Last week I started working on yet another product. It's going to be my 21st in the row, including the ones I have never released. Out of the released products only three are successful and only two are making money. The strange thing about all but one of my products so far has been that I created all of them to scratch my own itch or to make my own life easier. Only one software was the one I created based on pain point of a customer.
Of course after finishing most of them, I would try to sell them (or would release them in public for free), optimistically thinking that people will come rushing to buy the software and make me rich overnight (a sheer case of absolute ignorance, I know).
There are however differences when I am creating a product to scratch my itch or to solve a particular problem.
When I am scratching my itch, I just want to create something, without thinking about possible outcome and monetization. I just feel the urge to finish it and have a sense of achievement that yes, I can do it. The code quality doesn't matter; I just feel like a wizard transforming some magical code blocks into something that works.
The examples are some Forum Plugins, Blogging Software, Duplicate File Finder etc.. I created those when I became fascinated by the idea and thought I should also create something similar.
On the other hand, when I am solving a problem; a real problem; the possibility of somebody else having the same problem is tenfold. Therefore I tend to think about the problem from a different perspective, often thinking about edge cases. For example, the Email Templates plugin for nopCommerce was written when I was setting up an eCommerce store in 2014. Of course the store in particular didn't work (a failure) but the plugin written was something very useful and still gets me regular sales (success).
My Projects So Far
Apart from working on client projects I've been working in parallel on various side projects in all these years. Some were my itches, others were my problems.
Since 2011 when I setup my company, I was also doing teaching at an engineering college. Every few days I will get one of these ideas and create a product out of it, whenever I get some free time in between lectures. The ones in red are what I consider failures. Not only because they didn't make any money or were not solving any pain points. They are failures because after a while, I lost all the motivation to work on each of them.
Failures were inevitable
The biggest problem with developers like me, is the fear of marketing. We tend to get attached to the product we make. We see them growing from nothing to something that works. We spend so much time with it and know it's ins and outs that we start believing subconsciously that the product in question is the best thing ever made in the history of human kind.
That's a sin. No matter what my product does or how bigger pain point it aims to solve, unless people know about it and of the consensus that "yes, this actually solves the problem it claims to solve", its just a black box to them. Nobody knows what's inside it or if it's useful. Hell, nobody even knows if it exists.
And If people don't know about your product, after sometime you tend to loose interest, you tend to question your own abilities, and ultimately stop working on the product altogether, resulting in it's demise.
Marketing is the weakest link
The quote perfectly fits with startups. A startup is a series of links connected together. Each link represents an important part of the startup. Market research, requirements gathering, feature selection, development, testing, quality assurance, marketing, feedback, customer support etc.
While each link needs to be strong for the success of startup, the marketing should be the link that needs to be the strongest.
No matter how strong your product is, no matter how much effort you put into making it fantastic, no matter how severe of a problem it solves, if you can't market it, it's doomed.
I've learned this thing the hard way. I may be good at technical aspects of a product, but I am a novice at marketing. But I am taking this challenge and learning the art. My belief is that if I really need to setup a product based startup, I need to learn the art of selling.
I've been seeing people talking about 'build an audience first' approach. That is what I've decided to do this time. I'm building ProductPottery in public so as to build the audience who will be using the product.
It's a good experience so far and I am enjoying it. I am posting regular updates as I progress and learn.
If you want to follow along, follow me on my twitter page.