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Let's Create a SaaS Startup 1 - The Product Idea

15 August 2017

A couple of days ago, I reached out to my incredible community to ask what they’d like to hear more of from the Devwalks blog. Surprisingly (for me), something that 70% of you wanted to learn more about was the process of building software products.

The fact that this was something that you wanted to hear about was an incredible surprise! I had planned on building my very first Software as a Service product in the coming months and now I have the perfect excuse to take you along for the ride as well, rather than build in silence, alone and weeping.

So let’s start.


Just like you, I’m an ideas person.

I have ideas for web applications, designs, apps and educational products all the time.

This time around, I’m hoping that ignoring all of my ideas will be the best decision I ever make. Maybe it’s a good idea for you too.

How I’ve done it in the past

My idea to creation process generally goes something like this:

This has to stop and the time is now.

Ideas in the shower

First, my method of idea generation is a little haphazard. Do I really have to wait for ah-ha moments in order to build something of value?

And yeah, nothing is necessarily bad about using my cleanliness as an idea machine, it’s just that surely as creatives, we don’t need to wait for our weekly showers in order for genuinely good ideas to appear.

Imagine if there was a system to generate high quality ideas without guessing?

There might just be.

Amy Hoy, Alex Hillman and 30x500

Full disclosure, I’m not a customer of 30x500 and am not getting any kickbacks or commissions, I just love the work of the 30x500 team.

Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman are the co-founders of a program called 30x500 which I’ve been interested in for a number of years. You can read all about their schtick on Stacking the Bricks.

I’ve been reading, watching and listening to a lot of their content recently and decided to really implement what they preach.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

Work with a customer segment I understand

Part one of the methodology is to work with customers that you understand, customers that you share interests, work and ideologies with.

You should also work with a group of people who already pay for things which is not to be understated.

During my blogging blackout of 2016 - 2017 I was working with a team on a project that was selling entrepreneurial training into high schools across Australia.

Have you ever tried to sell something to the decision makers at a school?

It’s like pulling teeth.

The fact was, the product that we’d spent a lot of time and effort creating simply wasn’t a good fit for the customers we’d built it for.

Now back to the present and thinking about who my people are (who also pay for things).

My personal list is:

All of these people actively buy tools that make their lives easier and also are groups that I understand and know how to find on the internet.

Which then makes it easy to…

Research a customer group

The 30x500 team have coined the phrase, “Sales Safari” for the active research of your customer base in their natural habitat (more on this in a moment). The idea is that traditional customer development via the lean startup process may not be the best idea.

Why?

There’s no doubt that some great businesses have been built this way, but I’m tending to side with the 30x500 team on this one.

So what is sales safari?

Sales safari is about researching your customer group in their natural habitat. In this case, the internet!

No matter which group of people you choose, there’s a good chance that there are forums, subreddits, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups etc etc where these people hang out and shoot the shit.

And you want to watch them do it.

I’ll use an example.

For my project, I’ve chosen developer and design freelancers who manage their own longer term projects.

To research this group of people, used reddit, forums and LinkedIn groups and simply watched and took notes.

What we should be interested in is:

You do this research for hours and hours until something just “clicks”.

Research!

The idea is that you’ll immerse yourself in your community until the common threads and themes and pains and dreams simply bubble to the top and you can prove that there’s an opportunity from the research you’ve done.

The best part of all of this?

It’s a system.

You can replicate this over and over. You can also use the same system to promote your product (we’ll talk about e-bombs soon), think about product features and think about your marketing copy.

The research permeates throughout the whole system of the business and becomes a driving force for everything moving forward.

So what do you do with all of this lovely research?

You Fix-Storm

Armed with bundles of problems to solve and slang to translate, you sit down to fix-storm.

Fix-storming isn’t about the format of the solutions (e-book, video course, software), it’s about brainstorming what the fixes could be based on what the customer needs, buys and what you can create.

The great thing about this process is that it leads to a wide array of possible articles that could also help your customer base as a side-effect!

Not only did I discover what I think is a compelling product idea from the fix-storming process, I’ve also found a treasure-trove of article ideas for my audience base that I can use to promote the product both during and after release.

The 30x500 team suggest structuring your potential fixes as product pitches, using a format of “pain-dream-fix”.

By creating a large volume of fixes as pitches, it’ll not only give you an abundance of material to work with, it’ll also discourage you from becoming too committed to an idea straight away.

E-Bombs

When I first starting reading the 30x500 (free) content, e-bombs just seemed like long blog posts, but there’s some key differentiators:

You can read more about e-bombs here.

There are a few reasons why I love the ideas of e-bombs as marketing:

If I can create a customer base by helping them which then leads them to use a genuinely useful product that I’ve made to make their lives better, that seems like a win-win!

Just Fucking Ship

In my sad story that you read at the start of this article, another key issue that I tend to have is that I don’t ship the things that I build.

It’s because it’s scary to ship things.

Hell, even writing about the process of building my latest thing gets me feeling a little anxious and I have no idea why.

No more.

I’m going to ship this bad boy and I’m going to do my absolute best to market it and help my audience out along the way.

I’m going to ship it!

Shipping

The first version is going to be a solid chunk of helpfulness with no fluff. My plan is to get that in front of my potential customers ASAP and determine if I’m providing the value that I think I should be as a result of my Sales Safari.

Luckily, being a developer, I can modify based on feedback while still keeping the bigger picture vision and customer pains in mind.

So what did I end up with?

So I’ve done hours of Sales Safari and Fix-Stormed my little heart out.

The primary places that I did my research was on Reddit at /r/freelance, /r/web_dev and a few other sub-reddits. I found another great place for Sales Safari to be YouTube channels around how to run a creative business where they do role-play and Q & A sessions.

So, what did I find?

I found that…

Managing clients and client projects is really painful.

All of these deep pains boil down to a lack of:

I believe I know how to fix it and we’ll discuss the potential solution for the remainder of this series.

Your Turn

Are you looking to turn your future dev skills into a product or are you looking to find work?

What customer groups do you belong to and where are their watering holes online?

Next time we’ll discuss the planning and product design of Drum and how we can use software to solve the pains that I’ve discovered.

We’ll cover:

Until then!

Ben

p.s. Part 2 is now available! Click here to learn about project planning, scope and minimum viable products.