Nathan Barry’s $5k App Challenge: My Seasoned Bootstrappy Advice

I think Nathan Barry is the bee’s knees. He’s been killing it with his info products: The App Design Handbook and Designing Web Applications.

Nathan Barry and His Books

Even before he announced his Web App Challenge, to build an app from scratch that would reach $5,000/mo revenue in 6 mos, I was sure it would only be a matter of time til he turned his hand to a recurring revenue product.

Because once you get that first product dollar in your hot little hand, you’re hooked for life. It’s better than drugs. And subscription income is even better.

There were a few things in Nathan’s App Challenge that set my worrydar a-beeping. This ain’t my first rodeo, as you know. It wasn’t his first rodeo, either, having grossed nearly six figures off his ebook/video packages.

But… there’s just something special about The Next Big Product that makes a person go a lil crazy. (I know, because I’ve been there.)

So I got on the bullhorn (aka Skype) with Nathan and we had a conversation, which he very generously allowed me to reprint here.

We talk about…

  • why doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs sound like great niches but are actually horrible
  • what bootstrapping really means
  • the peril of the white whale project (Second Product Syndrome, to wit)
  • the issues with outsourcing
  • why customer development can be one big tail-chase

I edited our Skype transcript just a tiny bit for length and content, but neither one of us is big on the chitchat so I think you’ll find it very readable (and info-packed!).

Me & Nathan Talking About His App Experiment

NOTE: Nathan is in italics. I’m in regular type.

Amy: So this is the key thing I wanted to warn you against:

“What I do know is that it will be a targeted niche. That may be lawyers, real estate agents, landscapers, insurance agents, construction companies, or pretty much anyone else.” — Nathan’s post

I know Hacker News types think that’s a great list of niches, but it’s actually a really terrible one. You can’t sell to ANY of those people.

Nathan: Okay, do you mean sell online?

At all. Bootstrapping a business is about learning to punch above your weight. The only way to punch above your weight is to use every advantage you have.

Not only do those audiences not buy things, not only are they scattered and incoherent and unprofessional and in many cases incompetent and/or broke… you’re throwing away every advantage you have.

With my existing audience you mean?

Yep.

You’re right… I’m struggling with that. I want to find a painful problem to solve, but haven’t found one in the web design (ish) space.

You have $80k in the bank that says otherwise.

So I wanted to find something really targeted where there was a very painful problem that software could solve.

True.

Targeted is worthless if you can’t find the people or they don’t want to buy. Woo! laser targeted goose eggs!

That $80k in book sales is all one off revenue, short of starting a training membership site, I don’t see how to turn that into recurring revenue.

It took four of us 3 months to build Freckle. You’re not gonna get anywhere on $5k. You will not find customers to invest in the product… unless you do presales, which I doubt you’ll do unless you have confidence the product will be done in a reasonable time frame.

My plan was to do presales. Then do all the design and front-end dev myself.

I’ve never seen anyone do successful presales for a software product, for the record.

[NOTE: Here we are talking about presales as an alternative to substantial customer investment in the product, meaning more than just a few folks signing up for $30 or whatever. At least that's how I interpreted it! I'm not saying I've never seen anyone sign up a handful of customers for a small commitment before shipping.]

That’s good to know.

So I know what position you’re in, believe it or not. It’s easy to take your success for granted and think you have to do bigger and better. Recurring revenue is nice but you’re not in any danger of having to go back to work, it sounds like to me.

No, I’m really not.

If you start chasing down a white whale, you could potentially lose all the momentum you’ve gained.

Actually, recurring revenue is fucking great, but I can’t even begin to imagine being in this biz without being able to develop my own software. Being at the mercy of a flaky freelance developer? Fucking horrible. And make no mistake, they’re all flaky; it’s simple economics.

It’s true. I can even be a flaky freelancer on other projects. I’ve seen it in myself.

I’m working on learning Ruby (I already write my own iPhone apps in Obc-C), but that will take some time.

[a little bit redacted cuz it's insider-y about a third party]

Nathan: So here’s another thought: this gives me all kinds of food for my blog. Posts that will help sell my book. My last two posts have pulled in a lot of sales the last couple days. So this project will grow my brand even more.

