Sam Ovens

Customers Before Ideas: How Sam Ovens Used Keynotopia To Sign Up Dozens Of Paying Users Before Building His Product


Sam Ovens was a 23-year-old entrepreneur from New Zealand who had spent 12 months, and $10,000 of his own savings to create a product that no one bought.


“Not one cent in revenue,” Sam says, “It was terrible.”

But he didn’t give up.

The second time around, Sam changed his luck by using a totally different strategy: Using Keynotopia, he prototyped his idea and pre-sold $5,000 worth of his product, SnapInspect to potential customers before he even built it. He now runs a successful and profitable online business that is providing him with the lifestyle and control he’d always dreamt of.



Using Keynotopia, Sam was able to:

1- Demo a believable prototype to potential customers that validated his idea and was convincing enough for them to pay ahead of time
2- Deliver a product blueprint that enabled developers to clearly understand his vision, and ended up saving significant time and money working with a remote outsourcing team.

Sam and I recently spent a couple of hours chatting about his new mindset and approach to creating his product and launching his business.

Here’s how he did it…

Finding The Customer Before The Idea

The second time around, Sam focused his energies on finding a market before he picked his product.

“I looked for markets that have needs and money and could be contacted on the phone,” Sam says of his simple plan.

He focused on businesses in industries that were posting high numbers of job openings – he assumed, if they’re hiring, they must have money to spend even in a rough economy.

He eventually settled on real estate, specifically property managers. After gathering 100 email addresses from their websites, he sent out a request for information about their major pain points in their work. He got back 25 responses, talked to them, and found that everyone had the same big problem – that’s when he got to work.

Identifying Problems, and Sketching Solutions

The common pain point that Sam found was that property managers were spending 70 to 80% of their time organizing written notes and digital photos from multiple properties, typing them up into Word documents, and individually sending them out to each client. It was frustrating and time-consuming.

Sam immediately got to work – with pen and paper – mapping out an app that could streamline all of these steps into one easy-to-use program.

“I drew a basic app on some papers, took it back to the people, and asked if it could solve the problem. They said, ‘Kind of, but you could add this. It would have to be able to do this.’ I put something in front of them and they told me how it needed to be improved.”

Sam kept going back to his customers with the paper sketches after adding the improvements, got more feedback, and kept improving.

This time, he was creating the product with customers, rather than for them.

Bringing the Solution to Life with Keynotopia

After perfecting his prototype on paper, Sam needed to find a way to bring his app to life. He started looking around for developers, who told him he needed to have every screen of the app designed, with plans for how users will move from screen to screen.

Sam isn’t a developer, and had no experience with coding or building anything like the product he needed. He wanted to be able to build a prototype to show to his customers, and had no way to start without hiring an expensive team to make it for him.

And that’s when he found Keynotopia.

The process and toolkit looked too simple to be true.” Says Sam about discovering how to prototype with Keynote and Keynotopia.

Sam started using Keynotopia to mock up a prototype of his app, SnapInspect, and couldn’t believe the powerful tool he had discovered.

SnapInspect 1

The Keynotopia prototype that Sam created to demo to his potential customers


I was wondering if it was really that simple! I downloaded templates and started mocking up the product. I pretty much designed the entire UI of the app inside Keynote, linking all the pages together and working it all out. I installed it on my iPhone and it seriously looked like a real app.

He took the prototype app to his customers – “everyone was really excited.”


$5,000 In Sales, Before Having A Product

“Before the software was even developed, I got lots of people to use it,” Sam says. He used Keynotopia on his iPhone to bring the prototype to meetings and let potential customers interact with the app before it even existed.


As far as they were concerned,” he explains, “this was the real thing. Them being able to see it and touch it made it really easy to get people on board.

Sam told them it would take three months to develop, and made the big ask: he invited customers to commit by paying for three months of use in advance, in return for 10% discount for life. Having already seen how the product would work and change their business, his customers readily agreed, and Sam had made his first sales.

Huge Savings in Time and Development Costs


“I Skype’d the developers I had hired on eLance, and told them to download Keynotopia on their phones. I sent them my clickable PDF and told them, ‘This is what I want, and you don’t need to do any design’.

They were blown away!

With his Keynotopia prototype in hand, Sam was able to present the developers with the app he wanted – they just had to create it. He’s already worked out design elements and screen-to-screen transitions, allowing him to save both time and money.

“I was able to grind them on price big time because I told them they didn’t have to do any design. I told them ‘Here’s the app, here’s me using it, here is your brief, here’s every screen’.”

Having the prototype in hand allowed Sam to work out all the kinks, all the design, and all the features before ever having to start paying developers to build them. He was able to use Keynotopia to create his app for fractions of the time and money usually required.

I know people in this industry who have taken 18 months and 6 figures to build their products. We got it done in 3 months and less than $10,000.

Once he got his finalized app from the developers, Sam went live with his already-established customer base. He continues to market and sell his product, and his business has taken off since then.

Sam succeeded by going to market by solving a common pain point, by having strong customer relationships and by providing a proven solution.


Bouncing back from a major failure, Sam – an entrepreneur with no coding background or design background – was able to use Keynotopia to build a profitable business before he even had a product.


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  1. Find a market that is growing, and that has money to spend.
  2. Reach out to potential customers to learn about their process and challenges. At this stage, you’re listening for patterns and problems, rather than trying to provide any solution
  3. Find the common pain point
  4. Sketch some screens and show them to potential customers, asking them for feedback and suggestions
  5. Get Keynotopia templates and create an app prototype, then show it to customers for more feedback and suggestions
  6. Ask your customers if they would pay in advance for the product if you were to develop it for them, providing them with a lifetime discount, and a money back guarantee if you don’t launch the product within 3-6 months.
  7. Hire a developer (or a team) on eLance, and provide them with the prototype. Work through the prototype to answer all questions and use cases requested by developers
  8. Launch your product, then keep reaching out to more customers and put it in front of them

Sam Ovens

I used Keynotopia to build a prototype of my product in 3 hours. I then went out and pre-sold 12 companies the product just by showing them the prototype. I then sent the prototype to a software house and got them to build it. Keynotopia is the ultimate minimum viable product (MVP) to test any product’s leap of faith assumption: “Will people buy this?”. I can’t recommend Keynotopia enough, the small investment has paid back with a rapidly growing and profitable software company.

– Sam Ovens, Entrepreneur

Keynotopia is trusted by Fortune 500 companies, startups, design agencies, and universities in more than 80 countries