My Product Autopsies
Here are some things I've built over the years that didn't survive.
Many died naturally. Most I killed.
Let me introduce you to some projects I have known and loved:
- Tripppr.com | Psychedelic Therapy and Analytics SaaS
- YoGrow | Simple E-commerce Analytics SaaS
- SimpleHours.com | Hourly work tracking SaaS
- Superscribe.com | Plain text newsletters and popups SaaS
Tripppr.com - Psychedelic Therapy Companion
Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew started building their meditation app in the 2000/2010s. It was scoffed at as a novelty and non-starter. Who needed to pay for meditation - and in any case nobody meditates!
Time moves fast. They were ahead of the curve. It was the perfect time to build the app. They helped start the mindfulness wave and then rode it. Being a first mover is powerful.
Calm.com currently has four million paid subscribers.
I was inspired by this and applied the logic to new opportunties in Psychadelic businesses, where a mixture of CannaTech investors diversifying, tech hype, liberalisation and research made this space similar to the mindfuless industry of the 2010s.
I am really interested in measuring peoples experiences with psychedelic therapy. How can you assess the value of an experience with quantitive data so it can be used as part of the therapy? I'm a data nerd and loved the idea. Just as your physical health is captured by your smart watch over the day I envisioned capturing a psychedelic experience and using it to compliement integrative therapy.
Psychedelic therapy is new and practices are still being found, but multiple therapy experiences over a number of months followed by an integration sessions is well established.
Tripppr.com would be a smart health companion app that could be used by patient and therapist in their integration sessions.
I had a great time meeting many in the space and particularly good fun at Breaking Conventions conference. Built a solid MVP but was unable to get any traction at all!
I found some therapists were tech-sceptical and reluctant that data could be of benefit and perhaps even a detriment. There were also privacy concerns (which I was aware of and built as a foundational pillar of the MVP).
I was unable to get a critical mass of interest.
Something this preemptive and involved with healthcare would need a longer runway to develop. It would need more funding and deep collaboration with the growing therapeutic teams. Quantifying the experience would benefit from academic collaboration and after I launched a number of other well financed competitors emerged and with the academic clout to boot.
I think this space will be huge in the next five to ten years, but timing is everything with a startup and as much as I was encouraged by Calm's preemptive approach being too early is just as dangerous as being too late to the party.
Failed fast with this one.
YoGrow - Simple E-commerce Analytics
Problem and Solution
E-commerce owners not leveraging their analytics. Analytics fatigue and too much noise means they are not used or heavily siloed.
A simple e-commerce analytics tool that focused on Visits, Conversion and Average Order Value. These three metrics determine revenue. Let's you run experiments to adjust each lever - eg. run an experiment to increase conversion rate. Associate a cost to the experiment and measure the ROI.
This was built while at an incubator and although it never succeeded out I found this very foundational in my learning.
A dozen power users, mainly driven by consultancy.
The product worked well as an adjunct to consultancy as it required education of the user to why there was a problem and why this was a solution. It was a non-obvious solution and a hard sell.
On top of that it was in competition with Google Analytics which was free and anchored value of the product in many peoples minds.
In an effort to demonstrate value to the users I implemented the ability to associate people to experiments and measure ROI of their work. For instance hire a conversion rate specialist for 1 month at £500 and then measure if they increased conversion to a degree that generated > £500 ROI. This was mixing too many concepts and also going into marketplace territory - was this a marketplace or an analytics tool. It was neither and needed traction in one or the other before branching out like this.
I shouldn't have tried to pivot my way out of what was a problem with market fit: those that are interested in analytics wanted all bells and whistles and I was targeting those who were not interested in analytics at all. Very hard to get some excited about numbers if they are not interested to start with - even if those numbers follow a pound sign!
Should have pivoted to privacy analytics which took off a few years later
SimpleHours.com | Hourly work tracking
Problem and Solution
This was really a problem I had and wanted to itch. One of my first projects and I only just veered away from the cliche of creating a freelancing invoicing app into creating an hour tracking app!
I was billing my agency hours out and wanted a clear way to block out the hours sold to clients against dates. So I would block out a web developer to work for 2 weeks at a certain rate and then I would get a report of how much revenue that equalled to at the months end.
This helped with invoicing and also for forecasting the business.
I made the data publicly available so potential clients could view our availability and pre-book our time. If you want to pre-book 2 weeks of work you could view that the next time we had 2 weeks free was in a months time.
Loved this project and made no effort in marketing it because I was the most valuable customer!
I did a lot of market research about how people bill, how they track their time and bill. Very interesting but also showed that it was so diverse and many had a lot of inertia in their own processes, often including a much handcrafted excel sheet! Remember your biggest competitors are often just email and spreadsheets!
I happily kept building this as a product but after that research didn't put any more effort into growing the user base. With the movement to IR35 I no longer needed to use this tool and sunsetted it.
I think the potential here was for having a public calendar that can be used to book time and set expectations on day rate but realistically most work contracts require much more hand holding so it is not that beneficial in that context.
Superscribe.com | Plain text newsletters and popups
Problem and Solution
I was building these products and focusing on marketing. I found the incumbent email solutions really lacking. If I wanted to collect email addresses I had to integrate a number of tools. I didn't want to have fancy templates, I just wanted to send plain text emails easily.
A simple plain text email tool with built in email popup to capture emails to allow products to promoter and contact their user base. Rather than sub-scribing you would super-scribe!
Anyway, puns aside - this simple tool would also display a network of other newsletters in a central location so as a user you could easily discover and follow newsletters of interest to you.
Added ability to view previous emails on the application.
This was built just before SubStack and I think in hindsight I should have done what they did! They were not focused on email as a tool for an existing product but as a creators platform. That was my error. I should have also not given up so quickly on this!