Founders, we know what you're going through…

Designers are often isolated in their little design bubble, worrying about and protecting the user’s interest, and never get exposed to the intricate and complicated issues the stakeholders are dealing with in order to bring a product to market. But we know because we’ve been there.

Tl;dr for the lazy, below

We’ve been designing products for clients for a while now, but we were always limited to the role of the design partner. We made sure that the UI is modern and consistent, that the users’ needs are met, and that the overall experience is positive.

However, over time we realized that there’s more to building a successful product than looking good and taking care of your users. Unfortunately, we were rarely exposed to that side of things as it was usually the stakeholders who were taking care of the business end.

This is when we realized it was time to immerse ourselves into the product design and development processes, so that we could experience the parts that were “not ours to deal with” before.

We decided to design and build a product of our own, hoping that being the stakeholders, as well as investors will expose us to a wider set of issues that we were blind to before, issues our clients know all too well.

The product we decided to create was called Funnel. It was a light-weight CRM aimed at freelancers and SMBs that didn’t have the time, resouces — or the need, actually — for a fully fledged CRM such as Salesforce and the like1.

Funnel set out to solve the problem of staying on top of business opportunities, getting them out of your inbox and organizing them into a dedicated space that's optimized for working on them. This is something we struggled with in our own agency, so we were actually scratching our own itch.

1 At the time there weren't many — if any — CRM options aimed at small businesses, let alone freelancers, so this seemed like a good opportunity to explore.

Knowledge bomb:

Don’t treat clients like sponsors. They are investors in their product and vision, and they are the ones with actual skin in the game.

Empathizing with our clients by putting ourselves in their shoes was a huge eye-opener into the unique problems they are facing while employing people to take care of certain aspects of their products. Suddenly we gained so many insights into our clients’ side of things, and it explained so much.

Like, before we knew to be really bothered with things like clients not returning feedback on time, if they would disappear for days at a time, or when they insisted on things being done a certain way.

Now we realized that they are not actually sitting behind a computer with both feet up on their desks waiting for us to send something in, only to come back with another change request. They actually had to juggle a lot of balls in order to fit everything together in terms of product and its features, design and development timelines, financing, and not to mention a million other everyday issues all of us face.

One of the unexpected take-aways from this little exercise of ours was the realization of just how hard it is to make, and run a successful business based on a digital product offering.

We went into this adventure primarily to learn, but we also thought that if the product could generate some side income, it wouldn’t hurt. Who knows, we might end up transforming into a product company all the way.

Boy, how wrong were we. Newsflash: running a profitable product-based business is a whole different beast, than running a service-based business.

From a learning experience point of view, the exercise was a major success. We actually managed to design and develop a product, get it to market, and validate it by getting people to actually sign up and pay for it.

From a business point of view, it was a complete failure, as it never gained enough traction to be self-sustainable. To be honest, this may be entirely on us as we never bothered with marketing it, and it always clashed with our already-profitable service business’ schedule.

Eventually we decided we were probably never going to be able to give it the attention it deserves, so in 2018 we decided to sell it so someone else can hopefully turn it into a profitable business.

Too long, didn't read:

We decided to design and build a product of our own, hoping that being the stakeholders, as well as investors will expose us to a wider set of issues that we were blind to before, issues our clients know all too well.

1.

Committing to an exercise like this, and taking on the role of designer, investor, and main stakeholder was a huge eye-opener for us, and provided so much insight into the roles our clients play when we collaborate.

2.

Building a successful product from scratch is an incredibly complicated process, and it takes a lot of things that need to fall in place in order to even get a shot at it. It is also very expensive.

3.

We comically underestimated how hard it is to build a profitable product-based business. Oh, did we mention how expensive it was? So expensive…

4.

Validating a product idea by getting it to market, and having people sign up and pay to use is an incredible feeling. We now totally understand why anyone would take so many risks, and run against such terriffying odds at success.