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Niche down or die

Video preview
You're taking a shower and suddenly this fully formed idea pops in your mind. A literal showerhtought. It's a culmination of years of experience, dozens of books, hundreds of videos, and many many hours of random tinkering.
This is it, you think.
This is the app that will finally make it big. This is the one that will take you out of the misery of a 9-5 job and into the glamorous space of financial freedom. Absolutely everyone will want to use this. How could they not? It's brilliant. Isn't it?
Well, it might be. But building it, bringing it to market, and generating enough revenue to sustain yourself - let alone get rich on it - that's still going to be difficult. Very difficult.
As a boostrapper, you have a few limitations:
  1. You have limited time - you either work at a job and only have a few hours a day for your project or you are fully committed to it but only have a few months of runway to get it off the ground.
  1. You have limited financial resources - you may have some savings or even a small sum from friends and family you can put into this, but probably not millions.
  1. And you have a limited supply of motivation too - if your idea doesn't take off within a few months, you'll probably feel the urge to switch to another one.
So here's is the challenge. Your idea is for an app that can be used by millions of people, but you can't reach millions of people within your budget and timeframe.
So where do you start?
Most people start with the so called "getting the word out". They talk to some friends who might be interested. They write a tweet. They post a blog. They publish something on IndieHackers or Hacker News. They put up a landing page and maybe even put some money into an ad on Facebook or Twitter.
This seems like right thing to do. After all, this is what other successful indie hackers have done. It should work for you too, right? Unfortunately, you're falling prey to survivorship bias. The only people you see online are those who succeed in a big enough way to become popular, even iconic. You'll never hear about the ones who tried "to get the word out" but got 3 likes on their tweet. You'll never hear the stories of people who posted on IndieHacker and got 2 replies. You'll never meet the people who built a product, showed it to their friends and gave up because none of them "got" it.
To avoid the unfortunate fate of so many other well meaning hackers, you need to niche down, way down. Instead of building a product for millions, build one for thousands, even hundreds. Instead of building a flexible product that can be anything for anyone, build a specific product that solves a specific problem for a specific kind of person.
For example, instead of a nocode landing page generator that can be used for anything, build one that's specific for, say, meditation teachers in the Goenka tradition.
Instead of a habit tracking app, build an app that tracks pushups for hard core fitness fanatics who are already doing 50 pushups a day and want to push it up to 200.
Instead of another generic messaging app, build one for divorsed parents and maybe help them fight a little less.
Now, I know, niching down is hard.
It means choosing a tiny subset of the entire market you could theoretically go after. It means letting all go of the other potential customers. It feels risky. It feels scary. It's really hard to make that decision. But it's also what it may take to succeed. I assume you're not in this game to just play it. You're here to make a living. And at the risk of sounding a bit cliche, your personal and financial freedom is on the line here.
Now, not all niches are created equal. A good niche for a bootstrapped business should meet at least three criteria:
  1. It should be easy to find and reach out to people in this niche. Either they hang out on the same online forum or group, or you can find them with a quick search on Google or LinkedIn.
  1. They should both have the problem you’re looking to solve and be aware that they have that problem. As this old cartoon points out, everybody needs a swift kick in the butt but not everyone knows this.
  1. They should have money. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge, but your first bootstrapping business isn’t likely to be the one that saves the world. You need customers who can easily pay what you’re asking. And if this business works out, you’ll have plenty of time for other ventures that could help people with low means.
Spend a few weeks fully immersed in a niche. Talk to people, understand their problems, figure out how your app can be morphed to serve them. Pretend this is the only group of people you'll ever serve with your app. Commit. Hell, even buy a different domain. You buy one every other week anyway, right?
Your commitment to a specific narrow niche will make you intimately familiar with the people in it, their problems and the words they use to describe those problems. They'll be eager to talk to you because you understand them. And they'll be eager to buy from you - because you actually care.
The first niche you go after might not work out. In fact, it's quite likely that it won't work out. Like the first pancake you make in a batch that doesn't come out quite right because the pan isn't hot enough, your first niche will probably be too broadly defined and you won't find that kind of eager desire for your product that you're looking for.
But keep going and and keep refining. Your niche is out there.
And if you aren't sure where to start or how to do this, look me up on Twitter @finereli - my DMs are always open.