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My experience releasing failed SaaS products (mmartinfahy.medium.com)
223 points by defnmacro 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 97 comments





That was a painful read, sorry.

My advice for the author is to take a moment and look at the things they pay actual money for. Goods, services, Etc. And how they discriminate between vendors of those goods. (Why buy brand X when brand Y is cheaper, when you need a widget how do you find where to get one? How do you decide which one to get? Things like that.)

It is a big "ask" to ask people for money in exchange for access to or to use your app. When is the last time you bought an app for your phone? What put you over the edge into buying something? What things about that purchase made you feel better about buying it, and more importantly what things made you feel worse about buying it?

In none of the anecdotes presented, is there a discussion about how you played the role of being a customer for your own product. How did you feel about the "value" of the product given the price asked? How did the installation process go?

It can be hard to step out of your own context sometimes and that is where it can be helpful for a trusted friend, who will give you honest advice, can be the stand in for the customer and tell you the answers to these questions.

Lastly, in all three anecdotes the author is laser focused on money, money, money. All of their metrics around success or failure are based on money. The problem here is that money is the first derivative of customer satisfaction not the metric. Focus on delighting customers and they will happily hand over money.


As someone with a graveyard of failed projects and a few with moderate success, I agree with this advice.

I have a day job, and run my SaaS as a side-business, so maybe not the OP’s aspirations. However, I want to add one point:

> “...happy to be reminded that others have failed many more times before finally getting their overnight success.”

Don’t build optimizing for overnight success, that’s essentially a casino.

Waiting a few weeks to see what sticks and what doesn’t is way too short based my experience.

From PG’s essays:

“Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going.”

And while ideally you’d validate the product as quickly as possible, most businesses can take years to truly take off. Often involving many pivots along the way.

Maybe I misunderstood, but don’t make “overnight success” your north star.


> That was a painful read, sorry.

For me too, but for different reasons.

> I tried to drum up support in niche subreddits only to have people tell me it was basically useless that they wanted a desktop version, not a mobile app.

This is valuable feedback - why did author not take the advice and give the people what they said they wanted (a desktop app)?

I mean, this is literally the first thing you should know as a salesman - sell the people what they are asking for!

It gets worse. Here's what happened on the second attempt:

> It was a summary of the review and it was bad. I forget the exact wording but basically, it was like “This app does not work as intended 0 stars.” It hit like a crash dummy flying into a brick wall at a crash site test. I was furious, despondent, and sad. I tried everything to get in contact with the user, I sent maybe 4 follow-up emails begging for me to help him or her fix their problem and to remove their review.

His user engagement was partially to fix the product and partially to get the user to change their mind about the review. The feedback of "This app does not work as intended" seems extremely clear to me - the product does not what the advertising said it did.

But he learned this lesson, right? Apparently not. On the third attempt:

> Soon I started getting feedback on forums along the lines of “The product looks interesting but I don’t really want to sign up for it without seeing the product first.” Again this was a free product at the time and all the user had to do was click the Google or Facebook OAuth button to log in, or enter their email but they refused to do so.

Users apparently did not want to sign up with their main email or facebook account details. His response?

> at this time I would learn and do anything to get more users to my site, to the point where I was getting banned from multiple forums for posting after people told me to get lost for promoting content.

Three times in a row he ignored what his users were telling him; he's lucky he got as far as he did on third third attempt.

(BTW: What's with the stupid copy/paste prevention on that site? Copying still works if you hold down shift though, so yay for incompetent devs?)


> That was a painful read, sorry.

Agreed. The article felt to me like a reaction to the common refrain that, in tech, you can either be a founder or you can be a wage slave, and the former is clearly better. The product itself is secondary; the only important decision is, do you go the route of passive income ("lifestyle business"), bootstrapped business or VC-backed startup. As someone squarely in the latter camp of boring corporate coder, it can be hard to muster up much empathy, which I realize is a bit ugly of me.