IF you have a project. :)

… Not that that is a reason to do it if the main idea still sucks… Right.

Take it from me. I got bored with what I had and decided I had to do something bigger and better. It ended up with me spending 2 years and $200k on something I had to shut down.

Charm?

Yup.

You can still build an app… altho I’d recommend you start with something in between. But if you want to maximize your return, you need to go vertical.

What’s an example of in between?

A friend of mine makes $15k/mo selling an iOS component. Themes, webinars. What’s wrong with a monthly class? We did monthly workshops for a while there and it was great, until the other stuff started making so much money it didn’t make sense and I was tired.

Got it.

Yeah, I’d like to do some classes. Brennan‘s shown me how great they can be for revenue.

The more you teach live, the more you are exposed to people’s problems. People who are willing to pay, and who are already trained to give you money.

Good point. For me software is the ultimate goal, so it seems like a waste of time to delay it. Especially since I have plenty of time and money right now (though I’d rather not burn it up). Maybe I’ll look harder for a product that I could sell to my existing customers/readers.

You’ve shown with Freckle that you can enter a saturated market like time tracking and still do well.

“Saturation” is a load of bullshit :)

Really it just shows the market exists.

It’s more than that. So much more than that. If a million people use Harvest, there’s no way they’re all served well by the same tool. The presence of other products doesn’t just show opportunity, it CREATES opportunity. Because wherever there’s a big biz, there will be lots of dissatisfied customers.

Good point. I hadn’t thought about it like that.

That’s why they pay me the big bucks. ;)

You ought to develop your own software, if you’re determined to do a software biz. Otherwise you will always be at the mercy of somebody else. I don’t know ANYONE… ANYONE… who outsourced their product and made a success out of it. And considering I did freelance development for the past 12 years, that’s saying something special.

Okay. Yeah, that is.

It doesn’t mean you have to do it all.

You don’t think outsourcing could work as a temporary solution? Or is it just building on a house of cards?

You have a kid, right?

Yeah, I do.

In a perfect world, which is better — taking care of your own child, or hiring a full-time nanny?

Taking care of your own kid.

Why?

Because you can raise and care for them in the way you know best.

Yeah. And the nanny won’t love the child the way you do.

Damn. That’s a good analogy.

No freelancer is gonna love your project the way you will. And if you accidentally find one who will, look out, because that will create conflict in the end, because in the end it’s YOUR project, not theirs. But probably what will happen is you run out of money… (your budget, I mean). Then it will grind to a halt. Then, if you haven’t been doing your own dev work, you will be unable to pick it up. Or you’ll have a falling out and need a bug fixed. Or they’ll get busy with a new contract and won’t be available when you need them. Hiring & firing is exhausting, btw.

I’ve had that happen before.

Me too. Over & over. Luckily I wasn’t at their mercy.

You are absolutely right. I’ll buckle down learning Rails.

Good. It’ll be worth the wait.

For a more direct question, what do you think about Dane Maxwell’s approach to finding problems?

I’m not super familiar with it. What does he say?

Basically choose a market and talk to people until you can find a really painful problem they have. Then build a specific solution for that. So get them on the phone and try to find if there are problems (paperwork, or other specific tasks) that can be automated with software.

So, basic customer development.

Right.

I don’t like [pre-/potential] customer interviews.

Because they feed you BS?

Not intentionally. People put in that position, most want to be helpful. They also don’t really pay attention to what they’re doing most of the time.

So what you get is people being too nice, too helpful, too agreeable, too optimitsic about what they’d buy, and how their behaviors might change. Meanwhile they overlook all the really good stuff, most of the time.

IMO, the only way to get good data is to observe without them knowing you’re there… which is why I teach my students to analyze forum threads, blog posts, mailing lists, Twitter.

…[about customer interviews] The goal would be to get them to focus on the problem, and let you work on the solution.

Yeah, but look back over the convo we just had. How many of the problems I surfaced to you were ones you’d already thought of?

If I asked you, “where’s your pain with xyz?” how many would you have come up with?

Not very many. That’s my problem trying to come up with my own ideas for web apps.

