Day 15 of the #200wad challenge.
Part 5 of a raw report card on my maker journey so far. Some observations and learning points from making and launching minimum viable products every month. 2018 was a maker year for me. My very first year as an indie maker. In Feb, I made a commitment to launch a minimum viable product a month (#1mvp1month). Read Part 1 (list of products made), Part 2 (metrics), Part 3 (what went well), Part 4 (what went to hell).
I started off my maker year in Feb with the primary goal to learn new skills and reflexes as an indie maker. Here's the list of things that I wanted to learn:
☑ making skills (higher-resolution interactive UI/UX design prototyping tools like Sketch/Invision, building websites from code, making digital & physical products, learning the full stack)
☑ marketing (crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, interacting with press, email marketing with Mailchimp)
☑ launching products (using platforms like ProductHunt, Betalist, Amazon, Sellfy),
☑ doing sales
☑ operationalising business operations (working with suppliers, partners)
☑ first- to last-mile delivery to the end user
☑ post-purchase engagement
☑ building community (using Slack, Telegram, online forums, email newsletters)
So what have I learned so far?
💻 The projects that had a short content refresh window got more traction. Keep shipping, launching, even after the official launch, and you'll keep your users interested. The good thing about a job board like Public Design Jobs is that there’s always new content every week (weekly newsletter of new jobs), and hence there's recurring opportunities to keep engaging with my target audience. While it’s a relatively hard work to keep a lookout for new jobs all the time, this is balanced out by the rewards of being able to always be launching, marketing and sharing something useful with users. It was an effective way to grow an organic audience slowly and steadily. And a good reminder that I can also do this with my other MVPs. Always be shipping and launching, to continually keep users engaged and refreshed.
💻 Building products on someone else's platform might be expedient for MVPs but it generally comes back to bite you. Building your house on someone else’s land is an sure way to hand over control. And your fate. For example, I had no control over how slow and sluggish Chatfuel was when I was developing the Grant Hunt chat bot. It was frustrating but at that point, it was the next best no-code option to go for. I made most of my products on Wordpress, but now I'm realising that it's constraining further development because I need more customisation now than the available market of plugins can offer.
💻 Doing things that don't scale makes sense for MVPs, until it doesn't. Case in point: Public Design Jobs. Manually scraping jobs and keying them in was fine, until the sheer quantity grew beyond what a solo founder can do. I became the bottleneck to its growth. I wished I knew how to automate the scraping then. So we don't have to feel beholden to popular startup wisdom. Do what makes sense for you.
💻 Strong launches doesn't mean much in the long term. It doesn't mean it'll do well and monetize. It doesn't guarantee anything! I got #1 spot for UX Storyboard, and that helped with the traffic spike and 2 paid customers, but after that it just went quiet. So it takes continual effort to keep your product out there. Besides, I learned that the audience for the launch matters. Product Hunt favours products for other makers/hackers/startups/developers/tech/entrepreneurs/early adopters because it's community are those people, not necessarily the target audience that your product is designed to address. And the opposite is true. A poor launch on Product Hunt doesn't mean anything if your customers don't even use Product Hunt. What this meant for me is that: launching is just one little moment in the entire journey of your product. It's a significant moment yes, but don't let it discourage you if it doesn't go well, or don't let it get over your head if it does well.
💻 Community-as-a-product takes time. Don't launch until you have an actual community, even if it's a small one. Where the community is the product, launching a website/landing page won't cut it. I tried to launch Public Design Forum (a global community of designers for the public good/social impact) without first having engaged my users and got them together in some way. Even though the forum was an MVP, I probably needed an even earlier, raw version of the MVP (perhaps a chat group) to get the conversation going first, before starting the forum. Now, the forum is a ghost town, while the chat group that I started after the forum still lives and grows.
Next: Personal learnings about myself as a maker.