Episode 366 | Building an MVP as a Non-Developer, Gaining Traction with Stair-Stepping, and More Listener Questions

Show Notes

In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike take a number of listen questions on topics including bootstrapping an MVP as a non-developer, gaining traction with the stair-step approach, and more.

Items mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Rob: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike and I talk about building an MVP as a non developer, gaining traction with stair stepping and answer more listener questions. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us Episode 366.

Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

Mike: And I’m Mike.

Rob: We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. Mike, I have a question for you before we start the episode here. What is the lamest and/or most embarrassing domain name that you have ever purchased?

Mike: Lamest and most embarrassing, I don’t think of any that I got that were embarrassing. I’d say probably the lamest was dotnetforumsoftware, I think it was.

Rob: It was like dotnetforumsoftware.com?

Mike: Yup.

Rob: I don’t remember offhand but I had some when exact match was such a big deal and the dashed exact match was not as good but almost as good, I had some horrendous, like five and six-word dashed dotnets. It’s like business-credit-cards.net or something like that. It was when I was hacking a lot of SEO stuff and just trying to figure out how to rank stuff. Most of those wound up being AdSense sites that made back their initial investment and then not much more because Google updates came along but there’s probably some pretty embarrassing names in the boulevard of broken dreams there.

Mike: Yeah. I can definitely think of a bunch that I don’t remember whether I’ve registered them or not but they were kind of non starters because they were either hard to pronounce or could be very difficult for people to hear it and associate a domain name with it. They were just bad ideas. I think one of them was bitclinic.com or something like that. I don’t think I ever registered that one but there’s a whole list of them that I came up with and they’re just disqualified for a number of different reasons.

Rob: Especially once you start hosting a podcast, or doing public speaking, or going on interviews, you realize how important the pronunciation and the ability to spell something in one way that there’s no ambiguity over which version, if you’re using a homophone or whatever, which version of the word that you’re using.

Mike: Yeah, God forbid you register penisland and try to sell pens because that’s just not going to work out.

Rob: Penisland, did you do that?

Mike: No, I didn’t but I remember reading somebody who did.

Rob: Got it. Cool. What’s going on with you and Bluetick this week?

Mike: I’m still working on that code refactoring that I started on last week or was working on last week and it’s just turned into a nightmare. I was going through a bunch of changes and I made them and then a lot of my unit tests failed and then I had to start digging to figure out why and then realized that there’s some architecture changes that need to be made so there’s code refactoring. I’m like, “Oh, this is way more complicated and way more involved than I thought it would be.” A lot of it is because there’s stuff that’s buried in the code that I learned it all like a while back and then left it out of my brain for a while and it was just brain dumped and I’ve forgotten most of it.

Now, I’ve had to go back and research some of the stuff and say, “Okay, how does this actually work again?” Because like I said, it’s going to be kind of re-factor and re-architect so it just makes it difficult.

Rob: Yeah. This is to give yourself a multi user capability. Is that right? Like folks can have multiple logins and pay per seat?

Mike: Yup.

Rob: Cool. This sounds like something that’s pretty important especially based on our conversation last week. This is nice expansion revenue to get from folks who are using it. You’ve had this request a lot along the way and I know that you’ve avoided building it because you knew there was going to be some complexity around re architecting things.

Mike: Yeah. It wouldn’t be so bad except that a lot of the services layer is all hard coded for the user account. All the database changes and stuff are in place, the services layer is all really tied to either the user or the account at this point so that’s still reasonably good at this point but the problem is that authentication mechanism on the frontend, I’ve got to pass the account information up and down the stack, which if I could kind of separate that out and use it like an object to pass in as opposed to a user ID. It would make things so much simpler and it’s not that simple right now.

Rob: Yeah, it’s a bummer. It’s hard to do something you know you need to do but then it takes longer than you want it to. This is where the founder impatience kicks in of like, “I want to be moving faster but if I rush it, I’m going to cut corners and then I’m going to regret it later.” So how do you deal with that? I know the feeling, man. This is the time to hammer it out as quickly as possible. Drink a lot of caffeine and listen to some death metal.

