Dec 17, 2018 02:40:33

My maker year: What went to hell

by @jasonleow | 718 words | 109🔥 | 109💌

Jason Leow

Current day streak: 109🔥
Total posts: 109💌
Total words: 46982 (187 pages 📄)

Day 11 of the #200wad challenge.


Part 4 of a raw report card on my maker journey so far. An honest look at the good and the bad so far. 2018 was a maker year for me. My very first year as an indie maker. In Feb, I made a commitment to launch a minimum viable product a month (#1mvp1month). Read Part 1 (list of products made), Part 2 (metrics), Part 3 (what went well).


It's tempting to drink the Kool-aid and believe all the hype around indie makers and making. While it's inspiring and educational to read all the success stories of makers making it, the "How I went from zero to $100k MRR in 3 months" type of articles can start to feel like startup porn after a while. There's also the problem with survivorship bias, and how it's actually more educational for makers reading about what doesn't work instead of what worked, because we succeed due to a wide variety of reasons and situations that human hindsight cannot account for, but we almost often fail due to the same reasons. That's one of the reasons why I like startup failure stories - on balance, we really need to hear and read more about failures and mistakes. 


I also don't want to give the impression that my maker journey had been all rosy and awesome. Very often it sucks too. There are things that I didn't enjoy doing or results that's humbling, or humiliating even. So here's some failures so far:


What went to hell

Poor monetization. Yes, I broke even, but despite launching 8 products out into the market, most did not monetize well. I dabbled in so many types of monetization models - ads, sponsorship/donations, pay-to-post, dropshipping. But the results was kind of disappointing. Or am I expecting too much from MVPs? After all, monetization wasn't the initial goal when I set out on this maker year. It was to maximize learning and personal growth. But people giving you money remains an easy and convenient indicator of how useful your product is to your user. So while monetization isn't the be-all-end-all, there's still a lesson here.


Law of diminishing returns. Product growth suffered as growing and maintaining previous products got harder and harder as the months went on. There's loads of to-dos on the product roadmaps of my launched products, but I can't do them because making and shipping the upcoming product of the month is already a fulltime job. What's left is just the bare minimum effort to maintain them. Like, I really wanted to spend some dedicated time to learn how to develop an automated scraper bot for my job board Public Design Jobs. People want this product, and when I emailed all my subscribers whether I should close or keep it, the answer was unanimously to keep it. So the motivation and reason are there, but unfortunately no bandwidth.😢


Below average marketing and sales. Other than launching on the usual maker platforms like Product Hunt, Indie Hackers, some Slack/Facebook groups, I didn't have much of a overall strategy for marketing and sales. Just not savvy with marketing funnels, growth hacks, selling, storytelling, cold-calling/emailing, advertising. This is really not my strong suit and I struggle with even having to tell people about my products for fear of coming across as an irritating, hardselling salesman. Cold, hard honest look: I think the root of it is that I want people to like me, and that FOPO (fear of pissing off) is holding me back.


Uptake for the products was uneven but generally poor. Probably a symptom of the earlier point, about not being strong in marketing and sales. But it could also more likely be due to not solving a real problem or serving a user need. That might be a blindspot that I need to look harder at. It sucks to see people succeeding at first try while your own babies falter. It always sucks when you try to compare, and as much as I try not to, it's difficult to be immune to any sense of envy. I guess it'll be unrealistic to expect every product to be successful, but this had been a bitter pill to swallow to be honest.  


Next post: what I learned technically and personally.

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