I was 27-years-old running a multi-million dollar agency, but I was tired. Tired of the endless business development. Tired of always having to talk with many clients. At the end of the day, I wasn't as interested as I'd thought I'd be in devoting my life to selling marketing services. I felt like a cog in a machine I'd accidentally created. So I delved into my passion for writing, which led to starting Squibler, a writing software.
My interests always lie in technical marketing and writing. I'd been writing almost every day for seven years. To date, I've written over 1,000 blog posts and five books. Wanting to dig deeper into these interests, I thought how could I combine them - that's when I met Dhaval, my co-founder of our writing software.
Dhaval was working on software to analyze the emotions of text. I originally came on as an advisor to his company full of A-list team players to push it in the right direction. In a short time, I realized there wasn't product-market fit for what they'd created. I also realized Dhaval was a brilliant, empathetic individual who I could work endless hours with.
Tired of dealing with client churn and acquisition, and traveling for business development, I wanted to look for something evergreen. The authorship space simply made sense because I love writing and people will always write books.
As I worked with Dhaval, I began to dream about building something for the writing industry similar to Canva for the design industry. In other words, a simple product, but providing value to a huge market. It was time for me to pivot my career. At that same time, I just so happen to be working with Dhaval to pivot his startup.
Rather than jump into something right away, which almost never works, we spent many months researching. First, we looked at the existing players in the book writing industry.
The Top Five Writing Software
When doing research, I noticed the writing software space wasn't overcrowded. Rather it was a bit "old." Most of the software was still based on desktop and created before 2013. Before we started working on Squibler, these were the top writing software programs.
1. Scrivener, a Desktop Writing Software
I had used Scrivener before stumbling back on this idea to create a writing software. The product's learning curve was too steep and the UX and UI drove me a little insane, to say the least. So I never finished my book. What I didn't know - this was the main alternative to Microsoft Word for writing books. Moreover, they've had over 800,000 customers. I couldn't believe it.
I write technical documentation on software for a living and even I thought this writing software was complex.
Moreover, they lacked the fundamental benefits of being an online app. This includes a better onboarding flow, community, personalizing experiences, and the ability to understand your users' pain point in their customer journey using data.
With that said, it was still the best alternative. And when you're the best alternative - you win for the time being.
2. Novlr, an Online Writing Software
When I first came across Novlr, I smiled because it was the closest resemblance of what we were looking to build. In fact, I thought "why build our product if this already exists?" Then, I tried the product and I came across the same feeling of clunkiness. I got the feeling that it was made by coders for writers rather than writers for writers.
Moreover, I didn't come across any blog posts, videos, or community where I could learn more about writing. The experience wasn't personalized to me either. Instead, I felt they were saying, "If you think Scrivener is too complicated, well, we're the best alternative to them."
Even though I didn't enjoy the product - the good news is they validated a lot of the work we were looking to implement. Progress.
3. Ulysses, a Mobile Writing Software
Ulysses is one of my favorite writing software. It's almost everything I'd want out of a mobile and desktop app. However, they lack some key functionality by not having an online presence and not making the product specifically for writing books.
With that said, they perfected the minimalist design for writing - even better than how Medium did it.
I like Ulysses for taking notes, but I didn't feel like it offered everything a book writer would need today in order to be successful. They were missing not only the educational component but the community and online onboarding experience that can enrich products.
With that said, they gave us the roadmap for a minimalist design when it came to building-out our online product. If we were to be like Canva, then we'd need to keep it simple.
4. Microsoft Word, a Desktop App and Online Software for Writing
Microsoft Word is the "OG" of the space. They have a desktop and online version for you to write your books. They have a lot of features to improve your writing and many writers are familiar with the product. The downside is similar to Scrivener, they wanted to be everything to everyone. Moreover, there's no personalized experience.
As a result, if you're looking to write a book with the product, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. There's also little education and community around their product for writers interested in connecting with each other.
With that said, the product is sharp. I'm a huge fan of Microsoft Word's online version for writing books. I like Microsoft Word as a book writing software even more than Scrivener and Novlr. In fact, I wrote my first book in Microsoft Word.
Plus, Word has almost every feature you'd need to write books, but they remind me of why people choose Canva over Adobe Photoshop - it's the shorter learning curve and simplicity that your users value more than a large selection of features.
