Shooting Through Windows

    There’s a software product in the association market called Prop Fuel. It delivers one question surveys via email. It’s doing well and I can tell that it’s growing from the regular referrals I hear for it. What’s interesting to me is that I built it eleven years ago.

    Back in 2013, I coded my first software product. It was a plugin for Joomla that I called “Mail in Vote.” I developed it for people that needed an easy mechanism to get consensus from a group and it did what Prop Fuel does now. I worked nights and evenings for nine months and made a few sales, but mostly I learned was that I had a lot to learn about building and marketing software products. Mail in Vote actually killed my career as a developer, because in the process of grinding away on it, I developed serious repetitive-stress injuries which forced me to build a team to do the work instead.

    Eleven years ago Mail in Vote was a failure, today Prop Fuel is a success. The market context is different, a platform market versus a vertical market, but as big of a difference is that the time hadn’t come for the concept. Prop Fuel does well because associations have over-used survey tools in the past ten years and need a survey “lite” method to get information. Even if Mail in Vote was tightly tied to the association market eleven years ago, it would have had a similar ho-hum reception because there wasn’t the same “survey fatigue” then as there is now. Eventually, things will change enough in the market that even the one question survey won’t be desirable.

    When an opportunity appears, it has a window of time in which you can execute on it. No one knows how big that window is.

    This year, I partnered with a market veteran of a vertical to develop a SaaS product. One of the things I’m thinking about is our opportunity window. We already have sales, so the window is open, but we both have other demands on our time and neither of us is going to work nights and weekends. If we’re not strategic about choosing what we work on and disciplined about protecting time for it, then the product will drip out over months and years. This increases the risk that we’ll be too slow to market and not realize a return on our investment.

    What that means is sacrifice. I can lie to myself and say that we’ll “fit-in” the work, but fitting things in is just another way of saying that we’ll slowly work on it and run up against the risk of that window closing.

    In the military, you’re taught to only point your rifle at someone you’re ready to kill.

    In developing opportunities, it’s worthwhile to play and test and explore. But once you’ve chosen one, it requires commitment in the form of sacrifice. Sacrificing revenue and other opportunities to commit to one thing. Pointing in one specific direction.

    When you throw a bullet in a fire it will cook off with a bang, but the bullet won’t go anywhere. It’s the narrow focus of the rifle’s barrel that makes it deadly.

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