The part I did find interesting was their discussion towards the middle of their free browser extension, and how the joy of others using their creation was exhilarating, while at the same time the feeling of negative criticism can be crushing. As someone who got into professional coding first by uploading code-like creations (the Native Instruments Reaktor user library) and having the same experience, I can vouch that this is the best feeling I've experienced coding and building things, and the criticism can actually help you learn to deal with such things better. It was unfortunate to me that the article then went back into some of the uglier parts about chasing money, clicks and SEO.


> ... money is the first derivative of customer satisfaction not the metric

This is a great sentiment. The product and problem need to come first. So besides being a business person, you need to be a product person too: design, copy, UX etc.


I really think you cannot emphasize the last part enough - money, money, money.

Only focusing on money as a metric seems to be a lagging indicator.

What is the adage? You are what you measure, or, you cannot improve what you don’t measure.

Yes, server uptime and latency is important, but so is customer satisfaction and the metrics of the application.


Spamming forums, and requiring people to surrender PII in exchange for a trial product, is anti-marketing.

Delivering a product that crashes on install, is anti-marketing.

Writing a blog-post that is hard to read due to lack of critical editing and poor grammar and punctuation is anti-marketing.

There's probably a reason this guy hasn't given any information about what his failed products were supposed to do: it didn't matter to him. "Oh, I'm not top of the hit-parade after 3 months? Scrap that one, cry a bit, then start again with a new product".

The crappy, spammy marketing will have annoyed a minority of vocal people - people who write bad reviews. Withdrawing a product suddenly, after a few months, while that product still has users, is not likely to win friends. And if you want a "passive business", you'd better have a USP and some IP that is hard to replicate, otherwise some other techie is going to come along and eat your breakfast.


I don't disagree with asking for a email in exchange for a trial product, but I do disagree with his overall mentality. This person never cared about his users. He cared how they made him feel, that's a huge difference. Nothing about this leads me to believe that he wanted them to succeed, or to help them in any way. He wanted his ego stroked and his bank account increased.

Maybe this isn't helpful advice, but don't take product failures so personally. They are experiments and learning exercises, and most companies fail by default. Of course it depends greatly on your life situation, i.e. do you have a job that can support you while working on stuff as a side-project? Or are you attempting to launch something as your full-time day job with limited savings or income? (10x more stressful)

People don't have personal investment or insight into your particular project. Most people assume there is a huge company behind every product they use, and wont hesitate to bash it on social media not realizing it may be a solo founder or tiny team with limited resources. Extreme reactions also get faster responses from big companies, so people have been trained to viscerally bash apps when reviewing them rather than posting more measured empathetic feedback. I think you will find that chatting with users 1:1 yields much higher quality feedback than reading reviews.

3-4 months also strikes me as a very short time to build, launch, monetize, and then declare a project a failure. In my experience, successful companies take years to build, or at least 5-6 months to start iterating on the initial feedback and building a reasonable userbase.

Just my 2c.


I agree that perseverance is being ignored by the author. Not that he should keep throwing good money after bad, but keep costs low, keep talking to customers, don’t be afraid to throw things away, and you might be surprised where your product ends up.

My first product takes 6 monthes to monetize. On hind sight I could have shortened 6 monthes to 4 monthes. Because users donated money from monthes 3 to support me. I postponed monetization for fear of user churn.

I would argue that it is possible, even necessary to try monetize early (but only after users acutually use the product). Maybe charge some small amount. PG may have written about it, I am not sure which essay.


I wrote about my experience creating a SaaS product in 2018:

https://medium.com/@david_39141/after-15-years-im-finally-re...

Like the OP, the first version of my service launched to crickets (though I had spent almost two full years building that beta version). The 3,500 people who had signed up for e-mail updates took a quick look, and then left, never to return, when they realized that the service was very bare-bones.

The solution in my case was actually to add features, because that first version wasn't very useful. I spent another three years adding features before launching paid plans, two years ago. I made sure to have thousands of conversations with users to make sure that I was on the right track.

