35
15 Comments

Top tips for product development

A lot of people offer advice on here but never state why anyone should take it.

I'm not known, I'm not a millionaire and I don't know it all. However, I've been doing this a long time to varying degrees of success, from being part of a small team that raised over £25million in investment for a startup that ultimately failed after 4 years; to working in "Corporate Enterprise" in a multi-billion pounds per year organisation leading their Product Development teams; and currently back to start-up world where I have one product (SongBox) that is entirely self-funded, self-run, self-developed and self marketed.

I have another product that I don't mention much on here as it's not an "Indie Hack" - I have a co-founder on that one who is a businessman and not techy. He looks after business, I look after the product. In that business, we've raised over £700,000 in investment and are still fielding offers for the next round that will allow us to go nationwide.

SongBox is a SaaS and the other business is a two-sided marketplace, which is also completely developed, product managed etc by me alone.

I don't usually write posts like this on here, but I've completed Netflix and bored of Prime Video... so here we are. My tips for building a product.

Principles

  • Start small: Everyone says this and we all know it. But DOING it in practice is hard. Really focus, take a day away from the keyboard. Get a whiteboard or huge sheets of paper on a wall. Write down EVERYTHING you want, every feature you can think of. Take a break, go get food. Come back after an hour and start crossing stuff out. Be brutal and be honest with yourself. Do you NEED push notifications for day zero? Do you? Really?
  • When it comes to build time, build it well: My post on here MVP does not equal shit product was controversial but I stand by it. Build as well as you can and don't cut corners. You'll thank yourself later.
  • Don't build a native app: Building a native app is difficult, slow and if you're not doing it yourself it's very expensive. Initially, go with a web app. They are super quick and cheap (relative to native) to build and you can make changes so very quickly and get those changes back out there instantly. Only look at a native app once you have gotten a rock solid understanding of your value proposition and you know what works and what is required. Even then, double down on my first point (start small).
  • Your opinion doesn't matter: You are too close to your own work, and so are your co-founders. So are your families and friends. When it comes to UX, taglines, copy etc neither you nor those close to you can make an objective call on it. It's impossible. As early as is logistically possible get it in front of people who don't know you, or your product and get feedback. Indie Hackers is perfect for this, being part of this community is a blessing because you can get truly objective feedback basically on tap.
  • Don't be embarrassed and don't justify things: Don't caveat your early versions with "oh it's not finished yet", "I know it's terrible just now" etc etc. Show your work, be proud of it, and take the feedback, but don't be beholden to the feedback.
  • Take all feedback with a pinch of salt: This applies to good AND bad feedback. Don't get too caught up in any of it. Hold it at arms length. Not all feedback is valuable. Even if it's a salient point, does it need to be worked on right now? really? Also, disregard all feedback that you only hear once. Real, actionable advice is the stuff you hear repeatedly, from multiple sources.
  • You will not blow up on "launch day": No matter what you think, when you launch your product, very few people outside of your immediate circle will care. This is even true if you have a decent marketing budget. Having a successful product is a marathon and not a sprint. Stay the course.
  • If you're not a designer, get a designer: No-one can be great at everything and that's fine. Design is SO important; by that I mean UX design as well as pretty colours. Design is the only thing I paid for when initially building SongBox, and I believe it shows.
  • Product Hunt means nothing: Product Hunt (ph) is merely one of many places you should promote your product. Success or failure on there means very little in the real world and even less a week later. Some people do blow up because of Product Hunt, but more people than that win the lottery every week.

Tools

  • Laravel: I've developed in or been part of teams that have developed in .net, pure javascript, java, C etc but if what you're trying to do is get a web app off the ground then there is nothing in my opinion, that is more suited to that than Laravel. Even other PHP frameworks like Symfony can't touch it for speed, comprehensiveness of it's out-of-the-box feature set and community.
  • Heroku: The cloud, like it's meant to be. Push to master and job done. Again I've used AWS, Google Cloud, Azure, Digital Ocean etc. Heroku takes care of all your platform / DevOps needs entirely, and it's free if you need it to be. Heroku also comes with any flavour of database you require, as well as logging, cache, DNS management (and basically anything you could want in that regard) as free Plug'n'Play addons. If you want awesome deployment pipelines and rock-solid DevOps, but don't want to have to think about deployment pipelines or DevOps then Heroku is my tip.
  • Stripe: The obvious one for taking payments so I'll keep it short. I've implemented stripe personally into dozens of products and it keeps getting better. There is no better solution in my opinion, the caveat being you need to be at least a mediocre developer to implement it.
  • Twilio / Sendgrid: For transactional communication these win for me. I used Mailgun for years for transactional emails. I recently swapped to Sendgrid just for shits and giggles and I'm now hooked. Their API for sending emails is super good, as is the initial setup. Twilio is basically the same except for SMS; just a couple lines of code and you can fire SMS messages or emails by hooking into any event in your application.
  • Mailchimp: Another obvious one, but for marketing emails or onboarding emails Mailchimp is super good. Their API and UX sets them apart from other such companies. and again... free while you need it to be.

