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In the spotlight: How two creators found success launching bad ideas

· 13 min read · Email marketing,Websites and forms · Dec 7, 2021
Bad Unicorn founders, Ash and Whit.

We’re thrilled to introduce you to MailerLite customer, Bad Unicorn. They exploded into the tech startup scene in 2020, and are often described as the Saturday Night Live for startups.

SNL for startups? Sounds fun! Make no mistake about it, Bad Unicorn has mastered the art of successful product launches that are fun and entertaining (even if they are still on the hunt for the perfect bad product recipe)!

As a self-described bad product studio, Bad Unicorn specializes in developing and shipping no-code products that parody today’s startup culture—ever heard of Coinbae?

Not only are founders Ash and Whit having fun, but they’ve also grown Bad Unicorn into a successful venture. We caught up with the duo to find out how they built their business using a combination of email marketing and social media. What we got was an inspiring story and some great insights into growing a business and creating viral content. 

You just came back for season two, that’s amazing! How was Bad Unicorn born and what was the inspiration behind it?

[Whit] Ash and I met in a zero-to-one maker’s group. We were building random things separately and Bad Unicorn came from one of those projects. 

The project was called Random Pizza, where someone gets a pizza delivered to them at a random time once a month. It’s a bit of a weird concept but that’s actually the first project I built that got any traction!

It only took a couple of days to build so I figured why not do this more often? I got on a call with Ash and we talked about this idea of a studio that builds and promotes bad products. Then we whipped up the landing page on Twitter and the rest is history! 

Now that you’ve launched so many projects, what would you say is the recipe for a successful startup?

[Ash] I think we’re still trying to find the secret ingredient for a successful bad startup. 

When it comes to developing our start-up ideas, we use a sort of scoring matrix we came up with and assign points for each aspect. Humor is there for sure, at number one. Not taking yourself too seriously and having fun with it. We always like our products to be very topical, so we scan hacker news and check Twitter to see what's happening in the tech and startup space that we can parody.

Another important thing, with shipping something every two weeks, is that it's got to be done with no-code tools. It has to be something we can put together in just a couple of days.

We're also very lucky to be part of this mastermind network, just to see what has worked for other startup founders and their email newsletters. 

There’s one in particular, The founder, Dru Riley, has this deep curiosity on a topic and he's found a great fit in the market for identifying trends, combined with his skills, experience and strategy. That's probably an example of a good formula for a startup.

Bad Unicorn’s recipe for a successful (bad) startup
  • Have fun - find a space that feels like play to you

  • Humor is key - don’t take yourself too seriously (everyone loves a good meme)

  • Join startup communities to build alongside other founders and develop positive habits

  • Be timely - scan news and Twitter trends related to your industry

  • No-code rules! When shipping products quickly these tools help you launch your idea fast!

  • Ultimately, experiment to figure out your own unique formula and iterate on it

It’s hard starting a new business or project, what was the biggest challenge you faced when starting Bad Unicorn?

[Whit] For me, firstly it was my concept of being able to build fast. We were able to solve that through no-code and other solutions that allow you to have a landing page up in 10 minutes.

Then there was this fear of failure, especially when I was a solo maker and would build and launch something by myself with my name attached to it. I would be fearful to ship it and basically be ready to click the button for weeks. 

But Bad Unicorn helped with that. Since we're building funny projects, there’s no expectation that I'm trying to build the next Facebook or some massive business, it's just to entertain and have fun.

[Ash] When most makers start off, they’ve got a nine to five and they're working all day. So one of those challenges was finding something that we enjoyed working on in the evenings that wasn't going to drain us, it actually energized us. It made it easier to work on outside of our jobs.

And is there anything you’ve learned that helps you with the feeling of failure besides what you’ve mentioned? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?

[Whit] It helps to have a group that supports you. It also helps to create a mental switch where you say “OK, no one really cares.” With the first five things I built, I heard crickets. Now, no one is looking back at those projects thinking about how they were bad.

If something doesn’t work you can either iterate on it or go to the next project. No one will really remember, and that's fine.

[Ash] The important thing to consider is that Bad Unicorn wasn’t our first ever project. We both had a lot of things that we were doing on the side. If you can make your first one a hit, that’s fantastic. But for most makers, it’s all that iteration and constant shipping.

Now you offer a virtual course on “how to hype”. What inspired you to create your own course?

Bad Unicorn how to hype course game boy style

[Ash] We were a number of projects in and realized we had learned a lot and it'd be great to bundle all this information up and share it with people who are trying to do the same thing. Especially because product studios are still relatively new in the maker space. 

It just so happened to coincide with a drop we were doing that was a parody of Masterclass. Whit put on this persona and started to film the Masterclass video, and we realized this could actually be the start of the course.  

