Ali Jafarian

Considering the move away from client work to pursue a product idea? Where do you start? How do you do it? The list of questions goes on… and it’s no easy journey. Here’s a few learnings I experienced from my own endeavors.

For starters, let me emphasize that IT WON’T BE EASY. If you’re like me, and you consulted for nearly a decade, making the transition into product development is much different from client work. Sure, there are some similarities and carry-over experience, but the mindset and process can vary dramatically. Here’s a few key factors to consider when making the transition.


Process

Client work usually has an end, while product development is ongoing.

Working on client work is pretty straightforward – start with an initial consultation, create a project proposal, establish scope of work, and then get cranking. Weeks [or months] later, you deliver a finished product (usually a website or an app) and then life goes on. In ongoing relationships, you may stick around to help with maintenance or other “retainer” style work here and there, but for the most part you’ve moved that project out of your pipeline and you’re on to the next. This is typically how most freelancers and agencies operate.

Product development, on the other hand, is very different in terms of process. The initial “start” requires a lot of upfront work:

  • Business Plan
  • Competition Landscape Analysis
  • MVP Timeline
  • Monetization Model

The list can get quite extensive for larger, more complex products. And that’s just the start! Once you build it, you’ve got a whole new set of challenges with marketing and sales. And then once you’ve sold it, the roles of support and product enhancement come into play… people need help and they want more! This really never ends… so the process is essentially ongoing until you exit or throw in the towel.


Team

If you’re building a product, you’re going to need some help.

The next major difference is the team. Who’s going to create this new product? Unless it’s a very simple product, you’re going to need some help. Very few people can get away with executing everything needed for a new product – research, design, development, marketing, sales, support, etc.

On the other hand, freelancers [or small agencies] can usually get away with taking a project from start to finish, especially when marketing and sales are not required. I managed a freelance agency for years where I performed everything from design and development to sales and account management. It’s much easier when you’re dealing with smaller, one-off projects.


Capital

Who’s going to fund this new product?

The last major difference between product development and client work is capital. Client work is usually paid for, so finding capital is not part of the process. A proposal or quote is provided, the client agrees to terms, and the project is paid for as outlined.

Funding a new product is completely different. Is this new product going to be bootstrapped? If not, who’s going to fund it? This is one of the toughest obstacles with new product development. Raising money is HARD. So most entrepreneurs elect to bootstrap their project and offer sweat equity to team members. Distributing sweat equity is hard as well, and can often ruin relationships when things go south. I’ve bootstrapped several ideas and there’s been some bumpy roads during discussions of equity and compensation. If you’ve never done it before I suggest taking a look at Slicing Pie, a great book about being “fair” with sweat equity.


Ready to build a product?

These are just a few of the tips I use to achieve a good work/life balance as an entrepreneur. Some of these may not work for you, and that’s fine… but hopefully something here can help you. Let me know how you maintain balance in the comments below!

Cheers,
Ali

[page photo credit: Alex Cagwin]