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31 Comments

Help me break the pattern of "Build it, post it, let it die."

I have worked on a lot of products over the years, a LOT, probably enough to compete with Google Graveyard. However, none of them have really been successful. I find myself following the same doomed failure for every project, build it, post it, let it die.

By that I mean I get right down to writing code day one. I'll do a little but of validation by seeing if there are competitors, seeing if I can do better, a little keyword research, but then it's headfirst into my favorite IDE.

One the product is finished I'll post it around on different sites, Reddit, Indiehackers, ShowHN, Insta, Twitter, etc. Throughout development I may post about my idea once or twice just to get some thoughts, but typically I build in "stealth mode", because most of my ideas aren't groundbreaking they could be easily replicated if someone wanted. This rarely leads to a ton of engagement, more likely it will return no interest. This is where I'm at with my latest released product ImgMark.

After I build it, and post it around, and get no engagement, I find myself losing interest and letting it die. I'll typically move on to the next project and just let the site run until the domain name expires and I don't renew.

I now want to try really hard to break this mold, whether it be saving my latest product or doing my next project right from the start. I know I need to start earlier with spreading the word, I know once I build it people won't just come, but it seems like at every step its just simpler to push through to the next one without doing that one right.

Any tips?

  1. 15

    I think your problem lies here: "Once the product is finished..."

    A website is not a painting, or a sculpture, or a building. It is created and destroyed every time a user visits it and closes the tab. You can and should grow it basically every day. Every little feature.

    I suffer from the same thing. Especially when it's close to being "finished" I double down on it, crunch hard, and then when I release it I am so destroyed by it that even looking at the git repo gives me ptsd. There's no way I'm sitting down to it ever again.

    But a website is only finished once you delete or sell it.

    Start small. Release early. Be consistent with tiny updates. No one is gonna steal your idea until it doesn't matter for you if they do because no one will give a shit about it or get it until you make bank.

    1. 3

      I completely agree! I definitely get to the point of “finished” i.e I feel comfortable sharing it as everything “works” and then no one buys in immediately and I start losing interest. Then I get hit with the “Git Repo gives me PTSD”, I know every piece of tech debt, I know every piece that might not scale, and it makes me not want to go further. Combined with my “Shiny Object Sydrome” Is rather just move on to the next project with a clean slate. It is definitely going to take a mindset shift to just stick with it and keep working to make something actually stick.

  2. 10

    You are expecting overnight success, that’s the problem.

    Here’s a reality check: it will take a year for your product to build traction and make money. A whole year.

    Next time you start building, build something knowing that it will take a year after launching for anything interesting to really happen. It will change your mindset from a short term to a long term view and force you to commit to a project you’re passionate about.

    1. 3

      Given that it takes a year to get traction on something, how do you decide that it's worth it to keep grinding that whole year or that the idea really is just bad?

      1. 3

        You need positive signals of course. If your target market isn't buying your product, then you should ask them what's stopping them from buying

        You'll need to pivot, experiment and see what works at the micro-level

        If you still can't get traction, then something is wrong. Maybe your positioning is bad.

        Expecting success after an year is fine, but you must see positive signals / feedback every week

        Grow slowly but consistently.

    2. 1

      That makes sense, and of course I knew that already but every time I convince myself that somehow this one will be easier and catch quicker. And every time I tell myself “Oh it will only take 3 weeks to make so if I just build it what could I lose?” But everytime I lose those 3 weeks (or more) because that’s all the effort I put in. Even the project I just released was another attempt at a “quick win” and definitely can’t see myself focusing on only that for a whole year.

      This project was just a short distraction from a main project that I’ve been working on that I could definitely see myself spending a lot of time on, and that’s why I’ve started this thread to make sure I do that one right.

  3. 7

    For me, I choose to build something I would use myself, so even if I have no customer, the product will live.

  4. 5

    Here is a new pattern you can try :
    Research it, Landpage it, Prototype it & iterate until you find a niche interested in what you do.

    Then, you can build it, post it and grow it!

    Sometimes you just need a little mindset change to succeed.

  5. 4

    "because most of my ideas are groundbreaking they could be easily replicated if someone wanted"

    dude even if this is true, most people do not have the energy / time / self belief / (insert another thing here) to execute.

