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It's been 6 weeks since I gave up on ever doing product again, and I feel great


#1

A very wise man once cautioned me not to spend $100k building something that would only ever generate $2k/month. So, me being me, I promptly spent 3 years and $300k building things, and only ever generated $2k, total.

Ooops. I guess I screwed that up, huh?

I’m not going to get into my long, twisty-and-turny product-flailing history in detail here. Here’s the TL;DR version:

Another very wise man told me that deciding you aren’t going to do something is a discipline that few master. So, I want to talk about that last “finally got a clue & quit” bit. And the reason why I want to talk about that is for anyone who may find themselves now where I was a short time ago.

So there I was. My podcasting book had failed, I had just launched an e-mail course to drum up interest in my next book, and I was gearing up to do a podcast tour to drum up further interest in this new book. I was depressed, feeling like a failure, and slogging forward on autopilot.

All of a sudden, I had a thought - “To get to this point, I’ve been passing up about $100k in consulting work each year. If I had just skipped all of this and stuck to consulting, I’d have an extra $300,000 in my pocket right now. I’m passing up more consulting income with every second that goes by, just on the off chance that this next book will be profitable. I have no way to predict if it will be profitable or not, and - real talk - no real way to exert any control over that, anyway. Why am I still doing this?”.

I realized, with a knot in my gut, that it was time. Time to acknowledge my own failure. Time to stop living out the Sunk Costs Fallacy. Time to stop investing in something with no indication of return. Time to take the old advice of “dance with who brung ya”.

It was time, in short, to return to the ONLY thing that EVER earned me significant sums of money - consulting. But if I were going to make that move, I wanted to make it a strong move.

So, I started shutting product-related things down.

  • My podcast of three years? Done. I announced & recorded the final episode within a week of my realization. This one hurt. I loved that show.
  • My podcasting book? Done. I quit promoting it; it had stalled months prior, anyway.
  • My relatively new e-mail course? Done. I quit promoting that, too.
  • My new book? Cancelled. I refunded the two pre-orders I’d received, deleted the manuscript (so as not to be tempted to “just finish it”), and that was the end of it.

Now, this all freaked some people out. Suffice to say there was no shortage of opinions on what I was doing, and most of them were convinced that what I was doing was wrong.

  • A few friends and colleagues were pissed at me for “throwing it all away” (all what?).
  • A few others said they couldn’t believe I was giving up when I was “so close” (close to what?).
  • One person said that if they had become as internet famous as I had become via my podcast, there’s no WAY they’d give that up (internet famous, my ass).

Then there were the people who had known me during the dark years, the years of massive turmoil within my family, the years that culminated in me losing my way in every sense of the word, and scuttling my SmallSpec prototype out of sheer desperation. Those people were not annoyed at me for giving up on product, no - those people saw what appeared to be me putting my affairs in order, assumed that I intended to commit suicide, and promptly freaked out. That yielded some really interesting conversations.

But no, all I was doing was setting the stage for my return to full-time, full-focus, no-distractions consulting. If I was going to be done with product, I wanted to be done. No dabbling, No lingering “what ifs”. No having one foot on the brakes, just in case a good product opportunity came along. Nothing. Just consulting.

That was about 6 weeks ago. Since I officially quit product, I’ve:

  • Re-activated several old clients
  • Billed out 20x what I made from products in 3 years
  • Completely revamped my website
  • Written 5 new articles
  • Made better than a dozen new, in-person contacts locally
  • Been offered a chance to buy out another consulting firm

And that’s just off the top of my head!

I feel alive again. I feel like there’s hope for my career again. I feel like I’m actually capable of making positive things happen again. I felt none of that during the product days. Virtually every moment I spent trying to be Mr, Marketing Guy, trying to create and sell product, was sheer misery.

Real talk - I’m sure that if significant money had come rolling in, I wouldn’t think of my product days as being quite so miserable, but it didn’t, so I do.

Acknowledging my own failure and putting it behind me feels great, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harboring any resentments about how my time as a product guy turned out. But that’s OK. It’s a process.

Man, I’ve written way more than I had planned to. What was my point, again? Ah, yes - people who also find themselves where I was not too long ago.

If you have followed all the advice “they” gave you, and still aren’t seeing any results…
If you have invested, invested, invested your time & energy to no returns…
If you have been called a “complainer” for observing that the advice you were given isn’t working…
If your finance are threadbare, and you have a way to make money other than product…
If you are starting to doubt your own abilities, despite a track record of success prior to product…
If your life is worse than it was before you told yourself you had to do product…
If your sense of optimism and confidence has turned to pessimism and self-doubt…

…give yourself permission to quit. Especially if you have a viable money-making alternative.

That’s crazy, right? Bear with me for a minute, here.

We chase product (see what I did there?) in order to have better lives, not worse. If things are getting worse and worse and worse with no indicators of any kind of impending upswing, give yourself permission to quit.

Don’t quit, necessarily. Just give yourself permission. And think - really think - about what you’re doing, and why, and what direction it’s really headed in. Be honest with yourself in ways that you aren’t (or don’t think you can be) when people you know are around. You don’t have to follow any script, not even one you wrote for yourself. You have permission to take it in any direction you want, and that’s the important thing here - realizing that you have choices.

If you’re out there chasing product and you’re making it work, and you’re seeing either returns or indicators of impending returns, good for you. Keep on banging. I’m never going to say that just because I couldn’t make it happen, you should quit, too. But I will say that if “the writing is on the wall” as clearly for you as it was for me, take a minute to read that writing and really think about what it means.

The rest of your life might thank you. Mine already is.


Bootstrapped, Episode 73,”If you can find an agreeable parrot, ...”
#2

I remember your post a while back on Inbound.org Christopher.

Just wanted to say congratulations on the move.

I’ve noticed a trend in young 20s males who NEVER want to work for a company, but want to be the CEO of their own company, because “that’s how real wealth is made”.

And they totally ignore that Google, Apple, McKinsey and Co routinely pay out total compensation packages at around 300k/year or that individual consultants can bill out multiple six figures.

Secondly, some (most?) people are better at marketing a 50k consulting gig than a 1,000 50 euro product purchases. The effort to get a 50k gig versus a 50 euro product sale is typically within an order of magnitude (10x at the most).


#3

Chris, I’ve already talked to you on email, but let me reiterate.

I think you are being too harsh. I know your sales figures, and trust me, they are normal. All these figures you hear about making $4000-10000 in first week are extreme cases (which get hyped up a lot). I found your book very useful, in fact, the best book on podcasting, much better than the book by other podcasting “experts”, including one or two very famous in the bootstrapped community (I wont name them, just say that their advice involves starting with buying hundreds in dollars of equipment, before you even know what to podcast about).

I hope you will at least keep your book up, even if you don’t promote it.

Other than that, I agree with what you say- why do something you hate? As for giving advice (and shaming, as you mention), most people giving advice are those who have nothing better to do, as they don’t have a successful business of their own. And before anyone complains, that includes me


#4

It’s heartbreaking to give up on something that you invested so much in, but that should be the takeaway for readers: don’t invest too much into any one thing unless you’re investing other people’s money.

A friend and I both wrote our MVPs in two weeks, after identifying a good place to reach customers, and both of us did reasonably well. I’ve done other things since, but I’ve dropped them in favour of the money maker.

So if you’ve got ideas, crank 'em out, discard, repeat. Keep the winners.


#5

Hi Chris,
As a person who listened to all your podcasts episodes (found it only when it was near the end) and followed your journey, I feel kinda freshly related. And as I told you on Twitter, that journey was really negative financially, but you made a lot of friends this way.

Actually, I was thinking about your case the other day - why neither of your ideas took off in a real way? Like, seriously, was there any particular problem or pattern to take away? And I think I have a solution.

I think you’ve invested too much in actually CREATING the products before even asking the audience if they needed it. Therefore it took you a lot of time (and energy, maybe that’s more important) and no results.

