The idea of having a software as a service product sound great, doesn’t it? This episode discusses some of the hurdles from idea to first customer.

Transcript for episode 176 of the Test & Code Podcast

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00:00:00 [Brian] I’ve got a few sass ideas that haven’t seen daylight yet. The idea of having a software as a service product sounds great, though.

00:00:07 [Brian] Doesn’t it?

00:00:08 [Brian] Solve a problem with software. Have a nice looking landing page and website, get paying customers, eventually have it make enough revenues so you can turn it into your primary source of income. Sounds great. There’s a lot of software talent out there too. We could solve a lot of problems, but going from idea to product to first customer is nontrivial, especially as a side hustle. Brandon Brainer joins the show today. He’s got a cool idea and I had fun talking with him.

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00:01:58 [Brian] Welcome to testandcode.

00:02:07 [Brian] I’m here with Brandon Brainer. You’ve got this really great landing page called Release Sh.

00:02:13 [Brandon] Yeah, Released Sh.

00:02:15 [Brian] I saw somebody ask you about it on Twitter and you said, well, if I ever get it done. So this is a side project that you’re working on, right?

00:02:21 [Brandon] Yeah.

00:02:22 [Brian] This is an interesting thing because I’ve got a stack of side projects that I are in various stages of not being launched at all. And so it’s an interesting idea of like, we’ve got knowledgeable software people that could definitely, if we had time to focus on something, build some cool stuff. But a lot of things are in the prereleased side project stage. So I thought it would be kind of fun to talk about both these things. Like the problem space that Released is looking at, but also the problem of getting something from idea to actually usable by people.

00:03:02 [Brandon] Yeah.

00:03:03 [Brian] So first, what’s the problem that Release is trying to solve?

00:03:10 [Brandon] Worked in quite a few startups over the last five, six years, and this is probably an issue with every company is you’ve got Sprint Cadences. In theory, at the end of every Sprint, there’s stuff you’re going to release.

00:03:23 [Brandon] If you want to get that information out to your customers or consumers of your product, how do you do that? And everywhere I’ve ever been, it’s been a very manual process. The product manager, project manager, whatever you want to call them, goes through, looks at the tickets we’ve done has some idea of, okay, we’ve released this much of this thing. Here’s what we can let people know about. They kind of compile their notes, and then they send that off to some release manager, like the head project manager first, and then they compile them into a list, and then they put them into an email somewhere, some kind of notification on your website. Right. They’ve got to do some manual process to get that information in there. My thought process was, well, we already use things like Jira or some sort of project management tool.

00:04:10 [Brandon] Why don’t we have the person creating the tickets?

00:04:14 [Brandon] When this epic is done or when this story is done, this is what we know it’s going to go out to the customer if they could put the release notes in there.

00:04:21 [Brandon] And then there’s a piece of software that would reach out on a bi weekly basis, a daily basis, or maybe even like web hooks that someone like Jira has that says, hey, this story was closed. Instead of request off to something like a release and say, this story was closed, here’s the notes we put in. And here’s the thing. It’s going to be released. And that’s the day we want it to go out in an email, go out in an app notification like that, and just kind of automate the whole process. Because in business, time is money. If you got somebody wasting time curating these notes and doing all this process, you’re wasting their time. They could be doing something more productive. And in theory, you’re kind of wasting money paying them. So, yeah, if Release can do that for you, that would be the first thing that I was thinking about building with it.

00:05:10 [Brian] Okay. So there’s still, like, somebody writing down the pros of, like, these features are here or these things were fixed or something like that. But they don’t have to do it in real time or anything like that.

00:05:24 [Brandon] Yeah. No real time. No. Like slack messages or emails back and forth to keep track of one person does it. It’s automated after that.

00:05:32 [Brian] Okay, interesting.

00:05:34 [Brian] But your landing pages looks great. By the way, did you hire somebody to do this?

00:05:43 [Brandon] No. This Tailwind CSS and Tailwind UI.