    1. 2

      Whoops nope that was a typo supposed to say aren't groudbreaking, which I guess lends even more to point that people won't bother taking it!

  6. 3

    I think you must learn from the past and from many successful entrepreneurs who always say that ideas cost nothing. Yes, maybe your ideas could be easily replicated if someone wanted, but apparently, nobody did.

    Most people are divided into two categories: those who like to build their own stuff and those who just consume. If somebody wants to steal an idea, they usually look for established businesses because they already know there's a big market. Nobody would put their effort into building someone else's idea without having solid proof that people would pay for it.

    So the next time you can try just building a landing page and collecting emails. This way you can try an idea every week. One of them would get enough potential users that you can sell to once your project is ready.

  7. 3

    Read the book Start from Zero: Build Your Own Business & Experience True Freedom. If you cannot afford to buy it, you can download it for free from the dark web.

    1. 1

      I’ll definitely take a look thanks for the recommendation!

  8. 2

    I can help you break that pattern. Most makers think about the app, not the target persona, market, TAM and pain point. Are you offering a vitamin, aspirin or pain killer?

  9. 2

    This hits hard! Damn man!

  10. 2

    Hey Justin,

    I'm having my own dilemmas about what to build and I have left a few products die too.

    I guess you gotta figure out what you want, and what will make you keep moving forward with a product.

    I personally think I'll struggle in finding balance between building something for the sake of making money, for its meaning and purpose, and for what it brings me and my life (product-founder fit).

    I'm sure it's highly probable I'll let some product die again. Maybe it has to be this way. Or maybe not.

    But for sure I'll have to try to listen to my "heart" about what do I want to spend my time doing and then move into a more rational thinking, build it, and have patience.

    So maybe it's good to let it die and look for something you're more passionate. Or maybe have more smaller products.

    And also, you should think of your product's life that goes beyond building it. It's about learning, building, engaging audience, helping someone with their problems and finding ways to get traction.

    1. 1

      This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

  11. 2

    Start with the end in mind. Will someone pay for the thing you are building? IF not, then why are you building it?

    1. 1

      Iterating on that, I would frame it like this:

      “Start with the end user in mind”

      Right now you are basically building a solution before even knowing what the problem is. It should be the other way around.

      From the comments here (and also my own experience) it seems that this is a very big problem.

  12. 1

    Before you start building something, decide if it is a solution for a painful problem that many target users are willing to pay to solve it, and research a marketing/growth plan for the solution. Discuss this with your target users and other mentors to see how desirable and viable your solution and plan are. Then you have increased your success probability. It is easy said than done. But since you have the ability to create many products, so you can have a better chance to get the right product:-)

  13. 1

    "I have an idea" does not necessarily translate to "I have the passion to stick with it." Likewise for "other people are already building it" (and in fact, you're practically guaranteeing you'll have to obsess over differentiation or niching down too much, on top of worrying about being at or near feature parity).

    Does it solve a problem you or those close to you have personally or, failing that, a problem enough people have that there's a market for it? Can solving that problem genuinely hold your interest? If it's not something you can work on passionately, you're going to burn out.

  14. 1

    Very relatable problem I feel for you. I agree with most of the comments here. I think one more certain way to avoid this problem is to pick a problem to work on that has a large pain for some small number of people and where your product can help this pain.

    I think the smaller the pain point the more likely it is that products with better distribution win or products are rarely discovered by pain-holders.

  15. 1

    It's okay to have confidence in your product but I think you need to have a reality check when you claim "my ideas are groundbreaking and anyone can replicate it" because if they're groundbreaking then why aren't people engaging with your products when you release them in to the wild?

    A great product without proper marketing is a bad product.

    You can also try building in public. I'm sure others might have already suggested this but building in public actually creates the anticipation among your audience and might just turn them into your paid customers.

    So don't hesitate to share your progress from Day 1 and whenever you're making major changes to your product.

    If you want to build products for your own satisfaction then not affording to market it is fine. But if you're looking to connect with your audience & see if the validation holds, then I guess you've to start marketing from Day 1.

    I'm sorry if I sound a bit rude. But that's my 2 cents. Thanks for reading.

