May 17, 2019

Stuck in an endless coding loop. How do I Validate, Market and Sell?

Cameron Walker @cameron8

As a developer, I am stuck. It seems the only thing I'm good at is coding. I've built a few products/apps with little success. I am discouraged. I'm losing motivation because I don't want to put in all the hours of coding just to have another product that brings in less than $100 per month. While it's more than nothing, it doesn't justify the hours I spend coding when I could be freelancing and making more.

My first thought is that I am relying too heavily on "if you build it, they will come." I also think that maybe my problem is that there just isn't enough market interest.

These are big questions, but any tips, pointers, articles, podcasts, books, or anything else are welcomed.

What do you recommend doing to validate a market?
How does one market and sell an app?
What are some things that have proven successful for you?
How do you motivate yourself?

  1. 3

    I am a coder-turned-entrepreneur myself. One of the things I read as part of this turning-into-an-entrepreneur process that really stuck with me is that programmers are naturally doers, they see half a problem and already see how they'd potentially solve it. For programmers, they feel comfortable and productive when they're "doing", i.e. programming. But this is the wrong way to look at it. An idea must be validated rigorously at first. Coding is expensive in both time and money (doesn't matter if you do it yourself, your coding time is very valuable since you could "sell" it by doing freelance work). You should delay coding as much as possible and validate as much as possible before you code.

    For the first service I attempted to build, we spent a good month and a half only to discover that there wasn't enough demand for that feature that we were working on. We knew the target audience well and had a lot of people from that target audience that we could talk to. In retrospect what I would've done is "build" the application in something like InVision and tell the target audience that I have a finished product and see their response. This would literally take me two days to do instead of the two months I actually spent on building the web-app.

    So, as one programmer to another, what you should focus on is being efficient and build "tiers of validation", ranked from easiest (fasters) to hardest (slowest), as follows:

    • Initial market research
    • Questioning target audience
    • Building very simple prototype and asking target audience (InVision)
    • Building MVP (preferably make it very simple and not too professionally looking, to see if you get a positive response despite that)
    • Build the actual product
  2. 3

    What you said really resonates with me, I was doing exactly that until recently.

    I second @Gobey on the "Start Small, Stay Small" book, because it really changed the way I approached building products. I just recently interrupted the development of a product I'm working on to take a step back and focus on validating market first.

    In addition I'd recommend "The Mom Test", worth checking out to help you learn how to communicate with your customers.

    Both are small books that you could read in a day and yet get extremely valuable insights.

  3. 2

    It's purely emotional. Not technical at all. Reach out to the target market, as in right now. You were already given some great and valuable advices.

  4. 2

    Go sell to people around you!

  5. 2

    Start with market/marketing; NOT with coding building. Think about who you what to market to; try to interact with parts of that market. Learn about them; try and figure out what problems they have and what problems you might be able to solve with tech.

    Building something first and then retrofitting marketing into it does not work.

    1. 2

      I decided to go this route this year and so far it's looking good.

      In January, I decided to stop developing any side project until I had 500 potential customers subscribed to an email list. This forced me to think market-first and get creative. I found some growth-hacking tips and tools and got 500 subscribers in a few months.

      Now I'm working on a product and experimenting with revenue generation. Still not sure where this will land, but with almost 1000 subscribers now, it's easy to just ask people what they want rather than building things randomly as I was doing before.

  6. 2

    Caveat: I haven’t successfully started a business yet, but I do suffer from the code-first mentality.

    After doing exactly was you are describing twice, I listened to “Start Small, Stay Small” and vowed to never build a non-validated project again.

    Here are some ideas (in order, proceed to next step if you receive positive response):

    1. Email potential clients or post to potential communities with your idea
    • Writing these posts will force you to really think about the details of your business
    • People love tearing commercial ideas apart so you will get (brutally) honest feedback
    1. Create landing page with pricing and CTA to make a purchase
    • Make sure customers think that they are making a purchase when they click your CTA
    • Collect the customer email with the CTA then redirect them to a coming soon page that tells them that they will receive early access
    1. Call potential customers
    • If you are a typical developer this may sound scary/ hard, but you MUST do it.
    • Commit to not coding anything until you have forced yourself to call customers and received positive feedback from X number.
    • Tell customers to learn more at your landing page, or take their email/ phone and manually add it to your mailing list
    • Ask customers to preorder. Positive feedback is encouraging, money is validation.
    1. Plan an mvp feature set and stick to it
    • Contact a couple early access signups to see if they are willing to work with an extremely bare bones version for free in exchange for feedback
    • Slowly onboard more early access customers as the product matures
    • Focus on doing one thing really well (functionality)
    • Ask yourself every single day whether you are currently working on something superfluous

    This process is going to be hard! You will fail with many ideas, but when you eventually gain these skills and hit the right idea you will be able to build it with confidence and real customer feedback.


    1. 3

      I think the first step you suggest is very dangerous. It's how you get ideas that sound ok (and thus encourage you to waste a lot of time on) but that nobody actually wants.

      I'd start from either something you really want, have spent time looking for and can't get or something you observe others doing this with. This also works if there's something people already use but it has a painful flaw at least for you; you can fix the flaw and make your own version. That's how I started my current business and while growth has been hard, customers have been willing to pay since almost the beginning.

      1. 2

        Spot on.

        Go searching for pain (yours or others') before worrying about product ideas.