To build a business as a self employer, I need to figure out what I want to sell. What is something that people are going to want to buy, that I can supply?
I have found three main types of advice about this while wandering the entrepreneurial Internet over the years. The first is the “small experiments” idea promoted in one form or another by writers such as Cal Newport, and beloved by Venture Capitalists and the loss-making online “Start Up” community. This idea holds that it’s unknowable what products will be a success, so all you can do is try lots of things until something inevitably takes off. Under this model, the most important thing is to keep the cost of trying very very low, so that you can afford the failures and so the successes will more than pay for them.
I think this “small experiments” idea has some merit, especially the part about keeping the cost of failure low. I am more attracted however to a second perspective put forward by people like Bob Moesta, which suggests that actually there are lots of clues as to why products succeed, if you only know how to understand what the needs and motivations of your customers are.
But I am planning to base my product development on a third idea, that is most neatly articulated in a book that I am using as my go-to reference for starting my business: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hanson of Basecamp.
The idea is: When it comes to understanding needs and motivations, I have a much clearer view of my own than anyone else’s. So if I build a product that meets my own needs, I am able to do so with a nuanced understanding of what is important, and I will be able to create a much more compelling and valuable product with much less effort and fewer mistakes. In the software development world where I grew up this is a well established principle known as “scratching your own itch”.
This approach doesn’t always guarantee there will be demand for a product; sometimes the thing you want doesn’t exist yet because there aren’t enough other people who also want it enough to buy it… but I do think that creating a product I want to use myself would be the best way for me to at least narrow down the options and increase the chances of finding something good.
The particular “itch” that I have right now is how to set up all the mundane record keeping that I need for my company, and that will be needed as I invite other Self Employers to join my joint venture. I need Allaiz.com email addresses. I need a register of company documents such as the shareholder’s agreement and articles of incorporation. I need an accounting ledger that I can use to record transactions and prepare tax returns. I need it online to support remote work and I need Internet hosting and off-site backups for all of it.
Now, because I happen to be an experienced Linux system administrator, I have the option of self-hosting software for all of this myself. If something works for me, then it could also be a product that I can offer to customers.
I get something valuable from self-hosting that my customers would not. I get autonomy and control over the app and over my data, and I because I own the system I can use it as much as I want for free once I have set it up. This means that my app looks more valuable to me than it would to anyone else. I might prefer to run Apache OFBiz rather than subscribe to Xero simply for this reason alone, but from my customer’s perspective I have just created another SaaS app, and if I didn’t have other reasons to prefer OFBiz to to Xero, then why should I expect that they would either?
There are benefits that would come from creating “me too” SaaS products, even if they would not be as polished as whatever the market leaders in their respective fields are, and would therefore be reduced to competing on price as “discount” products.
And the main benefit is promoting Self Employment. At the time of writing, pretty much every SaaS app out there is built and run on the backs of wage slaves. I know this because I used to be one of them, and I remember what a miserable existence it can be. I would like there to be an alternative to that, and not just for me. Creating a viable new SaaS app that is owned and operated by a self employer joint venture would help to replace wage slavery with self employment, which is the whole point of the Allaiz project in the first place. It should also be quite popular with people who care about Escaping Wage Slavery Without Being A Slave Owner.
So that’s enough for me then. I guess I’m going to be self hosting All The Things that I need to run my business, and wrapping them up in a subscription product for other Self Employers. Hopefully that will also add value by creating an integrated turn-key solution that saves time and effort for people starting out on their self Employment journey.
What are your thoughts about how to find a good product to launch your Self Employment journey with? Come over to our subreddit and let’s start a discussion to see if anyone has some helpful suggestions! :)