Whereas if you had started with building the audience for the upcoming product in the first place, conducting surveys, making teaser trailers, doing some content marketing, maybe (just maybe) the results would have been different.

Speaking of the things “they taught you” - the more I read about it, the more I conclude that those gurus use one “simple” trick: it’s easy to perform marketing when you are already surrounded by your audience! Of course, whatever Seth Godin writes now will sell out. Of course, everyone would pay a lot of money to attend a conference with Richard Branson in it. Etc.

So I guess that’s the kinda-more-correct path - build the audience and taste the market first, and at that point you evaluate the idea, and only then double down on it if you FEEL that it could take off.

I’m using this approach myself now with my modest product for developers - adminpanel builder on Laravel framework.

  • At first I asked the audience about the idea (unfortunately, as new user I cannot put links in the post) - and oh, did I mention that I blogged for a year now to have that audience?
  • Then I conducted a survey of what alternatives people use with only ONE question - 100 people answered
  • And today I’ve released the results of the survey with a video teaser-trailer to my tool
  • In upcoming weeks will release the first version of my QuickAdmin which costed me around 2000 USD in total - imho that’s pretty cheap to “test” the idea.

And only then if I feel that traction is coming - then I double down on it. If not - back to consulting (or other products), same as you.

Hope these thoughts would be meaningful to you Chris and maybe helpful to others.


#6

In which case, you have certainly made the right decision for you.

Its hard enough trying to create a product when you are doing it full time. Doing part time around a ‘day job’ must be really hard.

I was a bit taken aback when you deleted your requirements product. Maybe you just aren’t temperamentally suited to the long slog and uncertainty of products? Or maybe you attempted to polish v1 too much?


#7

Holy cow. I wrote all that while medicated for an injured shoulder, not bad.

[quote=“Andy, post:6, topic:4106”]
I was a bit taken aback when you deleted your requirements product. Maybe you just aren’t temperamentally suited to the long slog and uncertainty of products? Or maybe you attempted to polish v1 too much?[/quote]

I think both are true, Andy. My life experience definitely didn’t aid me - up to that point, I had done well enough at everything I tried academically & business-wise that continuing to do it was obviously worthwhile. But I never had that moment with product - well, maybe a fleeting moment immediately after launch - and that rattled me. Once that cratered, well, I was pretty lost.

[quote=“PovilasKorop, post:5, topic:4106”]
I think you’ve invested too much in actually CREATING the products before even asking the audience if they needed it.[/quote]
SmallSpec was pretty much by-the-book, actually. I did everything the way I was told I was supposed to do it in terms of validating the product. Failing to ship that one is 100% on me. I had some pretty intense family turmoil going on, and I brought it with me to work, and that complicated and/or killed a lot of things, including SmallSpec.

The podcasting book, you’re right, I did no research whatsoever. I was stuck and needed to ship something, so I shipped something that people were frequently asking me about anyway. It was the smart move, based on the visible indicators at the time.

[quote=“Cheez, post:4, topic:4106”]
So if you’ve got ideas, crank 'em out, discard, repeat. Keep the winners.[/quote]
Yep, if you _have_a winner, double down on it, for sure.

Yeah, I’m just going to let it sit there at record-and-release.com until I get tired of renewing the domain. And thanks for the kind words about the book, I do appreciate it.

You raise a good point, Thomas. I have no problem getting in a room with someone, or on the phone, and closing (to use your example) a 50k consulting deal. But just the thought of trying to sell 1,000 50k items makes me sick to my stomach.

It’s possible that by trying to do product I was attempting to surmount something that, for whatever reason, just isn’t right for me.

You know what’s really funny about all this? Through it all, I was consistently shipping clients projects, no problem. Sure, I was only doing about half the consulting projects I was doing before, but still. And yet I couldn’t see my way clear to shipping my own.

Anyway, I don’t mean to dissect what’s already done. I just wanted to remind everyone that you have choices, and choosing to NOT do a thing that isn’t working out in favor of doing something that might actually be profitable is an option you have available to you. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and forget that sometimes. I certainly did.

