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As an indie maker, what kind of product should you build?

Published Aug 27 2018

There are many types of products you can make. Here are some of the most common examples that can be easily built as a single person business.


One of the easiest ways to make a product is to group a set of information at your disposal, organize them appropriately and pack them.

Generally speaking, any kind of knowledge is good for this. You may think that you do not have credentials, or you do not know enough about the topic, or you are no one compared to the authority of the industry, but if you think you have a set of skills that millions of other people do not have, or a unique point of view on the subject, then you definitely have something to say.

Among these millions of people that know less than you on this topic, there will be a few thousands who will look online every day searching how to do this thing you can do, and among them a few dozen willing to spend money today.

A product can take on various shapes, and depending on them, the price at which you can offer it will vary greatly.


The first kind of product I talk about is an ebook. It can be distributed on various platforms, such as Amazon Kindle or others, or you can sell it on your own website.

Depending on the distribution system, the format changes. For example, a Kindle book is very different in terms of format and layout from a downloadable PDF.

An ebook is perhaps the easiest starting point for anyone who wants to start with a product, since it is much easier for an author to write, compared to the complications given by other communication systems such as audio and video, but one must not underestimate the commitment needed to build a quality ebook. It’s not worth it copying a simple blog post and making a 10-page ebook, as many do looking for shortcuts to success.

Online course

More advanced compared to an ebook is an online course. Platforms like Udemy allow anyone to create a course and sell it to audiences from around the world. Typically, an online course is composed of video lessons, perhaps quiz-based, textbooks or other useful material.

An online course is much harder to achieve than an ebook, and it’s even harder to keep it updated because to update an ebook it’s enough to edit the text and publish a new version / edition, while for an online video tutorial if you want to add a phrase to a video, you need to re-record the video, prepare the recording environment, and so on.

A substantial difference between ebook and online course is the relationship with your customers. If there is really little expectation of interaction with the ebook, for the online courses the student expects an interaction with who has created the course.

So if the ebook writer can think of making a writer’s life, isolated from the rest of the world while writing his books, for an online course, it is necessary to plan the student support part from the beginning.

Typically, the pricing difference between ebook and online course is obviously remarkable, and this greatly affects the marketing techniques that you will use, as you’ll have more budget for getting new customers.


If you are a programmer, you tend to opt for a business that revolves around software written by you. I did the same and I tried practically all the possible options on my skin, so besides a brief description here I also include my personal opinion.

iPhone / iPad / Android apps

Everyone has at least one idea every week about a new mobile application. On the other hand, having these devices with you is really easy to find with a need not met by existing apps. It is definitely a very attractive business and certainly also “cool”.

It is really difficult, if not practically impossible, to emerge on the app store, considering the number of apps released every day (and especially games). Success stories are true, but are more unique than rare, and often a “overnight success” has been achieved thanks to months if not years of hard work, often by a large team with extensive resources available. And as I often read online on specialized sites, not always - even if your app sits on the charts for weeks - the invested resources are paid back.

Occasionally, the independent developer app turns into a success, but is increasingly rare and is like winning the lottery.

Unfortunately, due to the crowding of the store, often an app has the launch of the first version as the only time it has the ability to scale the charts, but the problem is that the launch must be very well orchestrated and it is not easy to have all the right cards on the table.

The app business has the main disadvantage in distribution as the major players keep close control on the market, deciding what can be done for the platform, and they can change the game rules as they like. App releases and updates subject to review, which means that the release cycle is slowed down. In addition, you do not have the ability to get in touch with your users if they are not the first to contact you.

My view is that the app business can be a great business, but one that requires a lot of effort, the app doesn’t always work in isolation, so you will need a server-side platform as well, and the ecosystem on both Android and iOS requires testing on so many different devices and so it’s also quite expensive, considering that every year new models are released, and you can not test your apps on just one or two devices. Also, it takes a lot of luck (or very high marketing budget) to emerge.

Desktop applications

Apps for Windows or OSX are one of the fields that has been declining in the last few years, as mobile grew. A lot of work is now being done more and more through smartphones and many people do not feel the need to use a computer. This does not mean that the industry is dead, indeed the desktop computer is used to work, and there is always a need for applications to perform any kind of work on the computer.

