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 IndieDev Tips #2 • Diversified portfolio vs. Big idea: the right approach.

 IndieDev Tips #2 • Diversified portfolio vs. Big idea: the right approach.
By Edouard Barbier • Issue #2 • View online

Should you diversify your app/product portfolio or focus all your attention on one big idea?
As a solo-maker, it’s a question worth looking into as you will eventually be confronted with new ideas… trust me you will as you’ll explore new niches & interests, fail, test things, learn about new topics… and when they do strike you, it’ll be critical to allocate your time strategically.
Imagine, you just woke up with a new idea… Do you just go ahead and build it? I know this feeling of adrenaline, rush and excitement. Nothing else matters and you just want to run towards your laptop and start typing away.
Now hold your horses for a second, it’s not that simple. One of the major learnings that often gets overlooked by us, solo-makers, is that our time is limited, and any time taken away from a project and invested in another can impact everything. Let’s get into concrete situations to analyse this better.
Chasing your first success.
As long as you do not have one product that starts to get traction & has a potential to generate revenue, do not diversify. Either keep working on the one thing you’re currently working on until you find Product Market Fit, or drop it altogether and dedicate 100% of your energy to something new. The worst thing you want to do is to split your time between two products that aren’t yet getting any traction. Product Market Fit* will be the topic of another post. If you do not know what this means, check the Wikipedia blob at the end of this email before reading on.
One $$$-making product & the urge to create something new.
You have a first income generating product but you have tons more ideas and a constant urge to build something new.
Consider the following:
  • Is it a short-lived product that will just ride a trend and likely die off after that (i.e. icon packs for iOS14)?
  • Do you run the risk of losing your traction because your product is built on top of dependencies you do not control (i.e. platform APIs)?
  • Your product plateaued or matured and you are running out of clear ideas on how you can grow it further?
  • You’ve tried many things to extract more $$$ value from it but it doesn’t generate enough revenue to justify spending more time on it.
  • You start to feel or have been feeling burnt out about working on your current project.
If you can relate to at least one of the points listed above, you might want to diversify and start dedicating part of your time to something new. You’ll still want to maintain your existing products, especially if they are bringing in a non-negligible stream. Try to automate what can be automated to free up some of your time and allocate these newfound working hours to your next idea. You spending time on something new shouldn’t impact the quality and the value your existing customers are getting from previous products you’ve built.
If your product is here to stay, is currently growing, doesn’t necessarily run any particular dependency risk and you still have lots of ideas on how you can improve it, think twice before turning your attention to the next thing. You might regret it later when a competitor catches up with you or when you miss on a bigger opportunity than you had expected.
If you really feel burnt out, a break might be what you really need. New projects are fun, but you’ll need a lot of energy for them to take off. Make sure you’re in a good place before diving into something new. You’ve got to be in it for long run.. you know… not a sprint, a marathon yada yada yada.
So what do we do with all these ideas?
I know from experience that the urge to build new things ultimately comes back and it can be hard to resist. They call it the ‘Shiny object syndrome’ and I think I’m chronically affected. You might be too. If you’re like me, planning is key to allow ourselves some “creative” free-time. Some of us like to set goals for their main product(s) and allow themselves a few hours per week or a day per week or a one-off full week to build something new. There is no perfect approach here. I personally can’t dedicate a single day per week to something and the rest of the week to something else. I’ve tried many times and never managed to make it work. But I know that working in sprints works well for me. Whenever I start working on something (a new MVP, an update, a feature, a blog post), I keep at it until it’s done. You’ll have to find your own approach and set your schedule in a way that feels right for you.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know that I’ve spent the last few months trying to diversify my portfolio as my main apps are running under the constant risk of being damaged (if not wiped out) by major platforms that can change at any time (YouTube APIs, Twitch APIs and others). Sadly small developers do not weigh much in their decisions so my insurance policy is to continue building products and diversify my revenue streams.
Find a balance and do not 'overship'.
As with many things, the key will be to find balance. Find an idea that works, build on it, monetize it and then decide if it’s worth pursuing something else in parallel or instead, doubling down and taking that project to the next level. The risk with shipping too much and/or too often is twofold.
First, doing too much will lead to doing everything half way. Have you really given a chance to a product if you haven’t marketed it properly before moving on to your next idea? ‘Building it’ no longer means ‘they will come’. Not anymore anyway.
Second, ship too often and you’ll become your own bottleneck. Each new product compounds and drives more maintenance work, user supports, feature requests etc. If you do too much too fast, you’ll end up in a stressful place where everything depends on you, your mind is constantly bombarded with things to do, it’s getting harder to focus without being interrupted by something else and it can become really paralysing. Trust me you don’t want to be in this situation so find your balance.
Food for thoughts: It’s much easier to build a product that will make $5,000 per month than 1o products, each making $500 per month.
Where am I at?
2020 was a big ‘diversification’ year for me. After going through major issues with YouTube’s Engineering team in 2019 and almost losing my main source of income, I decided to double down on new ideas and launch a few new apps until at least a couple of them start generating some kind of income. I reached that stage at the end of 2020 and it’s now time to switch back to growth mode and focus on the apps that worked and let go of the ones that didn’t. Learning to let go isn’t easy, there is a lot say on that topic, another lesson I learnt the hard way in 2017… but that’s a story for another day.
Thanks for reading.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider sharing this issue with a friend or tweeting about it. You can find me on Twitter @edouard_iosdev or on Instagram @edouard_iosdev.
PS: English is not my native language so if you see typos or grammar issues feel free to reach out. I always love to improve.
*Product/market fit, also known as product-market fit, is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. Source: Wikipedia
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Edouard Barbier

I’m Edouard, an Indie iOS Developer & Serial App Maker from Belgium. In 2015, I started to teach myself how to make iOS apps. In 2018, I left my job at Google to pursue the indie lifestyle.

This newsletter will include tips, mistakes I’ve made and tons of experiences I can share with others including a roadmap to escape the 9 to 5 and build products for a living.

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