Through my podcast, I’ve come into contact with many aspiring founders who find themselves in the same place I was - “I’ve done everything I was supposed to do, the way I was taught to do it, and nothing is happening”. A lot of these folks seem to be hell-bent on following a social script that says “be a founder or you’re nothing”. And these people are not nothing.

If you’re seeing indications that what you’re doing is working, keep doing that shit. If you just listen to the marketing gurus and read the startup press, you might get the impression that everyone who throws a Saas app up on the web is CRUSHING IT BRO, but success is not the norm. If you’re having some, steward the hell out of it and keep that flame alive.

And if not, well…go do something that serves you.

Life as a consultant is SO GOOD, but for a long time I resented it, as if my booming consulting practice were standing in the way of “real success”. I was an asshole to take that for granted, and it was stupid of me to do so. I swallowed the Golden Age of The Sass App marketing angle hook, line and sinker, without applying any real discernment.

I feel much more in my element now. It was a long, costly detour, but I’m coming out on the other side of it with “author” attached to my name, a bunch of new friends in the form of all those helpful podcast guests, and a whole buncha wisdom regarding what my capabilities are and aren’t. Does that all make it worth it? Hell, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s so, and I can either fight against what is, or accept it and make the best. So that’s what I’m doing.

Thanks for letting me ramble, folks. I’m feeling a tremendous sense of joy and relief since I let myself just go back to doing what I’m good at, and I wanted to share.

I sure hope it helps someone! :slight_smile:


#8

You will never have all the information you need so there is definitely an element of luck involved. I didn’t have any idea whether I would ever sell a single licence of PerfectTablePlan when I started out >11 years ago.


#9

[quote=“Andy, post:8, topic:4106”]
You will never have all the information you need so there is definitely an element of luck involved.[/quote]
Ugh, “luck”. If I wanted to gamble, I’d play blackjack. :slight_smile:

Seriously, though, I agree that none of this is predictable - although some folks seem to sell the idea that it is - but there are always indicators, right? Early on with PTP, surely you saw some kind of indicators that told you what you were doing was worthwhile?


#10

Thanks for posting this, it’s important to have counter arguments like this. Saas isn’t the holy grail, and neither are products. Besides, consulting CAN scale if your leads keep growing and you want to build an organisation.


#11

Can definitely empathize with the overwhelming negative/pessimistic feelings when doing “product”. Don’t let anyone say you just didn’t work hard enough.

Other huge factors (parts that I don’t think people realize about themselves/their product):

  1. Luck,
  2. Aggressive, border-line sociopathic, use of personal networks

#12

.[quote=“pjc, post:10, topic:4106”]
Besides, consulting CAN scale if your leads keep growing and you want to build an organisation.
[/quote]
Well, pjc, here’s the thing - I’m not sure why I ever considered “scalability” to be such a rigid criteria for success.

Think about it - if you’re taking home, say, $200k a year consulting, but your consulting practice isn’t scalable the same way a Saas app is…you’re still taking home $200k a year! Unless you’re miserable with the work itself, that seems like a success story to me, right?

The problem, I think - and I completely fell into this - is the way marketing messages and the startup press encourage us to redefine success as “whatever it is that I don’t currently have”. If someone can pocket $20k a month doing interesting projects, why isn’t that good enough? Why is that met with “tsk-tsk-tsk, poor thing, running a business that doesn’t scale”?

Man, did I fall for that one hard. I was doing interesting work with clients I liked, had a great team, and was earning well. But unless it was all scalable, recurring, automated, etc, it was just an obstacle preventing me from better things. Man, what a jerk I was, looking at it that way. I should have been on my knees daily, thanking the Universe for my circumstances. What an ego.

To his credit, Ian cautioned me all along that the grass was NOT, in fact, greener on the product side of the fence. He even suggested that I was overlooking the upsides of consulting. Props to Ian for that, not many of my friends shot as straight with me as he did about it during that time.


#13

You know, I had a particularly tone-deaf exchange with a big-name someone on Twitter recently along those lines. Apparently, saying that certain advice didn’t yield results when followed as-taught makes you a complainer who didn’t do the work. And while you’re complaining, there are 100 guys out there CRUSHING IT BRO.

