The value of updates - Build Log #1

When building Stairway, I found writing investor updates one of the most valuable activities that I did on a regular basis, so I'm going to do that here on my website.

For most of this year, I've been working on various product experiments, alongside consulting full-time with early-stage startups, in both a product and engineering capacity. I'm now transitioning to spend more time building products and running experiments, with one already a reasonable way through development.

When building Stairway, I found writing investor updates one of the most valuable activities that I did on a regular basis, so I'm going to do that here on my website. Not only were they useful for accountability, but they were a helpful forcing function to think more deeply at a high-level about the business, and evaluate what was and wasn't working. I'm going to write this publicly as an experiment - it won't be as in-depth as a true investor update, but I hope it proves interesting and useful.

What I'm building

I'm currently building an MVP of a consumer marketplace (I plan to share more specifics about what the product is once it's in the market); my short-term focus with it is to share it with a small group of potential customers for early feedback.

Building an MVP in 2022

With more and more tools available to make it easier to build and release a website, there is a clear rise in consumer expectations for an early product. Even with the earliest version of a product at launch, the design and experience is incredibly important, and isn't something that can be left until later. Instead, I'm trying to reduce the build time by aggressively reducing the scope.

I've decided to bootstrap this product in the short-term, so am trying to keep the costs low. Typically design is the area of product building that I'm least comfortable with, and would therefore outsource or hire for first. In this case I've decided not to do that, and am instead taking an engineering approach to design, primarily using Tailwind CSS, along with the incredible book Refactoring UI (from the creators of Tailwind), which focuses on design from a developer's point of view. Eliminating Figma from my design process has not only sped up the development, but it's enabled me to focus on what I already know.

Up until this point, I've spent most of my time building the seller side of the marketplace; I'm shifting my focus now to the buyer side, with the goal being for a consumer to be able to discover and purchase something on the website in as few steps as possible.

Learning more about SEO-driven growth

I think most people hold the view that SEO is not worth focusing on to drive growth; I've heard many talk about how it's too slow to compound and see results. If you want to see results in a matter of weeks, you'd be right in thinking so, but I believe that people are ignoring the compounding value that you can achieve relatively easily through SEO. Masterclass and Zapier are both terrific examples of companies who have seen enormous growth from the compounding benefits of writing content related to their products.

I saw this first-hand with Stairway, where we spent a couple of days automating a lot of manual SEO work, so that we could harness our existing content for people using search; if someone was typing a search term related to a particular Physics topic into Google, we'd often be one of the first results to show up. Getting to the top spot on Google for important search terms in these categories was much easier than I had thought it would be - we even ranked higher than the song Stairway to Heaven for a period of time.

I've found some interesting examples of people just bootstrapping websites in this way for income; this woman runs a portfolio of niche websites that cumulatively bring in $200k per month, with several similar stories featured on the same YouTube channel.

I'm doubling down on SEO for the products that I'm currently working on - I believe that, in the short-term, SEO is becoming even easier to automate, with products such as GPT-3 helping to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of producing valuable content for your users.

I'm not using anything fancy to track this for now - just Google Search Console and Plausible.

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