A Lesson in Product Market Fit and Sales
Hey everyone! Today I have an interview with Rodrigo Pontes, an indie hacker who made 1:1 meeting – a tool for taking notes and scheduling meetings.
There are some great lessons to learn here that as indie hackers and bootstrappers we constantly need to be on the look out for.
Tell everyone a little bit about yourself and the inspiration for One on One Meeting.
I’ve been a software developer for about three years now, after a late-career change at 37 years old. I was coming from solo founding a startup with outsourced software development and marketing.
When the startup failed and I was unhappy at my job, I decided to change careers. So I learned to code and got a frontend job in a prominent startup in Brazil (where I’m from).
There, I first learned about one on one meetings among leaders and individual contributors. For those unfamiliar, the idea is for it to be a space dedicated to whatever topic the individual contributor wants to talk about.
So, unlike all other meetings, it is not the manager that sets the agenda.
I enjoyed those meetings and realized that I could create a tool that would help team leaders managing them.
After one year working there, having sufficient experience to be able to build a nice CRUD app, I decided to give it a shot.
I started it as a side project coding it by myself from the ground up.
What was your process for validating the idea?
The CTO of the company was advocating the 1:1 meeting practice for everyone, and the company was growing fast.
He used a SaaS web app for managing his 1:1s, but the price was too expensive to buy for all the managers (it was around $40/month).
I took that as a sign that I had the opportunity of filling that gap and building a cheaper product with the same solution.
As a solo founder, I didn’t need much to be profitable and earn some extra. In hindsight, that was a sign that the company wasn’t willing to consider that problem a real problem worth paying to solve, regardless of what the CTO advocated.
But also, other factors were suggesting it was a good idea. The solution was technically simple — a simple CRUD app with the right UX is something that junior web developer can build.
I had close contact with a lot of potential customers, the managers of the company.
I had the CTO support to build it and offer to everyone in the company.
He and my direct leader were actually very nice, and were actively advocating the use of my tool around the company.
Did you research any competitors before starting and if so, how did they compare?
Yes. Initially, I started building a clone of the software that the CTO used (the $40/month one), but improving some things that other managers who tried it and didn’t like wanted.
I researched other competitors too. My differentiation was mostly in the user interface.
The competition usually had a lot of integrations with other tools — like calendars, email, and todo lists apps — that would be hard to match, but users didn’t appear to care that much about those.
I did believe I was in a good spot to start.
Was the scope of the project too large for a one man team to handle?
For the initial product and validation, no. The product could start as a simple CRUD with a well-researched UI. That part wasn’t the problem.
But once I had a launched product, there was one thing to do that I couldn’t do: sales. I was able to do sales inside my employer, supported by my managers as I mentioned, and I did it.
But sales to other companies, working full-time, I just couldn’t do it. One person working alone, but full-time on it, could do it.
That wasn’t an option for me — quitting without generating enough profit to support me. So I probably should have tried to look for help.
What were your major hurdles in finding product/market fit?
I kind of found a niche. About 30 people in the company tried it, about 5, 6 used it regularly, and 2 were big fans.
I think it is fair to say it was a good enough position to start a niche bootstrapped product.
There were two problems, though. I wasn’t charging those early users anything. It was like a months-long free trial for the managers of the company.
And the real customer is not the managers, is the company. It took me some time to realize. I was getting closer to an acceptable “product/user fit”, but completely in the dark in terms of “product/who-pays-the-invoice fit.”
One on One Meeting was B2B focused – what were the downsides of this for you compared to B2C?
A B2B product requires you to do corporate sales. Even if you think of the most “product-lead growth” products, like Slack and Dropbox, they aren’t exceptions.
(https://twitter.com/kamilrextin/status/1142958861076373504). It is hard to do B2B as a side-product, not working business-hours on it for calls and meetings.
Even emails, as asynchronous as they are, are best done on business hours, in case they become conversations — and that’s the whole goal of a sales email, to become a conversation.
Eventually, that became a deal-breaker for me. Other than that, I agree with the general advice that B2B is a safer, more profitable choice for bootstrappers. Only it seems to be a requirement to be able to work business hours.
Were there any major goals or benchmarks for One on One Meeting?
I was trying to get that first 10 paying users. It never got there.
Was there a particular point where you knew things weren’t working out?
The tipping point was when my employer’s Head of HR decided that the company wouldn’t pay for the software.
That was after 9 months of free-trial, after two no-shows on scheduled meetings where he didn’t even bother to explain, and two other meetings where he arrived 20 minutes late, also without explanation.
I know that this kind of behavior from executives who think they are doing you a favor by meeting with you is part of the job with enterprise sales.
That’s also the reason why I don’t want to make enterprise sales and have great respect for those who do it professionally and ethically.
Of course, other things were not working as well. I had those two fans, but overall there was no product/market fit.
Managers were usually happy enough with writing notes on Google Docs and emails. The few managers that were using a paid competitor showed no interest in changing.
The design was not great, either. I do think it was a useful product that a few people wanted and could have grown from that, but sales were the foundation of everything, and I couldn’t and didn’t want to do that.
What was the biggest surprise you ran into along the way?
Launching a product and creating a business from scratch is a constant learning experience, so I’m not sure I had many “surprises”.
Everything was kind of new to me.
What did you learn from this product that you will incorporate into your next?
That “product/founder” fit must exist before any other fit. It is an important thing to think about before jumping into a new idea.
I know I don’t want to do corporate sales, so no solo B2B ventures for me.
I think it is essential for every founder to find their own hard “no”s.
What are you working on now and where can people follow you?
I am working on a daily journal and mood tracker and journal: Quid Sentio, www.quidsentio.com. It is B2C, but still in a bootstrapper, long-term, slow bet way.
I am not much of a social media user, so I just decided to create a Twitter account for Quid Sentio.
So, you can add that to your feed for a few tweets with periodic updates: https://twitter.com/QuidSentio
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