What Problem Are You Solving?

The worst day I had in my time with Glassboard came last month. It was becoming obvious that even with the latest round of changes to the business model and pricing schemes, things weren’t turning around as well as I had hoped. I had no beliefs that new pricing would be a magic bullet to solve all of the platform’s problems, but I did think it’d be more successful converting users than it was.

In reality what happened is that rather than paying a small monthly or annual fee to continue using Glassboard as they were, more people opted to find another free alternative to move their group or business whether it be Slack, Google+ (lol really), or any of the 85,000 other alternatives on the market.

Couple this with me having a pretty big crisis with a botched migration to a new push platform, and things weren’t going really well for me. This was the point I started to think about where to take Glassboard next. Rather than keep all those discussions internal to my brain, I emailed a variety of different people ranging from friends, colleagues, users, and other business owners. This is the email I sent them:

Have come to the realization that running Glassboard in its current state is not tenable financially, mentally, or physically.

A lot of different problems with it as a product and not sure how to solve that. Mostly it feels like a niche product without a well defined audience.

Any ideas on how to figure that stuff out or where to go with it? Trying to get a bunch of different opinions, because I’m honestly not sure what to do.

Most everyone responded back, and not much of the feedback was good in the “your platform is great! Keep going!” sense. Most people were scratching their heads just as much as I was about where to take this thing next.

The best response I got fairly direct: who is the audience for your Glassboard and what problem do you solve for them?

I didn’t have a good answer for either of those questions. Shit.

Finding An Audience

If the answer to “who is your product’s audience” is “anyone with an iPhone or Android device” you are likely screwed. One of the biggest things I have learned from the entire Glassboard experience is that ‘spray and pray’ audience targeting is something that isn’t likely to work. Glassboard’s marketing message has always been fairly generic from both its time as a Sepia Labs product and under my helm. The last marketing message was “Talk to your people”, with people being a pretty generic term meaning it could work for personal or corporate communications.

There are very few collaboration products on the market that work well for both of those markets.

I spent a good amount of time over the last few weeks looking at analytics data to try to understand who was currently paying for the service and trying to analyze each of the markets that was being served by Glassboard currently. I analyzed them by three different metrics:

  • Audience size: How many potential customers are there like this group?
  • Likelihood they will pay: Do they have money AND are they willing to
    part with it to solve the problem?
  • Access to market: How easy is it for you to market to these people and
    get them to pay you for it?

My potential markets based on analytics and user interviews were families, small businesses (think Q Branch), medium-sized businesses (think OmniGroup), conferences, consumer ad hoc groups (a book club), and professional ad hoc groups (a beta test board or a cocoaheads meetup).

Analysis said I should focus my efforts towards the professional ad hoc groups and medium sized businesses because they had a large audience, were likely to pay if Glassboard could solve an actual problem for them, and there weren’t too many gatekeepers preventing me access to marketing at them.

Solving A Painful Problem

The key to selling a product to a user (whether it be a consumer, business, or enterprise) is to offer a solution to a problem they are having. If you can make that problem less painful, people are willing to pay for it. For instance, an app like OmniOutliner is successful because it’s far easier to create complex outlines in it across platforms than it is using just plain text files. TextExpander makes good money because they help power users save keystrokes by automating repeatable strings of text.

Glassboard? Well, I realized that Glassboard wasn’t really targeted at any specific group and it didn’t really solve any real sort of problem.

Here are a few different ways I tried to explain the problems Glassboard solved:

  1. It allows anyone with an iPhone or Android to communicate securely and privately.
  2. It allows users to have threaded conversations rather than IRC-style chat lines.
  3. It allows conference attendees to communicate with each other from their mobile devices.

None of these are real painful problems. You can likely name a variety of different apps that can solve #1 and #3. Threaded communications is nice, but it’s also proven to be far too niche and not really something people are willing to pay for.

I realized that Glassboard in its current form is for all intents just yet another chat platform for iOS and Android. Yeah it had an audience, but not an audience that was willing to pay for it to stay around. It didn’t solve an actual problem better than any of the free alternatives out there, so people left rather than keeping the lights on.

What Did We Learn?

What lesson can you take from my failures? Take a look at your current product and ask yourself what problem it is solving that makes it stand out from the competition. Also, ask who has that problem and if you are reaching them as well as you could.

If you are in a situation like me where you don’t have a good answer for either of those questions, you need to sit down and start answering some hard questions about where you take things next.

In my case, the risks of shifting Glassboard towards where I thought it should go next were too high for me to take on. Every business and product is different. Hopefully you learn from my mistakes and can make an excellent (and successful) product.

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By Justin Williams

This is a two sentence bio. There are many like it, but this one is mine.