This is part three of the FeatureCat Diaries-series. FeatureCat is a feature- and feedback management SaaS I am building in public. This is a sort of Captain’s log, where I am rambling about my progress.
I closed the last entry in the FeatureCat Diaries in September 2022 with “one last thing” before launch.
Instead I shipped more dozens of features large and small, invested in documentation and web presences, and only launched in September of 2023.
What had changed was my perception of the market.
When I started working on the idea four years ago, the market for user feedback software was a lot less mature. Canny had opened the space a few years prior, and a handful of other companies had similar offerings at both ends of the market. I felt like I could deliver a unique approach with a focus on mobile (getting feedback for my iOS apps was my problem that I wanted to solve) and a differentiated take on requirements management (based on the experiences of my day job at the time).
I started properly working on it in the Spring of 2021, and by the time I had something I was really happy with, it was September 2022. Building SaaS is hard.
There are of other roads I could have taken: launched sooner, scrapped features, not redesign thee entire app twice…
But as I kept building out FeatureCat, the market matured and the goalpost kept moving forward. In September of 2022 I had a product I liked and used a lot, but it was simply not competitive. FeatureCat did not support multiple admins, did not have a system for user comments, no change-log, no web embeds for the public board, and was missing other features that had just become commodity in the market.
So I built them.
The last year saw multiple major releases, including support for multiple admins per account, user comments on the public board, a much simpler and more flexible integration approach, extensive updates to the documentation, another (lighter) redesign, a public change-log, and a completely overhauled billing system with support for a “freemium” model and multiple plans. (The glaring omission is sharing these updates, which already is a recurring theme.)
And in September of 2023, I launched FeatureCat on ProductHunt.
Even though this launch is mostly a marketing stunt (and the real work only starts now) it still is a milestone I reached, and one that I’m actually quite proud of. And even though FeatureCat was available months before, launches do flip a switch. The signup chart tells the entire story. (And it resulted in the the first paying customers.)
I’ll close with an outlook in the end, but as is tradition, here’s a more detailed look into what I shipped.
October 2022: Get Help
I run FeatureCat’s support via email, but email is an open protocol, which means anybody can write into support. As such I have to authenticate (who are they) and authorise (can they do what they’re asking for) every user who reaches out to support.
The solution is quite simple: have a dedicated help page in the app, where users can 1) find relevant documentation, 2) find any relevant identifiers should I have to ask for them (e.g. account ID), and 3) send an authenticated message directly to my support inbox.
That message is just a Rails ActionMailer sending an email directly to my support inbox on behalf of the user, which includes all relevant IDs and a request-specific token I can validate in my admin backend, so nobody’s spoofing anything here. Simple.
November 2022: A-Team
FeatureCat will always cater to the indie developer, the maker, the solopreneur. But teams is where it really shines. And teams are where the business value is, because the number of admins in an account is a natural way to scale the AOV.
From a product sense, this is not an exciting feature, but the most commoditised there is. From an engineering perspective however, there’s team invitations, onboarding, access controls, team management and a whole bunch of processes that need to be built. So - bring your friends!
December 2023: One API to integrate them all
To build something people need, you need solve your own problems - that way you’ll always have one customer. That’s exactly what I did when I build the original mobile-focused integration for FeatureCat’s public board in an attempt to solve feedback collection for my own iOS apps.
Eventually though I had to support web apps as well (considering I was building one as well). To address that, I build the
BoardSession API, which allows generating an authenticated public board session in the backend and in the frontend. That enabled integrations shapes like web (iframe) embeds and a whole lot more, all of it supported out of the box with v2 of the FeatureCat.JS SDK.
January 2023: Let’s make this a conversation
Submitting ideas and voting on features a great ways to collect feedback for any app, but public comments is where the discussion really gets going. It’s users interacting with one another, confirming issues they might have - halfway to creating an actual community for your product.
Alas, I dreamed it up on long ski lift rides during a holiday in Austria and build it the weeks after.