Today, I derive my income fully from this service (Calcapp, an app builder for people needing formula support mostly on par with Excel). I haven't gotten rich, and I would have made more money as a consultant, but the income is passive, I still enjoy working on the product and interacting with customers, and I'm confident that our best days lie ahead of us, with a major update on the cusp of being released (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25389963).

Launching a SaaS business is the hardest thing I have ever done, but getting people to derive real value from something I have built is immensely satisfying. I wouldn't trade it for anything.


If you don't like Medium, here's a version of that write-up hosted on our blog:

https://www.calcapp.net/blog/2018/04/09/launching-after-15-y...


As a result of this HN post, 158 people visited the blog post I linked to, and only 112 people visited the Medium story. This is despite the fact that the blog link is buried in a child post, and only appeared later.

Moral of the story: when posting to HN, avoid Medium links.


Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed this write-up. (And thank you for sharing a non-Medium link too).

Thanks for your kind words. :-)

I think one of the important lessons that the author is yet to learn is that people don't give a shit about your product.

You have to realize that even if someone gives you a 1 star review saying "product does not work", they still probably don't give a shit. Even people who use your product more than likely aren't going to give you any feedback.

The fact the author is focused on things like SEO and is overly emotional about people's reactions to their product shows they don't understand this.

Who cares about SEO if your content doesn't make people give a shit, and having people take time out of their day to tell you how shit your product is isn't the worst outcome. I would rather people tear me and my shit apart than them not react at all.

The fact someone organically posted about your product and it got engagement is actually interesting. Maybe none of their feedback is actionable, but I would still count that as a win.

It also sounds like they're trying to build generic B2C products, which I think is the complete opposite of what you should be building as a solo bootstrapper.


>It also sounds like they're trying to build generic B2C products, which I think is the complete opposite of what you should be building as a solo bootstrapper

What would be your recommendation then regarding this point? Niche b2b?


This talk is the holy grail on this topic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otbnC2zE2rw niche b2b, w/ natural recurring cycles, $99 price point at a minimum, and not needing to be on call is most ideal

I would avoid going into areas with lots of existing hype (e.g. privacy-friendly website analytics) where you'll compete with literally thousands of companies from all over the world and where you'll have very few ways to truly stand out.

Business models that are more defensible are those that require bigger investments and deeper expertise to build, as that will make it more difficult to copy for incumbents.


Yes, niche B2B seems to be the winning play from what I have seen and heard from successful indie hackers.

I’ve had great success building B2C apps as side projects. It’s more about matching your passions to solving issues. Otherwise you’ll burn out and produce crap before you ever make anything people use.

Can you recommend resources to help you succeed in building B2C products as a solo entrepreneur? Alternatively, can you elaborate on your take?

I'm interested in building B2C products, and I find that IH is mostly concentrated around B2B (which is logical, because B2C entrepreneurs don't have incentives to post their story there).


Check my other reply to the sibling of my original post for a little more detailed story. I need to check out IndyHacker. B2C products have a longer growth cycle if you’re not full time, as prices are lower but the markets are bigger. My main recommendation is to follow a lot of the advice given for B2B - just involve users in more of the process. I think B2C is traditionally harder for devs because it’s a lot more personal and human than B2C, and requires usually a lot more of the BS work that others have diminished in the comments here: finding and becoming active in relevant communities to your product, creating content and perfecting SEO to use Google to drive natural growth, etc.

Success by which measure? I fear that a solo entrepreneur making a B2C product that also alights with their passion is firmly in the danger zone - you’ll want to keep making crap that’s no one will use while your passion clouds/hides any signs to stop.

Would love to hear ideas for dealing with overcoming this potential major issue. Perhaps if it’s only a side project that’s safer?


My most successful side project - by traffic volume and by usage - is a viral site idea which consistently generates over 1 million users in July of every year, those users generate about 20k in revenue yearly. It solves a problem I had in high school, and lots of other students have too. The project revolves around seeing location locked test scores up to 2 days early.

