I’m tired of myself talking about making products but never. It’s always been my dream to make products that serve the public good and create positive social impact. It’s my passion and purpose to create a personally meaningful body of work at the intersection of design, social/public issues and entrepreneurship. So I’m committing to make 1 minimum viable product per month, starting Feb 2018. I’ll keep going till I run out of ideas or money, or something takes off in a huge way that requires all my time, or exhaustion kicks in. Whichever comes first. #1mvp1month
#1mvp1month is on hiatus this month (June). I was supposed to create my 5th product, but felt the need to recap, reflect and refresh; to course-correct before I go further. What have I done so far? What worked? What didn’t? What’s next?
Why a hiatus this month? Because it’s starting to feel like I’m just doing, not thinking. Gut feel is that I’m just going through the motions of a plan, but not really doing it smart. And I want to be completely honest with myself. This is after all, as much a self-growth journey as it is for work.
I’m also beginning to observe signs that earlier products are suffering from neglect, and I don’t have time to build on the little successes because I’m caught up in making new ones each month. Some things aren’t working too, like marketing and monetization. I feel I need to change how I approach my MVPs, what ideas to work on, and be more realistic about its business viability.
Perhaps the best reason of all – I simply wanted a break. Making a product a month is tough! Solo no less! I can feel my energy and motivation dwindling. Managing that is important, because I’m in this for the long run. And it’s my birthday month. Birthday boys and girls get free pass on their birthday month right?
So let’s recap what I’d done so far, and the results:
Products I made so far:
- Feb – Outsprint Store, an ecommerce store selling design tools for public good
- Mar – Public Design Vault, a curated directory of 500+ design tools for public good, all in one place
- Apr – Public Design Forum, a global community of designers and innovation professionals for public good and social impact
- May – Public Design Jobs, a mission-based job board for design & innovation jobs in the public sector, worldwide.
Tech I used:
WordPress, wordpress, wordpress. I used what I knew so as to ship fast, and it worked. Even as someone who’s quite familiar with WordPress, it’s been surprising for me just how versatile the platform can be. The templates available are so diverse, it had been able to cover ALL of the MVPs I made (I didn’t use WordPress for my forum, but WordPress did offer templates for forums too which I considered). In fact, I’m feeling a bit bored of using WordPress all the time, and every month for each new MVP, I’m always trying to find opportunities to use different tech for it. But in the end, considerations on efficiency and speed to ship always brought me back to using WordPress.
Also used DiscourseHosting (affiliate link) for my Public Design Forum. Typeform and Cognito Forms integrated with Stripe for online forms and payments. Buy Me A Coffee for pledges. Product Hunt, Indie Hackers, Twitter and Telegram for marketing and launching.
Metrics & analytics (since launch):
I spent a total of ~US$500 so far on all my 4 MVPs, with managed hosting for my forum being the single biggest item ($200 upfront for a year). The rest had been small purchases – ~$60 per WordPress template, ~$20 per domain. It doesn’t include web hosting, which I already pay for anyway for my own sites (which is about $6/month for ALL my MVPs). That’s pretty lean as far as development of MVPs I feel!
Revenue so far is dismal. 3 sales on Outsprint Store. 7 coffees (US$5 each) pledged. That’s only a total of around ~$300+. Not breaking even on my costs, and I haven’t even paid myself! 😭
Public Design Vault – this was a relatively successful launch. It was the only one that made it on Product Hunt, and traffic continues to be good. It’s also something which I continually found to be useful as a tool, especially in answering people’s questions about design tools (usually in Facebook groups, Slack groups).
Speed & cost – the whole approach to #1mvp1month is to stay lean and just ship, to see how the product is received in the wild. I think this approach had worked so far. Costs were low (just ~$500), and I managed to stay on schedule of shipping one product per month.
Everything else – except for Public Design Vault, the rest of the MVPs did poorly. The worst performer and most expensive no less, was Public Design Forum. I invested $200 to buy a one-year subscription because it was cheaper. But getting people on the forum was sooo hard. Maybe I should have just went for a chat group instead of a forum, because Public Design Chat is doing relatively better than the forum in terms of engagement (few conversation per week, 38 members internationally), and it costs nothing! Growing a community is really not one of my core strengths and it’s really hard. I think it’s something I could use more help in.
Monetization – it’s slowly beginning to dawn on me that a product that people will use can be vastly different from a product that people will pay to use. But in the first place, not that many people are even using my MVPs, so I can’t say for sure where my monetization woes might lie. Perhaps it needs to reach a large enough community for it to have paying users (assuming only a minority % will pay)?
What I learned:
1Through the process, I got greater clarity around who my users are and what they need. I initially made these products for designers/innovation professionals in the public sector, but I’m learning that there might be tangential audiences, like indie makers who are also interested in the the #1mvp1month process. Much of the ‘how’ of making my MVP in my blog posts seem to be directed towards indie makers instead of the former audience. Seeing this also made me realised that I’d done nothing much in the way of content marketing for the government folks, and they didn’t really care about how the product is made! If I want to engage government folks more, I really need to start giving more relevant content to them.
2Growth hacking and marketing are really not my strong suit. I like doing the work, and I’m generally quite shy about talking about myself. But sometimes marketing feels like having to SCREAM about my work, all the time. I find that hard to do, personally. If my product is good, it should speak for itself, right? I know that’s probably half true. My difficulty with sharing is also because you need to be part of a community first, talking more and giving value first before trying to extract value (by marketing your product). That takes time to build. But the good side is that Public Design Vault and Public Design Jobs lent themselves very well to be constantly shared in a useful, relevant way – that’s something I want to explore doing more. Always be launching.
3I got lots of ideas, but maybe I don’t have enough monetizable ideas. I’m a designer and consultant, so I’m usually more involved in the design and conceptualisation part of the value chain. That means my skills in smelling the business viability of an idea is less than well-developed. If I am to seriously make a living from being a product maker, I really need to brush up on these skills. I also need to do more user research on what people would pay for, and be radically honest when validating demand.
4All my products feel very serious (*ahem boring?). Social impact, public issues, government. Must every product I create have social impact in order for it to be meaningful? How about ‘useless’ projects which I will enjoy making? Something that fun, for me and for users? How may I create with thrilling audacity, with joy and lightness? It sounds contradictory to earlier point about monetization, but I feel it doesn’t have to be. I’m seriously itching to try something else that’s less altruistic but yet not solely profit-driven either…
5Asking for help. At this stage, I’m not sure how I want to involve others in #1mvp1month. It’s after all a very personal quest, for self growth and learning. I wanted it to be my own thing. Something I can say I made it myself, alone. Is that necessarily a bad thing, to want to go at it solo? I ask these questions because since the start of my MVPs, people had reached out to me to explore if they could be part of it in some way. I’d keep the door open and talked to them, but remain non-committal so far. It’s hard to be sure how people can come in when I don’t even know how the product will unfold and pivot, right?
#1mvp1month is a learning quest and a constant work-in-progress. I don’t know the answers of how I can make things better for the rest of the year, but the reflections helped a lot to guide me in the right direction. Ending this reflection piece with these questions:
I have 6 more products till end of 2018…how do I make it count?
If my aspiration is to transit my products to a lifestyle business, to making a living from them, where do I need to step up and do more?
I really want to start having fun again creating products under #1mvp1month, so what can I change to inject lightness and joy again?
SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’d love to hear if you have any advice for me! Honest feedback, crazy ideas, anything! 😛