Learn product management by building your product

My story as a 1-month founder of FloowSpace

Product management Bootcamps are a waste of time and money. The best way to learn product management is to build a product.

That’s what I do every three months. I start with a problem to solve and try to tackle it with a product. I use what I learn on the Internet for free to move from the problem to a solution. Then, I build the solution with freemium tools and test it.

The market needs you (we need you) and the tools are there, just waiting. All that’s missing is you, and your vision and your passion. — Seth Godin, Tribes.

I describe in this article how I did it recently. I built a product in 1 month. This time was different because the positive feedback was stronger. I thought at a point in time that it could be a startup.

  • Week #1: The Problem
  • Week #2: The Experiments
  • Week #3: The Product
  • Week #4: The Launch
  • Lessons Learned
  • Your turn!

After reading this, you will be able to learn product management by doing, which is, for me, the best way to sharpen your skills.

Week #1: The Problem

Research

I opened Y Combinator Startup Directory and explored the industries and value propositions. Mental health attracted me. It was a trending topic after the 2-year lockdown. So I decided to explore this topic:

  • I listed the companies in this domain and clustered them by services and personas (Modern Health, CoachHub, Leapers, Sanctus, etc.);
  • While reading their blogs and browsing their apps, I listed hundreds of questions on a FigJam board. I explored resources to find the answers and formalized them in a Notion workspace dedicated to the project;
  • I built the current user journey on FigJam and listed the pain points and opportunities. I started to think about possible solutions in a Lean Canvas.

After the first week of research, I decided to focus on professional coaching for independent workers:

  • “Coaching” instead of “mental health” because with coaching, there is no health data to store, which is convenient for building a minimum viable product.
  • “Independent workers” because I am one of them. I belong to freelance communities where I can easily ask questions to target users, find help, and communicate about the project.

Problem Statement

Regarding professional coaching, most employees can talk to their manager or HR referent to find a coach suited to their needs. Companies that take care of their employees select coaching tools, build coaching programs, and hire highly-qualified professional coaches to ensure quality.

For independent workers, the story is different. If they need help, they can only rely on themselves to find a coach. And the field is opaque. There are coaching programs in life, agile, career, love, strategy, confidence, etc. Coaches say they are trained, certified, and experienced, but finding the right coach for a particular goal is challenging.

It’s an unfair situation. Independent workers also need high-quality coaching as they handle several responsibilities, look for new opportunities every 3–6 months, manage their work independently, and cope with the stress of carrying out million of tasks in parallel with their everyday work.

So I tried to solve the problem of matching independent workers with highly-qualified coaches to meet a specific performance goal.

Week #2: The Experiments

I ran a series of experiments to move from this problem to a solution.

#1 Competitor value proposition testing

This experiment is a quick win and provides a lot of valuable insights. I met with +10 independent workers for 60-min interviews, showed them homepages from platforms for employees (CoachHub, BetterUp, Scale Higher, etc.), and asked them questions.

No need to prototype anything. In your browser, you can right-click on a website, select “Inspect,” select elements, and change them live. Before the interviews, I used these steps to remove logos and change some wording from the competitor’s website.

For the script, I use the five-act interview from GV. Watch User research, quick and dirty, by Michael Margolis to go deeper into this approach.

It helped me to gather feedback before investing any effort. I mainly discovered that:

  • Independent workers don’t like the wording used for employees and HR. They seek autonomy, independence, and step-by-step calm progress. They don’t like approaches based on performance tracking;
  • They are interested in some coaching or mentoring. They don’t know much about the difference. They are even skeptical about the contribution of coaching to their income;
  • They want to meet several coaches before making a choice. A platform is welcome if it allows them to frame the coaching program, follow their progress, and journal their thoughts.

#2 Landing page with a waitlist

I named the project FloowSpace because the goal is to help independent workers to be in their flow state. I bought the domain floow.space on Google Domains.

The logo was made up of mountains to reflect the idea of being at the top. I designed it on Figma starting from an icon.

I selected green colors to give an appearance of calm and confidence. I used Coolors to find a consistent palette.

Then, I built a landing page in Webflow. Webflow is useful when you want to provide a solid visual identity to your project. Their 101 crash course is quick and easy to follow, but their building tool still needs some experience to be mastered.

So I bought the $79 Newleaf template from Medium Rare. Medium Rare’s templates are well designed, and you can get the Figma file if you ask them to send it to you.

There are plenty of alternatives to Webflow as Umso, Carrd, etc. but probably with less flexibility in terms of visual identity.

The following steps are copy-pasting blocs on Webflow, copywriting, and finding the right images from Pexels. I added a form so that interested independent workers can share their contact info.

I conducted +10 interviews with independent workers, improved the landing page, then shared it within freelance communities. The main feedback was: “A coaching app is a great idea. Let me know when it’s ready for me to use it.”

I built a backlog of the app using Notion’s roadmap template and prioritized the epics based on users’ feedback.

