Five Hard Lessons Learned from Unread
My article on the financials behind Unread’s first year prompted a lot of helpful conversation on the Internet last week. It will take me a long time to digest it all, but here are the TL;DR highlights:
Find Your Niche and Own It – Building a sustainable software business means spotting a niche before your competitors have noticed it, then doing everything you can to “own” it. Your app and your company need to become a household name for people who care about that niche. Aim to be the 1Password of _______.
Pick a Sustainable Niche – Owning a niche won’t do you much good if your software doesn’t solve a valuable problem for people. When I was a nurse, I spent $150 a year on subscriptions to reputable medication guide iPhone apps for nurses. Having access to everything I needed in a trustworthy format was critical. Spending that much money was a hardship, but it was worth it for how much safer and faster it helped me to be.
More Than Great Design – Niche customers are picky about features. They’re interested in rich data sets, esoteric integrations, and advanced options. For example, as a nurse I could never have used Epocrates, the well-known drug guide app for physicians, because it didn’t have information on intravenous infusions. Nurses need to know which drugs can be administered together in the same IV tubing, at what rates, and in which fluids. Only certain (expensive) nursing-specific guides had this information.
Expect a Long Road – Becoming a household name isn’t easy. Expecting overnight sustainability – nevermind overnight success – is wishful thinking. If you want to build a business by yourself, you’ll need an indefinite source of outside income. That means you have to work your ass off every night and weekend, or else secure venture funding.
The Gold Rush is Over. – 2008 to 2010 is dead and gone. If your plan is to make a tidy living building the next beautiful _______ for iOS nerds, then you are destined to repeat my mistakes. Don’t follow in my footsteps. Focus on a difficult problem that matters to a significant number of normal people. Don’t worry about being the prettiest or the most featured. Get your hands dirty and find out what the rest of the world is struggling with.