5. Google Docs, an Online Writing Software
I've written my last four books in Google Docs. I like the simplicity and that it already integrates with my workspace. But it's not easy to use. I have to create a new document for each chapter, then have one main doc linking all the individual chapters to keep them organized. The reason I can't just write the book out in one long Google Doc like in the example below is I need a place for my synopsis and notes.
It's hard to point out the flaws in Google Docs when it is a free product. In addition, there are many benefits to Google Docs, including easy collaboration with live chat and sharing your document with an editor. It also has a quick learning curve.
What Makes Our Writing Software Different?
I noticed there was a HUGE market need for a more seamless software regarding personalization and education. Moreover, an online book writing software that catered to minimalist design demands. The best part: by personalizing the experience, we could provide a minimalist experience while giving book writers exactly what they wanted while helping them succeed every step of the way with our educational component.
The world of creating software has seen a lot of changes over the last couple of years. Not long ago, most writing software such as Scrivener or Ulysses was built on desktop. These founders had little choice as the internet was yet to be explored.
As the internet matured, online creators were enabled. They adopted easy-to-use coding languages and tools for building online software. This led to the realization that they could build companies online without a huge investment.
The online software world exploded for thousands of industries, yet many industries still found difficulty with placing a foothold in it. One such industry included the professional writing industry. That’s why I founded Squibler, a writing software that finally cracks the code.
Why a Writing Software Hasn’t Found its Foothold
As I’ve interviewed writers and authors, the answer was clear. The majority of professional writers are over the age of thirty. Most over forty. They expressed their hesitancy to try new writing software as they aren’t technology enthusiasts.
One ghostwriter noted, “I live in Microsoft Word. And I’m old. I have no desire to learn more software.”
Even though she was only forty-three years old, she couldn’t bear learning another software program especially with her three kids running around.
The problem isn’t that she didn’t want to learn another writing software, but the writing software alternatives to Microsoft Word weren’t easy to learn. For example, the number one book writing software outside of Microsoft Word is Scrivener. And the number one complaint about Scrivener is that the learning curve is too high.
This Amazon review comparing Scrivener to Adobe is particularly interesting. The reason is Canva, a design tool now valued at over a billion dollars, aimed to be the easier version of Adobe for designers. It accomplished this through the effective use of personalization with onboarding and templates. Personalization keeps users engaged, delighted, increases word-of-mouth referrals and much more.
The stats around what makes a SaaS company successful say personalization is at the forefront. It creates a deeper relationship with your customers and increases activation and retention rates which directly lead to more revenue.
Improving activation—which takes place when users first experience the value you promised—by only 25% can result in a 34.30% lift in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
For users who aren’t technology-savvy, this increase in activation through personalization has a much more valuable outcome. If you’re already scared to try a new writing software, then there’s only one way to get you to adopt it. It’s an onboarding experience that provides a feeling that every step is personalized to your exact needs and gets you your first win fast.
Based on how the writing software personalizes this journey, you may receive a drip campaign that incorporates relevant articles, tutorials, webinars, and case studies. This will help onboard new trial users deep into understanding your software and community.
Personalizing a Writing Software with Onboarding
It’s hard to know what a personalized writing experience looks like until you see it done by others. For example, Wix has one of the best-personalized new-trial journeys to provide you the exact website template and educational content you need to become a successful customer.
Not every software can do this. You need potential users who have a large enough anticipation of investment to where they’re willing to answer a few questions. The wanting to create a website is filled with a large anticipation of investment which makes this work. The good news? So is writing a book.
After you enter your email in Wix’s website form, you get a prompt to follow a couple of steps to identify what type of website creator you are. I’ll show you how this can be done for a book writing software.
After you click, “Let’s Do It,” you’ll see this screen below.
For a writing software, we could shorten the text to “I want to” then list these options:
Each time you provide an answer, Wix offers you the ability to provide another one. By the end, you’ve given them four important facts about yourself to help them market to you better.
For a writing software, the second line of text could read “It should be” then have these options if you previously selected “write a book”
- A fiction novel
- Non-fiction book
The next word could read, “about”. If you selected “A fiction novel”, it will give you these options:
- Children’s Story
The next phrase could say, “I’d like to write” then give you these options:
- 15 minutes a day
- 30 minutes a day
- 60 minutes or more a day
The lasts few words could say, “toward publishing it.”
