June 13th 2020
Where we left off last week
I concluded the last article stating:
I have made up my mind; a checklist will be my first project. […] Let’s review our progress and our next step:
- I̶d̶e̶a̶s̶ ̶B̶r̶a̶i̶n̶s̶t̶o̶r̶m̶i̶n̶g̶
- S̶e̶l̶e̶c̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶i̶d̶e̶a̶
- Preparation and Setup
- Beta Test
- Reflect, Correct, Release
During the last nine days, I’ve spent an average of two hours per day. I completed the “Preparation and Setup,” and I have achieved all steps to act on the Beta Test.
Here is the exciting news. Today, right after I had published this article, I’m going to share the first Checklist — “Release WebApps with Confidence” — is available for pre-order. I feel nervous and excited. The market — all of you — will tell me if this idea is worth it or not. Ufff!
ebook cover “Release WebApps with Confidence”
Preparation and Setup
Be warned if you have decided to go side by side or base your approach on these articles. This phase was dangerous. I had to stop myself from going into rabbit holes on many occasions. So, repeat after me:
“Perfect is the enemy of Done.”
Besides, this step made me rethink some decisions I thought I had perfectly planned. So be flexible and open-minded as you go through it.
Let me walk you across the path I’ve taken:
- Validate the idea
- Market research
- Find the differentiator
- Define your targeted audience
- Identify your communication channels
- Create the Offer
- Define the pricing model
- Write your story
- Action Items
1. Validate the idea
In the first part, we did our brief Validation to conclude in a feasible, profitable, in-demand, scalable, and exciting idea.
Go ahead and explain your idea to your partner or a friend, in simple words, in one or two phrases.
Did they get it? What was their feedback? What questions did they have?
How do I sell or distribute this product?
How do I handle the legal and financial aspects?
I’ve decided to use the Sole Proprietorship entity. You might wonder why not an LLC. Given this venture is in the explore stage, an LLC would bring overhead to set up, during tax season, and additional cost for legal and accounting services. If this entrepreneurship transitions into a more stable income, I might reconsider.
I’ve opened a business account in an online bank to keep all inflow and expenses separated from my personal.
I’ve acquired umbrella insurance. It costs ~200 USD, and it adds protection up to 1M dollars.
3. Market research
How did others succeed at this?
I’ve been following two pretty successful individuals: Wes Boss and Daniel Vassallo. Wes has found his model a few years back and has been able to sustain it pretty actively. Daniel started — as far as I can tell — May 2019.
Value => Audience => Opportunity
They both agree the first step is to build an audience. To achieve it, we need to deliver value, lots of it, without asking much in exchange. Wes created a series of tech tutorials which he gave for free in exchange for an email address. He also provided tips via twitter. Daniel focused on delivering value via Twitter until he reached four thousand followers.
Both of them agree that paid advertising has a meager return.
4. Find the differentiator
How can I deliver extra value?
While I have a decent amount of experience in tech and leadership, I can’t claim to be a pioneer with unique novel ideas. I have always thought of my self more of a roman than a greek. Greeks have invented amazing things. Romans were good at identifying good ideas and inventions and absorb those as part of their toolset.
My first language is Spanish, as I was born in Argentina. One thought is to deliver the content both in English and Spanish. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world.
- Mandarin Chinese 1.1 billion speakers
- English 983 million speakers
- Hindustani 544 million speakers
- Spanish 527 million speakers
Note-to-self: send a word to former peers in China to see if one would like to help me with the mandarin translation.
If I were to play devil’s advocate, I should remind myself the tech community reads tech material in English. The question is what portion of the audience is left out. It sounds like a swiftly and economically feasible experiment to run.
5. Define your Audience
Here is where I got my first rabbit hole moment. Understanding and formulating the audience is vital. It is also an exciting task which can take days or weeks interviewing people, analyzing an individual’s needs and goals at different companies and product stages.
For a software project or any product development, I need user research to assist in decision making at all stages.
In this lean test 40 hours approach, I can’t afford going deep. So here is my analysis for the audience I believe I can help.
There are two dimensions — profile and company/product’s stage — that create potentially six different Personas.
Many tech companies have two tracks for engineers. In the tech track, we have individual contributors (IC) such as a developer, a tech lead, or an architect. In the people leadership side, we have a supervisor, a manager, and a director. The labels in your company might differ.
Each company or product goes through different stages. Each phase has different goals and challenges. The tools and techniques to consider definitively varies.
A product starts in the Explore stage — sometimes called Validation — where a team tests different ideas as fast and economically as possible.
The market determines which idea is a hit and so the product is transitioned to the Expand stage. This step opens a fast-paced window where the team needs to seize the opportunity, capture the market while establishing the product or service value and quality.
If successful in the previous step, the product now moves to the Extract stage. Time moves at a regular pace. The game is the Economy of scale. Cost reductions, optimizations, deduplication, and other previously dismissed goals take the team’s focus.
If you combine these two dimensions, we get the following Personas:
- An IC in an Explore company/product
- A leader in an Explore company/product
- An IC in an Expand company/product
- A leader in an Expand company/product
- An IC in an Extract company/product
- A leader in an Extract company/product
I have guided people in each of these contexts from ideation to release. I know they exist and have distinct goals, responsibilities, interests, and motivations.
