One of the indie maker folks on Twitter whom I look up to - @yongfook - wrote an article about making products as a solo developer/entrepreneur. I loved it and thought they were super useful tips for anyone solo starting out on your product. Paraphrasing them here and adding my own thoughts and applications to it:
You don’t have to aim to be some disruptive, world-changing, curve-jumping, octagonal-thinking, ground-breaking, trail-blazing innovation to succeed. Yes it helps, but if you’re a solo maker whose ambition and definition of success is to work on something you love and have it pay the bills, you don’t need to go for the bleeding edge every time. For me, this really resonated because it goes against the grain of what’s often conventional wisdom in the tech startup scene, but I seldom ever questioned if the context of that advice is relevant to a lifestyle business by a company of one, which I’m aiming for. Though deep down, this was what I wanted intuitively and so this piece of advice brought it up and made it clear to me that that’s what I want to do instead. That I can just make something mostly familiar to customers, yet adding a refreshing spin to it, like what @yongfook said:
- repackaging an existing idea for a different target customer
- recycling an old idea for today’s market
- making a 10x simpler version of an existing idea
- making an unexciting but clear solution to a well-known problem
Another thing that I love about this point - the simplicity. It’s tempting to try to do too much for too many different types of customers. As makers ourselves, we get excited with our baby and feature creep ensues. Making is what we know and we just keep making more and more features. Before you know it, the products becomes too complex to understand and use. For me, this is definitely something I need to watch out for. Being simple and easy to understand in plain language also helps with word of mouth marketing, and just plain usability. If customers don’t understand your product, they won’t use it! Plain words to me also means authenticity -don’t use “we”, use “me”. Act small, not corporate. Be intentionally tiny, but human.
The key point here is “BEFORE even starting”. I would often dive into making a product because it scratches my own itch, or it’s a problem space I’m familiar with and excited about. But I don’t often think about where these initial few customers are BEFORE starting. In my head, marketing and selling are things you do post-launch. Now I see now how risky that is. I do care about monetization as well - my 2 criteria in making products are enjoyability and profitability. So this was so on point, and a hard reminder that I do need to look into getting my first 10 customers EVEN WHILE I’m coding my product right now. At least one customer, to start off.
I wrote about this before, that I want to start a calm, not crazy, business. One of the principles I want to adopt is self-help by default as much as possible, and automate the rest of the support (if ever). As a company of one, I don’t have unlimited bandwidth to do well in everything, and personality-wise, I prefer to interact as little as possible with customers in terms of support. That means creating stuff that makes that happen. Software products tend to allow for that. I was particularly inspired by Tyler Tringas’ story of Storemapper - it was the perfect set and forget product that helps websites set up a store locator feature. He grew it to $18k MRR and eventually sold the business. If anything, that’s a clear success story in my book.
So, my lesson here?
You don’t necessarily need to be spectacular to succeed.
A ‘boring’ product, in stupid plain English that has 10 potential customers before launch, and mostly self-help, can also be a definition of success as a solo indie maker.
So get out there and succeed.
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