These bootstrapping makers always start by validating their ideas

Published on
April 23rd, 2021
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The makers of Rollups have launched three products into Product Hunt’s top products of the day leaderboard. We’re sharing the lessons they’ve learned.
James Ivings and Danielle Johnson are the two-person bootstrapping team behind Leave Me Alone and Rollups. They first launched Leave Me Alone, a service to easily unsubscribe from unwanted emails, two years ago and achieved Product of the Day and Product of the Week. Their latest product, Rollups, is a tool for combining newsletters into beautiful digest emails. Both products are part of their vision for making your inbox stress-free.

After we let them know they were one of our three Maker Grant recipients for March, we spoke to them about what they’ve learned from building and launching successful products. We’ve summarized a few of their learnings below.

Lesson 1: Validation is key. Don’t waste time building a product without validating a need for it first.

“For any new product or feature, it’s important for us to determine if there’s a need for it.

With our first product, Leave Me Alone, we built the first prototype in 7 days and asked people if they'd like to join the closed beta. We initially reached out on Twitter and in the maker community at the end of November 2018. The app was basic but the feedback for the concept was overwhelmingly positive.

Clearly, there was a need for this product — beta users had validated our idea. This motivated us to continue building. We were careful not to include too many unnecessary features.

For Rollups, we knew people wanted this tool because customers had been asking for it. Lots of customers praised the easy and stress-free unsubscribing process from Leave Me Alone, and they wanted to clean up their inboxes even more by receiving digests of the emails they still wanted to keep.

The first step we took on this project was building an MVP for Rollups that we used for several months before we started building anything. It was a simple service that moved all incoming emails out of our inboxes into folders, just to prove the concept would work without issues. It did, our inboxes were empty and we were excited to build the feature and let people use it!”

Lesson 2: Find out what users want instead of wasting time guessing and building redundant features. Users love giving feedback.
“Leave Me Alone is an Open Startup, which means that we share all of our metrics including users, revenue, and traffic. It also means that we build completely in the open by continually sharing our progress on Twitter, asking users for input on important decisions, requesting feedback, and being honest about the highs and the lows.

We now have a roadmap of feature requests and improvements for Rollups and Leave Me Alone. Since launching on Product Hunt we have already added several improvements, including a free trial for Rollups so you can receive your first digest email and see what all the fuss is about!”

Lesson 3: Don’t worry about failing. It’s scary, but you will just learn and build on that.

“Our biggest reward from building Rollups has been having happy customers! We worked hard on Rollups and it was a little scary when we finally launched it; what if nobody used it or wanted to pay?! We didn’t need to worry so much, we have received LOTS of positive feedback. We absolutely love receiving emails from customers telling us that with Leave Me Alone they have got their lives back. Many people underestimate the amount of stress and anxiety that an overflowing inbox can cause, so helping people to get their sanity back is the best reward we could ask for!

Just do it! No idea is original, it doesn’t matter if you fail, and the worst thing you can do is to not start at all. Almost every single successful person has failed a hundred times before. When you fail at something you still learn something and you can build on that experience for the next time.”

What’s Next for Rollups:

“Our biggest challenge right now is marketing. James and I are developers because we love building things and solving problems. Unfortunately, this means we’re not very good at marketing ourselves or our products. We tend to build another feature and claim that tweeting about it is marketing! We need to find creative and interesting ways to market Leave Me Alone since as a two-person bootstrapped company we don’t have a big marketing budget for running ads, sponsoring podcasts, or promoting social content.

Otherwise, Rollups has been on our roadmap for a long time and it is the second part of our three-step mission to help people take back control of their emails for good. It’s a powerful way to reduce your overflowing inbox into just a handful of email digests curated by you and delivered on your schedule.

Our next step is Inbox Shield. After unsubscribing and adding to your Rollup digests, Shield will let you screen out any future unwanted mail from getting into your inbox - you will be in charge of what emails are allowed. If you’re interested in early access you can add your email here.

Leave Me Alone, Rollups, and Inbox Shield will be the one-stop shop for all of your inbox zero needs: unsubscribe from all of the unwanted emails, rollup the emails you want to keep and read, and finally screen out emails you don’t want to receive!”

Check out Rollups and Leave me Alone.
Comments (3)
Pablo Guarneros
"We tend to build another feature and claim that tweeting about it is marketing!" -- I feel this whenever I finish a project. I post a feature on Instagram and then dive into another project wanting to think, "marketing accomplished". How should we navigate finding ways to market, finding people to help you market, or just keep building and let the marketing happen by itself?
James Ivings
Co-founder @ Leave Me Alone 💌
@pablo_guarneros We're trying to invest more in "engineering-as-marketing", since we're already good at building things :D This means we still write code, but with a different aim. For example, generating long-tail keyword pages for SEO purposes, or creating small side-tools that promote the main product. A long way to go, but a step in the right direction I think.
GradesAI - Study Super App™ for Students
Great at advice, especially about getting caught in the perfection trap. I have been using a tracker I made to create a daily, weekly and monthly task completion goals to keep me from just continuously adding features so I can get down to launching and improving.