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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Moral of the story: when posting to HN, avoid Medium links.
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.
What would be your recommendation then regarding this point? Niche b2b?
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.
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).
Would love to hear ideas for dealing with overcoming this potential major issue. Perhaps if it’s only a side project that’s safer?
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.”
Why do you think solo bootstrappers shouldn't build B2C products?
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)
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
"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."
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.
- 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.
"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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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?
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.
"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
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Wonder if it is author regret or something else)
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.
I am in my 4th mounth as a bootstrapper. You experience is giving me a lot of thoughts.