§ On The Value Of Product And Distribution

§ 2021-07-29

Quite some time has passed since I last wrote a coherent article on this blog. Most updates since the big "Build on Stolen Data" post have been minor development updates. And so, I'm scared that it may look like the project has stalled from an external point of view. No new blog posts, no new software updates - It must mean the project's dead.

But, of course, it's not. However, I've been more hesitant to build over the last month. It's been another one of those moments where I deliberately took quite a step back to think thoroughly about what should and can be next.

Already during oceanDAO's R7 vote, I sneaked out - caught a plane to Italy, and had a week of holiday relaxing on Mediterranean beaches. That vacation was direly needed and super nice - but I'm not going to lie - the week before boarding the plane ended up being quite stressful, particularly as I had to make an extraordinary decision:

  1. Take the laptop with me and potentially ruin the vacation.
  2. Leave the laptop at home and hope for the best.

See, running a web server is no joke and not something "fun". On the contrary, it's a duty that requires a large capacity of time and mental commitment. For example, there's my personal blog that I've hosted on GitHub Pages. I honestly never worry about it as it consists purely of static pages hosted by GitHub. I don't use a custom domain, so its online status is almost fully in the hands of GitHub's engineers. However, I also don't try to sell things on there, and I'm not trying to build business relationships on it either. It's personal.

That's quite different for rugpullindex.com. It's all self-hosted and I've deliberately framed it as a highly reliable and performant service. Of course, I could choose to frame it differently. I could even choose to build it the easy way too. But I like to think that I'm gaining a competitive edge by DIY'ing my infrastructure. Additionally, I take quite some pride and gain motivation because I'm able to deliver on these personal goals.

But then what to do in case I direly need some vacation from my 1-dev startup? And indeed, that was the dilemma I found myself in before going on vacation. So the short answer to a rather long story is that I've prepared myself to go without my laptop:

I messaged some of my data providers and asked for planned breaking changes in the upcoming weeks. For months now, I've improved the crawler's reliability by building redundancies. In addition, I made sure to have some backup plans for some of the worst-case scenarios.

And what can I say: It all worked out (gladly). I ended up being in Italy for one full week on a fantastic and relaxing vacation while rugpullindex.com continued to deliver its service. So that made me happy. But then also recently, and thanks to the fact that I could step away for one week, I've also started to reflect more on what's important for a project like RPI.

Historically, and that's true for many of my prior projects, I've prioritized building product and utility before anything else. My idea had always been that a great product distributes itself through, e.g., word-of-mouth marketing. And while I don't doubt the existence of such a distribution effect - I also don't believe it to be a very effective marketing strategy for a product's audience of RPI's size.

Indeed, over months of observation and testing, I've learned that mostly the opposite is true. The attention economy is real, and this blog's reach is tiny, especially when compared to what huge quantities of media we consume elsewhere.

And that's why, after my vacation, I've prioritized "softer" goals over "hardcore" product development.

  1. Thanks to Scott's work, we gained valuable insights into how we want to position rugpullindex on the landscape of online data and finance companies.
  2. I've opened a Discord server with the mission of knitting the RPI community more tightly.
  3. I'm starting to work on "professionalizing" our web presence by, e.g., aesthetically improving the website.
  4. I'm trying to improve RPI's API UX and by serving our customers directly.
  5. I've started committing more to business partnerships, and I'm trying to explore where collaborations are possible.

If you'd picture me a month ago, I'd probably be this guy with a wrench in his hand and a hardhat on his head. Today, I'd suggest that I'm at least wearing a tie or a fancy shirt. I'd probably look pretty weird, wearing both tie and hardhat. But whatever, both are valuable roles for sure - sometimes, one is more important than the other.

To conclude this rather complex post, I'd like to leave you with something more simplistic from yet another self-help startup book I've recently discovered. It's called "Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup" by Rob Walling. On an early business's priorities, he claims that:

"Market comes first, marketing second, aesthetic third, and functionality a distant fourth."