New Year Challenge 3 of 4: Stop Building Something That “May” Solve a Problem for People You Don’t Even Know

This is part 3 of a 4-part series in which we share the challenges we’re posing for ourselves in 2015. Join us by challenging yourself to the same things. (See Challenge 1 and 2)

Whelp, Disco is officially on the shelf.

In a cupboard.

With a closed door.

That’s locked.

Disco Incentivized Surveys for Conversion Rate Optimization
The primary Disco report. Looks sexy, right? Sadness to say goodbye…

In the words of Canada’s own Metric:

Dead disco
Dead funk
Dead rock ‘n’ roll
Everything’s been done
La-la-la-la-la lalalalala

I’m making light of it with that song. But shelving our li’l incentivized survey is a decision that was beyond hard for me, Lance and our co-founder to make.

I’ve been such a champion of Disco – previously Kyvio – for so long that I feel especially frustrated by the need to shut ‘er down.

But we do need to shut Disco down.

Because we were building something that may solve a problem for a rather small group of people that’s well outside our network. And that is not exactly the ideal footing on which to balance when you’re building a business.

I know that. (Tapping head for emphasis.)

But I’ll have to challenge myself to remember that. Because I loved Disco. And I know I’m going to want to resurrect it every other week.

Here’s Exactly Why Disco Is a No-Go

Internally, we couldn’t agree on its value prop. And I don’t need to tell you how much harder it is to build and market a product if you can’t express what’s unique and highly desirable about it. Disco did something unique and desirable for website visitors – that is, it rewarded them with incentives for each survey question they answered – but its value prop for paying users was much harder to pin down.

We built Disco to scratch our own itch, and that’s the source of the problem. See, in all of our consulting, Lance and I recommend user surveys; we’ve recommended Qualaroo at least a hundred times. But Qualaroo’s kinduv expensive… and it locks you into an annual plan (or used to)… and users don’t get a reward for letting a biz interrupt them… and response rates weren’t what we wanted them to be for lower traffic sites. So we thought, Hey, let’s build a better version of that. The result was Disco.

…As I write that line, I can’t help but think, Maybe there’s still life in that little product. Sounds like Disco really could add value. 

But I’ve got to put it to bed.

Because a product that scratches your own itch, has no clear value prop for paying users and isn’t clearly solving a problem is not a product I want to try to market right now.

Then throw in this extra kick of nightmarishness: in our user research, it became clear that the best market for Disco is – drumroll – big commerce.

We serve startups.

We know startups.

We love startups.

Commerce is cool, but I don’t exactly have a recurring Martini Thursday date with the web optimization team at Amazon.


Maybe one day we’ll open the cupboard door and pull Disco back down from the shelf. Dust it off.

For 2015: it doesn’t solve a clear problem for people we serve, so Disco is on the distant backburner. Indefinitely.

What part of your business needs to go but hasn’t gone yet? A new feature you’ve thrown into the product? A WordPress plugin that’s a pain in the ass to maintain and not really making cash? Join me in unloading the weight, hard as that may be…


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Cathy Goodwin

    I like the way you put this – “scratching your own itch.” Awhile back I got a request for a copywriting proposal from a really nice guy I’d met socially. He’d come up with a new digital product related to sports games. Of course the first question I asked was, “Where’s the research? How do you know people will pay for this?”

    The product died because investors of course asked the same questions. He’d sunk about $40K into this project, an expensive lesson.

  • Shae Baxter

    Kudos to you and Lance for recognising that your offer might not have been what the market really wants and for admitting it to us all. This would be hard for anyone to do, especially when you’re so emotionally invested.

    As a side note, I see this a lot with some of my clients. Not exactly the same thing but I have a lot of health and business coaches as clients. As you probably know there are a squillion of them out there but unfortunately there are many that just do not communicate their value proposition clearly or have enough clarity. They think SEO is going to be their magic pill but no amount of SEO can deliver anything unless they’re crystal clear on their offer and niche. It’s only a delivery mechanism.

    After reading your post, coupled with my own experiences, it again reinforces how you need to have the right offer the market wants in the first place.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Amen, Shae! It’s certainly a tough thing to do. Even when you know all about the need for a value prop… and even when you do the research to guide you in the right direction with the product you build… and even when on and on and on, you can still end up at a point where it just doesn’t click.

      We read a LOT about innovation and product development, and we attend a LOT of conferences that cover this exact subject. We’re schooled on the subject. We’re learned. (“Heh heh heh. ‘Learn’d’, son. It’s pronounced ‘learn’d’.” – Homer Simpson) But you can still easily slip up when you start down the path and let competing forces and shiny objects chase all the smartz outta yer brain.

    • Cathy Goodwin

      “Squillion…” I love it!

  • Samori Augusto

    So..Question: how come you don’t package this thing up and put it up for sale to someone who does know Big Commerce and is happy to have a tool to add to their portfolio, or who just wants to crack that market? A few blog posts about how this can serve Big Commerce should prop it up and drum up some interest…

    At the very least an Amazon, or better yet, Yahoo Shopping or someone a tad hungrier can buy it, close it off and destroy it, and rebuild it in their own image, and you and Lance and the unnamed third co-conspirator have a bit of cash to deliver more value to those of us who love you in the startup world, no?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      …Because it’s just that easy? I’m kidding, of course. 🙂 I’m just not sure that the reality of selling a product matches the stories we hear. That said, if Lance or the Unnamed Third Man wants to run with that, I won’t get in their way.

  • Have you read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs? You get a great peek at how ruthless Jobs was at cutting down Apple’s sprawling & redundant product line in the mid-90s.

    His refusal to make even the slightest room for a product that didn’t fit perfectly was essentially the springboard to Apple’s comeback.

    From Jony Ive (Apple’s lead designer, who learned this from Jobs):

    “What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in your body think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you’re focusing on something else.”

    You did the right thing! Glory in the extra space you’ve made for Snap— physically and mentally — by cutting Disco loose.

    • Puranjay

      You may have just inspired me to sell off one of my rarely-updated blogs that I keep on planning to come back to (but never do).

      I keep thinking…”If I put 5 more hours/week into it, I can sell it for maybe 2x more. Just 5 more hours…”

      Except I don’t have 5 more hours.

      I don’t even have 2.

      To the highest bidder it shall go. Whatsoever that bid might be 🙂

      • Just curious — where do you go to sell blogs/sites you have no time for? Flippa? Somewhere else?

      • Puranjay

        I only know Flippa. There are some smaller forums, but they tend to be a bit shady.

        Although I haven’t seen a lot of high-value, tech-focused listings on Flippa, so I might be barking up the wrong tree here.

  • It was interesting … I listened to this Mixergy interview a few weeks back and Josh Pigford was talking about his failed product Pop Survey and I was like “Oh … that’s like, Disco … almost to a tee”:

    It’s a pretty interesting listen and pretty much echoes a lot of your sentiments above.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Josh knows his shizzle! Yeah, products end all the time. C’est la vie! Thanks for the link, Iain.

  • