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The Making of CTO Toolkit

On August 17, I launched a digital product called CTO Toolkit and I wanted to share the entire process from the idea to the launch day in this article so others can benefit from it.

The idea

I had the idea to put together a toolbox for senior engineering leaders like CTOs, Head of Engineering and VP of Engineering late last year as I was working on my ebook for engineering managers.

The idea was born based on the wish I had more than a decade ago in my engineering leadership role. As a novice CTO of a startup, my wish then was to have someone show me the ropes, walk me through step by step, share best practices and point out the pitfalls so I could take the quantum leap to a smarter, sharper, wiser CTO. So as I was putting together my ebook, I kept thinking about how I could go one step further in closing the gap between having the knowledge and applying the knowledge.

However, I didn't immediately work on it. I created a directory on my computer and then later on my Google Drive called "CTO Toolbox". As I was close to finishing the ebook I wanted to see how my audience would respond to it first. I also wanted to see if people would find ready-made templates and resources useful.

The research

Research on the format

The ebook, The Engineering Manager's How-To Guide, was published in January 2021. I also worked on Agile Project Management Templates in parallel.

The numbers of sales I made between the templates and the ebook were almost on par. Templates were more popular but only by 7%. However, the price of the template pack was 45% more expensive. This showed that people are willing to pay for something that solves a particular problem quicker, even if the focus is narrow. What do I mean by that? Agile Project Management Templates is very focused around applying agile to manage software development teams, by using async communication and readymade templates are provided for that purpose. The ebook, The Engineering Manager How-To, explains many topics that engineering managers face, from delivering software projects using agile to providing career growth for engineers.

The learning here helped me come up with the approach of having multiple modules which each one solving a specific problem.

Research on the ideal customer persona

As part of my research, I gained as much insights as possible on the problem space by talking to engineering leaders, actively contributing to discussions with them, answering their questions, looking at what my ideal customer persona are interested in on platforms like Quora and Twitter.

Research on the price point

One of the mistakes that I've learned the hard way is pricing my products for what they are worth. I've had my fair share of products that flopped mainly because they were not priced correctly.

So for CTO Toolkit, I looked at what similar products were priced at. And then I added more resources to make the product really valuable so it's a no brainer for my potential customer to pay for it.

The plan

So based on my research, I came up with 6 different modules that are going to be useful for my ideal customers, CTOs and senior technology leaders.

  • Organization Design
  • Hiring
  • Technology Strategy
  • Engineering Excellence
  • Career Development
  • Alignment & Delivery

For each module, I came up with 2–3 ways to implement the best practices in an organisation as a CTO. Most of the time, it's a combination of checklist with recommendation for each task, and sometimes, it's about having a framework, for example, measuring and tracking progress via OKRs. Then it's about creating artefacts that will help my audience get to point B (the destination) from point A (the starting point).

As I was putting together artefacts, I decided to include resources for audience to deep dive into any particular topic. I was in two minds about writing an explainer myself or linking to resources from others, such as blog posts, articles and white papers. I finally decided to link to resources because there is no reason to reinvent the wheel (read: avoid Not Invented Here syndrome).

The tools

To do list

I used Evernote and created a high level checklist of output I needed to produce.

CTO Toolkit

This Evernote list became such a lifesaver as I juggled many responsibilities and activities that were not originally planned for in 2021, such as taking on a larger scope at work, homeschooling and last but not least, cooking 100% more often, from 3 times a week to 7 times a week. In fact, working of CTO Toolkit gave me a sense of purpose and accomplishment that I craved in the new-normal lockdown life.

Assets

While there are a few trendy cloud based content and task management apps like Airtable and Notion, I've decided to stick to Google Drive due to the simplicity and seamlessness. I used a combination of Google Sheets, Google Docs and Google Slides in the product.

Promotional materials

I used Canva exclusively to design promotional materials, such as a deck, videos and images.

Hosting & payment

As I am already a Gumroad customer, I decided to continue using it rather than spending time on setting up custom payment gateway, website, landing page, etc. You can see the product landing page in action here: CTO Toolkit.

The marketing

Two weeks before the launch date, I created a 50% early bird discount code and shared it with my network. Other marketing activities that I had done since then are:

  • Sharing about it on various platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora and Medium
  • Talking about it in relevant Slack communities
  • Creating backlinks
  • Sending a newsletter
  • Launching it on Product Hunt (but it didn't do well)
  • Inviting previous customers who were interested in technology leadership to check out the product

To do:

  • Partnership
  • Guest posts
  • Video series

Let me know if you'd like to collaborate on any of the above.

Summary

The work:

⏰ 160 - 200 hours of work over eight months

The conversion:

✨ 9 pre-order
📈 3.9% conversion rate

Lessons learned:

  • There is no perfect time to launch, sometimes, all you need is a bit of push like a deadline.
  • Good products take time and the discovery phase is as important as the execution phase.
  • There is no sweeter reward to hard work than seeing your customers getting value from what you had created.
  • Your work doesn't end after the product is launched. In fact, it is just the beginning.

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