Lessons from My First Tech Product

Building software can definitely be addictive: git push...git push...git push some more. The build is thrilling! It feels great creating something that wasn’t there before! My first real project was bringing my love for natural and healthy living to tech and I was excited to make it work. It was going to be great! It was going to bring us all together and we would skip off into the sunset after twisting each other’s natural hair. I launched the product - an online community for natural and healthy living to help natural enthusiasts learn from tips/tricks/regimens/routines from each other. While it may not have ended how I expected, I do have a few lessons to share.

Every product is different, however there are some general laws of product and it will do you some good to be aware of them.

  • Build something people want, but first understand what people need. Most people don’t know what they need so asking them point blank will not get you closer to honest answers. They think they know what they need, but they usually do not. I guess this is the toughest part of building a product - which makes it the most important. Whatever you're building, take time to understand the problem and the real needs at hand.
  • A few simple signs that you may be off track:
    • Constantly asking people to do use your app/website and reminding them of your wonderful existence. If you keep thinking that they’ll love your product once they see and experience it, be very careful. Focus on pinpointing the problem that you’re solving for them,
    • Most people visit once, and go away - never to return….I mean never.
    • Nobody is sharing your product on their own volition. People share something they’re proud to be associated with.
    • The need for paid marketing really soon after launch to spread the word may be a red flag dressed in blue.
  • Asking users for ideas on how to get them to use your product more is a quick fix not a long-term solution. First of all, that should be a big sign that something drastic needs to change. Secondly, all you’ll end up with is a long list of ideas that don’t solve the real problem; more nice-to-haves.
  • One of the best things is that you will make new friends along the way - they make it worth your while :)
  • Marketing is generally hard but it’s even harder when no one wants what your selling. Remember people like to talk about products that reflect well on themselves. It's almost like saying, "Look how smart I am, I use **insert name of product**!"
  • Your friends and family are your fans, not your users. They’re lovely but as far as saying you have users goes, they don’t count much. Thank God for them though. When you get complete strangers using, loving and sharing your product, then you're going somewhere!
  • Great design gives you a competitive edge but don’t forget the problem you are actually trying to solve. I love design. I'm always tweaking something or the other to get that perfect look - which in my mind changes every few days. Unfortunately, changing background colors does not make users stay.
  • Gentle reminder, you are NOT your product. Building anything you love will affect you - in lots of ways but don’t tie your identity to it. Be proactive, not reactive, with your self care.

In hindsight, it’s okay to go wrong with a product. It’s a sucky feeling but sometimes it’s a step in the right direction. Stop building, take a break, drown yourself in self care, then talk to your users. Listen to what they say and don’t say. Have a conversation and please leave all your expectations at home. See things as they are, not as you wish them to be.

Shout out to my family and friends who put up with me, stood by me and bought me coffee when I didn’t (and still don’t) have a clue! You are the realest ones!

Image source: Jeffery Bowman; Digital Arts Online