I’m going to start out with a message that most of you technical founders will love—nothing fuels growth more than a maturing product. These days it’s really trendy to say “distribution is more important than product”—I simply disagree. As we look at Outseta’s growth, a hard truth is our growth has come as we’ve earned it by delivering good and useful product that's competitive with the alternatives. And importantly, a "maturing product" doesn't necessarily equate to just building more features—improving things like the stability and usability of the product are every bit as important.
I’m not saying by any means that “if you build it, customers will come”—they won’t. But what I am saying is you only need very limited exposure to your target market to start to grow—how those prospective buyers react to your product is going to dictate how fast you grow.
Get 10 buyers in front of a lousy product, you’ll be lucky if you make one sale. Get 10 buyers in front of a really good product, it’ll be hard not to make a sale. This is so obvious, but indie hackers tend to forget it.
If I could go back and do one thing over, I would actually start trying to sell Outseta later. In retrospect this is obvious, but with the blinders of a founder it’s often not.
The first functionality that we delivered at Outseta was very basic email marketing tools, followed shortly thereafter by basic CRM and subscription billing features. Enthused, I started reaching out to founders of SaaS companies selling them on our vision of an all-in-one platform to launch a SaaS or membership business.
But guess what? Our email marketing features were super limited—there were literally thousands of better alternatives out there. Same could be said for our CRM and billing features when they were first released.
Founders have a tendency to sit back and wonder… “Why aren’t customers buying my product?
The better question to be asking is most often… “Why would customers buy my product?”
While it’s totally normal to be excited about your product—your baby—you’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort by looking at it objectively. Is this product really the best alternative for someone?
The last thing I want to do is send you off to build product in a vacuum, creating a pixel perfect product before you ever share it with anybody. But especially if you play in competitive markets, a minimum viable product often isn’t enough—Rand Fishkin talks about the notion of a minimum excellent product in his book Lost and Founder. That’s much closer to what you should be shooting for—a product that clearly does something really well for a specific type of buyer—where there’s an obvious reason why someone should buy your product.
If you look at Outseta’s subscriber growth, you’ll notice that from 2017-2019 is almost flat—we certainly had some customers and revenue, but the truth is these were mostly early adopter types and the product simply wasn’t good enough—our results reflected that.
Somewhere around mid 2020—after 3+ years of development—we finally reached a point where our product across the categories of software that it covers was “good enough” to really warrant consideration amongst the competition. Did we have true feature parity? No. But buyers saw a competitive product and started to realize the benefits of our feature set being delivered in a single platform.
When the product reached that tipping point, so did our growth. This continues to be true today—growth has become easier and easier as our product continues to improve.
Product improvements drive growth—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Change your mindset from “Why aren’t customers buying my product” to “Why would customers buy my product?”
In competitive markets, focus on delivering a “minimum excellent product.”
A product "maturing" doesn't necessary mean adding new features—improvements in areas like stability and usability are just as important!