I know them because I’m an expert. Not just cuz I went through them myself and am hyper-aware of it, but because I am surrounded by people doing these things all day, and I watch what they DO.

I don’t sit them down and question them.

This is another reason to not target an audience far from your own.

I guess I need to try it some more for myself and see if I can make something of it. Instinctively, I think it will work.

Which?

Interviewing to find a problem that is causing businesses pain. But that’s also where the presale request comes in. Because I need that to validate their opinion. To see if they really mean what they said, or if they were just trying to be helpful and make up things I might be interested in.

Plus I’ll look really hard at markets I can already influence.

Can’t hurt to try.

I suspect what you’ll find is that you won’t be able to get money based on them describing a problem. People don’t have very good imaginations.

[here we talk about a specific pain Nathan came up with that he didn't actually get from customer interviews, but rather observations of himself & others, which turns out to be the one he later picked to move forward with… one that his audience has… one that his mentors could use… and one that impressed me.]

So, I still plan to move forward scouting for problems, but I’ll look especially hard in areas that can serve my existing audience. Right now I don’t want to cancel my challenge, but I really appreciate the feedback. I wish I had talked to you before publishing that post.

I also plan to do some mockups and further research on the [redacted] concept. I think the market that understands how important they are would be willing to pay to get it right.

Note: I never thought it was unsalvageable. Your challenge, I mean.

The main key is to use what you’ve got and not get yourself in a position where you can’t work on your own product.

Good. But I see what you mean. I think I was making it too difficult (without reason).

I’m sure there was a reason somewhere :) I think we all tend to take our success for granted. So we want to move onto something harder.

True. And I do like a good challenge.

Me too… it’s a kind of a sickness sometimes ;)

The other thing I should say is that I have a crazy amount of respect for you and really appreciate your blog posts, training, and especially this conversation.

[Yep, I left this in because I HAVE A GIANT EGO MWAHAHA. J/k.]

My pleasure. It’s always a pleasure to help somebody who helps themselves.

Well, I should get back to my rails tutorials now. Thank you so much for the advice!

Closing notes from me

One thing I forgot to bring up is how long it takes subscription income to pick up. Even if all things go perfectly for Nathan, I highly doubt he’ll be able to get to $5,000/mo in subscription revenue by mid-summer.

But it sounds to me like that part of his experiment isn’t the important part to him, anyway.

If you shoot for $5,000/mo and get to only $3,000/mo… that’s still an extra $36,000 a year you didn’t have before, and subscription income can be grown.

Of course, there’s no such thing as passive income, not even subscription income.

Want more of this? You’ll want to follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog via email:

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More from Nathan…

Nathan’s blogging about his challenge, as promised.

Discussion

  1. Nathalie Lussier

    Can I just this was probably the most useful conversation to be a fly on the wall listening (reading) in on?

    Amazing feedback, love how spot on your advice is Amy, and also how Nathan is taking action. I think this is genius stuff, and as a former developer I can TOTALLY relate to the baby analogy, and how no one will take care of your code as well as you would.

    Off to share this with my peeps, because more people need to read this genius.

    Reply
  2. Justin Jackson

    Nathan and Amy: this is awesome. By letting us “listen in” on your dialogue, the lessons in here feel genuine. Great work.

    To add a little fuel to the fire, I’ll make a few comments:

    Amy: “I’ve never seen anyone do successful presales for a software product, for the record.”

    I guess it depends on the definition of “successful” – Jason Cohen had 40 pre-sales before he started building WPEngine: http://blog.asmartbear.com/stop-customer-interviews.html

    Amy: “I don’t know ANYONE… ANYONE… who outsourced their product and made a success out of it.”

    Again, it depends on your definition of “success” but I personally think Rob Walling is pretty successful, and he outsources almost all of his development: http://www.softwarebyrob.com

    Reply
    • Amy

      Thanks, Justin!

      To clarify, when Nathan and I were talking about presales, we were talking about it as an alternative to customer investment which is what he initially called it. That meant I assumed “presales” = “significant chunk of change” (because his initial budget for a whole app was only $5k). Jason doesn’t fit that story, since he wrote that he had 40 “yeses” but only 20 people actually paid him $50/mo… or just $1000 up front. That is certainly an awesome achievement, but not quite “investment” level.