Mike: I forgot when it was, it was earlier this week but I was looking at the stuff that I had to do and I’m like, “Man, I really should be switching over to doing the marketing stuff.” And I was like, “I know if I do that, then I’m basically leaving this half done and it’s going to take me longer to get back through it.” As you said, it’s got to be done right the first time. I figured I’d just pile through and made the conscious decision to just continue on it.

Rob: Alright. From my end, since I’m hopping on a plane tomorrow, I don’t have many updates this week. I’ve been wrapping up some loose ends and I’m actually talking about hiring plans for next year and just kind of looking. It’s November now and it’s starting to be time to look ahead and project growth, both revenue and usage growth and stay ahead of scaling. We’re looking at what hiring is going to need to be required in order to do that. That’s been an interesting exercise and one that I have not done so thoroughly in the past.

Our growth has never been this fast now that we’re in this venture funded engine. I have to be a little more deliberate about it because if we wait until we have issues, if I wait until we’re understaffed or if we wait until we start seeing performance problems and it’s too late because it takes months to fix these so I’m trying to think three, four, five months out right now. That’s been, I wouldn’t say fun because I don’t particularly enjoy it but it has been enlightening and I think a necessity if I want to feel relaxed and chill and have a good time next year.

Other than that, we have a lot of five star iTunes reviews. We have 550 reviews in worldwide iTunes repo. Most recent one was on October 9th. It says, “Tons of practical tips and lessons.” It’s from [Honey Maura 00:06:24] in Canada and he says, “I’ve been listening for about four years now and I love what Rob and Mike share each week. I’m hooked. I’ve been following Rob’s stair step approach since launching several premium WordPress plugins first and a few months back launching my first SaaS. Thanks for all you do.” He’s with repurpose.io.

If you haven’t left us a review, you don’t need to leave a full comment. We do appreciate it. Just going into iTunes, Stitcher, Downcast, Overcast, or whatever you use to catch your podcast as it may be, hopping in there and hitting the five star rating would do us a great favor.

Today, we’re going to be answering some listener questions. It’s funny there’s a whole theme going on. A lot of it is like I’ve launched. Now what? It’s kind of the theme of today. Maybe not every single one but there’s three or four here that are asking guidance post launch.

Our first question is from [Yan Wustland 00:07:13]. He says, “Hi Rob and Mike, thanks for the great show. Like everyone else, I have to praise your excellent work with the podcast. I feel I have a classical developer problem. I am a solution looking for a problem. I started with web development and then I continued to the iOS, Android, and Mac development. I like the stair step approach and I’ve been launching single products targeted towards web developers like myself, more specific to the niche of Laravel developers.” He has a link here. It’s eastwest.se/apps.

“So far, I’m selling a couple of licenses per week but it’s nowhere close to paying my bills. I have got a great response from the Laravel community and customers but I feel I have to make a move. Their expectations at Mac app should be cheaper than a WordPress plugin and most of my customers who are developers seem to dislike monthly subscriptions. I have a lot of ideas for new products but all of them are centered around MacOS, which I’m passionate about, where it feels a lot harder to justify recurring subscriptions. Without all the details, what advice would you give?”

He laid out some options and we don’t have to stick to these options but I’ll lay them out here. “Number one, continue with one time products and learn more about marketing. Number two, this is not the right place to be and I should try to come up with another product and then find product market fit. Eventually, the right idea will come up. Number three, bite the apple and try to introduce annual plans in my Mac apps with the risk of making customers angry. To me, all the possibilities are a bit paralyzing. How do I know which is the right one to go for? Again, thanks for the great podcast.” What do you think, Sir?

Mike: I’m looking at the website. One thing that I’ve noticed is that the apps themselves seem like they’re a little bit all over the place. There’s this thing called F-Bar which is for managing Laravel Forge Servers. Another one is git-ftp deploy, which is for ftp deployment and then there’s like a radio player and then plugs of the world, which is your guide to sockets and plugs for iOS. These different apps or utilities are all over the map in terms of what types of problems they solve so it makes it difficult to do the marketing for them because there’s no overlap between them.

I think I might go down the road of looking to see if you could just sell off a couple of these outright to somebody else and have them take them over and then focus the efforts on building a small suite or a tool set of different things that you could sell individually and then have a bundle option. If you really are getting a lot of interest from the Laravel community, then that’s a great option in terms of being able to raise your lifetime value for those customers because then that bundle option’s going to give people the ability to pay you more.