I think the important aspect that keeps the project useful is by using the same metrics that you would use to evaluate any business. I’m able to run this company completely in my spare time, and it’s reached a point where only a week of work is needed per year to keep it stable. Traditional metrics, front end analytics and some anonymized data collection, as well as social media sentiment review show extremely positive user feedback. As well as continued growth every year.

It’s important to remember that it’s your baby and your idea still has to follow traditional success metrics. And also, for a side project, success metrics don’t have to exclusively be “billion dollar company with VC funding in 3 months that is my full time job that I’ve invested my whole life into.”


> It also sounds like they're trying to build generic B2C products, which I think is the complete opposite of what you should be building as a solo bootstrapper

Why do you think solo bootstrappers shouldn't build B2C products?


Because B2B just makes more sense for small scale businesses. And I say this as someone who is building a B2C SaaS product.

Here are a few reasons off the top of my head:

1) B2B can charge higher prices (Charge More (TM)), which means you can afford higher CAC and require less customers to reach profitability

2) Businesses tend to be more sticky than consumers

3) You can segment the market more effectively with pricing

4) Customers are more likely to be grateful/appreciative because your product directly impacts their business

5) Support is less likely to be a headache due to a smaller number of customers and 4)


Am I wrong to think that this post needs a couple of revisions? It feels like it is all over the place. I don't know if it's just me but the structure and organization feels so off...

The tone of the article makes it seem like the maker is not interested in solving the problem, but more interested in getting paid and that's all that matters.

It's also hard for the reader to contextualize anything if the author leaves out the details of his 3 failed SaaS projects.


Exactly! Folding after hitting the first crash or first review is not a SaaS product, it's a programming assignment!

No. You are not wrong. A few revisions would have made all the difference. Build it properly and they will come.

This was my impression as well. At a minimum it needs some subheadings.

Much of this seems like useful lessons learned, but this particular section jumped out at me:

> To my credit at this time I would learn and do anything to get more users to my site, to the point where I was getting banned from multiple forums for posting after people told me to get lost.

How is this "to your credit"? If, as you say, the success of your product depends on getting niche users to buy in and trust that you can provide value, maybe it's a bad idea to antagonize those same users by behaving in ways that violate their community norms.


I knew a company that did this (their marketing person would constantly make accounts on Reddit, get banned, and then try again all day) and asked them about it.

They said that only the regulars who post and comment get mad, not the lurkers. It might only be the mods getting mad if posts only lasted 15 minutes or so. So in their view it didn't matter that the mods were seething with rage as that didn't get passed on to most of the community as they removed the posts. Only the mods saw it as a flood of spam.


This seems like the product of a person who shouldn’t be in a marketing position and a ceo who can’t hire marketers.

Barring a direct measurement to the contrary it’s highly likely this marketer was damaging the companies brand. The comments and bans from moderators are surely now the top results on google when one searches <product name> reviews. If this was a viable marketing strategy every forum on the internet would be full of such posts driven by automated bots.


This is how a spammer is born. They think they have "good intentions" themselves, failing to realize they are just obsessed about getting rich/famous and no longer care about anything else, seeing spamming behaviour as acceptable if it gives them 2 new users for each forum that bans them.

This is growth hacking at it's finest. Eeking out .5% gains anywhere just to get some form of validation. Most think that they are able to infiltrate niche forums/sites and act the part but ultimately the 2nd message is always 'wow, I've just been using this tool for X and I got Y!'.

The article betrays a complete lack of empathy for the pain points of the customer - which is probably why he's having so much trouble to get people to pay for them.

He starts out by citing Field of Dreams "if you build it they will come" but then seems to completely miss that point by building it without validating it was something people actually wanted.

"I didn’t care so much about creating a product that would actually make me money, I just wanted someone to use something I built." perhaps sums this piece up best. He's getting into this for the wrong reasons - to be an "entrepreneur" or have a "passive income" rather than solving a problem anyone wants solving.


> He's getting into this for the wrong reasons - to be an "entrepreneur" or have a "passive income" rather than solving a problem anyone wants solving.

