Building Software in Public

I’ve been relatively silent about my SaaS side product, Munchkin Report. Well, that’s about to change: I’ve decided to post everything I do—marketing, sales, customer development, engineering, etc.—publicly here on my blog. Let’s see what happens!

This is a big step outside my comfort zone.

Then why do it? Well, because every time I see someone open up their books (Patrick McKenzie, Pat Flynn, Nathan Barry), their candor only accelerates growth.

So, here goes nothing…

Munchkin Mascot

Current status

I launched the sales site a couple of weeks ago and I’m trying to build an early access list and generate traffic and buzz while continuing to work on the application (which is about 60% code complete).

I’m building an audience from scratch with the help of my wife, Melissa, who’s my co-founder and an extremely talented writer with lots of great things share with our target audience of busy parents. She’s our secret inbound marketing weapon.

I will not write any more application code until I have at least 50 people on the early access list.

My biggest obstacles

I have a fairly demanding day job, which I really enjoy. I’m a marketing director for a fast growing software company and I manage a team of people, and I refuse to let my side projects interfere with my full-time gig. I also have a fairly busy family life, so I’m lucky if I can eek out 6-8 hours of work per week on Munchkin Report.

Despite being stretched dangerously thin, I’m simulateously writing a marketing ebook called Mastering HubSpot. I know this is a bad idea, guys.

All of the smart people I talk to say to go all-in on one thing at a time. Focus, Rob! But I’m hoping I can juggle for just a couple of months until the book is done and hopefully yields me a quick win. Famous last words.

What I’ve done already

  1. Coded and designed about 60% of the web application (Ruby on Rails)
  2. Wrote copy for, designed, and launched the sales site
  3. Published 2 blog posts and shared them on social media (to essentially no one)
  4. Created a Twitter account, Facebook page, and Pinterest page
  5. Followed a bunch of relevant people (mostly mommy/parenting bloggers) on Twitter
  6. Began compiling a list of influencers in my niche (with name, email, date of last contact)
  7. Commented on a few relevant blog posts and forum threads to build my reputation/become

Next week

  1. Post and promote 3 more blog posts
  2. Pitch a guest blog post to a couple of target blogs
  3. Create and publish a free printable daily activity sheet PDF with Munchkin Report branding

Stay tuned for more updates, which I hope to publish weekly.  I’ll probably do the same for my ebook.

I hope this keeps me accountable and also inspires other bootstrappers that are following along to forge ahead.

11 Comments

  1. Oh to be young, full of spunk and woefully ignorant again. There’s no way in hell you’re going to accomplish any of this to a degree you would deem success. Would you rather have one project you admittedly can focus barely any time towards (20% availability maybe?) that results in a semi-success, or 2 total failures that you probably won’t even get anywhere near finishing? Seriously, you won’t even learn anything, except to not over extend yourself – which you already know.

    Another way to look at it: that 60% is a bunch of crap. Maybe you’re 60% to an MVP, maybe you’re 60% to feature complete – doesn’t matter. When you say you’re 80% done I want you to mark launch day on your calendar. Now watch that day go blazing fast as you realize you are hardly a quarter of the way done with your project. The last 20% takes 80% of the time/effort.

    What would your product be if you could dedicate 100% of your time to it? Work on it full-time? You’ll only be as good as one-fifth of that, and you’re willingly cutting that limited amount of time in half with another project?

    Pick either one and give it the little bit of time you can afford. Personally, I’d ditch the book because a marketing book about a marketing product (one so well known for sending a bazillion emails and marketing the hell out of their own product) sounds like a complete waste of time. If there was any reason in doing that HubSpot would have a new book released ever 90 minutes.

    • Rob Sobers (Author)

      Thanks for the comment Michael.

      I totally agree that I could move faster on MunchkinReport without being sidetracked by the book. But hear me out.

      Here’s my justification on the book: HubSpot has a massive customer base that constantly consumes marketing services. In fact, HubSpot has a giant VAR ecosystem making scads of cash helping people use HubSpot successfully. The book is effectively productized consulting.

      Look at it this way: Why would Michael Hartl make a Rails book? Why are there so many SharePoint books, and WordPress books, and Salesforce.com books? Shouldn’t the creators of these platforms be doing all that work? They can’t and they don’t.

      For more on this concept, listen to Kalzumeus Podcast episode #5 (minutes 50:00 through 63:00).

  2. Great job with the design and copy on munchkin report. (Although I would center that footer.)

    However, reading your value proposition has me worried that you’re solving a problem no one has. Do you have customers/a market?

    • Rob Sobers (Author)

      Hey Miles. Thank you for the feedback! (I think I will center the footer.)

      At first, I was scratching my own itch. If you read the Our Story section of the site, you can see that my wife and I track everything. And there are lots of type-A parents that I’ve talked to that are the same.

      More importantly, I’ve had interest from day care centers (yay customer development!) But now I’m trying to validate whether or not I can reach my audience at scale online–without word of mouth or cold calling.

      Also, there is a decent amount of competition in this niche that appear to be making making money (my only evidence is their longevity), which bodes well.

      Daycare centers are the linchpin — if I can get a few big accounts or one franchise, I’ll be in good shape.

  3. I don’t think that being so stretched is really a “bad idea” as long as you:
    1. Are aware of your priorities (like day job > family > book > Munchkin Report).
    2. Consistently adjust your time/efforts accordingly to these priorities *without guilt*.
    3. Set your expectations about the outcomes proportionally to the efforts :)

    The only bad idea would be expecting huge success with a small effort. But if you treat the side projects as they are – more a source of personal satisfaction than full scale business, I think it’s ok.

  4. Rob, don’t get distracted by any of these grudgers in the comments. You seem to be in control of what you’re doing and you seem to be testing the waters cautiously but optimistically.

    Keep on going, it’s awesome!

  5. @michael sounds like a developer, and we all know how much we (developers) hate marketing, despite it being the one thing we completely suck at. Maybe we should work more on it it will make us more valuable.

    I would say go for your book. Either it is a hit, or you end up learning more about marketing cause you wrote a book for God sake, it doesn’t get any better.

    I wish you luck and am eager to see how your projects develop.

  6. Childcare 2.0 has a nice ring to it.

  7. Hi Rob,

    Good stuff! Keep going.

    I definitely can relate to what you are saying about being spread thin. I also have a full-time job (which I enjoy a lot) and wife and two beautiful daughters who don’t get enough time with their husband and dad because he is always working on his side-project. This time around it is a personal learning environment application (web and mobile).

    I know that I cannot but work on my side-projects but they consume me to the detriment of everything else. So, my advice is to make sure you have your priorities straight. Your family (and friends) always come first. It has taken me 15 years to realise that.

    Saying all that… keep at it (in a balanced manner). Creating something out of nothing is one of the most satisfying things you can do.

    Will definitely keep an eye on your progress and I wish you luck with your project.

    Brett

    • Rob Sobers (Author)

      Wow, thanks Brett! Good luck to you, too! Even if I fail miserably, I can’t imagine what it would be like to not build things. This is my passion, but I’d never jeopardize my family’s well-being for it, hence the bootstrapper’s mentality. Cheers.

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