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What I Learned By Taking Too Long to Ship My Bootstrapped SaaS

What I Learned By Taking Too Long to Ship My Bootstrapped SaaS

I've been known to pick on Reid Hoffman.

If you've had any conversation with me over the past few years surrounding products, it's likely that I've dragged out my soapbox and started to protest against his most famous quote:

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.

To me, this always seemed antithetical to what you'd want to accomplish. You want your products to be good...great, even.

Why would you want to be willingly embarrassed by what you create?

Accepting that you're not a genius

While it's frustrating to admit, my own stubbornness and self-assuredness left me blind to the point of this message for over a year.

The point isn't to encourage you to ship a piece of junk (arguably, any honest creator would be embarrassed to do that), it's about not being convinced of your own ideas.

As you delay your product's release, you stay stuck in your bubble. You start to convince yourself that what you see is what others will see. This is shockingly easy to do, especially when you have experience building things.

The difficult hurdle to get over is understanding that your product may...

  • Solve a problem
  • Work incredibly well
  • Be aesthetically gorgeous

...and still be a flop with customers. But why?!

Because the most important piece is missing: a group of people who actually want what you've built.

That underlying want is what you're building for, not solving a grab-bag of needs.

Hiten Shah's three questions

Want may seem like a very difficult thing to quantify, but it's incredibly simple: people want something if they're willing to trade the money they have in hand for the thing you're selling right now.

Coming down from the high of launching last week, I came across some videos from the wonderful folks at MicroConf.

Going to town on my well-earned launch sandwich, I watched this interview with Hiten Shah and Rob Walling:

About halfway through the interview, Hiten makes the point that you're trying to find a product that...

  • Customers will need to use highly frequently.
  • Solves a problem that's highly painful.
  • Solves a problem that is highly urgent.

Using this model as a filter, you can see why he chose the problem he did for his product FYI.

There's a subtle gap here: want vs need. Need is practical. Want is emotional.

This is what I overlooked with the first version of Command. I built the app to be the solution to a lot of different needs:

  • Managing work on your product
  • Creating knowledgebase articles and documentation
  • Tracking revenue
  • Sharing your changelog with customers

Now that I'm out of the fog of creation, I've quickly realized that I overshot.

These things are all perfectly valid needs, but there's not a lot of want here.

These are two responses I got from people who took a look at the product.

Pay close attention to the language here. "A lot of feature set" and "very full featured."

Those do not express a want. Roughly speaking, what you're going for is one of two responses to your product:

  • Wow! This would make my life a lot easier, take my money.
  • I know someone who would love this!

Not "wow, that looks like a lot of work."

I have to admit that this was all a bit disheartening, but not a surprise.

When I was starting to work on the marketing for Command, I quickly realized that I'd overlooked who would want the product. I was flat out struggling to communicate who the product was for, even though the features were tailored to a specific industry (people building products).

The nail was further driven into the coffin when a buddy of mine who's opinion I trust greatly on branding and products stumbled his way through describing Command while offering some feedback in a WhatsApp message:

..they are so desperate for...uh...this, umm...for this kind of...I'm, I'm losing the word *sigh and awkward chuckle* control panel...or, um, dashboard! There we go, dashboard!

Do you hear those sirens going off, too? 🚨

Iterating as quickly as possible

Late Friday evening as I sat back in my chair, my head tilted upward at a sign I have taped to the wall above my desk: don't allow your ego to cause unnecessary mistakes.

I sighed.

In my head—and in conversations with others—I had already been preparing to take a short break on development and just focus on content marketing for a bit.

In that moment, though, I realized that I couldn't stop yet. I had to iterate. I couldn't just pacify myself and say "it's okay, they just don't get it!"

No, I quickly understood that if this was going to work, I have to find something that people actually want.

I pulled out my sketchbook and started to click through the app. I asked myself those three questions from Hiten "what here is painful, urgent, and frequent?"

As a whole? Nothing. In the parts, though, there was a lot of potential. The pieces were there. They just weren't organized in a way that was meaningful enough to encourage a want response.

The scrawlings of a madman, minutes away from climbing a clocktower.

Ironically, after spending some time over the weekend hacking the concept a bit further I got a second burst of energy.

I started to make connections that I hadn't throughout the entirety of the development process (read that with this tone of voice).

I saw what needed to be done.

Keep moving, quickly.

The moral of this story? It takes time to find the right thing and that's okay.

What you don't want to do is sit still and get stuck in sunk cost bias. It's far too easy to get emotional and say "but I've already spent so much time going in this direction!"

It doesn't matter. Consider it the cost of doing business; the cost of getting to the right thing. Instead of getting discouraged by not getting it on your first swing, you have to refocus and iterate.

Don't get stuck. Keep moving.