I always thought this was "common sense". I just don't understand why people focus so much in "I need to bootstrap a saas!", "I need to listen to what other entrepreneurs are saying", "I need to put my product on indie hackers!", "I need to join an accelerator!", "I need investors!".

Sorry, but imho all of that doesn't make any sense. Build something because a) you think it may be useful (for you or for others) and b) you actually enjoy building things.


It’s often either being in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur, or they genuinely are trying to build a successful product but conflating the Promotional ‘P’ of marketing (posting on Reddit, ProductHunt etc) with the other three - product, price, place.

Which is unfortunate, as those kind of people are usually the first people to dunk on marketing with Bill Hicks videos, calling it a form of deception etc.


We don't know what the SaaS products were, what he is describing, how much they were, who was the target...

I am just fascinated by these type of posts which people can sit down and write longer than I can tolerate to read. I still don't know what the author tried to convey. Impressive this got 99 votes here.


I actually like that the author didn’t describe the products. That’s beside the point. The point was about the evolution of their goals, definition of success, and ways of failing.

It would be useful to at least know a little bit about the type of customer the products were for.

There was a story a while ago from someone who had built software for physicians to pick the best drugs for a particular diagnosis. They described the problem and how it was currently solved. They described how they talked to doctors and what response they got. They described what they had to do to create a useful and credible product. I found that post very enlightening.

With this post I feel like I have absolutely no way to judge whether the author's conclusions are relevant to my own projects.


No it isn’t besides the point.

Sometimes you get lost and you have lots of information to give to explain your position. I was writing a blog post aimed at non techincal people and 1/3 of the way through I was at 1200 words. Nope. That needs to be cut down to 600 words.

Once I wrote a blog post that I knew most people would just disagree with, so I wrote out a full length explaination. I posted it on Reddit, hardly anyone read actually read it and every single one of their comments againist my point was commented on in my post. Lots of people upvote and downvote based on title. Which kind of makes sense since you normally have to go to the page and read it before making a decision but the upvote and downvote buttons are right next to the link. One of the reasons I don't upvote often is I just forget. I've clicked the link read it and I'm off to my next post.


A rather painful reading experience. The author needs to learn how to edit their thoughts and use punctuation/grammar properly.

A brief exercise in shipping an MVP and seeing if it gets traction before refining the feature set =). Thanks for reading my ramblings despite the lack of proofreading hopefully its a bit better for others now.

What came to my mind when reading the unedited copy is that you are confusing MVP with prototype. An effective MVP is something that does relatively very few things but that does them well or very well. Otherwise your churning will be huge. In other words, I read your post completely but it was somewhat painful because the copy was not polished for clarity, so I doubt I read a second one. I churned. To build effective MVPs you need to keep an eye on quality. Do fewer things that work flawlessly will have much more impact than throwing a bunch of things to the wall. You need to make a culture change and overweight quality. And I also recommend B2B if you happen to be trying B2C.

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead".

As a "tech guy", I never understood the notion of MVPs. Sure, start small makes sense, but delivering something half baked just demonstrates one doesn't care enough for their readers/customers. Why would anyone like to put himself in such a position?


Because people emphasize "minimum", when the important part was "viable product".

Haha I appreciate this response.

Once again this post follows the usual strategy to make sure to fail your startup https://blog.luap.info/how-to-make-sure-to-fail-your-startup...

These people are very motivated, are able to start new projects and working hard on it. Unfortunately contrary to what the world wants to make you think. Succeeding is not only a question of working hard, there is a lot of luck involved and also a lot of knowledge. But it is not knowledge you learn reading books, it is a mindset. Some people are better than others to start companies.


Intuitive post that was. Particularly liked this part:

"This is always difficult to make an article to tell people how to be successfull. Because for any tips that you may give, there are always people who will succeed by doing the opposite. People are very different and we have to accept it. Also being successfull is all about being yourself and being innovative, so really the kind of things which don't follow rules."


Reminds me of the famous viral Cracked motivational article.

Nobody cares about you, who your self is, whether you 'are innovative' or 'don't follow rules'. What did you DO?

