Never Underestimate the Power of Creating Something Useless

We conceived the idea of “Bouncelytics” as a small analytics tool to help people understand their bounced visitors I saw many blogs mentioning how bounce rate wasn’t a useful metrics since it didn’t account for the time spent on the page. As lean guys, we set-up our landing page with what we were planning to build and posted it wherever we could. We got about 170+ sign-ups and we were terribly excited about having so many people interested in our product. I always liked the idea of a small product with minimal overhead that pays the bills and frees you to do anything else. This idea seemed like a ticket to freedom. Everyone saw the product as “interesting”. We started working together after quitting our jobs (not a big deal since I had months of savings and I always wanted to build something of my own).

After quickly scraping through the first version in a month, we got some customers to try it and they found it too confusing and numbers unhelpful. We mistakingly believed that we are too limited in functionality and we should add more metrics that help our customers.

Ultimately, we decided that we need to build something better. We started with a clear thought of what we wanted to do (an analytics product that combines features of Inspectlet and Heap) but nearing the end, we realised that we weren’t solving anything.

What we didn’t do?

Making mistakes is one thing but knowingly making them is another and sadly, we did the latter.

The rough timeline for this was about four months. It might not be an ideal timeframe to consider an idea a failure but “It is never about the idea. It is about the problem and your solution”. I know, there are founders who been successful without any specific problem in mind (Pinterest?) but in SaaS space, people pay you to solve a pain-point and if you are don’t know what you are solving, you are probably failing.

  • We didn’t think that 170+ Signups means nothing if we didn’t talk to them. It is just a number and not actual leads.

  • We didn’t realise that even if you build something small, selling won’t magically become easy.

  • We didn’t ask ourselves if we are solving a genuine problem or trying to retrofit a product into a problem that might not even exist?

  • We didn’t ask if the problem is big enough to warrant a product or a simple GA script should fit the bill?

  • We didn’t talk to customers in a 1-on-1 way, we thought that we could avoid that part by asking questions in the mail and a few answers should be enough to consider it ‘customer development’.

Why no customer development?

I must have personally read startup literature about lean customer-developement-driven approach a bunch of times and yet, we end up making the same mistake. Why we avoided doing the hard work first? What could be the reasons for this?

  • We thought we could ship something fast and iterate on feedback quickly once we have something to show to customers.
  • Whenever we started something new, we naively thought we are clear on the direction and we can ship this quickly but the reality comes when you move forward. The direction dwindles if you don’t know what you are trying to solve and you arrive at the point where you are unsure what you are actually trying to do.
  • We thought we could substitute customer development by sending people surveys.

We did try having Skype calls and I have to say it is much much harder than people make it seem. We thought it would become easy once we have something to show but we didn’t realise that you actually need to know about the problem to make solution and there are no excuses for avoiding the hard work before starting.

The Result

We made a product that showed visualisation of visitors’ activity but in the end, we had realised this isn’t solving any problem and we were demotivated to do anything about it or even try to demo it. Now it lies shelved our Projects folder, just like any other side-project. We may have failed on this but I am still motivated to continue until I run out of ideas or money.

The good part was we moved quickly and learned the hard lesson without spending too much time on building something useless.

Starting From Scratch.

After shelving the product, I am starting from scratch and building an analytics product targeted towards content marketers. This time, I am actually talking to potential users of the product and asking about how they do stuff, their problems and how they solve it. I am making sure I spend more time on marketing and acquiring customers than building the product.

The incredibly hard lesson we learned was how important it is to focus on the problem if you want to take the guesswork out of the picture. If you are not sure who you are solving the problem for, and just working on assumptions, you will probably need a lot of luck to go forward.

Never underestimate the power of creating something useless.

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