Building a product that solves a personal pain point, and how that flips validated learning on its head

POMOS was born out of personal frustrations that I had while interning this summer trying to find a Pomodoro timer that I liked. You can read the story here.

I originally wanted to see if people would pay for Pomodoro tagging, so I set up a Google Analytics event tracking javascript snippet to see how many would click the “Sign Up” for the paid Premium account. Only one person clicked the Premium “Sign Up” button during the couple weeks that was running this test, and who knows if they actually wanted to buy or just wanted to see what my payment page looked like. Hypothesis rejected? I then realized it was a little absurd that I was holding back one of POMOS’s core differentiating features from free users: how would they ever know what POMOS was really capable of? How would they ever know that POMOS had value that should be worth something?

So I polished up the Pomodoro tagging feature, which I had been working on for the past few weeks, and released it. I limited free users a little on the number of tags they could have, so they could get a taste of POMOS’s most important feature without having to pay. I also implemented accepting payments (through Stripe) on the same day and pushed it to production as well. Now users could experience the value of POMOS, and I could measure if they actually thought it had value by the number of subscription sign ups. A better hypothesis test/experiment.

Then it hit me: even if all my validated learning experiments failed, and absolutely no one visited the site or found it useful, I still would’ve built POMOS. Because it solves a personal problem that I have. I wouldn’t have taken no for an answer until I built the product that I would want to use. The beauty of building something that solves a problem close your heart is that often times, someone else in the world will have the same problem. Sure, I was collecting all this data on what pages users visited, how many times users went to the “Pricing” page, how many times users clicked the “Sign Up” button for the paid Premium account, etc. But I was always developing the next feature while the experiment was running, and I would release the feature pretty much despite whatever my experiment results told me because I was building something that I wanted to use.

Validated learning in the traditional sense of “is this product valuable”, and being able to decide without spending time developing something no one wants, was thrown out the window: I already knew it would be valuable to me, so I built the product no matter what. But running experiments still has a role in answering questions like “do other people find this product valuable”, and “how do other people find it valuable”.

I’m still a rookie at this web dev, building products thing. But I’ve already learned so much from just doing it, things one can’t learn from just books.

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