    1. 1

      Whoops that was just a typo, supposed to read "my ideas aren't groundbreaking and anyone can replicate it". But I agree, especially "A great product without proper marketing is a bad product.", I'm pretty good at writing code but not very good at marketing. Building in public is definitely a process that I've always been reluctant about but I think I'm just going to have to suck it up and do it, it will give me that extra marketing boost as you said but also it will hopefully prove to myself that not everyone is out to steal my ideas.

  16. 1

    From a person suffered from the severe case of a such syndrome...
    The only way I see is to keep interest somehow. That's it. Nothing else helps.

  17. 1

    Remind me of a comment I made on Hacker News here.

    Right now I'm only focusing on a problem that I have. That way, even if nobody uses it in the beginning, I would still be motivated because it is a product that I want to use.

  18. 1

    Some great advice in here.
    Also, you can always try to sell your products on flippa.

  19. 1

    Hey Justin,

    I relate to your post for having lived a similar experience.

    Ten months, I read the simple tweet by Justin Jackson

    "Don't build hoping for interest"

    It is a simple idea - but I have been obsessed with it since then. I kept thinking about it every day - at work or on side projects.
    Listening to users is crucial, but being told that was not enough to change my behavior.

    Three days ago, in week 4 out of 8 of my current experiment, I was so tempted to jump back to code. What helped me was that I knew I would find myself in a code tunnel. I knew that I had to present my weekly progress to my small hustler club. And I knew that there were many other actions I could lead at this time to strengthen my customer discovery (I ended up spending more time reading alternative products forums).

    It is still a bit early to draw any conclusion yet, but I believe what changed this bad habit I had, relies on 2 actions I committed to doing:
    1️⃣ Designing experiment where I define hypothesis I want to test, how I will test them (which does not include much code - or limited), the result I expect (desire signal), the start date and end date of the experiment
    2️⃣ Sharing weekly video progress with a couple of friends who are also hustling into their experiment

    I hope this helps - I'd be happy to talk more about this topic if you are up to it.

  20. 1

    Maybe try building a few tools in the same space under the same brand... instead of starting from scratch with each new project, your tools are interconnected and help promote each other.

  21. 1

    Maybe you should try to team up with another guy willing to market your products! I'm sure plenty of people even here on IH would be willing in exchange of a %

  22. 1

    Hey Justin,

    I recently responded to another post with a similar answer, but I'll explain in more detail here. Our team pivoted around 15 times and built a bunch of MVPs - just like you did. Michael Seibel helped us break out of this loop (he's our partner at YC).

    First of all - not related to choosing the right idea or how to iterate - startups almost never die due to competition (there's a famous Paul Graham article on this). So don't worry too much about others copying you - that rarely kills you. Even if they do copy you, you'll be ahead of them in product iteration, so you'll be fine.

    The most important thing is that you need to focus on a single, real, painful problem and dive deep into it. The problem should almost never change. Not all problems are created equal - some of them are much harder for you to solve than others. To succeed, it is clearly best to choose the "easiest" problem to solve. The "easiest" problem is usually one that you have experienced yourself because then you have an unfair advantage — it's really easy to test whether a solution works: just try it out yourself and you'll know whether if it kind of works or if it's bad. When you try to solve someone else's problem, the product iteration cycle can get 10-100x longer, especially during the MVP stage. So "cheat" and find a painful problem that you yourself have.

    Michael likes to say that you should work on a problem for 2 years before deciding to quit (and he's saying that to full-time founders working 80 hours a week). This is because you couldn't have possibly exhausted all your imaginations and options in solving that problem with less time. If you really believe it's a painful problem, then work on it for 2 years. It's another story if you discover that it's no longer a painful problem - then pivoting is fine.

    Good luck :)

  23. 1

    Hey Justin,

    I think this a pretty common problem. The biggest thing is working on things that you're actually interested in. Building projects for the sake of building projects will likely just turn into building a graveyard.

    I'm writing How to get your first SAAS customer, where I go through a simple process of constructing your hypothesis (the thing you're intersted in working on) and developing it to land your first customer. It will also include examples from other successful founders.

    If you're interested, sign up and I will let you know when it launches!

  24. 1

    This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

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