      As for Rob, I’m not sure yet if Rob has dev experience. I always thought he did. Someone else said that Rob bought existing products and marketed ‘em up, but this all made me realize I don’t know much about Rob’s background… we’re not close, I would say I know of him, but don’t know him. Waiting on Rob to chime in with the facts!

      That said, I don’t think buying a product which already exists counts as outsourcing development. The product then is a known quantity; you can poke around in it, see what works, what doesn’t. That’s not very similar to starting from scratch with a freelancer you hope will do the trick.

      I pushed Nathan, personally, away from outsourcing his product because he’s got no dev chops. Ruben Gamez outsourced the first version of Bidsketch, but he finished the last 25% himself… because he was a developer. That meant he could step in, in case of emergency. Maybe he wouldn’t be an expert on that particular codebase, but he could do something. Nathan, at this stage, can’t. If his dev screws him, what then?

      Outsourcing is hard enough when you know enough to judge the quality of the freelancer’s work.

      And I’m not sure if I’d count it as an “outsourcing my product” success story if the founder had to or chose to step in and do the last 25%. The last 25% can be a lot. And certainly not something a non-technical founder could do… they’d be on the hook to hire somebody else.

      Reply
      • Rob

        I don’t agree that Nathan should learn to develop. It takes time to become a good developer, lots and lots of hours. There are a ton of patterns or “best known methods” that can only be learned with experience. There’s just technical stuff (for example, what’s the best database to use?, the most appropriate cache server?, etc. etc.) that Nathan won’t be able to decide alone. Web app security, database security, and I could go on.

        And, experts out there say that the hardest part is the marketing, not the development. So why wouldn’t Nathan spend his time doing the hardest, most critical part of his endeavor? If the first developer he hires doesn’t work out, there are still 100k more he can hire.

        He should understand code. He should be able to tweak it here or there. But definitely not develop it.

      • Amy

        Just an FYI to readers who don’t mouse over names — this Rob is not Rob Walling, but a different Rob who’s involved with building a small software biz. In case “Rob” was ambiguous.

        Rob, marketing isn’t the hardest part… everything is the hardest part. :) All the marketing in the world won’t help you if you fritter away your money on a product that doesn’t work or is never completed. Which is what will likely happen unless you know what you’re doing with hiring people to implement a technical vision you can’t understand yourself.

      • Rob

        Sorry for the confusion. I’m not the famous Rob. =]

        Amy, would you agree that learning enough programming to create a Saas app on your own takes a good amount of time? For people in this situation, what would your estimate on this time be?

  3. Roderick

    What do you mean that there is no such thing as passive income? And, this was a great interview Amy!

    Reply
    • John Saville

      Nothing is passive, everything requires maintenance at some point. Everything has overheads. If you work hard on a project and you keep getting payments month after month without any further work, is that passive? No, the initial investment of time sure wasn’t “passive”, and slipping behind your competition and later having to work your ass off again sure won’t be “passive”. Long time-frames don’t make something “passive” at all, it just makes things more flexible.

      Reply
  4. Rose

    Amy. Wow. Like Nathalie said, being a fly on the wall for this was amazing!

    To my discredit, I’ve bought & spent loads of time on biz development/strategy stuff, and being asked “What are you doing, what is your audience” over & over just makes me panic. Listening to you ask Nathan the same thing, and listening him to come up with a response, allowed me to do the same things, with less pressure, and a LOT better results.

    My obstinance aside, WOW, your advice is incredible and props to Nathan for being game for it and finding ways he can get the project he wants. Especially the presale questions vs observations about the problem he has – gold.

    I’ve been trying to nail down what I want to do with my side biz, and wow, this just opened the heavens and gave me a ton of clarity. Now I’m going to go make it happen :) Thank you!

    Reply
  5. John Saville

    There seems to be a new class of huckster in town who’s only trick is assuring you of how much money they’re making. Most of them seem to be making modest money by running “here’s-how-I-did-it” seminars about things they know very little about. Kind of sad really, but I guess it’s what people want to hear.

