When Xapnik initially applied to the App Store at the end of August we were rejected because we linked to our web site where users can pay to upgrade, and we don't accept in-app payments. (I can hear many of you laughing ruefully already.)
I was faced with a decision:
(i) take the time to build in inn-app payments or
(ii) quickly remove all links to our site and provide a support mechanism to contact us to upgrade to paid plan.
The first option would make it easy for people to start paying us. The second option would get us approved faster so that I could start inviting people to use the app without having to fuss with Test Flight—but it would be a less than ideal experience for users who wanted to upgrade from the Free tier. They'd have to email us.
To add to the stress, Xapnik is participating in the Startup School (YCombinator) Build Sprint this month. And our App Store rejection hit us at the end of Week 1 (out of 4 weeks).
App Store rejection was a setback, doing damage to the goals I'd set for Build Sprint:
Our chances of nabbing one of the $10k Build Sprint grants were already starting to dissolve before we even got started. How could we still hit our goals?
That's when those goals made the decision for me about what to do next. We needed USERS right now, not payments. In fact, I'm giving everyone I invite free accounts right now, anyway! Why even give payments a thought at the moment?
We quickly removed the links to the site so that we could turn our application right back around and get approval. Three days later we got it.
For Xapnik, getting outside of the confines of Test Flight is crucial because inviting friends to use the app is a core functionality. Test Flight is just another hurdle between us and our users. In fact, it's whole other app people have to install.
As soon as we were approved, we got 10 new users into the app right away. And as real life users like to do, they found bugs right away! :-D But they've also been providing some great feedback, with a couple of things already starting to emerge as a strong enough signal that we may need to address them next month.
That's forward progress.
If I'd decided to implement in-app purchases
It was a great reminder that goals, whether you end up hitting them 100% or not, help you make effective decisions. They help you keep your priorities squarely in sight.
First: would anyone else doing the YC Build Sprint be interested in forming a support group? We could add each other to be notified of our updates, and create a space somewhere to discuss and help each other out. Drop a comment here if you're game!
The YC Build Sprint starts today. The big attraction is the potential to receive a $10k grant.
I went through Startup School earlier this year. I found it to be a good experience, but once the school was over it felt like posting updates was just kind of speaking into the void. So I stopped updating.
The Build Sprint is a good motivator to re-engage with updates on SUS and, of course, see if we can land a grant. I like where Xapnik is starting for the Build Sprint—launching this week on app store, recruiting our first early users. It's easier to set concrete, tangible goals.
Good luck to everyone who's participating! Again, hit me up in the comments if you want to gather somewhere to support each other (or if you already are and I missed it!).
Many of you might recognize a feeling I can only describe as "cautious elation." This is my 3rd time personally launching my own product. Success often comes when you least expect it. Failure often bites you when you're most confident.
But Xapnik is ready for prime time, so here goes! Can't succeed or fail without launching.
I struggled at the beginning of August to debug, myself, the last blocking issue with the app. I finally got help, paid help. I've been burned (a LOT) by "help" in the past, so I wasn't optimistic. But I got lucky. I found someone who is experienced, honest, dogged, curious, and interested in continuing to work with me. He solved my problems in about 10 hours (across three days), all while I followed along and learned from what he was doing. Grateful doesn't begin to describe how I feel!
(Side note: I've hired and managed freelance developers for 20 years. Here's what I've learned: cheap never is. Hire the very best person you can find and pay their standard rate. Please reach out if I can ever help you in this area.)
So, I'm in the process of submitting our app store application. Any advice for making the app really shine?
Meanwhile, Test Flight invites are going out to people who've previously expressed interest in using Xapnik when it launches. If you'd like to try it, please do leave a comment or reach out directly. It's free.
If the gods smile on me, Xapnik will launch on the app store some time next week. Wish me luck!