We were also super inspired by a friend we have on Twitter named Janel. She's very well known for almost leading the way with things like Notion templates. 

[Whit] There was a little bit of imposter syndrome where we were thinking “who are we to tell people how to build and what to build?” etc. 

But eventually, we realized that we had enough knowledge and material to help people, whether it's just how to distribute projects or how to write copy. There are also some funny videos in there that are too embarrassing for me to rewatch.

Let’s move on to more of the marketing side of Bad Unicorn. How big of a role does email marketing play in your overall strategy?

[Whit] From the start, we talked about our North Star metrics and how they would dictate what we ran on our website and the main call to action.

We decided to aim for 10,000 email subscribers and that's the main thing we focus on. Any engagement Tweet is trying to direct people from Twitter to the website to convert on our landing page by becoming subscribers.

[Ash] Everyone we look up to in the startup space, whether they're on YouTube or Twitter or Instagram, seems to have that same recommendation of owning your email list and making sure you have a direct channel to your audience. 

We always want to make sure that we have a direct connection to our fans and having that email list is one of the biggest keys. We’re not reliant on any particular platform. We can always reach out and communicate with our fans that way so that's another big reason we decided there would be a big email component, for sure.

Email marketing tips straight from the unicorn’s mouth 🦄
  • Test out different landing page layouts, including letting your signup form take center stage

  • Let website visitors subscribe in multiple places. For example, at the beginning of a piece of content, and at the end

  • Make your signup form copy fun! We always try to add a Bad Unicorn twist 

  • Use social proof to give a sneak peek of the value someone will get if they subscribe

  • Use social media to drive people to signup forms

  • Collaborate with your favorite newsletter creators to share your audiences

  • Develop a relationship with subscribers and use a friendly tone

  • Let subscribers know when to expect your emails so they come to look forward to them

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously—use humor!

  • Create the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) effect with some sort of exclusivity so there’s an anchor to sign up

That’s amazing! And how do you like to approach your email campaigns? Do you usually stick to a certain style or do you like to mix things up every once in a while?

[Ash] We've noticed, also with our favorite creators, consistency is key. We let people know that every other Friday we’ll be dropping something new, and that was our first main approach.

When it comes to the template, because the product changes so wildly, we stick to the same structure. It just makes it easy for people to identify what sections they want to jump to or read if a new product is coming out.

We do like to have a little fun, like in our welcome email. There’s a wild GIF and it's just a little something different from the regular welcome email. We always try to add a little bit of playfulness in the copy and some images as well!

Do you have a particular campaign that has been really successful? And what made it successful, in your opinion?

[Ash] We had one called Unslack that was particularly successful, just because it was modeled off Slack and was very familiar and easy to share. Everyone understood the design. 

Bad Unicorn unslack landing page

The familiarity of the product combined with the obscurity helped make it a big one. But I think Elon Stocks was our most famous one.

Bad unicorn Elon stocks email campaign

[Whit] We used MailerLite again for Elon Stocks because it was easy to integrate with the Carrd website that we built. We built an app where, when Elon Musk tweets about a stock, you receive a text message, and that has been by far our most viral project. We had crazy website traffic and conversions. And I don't know what we were expecting, but we weren’t expecting that!

You mentioned MailerLite being easy to integrate. What integrations do you have and what have been the results?

[Ash] Integration always comes with whatever product or website we end up building. Whether it's Carrd or Webflow, which are our most popular two, there's a MailerLite integration. 

If we can remove as many steps as possible for somebody signing up that always really helps with conversions. So having integration with both websites means people just need to drop in their email and click enter. That's been really helpful so far.

Would you like to share anything else about Bad Unicorn?

[Ash] Something else that’s also worth mentioning is that Whit and I have never actually met in person and with tools like Zoom we manage to work together and run this product studio despite different time zones. 

So if at your place of work or university, you feel like you can’t find somebody to start a project with, you can always connect with people online by just reaching out.

And, of course, if anyone's got any bad business ideas, send them our way! You can share them and you never know what we’ll end up making next.

[Whit] Season two's going to be shipping new projects every other week and hopefully, we can find some funny products, some useful projects, and some valuable content that people can use to help in their current project.

A big thanks to Ash and Whit from Bad Unicorn for sharing their story with us! Don’t forget to check out the Bad Unicorn website to find out more and sign up for season two. Stay tuned for our next interview in the customer spotlight series!

Amy Elliott
Amy Elliott
I’m Amy, Content Writer at MailerLite. As a child, I dreamt about writing a book and practiced by tearing pages from an A4 notepad and binding them with sugar paper. The book is pending but in the meantime, I’ve found a passion for telling a different kind of story-the brand story-by writing fun, valuable, human content.