I just pulled the plug on one of my favorite products, called Readership. It was a painful process; I loved the concept, which I’ll explain below. It had solved one of my own problems, and I felt like I had executed pretty well on the idea.
But it simply wasn’t working.
And because this question of “keep trying or call it quits” is one of the most frequent questions Makers ask ourselves, but also one of the hardest to answer, I figured writing about it would help me distill the lessons from this experience. And in turn, hopefully it’ll help others facing the same situation.
Readership’s idea is pretty straightforward. You start with an audience on Twitter and it would identify the domain name of all the links they’ve interacted with. By focusing on the domain name instead of the pieces of content themselves, we could tease out the most popular sites or media outlets within an audience.
Armed with that information, PR pros could be more data-driven with the outlets they pitched stories to, marketers could make smarter ad buys, and both could uncover new sites their audience cared about.
In hindsight, there were two things I did well.
GOOD: Talked to a Lot of People
I reached out to a long list of contacts at PR firms or ad agencies to get their take right when I got a rough MVP working. I’d create a sample report for the audience of their choosing and send it over for their thoughts.
GOOD: Solid Launch
Having launched stuff too early before, I rolled out to some smaller outlets first to build up a nice little waiting list, squash bugs, and then once everything was working, I play the Product Hunt, Betalist, etc. cards.
So that’s the good.
Maybe not “bad”, but there were definitely working signs.
BAD: Didn’t Click Quickly with Target Audience
As I talked to those PR firms and agencies and other marketers, I found myself having to explain not just what it was, but how they could use it. The value simply didn’t click at first or, in some cases, ever. Hemlock clicked, Snapshot clicked, but Readership was met with blank stares.
BAD: Threw Good Time After Bad
At that point, I was having serious doubts based on that early feedback. But I told myself “hey, the MVP is working, the full product is almost done…you might as well finish.”
BAD: Didn’t Stick to Our Plan
My business partner and I have a few key goals, but one of them is to continue to stay focused and iterate and build on our existing platform to add value. At first I thought I could build Readership with the data we already had, but that didn’t work. Instead of sticking to the plan, I wasted a ton of time building a whole new backend.
BAD: Anecdotal, Rare Examples as Justification
Along the way, I had a couple moments at my day job where a Readership report had come in super handy. But those moments were so random and rare, I should have ignored them because they didn’t represent a predictable pattern or group that I could pinpoint through marketing or sales.
In hindsight, I think there were two key moments where I should have realized that my pet project should have been shut down or postponed:
- When potential users struggled to see the value.
- When I felt like I should quit when the product was almost done, but I didn’t want to see my work to that point go to waste.
The dumb thing is that I’d shelved products before based on the exact same kind of feedback. But I think the headline of this post is key—it was my favorite product. I really did love the idea, the data it crunched, and how it looked when a report was done.
But I think I let that enthusiasm for the product blind me from the fact that the product had no audience. And instead of cutting my losses early, I wasted a ton of time trying to chase a dream, ignorant of the speedbumps.
The big takeaway here is to not get whisked away by a Sunk Cost Fallacy—essentially, throwing good money after bad money, for the sake of “might as well finish it”. Additionally, just because you love a project and found it occasionally useful does not mean that people will agree or pay for it. Be mindful of true goal in mind: to bring people a product that will save them time and money, while also providing you income. By losing sight of the prize, you set your project up for a painful fall.
When crafting a new project, follow your heart; but also follow your brain. Talk to the people around you. Strive to break your own bias. Don’t waste energy fitting a square peg in a round hole.
Do you have your own misadventures in pushing a beloved product too hard? Have your own advice to share? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom.