Don’t throw away your competitive advantage
The Web App Challenge | January 23rd, 2013
When someone you respect tells you they think you are making a big mistake, stop and listen. That’s what happened to me after I announced The Web App Challenge. I started the challenge not knowing what I would build or what the target market would be.
I made a statement in the announcement post about how I would target any market: doctors, lawyers, landscapers, etc. So long as they had problems that needed to be solved and money to spend, they were a potential market.
You can read more about my process of finding an idea in another post.
I now think that was a mistake for me.
A Critical Mistake
Amy Hoy sent me a tweet saying she liked what I was doing, but thought I was making a critical mistake. Since she’s built Freckle, a massively profitable time-tracking app, I really wanted to hear what she had to say. We had a long Skype chat, but the core message came down to this:
Building and marketing software is hard. Don’t throw away all your competitive advantages to make it even harder.
If I had chosen to build a product for landscapers or lawyers, I would have a much harder time selling to them. If you are starting from scratch that may be fine. But I’ve already built up an audience with my books, so it would be wasteful to not leverage that in some way.
You can read the exact transcript of my conversation with Amy here.
Do I have anything to teach lawyers?
I’ve learned that teaching is by far the best way to market a product. That’s how I’ve promoted my books and it has worked incredibly well. Unfortunately, every time I have released a product targeted towards an industry I wasn’t a part of (i.e. sign language interpreting agency software), I didn’t know what to teach them. That made education-based marketing very hard for me.
Compare that to web design and development. I can write dozens of blog posts that not only help others in the field, but also promote my books.
Now a savvy marketer will point out that you don’t have to create your own content. In fact, if you do you will be the bottleneck for your own success. There are plenty of experts who can be interviewed to create valuable content your audience will find valuable. I firmly believe this to be true, but right now I like to write everything myself, even though I know I am the bottleneck. I guess that’s something I need to work to overcome.
Solving my own pain
I still searched for painful problems in other industries, but also looked for things that frustrated me as well. It didn’t take long before I uncovered a big frustration related to selling my books. With that, I had an idea.
Unfortunately, this is the point where most people stop working on the idea and start building it. That’s very bad. Just as with an idea you got from someone else through idea extraction, you need to validate your own idea with more people. So I started setting up phone calls. I sent out direct messages on Twitter to 10 people saying I had a product idea I wanted to run by them and to see if they had 15 minutes today for a phone call.
Most responded, and I had a lot of great calls. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I decided to move forward.
So this new project, which will be announced soon, targets people like me: designers, developers, bloggers, and online marketers.
Hey! That’s not fair!
I know some people will say that using my existing audience gives me some sort of unfair advantage in the challenge. If so, it’s an advantage anyone can create, given some time. If you learn nothing else from my writing, I want you to see how important it is to build your own audience. Teaching is the best form of marketing. That’s all I’ve done. You can too.
It would be foolish of me to not take advantage of the platform I have built up over the last year.
Here a few things I want you to take away from this post:
- Start building an audience today. To do that you need to find something you can teach, then just start sharing.
- Try to create products for an industry you can teach something to. Otherwise you will be limited to more traditional marketing methods.
- Validate your ideas. Whether you are solving a problem in an industry you don’t have experience in or solving your own problem, you need to validate the idea. Don’t think that just because something is painful to you, that other people are willing to pay for it.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the announcement of my new app. If you want to hear about it first, follow along by email using the form below.
My best content on design, marketing, and business.
Delivered each week for free.