They’ll feel like they’re getting the deal on it because individually, these products might cost $100 but if you give it to them for $70 or something like that, then it’s a better deal for them.

Rob: I want to jump in here. What I’ve noticed in looking through his list of apps is the top two, one is like you said, the Laravel Forge Server and the other one is git-ftp deploy. Those two he charges for. If you click through, one is $15 and the other is $20. Everything below that, which is a radio player and a timer and crush cockroaches, a game, it doesn’t appear like he charges for those. Maybe when you click through to iOS, they’re $1 or $2. But I mean these are definitely really small utilities almost.

One thing I would say just for organization’s sake is on the website, on his apps page, I’d probably have a heading that says tools for developers and then other stuff I’ve built. Because I bet my guess is he’s making a lot more money. He said he’s only selling a couple of licenses a week at $15 to $20, so it’s not that much money. Maybe a low end car payment in a month. He’s probably making the vast majority of his stuff from this top two if he’s making any from the lower ones at all.

I agree with you. I think the folks are starting to focus on people who are willing to pay something. Even if it’s $15, $20 a month, I think that’s probably a decent first step.

Mike: Yeah. I didn’t get that far because I was trying to go through. When I browse, I usually will right click on a link and then go to the next one and right click on it so that I can open things up quickly in different tabs. The way that the website works is if you right click on something, it actually browses to it. There’s no way to open up those links in a different tab so I honestly didn’t get there. It was annoying.

Rob: That makes sense. I guess as I think about this, it seems like when I look at the three options, he laid out basically keep doing what you’re doing and build more products or start doing totally different things, try to launch a SaaS app or something or launch annual plans. It seems to me the third one is the easiest to test, launching an annual plan. If you pushed it out for one or two weeks and everybody’s angry and nobody pays it and sales plummet, or do it for a month. If it doesn’t work, it’s easy to undo this. To go back to people and give them a refund or just say, “We’ve abandoned the annual plans and now you just get it for good just like everyone else does.”

I would try that with one or both of the apps and realizing that you will get some complaints but if suddenly, you see more sales or you feel like you’re going to make money with that in the long term, I don’t think that’s a bad way to go and it’s easy to test.

The real problem there is even if you test that, if you’re only selling a couple of licenses a week, then you’re not going to see any fruit from this for another year until they come up for renewal. Really, you’re not doing anything to grow your revenue in the short term. I think one of the big issues is something that he pointed out is that utilities in the app in any app store, they’re a commodity in essence and you really can’t charge that much for them and so, they have to have wide appeal and you have to sell a lot of them in order to make any type of money at it.

I think it’s a tough space to be in. The other drag about it that’s a trip is selling through the Mac App Store means you have this instant, easy distribution. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is you’re really not learning much about marketing because you’re not building a website, building an email list, nurturing people, running ads or blog, doing content marketing or whatever it is that we want to talk about marketing a product. If you don’t have to do that, you can but you don’t have to do that if you’re in these app stores.

One of the benefits that I found in the stair step approach is you’re not just gaining revenue and you’re not just gaining confidence, you’re not just gaining money, you’re gaining experience doing things with these smaller products. Even the folks who do WordPress and they put them in the repo and then they have an upsell to a free version, they have to learn how to write nurture sequences and how to write good copy and how to build an email list.

There’s other things that they do that I think the app stores, while they’re a good starting point and including Themeforest in there, anything that you post into, that pays you a commission but has all the distribution, it is a nice thing to get started on the side. But to grow that to the point where it supports you is hard because the prices are low and even if you get to the point where it supports and you compile all your hours, you’ve really missed out learning a lot of things that someone who is slogging away, building WordPress plugin or an ad on the Shopify and he’s doing more traditional marketing, I think we’ll learn that.

I don’t have a really strong recommendation here but I do feel like if you can’t market these through other channels, because if you only get one or two a week through the Mac App Store, then obviously there’s just not that many people searching for it in there. Do you go market it elsewhere?

Whatever it is, whatever they purchase, you talk about it in forums or you go on podcasts or whatever, you have a message you’re going to use to promote it, you try to do those to grow sales or do you perhaps get into a space where there’s a little more margin and you can launch products that are at least $50 or $100. Having a lifetime value of $50 or $100 is still a pretty tough gig but definitely it would be a step up from these $15 and $20 sales.