00:05:50 [Brandon] For anybody who’s been living under a rock in the software world, Tailwind CSS is a CSS framework. And then they’ve got a library or a product that actually sell called Tailwind UI that has three different kind of layout, things you can work with. There’s a website ecommerce and an application, different kind of different components.

00:06:12 [Brandon] And what’s really nice about that is once you get that they also have all of those components broken out into Figma designs.

00:06:19 [Brandon] So I’ll be able to download the figment designs components, build this out in Figma in like ten to 15 minutes, and then using the components that they have on Tailwind UI, they give you the HTML or the React or the View code to actually put it into process.

00:06:37 [Brandon] I would like to say I took credit for building this, but everything here is all pre built stuff from Tailwind.

00:06:44 [Brian] Well, apparently I have been living under a rock.

00:06:48 [Brian] Anyway, it looks great, but it’s not ready for people to use yet, right?

00:06:54 [Brandon] Yeah, correct.

00:06:55 [Brian] Ideally, who’s using it?

00:06:58 [Brandon] That’s one of the problems I’m facing in my head of like why I haven’t put a lot of time into it. Because trying to first of all, define that target market like it’s in an early stage company that’s using maybe not something like Jira, because Jira is really heavy, but using some like linear or GitHub projects or something like that, I’m trying to find that focused audience. And in my mind, I think myself, it’s probably more for what I’m going to classify as a mid sized startup and higher.

00:07:24 [Brian] Right.

00:07:24 [Brandon] Like somebody who’s probably inside of Jira that has an organization breakdown of they got three or four different engineering teams working on multiple things at once that needs some more process automation.

00:07:39 [Brandon] In my mind, the people who I think would be most beneficial for this.

00:07:43 [Brian] Interesting.

00:07:44 [Brian] If you’re going to go with a project management software, which one do you do? And if you’re one person, you really can’t do all of them because it’s too much work, right? Yeah, it’s just an interesting thing.

00:08:00 [Brian] Do you think it’s something that’s too big for one person to do as a side project and that might be one of the things to Whittle down of maybe reduce your target audience and reduce the technology such that it is something that one person can work on?

00:08:15 [Brandon] Yeah, that’s definitely kind of where I’m stuck at. I was figuring out that target audience, and I think the biggest criteria I need to think about or anybody thinks about when they’re doing a single I want to call it a founder side project that you’re hoping.

00:08:30 [Brandon] I guess the end result I’m looking forward to release is something that I can make enough money with that I can help potentially quit my day job and just focus full time on this and maybe build a small company out of I don’t know if I’d ever want to run a multimillion dollar, 200 person company. Right. That’s just not me.

00:08:48 [Brian] We should have tons of applications out there that are built up enough to be able to reasonably support a handful of people.

00:08:57 [Brian] Yeah.

00:08:57 [Brandon] I think the definitely problem I run in here, too is you have to start somewhere. Right. And I’ve just worked a full day. Now, am I the kind of person that can sit down and spend another four or 5 hours writing code on the weekends instead of going out doing something outside, can I take a Saturday and spend a day writing this code or define these features or these things that people have aspirations to do? But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, actually doing it is a whole nother story.

00:09:33 [Brian] Well, also, just like, what are you working on? I face this all the time, even with this podcast and with writing and with the other side projects.

00:09:44 [Brian] If I have 20 minutes to sit down and work on something and sometimes that’s it. Sometimes I have like 20 minutes to 1 hour to work on something. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes thinking about what to do. I want to have like a planned out list so I can sit down and actually just kick something out. That was a struggle for me for a long time. And I still struggle with it because I forget the tricks of spending. Like sometimes if I have an uninterrupted hour, that’s a perfect time to just actually plan what are the next three or four things that I want to get done and just not plan the entire thing, but just the next three or four things so that the next time I have 20 minutes to sit down, I can actually work on something. Yes, I fall for that all the time of sitting down and thinking, well, what do I want to work on now, especially with remote work and stuff? We deal with this even with day jobs.

00:10:45 [Brian] I just got back from Christmas vacation.