For example, let’s say I now know you want to write a fantasy fiction novel and devote 30 minutes a day to it. This tells me that you probably have a part-time or full-time job because you didn’t select “60 minutes or more.”
Moreover, I know to show you all the fantasy fiction novel templates right away to ease you into the software. When you’re done using the software for the day, I can then remind you every 24 hours that you committed 30 minutes to write your book.
If a writer had chosen “practice my writing” we could have just as easily personalized their onboarding experience by asking if it’s “storytelling skills,” “copywriting skills,” or “academic writing skills” they’re looking to improve.
Personalizing a Writing Software with Templates
B2C SaaS companies use templates because they’re one of the highest converting features to getting users to opt-in to a paid subscription. The reason is templates provide immediate value to the user. It gives them the thought “I can do this. Investing time in this software will bring me results.”
Many writers rather start with a blank editor. However, a high percentage of these trial users get motivated to implement a template when they realize it’s easier to do than writing from a blank slate. Rather than go back to the template’s page outside of the editor, it can be provided within. On the left-hand side, we can include a layout of writing templates to select similar to Canva.
If the user feels the templates take up too much screen space, they can click the back button you see the red arrow pointing to. This gives the writer full visualization of their writing area, which is critical to keeping a minimalist design which many writers enjoy.
To understand how valuable templates are inside the editor, let’s explore. For example, with Canva, many designers work on several templates a day. For writers working on a book or a screenplay, it may be one every six months. For that reason, an entire book or screenplay template may not provide value by being easily accessible in the editor.
This bring us to these two questions:
What does a writer make many iterations on that would need to be easily accessible within the editor? Something that personalizes the experience. Maybe the answer is hard to find because it’s not something that gets published per se.
Writers constantly need inspiration for the most critical part of creating a successful book or screenplay – the outlining. In fact, according to a recent poll I conducted, 50 percent of book writers use images from the web for inspiration. For characters and settings, they search Google and Pinterest for these images. For text, they use name and description generators.
“Fantasy name generator” gets searched over 400,000 times globally a month. That’s only search volume, too.
To use templatized inspiration as a way to help writers brainstorm, it could be a feature that resembles the one below from video marketing tool, Lumen5. This feature helps you pull the right media for the inspiration you need.
There are two primary questions we need to answer to make a media searching feature possible for writers:
1. How does the media searching feature work in relation to a note and summary section?
We ask this question because the note and summary section are where writers brainstorm. In parallel, these are the primary areas where they’ll input the results from the media search feature whether images, text and even audio.
2. How do we limit the search media feature to not overwhelm the writer while still providing enough value to increase overall retention of our product?
This feature could be a winner. However, if it’s implemented with too many whistles and bells, it may scare off a lot of writers. There’s a perfect balance here, and it will take some work to find it.
Personalizing a Writing Software with Goals
The closest activity and learning curve comparison to writing a book is learning a new language. Duolingo is the number one language learning tool. It got there because of it’s focus on gamification to keep users coming back to learn a new language.
How it works is if you come back to use Duolingo the following day, they’ll reward you with experience to access new levels and add another +1 to your streak. The higher your streak, the harder it is to break. Just like any habit. It works when you work it.
As Jeroen from Salesflare notes, the team also introduced “weekend amulets”, “streak repair”, “streak freeze.” These features helped people believe they can make up for their failures. Introducing the amulet alone was responsible for a 4% increase in 14-day retention.
They continued to find ways to increase retention with the introduction of the in-app coach called “Duo.” Duo is Duolingo’s owl mascot. Not everyone fell in love, but it moved the needle.
To be exact, it improved 14-day retention by 7.2%. Part of this can be attributed to the idea that people perform more consistently with social pressure. “Duo” as the mascot that’s always there provides that pressure.
For a writing software, it’s almost as simple as copying what Duolingo did right and then personalizing it to the intention of a new trial user for the writing software.
If someone uses the writing software with the intent to only edit, then the gamification needs to change. If someone uses the writing software with the intention to only practice with writing prompts, then again, it needs to change.
Because there are so many different intentions among writers, the analytics and data science behind the personalization of gamification in creating a writing habit has to be extremely segmented.
