The Micropreneur Spotlight is a look at a Micropreneur Academy member who has launched their product.
This episode’s Micropreneur is Thomas Kjeldahl Nilsson who recently launched his online mind mapping software ThoughtMuse.
Rob: Hi Thomas. Thanks for taking the time to appear in the Spotlight. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thomas: My name is Thomas Kjeldahl Nilsson. I’m a 31 year old Norwegian software developer. By day I work in a small startup specializing in mobile software. On nights and weekends I work on my own product – ThoughtMuse.
Rob: Tell us about your product, including when it launched and some info the size of your user base.
Thomas: ThoughtMuse lets you create and share mindmaps. Mindmapping is a visual, tree-like way to structure thoughts and ideas. This is very useful for thought processes like brainstorming, planning, outlines and design. Mindmapping can also be a great study aid; mindmapped notes aid memory recall.
ThoughtMuse is a SaaS (“Software as a Service”) product – the tool runs entirely in your browser, and your mindmaps are stored online. Mindmaps can also be published, so they can be shared with anyone online. Basic accounts are free, additional premium features are available for a small monthly fee.
I formally launched the product in late July 2009, after running a beta for a few months. The site currently (as of September 2009) has a couple hundred registered accounts, and a handful of paying customers.
Rob: When & why did you decide to build and launch your own software product?
Thomas: ThoughtMuse is my first product, and I started working on it roughly half a year ago (march 2009).
For years prior to that I thought about software entrepreneurship and the importance of working on your own stuff, and I read tons of stuff by Joel Spolsky, Paul Graham, Erik Sink and 37 Signals. I had some vague product ideas, but I never got started on anything concrete.
Last winter I found myself with a big burst of inspiration, and I channeled that into starting this project.
Rob: What inspired you to pursue this niche?
Thomas: I think you have an advantage if your product “scratches your own itch”. This helps with motivation, and makes it easier to get started with a concrete project. I’ve mindmapped heavily for years, and I wanted a focused, convenient way of editing and saving my mindmaps across different computers – both at work and at home. Other web-based mindmapping services exist, but none of them were quite right for me. So I built my own.
Rob: What has been the hardest part of the development and launch process?
Thomas: Developing and launching the initial product was actually the easy part. The hard part turned out to be plugging away on marketing, maintenance, polish and new features after the public launch. Customers won’t flock to a new product all by themselves – you have treat the process like a marathon, not a sprint. I knew this intellectually, but it didn’t really hit home until after launch.
Rob: What has been the most time consuming part of the process?
Thomas: The most surprisingly long-running task turned out to be setting up the company infrastructure – ie. company registration, bank accounts, accounting…. I was new to all that, and the process turned out to be more drawn out and complicated that expected (I’m in Europe, so your mileage may vary!).
Rob: What has been the most unexpected part of the process?
Thomas: At the outset I estimated five to six months of work to develop and launch the product. I worked for a set amount of time each week, did almost no all-nighters – I just steadily plugged away on it. And it actually launched roughly on time! This was a pleasant and gradual surprise (I was initially afraid the schedule would slip quite a bit).
Rob: Which marketing approaches have worked for you and which have not?
Thomas: Blogging, social networks and Adwords have been most effective for me so far. I’ve tried other approaches as well, but they haven’t done much for me yet. This may change later on, though.
Rob: What are your top three tips for someone wanting to launch their own product?
- Set constraints; timebox your work. You want to keep your product rough but malleable. Get it out in front of users early, iterate on it as quickly as possible. Avoid feature-creep until you know what will pay off. “Perfect is the enemy of Done”.
- Set a sustainable pace. You don’t have to conform to the stereotype of a young, caffeine-fueled startup founder working in eighteen-hour stretches. Organize a schedule that you’ll be able sustain long-term. You’ll get there in your own time!
- Network with other entrepreneurs. It’s a good way to exchange advice, project feedback, and encouragement with others in the same boat. This improves both your product and your morale, and is especially important if you work alone.
Finally, along the way I wrote up some lessons learned on my blog – readers might find some useful tips there.
Rob: How has the Academy helped you get from square one to launch?
Thomas: The Micropreneur Academy has been useful in several ways. The information is well presented and synthesized which saved me tons of research, since I didn’t have to spend as much time pulling information from lots of different sources.
Also, the Academy forum is a great way to network with other entrepreneurs!
Rob: In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently or anything you wished you’d known before getting started?
Thomas: Specifically, I would probably have started serious work on marketing much earlier. Like Eric Sink writes: “Marketing is not a Post-Processing Step”.
More generally, I wish I’d started something on my own much earlier! There are lessons I only learned because I actually created my first product. Years of reading and thinking just isn’t the same – not by a long shot.
Just go for it!
Rob: Inspiring words from a man who knows how to launch.