    Say, Amy, where’s your mansion and car collection?

    Reply
    • Amy

      There seems to be a new class of huckster in town who can’t be bothered to read things before commenting on them. :)

      Reply
  6. James West

    This is why there’s so many products for designers and developers, honestly it feels like we’re a bunch of naval gazing, self-important idiots who never learn to market correctly because we’re too afraid to.

    My biggest concern with the approach of picking something you have an existing audience with or is in some corner of your wheelhouse is that it leaves a lot of opportunity outside.

    Is there not a huge competitive advantage in selling to underserved markets? You may believe market saturation is “bullshit”, but it’s much harder to get noticed in an already crowded field.

    There seems to be two fields of thought on researching and marketing a bootstrapped product:

    1) SEO and niche marketing. This is the sort of thing that Rob Walling talks about. Basically the idea is you research through Google keywords that you can rank highly for and build a product around that, regardless of what you yourself are good at. The problem with this is that the internet is full of scumbags and many online audience “niches” are already taken. PPC is extremely competitive as well.

    2) Content marketing and “become famous”. This is the approach that I think Amy and Ryan Carson recommend. This has a longer path to success, years in some cases, and is highly subject to survivorship bias. To be frank, it’s hard to get noticed in our little world unless you’re a) an extreme extrovert and b) extremely charismatic and/or c) really lucky.

    There’s a middle ground that Patrick McKenzie occupies that combines traits of #1 and #2, but also introduces the free radical of underserved markets. Actually, the reason for his success is that he initially started with an underserved market, and then used that to gain SEO knowledge and internet fame to leverage #2 to some extent.

    I’ve emailed with Amy on this regard, her tone has been basically “Well, it works because he’s Patrick”. I disagree with this sentiment because it sets up a “Golden Calf” mentality that we mere mortals can’t follow the same path.

    Reply
    • Amy

      LIFO…

      Actually, what I said to you about audiences like teachers was: “You think they’re lucrative. But have you ever tried to sell them anything?” (You didn’t respond, so I’m guessing no?)

      And then I pointed you to my Microconf talk where I asked Patrick point blank, “Would you EVER advise people to go after an audience like teachers, given your experience?’ and he says “HECK NO.”

      Video: http://vimeo.com/48962410

      Yes, to squeeze a modest $60k/yr out of teachers forced Patrick to become amazing, world-class at SEO and conversion rate optimization. And if you are betting on a strategy where you have to become world class at something other than your core business, well, good luck.

      Also, this may be the first time I’ve ever heard Patrick described as an extreme extrovert who built his business on extreme charisma. :)

      As for navel-gazing… nope. It’s just common sense. Work with what you know, not what you don’t. And the tools & services we have to use every day are crap. There are a million opportunities to make them better, and people like to pay for it.

      You are concerned that you are “leaving opportunity outside.”

      That’s a destructive kind of attitude. In my experience, it’s fear of loss in greed’s clothing. You can’t have all The Opportunity™. (Assuming Opportunity™ is finite and placed in certain places and not others, which is weird, if you think about it.) How much Opportunity™ do you need? Where can you find it and claim it with the least risk and most reward for your effort?

      Not far afield. Not in a distant land. Nope, right in your neighborhood, where you know people, know things, have experience, have connections.

      How many of the gold rushers created any kind of lasting riches for themselves? Compare that to people who built boring little businesses like dry goods (Levi’s), safe courier service (Wells Fargo), chocolate (Ghiradelli), etc.

      Reply
      • Patrick McKenzie

        Howdy guys. Happy to weigh in here, to the extent that it matters:

        My business is very quirky. Bingo Card Creator, considered as a product in isolation, functions because of scalable marketing strategies like my SEO content creation strategy, AdWords, and conversion optimization. It does not primarily rely on me being “Internet famous”, since I have had roughly similar rankings for most of my competitive search terms for the last ~5 years, including when I was not “Internet famous.”

        BCC is one of four-ish products I run, and the business in general benefits quite a bit from me being “Internet famous”, principally in that this makes it easier for me to source consulting gigs and otherwise create things which make people who work at software companies better at their jobs.

