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Fake it 'till you build it

Can you "fake it 'till you make it" in software? It turns out, yes. "Fake it till you make it" in SaaS/apps comes in a form called "fake it till you build it".

I've analyzed all (400+) IndieHackers interviews and found plenty of interesting examples of founders who did this successfully.

(Fake) with a landing page until you (build) as a software

Anatomonics ($800/mo) is an audio system that helps people memorize the human anatomy. To validate demand for the idea, they used the "minimum viable test" principle:

To validate the idea, I decided to create a true "minimum viable product" (MVP). In fact, I called it an MVT: minimum viable test. The original site was a plain text one-page website with a simple logo and a few iStock images. There was no product to "order", so I added an Aweber opt-in box with the text, "To start your order simply fill in your email below."

Those that filled out their email got the message, "Unfortunately we are upgrading Anatomonics right now, so it is unavailable for order. We will email you shortly once the system has relaunched."

Did this work? You judge:

I drove traffic through a handful of cold emails and Adwords. Out of something like 200 visitors, eight people submitted their email addresses to my test form. This meant that 1 in 25 people were interested in a product I hadn't even built yet. Needless to say, I felt pretty good about moving forward with the idea.

No product. No engineers. Just a simple one-page website with a fake "start your order" form.

I need more than a landing page to show how my product works!

There are plenty of ways to "fake" a product besides using a sleek landing page. One way is using wireframes, a layout of a web page that demonstrates what interface elements will exist on key pages.

Ghost ($62k/mo) is an open-source web publishing platform. They've used this wireframe approach to validate the product:

Just to give you an idea of how basic the MVP ("minimum viable product") was that we took to Kickstarter: A good 50% of what we showed in the video was faked. It was a real, working Node.js application, but the majority of it was missing. Huge parts of the UI were simply screenshots of UI mockups with loading animations. We knew we could code this if we needed to, but it didn't make sense to put in all that work just to make a video that might flop. So we did the minimum!

Fake it (as a human) till you build it (as software)

SQRL ($1k/mo) is an app to improve your well-being. Coding an app to track fitness and other health metrics takes time. How do you test if people would like/use it? By pretending to be the software:

My first attempt to validate this idea involved running a one month test. I pestered about 40 acquaintances for a screenshot of their steps every evening, and the next day I would pretend to be SQRL, texting all sorts of motivation first thing in the morning with a phone number they didnít know I had.

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"Fake it till you monetize it"

If people really need to experience your product before deciding to buy it, can you hack a clunky alpha version and show it? That's why GifShre ($10kmo), a gift editor for Instagram did. They had a free, clunky, alpha version which converted a GIF to watermarked video. This took them about a week.

Here's what they did to make a nice, clean-code, final v1 of the app:

My hope was users would pay for a fake in-app purchase that removed a "Made with GifShare" watermark I attached to each free video. Here I was hoping for only two or three paying users. I got five.

I'd finally reached a point where there was no validation left to do besides actually launching the app.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to "fake it till you build it". Stay tuned for more approaches I'll be covering next week.

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  1. 7

    I've also seen people "fake it" with a social media post/video. There was a guy that posted a FB ads spy tool as a video and got over 500 comments as a result. So definitely a good way to validate a product.

    1. 3

      I have around 7-8 examples of this. Will probably do a post next week or the week after on this topic.

    2. 3

      You just need to be careful not to blatantly self-promote. That can get you permanently banned from the group.

      1. 3

        Yeah, better spend a few days to get a feel of how people "soft promote" themselves.

  2. 5

    Years ago, I read on the Net(wish I could give proper credit but can't recall where or who wrote it) about this great idea for validating products, that I have used many times since. It went like this:

    1. Create a simple one-page landing page and start driving traffic to the site. If anyone visits the page, you have a way to comunicate with your audience and know the cost of acquring a click.
      You also know what conversion you will get from ad to web site visit.
      If you don't get vclicks or can't get enough traffic, rethink your traffic generation strategies or abandon the idea.