At this point, I started planning interviews and surveys to understand their age, company type, values, attitudes, interests, motivation, geography. May be putting together a mouth-watering asymmetric clustering matrix. Thanks to the stay-at-home recommendations, my kids were there to “distract” me. When I came back to the pen and paper, I realized I was overdoing it. So this exercise goes into the backlog and will be played when/if it becomes a priority.
6. Identify your communication channels
Given our two main groups — IC and leaders — we could propose the following hypotheses based on my peer and own experience:
IC group consume technical articles via twitter, dev.to, medium, hacker news, Reddit.Leaders consume content via twitter, medium, LinkedIn.
I have already been publishing my technical and leader related articles to all these different media. As time goes by, I will be able to drive more conclusions.
7. Create the Offer
We are going to use the following formula to create our offer:
Target+Idea + Promise + Pitch + Price
My first checklist offer looks like this:
- Target: IC group
- Idea: Release WebApps with Confidence
- Promise: Deploy often with speed and efficiency, reducing unknowns and unforced errors. Focus on delivering business value using a time tested approach. An astronaut, a pilot, and a surgeon follow the same process to succeed when lives are at stake.
- Pitch: Save 5 hours per release. That’s 350–500 USD per release. If you release once per month, that’s 4200–6000 USD per year per product.
- Price: 6–10 USD, see “Defining the pricing model” section below for more details.
Here is another one I have started to think about:
- Target: Leaders group
- Idea: Engineering Manager’s Checklist
- Promise: Become the leader your team needs. Understand their needs, set them up for success, follow the right KPIs, promote the right culture of collaboration, and much more. Leverage 15+ years of managers and coaches in a single collection.
- Pitch: A coach charges 350 USD rate. Save at least the first ten sessions following proven steps. That’s a hefty 3500 USD.
- Price: 6–10 USD, see “Defining the pricing model” section below for more details.
8. Define the pricing model
As I’m still building the audience, I’ve decided to release the first version with a suggested price of six dollars but allowing the buyer to set the price, even at zero dollars.
At this point, I want to demonstrate the value of my experience, the quality of my product. Adding one person to my list of readers who trust me, is worth the effort of this first release and more.
In the future, I will set a minimum price of six dollars and offer a team license as well.
9. Write your story
Explain who you are and why you are doing it. My take on this:
During the last ten years, I have guided 45+ product development teams from ideation to release of web applications. I’ve conducted the small three do-it-all devs and the massive project with 75+ individual contributors distributed across six time zones and ten different teams.
Each product in its particular stage was chasing different goals.
As time went by, I’ve started to notice the patterns. A few years ago, I read “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. In summary, the book demonstrates how checklists save time, money, and lives across different industries.
Suddenly, I realized I could document a list of steps to serve as a guide, a baseline for teams to follow without depending on me. Eureka! I was scaling myself.
As the years went by, lessons learned forged the optimizations and evolutions of this list and more to come.
10. Action Items
Here is a review of all the action items in this phase:
- Set up a Bank account
- Set up a WaveApps account
- Get Umbrella insurance
- Research your competition enough to identify how you will differentiate
- Define your audience
- Define your communication channels
- Create the offer
- Define the pricing model
- Write your story
- Create and update accounts in defined channels
For this recipe, we will need:
- A Gumroad account
- A draft or sample of our product
- Peers you trust will provide blunt feedback.
- An open-mind and understanding it will probably fail (this time)
- (optional) A web domain
- (optional) A landing page website and service to deploy it
First, we need to create a proof of our future output. Maybe the cover, a table of content, and one full chapter. Once again, do not go nuts into details. We don’t know yet if we have a winner.
In regards to the tools, I used Pages in mac — it could have been Word or Google Docs — and converted it to PDF. I used Unplash for images and Canva to create the cover. I used Grammarly to improve my writing, as English is my second language.
Now, we write our Gumroad’s profile. Then, we add our product to Gumroad, adding our Story and Offer to the product description. We set the price and choose the “pre-release” option. You will get a URL you can now share.
Eventually, we share with our peers and ask for straight in the eye feedback. Whatever they say, do not explain or justify. Take notes, ask more questions, and thank them a hundred times.
If Gumroad seems limited to what you need, then you can build your website. I’ve recorded every minute I spent on coding and setting up my site. I will soon publish and share it. In the meantime, here is the guide:
If you have basic tech knowledge, I highly suggest using GastbyJS + Netlify and an out of the box template. You can get a website within two hours entirely done. You only need to pay for your domain. I paid 7.99 for checklist.works.If you have no tech knowledge, WIX is one way to go if you want professional results. The Total cost is 13 USD per month, and it includes a domain for a year.
The Fire test
Now let’s get uncomfortable and share the news outside of our circle.
Reach out to one of the channels and announced the pre-release. Wait twenty-four hours, then try a different channel. Rinse and repeat until you have covered all your channels.
As mentioned above, today – right after I had published this article – I am going to take the first step. I’m going to share the first Checklist and test the waters. I feel nervous and excited. The market — all of you — will tell me if this idea is worth it or not. Ufff!
Next time I write here, you will know how it went. Will Caesar have his thumb up or down?
Here we go! Cheer for me!