I’ve been struggling for a few weeks working on my current project, Joined-up Data. Despite putting in a fair amount of effort, it’s been increasingly looking like there isn’t enough of a market or, at least, a clearly accessible market for the product in it’s current guise. I can see why I’ve ended up here but I chose to either ignore the red flags or think that I could overcome the problems that were plain see.
For one, it’s a horizontal product, i.e. doesn’t apply to a particular group of people. It’s much harder to market something if you can’t identify a set of similarities that your customers will have. Where they hang out online, what they are interested in, what they read, etc…
Over the past 10 years of freelancing, I’ve been reading articles and listening to podcasts about bootstrapping software businesses. I feel like I have built up a lot of knowledge but nothing I’ve done towards building an income from a product can be counted as a success. Mostly, I’ve approached things the wrong way, either ’build it and they will come’ (no, they wont!) or get a customer and build out the product for them – not checking whether there are any other customers out there for it.
This time, I’d started going down the wrong route of building something and then I read Dan Norris’ book The Seven Day Startup. That’s it! I could set up the website and offer what the product will do as a service (I’d already built a lot of guts to do the work but it was no where near product ready). I spent about a week setting up the website then pointing Google Ads at it. I even got 1 customer for the product during the first week. This happened while I was at Microconf Europe so I was already pumped up and getting that customer was a real rush.
Since then I’ve run ads on Google and LinkedIn, made a lot of cold calls (getting used to doing this has been worth the time it’s taken and more) with little further interest and no new customers. In truth, I’ve spent too long ‘validating’. The point of validation is to quickly identify if the product would work but in the time I’ve spent on it, I could have actually built the product!
Just being busy, setting myself objectives and achieving them, has been distracting in itself. Although I was measuring the results of what I was doing, I didn’t really have a clear idea of how to measure whether those results really fit with what I was looking for – not just for the short term but for my life in general.
So, after quite a bit of navel gazing, I decided to stop working on Joined-up Data. I’ll leave the site up and if anyone happens to contact me about the product then I’ll see what comes of that. Since then, I haven’t been concentrating on anything in particular but enjoyed writing some code for the sake of it. Diving nose first back into coding was a good escape for me – after a few hours, I felt much better. It really helped lift me out of a fog, however temporarily, but that doesn’t get me any further forward with finding a business idea that I can make progress with and get sales.
There’s so much advice out there about finding ideas that might make scalable software products. I feel that what I need is a set of criteria that will help me decide what I should be working on. A checklist that I can use to pre-validate any idea I have or pain I find a potential solution for. Having put some thought into it over the past couple of weeks, I have a top 4:
- Separate earning money from my time
- Not be required to respond to other peoples demands
- Regularly work on new ideas and solving problems
- Always be learning new things (coding, business and personal development)
These are early thoughts and I’m sure I’ll refine them but it’s a good start. I’ve now got a basic set of criteria to help me decide whether I should pursue a particular direction.
Building an audience
It seems to me that one of the key factors that has helped others have success with their products is having an audience that they could sell to, or at least being part of a community (i.e. actively contributing to that community). This has always been a problem for me. I lurk in lots of forums and try to get involved when I feel I have something to offer but that’s rare. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion but I often feel that my opinion doesn’t count or isn’t interesting for some reason.
Even when I do want to comment, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a reply to a forum post or a comment on a blog post only to not submit it and go and do something else. It’s as if I feel that spending the time answering peoples questions is wasting that time when I could be, say, validating a product idea that will never get off the ground(!). I think I need to get over that and contribute more.
A lot of the good advice in blogs I read and podcasts I listen to alludes to starting with something small, an ebook maybe or a plugin for another system/platform (e.g. WordPress). I do like these ideas, especially if this can be in an area that has natural follow on to more/bigger products as you’re building an an audience to market to.
I have released a couple of mobile apps which I think has given me a decent chunk of experience but they only make loose change so don’t really count towards any kind of noticeable income.
So, what’s next? I’ve got a long list of possible product ideas but none seem very appealing at the moment. One or two look like possibles but I need to revise the ideas to see how they fit with my new criteria. I feel as if I need to try to go for a small product to start with.
Once I know what the next thing will be, I’ll write about it here.