One more thing I'm grateful for: the IH community. This is a unique place for so many reasons, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
I hunted around at different landing page solutions, and I ended up coming back to my old reliable WordPress.
The new version at xapnik.com is not likely to be the version that is there for the long haul. But it's a big improvement on what I had previously.
By using WordPress, I also know that I'll be able to add functionality quickly as needed. And I'll be able to make rapid changes to the headline, subhed, ordering of sections, etc. in response to feedback and traffic data.
Now I need to take the plunge and promote it a little bit to see what kind of pre-launch sign-ups I can attract.
Things I already want to change:
I might not be alone here: I spent a long time building my product and did almost no idea validation activity beforehand. Totally wrong. Completely backwards. Doomed for failure, probably.
Whether or not it's doomed for failure is still to be determined. But I'm in a much better place now to give success its best shot.
Xapnik started as me doing the classic 'scratch your own itch' activity. So, in almost no way whatsoever did I do any market validation while I was building it. I was building it for fun and learning.
As I showed it to people, though, I started to think Xapnik had potential beyond a cool project for me and my friends. Yet, my "Spidey" sense wasn't tingling in response to any of the potential toe-hold markets that people were suggesting. Each one seemed to me to have a lot of reasons why Xapnik wouldn't resonate strongly enough to create super fans.
This went on for months. While I was still coding I was also trying different target-user ideas out, not really finding anything that seemed like it had lots of potential. It impacted my ability to create an effective landing page, elevator pitch, etc. I didn't know what I was trying to say because I didn't know who I was trying to say it to.
Then, earlier this week, I listened to the IH podcast interview with Sam Parr of The Hustle. Because of Sam's demeanor, I immediately had a reaction of, "oh I'm gonna have to take this guy with a huge grain of salt." But to my surprise, Parr kept saying things that triggered big AHA moments for me.
The biggest AHA moment was when Parr said that founders who want to make money should focus on a customer who wants to make money with their product. That's a customer who will see real value in your product, or let you know you're not delivering enough value.
Boom. What a great way to focus and filter my thinking.
This sent me on a research project brainstorming about who is the user who'd really and truly get the most value out of what Xapnik does. Who'd immediately understand? After a few false positives, I finally came upon organizers who are running paid Slack and Discord communities.
Anyone who's charging people to be part of Slack or Discord is delivering significant value to those paid users. They want to nurture and grow that community. Examples are YouTubers, Twitch personalities, subject matter experts/gurus with learning courses, etc. Inviting their paid users to private Xapnik groups, and regularly actively engaging those users on their various social media accounts, could create significant additional value for those paid users.
So, now I have a very clear picture of who I'm targeting, and why, which helps everything else fall into place—where to find these users, what kind of language they use, what's important to them, where to research their biggest problems and challenges, etc.
This doesn't mean I'm right, of course. Xapnik may not catch on with that market. But testing it'll be straight forward. I'll be able to gather data and make decisions from there. And that's a giant leap from where I've been up til now.
So, thanks IH podcast and Sam Parr. TIL.
Time to take the side project to the next level. Filed as an LLC through Stripe Atlas and will be launching this month. Xapnik is multi-platform, so one to-do this week is to finish converting my personal App Store account to a company one under Xapnik's name.
Xapnik is a great addition to any community builder's toolset. If you operate an invitation-only Slack or Discord, you can deliver even more value to your community by creating and inviting them to a Xapnik group. Now everyone can keep track of and boost each other on Twitter and Instagram in a super-clean, sane, organized dashboard (more networks coming shortly).
Maintain more than one community? No problem. You can create multiple Xapnik groups to map to your different communities.
I'm really excited to jump into the action with everyone at Indie Hackers, after lurking for at least a year if not longer. Looking forward to sharing how I figure things out and hopefully giving back a little after learning SO much here :-)
Xapnik started as a side project to solve a problem my friends and I had in keeping track of each other on different social media networks. As I've shown it to people, it's clear it appeals to community builders.