When you’re selling something that’s this cheap, distribution has to pretty much be free. You really need to rank number one or top three in Google or rank high in an app store or in YouTube or in Amazon or in one of these places where people just find you because you just don’t have enough money to really do any type of paid marketing. That’s definitely the challenge here.

One of the things you can think about is you’ve built something that people want or at least there is some sales here and there, you may want to think about doing some of these deal a day sites, they have developer deal a day site. I know you have to cut your prices and it wouldn’t be a sustainable thing but it could be an interesting short term influx of cash that can help motivate you to build that next thing.

I think if I were in your shoes, given what’s going on, I don’t see any easy way to grow these existing products. Nothing jumps out at me aside from doing some of these deal things, which again is a short term thing. Personally, without knowing all the details, I would probably start thinking about a way to launch something else that has just a higher lifetime value, whether that’s a one time or a recurring thing, that just leaves a little more money to do some of these other marketing approach and try your hand at them.

Mike: A couple of things that come to mind is try and pursue an affiliate channel of some kind. There are lots of websites out there that just have dozens and dozens of products or actually, probably tens of thousands of products on them where people can go through and identify what products that they want to push as an affiliate on their own site. It’s hard to get noticed in those so you would probably want to pick and choose different people to approach for that.

If you have a set of customers who keep running into a particular problem that your software works really well to solve, then approach in like the vendor’s, whatever that platform is of that application and trying to get in the door as an affiliate and say, “Hey, bundle this other application, whether it’s your git-ftp deploy or your F-Bar,” that would be a good way to get in front of those people and provide yourself with an additional channel.

Rob: I like that idea. I like that. It could be worth pursuing as well. Find another JV channel, basically, to go through. That’s cool. Thanks for the question, I hope that was helpful.

Our next question is another one from Saphia and he had sent a question a couple of weeks ago. Subject line is we may have built [00:17:04]. He says, “I’m a big fan of the show. I’m still binging my way to the backlog since I discovered it. Thanks for the great advice. I’d like your opinion on something. My co-founder and I, first time founders, have been building a SaaS app for about a year, part time, based on an idea that he had as a business coach. Essentially, the app recreates a process but moves it online. It’s one he’s been successfully charging for offline for a number of years and it solves the problem of lack of clarity and difficulty onboarding new employees in a flat organization.

Our landing page has collected more than 500 emails. The feedback we get on blog and social media is generally super positive. People seem to be very eager to try the product. Now, we have an MVP that we launched with about 10 leads as a free trial for a few weeks. All the feedback is very positive. None of them have yet paid for the product. It’s a flat rate of $99 a month per team. Some have logged a few bugs in quick win features that I’ve deployed in a matter of days. How would you approach this? Should we go down the list of 500 prospects and another 10 leads? Should we focus our attention on the current 10 and get to the core of why they’re not paying? How do we know if we have problem-solution fit and most importantly, if there was a problem in the first place. Could it be that we built a cool looking product that is just nice to have? Am I too impatient? How long does it take to close a sale in the B2B world?”

I’ll let you take this first. At the am I too impatient, it’s like yes, we all are. You can be searching for product market fit for 6, 9, 12 months. This can take a really long time. I would definitely give it a little more time but why don’t you weigh in, Mike, on maybe what you would do next.

Mike: Welcome to the club of impatience. I don’t think that that ever goes away. Nothing will ever go as fast as you want it to or you won’t scale as quickly as you like. In terms of what to do next, if you’ve got a list of 500 people and you’ve only gone through 10 or so, I might look at those 10 a little bit and start asking those people questions. It sounds like maybe either haven’t asked them questions or you’ve asked a couple of people and maybe they didn’t get back to you but you really don’t have enough information right now to go off of.

What I’d be careful of is burning through that entire list of 500 and just trying to on board all of them and get to the point where you’re not getting enough information to make a good decision about what to do next. I think one of the issues that I ran into with Bluetick was that when I was putting people onto the system at first, I didn’t do a very good job of defining what a success card here was and what the next steps were for people and what the timeline was.