That's the only part people can see. It's a very tough sell, going around like 'I am innovative!' and not doing anything significant. Got the cart before the horse there, very possibly without a horse.


As someone who’s created a few mildly successful products in my life, I noticed a few things missing.

- dogfooding isn’t that important, but if you’re not you need to test. Even just a few smoke tests on multiple devices will go a long way.

- allow customers to leave you feedback in the app and make it easy, don’t even look at your reviews except to respond with “this has been fixed.” It should be easy to communicate with your customers and have a conversation. I’ve always had a few good customers that will email me about things and leave suggestions as I go. These people are valuable to your success.

- negative feedback is positive feedback by people who don’t care. In the post, they mentioned a lack of trust. That’s some good feedback! Make it so a sign up isn’t required until it’s actually necessary. Demos, trials, etc can go a long way here.


It was extremely distracting to not know what the SAAS services were. Wasted reading time - too abstract.

I have a feeling the write-up is fiction and should be read as a novel. Which is funny since:

"Soon I started getting feedback on forums along the lines of “The product looks interesting but I don’t really want to sign up for it without seeing the product first.” Again this was a free product at the time and all the user had to do was click the Google or Facebook OAuth button to log in, or enter their email but they refused to do so. They didn’t trust me."


"I was literally saying to people: “I’m looking to build an X app would you find that useful”."

What app is he writing about? Is the article fake? How can you write like 10 paragraphs about your failed app without namedropping it or tell what it tried to do.


I've come across recently the JTBD Framework, and I'm wondering if applying it would have prevented some of these failures

https://review.firstround.com/build-products-that-solve-real...


I have been building and failing multiple websites/mobile apps since 2006. To this day, I don't think I could ever be in that situation of creating something that somehow takes off.

Theres gotta be a place for failed web/mobile app developers to get together and figure out a way to make it, anyone know of such a place?


By the nature of it, only a few apps/products will ever be successful. The number of people/companies trying to create such apps/producs is very large today as software has the lowest possible initial investment of any kind of business (essentially zero if you have the skills already). But the number of people/companies willing to pay for some new product they don't already have is tiny. It is extremely difficult for someone to be successful in this area.

In summary: most will not make it, no matter how hard they try and even how good they are, because there's simply no room for everybody.


Success is an elusive term. For some, a successful SaaS product is one that generates $3k MRR which is achievable in many niches. The problem is, not every programmer is savvy and empathetic enough to be able to step into the shoes of a prospective customer to discover their major pain points. Instead, they tailor apps to their misaligned understanding of a problem domain instead of incrementally arriving at it through 1:1 conversation with their target audience.

I don't fully subscribe to this train of thought; I believe the pie is big enough for everyone. Now I don't have a definitive answer on why some make it and some dont, obviously, and not sure if anyone does.

It's not targeted at failed founders explicitly, however Indie Hackers is probably the community you're looking for!

https://www.indiehackers.com/


Why not simply work at a company?

I suspect that most other failed devs are indeed working at a 9-5 but looking to get the F U money from a side project and enjoy life, at least that is my situation. Also FU money is relative, I am not looking for 1B, just a small 3M nest egg is enough for me to retire.

Some people aren't made for that.


Twitter?

This post could be written better, but a lot of it resonates with me as a solo technical founder who has gone through dozens of failed projects over the last five years.

I do have a strong tendency to start with an interesting concept instead of a concrete problem, but I run into a lot of walls taking the problem-first approach:

- The problem already has a dozen solutions because the SaaS space is at least 10 years old now and hyper competitive, there'a almost no good solution you could come up with that hasn't been built already.

- If all the good or obvious solutions have been tried already, you could try to build something better still. But in my experience I could only come up with marginally better solutions or I would run into intractable technical challenges (intractable for me, at least).

- How do you even find a valuable problem to solve? I tried keeping a list of problems I encountered in my day job for a year and the solutions for almost all of them required skills well outside of my wheel house.

I think this is because, when I try to take a problem-first approach I tend to think about the solution space linearly. This leads to solutions that are obvious to any reasonably smart engineer, but because they're obvious they've been done or are intractable.

