Making a Successful Web Product is Hard

Reading success stories on the web may convince you that your “awesome” new idea for an app or website is a quick path to being a millionaire.  Maybe it is. Maybe you are the lucky 1 in a milion web entrepreneurs who get to realize this dream of a successful idea.

Picture yourself soaking it all up in your oceanfront jacuzzi - an internet billionaire…


Or maybe you’re just like the rest of us poor bastards.

We’re the ones who have decent ideas. We have no angel investment money. We have very little support in general for the web product we’re busting our asses day and night to make, let alone make successful.

But we believe in these decent ideas. They serve a need. We have a niche market identified. Our product is well made and pretty comprehensive feature-wise. So why aren’t we rich from the idea yet?

It’s because making a web product a successful web product is hard. Really hard.

It’s only when your eyeball deep in the development, promotion, customer service and refinement of your own product do you truly realize this.

Having a good idea gets you almost nowhere. Being a talented developer and having a knack for creating efficient and attractive interfaces only gets you so far. You need several copies of yourself to do it all - who aren’t you - like clones.

A you that’s not you - but a different you, because this you is great at writing copy that sells your idea. A you who isn’t the developer who’s obsessing over the complex feature that still isn’t finished and isn’t behind a lense of what the product doesn’t do yet instead of how great it is. It’s awesome! It’ll change your life! That’s what that you would say.

You also need another you who has nothing better to do but learn about Adwords. Google Adwords. The devil itself. Without that you, the “Adwords Master” you, your learning curve with Adwords will be expensive and painful. Quite.

That you could benefit from a siamese twin attached to it who’s really good withGoogle Analytics. Yes, this particular version of you is getting pretty scary - but necessary to have around.

You will probably want another copy of yourself who lives to create targeted landing pages. Each landing page optimized for the different key phrases in the ads that other you is creating so the ads and landing pages all match up in theme and content.  It might be a good idea to lock these copies of yourself in a room somewhere so they work together very closely.

If they’re watched closely and fed well, they can drive a lot of traffic to your product and may even get a few people to sign up! If you’re lucky.

Depending on the nature of your product, Adwords may not suffice as your only channel of inbound traffic. You’re going to need yet another you to learn about more useful channels to create ads for. Think Facebook ads. Think clever Twitter posts. Think LinkedIn ads. Think Google’s retargeting program. Google+. Think of all those damn social media pages you’ll want to create and update regularly. Think about how you can get influencial people in your market to look at your product and perhaps even endorse it.

Even though you’ve cloned yourself a small team, you’re gonna need more clones. The clones we’ve made so far are working on getting traffic in the front door, but what’s happening to those who have dared to enter?

We’re gonna need a you who is watching your users, collecting user data and trying to learn and adapt your product flows from it.  This you will be recording user sessions and watching the recordings repeatedly to identify “sticky” points that slow users down. This you will look at all your signup forms and figure out why they suck at converting. This you will also need to be continuously creating variations of elements to find which serve the user best. Or get them to convert best.  A/B testing. Better make an extra clone. This is a lot of work in itself.

Anyone want to be the clone who writes all the documentation and reference material for users? You definitely don’t want to be that clone. But you need one so…

Let’s circle back for a minute. You’ve got all these copies of you doing all these tasks - do you even remember what you’re supposed to be doing?  Weren’t you the one doing the designing and developing?  Are you getting any of that done? Or are you too busy running around making sure the clones are doing what they’re supposed to be doing?

So who the hell is building the product? We need another clone!  One that’s just like you, doing the part that you originally believed in - creating a decent product that served the actual needs of a niche market. Remember that part?

You should be pleased though. You’ve come a long way. Your product is in fact good enough to stand behind. Your rag-tag bunch of clones (it’s just you - the clones are imaginary) have managed to get some ads running, a few people are clicking - you can taste that this all could work.

If you’ve gotten to this point you know for sure. Building a successful web product is hard. Really hard.

Chances are you don’t just get to spend your days working on your awesome new product while having your bills magically paid.  Chances are you actually have bills. I do.

So you’ve got this copy of you performing a full time day job. You might even have another you who’s knocking out a little freelance work here and there to make ends meet. Pat that responsible you on the back. This you is making it possible for you to chase your awesome product dream in the first place.

With all these copies your yourself performing different tasks, it’s easy to feel stretched very thing.  Sometimes you sit staring at your laptop and you’re like, “What the hell do I do? There’s so much to do I don’t even know what to do!”

So break this down into a small list of task categories:

  • Feature Development / Customer Request Fulfillment
  • Inbound Marketing
  • Content / Flow Optimization
  • User Testing, Tracking and Reacting

Everything you do day to day for your awesome product falls into one of these categories and needs to be looked at and prioritized. This can be tough.

This is where the most important you of all comes in. Make this clone. The wise you who has a high level view of things. Who can see the bigger picture. Climb the mountain and visit this you.

This you will offer advise like “If you could only pick one more thing to do and not be allowed to do anything else, what would it be?” “Will this feature get more people to sign up, or do you just think you need it?” “Isn’t this a problem that can be addressed when it’s actually a problem?”

You may not be lucky enough to have this you within you. If you can find this you though, you’ll spend far less time cluelessly staring at your laptop and more time getting important things done to help your awesome idea slowly transform into a successful idea.

Yes, making a successful web product is hard - buts it’s also completely possible regardless of how many “yous” it takes.

About Joseph R. B. Taylor

Joseph R. B. Taylor is a humble designer/developer who makes stuff for screens of all shapes and sizes. He is currently the lead UI/UX Architect at MScience, LLC, where he works to create simple experiences on top of large rich datasets for their customers and clients.