00:10:48 [Brian] What am I working on? Yeah, well, what do you do at work?

00:10:53 [Brian] Do you have the same sort of issue at work, but you’re there for 8 hours a day at work, right. So that’s not that big of a problem.

00:11:01 [Brandon] Yeah. And usually as a developer, usually have some sort of project or project manager for product manager or whatever you want to call them. It’s got that predefined work for you. Here’s the problem. We need to solve some kind of looting to what you did. If you’ve got an hour, there’s a sprint cadence, and you always have time in there for planning and stuff like that. So, you know, in the next two weeks, here’s the plan we’ve come up with and here’s what you need to do.

00:11:29 [Brandon] And that’s definitely, I think, a problem that hits a lot of people trying to do side projects as well as developers. We just want to jump in and code. Right. We don’t want to do all the paperwork. And the thing that I’ve had, I’m just going to write this service that does authentication or whatever, does billing.

00:11:48 [Brandon] And you don’t think about what? Is that really the first thing I should do? Should I just build the service and could I sign people up manually? Like have them submit a form and I create their stuff and sign them up for billing. And then as more and more people sign up, okay, now I need to build the billing stuff, kind of prioritize what can get my project out there faster to make sure people actually want to use it, which is kind of why I built this landing page first kind of going in a different order than most people do is how can I generate the interest in this and make sure it’s something that I should actually spend time building versus building something throwing out there in the market and nobody cares about it? So hopefully somebody comes to this page, looks and says, oh, there’s a sign up for early access. And that takes you to a form. And then you can kind of give me a little bit of information about yourself and how you do your process. Now, which one is going to if there was enough people cohort that filled this out, I could say, cool, here’s how people actually do stuff and here’s how we can solve that versus here’s my idea of how I want to solve it and get it out to the industry. And everybody’s like, this does nothing for me.

00:13:00 [Brian] Right, exactly.

00:13:03 [Brian] That’s an interesting thing of solving your own problem. Sometimes you don’t know if it’s just your problem.

00:13:11 [Brandon] Exactly.

00:13:13 [Brian] It’s not that we’re going to come up with answers right now, but these are common problems. I’d love to hear from other people to find out how things are solved.

00:13:25 [Brian] What are our problems? One of our problems is, like you said, the thing I’m building is it really something that solves a problem that people have and that they would actually pay money to fix.

00:13:40 [Brian] And also, like on your landing page is the pros and information there. Is it enough to describe the problem so that people can understand it, that sort of marketing stuff.

00:13:57 [Brian] And then what do I work on when I have time?

00:14:02 [Brian] What can I work on? It’s hard to do sort of Sprint planning for side projects when you don’t even know how many hours you’re going to have to work on it.

00:14:10 [Brandon] Yeah.

00:14:11 [Brian] But you can do like instead of Sprint planning, you can kind of maybe do a top five list or something like that of the next few things I need to get done.

00:14:23 [Brian] And I think a lot of side projects end up being like those free for open source users sort of things for a while, partly because people punt on the billing stuff. They’re like, I don’t want to do building yet billing it. So let’s not do a paid product right now.

00:14:44 [Brandon] Yeah, that makes sense. And that’s a good way to get people interested in your product, get it out there, testing it, finding those early bugs.

00:14:54 [Brian] Yeah.

00:14:54 [Brandon] If you can get it out there in people’s hands for free. And if you had to make enough money to support the because when you launch it, you’re going to use AWS, Google Azure, Digital Ocean, something like that. That’s probably going to charge you some money unless you save them their free tiers.

00:15:09 [Brandon] Can you afford to do that while you have a couple of months of no billing?

00:15:16 [Brian] Right now that we’re talking about it? I’m thinking that maybe that’s why some people do the limited invite list to start up with, because if they’re doing it for free, they don’t want 1000 people there. Plus, also, do you really want feedback from 1000 people?

