software behind a wonderful customer experience.

From end to end, here’s how we ran onboarding.


When a prospect got in contact with us, either by reaching out directly or entering their email on our site, we’d wait a bit and then send them an email saying they’d been taken off of our waitlist.


This is Collin from Stable (YC W20) — a virtual address and mailroom for startups. Thanks for entering your email on our site! Are there any specific questions you have about Stable?


We’re onboarding a handful of companies for our beta and just opened up a few more spots. We’d love to get {{Company Name}} set up!


To start, do you mind answering some questions:


Talk soon + let me know if I can get you any more info. Happy to hop on a quick call too if you prefer.


Collin

 

We strictly qualified our initial customers to ensure they needed a CA based address and were receiving very low volumes of mail. If a customer was qualified, we’d invite them to onboard with Stable.

 

Thanks for sharing that info! We're running a beta with our SF address right now (Market street), which I've outlined below. If that all looks good to you, we'd love to get you onboarded — do you mind selecting a time here? If none of those times work, or if you need to get this set up earlier, please let me know and I can suggest some other dates.

 

During the beta, you’ll be able to:

 

Let me know how that all sounds and we can take it from there!

 

Best,

Collin

  

A few days before the onboarding, we’d send a reminder email and link to a Typeform to share business information to complete forms that were legally required to receive and handle mail.

We're excited to get you set up with Stable on 07/13/2020.

 

A few action items before then:

During the call we will also choose your Stable address, go over integrations, sign some paperwork, set up billing, and finalize the USPS 1583 form.

 

If you have any questions, please let us know!

 

Best,

Collin

 

During the onboarding call we would always start by answering any questions they had about Stable. This was the most important step because customers typically came to onboarding calls stressed out — a lease was expiring, a founder was moving, a coworking space was closing. 

A hair on fire problem usually drove a customer to sign up for Stable. Stable was the solution they needed. Emotionally, this was invaluable for both them, and their perception of our business. Our largest growth channel to date is word of mouth, and our hypothesis still stands that part of this has to do with our onboarding experience.

Besides serving as a sounding board for questions, we’d also use this call to go over how Stable works and collect billing information via a hosted Stripe Checkout page. We asked them to pay live on the call.

Once the onboarding call was complete, we’d follow up with a summary email and reminder that they could talk to our team at any time.

 

Thanks for taking the time to onboard today!

 

Your Stable address is now ready to use:

COMPANY NAME

2261 Market Street #XXXX

San Francisco CA, 94114

 

Please remember to include your unique unit number anytime you use your Stable address (#XXXX).

 

A few more points:

 

Let us know if you have any other questions — we are so excited to be working together!

 

Best,

Collin

 

Behind the scenes there were dozens of moving pieces to convert a prospect to a paying customer, but we could get it up and running today and the experience for the user would be magical:

 

Takeaways

We launched Stable on May 21st 2020, decided to go all in by May 28th 2020, and onboarded our first customer on June 9th 2020. It took us less than two weeks to spin up our MVP and we stuck with those core product decisions until we had about 100 paying businesses. We've learned important lessons from those early customers, many of which have translated into our culture.

Do a lot with a little. Customers forced us to launch an MVP quickly and we figured out how to make it work. Looking at the number of paying customers we were able to service before doing any real product work serves as a constant reminder that users pay to solve problems, not to click fancy buttons. 

Creating a magical customer experience is a super power. We didn’t have a pretty product or code base to lean on with our early customers, which forced us to do almost everything manually. But this allowed us to meet every customer, empathize with their situation, and sprinkle personability on all of their interactions with us. Our customers appreciate that (they’ve told us hundreds of times), and I continue to believe it’s a big reason our largest growth channel is word of mouth.

We write code when it optimally solves a business problem. Before Stable, I was a software engineer. And when you're surrounded by thousands of software companies it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to solve problems besides software. Software scales, but scale isn’t always the problem. Building an MVP helped us realize that, and allowed us to continue to solve business problems without committing weeks and weeks of work to a code base.

 

Conclusion

Of course, eventually we did write code. Today we have a Stable Dashboard where customers can log in to view their address, handle their mail, add recipients, and more. We’ve built internal tools to help our partners digitize mail at scale. We’ve automated our notifications. We’ve launched self-serve onboarding. Our team has grown.

But this was all gradual.

Stable launched as vaporware in response to hundreds of user interviews. We discovered a hair on fire problem which forced us to make quick decisions and hack together an MVP. Many of those decisions didn’t scale, but the journey has borne fruit: we have confidence as a business, a deep understanding of our core customers, and an extremely bullish outlook on Stable’s place in the Future of Work.

If you’re interested in learning more about Stable, roles we’re hiring for, or just want to chat, shoot me an email at collin@usestable.com

A virtual address + mailroom for startups
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