I feel like the timeline was probably the most important thing and I was the worst at that. I basically said, “Hey, try this out and let me know when it’s providing value and at that point, then I’ll start charging you.” That absolutely didn’t work. When I turned around and I decided to put a time pressure on it, that’s when people made the decision.

I think part of that was due to the fact that it just took so long to get to that point where, I don’t want to say put my foot down but I drew that line in the sand and said, “Okay, either you’re in or you’re out.” It’s very easy to just let things slide. If you go back to this 10 and you really can’t get answers from them, that’s fine. Just go to the next 10, that’s okay again. You’ve still got 480 more people.

But set clear expectations with them about how the process is going go, how long they’re going to be able to test things for, what you’re going to do if a bug comes up. You can explicitly tell them like, “We will pause the billing, for example, for x number of days.” Or however long it takes us to get that particular issue fixed. If they come to you and there’s a problem, push their trial out by a day or a week or whatever, if that’s how long it takes you. If it’s going to take you six months, obviously, then I would say move on because that’s not going to be beneficial for you and it’s probably not a good fit for them at that point.

But you can essentially iterate through probably 5 to 10 times and you’ll get through 50 to 100 of those people and you’ll find out a lot of information about what is working and what’s resonating with them and what’s not.

Another thing I would do is when you’re going through the on boarding process, don’t let them do it themselves, walk them through it. Get them on board, walk them through signing up with their account, get on a video call with them and watch them do it and watch where they have problems because that’s where you’re going to learn the most from. Having them tell you after the fact is just not going to be very helpful. You want to watch them struggle and watch what they’re doing.

That’s what I did with Bluetick, was watch people sign up for it. Every time they had a problem, I wrote it down. Even if they just looked around on the screen and they weren’t sure where to go next, I wrote it down because that’s a problem. Because when I’m not there to guide somebody or answer a question directly, how are they going to figure it out on their own? If I don’t see that that’s a problem or you don’t see that there’s a problem on that on-boarding area, you’re not going to be able to figure it out especially just by looking at statistics and data from Mixpanel or Kissmetrics or whatever, those things are not going to tell you what’s wrong.

Rob: That was a really good answer. Tell me honestly, did you rehearse that before this episode in front of the mirror?

Mike: No, I did not but I thought about that a lot.

Rob: It was really good. You called out basically handholding and watching people use the app and see where they stumble, you called out digging in with the 10 current ones and not jumping ahead and digging as much as you can into finding out why they’re not paying and setting expectations properly. And then only when you’re convinced that it’s not going to be a fit for them or that you can’t get the answers, then go to the next 10 and then you talk about doing that 5 or 10 more times, which might take months and months.

Remember, I called this the slow launch of Drip where we got our first paying customer in June. There was early access. They weren’t paying yet. But by the end of maybe June or July, I think it was our first payment. We didn’t launch to our big list until November. It took us five months of essentially this exact process of I was letting people in 5 and 10 at a time, looking at where they were succeeding, where they were failing, where they were getting value and doing that. This is the playbook, man. I think you captured it really well.

Sophia, I won’t just say that’s what I would do but that’s what I did and that’s what Mike did. You’re following the path and I think the answer to the question of are you too impatient is yes but we’re all impatient so don’t feel bad about it.

Our next question is from Sameer. He says, “I’m launched but I’m discouraged. What are my next steps?” He says, “I built dcaclab.com for teaching electronics. I feel schools all over the world will love to use it. In fact, some schools already use it but I still am not making enough income to leave my 9:00AM to 5:00PM job. I’ve done everything I can. I’m still pushing forward towards freedom. The most recent thing I’ve done is add a blog to the website so I could start adding content to get more traffic and hopefully more sales. It’s very hard work and I’m working by myself. How would you encourage me to keep going my website? Alexa global ranking is 338,000 and I feel tired. I’m interested in hearing from you on how I can keep strong and not give up.”

What do you think, Mike? Should he keep strong and not give up? I guess it depends on how much progress he’s made, right? It’s like if he has one paying customer and he spent a year, then he probably should give up, maybe.

Mike: It’s hard to answer with the data that we have. I think you have to figure out whether or not you’ve actually got traction. I think we’ve talked about this a little bit in the past but one of the things, and I heard somebody talk about this on a podcast as well, I can’t remember who it was, but they talked about the fact that if you launch a bunch of things, it’s a lot easier to see where the outliers are as opposed to launching let’s say three products and none of them do well. It’s hard for you to see what the outlier is, where things go really, really well and you recognize that.