00:15:38 [Brian] I don’t even know if you’re the right target audience for my product, so limiting it to like ten or 20 until the feedback is manageable and then maybe that’s not enough. Maybe 20 people isn’t enough to get reasonable feedback. So we open it up to 30 or 40 or 50 or a couple of hundred or something like that. But yeah. Anyway, I’m not even close to thinking about that with some of the side things. One of my side projects, which I definitely don’t want to talk about yet because it’s just in the inception phase, I actually just would love to get one customer first, so getting to one would be good.

00:16:21 [Brian] But then there’s the time thing.

00:16:24 [Brian] I definitely feel that of I’ve already got a job and then I’ve got family, I’ve got to make dinner and do housework and all that sort of stuff. How do I fit in side project stuff? How about you?

00:16:45 [Brian] When do you find time to do side project stuff? Is it weekends or evenings?

00:16:49 [Brandon] Yeah, right now it’s just me and my wife and my dog. So no kids, nothing like that. So once I clock out of my day job at 506:00, whatever is, I’m pretty open, which is a bad thing to say because listen, like, well, you’ve got all this time. Why aren’t you working on a side project?

00:17:10 [Brandon] Because mental sanity matters too.

00:17:14 [Brandon] I might read a book there’s TV shows that I like to watch, just hang out with my wife, trying to find that balance of I want to start my own thing.

00:17:28 [Brandon] But I also need to relax.

00:17:33 [Brandon] Burnout is a real thing, definitely.

00:17:39 [Brian] Hopefully.

00:17:41 [Brian] I’ve been really trying to do some side hobbies that have nothing to do with software.

00:17:49 [Brian] Yes, because having that getting away from the screen is important.

00:17:56 [Brian] Even if I come back to it in the evening, a little later when I was younger, probably 30s, even in my early 40s, I think I could work late into the night and just go to sleep. Fine.

00:18:12 [Brian] But I’m finding now that I can’t work up until midnight and then just go to bed, my brain doesn’t turn off. So I got to have some at the end of the day, my work day, I go do family stuff and then whatever, and then come back and maybe do some coding. I definitely need to leave some time to wind down after that. So that my project isn’t the last thing I’m thinking about before I go to bed.

00:18:43 [Brandon] Yeah, I find that as well. I’m 35 now and Midnight’s about the latest. I can make it anymore. And if I don’t stop working by 1030. 11:00, I go to bed. My head is still going over like the problems that were in my head, anything like that. So I completely agree.

00:19:03 [Brandon] That takes time, too.

00:19:04 [Brian] One of the things I’m trying to do on my side projects is to use them as learning things, too, because there’s a ton of stuff I want to learn.

00:19:12 [Brian] And if I don’t have a reason to learn it, I probably won’t. So things like trying to build something that uses Django so they can learn some more Django or something like that.

00:19:23 [Brian] And actually, one of the reasons why I want to throw a side project together is because I’ve never had to deal with things like billing and I hear something like Heroku or things like that.

00:19:38 [Brian] The cost might creep up, but I think I don’t care right away because I’d probably try to limit the number of people using it for lots of reasons. One just to keep the cost down for hosting and stuff. So I don’t have to deal with that.

00:19:54 [Brandon] I think that’s something a lot of people get into, too, is they don’t want to use Heroku or they don’t want to use like Google App Engine or something like that, because these platforms as a service, they want to throw right into Kubernetes or something like that. But God, there’s so many other stuff. There are other things you have to worry about when you’re building a brand new application that setting up a deployment pipeline and setting up your platforms code and stuff like that, scaling Kubernetes, any of that crap. It’s just stuff you don’t have to worry about. If you’re stored on Heroku, it works. And you can put up billing triggers and stuff like that, too. If you know you don’t want to spend more than X amount every month, they can let you know when you’re getting close to that. So definitely do that. But yeah, I plan to go to Google App Engine or something like that when it first released this because I don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff.

00:20:46 [Brian] Yeah, you’re a single person until you can bring on other people or you start making money from it. I think I want to kind of tie this up by just saying. I’d really love to hear from other people that have maybe something running with a handful of customers or even lots of customers that they’re still able to keep things moving forward with, having it pay for itself and just a handful of hours a week.

