How to Iterate on an Indie Product

November 29, 2020 · 7 minutes reading time

Let’s say, you have shipped the first version of your product (I did this a week ago with “Get the Audience”). Now, what are you going to provide next? Maybe a new feature for your users? Or, maybe a feature that supports marketing the product? How do you know what to ship next and what it should look like so that your users or customers will enjoy it?

This week, I came across a tweet by Jelmer Pé from the Netherlands, involved in 20+ startups and currently bootstrapping Venturism. He caught my eye with this tweet:

I clicked on the article itself and found it really convincing.

A portfolio of small bets

Jelmer suggests that a founder should not bet everything on one horse but use a portfolio of small bets, i.e. products or companies, each bringing in a decent amount of money.

Jelmer wrote:

  1. Pick an audience / market that resonates with you.
  2. Identify multiple critical problems they are facing and aspirations they have.
  3. Brainstorm and select multiple ideas. Test them with your audience. See what resonates.
  4. Build multiple MVPs. …
  5. Achieve Product Market Fit with one or more of your products.

I thought, why not do this with each feature that you want to add to your product? If an entire product or company should be a small bet, why not even go smaller and bet on multiple single features?

Creating a public roadmap

Jelmer continues with his great article (I really recommend you read it) and suggests not only testing for customer’s pains but also for Zeitgeist and Jobs To Be Done. He presents a nice, animated GIF where you can see how multiple ideas pass the tests of Zeitgeist fit, problem fit, solution fit, commercial fit, and product-market fit:

Place multiple bets from A portfolio of small bets by Jelmer Pé, with kind permission

"Place multiple bets" from What I learned building 20+ startups in 5 years
by Jelmer Pé, with kind permission

This resonated with me.

I already have a public roadmap with the features that I planned for my product. It is a web-based Kanban board (using Taiga for that purpose) where you can add new ideas, vote on existing ideas, and see whether a feature is still under development or is already live in the product.

So I thought: Why not incorporate Jelmer’s test stages to my Kanban columns? Zeitgeist fit, problem fit, solution fit, and commercial fit would nicely match my UNDERSTANDING column. I could run every idea through each of those tests before I turn the idea into a feature and move it to the CREATING column.

The public roadmap of Get The Audience

The public roadmap of Get The Audience

What I did not realize before I read Jelmer’s article: I could have several ideas in UNDERSTANDING and let them compete there until one of them makes it into CREATING.

But: How would you run those tests? You would talk to your customers, right?

Asking your customers

35 days ago, I launched the landing page of my product “Get The Audience”. The product did not exist, yet, but people already started to sign up for the early access mailing list that I announced on Twitter. I took that for a good sign and started to build an MVP.

In the meantime, 40 people are on the list, and I’ve got 95 followers on Twitter. So, why not try to get those people to sign up for my Kanban board and start to vote for ideas and features?

In the SaaS product itself, I have 11 people, so I estimate that I can reach at least 100 people with my request to join the Kanban board, add to it, and vote.

I’d also encourage them to sign up for the MVP of the product itself. On the home page, there is a button that says “get your invite”, so they should click that one and try it in their own context.

One nice user from India suggested a screen sharing session on Google Meet to show me her situation because my product is not doing what she expects. Great feedback, I’m totally looking forward to the session.

Finally, I could also ask “customer one” (which is myself) what he thinks about what would be the absolutely necessary next feature in order to be able to use the product effectively. Arvid Kahl wrote a blog post especially about The Rewards and Perils of Being Your Own Customer, a post that I recommend to read (or hear it as a podcast).

Prioritise the next upcoming feature

It’s so nice to get feedback that you get on your ideas and features:

  • You watch people add new ideas,
  • you see them comment on existing ideas and features,
  • and you see the number of votes on each idea or feature.

You can now prioritise according to the data that you have (e.g. number of votes, sentiment of the comments, needs of customer one, etc.). Try to find out what idea passes all of Jelmer’s tests and cries to you: “Build me now”.

Build it and ship it

Now comes the easy step: Building and shipping. Everything else is hard. At least this is what I think because I have been building software for 40 years, now. Maybe I’m biased by that. :-)

I currently use code (Java, Typescript, ReactJS) … but these days you can build something without code, they say!

Get feedback on it

Make sure that you offer many options for your users to reach you with their feedback:

  • In “Get The Audience”, I added Chatwoot, an open source online chat widget in the lower-right corner of your screen, that allows your users to interact with you, directly from within the app.
  • In Twitter, I have activated the setting Allow message requests from everyone so that everyone can reach out with whatever feedback they have. As an indie hacker, you thrive with feedback, so make it as easy as possible to receive it!
  • Of course, people can also send email to your address to reach you.

Rinse and repeat

So what if a feature really got implemented and is now live, to be used by (hopefully) happy users? Well, in the meantime, in the UNDERSTANDING column of your Kanban board, there should be at least one idea that has passed the first four of Jelmer’s tests:

  • Zeitgeist fit
  • Problem fit (Does something have to be built?)
  • Solution fit (Does this have to be built?)
  • Commercial fit (Will people pay if this would be built?)

Read the comments. Count the votes on the ideas and features. Choose the one item that fits all four tests and go build it!

Never stop asking people to sign up for the board and vote! As an indie person, you live off of that feedback, so make sure that it keeps coming in! This is difficult for me because as soon as I have started to build a feature, I dive in deeply, and I’m totally focused on it. In that case, I might easily forget to keep up encouraging people to vote on the upcoming value.

Now it’s your turn!

So, how about you, dear reader:

  • Please sign up for my public roadmap board
  • Subscribe to this blog / newsletter
  • Get your invite code for Get The Audience and try it for yourself
  • Participate in the iterations to get even more value from the product!

I’m totally looking forward to what I can learn from you.

Comments welcome:

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