        With regards to niche selection: I have often said, and believe, that it is better for a solo entrepreneur to be in a poorly-served niche which has money rather than a broad market. Prior to meeting Amy and Thomas, I would have assumed that it was insane to sell to developers. They — and Peldi, and the rest of the crowd — are an existence proof that I was wrong regarding the developer/freelancer/etc market.

        With regards to selling to elementary schoolteachers: I strongly suggest not doing it. Have I done it successfully? Yes. Given equivalent levels of talent plus learning over the last six years, would I be selling only $80k of software per year if I had had equivalent levels of success in $PICK_ANY_B2B_MARKET? No. Oh crikey, no.

        There’s individual customers on Appointment Reminder, for example, who pay more for a year of service than BCC will make in entire months, selling hundreds of copies. Those aren’t even enterprise accounts, either.

        I was nowhere near being able to offer AR as a service when I started, six years ago, but I think there were probably reasonably achievable business services that would have provided equivalent opportunity for learning online marketing while being much, much more renumerative.

        Not that I regret anything, obviously — I’m happy as a clam. But for the benefit of all of y’all who haven’t started yet:

        1) Fame’s not generally a bad thing to have but it isn’t a pre-requisite to business success. Most businesses are boring and unknown outside of a small circle of customers. That’s OK.

        2) Don’t sell to elementary schoolteachers. If you have an unstoppable urge to make something for them, get successful with App #1 and write App #2 for them as an act of charity.

    • Stefan Fidanov

      James West: “it’s much harder to get noticed in an already crowded field”

      Sounds appealing, and you say it like it’s universal truth, but it is not based on any facts or research. In fact, when you are not in a “crowded field” there are usually less people looking for solutions and it is hard to be noticed, too.

      Where is harder to be noticed? I don’t know, and I doubt that there is a way to give a definitive answer.

      In a crowded market at least more people are looking for solutions and as you know more people means more opinions which in turns leads to more solutions that can be successful in attracting customers.

      Reply
  7. Adnan

    Most of the time we discuss about SAAS products and their marketing and all stuff. What should be the strategy for desktop or mobile apps that are downloaded once? How to find market for them?

    Reply
    • Rob

      I’m sort of on this boat and looking to get on the Saas bandwagon.

      The thing with desktop/mobile apps (at least mobile apps without in-app purchases or suscriptions) is that your lifetime value is constant: the price of the purchase.

      Plus, mobile apps tend to be very cheap. There was a race to the bottom several years ago under the premise that if I price my app as low as possible, millions will buy it. It might have made sense at the beginning, but given the current competition in the app space, a $1 app is not a viable business unless you are the next Angry Birds.

      I have several mobile apps, and the sales line is pretty constant, since each month I have to “start over” and find new customers. With a suscription business such as most Saas apps, each month’s income will always be equal to or greater than last months (ideally, that is, assuming more people join than leave). So desktop/mobile apps really aren’t passive unless you’re lucky enough that people just come buy them without any promotion/marketing on your part.

      Plus, with Saas products you are less prone to piracy, can more easily cross-sell other of your products, etc.

      Reply
  8. Jason

    Hi Amy, i found your comment about niches interesting. But i don’t get it. Isn’t freckle a niche app, for freelancers? Or did i get it totally wrong? I’m really in doubt. I started bootstrapping shopstream (real time analytics for ecommerce owners) 2 months ago. Do you think my niche product is doomed? What advice would you give to someone that picked a niche like this?

    Reply
    • Randy

      Jason, the scope of your question for “is it doomed” is much larger than the comment you left. Questions like how are your sales and why should someone pick your product over others are nice to know.

      However, the key question you need to ask yourself is “why am I asking if my product is doomed…in a comment…when it only started 2 months ago?”. Everyone will have concerns when getting started unless they are hand over fist successful.

      It sounds like you need to ingrain “why” your product is better and how, into your thought process. Then look at what you need to do to help make the lives of other people easier with your product,… and make sure they know it.

      I can’t say you should push forward with your biz. My take is that it needs to be good and you need to both know and believe its good. If you don’t, you won’t be any good at selling it and people will take your stance…disbelief in the solution. Passion for your product.

