Building out a new product

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 8, 2019, 11:17 PM | comments: 0

About two months ago I wrote that I was working on a hosted version of my forum app, for fun and profit. Naturally I hate on myself a little because I haven't made huge progress on moving it forward, but when I look at the commit history, I've actually done quite a bit. The recurring charge stuff is working, and it's sending email about purchases, too. I got an email last night for a test forum that I "bought" a month ago, and the test charge was logged with the payment processor. Neat!

As I've written a hundred times, my hobby business happened by accident, and ad-sponsored content doesn't pay anymore. Heck, PointBuzz has slightly more users than last year, but they look at less stuff and what they do look at is mostly on mobile devices, which doesn't pay. But I like having a side hustle, I just liked it better when it could pay my mortgage with it! So I've dusted off the experience from a number of different jobs over the last two decades and started applying it. The product side of any business has always been something that I've kind of half-assed in terms of my role, with varying degrees of success. Even in my current job, there were some obvious structural things I could see that needed to change when I started, but I was relieved when there were people dedicated to the cause of product development. The fun part for me is still nerding on technology and building teams.

This hosted forum app has gone largely as I expected. The 80/20 rule is as present as ever, where 80% of the work goes toward 20% of the value, and vice versa. Indeed, that first fifth of work lit up most of what I needed to make the project a product. Now I'm trying to be ruthless in deciding what parts are really necessary to ship, and what can wait. As I look at my backlog, there is a ton of stuff that definitely adds polish and shine, but I don't need it. I can already take money and automate the provisioning for customers. I can even prove they'll get charged monthly.

The rules are different for where you are in the lifecycle of the product, too. Seeing as how I currently have zero customers, I'm a long way from even proving that anyone wants this. Later on, when I have a few and they can tell me what they need, I can respond to that and have a great deal more focus. If I can score 75 customers, I can bring on help. At that point, I can also generate large data sets to really understand how people use it, and be even more focused on what is working and what isn't.

For now though, I'm starting from nothing, and that's kind of fun. It's also simple, which makes it ideal for a hobby. There are plenty of hard things to tackle in my day job.

Next up on my agenda, I need to cancel recurring payments, allow users to update credit card info, and allow the customers to choose a theme or insert their own style. None of these are terribly hard, they just require time. It feels like a legitimate thing though that I can bring to market. I don't have expectations for it, which might be a mistake, but if a dozen customers sign up, at least I can cover the car payments. That's not a bad hustle.


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