The joy of building a product without knowing what it is yet

I’ve been struggling to find the words to start this first entry, so I’ll just start with right now.

I’ve been sitting on the idea of building a product for other copywriters for a while now, but I’ve never had that “lightning in a bottle” moment. You know, that brilliant idea that makes you leap out of bed, grab a pen and notebook and has your entire family secretly wondering if you’ve finally gone too far and lost the plot?

And maybe not having that moment is actually for the best.

You see, anytime I’ve had those lightning in a bottle moments they’ve always been based around a preconceived idea of a solution. Those moments of “this is awesome! What a great idea! Let’s go build and create!”

But on my bumpy entrepreneurial journey I’ve come to mistrust those moments. They’re usually 99% based on unvalidated assumptions. I get so excited about something that I just run off with the idea and ignore any common sense questions like: eerrr do people actually want this?

Up until now, that hasn’t affected me too badly apart from wasting time in projects that didn’t end up going anywhere. But the older I get and the less time I have, the more I find myself pushing back against random ideas that lead me down rabbit holes.

So this time I want it to be different.

Why my last attempt at a SaaS failed

About 8 months ago I decided to go into a joint venture with an ex-client of mine in the language learning space. I thought the product was awesome and had potential.

But it didn’t matter what I thought about the product and I ignored some key things that meant it would probably never get off the ground:

  • It was a classic case of cart before the horse: the product was built and had gone to market before validating the real-life problems of a defined market
  • Hundreds of users had signed up, but none had actually converted to a paid plan
  • Feedback, when we had any, was lukewarm and likely people were just trying to be nice
  • Nobody was emailing or showing much enthusiasm for the product
  • It was a product that didn’t really solve for a clear problem. It was just a cool tool to help with language learning

All of these pointed to a big red flag: people didn’t need this solution and no amount of marketing would compensate for that.

I had a great time digging into the behind-the-scenes of a bootstrapped SaaS, but we agreed that it was time to move on.

That experience has taught me the importance of validating not just a critical problem, but also a viable solution as well as starting with a specific market in mind.

All of that was missing from this first venture into building a SaaS 😅. But this time, I don’t have the slightest doubt about which people I want to help.

The copywriter void

When I look back at my freelance career one thing stands out: I was at my happiest when serving other copywriters with my course.

I’d get up at 5am and work on my marketing and content strategy for promotion, I loved chatting with other copywriters about their SEO struggles, I really enjoyed building our Slack community, it filled me with pride when copywriters would leave amazing testimonials for the course.

But above all it felt easy.

Finally things felt like they just clicked. This was (and sometimes continues to be) a key ingredient that’s been missing from my business.

I’d love to tell you that my copywriting business came about because I was desperately trying to help a specific market, but it’s just not true. I became a copywriter because I love marketing and writing – and I learnt I could make this a viable career.

It was a cart-before-horse scenario on the service-side of business (are you seeing a trend here?). I had a solution (copywriting services) for an ill-defined problem (bad conversion rate? Lack of brand awareness?) for an undefined audience (errr people with businesses?).

I eventually made my way to B2B SaaS because I love SaaS marketing, but SERP Slayer, my course, started with the market itself: early-stage copywriters.

And that’s a huge part of why ease, joy, and success were a key part of that project.

I already had an awesome network to chat with and I knew this market inside out because they were me and I was them. They were literally asking me for help (not feeling confident enough with SEO to offer it to clients, but knowing they had to). They’re also some of the most supportive people I’ve ever come across in the wild plains of the internet.

Serving them as customers was genuinely a highlight of my career.

So why did I sunset SERP Slayer?

In short, I thought course creation was for me, but it isn’t. I’ve also been having some strong feelings about SEO in the new age of AI and also it’s ROI for smaller companies. So keeping SERP Slayer open just didn’t feel right anymore while I was wrangling those doubts.

But sunsetting that course left a void in my professional career: I was no longer serving copywriters as customers.

But I also knew I didn’t want to keep creating courses or start a membership, so what options did I have left?

Well, building a SaaS product with the help of either a co-founder or a trusted mentor who could provide guidance and support on the product development side of things.

And that’s where I now find myself.

Finally putting the horse before the cart

The most exciting thing about going into this project is that I have NO idea what I’ll eventually build. I’m not bringing my solution bias into the equation – I’m a total blank slate who’s just trying to work out which problem to solve for this audience.

So I’m embarking on this journey where it should always start: finding a viable problem to solve. And that starts with research interviews.

My goal is to conduct at least 30 of these solution-agnostic interviews. After just one day of asking folks in my network for an interview and sharing the booking link on my Instagram I already have 12 lined up 🎉🎉.

Once again, serving the right market helps bring ease. I already know many of these people personally. I’m not having to reach out to a bunch of strangers who have never heard of me before. People actively want to help me because this is a network and a community I’ve been building up for almost 4 years now.

If you’re a copywriter reading this I’d LOVE to chat with you about your work, pain points, goals etc and if you have pets then we definitely have to talk about them, too.

Thanks for your support!