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Aim to be valuable and you'll be indispensable.

This is one of my best pieces of advice for indie hackers.

If you want to start a real business (and not just be a maker) then you need to be valuable, not just useful or neat.

You might think, what's the difference?

One of the classic products of first time indie hackers is some sort of task management or time management system. They feel they have the skills to pull it off, and it would be useful for them because right now they are struggling to focus and get their tasks done.

Useful is great, and it's great for practicing skills. But, then these indie hackers publish and promote their tool as a product that others can use. Here's where things start to go wrong.

They think that because it's useful, that other people will want to use it. However, there's little value in a task management product. It's something that can be solved by so many other things - digital or physical. There's no value in solving that problem, because it's not a problem that needs to be solved.

Oh, so I should make a tool that blocks distractions then, because then they'll have an easier time getting their tasks done!

Wrong again. Useful, sure. Valuable? No.

(The same goes for uptime monitoring tools, most niche job boards, product directory sites, etc.)

So then, what is valuable? What makes something indispensable?

Summarizing, (B2B) people mostly only care about a few things:

  • Making more money.
  • Saving more money.
  • Saving more time.

Also (B2C) they care somewhat about:

  • Social signaling / fitting in.
  • Entertainment and shared experiences.
  • A sense of purpose, progress and direction.

In almost all B2B business cases, the first three things are the only things that matter. No business uses a product because it helps them fit in with the crowd, it's because the tool helps them make more money, save more money, or save more time.

When you're a business, if you can make more money then you can spend it to grow the business (ads, hiring people, contracting work, etc.). Businesses can use more time to grow the business. Businesses can use saved expenses to grow the business.

In summary, businesses care about growing their business. And if your product doesn't help them do that, then it's not valuable. It's not indispensable, it's dispensable.

The Single Reason Closet Tools Is Reasonably Successful

The single reason that Closet Tools is successful is because the tool is indispensable. It's indispensable, because it is valuable.

Every month I get emails from users thanking me for making something that allows them to pay their bills, quit their jobs, spend more time with their kids, and put food on the table.

Every month, Closet Tools helps its customers make thousands of dollars in additional revenue, while only costing them tens of dollars a month. That's valuable.

Closet Tools helps its customers save time, make more money, and save money (by not having to use more expensive services).

How To Make Something That's Valuable

As mentioned above, you want to make things that save people time, save them money, or make them money.

Here's my tip: don't just solve problems, be valuable in a market.

You want to serve a market, not just make useful things for anyone. You want to solve problems, but only solve problems where the core solution helps the users save time, make money, or save money.

This is how you make a product that people not only pay for, but they can't imagine living without. This is how you can build a long-term business that grows automatically, and people tell their friends about.

What do you think? Let me know below 👇

  1. 4

    This is awesome, thanks Jordan!

    How did you pick your market for Closet Tools? Did you prioritize size, affinity to potential clients, a combination of these things, something else?

    1. 2

      @AndrewV is spot on. I didn't do any market research, I just built the tool for my wife to save her some time.

      There were already competitors in the space, but I built my tool a bit different so it had some advantages.

      1. 1

        Thanks! What do you think about market research then? (in the context of indie hackers)

    2. 2

      I don't quite remember the story, but just listened to him on the IH podcast on the way back from a trip the mountains. It was a good listen:

      https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/187-jordan-oconnor-of-closet-tools

      I think it was: Helped his wife with a problem she was having, released a free tool for others to use (with a newsletter signup), continued to build on it, then started charging.

  2. 2

    I've been often surprised how often a software product was pitched to me (previous job at an animation studio) that had no clear indicator of how the price they were asking would provide value to the company. A lot of novel solutions to "problems" sure, but at the end of the day, would the company as a whole care? Does it make them money? Save them money? Give more time (indirectly making/saving money)?

    This is something I've been thinking about for my own B2B product recently - and wrote a blog article critical of other, larger solutions - because I know it has value but I also don't have that clear answer to those questions yet.

    https://www.metastash.io/blog/top-reasons-all-in-one-solutions-struggle

    Right now my rough draft answer would be:

    • Saves creatives time & effort, allowing them to focus on being creative
    • Saves managers time & effort organizing data, streamlining operations

    I'm curious, when you started building Closet Tools, did you know your answers to those types of questions clearly? Do you feel it has shifted over time?