#3 Market Dynamism

In the last experiment, I wanted to test the dynamism of the freelance-coach market. I created a company page on LinkedIn, invited independent workers to follow the page, and posted a job for professional coaches.

The response from independent workers wasn’t as positive as I expected. Only 20% of invited users followed the page. I assumed they didn’t know the value of coaching to their revenue yet.

The response from the coaches surprised me. The hour I posted the job, I received an application every 2 minutes until I reached the 70-limit. I discussed with +10 coaches to present them my FloowSpace idea. I discovered that coaches struggle to find clients. Those meetings enabled me to understand the coaching domain, pain points, and opportunities.

This traction motivated me. I searched for advice from Captain Contrat on what type of contract to set between FloowSpace and the coaches, thought about viable business models, and selected five coaches to start the adventure.

Week #3: The Product

I started building the app while conducting the interviews and collecting feedback.

I used Glide, a no-code tool that converts Gsheets into apps. Their documentation is comprehensive, and their videos show how to build apps from scratch. Once you try creating some basic apps, you may find their app builder easy to use.

I connected my Glide app with Webflow so users can move from the landing page to the login page. I also connected it with Stripe for payments.

Week #4: The Launch

First User

I became the first user of my app. The time I spent discussing with coaches helped me find the one that is the best suited to my goal. I asked her to use the app for our coaching program so that I could improve it.

Cold Mailing

I collected +200 independent worker emails while exploring LinkedIn Sales Navigators. I defined an emailing sequence using templates from Lemlist. I connected Streak CRM to my Gmail to implement those sequences, A/B test emails, and generate leads.

Pivot

The cold mailing’s poor results showed me that I needed to pivot into a new value proposition. I thought about the three following options:

  • Option #1: Upgrading the value proposition. Instead of a marketplace that simply connects freelancers with coaches, build a proven coaching program that takes the approach a step further.
  • Option #2: Change the solution. Build a mentoring platform for independent workers. Independent workers attributed more value to mentoring. Unlike a coach who asks questions to help you find an answer yourself, a mentor shares her experience to guide you and brings the solution to apply.
  • Option #3: Change the users. Build a marketing platform for coaches as they struggle to find customers. In any case, it was on this side that the traction was strongest.

Lessons Learned

I stopped the project when I reached my initial goals:

  • I explored the professional coaching domain and found my coach;
  • I learned how to use no-code tools (Webflow, Glide, Stripe, etc.) and how to generate leads (LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Lemlist, Streak, etc.);
  • I sharpened my knowledge in UX research, product design, and hiring interviews. I tested several new product management templates and frameworks;
  • I had an overview of what it takes to move from an idea to a business.

I didn’t convert the project into a business for the following reasons:

  • I didn’t work with an associate on this project. It’s better to find a teammate before the idea. With an associate, it’s easier to tackle negative feedback and pivot. Most companies started without an incredible vision but with associates willing to work together. → Find an associate first.
  • With Glide, I developed features at speed I thought about them. The problem at a certain point is that I lost the overall vision and added non-valuable uncomplete features (such as journaling, ratings, commenting, etc.) I built a complex app and a lot of features. → Stick to the minimum viable product.
  • The confirmation bias trapped me. Even if some independent workers warned me about their skepticism in coaching, I dismissed their feedback as I was enthusiastic and motivated by others. → Genuinely listen to users.
  • Sale and marketing are prerequisites for building a business. I discovered many things in this domain, like how to warm up an email address, how many emails to send per day, and strategies to avoid falling into spam. My level must be 1% in this area. I should have cold-mailed the users very early in the process. → Learn how to sell online and run cold mailing experiments.
  • The best way to start is by playing the role of the product. If I had started with cold mailing, I would have found at least one person interested in the service. I would have found him a coach and followed the sessions from start to finish. → Play the role of the product and help one person yourself before building it.
  • Independent workers don’t have too much money to spend on non-essential problems. Coaching is good when the company pays for it, but not when your own money is at stake. Coaching is like a vitamin. We can do without it. Whereas when you have a headache, you cannot do without Doliprane. → Focus on users willing to pay for a “Doliprane” problem.

All these learnings are not new to me. My job is to implement them in companies. But we can quickly forget them when we are passionate about our idea and in the heat of the action. Seeing them concretely on this project made me more aware of it.

I had a lot of fun building the product. It’s like playing legos. But, if I had to do it all over again, I would have started by finding a partner, sending a series of cold emails, and personally helping 1–2 people before building a product.

Your Turn!

What surprised me the most with this project is that:

  • There are many practical tools to create a product from scratch and test it with users. Once you have a vision, you can go fast and deliver value.
  • When you start being passionate about a difficult or unfair situation, you get a lot of support from the community. I didn’t spend much on getting feedback and collecting insights from the market. People wanted to help me help them.

So, stop looking for a product management Bootcamp, and build your product now. If you think of other tips or stories, share them in the comments.

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Adam Faik

Adam Faik

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Product manager, mentor, optimistic problem solver, aspiring writer, and life-long learner.