More and more often, a Mac app has the iPhone and iPad counterpart (or Apple Watch) so we do not always have to consider these as isolated sectors, but users can reach our multi-platform product from different traffic sources.

Desktop apps have traditionally been distributed independently on developers websites. Only in recent years we’ve seen the introduction of the stores, such as the Mac App Store and the Windows Store. These bring the same concepts behind the mobile apps stores to the desktop, with all the pros and cons: distribution and eyeballs vs less freedom. It’s also true, however, that on the desktop we can still have a dual distribution, selling our app through our website and at the same time keeping in the store.

There are fewer users on the desktop than mobile, but you can have a much higher price tag, as the market value of a desktop app easily goes up to 50-80$, a price unlikely paid for a mobile app.

Desktop and mobile apps both have a problem: they run on computers and devices on which you do not have any control, and if there is a technical problem, you often have no idea how to solve it, and you need to spend quite a good amount of time fixing problems and providing support technical.

Plugins or themes for a CMS

CMS means Content Management System, a software that allows you to easily create and manage websites. WordPress is the most famous open source CMS, it powers 25% of all websites, with an impressive 60% CMS market share.

There is a truly massive user base for this software, and you can provide these users with additional features through plugins, or create themes that modify the site’s graphical interface.

The most popular plugins have been downloaded tens of millions of times over the years, and there are many themes that have had a tremendous success.

Plugins usually have a free and pro version, or a free version which you can expand through addons, some free and some paid.

The themes business on the other hand is almost always based on commercial themes, sold through dedicated marketplaces, like ThemeForest.

Of course, there are other business models, for example you can have free themes that upsell commercial themes or you can have a paid plugin, even though this means creating a personalized customer acquisition channel, as the WordPress plugin directory only accepts free plugins.

WordPress is not the only CMS, of course. Two words on working on other CMSes: generally the model is the same, each CMS has a more or less evolved ecosystem of plugins or themes. While most CMS users are on WordPress, it is also true that competition is huge and for every successful plugin, in the same niche there are 100 plugins that have failed and are used by very few people or abandoned.

It is therefore possible the idea of ​​looking for a less popular CMS and developing products around it.

In all cases, your software runs on a site that is always different from any other site, a site can run dozens of plugins that may interfere with yours, and in any case if something goes wrong is the fault of your product, and you will have to spend a lot of time providing technical support and debugging customer sites (even non-paying customers, in the case you’re providing a free product as well).

Also consider that having a CMS-based product implies always having to release updates that fix issues or introduce support for new platform versions.


So far I’ve talked about software you make and your customers download and use on their devices, or on their sites.

A SAAS is different. It’s a software that runs on your own servers, and users access this software using the browser. This model has the advantage that you control 100% where your software is running, so you remove all the issues related to distributing a product that runs on other computers or otherwise interacts with other products.

A SAAS is usually paid monthly, unlike the typical app you buy once.

One big advantage is that problem solving is immediate. If you release an app and it crashes, you’ll need to release an additional update, but it will need to be approved (which may take days) and people will need to install the new update before they can use the app again. Meanwhile, 1-stars will pop up.

In the case of a SAAS, a bug is immediately resolved with loading the new code on the server and it is immediately resolved for all users.

There is a limited number of browsers you need to support (2-3 are the most popular), and it is easier to handle the differences than the multiple environment where you could run your desktop or mobile app.

Some disadvantages of a SAAS based business:

Add-on for a SAAS platform

This model combines the creation of plugins with a SAAS managed by someone else. Examples are Shopify, Salesforce, Atlassian, which provide a service to their own customers and have opened their platform for independent developers to provide additional functionality to their product.

There is usually an official marketplace, so distribution and marketing are easier, and your add-on usually runs on your server (not always), so the same considerations made for the self-owned SAAS apply too.

The model can be very lucrative because usually such platforms are used by business users who already pay a certain amount to the platform, and if they are looking for your app is because they need some specific kind of service that does not yet exist on the platform they are using.

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