Having recently left my job and now left to my own means, I’ve decided to go the product route to earn a living. There are multiple things you can do to earn a living online, but I’ve decided to focus on things that would be easier for me: web applications.
I had a couple of requirements for this product:
- it enables location independence. I don’t want, at least for now, to be stuck doing onsite support or sales to enterprise customers. That means the product needs to be targeted to consumers/small businesses not expecting you going to their production site to do support.
- it has preferably a proven market. It’s nice to find a completely new market, but it’s hard. Since I don’t have much experience in marketing and selling products online, it might be easier to sell products for which customers are already looking for solutions online. In other words, it’s better if the solution addresses a problem that people search on Google.
- competition should be low for this market, so that a one-man operation can have decent chances to dominate it.
- it needs to be something that people are willing to pay for.
First product idea: online interviews for programmers
I initially had the idea of doing online interviews for programmers. Companies hiring programmers have a screening problem: indeed they spend a lot of time doing phone interviews, assessing a candidate quality, inviting a candidate over for live interview, to finally discover that the candidate can’t code! It turns out it’s a significant problem for software shops that have to go through all this cycle to find out the candidate is not good enough.
So a solution for this problem could be to enable companies to do live interviews on the internet, using a shared document environment to conduct the interview. The interviewer would ask questions on a shared document (similar to google docs for example), and the candidate would answer the question in his favourite programming language. The interviewer would be able to collaborate with the candidate, help him, give him suggestions and evaluate him. A few minutes of a live interview of this sort would be enough to filter a great number of mediocre candidates and would be much better than the current usual process of phone interview and flying the candidate over.
I’ve thought quite a bit about this idea. I’ve even pitched the problem and solution at my previous company. I’ve got moderately enthusiastic responses: I could see that it was not a problem for which people would look for solutions online, that I would have first to convince customers that they have a problem. I still think there is a market for it, but it would need a good customer development process to succeed. I also found some other people are working on this problem: James of Interview Zen is tackling this very problem, and we’ve exchanged some ideas about it. I think Interview Zen has good potential, but it will probably need some time to prove itself. I’m looking for a different product idea for now.
Second product ideas: gift certificate templates for small businesses
When asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said “electronic books”. The problem with electronic books is that they don’t fit well on a christmas tree. So we created a gift certificate to make a physical representation of the ebook that my mom bought online (It was Start Small, Stay Small, which I’ve reviewed here by the way) That got me thinking that probably other people need to make gift certificates (also known as gift cards or gift vouchers), and potentially small businesses too! Say, if you’re a massage therapist and you want to make a gift certificate that you can sell to your customers, how do you do that? It turns out people google for the keywords “gift certificate templates” 60000 times/month on Google. That’s a pretty decent search volume, and I would think that small business owners are a good part of this demographic. I’ve also researched some other similar keywords using Adword keyword tool (pretty awesome if you want to do some research on what people are looking for online) and there’s some decent lower amount of volume for other keywords, like “printable gift certificates”, “making gift certificates” etc.
The product idea for this is:
to give tools to small business owners to easily customize and print professionally designed gift certificates.
So, this product idea satisfies my main requirements:
- it’s something that i could sell for a low price to small businesses, hence maintaining my location independence.
- it’s a proven market since other sites provide free or paid gift certificate templates.
- competition is rather low. The main competitor, giftcarddesigner.com, has a google pagerank of 1. The page rank is computed by google and reflects the importance of websites. The higher the number the harder it is to compete – it goes from 0 to 10. So, a pagerank of 1 should be pretty easy to beat – even for a SEO newbie like me.
- people are looking for a solution to their problem online, as shown by the amount of Google searches.
I’ve chosen this product idea and have pushed a first version live at http://www.giftcertificatefactory.com. Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!