Notes From 'Blind Spots of the Developer Entrepreneur'

At the 2017 MicroConf, Ben Orenstein spoke about “The Blind Spots of the Developer Entrepreneur”. It was a talk packed with insights and actionable advice for the developer-entrepreneur.

The target audience for the talk is someone who wants to start their own business but hasn’t begun. But even if you don’t fit this criterion, it still offers value in the methodical approach it prescribes.

Personally, the talk resonated with me and renewed my interest in wanting to teach and building a viable business out of teaching.

Here are my notes from the talk. The points are his, the phrasing is mine.

Part 1: First steps 👣

The talk is prescriptive. Why? Because when you are starting, you need someone to give you specific instructions.

Progress over perfection. Move that needle.

Ben used an apt analogy of cooking: It would help a great deal if you had recipes when you begin. But you evolve into experimentation only after you cross an expertise threshold.

He also shared his journey as a maker where he started teaching Vim to other developers, a topic he was passionate about. This journey ended up creating a well-loved platform that came to be known as “Upcase” by ThoughtBought.

He’s been there and done that.

There are 2 phases to the beginner’s journey.

Phase 1: Teach 🎓

The first big question: What do I teach?

What would’ve saved you agony if you knew it when you were working on something?

What are people asking you about? This prompt is useful since it indicates that you already evoke some trust in others.

What are some things you spend much time on or enjoy doing that other people find annoying? Ben gave an anecdotal example of his friend, who loved spending time on invoices and timesheets and chose his first product from this habit: invoicing for freelancers. A much-dreaded task for a vast majority of freelancers.

The second big question: How do I teach?

Start small, personal, and free.

  • Teach co-workers something related to their everyday work
  • Give lightning talks at conferences and meetups — they’re an excellent avenue for packing insights into one short, concise session.
  • An informal Hangouts/Zoom session

When you teach, don’t just teach, interact. 🗣️

  • Ask people about themselves
  • Where they work
  • What excited them about attending this session
  • What was the best thing they learned
  • What were the problems

These questions and their answers reveal astonishing details about your teachings. You can use those to refine and get better. Get better.

As you start teaching, and people start learning from you, you need a way to keep in touch — collect their emails. You don’t have to start a newsletter right away, find a way to inform them of your new content.

Phase 2: Pre-sell an info product

Goal: Sell one copy to one stranger. 🤝

Never start with a SaaS unless you have research to prove the merit; they’re much harder to sell.

Start with an info product. A guide. A book. Tutorials.

Write one chapter through a process of complete immersion.

Take 4-5 days off from your schedule. Focus heavily — ignore everything else you can ignore. Don’t write the introduction or pitch; write a meaty chapter. Go down the trenches and write one of the book’s central chapters. And write the table of contents.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them. 🎙️

Create a sales page on Leanpub or Gumroad or a similar service. Do not attempt to write code for this sales page. Nope. Have a page ready where people can pay you money and buy your book. Before. You. Complete. It.

Don’t wait for inspiration. It will come in leaps and bounds when you find success. Even micro-success brings inspiration.

Ben alludes to a survey he did at the conference, where it turned out that about 50% of the attendees had $0 revenue because they hadn’t started. And about 50% of the attendees felt inspired, and the rest didn’t.

And there was substantial overlap with those who did not yet feel inspired and those who had not started.

Don’t wait for inspiration. Put in the work.

Get started –> Small success –> Inspiration –> More work –> More success

Ben mentioned the thrill he felt when he put up a $9 video about getting better at Vim, and strangers bought it. 💰

Recommended reading: The War of Art

Part 2: Ben’s Ten Best Tactics

We have a Ben 10 here.

These don’t necessarily apply to beginners or info products. They are appropriate for all digital businesses.

1️⃣ Create a recurring reminder to run a pricing test every six months.

Raise your rates. Hide your lowest pricing tier.

There are numerous examples of people doubling and tripling their prices, and still growing.

2️⃣ Create an email course. Drip it over 4-5 days. Make it a good, tight content based on genuine value. Remember the “what to teach” lessons.

3️⃣ Integrate and partner with other businesses and products — a potent formula for creating win-win situations.

Here, Ben shared two examples:

  • A Zapier integration they did, which led to Zapier covering them in a blog post, which in turn led to a massive uptick in customers
  • He struck a partnership with a competing product with a slightly different niche, leading to an additional $100k revenue for both of them in a span of weeks.

4️⃣ Sell annual plans. There are a lot of nifty patterns around yearly billing. The reason they work is that they’re mutually beneficial.

5️⃣ Put faces near things you want people to click. Humans beings are drawn to faces by nature.

Think CTAs, subscribe buttons. Put faces.

6️⃣ Try a diving-save. Reach out personally to someone who churned and make an offer that’s well worth it. Figure out why someone is canceling and use that to offer some value around it. e.g., you get a cancellation because the student does not have time to work through. Offer them a discounted annual pack so that they have additional time.

7️⃣ Start a podcast. A great way to get industry-famous people to talk about you. A great way to get traffic and attention. Podcasts have a vast audience. Utilize it.

8️⃣ Manually onboard customers. Yes, for real. Get on a screen sharing call with them and ask them to walk you through as they sign up and start using your service.

It will open up your blindspots and delight you. Or make you cry. Improvements either way!

9️⃣ Double down on things that work. You might feel the need to be experimentative or creative, but instead, focus on things that work. It works.

🔟 Ask for help.

Ask successful people in the same industry. You will be surprised how willing people are to help. As a corollary, be prepared to help others.


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