“All of the not-so-sexy tasks I was focusing on — actually engaging customers, implementing feedback and building a library of educational content — were building momentum.”
“However, our experience has shown these numbers take care of themselves when we consistently put the customer first. ”
Same as my company. Although they employ many tricks, the customers say the main thing that keeps them coming back is (a) having what they need and (b) great service. We have many competitors, including cheaper ones, that they ignore for our level of service.
One of my default ideas for bootstrapped offerings is to clone a product at a company with shit service and marketing, make some minor changes (esp fix complaints), and offer it as something new with great marketing and service. I don’t know what the success rate will be but I’m guessing higher than random ideas. Actually, there’s a product company that does this successfully on Amazon for all sorts of things just making minor variations based on customer suggestions or complaints in comment sections. I’ll try to dig it up if anyone is interested.
Great that you and the community got it this far. Good luck on finding a new maintainer. I was planning on trying at some point in far future to collect Best of Barnacles in each category wrapped up in a zip or something for bootstrappers. I bet you have better ideas than me on what would go into that. Please save the database of submitted articles and tags if you have to shut it down. Worst case, site could get frozen in time where nothing new is added but existing links work and/or folks can send messages. Might still generate leads for folks that contributed to it.
I have a shorter explanation if it’s her we’re talking about: she likes to do drawings, lots of people like her posts with drawings, and why not make some money off it. She’s already most of the way to a product and audience. Others trying this might similarly want to test and iterate some free ones on their web site first like she did.
I don’t think it’s useful to guess at her reasons when you could just read her explanation of her reasons.
As an example of why it’s not useful, one of the reasons she mentions near the end is being able to pay artists.
Articles like that are better fit for technical forums. This one is dedicated to aspects of running a small business such as marketing and pricing. Also, case studies on them.
One piece of advice given to potential founders of startups is looking for pain points people have. Then, solve them. The high cost and inflexibility of electronic hardware plus non-hands-on education were obstacles to hobbyists. The author went from solving their own problem into bootstrapping a business solving others' problems on the cheap. Only got better from there.
Particularly enjoyed An Unconventional Way to Validate Your Product Idea.
Although most businesses are about profit, there are nonprofits that can make money using same techniques with a focus on social good. I like people saying their business is about social good to prove it with their actions. Ghost seems like a good example. Choice quotes:
“Ghost was set up from day 1 as a non-profit foundation, and released all of its code under the open source MIT license.”
“Anyone can say they want to "change the world” and that “it’s not about the money” — but talk is cheap — so we made our mission legally binding."
(my emphasis added)
Few companies talking about changing the world for better are willing to do that last part because their owners are frankly full of crap. Great to see more people with those stated principles forming nonprofits, public benefit companies, and so on. Also, in Ghost’s case, running like a good business to ensure the developers are taken care of and product is sustainable, too.
Edit to add: A Ghost founder is available on Hacker News if anyone wants to talk to them.
As a guy who did similar tech, I liked this article because they mostly ignored tech. They just constantly listened to users thinking out the box to fit something around their needs, stated and unstated. Many projects in this space are still focusing on better ways to do tech without doing that part.
A good example of what you’re talking about is Pinboard:
He made a useful service. He offered it to people who took it up. He kept it profitable. They enjoy it. He didn’t need all that fancy, upfront investment you’re calling out:
“Pinboard is written in PHP and Perl. The site uses MySQL for data storage, Sphinx for search, Beanstalk as a message queue, and a combination of storage appliances and Amazon S3 to store backups. There is absolutely nothing interesting about the Pinboard architecture or implementation; I consider that a feature!”
Even brags on how boring it is. It’s simple, it works, and it’s probably pretty cheap. What more could a bootstrapper really need or want in first deployment to small number of paying users? :)
That essentially reduces to the free with donation option that already exists. Doesn’t work out for most FOSS in terms of making money. There could be a psychological benefit to popping up an initial screen to buy it with user-selectable amount. Maybe put a sensible default with a “Skip payment. Pirate it instead.” option on bottom-right like other skip options to evoke a feeling of responsibility in some users. Important that there’s a nearly, one-click default to pay with to maximize convenience. I don’t have experimental evidence but it seems important.
Far as the concept, it’s been done by many authors but I didn’t find almost anything for software. Search terms necessary to narrow the question down further were basically buzzwords that produce endless garbage in results. Did find one, though:
Interesting link! The MVP that I built has a minimum price of $1 - this is because Stripe’s minimum price is 50 cents, and if that had been my minimum price, then after Stripe fees I would only be making about 17 cents/month/user. At $1, I am making 68 cents/month/user, which brings the pricing model from “totally impossible to live off of” to only “probably impossible to live off of”.