The above covers codebase, platform, payments and communication. If anything else springs to mind I'll edit this post, and if you have any questions about other areas please comment below.

  1. 5

    Primo advice dude.

    Lots of advice people "know" but don't follow.

  2. 3

    Hey Mick, thanks for posting. All really great advice. Question for you – have you compared or considered Sendgrid's marketing campaigns vs. Mailchimp? I've used Sendgrid for transactional emails in the past and found it to be quite good. I'm not however very happy with Mailchimp and am thinking about giving Sendgrid's marketing emails service a try.

    1. 1

      Honestly - I wasn't aware send grid had an email marketing component. Thanks for the headsup. I'm now gonna go check it out.

      If I could get SMS, Transactional and Marketing emails all under the one system that would be awesome (twilio and send grid are same company).

    2. 1

      I didn't even know that Sendgrid added marketing. That's great. The best tool I've used so far has been Drip, which does amazing campaign automation, and is both a source and destination in Segment. It's costly though which is why we're skipping it for the time being.

      It looks like Sendgrid has Twilio's automation stuff built in too, which is amazing. Definitely will check it out.

      Agreed that Mailchimp is basically a relic now. But hey, they have a free tier so I keep going back. Good proof that freemium is costly though ... the minute we have enough revenue, I am moving to a better tool.

      1. 3

        I've been using Mailchimp for a few years now. I think it's great tool for starting out. It's free to use, documentation is great, API is good, automation is good.

        However, once you blow past the free tier, pricing gets expensive. I was working for a mobile app shop, we grew our list to about 30k, which costs $250/mo. The problem was that our email marketing ROI was low because our mobile app had low LTV which made Mailchimp's pricing acceptable but not great.

        Couple complaints:

        1. UI is frustrating. Despite having used it for years, I still often have trouble finding stuff. I think their product has gotten bloated with social media, landing pages, postcards and all this other stuff I don't use. When they shifted focus from "mailing list" to "audience" management, that's when I started getting lost. Also, I don't like how their UI often hides functionality unless you click on specific elements, which also makes things hard to find. And last, I find their UI to be slow and clunky, particularly the campaign editor.
        2. Pricing. Starts off free, but then escalates quickly. At 30k contacts Mailchimp is $250/mo. SendGrid is $100/mo.

        I don't know whether SendGrid will work for my needs, but definitely going to check it out.

  3. 2

    Excellent post, @Primer - and SongBox looks like a great idea :)

  4. 2

    This is all phenomenal advice. Especially starting small. When I was doing Product Strategy for an agency, the most common flow I'd design for a client engagement would be to listen to the client and write down everything they had been thinking about for months. Then the next day, I'd walk backwards and learn everything about their business, and get them to state their business goals. Then we'd walk back forwards again, one step at a time, brainstorming, voting, and trimming absolutely everything except the core product.

    That being said ... it's not that simple when it's your product. I've started three companies, and every time have been guilty of over-indulging in the product. I think that with consentry.org we've done our best to trim it down to the absolute bare-minimum, even though it means that our market will be much smaller to start. Currently, we have zero paying customers, so a market of a few thousand to tens of thousands of customers is absolutely sufficient to launch.

    Just need to keep repeating that to yourself.

    1. 2

      Yeah man "trimming the beef" is definitely a skill that you need to hone. It's not easy at all.

  5. 1

    This is very helpful Mike. Its 2:30am over here in London and I just became "code complete" on my MVP a few minutes ago, now I'm on here reading articles because the real fun and games begin - switching up from programming to marketing & product development.

  6. 1

    What is a "web app"? It is an app that loads app/mobile version of the site? Does it still need to be in the app store?

    1. 1

      A web app is an application built using web technologies and it runs in a browser. If you're unclear you probably will be more comfortable with the word "website" although a web app is subtly different.

      This isn't a negative these days, I would 100% advocate building your product on the web before spending the time and money building a native app.

      1. 1

        I have a website already. I thought you meant native app vs hybrid app. So what is the difference between a web app and a RWD website?

        I am planning to make an mobile app for my site. I am thinking to use React Native or similar, instead of create iOS/Android app individually, to reduce cost.

  7. 1

    Good feedback here. Another thing I'd add is that once you start to get initial traction, you should do everything in your power to speak to your users. The YC idea of "make something people want" is a lot easier if you are actively talking to your users.

    Encourage feedback from all directions - this is one of the reasons we built https://noorahq.com - to make it super easy to get feedback and make sure you are aware of what your users want.

Trending on Indie Hackers
I will promote your startup to 50K+ people 59 comments I made Session, a productivity timer that makes $5K/month in net profit, AMA! 21 comments I built an NFT Guide site. Feedback welcome! 15 comments I've teased this project for a while. Initial thoughts on this landing page? 12 comments Only 30 days! We finished a great Etsy products research tool 10 comments #1 on Product Hunt with an open-source project 8 comments