The two pillars to a successful product are profitability and customers. Most makers focus on profitability from the very start, others prefer to grow organically and think about monetizing after they have a user base, but which one of the two approaches is best?
A lot of people forget that you need to second to have the first, but you don’t need the first to have the second. Having a userbase is paramount over anything else. Marketing is key. Gone are the days when you could just put out something and people would try it because it was new. Everything is calling for our attention all the times. You need to stand out from the rest.
Profitable from day one
To be profitable from day one you need to have done your research, know the needs of the market and why you will fulfil it and why your product is better than all the others in its domain. All hard things to do, especially if that’s your first product.
If you already have experience building products and monetizing them successfully you can go ahead and apply all you’ve learned into a plan to monetize from day one (or find someone else who have done it before for advice). The key here is to realize that no 2 products are alike and that what you’ve used on one product might not directly be related to a totally different product.
Adapt your strategy and marketing to match the target audience for your product. Do your research on the competition and what you’re offering to stand out.
If you’d prefer to go for organic growth you still need to have a sound product. Even if the first users are not paying anything in real money they are still spending their valuable time using your product. You want to make it worth it. So worth it in fact that they keep coming back for more and might even recommend it to their friends and followings.
The first customers are the ones that are going to do your marketing for you to be attentive to their issues and ship updates frequently. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do the marketing yourself, you definitely should, but you should also balance the time spent marketing with the time spent developing. Spending 100% of your time on either and ignoring the other is the road towards failure.
One last thing that few people seem to grasp is to realize when the product has done its course and it is time to move on. It might be hard after you gave it all you got. It becomes like your baby. Moving on too early is not always the right move though if you have users that love your product, but you can’t onboard enough new people it might be a marketing problem. Each situation and each product is unique so you really need to analyze what’s happening on a case by case basis to figure out how to solve it.
The right way
None of the two is the right way for everyone. There is no right way. Take the road that is the best for you and your product. For some, it might mean getting the first wave of users and iterate, for others it might mean get profitable and iterate. If you are not sure about which road to take the best way is not to choose yourself but let the market decide. Put your product out there with a free tier to let people try it out and later on when the product is out of beta limit or remove the free tier.