If I remember correctly, it was somebody who I’d been talking to, Paul Graham, about that where they just didn’t know what success looked like because they didn’t have a very objective opinion. It’s just like, “Oh yes, get as many people as you possibly can onto the system or the platform and grow as quickly as possible.” You’ll know when you’re doing well and you’ll know when you’ve got traction and some success with it.

Unless you get to that point, you really don’t have a good understanding of what that actually looks like. If you don’t have any of those successes, it’s very difficult to be objective about your own situation. That’s how I would look back at the stuff that you have done and talk to other people who have put apps out there and have gotten some level of traction or progress with it and ask them to evaluate the different things that are in your business versus maybe theirs. Even if they’re only a little bit more ahead of you.

Let’s say that they’re making $1,000 a month, they can look at their own statistics and how they got to where they’re at, versus the things that you’re doing now and what you’re getting and let you know where the different problem areas are. There’s not going to be a silver bullet here but it will help point you at least in the right direction.

In terms of the app itself and the direction that I would go to towards trying to get more traffic and more sales, the name itself dcaclab, I get it. It’s direct current alternating current. But if you’re not really into electronics, you’re not going to really understand that. That’s not necessarily the point but the average person may not quite understand the subtleties of the difference between them. If you play with home electronics kits and stuff like that, unless you’re an electrical engineer or have electrical training of some kind, you really don’t completely understand that. It’s not going to come to you like if you’re searching for it on the web like dcac. That’s just not going to come up.

The SEO perspective is probably going to be a little hard. I’m not saying change it. It’s just something to think about. But this screams to me something that you could go to Kickstarter with. People in our age bracket are probably the most likely people to help fund something like this because they want to teach their kids about electronics and how alternating current works and how direct current works and how you can build little pieces of a large robot and experiment with those types of things. It just seems to me like that would be a great channel to go after to try and expand not just the horizon of what the number of people that you can reach but also to get an influx of cash. You could do a heck of a lot more with it.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to do a good Kickstarter and I’m not going to say that it’s easy because I know people who’ve done it and have made lots and lots of money from it or brought in lots of money but you also have to be able to deliver on it. Getting yourself to a certain point where Kickstarter really works well for you, you also have to do a lot of pre marketing in order to essentially accelerate it and pour gas in the fire once you do get it on Kickstarter.

The similar things that come to mind is you could go the route of trying to get into government funded channels like directly into public education, public schools, or even private universities or private schools, but those seem to me like the channel is going to take you a heck of a lot longer in terms of the timeline to develop and I don’t know how much time you have to put into this or even how much energy you have left to do it because it sounds to me like you’re at the end of your rope.

Rob: That’s a thing. Selling directly to schools or universities would be the money fad here in terms of the big contracts. It can make a difference. But it’s like one to two years sales cycles because they budget way out and you gotta convince them it works. I got to be honest. Just looking at the screenshots and I just watched a little video. It’s a pretty sleek tool. It really does look like a circuit board. I think you use it right here on a web browser. It’s interesting here.

It’s one of those tough markets of individuals probably aren’t going to buy it in terms of like, “I wouldn’t buy this for my kids because I might buy a coding class or something. It’s only $42 a year but I just don’t know. They’re not doing enough circuits right now.” You’re just going to get onesie, twosie sales. What you want to do is go after groups like schools, universities, even public, private, all that stuff but that’s just that enterprise sales cycle and so it becomes a challenge.

I like the advice that you laid out. I think that if you have almost no traction, if you literally have a couple hundred dollars in revenue, it might be time to just walk away, sell it on Flippa. You have built something here that has some value but it probably couldn’t sell through a broker if it’s that small. If you have at least say $25,000 a year in revenue, it may have to be profit actually, then you can approach a website or an app broker.

If you really are burned out and just struggling to get past there, that’s not a bad option, then you’ll find that you’ll leave out with a little bit of cash in your pocket and feeling refreshed. That’s something I’ve done a number of times so I know firsthand how that feels to keep an app around longer than it should and feel guilty about it because you’re not committing the time and you feel like you’ve invested a lot of stuff and you have this cause fallacy and you want to keep building it and you don’t know when to stop. I’m not saying that you should stop but you do need to listen to those feelings if you feel like you’ve just been pushing a boulder uphill and you haven’t really made any progress.