That's why I think there is some value in starting with interesting concepts or solutions, because what you're really looking for is a creative solution to a relatively common problem. It seems just as hard to start with a problem and back into a creative solution as it is to start with a creative concept and find a problem you can solve with it.


> intractable for me, at least

> almost all of them required skills well outside of my wheel house.

It seems like you have found good problems to address. Why not just try to learn more things that can make the solutions within your wheel house. Otherwise, nothing is stopping you from finding a partner with the right skill set.


I am just wondering how someone can build something that people actively hate? And then for people to create a thread where people are tearing the app and the person apart? This just gobsmacks me. Especially since, I'm building things and no one really seems to care enough to do anything. So they've obivously manage to stroke enough emotion that people care enough to write about him and his products.

> I am just wondering how someone can build something that people actively hate? And then for people to create a thread where people are tearing the app and the person apart?

Maybe you didn't get to the part where he said this:

> at this time I would learn and do anything to get more users to my site, to the point where I was getting banned from multiple forums for posting after people told me to get lost for promoting content.

My takeaway is that he came across as a scammer and as a result a few users warned about his product on the forums he was spamming.


That is why they would dislike him. But not why 20 people would comment on a thread. Who even remembers the spammers on forums? Not many.

The moral of the story - sales and marketing are more important than you think. Especially if you are technical.

One potentially valuable analysis of this issue is Ralph Grabowski's Marketing to Engineering ratio. Engineering is required to make a product, but marketing is required to understand potential customers and how to express the benefits of the product. Marketing is like the tires on a vehicle. No matter how good the product it is still necessary to know who is going to buy the damned thing and how to reach them so they know about it. Early on in development successful projects spend put more money and focus on marketing than engineering because customers needs and vocabulary need to influence development as soon as possible.

Great insight - especially the questioning why we do it to ourselves. It is tough creating a business.

I wonder how many others are doing the same journey, but not leaning from the experience, and instead making the same mistake over and over again?


It seems that there is a product/market fit problem that the author keeps hitting. Or simply, building something that the people who would find it useful actually want.

I have had the same problem. One way of overcoming this is to have a co-founder that has experience in a particular market, and knows the problems that need solving and the people who are affected by the problem. Another way is to do more thorough market research.

It seems to be a common problem for technical (only) founders.


From what I can perceive, he has a poor habit of not sticking to something. Yes, there are ups and downs in all entrepreneurial journeys. Focusing and persevering as opposed to becoming emotional (both in the ups and downs) paves success.

"If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:"

-'If' by Rudyard Kipling


It might sound silly, but anyone reading his self-reflection should watch the show Silicon Valley. Some of his "failures" actually failed the same way as the products of "Pied Piper".

That’s what made Silicon Valley so good. I think a lot of us technical wannabe entrepreneurs go through this learning experience. It made the show really resonate.

This one in /new about SaaS building too.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26687212


Why pay tens of dollars per month on AWS for side projects? A 5$ linode is the max I'll pay for any side project - especially if it does not make money.

> If you want to actually create a business you need to realize coding is both the easiest of all the things that needs to be done and also the least important.

I don’t agree. I understand the sentiment, though. In my experience “the importance” of coding depends on the business.

Like the author says, if you just want to code - go do it, you don’t have to have a business! But what they are missing is the compliment: if you just want to business, you don’t have to code!


If you're an experienced, motivated, results-oriented developer, then "coding" is an easy but still time-consuming thing.

But that's a very, very small percentage of the population.

When I talk to non-programming founders, they're insanely jealous that I can write a product and support it myself - because they can't. You can tell because they keep asking over and over, "You wrote that yourself?"

And a couple years later, their runway is spent on eng. salaries and they shut down.


This is a great writeup and thank you for sharing with so much candor. You are light years ahead of everyone who has ideas and has not tried them and learnt the lessons.

You learnt experientially what most either never learn or a rare few learn from books like The Mom Test. Even compared those who read the book and get it, I fear it does not translate to a lived earned experience.