Personalizing a Writing Software with Practice
More writers rather practice their writing to improve it than write a book. The reason is it’s easier to practice writing than to set a lofty goal to be completed like writing a screenplay, especially when that goal may take more than a year to accomplish.
There are many ways to practice your writing online. Most of them are fragmented, and almost all of them have these two common themes:
- You can’t save your work
- If there’s a writing prompt, there’s no editor to type
There’s one example that stands apart from the crowd. That’s The Most Dangerous Writing App. This app allows you to use an editor to type. The catch-22 is there’s no writing prompt and you can’t save your work. You have to think of the words on your own.
The Most Dangerous Writing App
This writing software is widely used by teachers and students. Moreover, they have several hundred high-quality sites linking to it. This goes to show the value this writing software has provided since launching.
Random First Line Prompts
This is one of my favorite writing exercise tools. The reason is when you use it, you get prompted to write based on an opening sentence.
The con is there’s no editor so you need to copy and paste this line into a Google Doc or a writing software such as Squibler. There you can continue the story and save your work.
Random First Line of Dialogue
The aim of this writing tool is to help with dialogue writing. This can be useful for scriptwriting and screenwriting, as well as narrative writing.
Again, the con is there’s no editor so you need to copy and paste this line into a Google Doc or a writing software such as Squibler.
Personalizing a Book Writing Software with Layout
Many writers want to start with a blank editor with the option to customize along. For example, if the writer is writing a short story without chapters and scenes, they don’t want a list of chapter and scene features to be present. Or, if the writer doesn’t like commenting, then they don’t need the comment option taking up a great deal of space.
One way to solve this is to have templates auto-check and uncheck particular features in the editor. For example, if I choose a book template rather than a screenplay template, the editor will adjust accordingly. This way, I always get an editor that’s personalized to me.
Here’s a screenshot from Google Docs of what checking a certain feature may look like.
The question we need to ask –
How much does personalization matter within the editor (outside of notes and summaries)?
I ask this because the reason is people don’t often need to adjust from writing a screenplay to writing a book, to say the least. It’s like changing your mind from learning Spanish to French.
If personalization for the editor’s layout features only solves a one-time problem, and that problem for a trial user is every six months, then it’s not valuable.
For example, when people use Canva there often using many different templates throughout a single week. This makes the tool’s personalization with in-canvas templates exceptionally useful.
To that end, the writing software editor must be geared to those who want to practice their writing if it’s to hold high value.
The reason for this is many writers enjoy practicing their writing. When they practice writing, they often prefer a different editor than when writing their book. Moreover, people who practice writing, use tools like Squibler's Plot Generator, The Most Dangerous Writing Prompt Generator, Random First Line Prompt, or a book title generator.
If this is true, then the question we need to answer is –
How do we personalize an editor to cater to those who want to practice their writing, write books, and screenplays?
The possible answer lies within this check-mark personalization. That if someone goes through the onboarding process and selects, “Practice My Writing,” we’ll show them an editor that people prefer to use when practicing.
This editor may have an option to use a dialogue generator, random line generator, and even a timed writing feature – where if you don’t write fast enough, it erases your work.
A better UX and UI check mark system could look similar to the one below taken from Grammarly. For example, if my intent is to write better dialogue for a certain audience with a particular style and emotion, then the editor will generate the right dialogue phrases to continue with.
On the other hand, if a user decides to write a book, then what they see is an option like the one below where it check marks or turns on the type of book outline they’d prefer.
If they were writing a romance fiction novel, then it’d turn on the “Romance Fiction Novel” editor. There’d be an option to turn this off to use the regular editor as well.
As a reader, know that most of what I’m writing here is theory based on expected user behavior and research I’ve done to date. Many of these assumptions may prove correct; however, many may never see the light of day as they get invalidated through further analysis.
Personalizing a Writing Software with Community
The ultimate product validation is if you can build a vibrant community around it. That means users who come back and engage with other users to learn, provide value, and entertain.
Do we create this community inside a Facebook Group or a forum?
The answer can be both.
But is it the best answer?
That answer is no because there are community-based software platforms for readers and writers with over 70 million users. Case in point, Wattpad.
However, we’re not Wattpad. To do be like them, we’d need to create marketing messages in the onboarding flow geared to both readers and writers. That means we’d have to take personalization to an extreme. That simply won’t happen for a while – or possibly never – as the product would become far too complex.