I kind of have a question mark in my mind, whether a blog, which is what you mentioned, has an x marketing channel is the right thing. I think if there’s a lot of SEO terms, there’s long tail, people searching for this kind of stuff, then maybe I wouldn’t do it for six months without some type of noticeable ROI. I might do it for a couple of months and of course, the hard part there is you have to need time to build this snowball there.

AdWords isn’t going to work here. Facebook Ads, probably not, given the low lifetime value. There’s not a ton of options aside from the places we’ve talked about before, which are the joint venture deals of is there anyone anywhere who’s bundling these things together. Is there anyone who has an audience that would be interested in this? Like a blog or that you could pay a big 40% affiliate commission to get the nice one time hit. What other free channels are there? Are there forums? Are there discussions? Is there a stock exchange for electronics? I’m almost sure there is. Can you become active in there and you don’t just hit there and pitch your thing, that you answer the questions because you haven’t seen a lot about circuits but you answer questions and then your profile has the links in it.

There are ways to do this. This is not like a high growth market. It’s not something that you’re going to hit a hockey stick by tapping the right thing. It is just going to be a slow build and if you’re interested in it and you still want to push it, then do that. If you’re not, then I would think about launching the next thing because you obviously have some skills to be able to launch this one.

Mike: Something else that came to mind as you were talking was what about building a course around teaching somebody how to use electronics and then bundling a one year subscription of this, or three months, or six months with it. That way, you’re really selling the course but this is kind of an augmentation of that course. That seems like a good idea.

Rob: Yeah. I pay quite a bit of money for my 11-year old who does coding courses. I buy those courses online and then he goes through them and he builds minecraft models and all that stuff. If there is a way to make this interesting, parents are likely to buy things for their kids. That’s an interesting market. It’s not an enterprise sale but it is a way, like you said, they’re going that B2C kind of Kickstarter path, selling the course with this bundled as a Kickstarter or an Indiegogo or something. That may be the best idea we came up with today regarding this business in particular.

Thanks for the question, Sameera. I hope that was helpful.

Our last question for today is about bootstrapping an MVP as a non developer. It’s from Rusty. He says, “I have an idea for a SaaS application. I feel like I have a great in, in an industry that I’m familiar with. However, I’m not confident enough in my abilities as a programmer to actually code a viable product. What’s the most financially viable way for me to get a demonstrable demo of a product up and running without having the personal ability to code it?

Mike: I think the first step is to take it from beyond having a great idea in an industry to talking to people and get in either commitments or actual presales from the people there to give you the confidence that go into that without having a development background and being able to know that you can essentially program your way out of any technical problem that you run into.

It is probably the place to start because if you can get those commitments and have that confidence that people are willing to pay for it and you’re able to find enough of those people, then that’s really the next step. It seems like a clear way to try and figure that out. If you do get that confidence, especially if you have let’s say $20,000 in pre sales, you can take that proof of presales and go to a developer and have a much higher chance of being able to convince your average off the street developer that hey, let me work with this other person or a partner and I’ll either do it for free or do it for a really low rate in exchange for equity or whatever in order to be able to latch onto this business that clearly has some legs to it.

Because what you’ll run into if you go to a developer and say, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea. I’d like you to build it for me.” I can tell you what’s going to happen. They’re going to say, “Haha, no. I don’t think so.” Unless they’re just not any good at it because there’s too many developers who’ve done that too many times and they’ve gotten burned. It just does not work out because the technical side of this is not the problem. The problem is the business side of making sure that you can get in front of enough customers on a repeatable basis. If you can prove that upfront, then you can move on towards actually building the product itself.

But I don’t think that there’s a lot that you need to do in order to even just put something in front of people who you’re talking to. I did Balsamiq mark-ups for Bluetick and that was all I needed in order to get presales. I would recommend having those conversations first and then going to the process of showing them what it might look like and then after that, if you can get them to buy into it, then move on to actually building a prototype until you get to that point where they say, “Yes, I’m willing to pay for it.” Or, “It’s a problem that I have that I need to solve.” It doesn’t matter. You can build all the prototypes you want but you could very well just be building the wrong thing.