Take some time to rest, recuperate, recharge and go build #4!!


I don’t understand why when people talk about startups and side projects they almost never describe the actual product

I'm not sure in which areas the author released SaaS products but what's mind-boggling to me is how fast successful SaaS businesses get copied these days, especially if they are rather "simple" (in the sense of being reproducible by a small team without large investment). Privacy-friendly website analytics is maybe a good example. There are literally thousands of companies with almost the same USPs (GDPR-compliant, cookie-less, privacy-first), almost every day a new one tries to launch on Product Hunt. And since everyone is prying for attention it gets more and more difficult to build something that gets noticed at all in those areas. I mean try entering a search term like "GDPR compliant analytics" into Google and you'll be presented with thousands of SEO articles from different analytics companies. I've heard the same thing happens on the app store: As soon as there's something successful, copycats show up in a manner of weeks, trying to capitalize on the successful app. So on one hand the addressable market for SaaS products gets larger every year, but at the same time more and more companies are pushing into that market.

(most) SaaS businesses have no moat. So, distribution is the key.

This is true.

If you are building a crud application (todo list/trello, social media scheduling, and analytics are all examples of simple crud applications), the moment you see success it will be cloned by people in eastern Europe, India, or SE Asia, and priced at 10% of yours.

A moat or barrier to entry is a must now. Solve hard problems.


Depends what you want to achieve of course; there are many copies of most services around which, in certain regions of the world, do well. There are a lot of SaaS products, notably all kinds of project or task management applications, of which there are 100s of 1000s around, where the owner(s) makes enough profit to have a nice, comfortable life even though there should be crippling competition. I had two of those (in the task management/PM space; I had many more in other spaces) which I both sold, but they made me a very comfortable year income for the years I had them, without any work besides the initial investment of building them (which was not very hard as they are crud apps).

If you are not interested in becoming a (global) market leader, there are a lot of opportunities up for grabs. In the EU (and I guess that goes for other regions in the same way), a lot of companies buy local; the company I currently work for is Dutch and, although we have many competitors globally which might be cheaper or better, there is simply enough income to be made for a company with an office, employees, better than market pay and steady growth only from Dutch clients who rather do business with other Dutch people and inside the EU. GDPR and other EU guidelines and rules rather worked in favour of many companies here; Govs and many other institutions for instance demand all data to be inside the EU and signed contracts that they will never share data outside the EU; many US/Asia SaaS products simply do not offer that with guarantees acceptable (or to be trusted) to companies here.


A little off-topic, but how should one go about incorporating their side project/saas? Is it ok to start off as a sole proprietorship and later set up a LLC? I'm sure a lot also depends on local laws etc.

It depends. If you are doing a side project next to your regular employment, i would avoid creating any legal entity unless strictly necessary. Why? You add legal obligations to yourself. When you are starting up as solo-entrepreneur, try to minimize distractions and put all efforts in validating the product idea and ship it to your first customers. Sometimes these customers require you to have the legal papers, you take care of these when it is needed to seal the deal.

There could be other reasons. Take for instance my own case. I started freelancing and do side projects. In this case I approached it with a reason. Namely my revenue as freelancer is funneled into my side projects. This means expenses i make like purchasing other services, SaaS or tooling to support my side projects are written off my revenue. Im re-investing my revenue into other venues.

As my side projects are maturing i’m switching now to a limited liable legal entity from self-proprietary.

Hope this gives you some ideas.


I’m all of these types of write ups I always miss two things:

1. Being an expert in your area and focusing hard on solving the problem.

2. Patience and time. Things take much longer than you think.


Is it just me or the article is not opening?

(Wonder if it is author regret or something else)


DHH posted this in 2009 on "Learning from failure is overrated"

His main point being You might know what won’t work, but you still don’t know what will work. That’s not much of a lesson.

(1) https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1555-learning-from-failure-is...


What a great reading.

I am in my 4th mounth as a bootstrapper. You experience is giving me a lot of thoughts.




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