    2. Next. create an signup box and re-run ad (or variant of the ad). This gives you the conversion from advert to email signup. If no-one signs up, then its safe to say no-one is going to buy. So either rewrite the copy or abandon the idea.

    3. Create a range of offerring each at a different price (no more than 4 offerings) with each having an order button.
      When someone clicks on the button, it generates an error message saying something like "ordering is down at the moment, we hope to be back up again soon".

    This you gives the conversion from advert to order, and which price-point is the sweetspot.

    Once all this info is all collated, you will now know if you have a successful product or not!

    If all the numbers stack up (ad spend vs possible sales from ad traffic) , then create you are likely to have a possible success. Otherwise walk way and try another idea.

    All this will cost you is a $10 domain name and some minimal ad spend!

    Its worked great for me so far!

    1. 1

      Makes sense. Do you think you can do the same with a post though? Create a Facebook post and run an ad with an "order" link. Then have a "Continue" button on the order link. If they click on it, then show the error.

      I keep thinking this whole 'create a landing page' advice was pre-Facebook, where you couldn't create a native post and run ads to it.

      1. 1

        Sure.. But what if you are not driving traffic from FB? Then a FB might not be approriate.

        The traffic might be coming from an offline advert, or even from buying space in someone else's newsletter.

        Its all about finding out if anyone will press the buy button, before you create the product. If no-one wants to buy, then don't create the product :)

  3. 3

    So basically you can fake it until you build/monetize/really-build it.

    1. 3

      Fake it till you make it ;)

  4. 2

    This is exactly what I did. I started pursuing a client for my startup ShopMe (www.getshopme.com). Once I had a feeling that they were really interested, I started building it even though they thought it was already almost done. By the time we signed contracts the app was finished and ready to go!

  5. 2

    Selling before building is an amazing way to do right things. Sell in a call for more insights.

  6. 1

    Good article. I think the first idea of having a landing page to validate an idea is super powerful and underutilized. I made a free app playing with the concept and adding a gamification element to it: https://www.iwanttobuildthis.com/

    How would you make it even better?

  7. 1

    My friend did this actually, which is now a VC-backed startup. He built a complete website talking about his new car GPS tracking with mobile app solution. And he optimized it for SEO and outranked competitors for really good keywords. And he got really good, serious inquiries... But truthfully the product doesn't exists yet.

    Of course eventually he got the product built, marketed, got into fleet management, and also later got VC investment. Now the company is also into telemetry and rewarding drivers for good driving behavior (and also driving location data).

  8. 1

    Totally swapped out images before when I was spitballing with clients.

  9. 1

    Really great post, thank you.

    I’m about to test a value proposition and after reading your post, I’m asking my self if I should change my CTA from « join early access » to « sign up now ».

    I don’t know what to think about the fact that people will be probably disappointed to see a message like « We’re building the product » after that.

    Cheers !

  10. 1

    This is definitely an approach that I should follow more when diving into side-hustles. 🤔 But I think it's still helpful to build a quick MVP for yourself (especially if you're not sure if it will work on the technical side).

  11. 1

    This is good to remember. Its pretty much the MVP (Minimal Viable Proposition), the test that sees if there is demand for your product. It has to be "click to buy", maybe abort once they type the first digit of their credit card. Not "click to register your interest", since that doesn't necessarily mean intent.

    I did this recently on eBay - listed something I could go buy at Kmart if someone ordered, but allowed me to list something without stock to test it out.

    1. 2

      The same way, I regularly see really good local food products on local little town markets, and I ask myself « Could I built a e-commerce shop with those products and make a profit ? »

  12. 1

    This. Is. Awesome.

    Even more motivation for why people should get their idea out there! I love it.

  13. 1

    Worth noting to be careful when doing this with actual physical products as you can land in hot water for misleading customers if the final product ends up being different to what you advertised. In a way crowdfunding overcomes this as users know they're investing in a project as opposed to a product.

  14. 1

    Examples like these really expand my mental framework of what could be done. Thanks!

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