Growth Marketing

How 1 HN post compelled me to leave Intuit and create a new startup for startups

On October 26, 2010, Shereef Bishay – of BetterMeans and the recently launched ClassParrot – told the HackerNews community about some copywriting work I did for him:

Requests for copywriting help flooded my inbox over the course of the following 2 weeks.

It was awesome. But, unfortunately, I just couldn’t help everyone who asked. There wasn’t enough time in the day!

That sucked because, as a startup co-founder (, I knew that the people who were asking actually needed my help… or they wouldn’t ask.

They knew copy was critical to conversion.

They knew their solution – product or service – solved a pain for people or brought great delight to them.

They just didn’t know how to work the copy on their website to emphasize to customers that their solutions did, in fact, do wonderful things. And they couldn’t afford to hire a conversion-focused writer. (We cost muchos dinero, after all.)

They needed quality copywriting help. Fast. And inexpensively.

The Solution: HN Members Suggested I Write a Copy Ebook

Give a man a fish or teach him to fish – the answer was obvious.

At least, it was obvious to HNers. I hadn’t thought of writing a copy ebook.

But, on their suggestion, I realized how valuable an ebook could be.

Not just any ebook.

A meaty copywriting ebook based on decision-making principles and winning test results.

The next 300 days saw me helping a handful of startups, growing my own startup, working my day job at Intuit, writing a novel, researching the hell out of winning copy… and drafting what would become a 450-page DIY copywriting book for startups.

In the last 56 days, I’ve done 3 critical things.

First, I left Intuit. The startup world was calling to me. And when I compared writing for a Fortune 500 (i.e., copy is perceived as wordsmithed marketing messages) to writing for the startup world (i.e., founders are hungry for high-converting copy), leaving was a no-brainer. Even after 5 years there and with over $30k in RSUs waiting to vest, I left.

Second, I scrapped the massive ebook. It was just too large, too detailed. It covered everything… but startup founders don’t need to learn everything about copywriting. Beta readers told me that.

So I took their feedback and revised, revised, revised.

Third, I decided to self-publish. I’d considered the traditional publishing route. My literary agent (who I use for my fiction writing life) has a background in non-fiction and could have pitched my book to a publisher. But I’ve been soaking up everything ebook-related since I launched, and I knew I wanted the control that comes with producing and selling my own information product.

356 Days After Shereef’s Post, I Am Proud to Launch Copy Hackers

The result of a year of book-writing – and nearly 9 years of pro copywriting – is the Copy Hackers series of copywriting ebooks for startups:

  • No more than 55 pages per book
  • Available in PDF so you can read it on your iPad
  • Each book is dedicated to one topic you can master, like writing headlines
  • Low-cost for budget-conscious startups

I’m happy to launch the Copy Hackers series today. Check the series out here

And I’m even happier to continue to share with the community that’s given me so much.

Which is why I’m offering 50% off any Copy Hackers ebook – including the bundle of all 4 ebooks (which is already 38% off) – to members of the HN community.

Here’s the skinny: Visit and check out some ebook samples. Sign up for weekly copy tips and video optimizations. And then, if you’re interested in the books, buy whichever you like… and use the coupon code ”

You’ll get 50% off any item you put in your cart.

But this offer ends in just 3 days – on October 21.

(UPDATE: Please be sure to go to “Cart” – not straight to “Checkout” – in order to enter the coupon code.)

For an example of savings, the bundled pack of all 4 ebooks is valued at $53.96 – but, with this coupon code, HN members pay only $16.75 for all 4 ebooks. No tax. No shipping (obviously). Full money-back guarantee. Instant download. Pay with PayPal or credit card. All that good stuff.

Exclusive Ebook Launch Savings for HN Members

Startup Founders Are Reading Copy Hackers… What They Say

“Okay, you’re really good at this. Seriously. This is amazing stuff. Can’t put it down.”Shereef Bishay, BetterMeans & ClassParrot

“Really excellent writing, easy to read and gives tons of valuable information.” – Arvydas Ciupaila, SendFlow

“I read the first 3 Copy Hackers books and headed to my site to make tweaks. The headline formulas alone are worth the cost of a whole copywriting course. Every page is filled with info I plan to use right away.” – Syed Shuttari,

“Joanna does a great job of presenting the art of copywriting to hacker types. She not only focuses on the how, but also on why certain techniques work. By reading her guides and putting the tips she outlines into action, you’re bound to increase the conversion rate of your startup’s sale page.” – Antonio Cangiano, AnyNewBooks and “Technical Blogging”

A New Problem: Everyone’s Selling a “Copy Course

It’s true that a lot of people are suddenly selling copy today. But those so-called copywriting courses are not actually teaching startups how to write high-converting websites.