What an insult. I talked to so many aspiring founders who were in the “implemented advice as-taught, didn’t work; don’t know what to do now” boat. It really hurt my heart, because I often found myself right there with them. As much as I’m willing to own the things I did wrong, I also think there’s something really broken about how we go about teaching product founders to find customers and promote their products. Sadly, having eaten a big bag of dicks in the attempt, I’m not qualified to identify what that problem is and fix it, much as I might like to.

There are a lot of people struggling with that out there, right now, as I write this. I wish there were more I could do to help them. But all I can do is share my own experience and hope it resonates with someone.

Regarding this:

[quote=“fideloper, post:11, topic:4106”]
Aggressive, border-line sociopathic, use of personal networks[/quote]
I don’t have a problem with telling people to upgrade their personal networks in order to see more success as a founder. It’s not easy, and it may seem like pandering, but it’s how the world works. I’m not sure I’d recommend aggressive, sociopathic use of that network, though. :slight_smile:

You bring up an interesting point about the use of networks not being obvious though. The real problem is when said personal network is the entire reason a particular marketing angle is able to produce results, and that fact isn’t disclosed to us smallfolk, who then try to implement the same angle, and fail, because the “you need to upgrade your personal network first” step isn’t mentioned.

Your “rolodex” is a HUGE boost in pretty much anything you do in life, and I didn’t figure that out until pretty late in the game. If someone were to ask me for product-launchin’ advice right now, that would be one of the things I’d suggest investing real time into.

Me, I recommend the use of an interview podcast to get the job done, but hey, that’s just me. :slight_smile:


#14

You know, I just realized that I learned something potentially HUGE during my product years that has nothing to do with product: how to sustain a 6-figure take-home solely by selling new consulting projects to existing clients.

No joke. During the 3 years I was focusing on product, I did virtually no marketing for Cogeian Systems. My SEO went into the toilet and my company site virtually disappeared from Google. The once-steady stream of incoming “I found you on the Googles” leads dried up, and so did most of the word-of-mouth referrals, because I fired a bunch of clients, which drastically reduced the “exposure surface area” of the company. But eh, what did I need a big stable of clients for, right? I was going to be earning over $100k with my Saas app within 18 months, right? :slight_smile:

I think we only took on maybe 3 new clients in those 3 years (by comparison, I’ve activated 3 old clients and taken on 3 new clients just in the past three weeks). But I managed to keep the shop reasonably busy by selling new projects to old clients.

Hey, maybe I need to sell a product on that topic? :smiling_imp:


#15

Following ‘best practises’ will increase your odds of success. But there is no recipe (that I know of) that you can follow that will guarantee success. Has anyone seriously suggested there is?


#16

I don’t think that is essential. I certainly didn’t have any network I could usefully exploit when I started with PerfectTablePlan. And I know plenty of other people who have been successful (for some value of successful) without any audience/network starting out.


#17

Yeah, and that’s certainly the frustrating part (and what I think of as “entreporn”) -

Everyone’s path to success is specific to their situation (and often full of luck). Most advice is given as “do this, not that” (it gets the clicks!), but reality of course is gr(e|a)y, not black or white.

(Also, don’t take “aggressive, sociopathic use of networks” too literally. I should probably tone down my rhetoric :D)


#18

Well, sure. Anyone selling marketing advice suggests that their advice will do X for you. Why else would you buy it, right? :slight_smile:


#19

Hey Chris, I see a lot of introspection on your part here. This is very useful, don’t lose that thread. You are examining why you made the decisions you did and surprise, you were marketed to…

Taught to be unhappy with what you had.

Wanting something better.

You learned the hard way, but you learned. Good luck in consulting.


#20

You’re right, there are plenty of people who manage to pull it off without much, if anything, in the way of a tribe. That warms my heart, because so much of product marketing these days is a tough road to walk when you don’t already have a following. But I’m guessing that having a strong tribe never made it harder for anyone!