Solving front-end and UX dilemmas

Scratching Your Own Itch and Launching a Successful Product Are Two Completely Different Things

Since I work with distributed teams, once or twice a year I have to pimp my wares to find the next gig. Being a designer and front-end developer, I usually go the extra mile and try to send out nicely-designed HTML emails, just to add more differentiation from the rest of the pack. To do this I coded up a Rails app last year in the form of an HTML email editor/sender/tracker - I could save job listings, compose HTML emails from templates (and connect these to specific listings), schedule when to send (9:01 AM next Monday), and look up individual email analytics. It worked great in that I could immediately gauge interest by tracking clicks and opens, and use that data to A/B test my cover letters.

After finding successive gigs somewhat easily, I thought why not offer it as a service for other freelancers/online workers? So began my first foray into launching my own product. Scratching my own itch, as it were (the 37 Signals guys should get royalties the way that phrase has been bandied about the past five years).

To say that Impressario quietly launched would be doing a great disservice to the word “quiet”. I actually had about 15 signups after announcing it on Hacker News and Reddit, where I assumed my market would be hanging out. Some comments were a bit harsh (“who would pay for this thing?”), and quite a few were encouraging. But no one came to my party. After a month I pulled the plug.

This was in April - since then I found out about Amy Hoy’s 30x500 class, and have been reading everything I can find about lean startups. If only I had known about customer development, I am sure things would have turned out differently. I may or may not have produced the same app, but I would have known early on if there were enough people willing to pay for my endeavors.

One lesson learned: validate your idea first. Get into your customer’s worldview and see if the particular pain point you want to assuage is actually being felt enough to warrant paying a monthly fee for. If enough people actually reach for their wallets (based on the idea, not even an MVP or a finished product), then it’s worth pursuing.

That said, I am on to my next side project, BodyWorkApp. On a recent trip to Boston and New Jersey, I saw how my sister, a massage therapist, conducted her business and saw a few pain points I could solve. I’m just starting out with customer development, and this time I feel I have a fighting chance at making this app profitable.