Rob: That’s a playbook sort of recap. Have more conversations, have a bunch of one on one conversations. You can go out and you can look in forums and you can look in wherever folks who you’re trying to sell to hangout. If you have any inn in the industry, you already probably know a bunch of people in that industry. Talk to them, describe the idea in as much detail as you can and say, “It’s going to be $100 a month to whatever you think the pricing will be. What do you think?”

If they say yes, then say, “Awesome. I’m going to go build mock ups and I’m going to come back and show you. If I build this product, are you willing to pay that?” And then they’ll say yes or no. Once you get enough people and you really have an idea of what you want to build, like Mike said, make the mock ups. Balsamiq is a great tool. I think today, it’s like sketching and vision but you don’t need to get too fancy with this.

When you come back to them and you say, “Here’s what it is. Here’s what it really does.” They’ll have questions for you. Then you make a decision. If you get a bunch of people ordering and you get the validation, like Mike said, you can go to a developer or if you have savings, you can feel a little more confident that perhaps this thing will work and maybe you go and hire a developer, which is a whole other podcast episode. A lot of challenges there but you can hire someone to build it and essentially hire a cofounder or you could go down a different path.

If it’s a service that can be mocked up and handled by hand like by yourself or by a virtual assistant with minimal software, maybe no software at all like can you mock this thing up, have a fully functional version with Google Forms and Zapier and you copying some kind of a spreadsheet and manually sending emails through Gmail or MailChimp or manually crunching data in Excel spreadsheet, instead of an app actually doing it, then maybe you don’t even need a developer to get to the next step, past the mock-ups.

The next one is, “Okay, now I’m going to do this for you.” I don’t know what your service is so that’s where this part’s hard. But it’s like if you’ve committed that you’re going to bring 20 leads a week to lawyers or to real estate agents, it’s like, yeah you want to build a software to do that ultimately. But now, just get on a phone and generate the leads. Run the AdWords and generate the leads. If you’re going to do SEO analysis on something, then yes, you’ll want a computer to do that eventually. But for now, just do it yourself. Do it manually and develop the algorithm and send them pen and paper in essence. Send them that Excel spreadsheet that is super low tech and see if they’re like, “Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. I’m getting a ton of value out of this.” Or if they’re like, “Yeah, the results really aren’t as interesting as I thought they would be. They don’t necessarily need to, in a lot of cases, actually use a software to get the value that the software will ultimately provide.

That’s kind of your either or. They are depending on the idea. If you can’t do that and that is possible in more and more niches than you think and with more ideas than you think. But if that’s totally not possible, then yeah, you do go down the train of trying to build a prototype/mvp. Those things don’t have to be the same, but in this case, they essentially would be.

Mike: Thanks for the question, Rusty. I think that about wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com.

Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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5 Responses to “Episode 366 | Building an MVP as a Non-Developer, Gaining Traction with Stair-Stepping, and More Listener Questions”

  1. For Samir with DCACLab… I think he should make it free and run Amazon affiliate ads to related products and/or find related affiliate programs to offer. I think there are some opportunities for information products as well. The company/product name should be friendlier as well. Playing around the site and it’s pretty cool! So much potential here.

  2. Thanks Rob and Mike for your advice, frankly, developing a course bundled with a subscription is a good idea.

    As for the domain name, yes, it’s not strongly related to the topic, as at that time (8 years ago), I did not have a clue about SEO.. it a good idea to have another domain name pointing to the same website?

    @Greg How would I make the product name more friendly? after all those years, would it still possible?

    Thanks all for encouragement and support.

  3. Hey Samir

    I had a similar issue a few years ago regarding not having an appropriate domain name.

    What I did was setup a new site under the new domain (new branding etc). Copied across all the content and then added 301 redirects to htaccess file on the old site for each article.

    Over several weeks google sent traffic to the new site and all is fine. I then parked my old domain.

    There’s a lot of resources on this, here are 2 for you:

    https://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection

    https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/7430/what-is-a-301-redirect-and-why-should-you-care.aspx

    Good luck!

  4. Thanks Mits, I will read about it,,

  5. Very nice Samir.