March 2023: Full Color
March saw a modest improvement: since public boards now embeddable, they need to follow the color scheme (light and dark) of their host website. You can now customize it all.
May 2023: Write it all up
A while back I wrote about low-touch vs. high-touch sales processes. Squarely in the low-touch corner (for now), the product needs to do the heavy lifting. And while onboarding still needs work, the documentation is now up to the task.
June 2023: A business model
In the summer of 2023 I was in the final preparation for the launch (not knowing it would only happen in September). And I decided to make one last major business model change.
A free plan had become a commonplace marketing tool in the space (remember the intro about the markets changing?), and my (forgone) conclusion was that free was worth a try.
A free plan does not come for free. Free plan users can massively increase support load without paying a dime. While it creates goodwill and trust, you might lose all of that once you decide to stop offering it.
On the other hand, it’ll (supposedly) increase your signups, and you eliminate any credit-card-on-signup-discussion. At the same time users are a lot more educated about the product once they think about upgrading to a paid plan (with a credit card), because they know which part of the free plan is limiting to them.
It’s worth a try. ProductHunt likes free software, and I believe supporting smaller developers is 1) just a fun thing to do because that’s what I myself am and 2) they always might become bigger.
That “try” though meant that I had to overhaul the billing system to support free plans, build entitlement checks for features only available on paid plans, and build out proper paths for upgrades. The remaining question: how much to charge for the paid plans?
Mentally, I always anchored around the $1000 customer: ~$85 per month or $1000 per year.
To make that pricing work, I needed to push most customers into a roughly 80-100 dollar per month plan. So in early August 2023, that’s how I set up my pricing (and actually made it live):
- Starter plan (free)
- Indie plan: $25 per month, $250 per year
- Team plan: $75 per month ($15 per admin, with at least 5 admins)
- Custom plans: Since the Team plans are closing in on $1000 per year, I thought custom/enterprise plans should be a least 3-4 times that. So at a minimum, ~3k-4k per year.
But - even with all the “raise your prices” - I just wasn’t comfortable with that. The product wasn’t there yet. And the competition had set the bar.
So I revised again before launch: $15 Indie, $45 for team plans (effectively lowering prices by 40%). That puts me on the lower end of the market, which is a fine place to start.
July 2023: Shouting into the void
In a final rush to complement the marketing push I wanted to set up a way to share all the updates FeatureCat had received over the preceding year. I could have done that as a simple series of posts on the marketing website, but since a “changelog” is a staple of user feedback apps, I chose to build just that. It’s in beta now!
August 2023: Gotta land somewhere
On the home stretch to the launch, the main home page needed some work. The landing page looked a fair bit out of date and got an overhaul, pricing was updated, and I built a “Features” page to show what the product had to offer. For the latter specifically, lots of users will actually do comparison shopping, so understanding what’s included is paramount.
September 2023: Go for Lauch
A ProductHunt launch can put you on the map and change the trajectory of a product. It also a marketing moment in what should be a long series of events to generate awareness for a product.
And as with every marketing moment, they are most effective when the reader feels like the story is everywhere. For ProductHunt that usually means a coordinated effort to bring awareness to ProductHunt, getting as many upvotes as possible and ranking in the top spots.
In September of 2023, FeatureCat had been on the internet for more than two years, open for signups for more than one year, and yet the ceremonious act of launching on ProductHunt had not yet happened. It was long overdue, no matter how many “one last feature” internal dialogues I may have been having.
Looking to 2024
It’s been nearly four years since I wrote the concept, three years since I worked on an early prototype, then a long time of feature work, and a launch just a few months ago.
2024 for FeatureCat is about breakthrough or bust: I want to see whether I can get the project to meaningful traction, or whether it might be dead in the water.
I am considering my theme to be “work in public” (working title). I am working on a lot of stuff, but nobody knows about it. Which is the opposite of what you would want when increasing awareness, specifically for FeatureCat.
The product is ready. There’s always more to build, but it needs somebody who’s asking for new stuff being built. And the first step to get there is for more people to actually see FeatureCat on the interwebs.
So see you (more) in 2024.