00:21:15 [Brian] If there are people out there with that, that’d be great to hear.

00:21:19 [Brian] Be cool.

00:21:20 [Brian] And Brandon, thanks. We didn’t really do an introduction before at the beginning, but what kind of a thing do you do for your day job? If you’re okay with talking about that, yeah.

00:21:32 [Brandon] So software developer been in software development for a little over ten years now.

00:21:39 [Brandon] Right now in Python at a company that does analytical work for automotive parts, specifically, more or less tires, making sure that people that sell tires, the manufacturer of tires, another sell through data can make better decisions around what’s selling, how much they need to make of this, that or how much they need to order.

00:22:03 [Brian] You working mostly with Python or what kind of.

00:22:06 [Brandon] Yeah. So right now Python, we use Flask and Fast API for our back ends, Flask for the more stuff. Moving to Fast API for the new things.

00:22:16 [Brandon] Do some front end work here. We’re angular, but I’ve done React and View in the past. Php, C sharp, basically learn whatever the job requires me to do.

00:22:30 [Brian] Well, first of all, I hope you stay having fun as a software developer, that’s way more important than pulling projects together, but this looks pretty neat.

00:22:43 [Brian] Please keep us informed on Twitter and stuff. I’d love to hear progress if we have more of a roll out or anything.

00:22:51 [Brandon] Yeah, I think just real quick, just one final thought. You just touched on someone very, very good. He said. Keep having fun as a software developer and the age we live in and Twitter and stuff like that and everybody trying to roll their own SaaS. There is nothing wrong with just being a software developer at a company, enjoying the hell out of your day job. And then at 06:00, you hang up the keyboard and don’t think about software until the next day. I feel like there’s so much pressure to everyone needs to have their own company. They do their own thing.

00:23:20 [Brandon] You don’t need to.

00:23:23 [Brandon] So keep that in mind for anybody listening that I need to come with this awesome idea.

00:23:28 [Brandon] You don’t need to.

00:23:30 [Brian] Yeah. Being a software developer is a really good job.

00:23:32 [Brandon] No. And right now is the best time. Like, there’s people that you ask for a salary and they’re basically going to have to pay it because we’re in such high demand right now. So there’s nothing benefits, never discount health benefits, paid time off. You get 401K match and stuff like that and stuff. It’s going to be hard to come by when you’re off on your own.

00:23:52 [Brian] Right along that line, we hear a lot about that. People jump in jobs because they can make a lot by jumping jobs.

00:24:04 [Brian] There’s also stress with a jump. So I want people to realize that there’s been a lot of stress through the last couple of years. There’s always stress. But if you’re enjoying your job and you’re making enough, definitely talk to your management team about raises and stuff. But if you’re enjoying it and having fun, you don’t have to feel guilty about making less than what you think everybody else is making it’s. Okay.

00:24:34 [Brian] Yeah. Having fun as a software developers. That’s why I got into it and there’s been years where I forgot that it was just so driven. But I definitely want to come back to always having fun. This is a pretty cool thing to be able to monkey with code as a daily basis and have people pay for it. That’s pretty neat. Exactly.

00:24:56 [Brian] So yeah. Thanks for the positivity there, Brandon, and we’ll keep in touch. Talk to you later.

00:25:01 [Brandon] Thank you.

00:25:09 [Brian] Are you currently running a successful side project with just yourself or a handful of people? Whether it’s still a side project or has turned into a full time thing, I’d love to hear from you also, if you’ve got some processes, tools, tricks, et cetera, to help side projects flow smoothly with minimal time on your part, I’d love to hear from you as well.

00:25:28 [Brian] Thank you, PyCharm for sponsoring visit PyCharm for a four month free trial of PyCharm Pro. Save time, use PyCharm thank you SauceLabs for sponsoring Sauce labs test continuously test smarter develop with confidence visit Sauce testbetter for more information on the free trial. Thank you, Patreon supporters join them at test ##incode. Com support all of those links are in the show notes at 176 that’s all for now. Now go out and test something.