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Small p Product


a boy building small toys

A few years ago, Tom Critchlow—whom I've been fortunate enough to get to know recently—wrote a post about "Small b Blogging." The idea was simple. As the web has grown, the ways we can and do share our thoughts have also changed. We often exchange freedom for convenience and reach. And that's OK. But you should still leave room for what Tom calls blogging with a small "b". Personal blogs on your own site (or that you at least have some sort of archival control over) is small b blogging. I recently re-read that post and it got the product wheels spinning in my mind.

The web was originally a bunch of independent sites run by nerds who just wanted to share their thoughts and interact with other nerds. Similarly, as the web progressed, those same nerds started writing software that would run natively on the web. These were small, independent apps. Sometimes they'd cost some money, but more often than not, they were just there because the person who created them wanted them to be there. As the web took off and reached world scale, the notion of startups as we know them today began to rise. Products were things to be funded, to be scaled, to be sold. There was still a place for small, independent apps. But that place seemed to be relegated to side projects and hobbyist adventures.

Two years ago, I wrote about making small apps. I had been tinkering with side apps since coming off two failed startups. Making something for the sake of making it was attractive. But at the same time, I felt the pressure to make money.

If I listen to my backlog, this thing is going to grow to be too big, too complex for me to manage as an indie. I have not yet launched out of alpha, but I am happy with the product now. My former MFA cohort uses the app and is happy with it. So, this means I might just leave it alone, even at the risk of it not being something people will pay for.

That pressure, of course, came from me and me alone. But at the time, I hadn't quite built up the mental separation of apps you build to learn and for fun from apps built to make money. About a month after I wrote that post about making small apps, I recognized the separation and wrote about it.

If you think your app is a business (and it's ok to have an app NOT be a business), then you need to charge for it. And charge for it early.

Products are things you can sell. Apps are things you build. An app becomes a product when you receive money for it. It seems simple, but it's not, especially when we have Silicon Valley success stories constantly thrust before our eyes, making us feel like a successful product isn't one that makes thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands. It's one that makes hundreds of millions. The antidote to this has been indie apps and indie builders (two different things, mind you).

IndieHackers was a wonderful destination for several years for people wanting to build something by themselves and charge money for it. They were indie hacking products. These were people who believed in the idea of small p product.

Just like Tom suggests with small b blogging, small p product has a small scope but a similar feel to big p product. The goal is to make something that people pay money for. And similar to small b blogging having a much wider opportunity for discovery (there isn't just one homepage for the internet now), small p product presents people with a much wider opportunity for discovery and revenue generation than ever before. The re-distribution of the web creates opportunity.

Getting started with a product—especially a small p product—has never been easier. When I think back to the mid-to-late 90s and sitting in my Dad's kitchen as a 12- or 13-year-old kid, I am shocked at how hard it was to make money online. But then I take a step back and remember how new the web was back then. Today, if my Dad and I were having that same conversation, we'd have a couple of dozen ideas by lunchtime. Even better, we could probably launch one or two of them by the next day.

That's what small p products offer. You can still build small apps, of course. An app is just that until someone pays you money for it. And if you don't care to have anyone pay money for it, that's fine too. Tom helped build quotebacks. It doesn't make him any money, and from talking with him about it, I think he is 100% OK with that.

I've built two small p products in the last few years:

1. Write/Sprint - a simple iOS app for timing writing sprints ($0.99)

2. Perligo - a feedback collection app for writers ($5.99/month)

I'm writing this post in an app that I hope will be my next small p product, but let's see where things take me.

The web is such a magical place. We should take advantage of it in blogging and in creating products.