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Product development for indie hackers

Ivan Homola
August 23rd, 2020 · 5 min read

Today, I would like to open a topic of indie hacker product development. Many founders struggle to build a product that people want. Based on the research, the number one cause of startup failure is no market need.

startup failure statistics

Founders are working on products adding feature by feature, hoping their users finally see the value. But they don’t. Product development costs are skyrocketing, and you run out of money or time pretty soon. I know many founders (mostly tech guys) who were working on their products for years before trying to sell it. It’s tough to find a market fit when you have such a big project later on.

product market fit

The thing I like about being an indie hacker is that you can slowly build your project. However, you need to know where to start and define the first useable version of your product.

Things I did wrong in the beginning

I decided to work on my projects full-time starting this year, and I’ve learned pretty fast how not to do it. You can read tons of articles and books, but you end up learning on your own mistakes anyway. My first project is interactive learning materials, Prezelive. Let’s sum up a few things I would do differently now.

I didn’t set expectations for the project (or I set the wrong ones)

I have many ideas in my backlog. There was one criterium I underestimate, and that’s early profitability or ability to sell it to the market.

I have a great project, positive feedback, first users, growing market, etc. but I didn’t realize I need to make money from it. My target group, teachers, are not willing to spend much money, and they usually don’t want to do the extra step to provide a better lecture. If I didn’t have to pay my bills, I would probably keep working on this project.

I was playing with the product too long

I mean, I did an MVP in a month and a half while learning to code back-end, but it still feels like ages to me.

After MVP I starter to “play with the product” pivoting it, trying to find a market fit somewhere…it’s hard to define a point when you should give up on the project and move on to the next idea.

I should have done better market research

Usually, you only need to ask a few people from the industry. But it depends on how you ask.

“I’m working on this product. It does this and that, what do you think about that?” - that’s how NOT to do it.

You need to find out how your target audience is doing the job right now. What tools are they using, if any? Are they satisfied? Is there any significant value you can bring to them?

Don’t try to sell your idea. Ask about the problem instead.

I buried 80% of my ideas by asking the right questions, which is good.

My product development workflow right now

#1 Creating an ecosystem

I suggest you create your system, choose suitable tech stack, and learn how to build things fast. Select a domain you like and want to get more knowledge from it.

Audience

First of all, I think about my target audience. How can I reach them? Is it an exciting domain for me, personally? I focused on teachers in my first project. I’m not a teacher, and I’m not even interested in this domain at the moment. That was a problem I overlooked.

In my future projects, I’m going to focus on product development, marketing, and sales. These topics are close to me, and I would like to work in this area.

That’s why I’m writing this blog. Learning SEO, growth hacking, marketing automation, and launching my new product in this field.

Landing page

I’m super fast in creating new landing pages. I tuned up my tech stack, and I’m able to create a beautiful working landing page in a couple of hours.

For the inspiration, here is what I use:

  • HTML & CSS template based on Cruip
  • Mailchimp for a newsletter
  • Hugo + Netlify CMS for building website and blog
  • Netlify for website hosting

Development

This one is still in the process of shaping up. I’ve learned Laravel earlier this year. Later, I tried NodeJS + React, and now I’m switching back to Laravel + Vue for my MVPs. The reason for this tech stack is the speed of MVP development.

I’m not saying it’s the best code I’ve ever written, but it’s working. That’s what my mindset is right now. Deliver the first version of the product as fast as possible.

Btw, I use:

  • Stripe for payments
  • MailerLite for email automation
  • Digital Ocean / Hetzner for cloud hosting
  • Cloudflare for CDN with SSL

#2 Defining minimum viable product

You might have many features in your mind but start with the one—the most critical. Ask yourself what the most significant pain point for your target group is. Or, even better, ask them what it is.

Don’t compete with your competitors by adding more and more features.

Find something you can be unique and solve the customer problem. You don’t have to cover the full 100% product functionality in the beginning. Users value features based on multiple aspects. Some features are critical, but some are just nice to have. Put extra effort into those essential features and attract people that way.

Each MVP should have goals. To validate the product, get the first users, and gain feedback.

I give you an example: Feedback Fish.

There are dozens of customer feedback management products. I see a new project of this kind on Product Hunt almost every week. If someone asked them why they did this product or how it differentiates from competitors, they would usually name one or two features and different (cheaper) pricing.

Feedback Fish did it differently. They created a simple product based on a single feature: Feedback widget you can place on your website and gather feedback.

That’s it. They miss other tens of features, but they created this MVP during a weekend hackathon.

Let’s sum it up:

  • They found the first users. ✅
  • They validated the idea (they have some sales). ✅
  • They received feedback and can build a bigger product around it. ✅

Not a bad start at all.

#3 Ship it as soon as possible

Set a mindset of launching new products early. I know it’s hard. It’s difficult for me too. I’m a perfectionist who wants to have a beautiful product that’s delightful to use.

I challenged myself to save even an hour of development if it’s possible. In my new project of data mining for marketing purposes, QuestionsMiner, we are doing half of the process manually. I realized customers would wait an extra few hours to get a custom report if it had a significant value. It doesn’t have to be instant.

I want to find out if we can bring enough value to them and if they are willing to pay for it. I have in mind it’s just the first version of the product, and we can add more features later. But we have to start at some point.


I’m curious about what you’ve learned in product development recently.

What are you doing differently right now? Let us know.

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