Pivoting to a well-defined product category

I’m a solopreneur and working on my first serious product. It’s called Lighthouse, and combines the features of an RSS feed reader, newsletter reader, and read-it-later app.

The problem that I want to address is that when people subscribe to many blogs, newsletters, YouTube channels, and various other sources, the volume of content quickly becomes overwhelming. You can say that the vision is to fix content overload.

I’ve written about it in detail before, so I’m not going into more detail here. But that’s the gist of it.

A unique product

In the early days of Lighthouse I was under the impression that the product has to be unique. I intentionally distanced its messaging from the RSS feed reader landscape, and on the website mentioned RSS feeds only in passing. The messaging focused on the vision rather than the product.

This made it very difficult for me to communicate what the product is, and to figure out how I can contact potential customers. It was all about content aggregation and fixing content overload. Content aggregation is a tangible target market, but dominated by marketing, content curation, and marketing through curated content. Not the direction I envision for Lighthouse. And finding people who have the problem of content overload is almost impossible. Everyone deals with that somehow, and it’s rarely recognized as a specific problem to solve.

I was effectively trying to create my own market category, with neither the knowledge nor capital to achieve it.

April Dunford writes in “Obviously Awesome”:

This [positioning] style is the most difficult because it involves dramatically shifting the way customers think, and shifting customer thinking takes a very strong, consistent, long-term effort. That means you need a certain amount of money and time to convince the market to make this shift. Because of the investment and time required, this style is generally best used by more established companies with massive resources to put toward educating the market and establishing a leadership position.

The pivot

When I read that quote from April Dunford I decided to switch my approach. Instead of positioning Lighthouse as “fixing content overload”, I positioned it as a competitor to existing RSS feed readers. It was an RSS feed reader anyway, so that change made a huge amount of sense. So much so that I regret not making the change sooner.

Now, it’s much easier to explain what I’m building. And with a clear market to address, I can finally make progress in my user acquisition efforts.

The shift in strategy had another, unexpected, benefit. I freed my mind to look at other feed readers to check what a complete product looks like, get ideas for new features, and how existing features should work.

Before I refrained from doing that, because I wasn’t building just another RSS feed reader, I was building a tool to fix content overload. In my mind I was building something different, so there was no point in looking at other products.

The strategy shift prompted me to reevaluate where Lighthouse stands. The result was a list of features and improvements that needed to get done. It meant crunch time. Over the next 3 weeks I worked day and night to develop those features.

It was a lot of work, but I’m very happy I did it. It made the product 100x better. And, incidentally, it now serves the original purpose of fixing content overload a lot better too.


So, what’s the moral of this story?

I learned that, as a solopreneur, when building a new product, it’s best to first align with an existing category. Build a minimum version, with all the required features that people need. This makes it a lot easier to communicate what the product does and where it’s useful.

You want to get the product ready for users as quickly as possible. That means taking shortcuts. But instead of cutting corners with the product, do that with non-differentiating features, like authentication. If performance is not a differentiating factor, shortcuts with the underlying architecture are also a good option to increase development velocity. Though at some point it will need cleanup.

And the final lesson I learned is to prioritize the product category over the unique aspects of the product. In messaging, because that will give users an easier time understanding what the product is. But also in the way I think about the product. Instead of building only what makes the product unique, check competitors and which supporting features they have that make the product useful and lovable. Differentiation will take care of itself as you shape the product to fit with your vision.