The 5 (or 6?) Stages of Grief when Launching a Product
December 2020 was a wild ride, I'm opting to write about it; rather, I won't be writing one of those trendy '2020 year in review' pieces since I already wrote about 6 months of 2020. As some readers might know, I was recently working on a new project called FastGrasp for the majority of December. This thing really took me through the five stages. Good grief.
"No one is going to use this". I wasn't wrong for the most part, but there was a glimmer of hope coming. After finishing FastGrasp in October, it took more than a month to get it on the Atlassian Marketplace.
This upset me so much, Embarrassingly, I took to twitter. Don't do that. For a number of reasons, just don't. Talk about tacky. Ranting on twitter gives you a bad look. Plus, I learned know-your-customer and know-your-business procedures will actually use your media appearances and dealings to decide if you're risky or high-exposure.
I started doing whatever it took to get this thing on the Atlassian Marketplace. Going back and forth with Marketplace Support in 12 hour intervals. (Hello Australia? this is Canada calling.) However, I think things got a little smoother over time. Until, out of the blue Marketplace Support approved my paid add-on for the marketplace. Woah, talk about exhilarating. I have never experienced a high so good before.
After an incredible high, came the inevidible low. FastGrasp came to the newest section of the marketplace and left, so that kind of sucked. How do you launch an add-on? No idea. Still don't know. I got discouraged and distracted myself with a certain game set in a dystopian future. While gaming helped, I still felt like crap, and I didn't turn on my computer for week. What a waste of time. I was into some intense loathing when I had to check my computer for something. For the heck of it, I may as well check FastGrasp, and see how it's doing.
Underneath the FastGrasp title on the marketplace page, there was a number greater than two. I saw the number four, and I could feel that same high coming on from before. I checked the database installations, and there was one real prospect. Not marketplace support, not Atlassian developers, not my testing instance. A real prospect had installed FastGrasp.
They had installed FastGrasp a few days ago, but they weren't getting any value. Because of design limitations, FastGrasp needs to be installed with a corresponding confluence add-on. So I furiously coded an error message to communicate this, realizing I had not in the past. They installed the confluence add-on, and I started seeing results in my logs. I would just watch the logs every morning and evening to make sure things were okay. They discovered a few edge cases like bugs and performance issues. I quickly hammered those out because I'm trying to build a good experience. Very cool to see a cache miss, and then several hits immediately afterwards. As if they had shared the Jira issue with colleagues or something. It felt amazing, like they were getting some good use out of it too. Until I woke up on December 31st to see they had uninstalled FastGrasp. They didn't leave a review, or feedback in the feedback prompt when uninstalling.
Why would they uninstall it? It's a tough question to answer. 60% conversion rate is excellent by industry standards, so it was statistically unlikely they would convert to paying. Aside from the rationale, obviously my self-esteem took a bit of a hit here. My mind coped with the usual stuff too, thoughts of giving up, maybe even just dropping entrepreneurship all together, no more indie hacking.
So finally, we come to the part of the piece where I talk about what I learned in near broken-record fashion. Like most experienced people will tell you, you ought to think about distribution before you build anything. Typically, building for a platform aftermarket has distribution 'built-in', but it kind of doesn't at the same time. While the less used channels are often the better ones to tap, I think everyone needs to do at least some SEO because the first thing problem-aware customers do is use their preferred search engine to try and find a solution. Bing it. Duckduckgo it. If you want to rank for anything related to the platform, you're shit-out-of-luck. As they should, The platform dominates the domain authority for their products even for lots of long-tail queries. I've heard page ranking takes a while, like six to twelve months, so I might just have to be patient. Even my top competitors on the Atlassian Marketplace have a tough time ranking, I had to spell something wrong in the query for them to rank.
While some people shy away from competition, I embrace it. Helps with validation. I do think there are opportunities in certain aftermarkets. For example, the Atlassian Marketplace has stagnated a bit, so a lot of the incumbent solutions are last decade; plenty of potential to enter and own a unique position. Of course this comes with the added caveat of convincing people AI to find documents is better than a virtual filing cabinet system. It's possible I needed to validate my solution better, and I should have asked if people like the make-work associated with my biggest competitor.
Talking with your customers is entrepreneurship one-oh-one. I wanted to talk with my first prospect, but a huge risk of collecting customer data for these platforms comes from GDPR enforcement. Even if the customer isn't in the EU, collecting data like email addresses means handling GDPR some how because my platform of choice demanded it. They provide a cute little API to help with this exact problem, and it's understandable from their perspective, but I truly understand how this shit can stifle innovation as only bigger companies can handle those kind of terrifying fines. Honestly, I'm still undecided as to what to do here. Atlassian provides a feedback box when uninstalling an add-on. How often are people going to give feedback? Probably not much, and it's tougher without the prospect volume, but prospect using FastGrasp signals something to me even if they didn't convert.
Finally, If you want to see my short-comings in near real-time, follow me on twitter.