Can anyone predict if a product will be a success ahead of time? Some are better at this than others. This estimate however is based on other factors besides the product itself, such as the people behind it and the market. VCs who are usually experienced in the startup world are taking their chances with many companies hoping that one (or some) of them eventually succeed enough to justify the investment in all the other ones. In essence they try to make an educated guess with their funds and hope they won’t be wrong with all of their guesses, all the time. One successful company will cover the costs of all the other failed cash burners.

As for the low budget bootstrappers that try to come up with products to make them just enough profit to quit their day job with the minimum amount of time spent, there are some guidelines that can increase the chances of making just enough profit. Not the kind of money that VCs are after, but enough money to support a family and be financially independent.

  1. If you come up with an idea and you google it and find it already exists, it’s not a bad thing. Actually it’s a good thing. It means that there is a market for it, a need that it solves and people who are willing to pay for it. In fact, don’t even come up with the idea in the first place. If you’re interested in solving a problem, check how others are solving it. Read the reviews about their products, especially the negative ones. Come up with a better product based on your own creativity. Don’t copy their product, instead use it to understand the problem people have and need solving. But don’t start working on something that doesn’t have competition yet hoping you’ll be the first to market. It usually means that the market you’re thinking about doesn’t exist. Maybe you’re right and you will be the next Facebook, but by going in that direction you are lowering your chances to make any kind if income at all.

  2. Select a small and specific niche and start by solving a small problem. A small group of people is easier to find online and easier to target. You don’t need to start with a full featured product that does many things. It should do one thing and do it well. And more important, communicate clearly what problem it solves, how it solves it and who it it for.

  3. B2B is better than B2C. Businesses don’t mind spending money on something that solves them a problem and makes or saves them money. If a product saves you hundreds dollars worth of employee time and it costs $30 a month, it doesn’t make sense not to purchase it. Especially when you can write it off as an expense.

  4. Stick to the app stores and the marketplaces. These already have an established user base who is willing to spend money to find a solution to their problem. Often, they even have their payment information already in the system and they can make a purchase with a click of a button. Marketplaces try to expose as many of their apps or products as possible by featuring them in their search engines and suggesting them to users based on their interests. You can always spin off your app to a separate independent product later.

  5. Release a few versions of the same product at once until one of them works. Sometimes the same product with a different packaging (icon, copy, screen shots, landing page) can be a big success while another one a failure. Even though they are exactly the same inside. Duplicating a product with a different branding is cheap and quick.

  6. Don’t put in a lot of time into anything until it proven itself. Try to come up with multiple small products that solve small problems and experiment until one of them works. Once it happens, start making it better and get into the details.