Startups Don’t Need Long-Form

They’re teaching how to write sales pages.

Sales pages – aka “long form”, “direct mail” and “sales letter” styles – are great for PPC landing pages.

Unfortunately, startups need a lot more than PPC landing pages. You need a home page; long-form won’t help most startups there. You need a Plans & Pricing page, a How It Works or Tour page, an FAQs page. Long-form sales copy won’t help you there, either.

Long-form works for certain types of products. Information products – like the very courses that startups are being sold with long-form – just so happen to be a great fit for long-form.

Which is why those info products sell so well in long-form.

Which is why we buy them… after reading their long-form.

But then when we to try to use long-form copy techniques to write a site, we end up with a PPC page… and no site.

If you aren’t selling an ‘info product’ or a miracle cure – like weight loss programs, investments or pills – long-form sales copy won’t actually help you on your website. Some of the principles will… but only some. Others may actually harm your conversion rate and brand.*

If you want to write a website like 37signals, KISSinsights, MailChimp or Bellstrike, you need to learn to write “2.0 copy”.

See this KISSmetrics post for more about this

That’s what Copy Hackers does. I take everything sales copy does well… but I combine it with actual 2.0 writing techniques that are easy to adapt to any brand – and that still convert like a mofo.

  • Learn how to write stop-in-your-tracks headlines (Book 3)
  • See why you need to think about your message before you start writing (Book 1)
  • Get every single tip you could possibly want for effective copy formatting (Book 2)
  • Neutralize anxieties… to compel visitors to click (Book 4)
  • Craft a value proposition to shape your site – and your brand – while boosting sales (Book 3)
  • See how to use your customers’ own motivations to convert them (Book 1)

And unlike most copy courses, lessons in Copy Hackers are finished with practical “Next Steps” sections and worksheets you can complete to write better copy immediately. Instead of reading, learning… and forgetting.

Plus, I’m not just a pro writer. Or a conversion consultant. Or a startup founder. I’m also a trained educator. I taught Writing for the Web to business communicators. (And English to Japanese kids – but that’s another story entirely.)

So subjects in my ebooks are broken down appropriately. Which improves your chances of learning faster and retaining the info.

If you read Copy Hackers, I’d also love it if you could please do me a favor and leave a short review on my site. Every product page comes with its own “Reviews” tab, all of which are currently empty. I know I’d love to hear what you think about the ebooks you read… and I’m positive others want to hear your thoughts, too!

Here’s to the beginning of something very cool.

I’m pumped, startup world! I hope you will be, too.

Joanna (more about me here)
aka “bloggergirl”


PS: Remember to enter code HACKERNEWS to save 50% – and please act before October 21, 2011, when this exclusive book launch offer ends.


UPDATE: Read through the 95 comments here

* A very popular copywriting ebook – which sells for $197 – claims that value propositions do not work today. In fact, countless tests run – by myself and major testing organizations, like Marketing Experiments – show that value propositions (aka Unique Sales Propositions) are one of the most critical factors in converting site visitors.

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Bloggergirl, congratulations on following your muse and escaping the ordinary. Fascinating to hear how you researched, tested and listened to refine your product.

  • Pingback: Case Study: Copyhackers | WPbase()

  • I followed along on the HN article… it’s a great story and good luck with the ebooks!

    • admin

      Thanks, Mohammad! People are responding amazingly well, which is uber exciting. 🙂

  • I’ve now seen the word copy used in this context in two whole articles and am very well read in a number of fields – I am guessing it is some specialist term which is familiar to those who study writing academically or something like that – assuming I have interpreted the meaning and usage correctly you can improve your “copy” by not using that word and using many of the other words in the English language for describing text (writing, written material, content etc.) which do not have an alternative meaning and which the broader public will immediately be able to recognise and understand.

    • admin

      You’re right! I sometimes forget that not everyone knows that “copy” means “text” or “words on the page”. But, of course, that’s exactly what it is.

      It’s hard, when your job has been “copywriter” for nearly a decade, to remember that others — my sisters and brothers included, to my dismay (the subject of what I do always causes eyes to glaze over) — don’t know what that means.

      I’ll keep that in mind. Apologies for any confusion!


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