The idea for Prepare.io originated when I first was working on my first company, Demeter Interactive. I ran into problems creating editorial calendars for clients. I hated emailing spreadsheets and Word documents back and forth for approval. A nicely designed PDF took way too long. Google Calendar/Spreadsheets were useful but when clients didn’t use Google products, it proved to be a breakdown in communication. Any other product that would be helpful to me cost way too money, so I was left piecing together different free solutions. So I decided I needed to figure out a way to build an editorial calendar that would be a better solution.
Here’s an early look of Prepare.io, pre-production.
Fast forward three years later and I launched the private beta of Prepare.io. It took me much longer than I had ever anticipated to build the MVP* (minimum viable product), but it was done. I recall reading somewhere, if you’re not embarrassed by your product’s first version, you waited too long. Well, good news (I guess?), I was absolutely embarrassed. The Prepare.io beta version was a poor man’s Google Drive with far less less features/functionality AND a monthly price tag. So you can guess how many people started paying for Prepare.io. Zero.
I fully expected this, because I knew in my mind that the product wasn’t ready. But I wanted to get feedback from my beta testers to see what they liked and what they wanted to see. I got a lot of great feedback. I went back to the drawing board and started mapping out the product changes. I prioritized my roadmap into immediate, short-term, and long-term edits. This is still a LONG work in progress, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s exciting see the product evolve.
Since the launch of Prepare.io’s beta, a lot has changed. I’ve learned so many lessons about designing product and building software. I continue to learn new things, things I never thought of, on a daily basis. Here are three of the major lessons I learned from my first product launch:
1. My First Product Was Confusing To Others
Prepare.io started out as an idea, which turned into handwritten plans on a legal pad, then mapped out on a whiteboard, which turned into proper wireframes, and finally the pre-MVP alpha version (so many buttons didn’t work!), all created by me (except for the coding).
I was too close to the product and assumed people would just know what to do when they signed up. Nope. Originally, it never occurred to me to make an onboarding process (probably because I always skip these and just play with the software until I figure it out). Well, this was the first thing people commented on. Most people stopped here and didn’t even bother to move on to the actual product. No matter how simple I thought the product was, I was wrong.
The First Prepare.io Calendar View
A Look at the Updated Dashboard
2. I Didn’t Choose a Specific Customer
If you think your product is for everyone and you build it for everyone, it’s going to serve no one. That’s what I encountered. I originally built this product for freelancers, agencies, and in-house teams. I wanted everyone to use it, afraid that I’d be losing customers by ignoring a particular market. So it’s no surprise I lost everyone by trying not to neglect anyone.
The reason why my product was confusing because I hadn’t properly picked a customer. So I was building features that would really benefit no-one. That’s how I ended up with all these features that were nice to have, not must have.
3. My “Simple” Product Wasn’t That Simple
I can honestly say I thought I built a simple product when I first launched Prepare.io. No. Fucking. Way. It was really convoluted. As I’ve been taught (and I’ve probably regurgitated this advice to some of you) pick on vertical and dominate that vertical. Grow vertically, not horizontally. By not picking a customer, I was growing horizontally. Wasting time and money in the process.
After adding an onboarding process, I was focused on deleting unneeded features to simplify the product. I was also determined to make the core product (the editorial calendar) more functional for users. My first version of the editorial calendar wasn’t more functional than an Excel spreadsheet. So why on Earth would someone pay for my product? I neglected my core product because I was trying to add a bunch of superficial features.
So What Is Prepare.io Now?
Prepare.io is still an editorial calendar, but now I’m focusing on in-house content teams. My mission is to make planning content and communicating with the writing team easier for an editor.
I’ve got a lot of work to do.
“What Can I Expect from Prepare.io?”
You can expect Prepare.io to continue iterating. I have three major things on my roadmap. First, I want to make the workflow process between writers and editors to be seamless. I want editors to stop using email and Word docs to manage deadlines and edit drafts. Second, I want to integrate WordPress into the dashboard. The first thing anyone who tries Prepare.io asks is if they can publish directly to WordPress. I’m listening! I’m working on a solution for you! Lastly, I want to add analytics to the dashboard. I hate logging into Google Analytics. I’d rather just look at a specific post and see how well the post performed, within the Prepare.io dashboard.
I should mention that I’m bootstrapping Prepare.io right now. I work with dedicated freelancers to build out new features. But that means progress is slow.
“What Can I Expect From the Prepare.io Blog?”
I plan on blogging here again, on a more regular schedule. There were several reasons why I stopped. One reason is because I had to dedicate more time to the product. But with the new direction for Prepare.io I’m going to start blogging with a new focus.
This blog’s first incarnation was around writing and marketing. But I learned that those posts didn’t interest people. There are a million places on the internet to read about improving your writing and marketing skills. But I did find that people liked my posts about entrepreneurship and client management. But I’m no longer building Prepare.io for freelancers and small agencies, which means I need a different theme.
After much thought, I’ve decided to write about things I’m improving at, lessons I’m learning, and things I like to write about. I’m constantly improving as a person and as a professional. I believe the lessons I’m learning are valuable to others and worth sharing. I think writing about this stuff is more valuable to you than something like 10 Tips to Better Content. You can get information like that that on one of the million other marketing blogs.
Lastly, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has helped Prepare.io get to where it is today. Yes, there’s a lot of work to left, but I couldn’t have made it this far without many people by my side. Whether you’ve worked on this product directly, tested it, or just asked me about it, I thank you. I’d also like to thank my friends and family who have just loved me throughout this arduous process. It hasn’t been easy and I probably would have crumbled without your support. Thank you.
If you lead a content team, or know someone who does, please sign up for Prepare.io’s free trial and let me know what you think.
*One day I will share with you how I was able to find the money to build Prepare.io’s beta version. It wasn’t cheap and it deserves its own post (or two).