  3. 2

    I like the entire article, but there's one part that stood out to me: You summarizing the types of tools IHers have built over the past few years (or longer), including myself :-P

    There's this weird thing that happens in groups. A new idea comes up, and a bunch of people jump on and start building similar tools. I'm definitely not immune, and it can be difficult to put the ideas circulating in a community in context, and thinking outside of the group.

    The broader point of making/saving money is great, and it's also really challenging.

    1. 9

      It's called "being in a bubble". Developers like to build for developers because they tend to understand what's useful/valuable to developers.

      It doesn't usually work out (sometimes it does) because developers are a particularly cheap bunch. They like to build things themselves, and build custom solutions for their use case.

      Luckily 99.9% of people in the world are not developers, and don't need developer tools, and aren't checking product hunt to see what hot new thing is being launched.

      Build things for people who can't build it themselves!

  4. 2

    Fantastic write-up! In summary, make a business more money or save them time or money. Easy to remember! Thanks for writing this!

  5. 2

    This is awesome!!! ;)

  6. 2

    Wow this is great, thank you.

    1. 1

      Glad you liked it 👍

  7. 2

    Great post. Those 6 bullet points make a great filter to run ideas through.

    1. 1

      For sure! I'm sure there's some other things (like satisfying hunger, or protection, etc.) But these filters are good for Indiehackers.

  8. 2

    Thanks Joran Is a great Post.

    1. 1

      Glad you liked it!

  9. 1

    Hey @jdnoc, how can you be helpful / provide value without giving away the full value of your product / service / business?

    1. 1

      Charge money for it! Many people will gladly pay if it's actually valuable for them.

  10. 1

    Great advise.
    I am certainly guilty of building something useful instead of indispensable.

    How did you go about distinguishing useful vs indispensable?

  11. 1

    Great article, certainly something I’m aspiring to do with PeerIdeas!

  12. 1

    Choose your goal wisely. This is a predicate for success

  13. 1

    Love this. The funny thing is, I know the "Sell painkillers, not vitamins" principle, but being able to put it into action feels harder than it seems! Maybe that's why the trend of IHers building dispensable projects... the mistakened perception of being a painkiller when it's really a vitamin (even my current project has that problem).

    You nailed the factors for B2B. I think it works for B2C too, isn't it?

  14. 1

    Simple yet awesome insights. Make business more money, save them money and time. That's what we're doing with our email marketing SasS for creators. There's a big direct competitor in the niche we serve. We're much more affordable affordable while offering almost the same benefits. People also make more money sending emails and also save tons of time without having to manually send emails one by one.

    Thank you for this reminder.

  15. 1

    Ouch, seems like you were talking directly to me! Thank you, Jordan!

    My product (timemute.com) is about "saving time", but I guess it would still fit as your first-time maker product description. Now I'm having second thoughts.

    Maybe I should pivot it and go after B2B as an employee time-tracker? Or simply pursue another idea? Thoughts?

    1. 2

      I think building something like that is fine if you want to practice building products - I just wouldn't expect much from it unless you had massive distribution channels.

      You totally could make it work, don't get me wrong, but it would be a lot harder than making things for people that don't already have good solutions.

      There's so many other markets out there that need software to automate things, think bigger!

  16. 1

    Excellent write up . One thing which I find it difficult to understand is the three points about b2c.

    1. 2

      Think Netflix or YouTube for entertainment value.

      Nike, Supreme, Patagonia, Mercedes for social signaling.

      Competitions, awards, certifications, and titles for progress and purpose.

      1. 1

        Thanks @jdnoc . This is awesome. Hoping to follow your footsteps and be valuable.

        All the best for your next endeavour. :)

  17. 1

    Excellent advice Jordan! It is a common mistake to focus on a product that is useful instead of valuable. It is a better perspective to think of something indispensable for potential customers. I will keep it in mind to avoid future mistakes.

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