The good news is we’re fortunate that writers love to read. That means the chances of them engaging with someone else’s work by reading or commenting is relatively high.
We will have to continue implementing and testing to find out.
If the community is viable, how do we include it without overwhelming the writers and readers who use our product?
Maybe it’s an “on button” on top of the dashboard that looks like the one below. This button will enable someone to disappear the template page in exchange for a community feed right on the dashboard.
The reason is that most templates will be used for time-consuming projects like writing a book or a screenplay. As a result, they won’t be used often. They’ll help with onboarding, but afterward, they may only make the product more complex for the user. Because after they use the template, they may not need to see more book templates, especially if they’re working on the same fantasy fiction novel for the next six months.
The good news is even if the community feed gets switched on, you could always have an option on the left-hand side to start writing similar to Canva’s layout. And below – just like Canva -, you can access all your work and educational content around the writing software and writing industry.
The deeper question is –
How do you create a community feed worth paying attention to?
That question is a beast in its entirety. For the most part, it revolves around regression analysis. In other words, the feed will show you a post based on a number of variables whether comments on the post, category of the post, and even scroll-depth of readers.
Patience to See it Through
There’s a lot of work that goes into designing a writing software for every writer. That work is only made valuable through listening to users, customers, and doing significant amounts of research on the writing industry in its entirety. That’s why the best way to see it through is by using patience.
With a background in SaaS, I had many ideas of what the educational side would look like. Rather than rely solely on my knowledge and that of my co-founder's, I looked at companies with similar business models. The one that came to mind besides Canva: Duolingo.
Duolingo finds out what language you want to learn and how much time you're willing to devote to learning that language before you begin using their product. This allows them to create a more pleasant experience for their users.
It's why we implemented these two questions into our onboarding flow:
By the time a user starts writing in our product, we know their level of commitment and what type of book they want to write. As a result, we can provide them personalized content to succeed.
My favorite part: when the user is going through this onboarding experience, it doesn't change page URLs so there's no additional loading time. And because they're inputting their level of daily commitment, we have a reason to send follow-up emails to ensure they hit it. This increases the retention of our product.
Creating a Foundation of Educational Content
One of the main pieces of Squibler is creating a section for educational content where people can learn more about writing books from how to start writing to publishing. Many SaaS companies have what they call "universities" like Webflow where they educate their user and customer base. I see ours as something similar.
There are two main players in the education space: Self-Publishing School founded by entrepreneur, Chandler Bolt; the second player is Now Novel, a community around helping authors succeed. Both of them have been a huge inspiration for me for understanding the power of content marketing to support writers. Chandler has mentioned that Self-Publishing school does 10 million in ARR as of writing this. That's a great sign of how big the market is.
The other goods news: neither are our competitors. In fact, they complement our book writing software, especially if they promote it. Plus, the more people they encourage to write books, the larger our customer base becomes.
Building a Team Around our Writing Software
As of writing this, we have eight people working on the software. On our marketing front, we have our community manager, Rachelle; two writers, Steph and Elizabeth, who have a backlog of 70 articles to go through as of writing this; infographic designer, Ivana who's turning our writer's work into visual content. For example, she'll turn a blog post like this one into a beautiful infographic that can possibly go viral similar to the case study I wrote about here.
On our development and product front, we have Oleg and my co-founder, Dhaval. Then we have a kick-ass product designer, Kirill ensuring we keep a minimalist and personalized design.
Lastly, on my front, I'm working on recruiting, creating the product development roadmap, content marketing and distribution.
Where We're at in Regards to Implementation
To date, there hasn't been a book writing software operating like a top-notch consumer SaaS company. We're hoping to be that first one.
As of now, we're working on a new homepage, better writing templates, and acquisition landing pages.
Features we're implementing soon:
- Drag-and-drop scenes
- More font choices
- A split screen to view your notes with the main editor simultaneously
- Print option
Looking Down the Road
Ideally, when we have a strong enough user base, we'll build a mobile app and have the data to test heavy-duty features, including one for visual outlining and image searching. These are all still a little far out on the road map, but fun to think about as we move forward to ensure we build the best book writing software.
I hope you'll follow along on the journey.