      Reply
    • Erik Trom

      Jason, I think your questions and your fear are very valid. Your asking whether your product is a type 1 failure(product can be fixed) or a type 2 failure(product must be ditched). It’s one of the many topics covered in detail in her 30×500 class(I’m a student now)

      If you really do want to know the answers to such questions(including questions you haven’t thought of yet), that’s where you’ll find all of them.

      Reply
  9. Brook R

    Outsourcing is risky. Hiring is a lot of work and time consuming. Building on your own is slow and frustrating.

    If you want to stay in control of what you are building, you have to understand the code. After many years of teaching web technology, and tutoring 1:1, I’ve seen the fastest way to pick up the essentials is through direct interaction with a mentor. You get your actual questions answered, and personalized guidance on what to focus on learning next for optimal understanding.

    This is exactly why I created my Pairing-as-a-Service offering. I can step in to your exact situation and walk you through the key things you need to understand to either do a complete DIY build, or work with other developers without getting lost in the jargon or worse bamboozled by false claims.

    I’ve seen a handful of my students learn Ruby on Rails sufficiently to build out their own applications as I’ve worked with them. It’s like just-in-time learning & knowledge, that can save hours of google searchings or trying to find the right page of the right book.

    So if you are considering outsourcing vs doing it yourself, I’d really recommending connecting with a pro-level mentor who can offer insight or help you make the DIY road happen.

    (more info on my offering, including student testimonials: http://www.readysetrails.com/index.php/pairing-as-a-service/)

    Reply
  10. Shola

    This was a great interview. I think it underestimates the power of pre-selling. I have personally done it myself. The trick is the need has to be there.

    Think about crowdsourcing. People “presell” all the time on crowdfunding sites. The trick is the pain must be immense. I would also recommend checking out David Skok’s blog (one of the world’s top SaaS) investors.

    With the method he described here, you’re basically describing consultative selling. I’d also recommend the book “SPIN Selling”. If someone is in the desert and you say to them “I have an app that can create water for you, I just need you to commit to buying it” – YOU WILL GET SALES. Glenn Livingston, discusses his theory of hyper-responsive prospects. If you get 10 people to pre-buy, in a market with say 100,000 people in it, there are 1000 people who will likely buy.

    Pre-selling is about how good a salesman/woman you are it aint about the code. If the selling is good enough people will buy. Then, it’s up to you to deliver.

    Psychologically, people also feel “special” when they are really brought into the development process.

    There are so many advantages to product development and selling this way. This doesn’t just work for apps thought. One can pre-sell info products too.

    Reply
  11. William

    Hi Amy, My cofounders and I have been working hard on a project that we call Courier (http://trycourier.com). It helps partners with lead registration and lead collaboration by sharing leads in their own private network. I think our biggest struggle right now is really nailing down exactly what we do and the most essential features for our customers. Basically, we’re not sure if we’re going down a dead end, or if we’re on to a worthwhile business. Would you be willing to discuss Courier with me? I know your time is very valuable and I know that this is really out the blue, but I would really appreciate even just a few minutes to discuss it.

    Thanks a lot and have a great day!

    Reply
  12. Iain Dooley

    Add Sam Ovens and Dane Maxwell to your list of people who have outsourced software development successfully (at least to launch the product initially) without knowing how to code. I’ve seen a few Mixergy interviewees (particularly those out of the Foundation) that have successfully gotten a first version out the door without knowing how to code.

    It’s a big world. There are lots of people successfully outsourcing lots of things. I don’t think you can successfully outsource your development without expert consultation, but if you do it right you don’t have to be “beholden” to anyone.

    We build and maintain http://www.rentingsmart.com/ for an external client, and built the first version of Kyvio (for Lance & Jo from Copyhackers).

    The more we abandon the traditional notions of code quality and stop using tools and frameworks that lock things up so that only one type of developer or technologist can work on them; the more we embrace the diversity of web technologies rather than trying to abstract them, the easier this process will become …

    I think the “everyone should learn to code” movement is a symptom of a fundamental problem with the way we’re building software and proof that the industry at large is in a state of total shitness, therefore we need to consider radical reform.

    Can you guess what I’m working on at the moment? ;)

    Reply

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