Things I learned from the Small Product Lab

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It has been nearly 2 weeks since I launched my first ever product. I had planned this post for last week, but life got in the way (as it does). The Small Product Lab was a rush! 10 days to conceptualize, create, market and launch a product, guided by a daily email and supported by an active Facebook group and some alumni mentors. I did it, I was one of those that finished in time (not all did). Here’s a great round up of all the products that launched.

Since then, I have done some reflection on what I took from the challenge. I figure for those thinking of doing this, it helps to know what you’re getting into. And the lessons are valuable for the product process outside of an intense time-based challenge like this one.

  • Niche your product – In the earliest stage of the challenge, when selecting your product, they do tell you to look at what niche would be interested. I kind of tried to do this, but my interest in a product idea that came to me swept me up and I was less focused on a niche (and where I would find them). So my product, while really cool to me, wasn’t particularly targeted. And while I knew people kind of like me would find it interesting, I didn’t really know where to find those people. Had I thought it through a bit more I might have focused on that more earlier in the process. Without that focus, marketing it became more difficult.
  • Keep it small – The poor mentors had to keep reining in people’s grand visions. 10 days is not a lot of time, and there are other things around launching that need focus, like marketing. If your product is too big for the challenge, then you get stuck with product creation absorbing large chunks of time. Some of the best products were really tiny. My suggestion is cut your product all the way down to something that almost seems ridiculous to offer. And then you can go one step up from that, but no more. It is better to have something done and available to launch because you can always add to it in the future if you want. A lot of us plan to create a V2 of our products.
  • Know your tools – This is not the time to try to learn a new piece of software. If you’ve only ever used Microsoft Word to create documents, then stick with that. It’s not great and it may not create the perfect result for your vision but you’ll get it done. If you try to incorporate something new at this point you will spend way more time than it’s worth on learning and not enough on creating. I wrestled with this. I wanted to use something like… I don’t even know, but I ended up going with quick and dirty so I could just get it finished in time.
  • Marketing takes time – Don’t underestimate this. It seems simple enough to just throw up a few blog posts and send the link out into the Interwebs, but (assuming you niched your product) you need to make sure to identify the right places to share your marketing and properly craft your message. Writing a blog post is one thing (which takes its own amount of time) but you need to share that. You need to write emails to your mailing list (assuming you have one or are building one). You have to create (and schedule) social media posts. And since the product is evolving as you do this, you have to keep updating your marketing.
  • Support is critical – Don’t try to do this alone. The Facebook group was a critical piece of the challenge. It does take a little time to interact there, but you can ration out your time. My strategy was to jump into the group about 3 times for the day, and respond to any posts I found interesting, and share where I was at. It feels great when people offer help and give tips, and it motivates you to keep pushing through. Outside of the Gumroad challenge, I realize that is something I fail to do enough of — build support around me for things I’m doing. My fear has always been about what people will say. But the support helped keep me going when it seemed tough.
  • Stick to deadlines – Early in the process Gumroad suggested we create a plan with specific things to be done on each day. The best tip for this was to work backwards from the launch. Keeping the focus on launch day meant that you included things that absolutely needed to happen before. In most cases, it also meant keeping the product small enough that you could actually get everything done in time. Every time some procrastination hit or I started to toy with other ideas, I reminded myself that I had to launch in time. When I did let something slide with an “I can work on that tomorrow,” I ended up feeling pressured (10 days is a short time). So create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Accept “good enough” – This is the warning cry to all those perfectionists (and most procrastinators). It doesn’t need to be perfect to launch. And worrying about whether you will be able to make it perfect is a great way to put off even starting. I was one of these.. For all the project ideas I get in my head, the vast majority (i.e. all of them before now) never even get started because I think they would need to be perfect, and since I don’t have the time/money/energy/skills/support… to make them perfect, it is better to just shelve it, right? Nope. Better to just get it out there. Take the feedback and then make it better. Do I think the workbook I launched for the challenge is perfect? Far from it. But I do think it is a lot better than what I had 10 days before which was nothing.

All of these are much the same as tips provided by both Gumroad and the mentors. But inevitably either I ignored them or I saw people who did. Several people are only now finishing their products and launching them, some because they were trying so hard to get it perfect.

The challenge is an amazing experience — difficult to do while working a full-time 9-5 job — but still a good experience. They biggest key if you are trying to do it on the side is to keep it small. Keep your product very tight and focused and it can be done. Looking forward to my next time.

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