I spent the past 10 months building a marketplace product, team and audience. I made mistakes at every step of the journey and am back to the drawing board. 

My goal is to get to product market fit and revenue as quickly as possible. I’m tracking my progress on Indie Hackers each week for learning, feedback and reference. 

It’s much easier to avoid what you don’t want than to get what you do want. Here are some things that I’ve learned over the past 8 months and recommend avoiding.

Avoid problems/solutions that are outside your circle of competence.

How close are you to the problem you’re solving? Can you directly experience the value that your solution provides?

Proximity to problem/solution is really important and something I don’t see many people talk about. It’s not impossible to solve problems you don’t have but I think it’s more difficult if you can’t directly experience the value your product or service is supposed to deliver.

We built a real estate marketplace that streamlined closing inspections. The product was free and we made money off the transaction.

The idea was a result of many customer conversations and observations. I never went through this process personally but our prospective users thought it would be cool.

We initially thought realtors were our core user based on all the direct feedback. We learned that this wasn’t a problem for the average realtor since they go through the process 6-10x times per year.

Then we thought closing coordinators (realtor assistants) were our core user because they managed the process more frequently. We iterated the product based on their feedback. It was great!

We were struggling with usage and adoption so I checked in with our closing coordinators (CC). Here’s how one conversation went down…

Me: Hey, how’s everything going? 

CC: It’s going great. Yea, everything has been pretty good. 

Me: Awesome to hear. Is there anything going wrong? Anything we can improve? 

CC: No, no, I don’t think so. I haven’t logged on in a few weeks but think it’s going ok.

Me: You haven’t logged on? We’ve seen a couple closings go through. Who is using it?

CC: Oh, we don’t really mess with this stuff. We have virtual assistants that do this part of the transaction. 

Me: 😳 (after hand crafting a product for a user that doesn’t use it).

Not only was this not a problem for the brokers who told us it would be cool, it wasn’t a problem for their employee’s assistant’s virtual assistants… 

Don’t prematurely grow something people don’t love.

Don’t waste time growing before you have something worth growing.

The more I make products, the more I realize how simple this is…

  1. Make something 10 people love.
  2. Make something 100 people love.
  3. Make something 1000 people love.
  4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.... You get the point.

I wasted a lot of time lining up new meetings, fiddling around with a CRM and making sure our design was great. None of this stuff matters if the product doesn’t stand up on its own two legs. 

Make something useful that people love. Then grow it. If people don’t find the first product or service useful, keep tweaking it. Don’t waste time on anything but making something that people love.

Here are some other things you can prematurely waste time on.

  • Fundraising 
  • Optimizing
  • Social media
  • Culture building 
  • Scaling
  • Community management 

Don’t be fooled by false positives.

I went down the wrong path 4 months longer than I should’ve because we had, what felt like signs of hope.

Signs of hope

  • We met with the largest real estate companies in numerous major markets. Brokerage owners asked to invest and thought the product would be cool.
  • We were invited to interview at YC.
  • We received acqui-hire interest and offers from top real estate startups.

Realities

  • The owners hadn’t gone through the process in years. Their employees didn’t want to waste time on our product. It was insignificant, didn’t save them time or make them money.
  • YC recognized that our core value prop was weak and recommended we test it ASAP.
  • The acqui-hiring startups saw us as scrappy and potentially valuable employees. Nothing to do with our direction.

All these things made me feel like we were really onto something. Meanwhile, we couldn’t activate the customers that initially told us the product would be cool.

Don’t let false positives trick you into thinking you’re making progress.

What's next?

The biggest lesson I learned over the past 8 months is how much I love doing this stuff. I deeply enjoy helping users, building products, testing directions, making mistakes and learning. I don’t think startups die. I think they just give up. I started this thing 8 months ago and am going to keep going.

I’m spending this week on ideas and doing it differently than I’ve done in the past. 

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📬➡️ https://www.getrevue.co/profile/Jhoff

Thanks for reading,
@jhoff

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