On the note of the “Skip payment, Pirate it instead” idea, I remember something similar for some Linux distro (maybe elementalOS?) getting a lot of hate on HackerNews. Obviously HackerNews isn’t the end-all-be-all, but I think that some people might be upset if you insinuate that they are doing something bad by not paying for your content.
Another great article. As I was reading it, I noticed there might be opportunity to template that stuff like with the payment stuff you’re telling people to ignore. Some generic thing that you just throw a web site’s theme on. A whole pile of it that works well enough on cheapest hosting possible sold to entrepreneurs one time per version or annually for very small amount of money. Waste of time or potential there?
I actually have toyed with the idea of putting together a “SaaS platform as a service” (I think this would be AWESOME for rapid business development) but haven’t personally tried to market validate the idea.
What do you all think of that out of curiosity?
Since this mentions elementary OS’s download/contribute system, has anyone seen any figures for how much money that is actually making them? I want to believe in the goodness of mankind and all that, but I can’t decide if that is overly hopeful or not. I’d be curious if it’s working well for them.
Best write-up I have on this topic. Most focus on Red Hat vs the world. Nadia does a survey of all kinds of projects plus companies in various categories. Results tell me mankind is more selfish than good. Like most other studies. No money in FOSS although you can make money doing something that outputs FOSS.
Great breakdown of how to get early validation of the concept. Look forward to next articles. :)
Thought this was a nice presentation that covered a lot of ground with short, easy-to-digest slides. It was on Hacker News aimed at startups but most of the advise applies to bootstrappers, too. I figured it would be interesting to see Barnacles perspective on it given the differences of the two, business models.
Great article. I’d like to see more of these as I think plenty of wisdom comes from failures. Especially marketing as you’re essentially trying to understand people, consumers or industries, at various points in time. Steady feedback on this stuff from many angles helps us all. Too bad Verytas failed given it was a great idea. I also loved how he depicted the cigar customers' value: they buy the product, they intentionally burn it, and order another. Self-sustaining alternative to planned obsolescence. :)
I’m going to semi-counter this as it shows up on occasion and is contradicted by existence of my profile & karma there (nickpsecurity on HN). I noticed a combination of thoughtful discussions, topic bias, attacks over barely-relevant stuff (esp page design/titles), and fad behavior (esp around popular people/topics). I came in aiming at BS of what turned out top-rated commenter, countering any myths promoted by fanboys of popular topics w/ references backing claims, promoting/introducing info (incl obscure or unpopular) that could benefit people, and occasionally agreeing with crowds on something. My account and threads I pushed should’ve been downvoted into non-existence per anti-HN claims I sometimes see. Instead, a regular pattern happened on controversial claims where I’d get instant downvotes (usually not greyed-out) followed by double the upvotes later on in the day. Moderator & others said this is a common pattern where more negative or immature people attack immediately with more thoughtful people coming in at lunch or after work later. Underdog role means I don’t get many votes but minor comments get 2-6 and usually 10+ on longer ones.
Far as topics, there are people that consistently upload obscure, non-fad material to the site that makes the front page. Others make 2nd or at least “New” page, which I recommend checking instead just front. I mean, only checking front page guarantees one see result of popularity contest on any site. So, I go 1-3 then new/recent on all these sites with a quick glance taking 30s-1m. Unpopular topics on HN didn’t last long or get many votes but had good comments sometimes. I agree with gravyboat that SC is probably not popular among almost any of their demographic. I also found in popular ones that counterpoints sometimes had good info for me. Recent example being John Nagle (Animats) recommending decision tables for smart contracts instead of interpreters. Totally forgot about that technique & how easy lay people understand/verify those. Other times people who read, but don’t comment, will email me to follow up about a counterpoint or offer valuable insights from their own experience.
So, that’s been my experience on Hacker News for past year or so doing while presenting topics or comments that could unleash the mobs on me. But rarely does. Lobsters was interesting alternative in policy & implementation, mostly seemed to repeat HN threads, and had good comments not on HN. So, I joined them to try their model & community. Discovered this site through it. I agree with you the articles here appear unique and refreshing with some good comments so far. So, now I’m here too. I find I continued to learn from HN comments while on Lobsters and will probably learn from all three as I continue to use this site.
I like the article except for this line:
“Your competitor has more staff than you? That means that they have got to make more sales to turn a profit and they spend a lot more time in meetings.”
That really depends on the staff allocation. A competitor with more sales staff + a decent product will probably be making more money. They can then put that into any aspect of their business to compete with you. Likewise, extra staff might be a lead on you if they’re designers improving product, developers knocking off items customers care about, QA people removing delays caused by bugs, and so on. Workers adding value to the product.
So, that one line only seems true if you’re competing with a larger organization that’s starting to get top or middle heavy. Or less about the number but more about them really just not doing hiring or ops effectively.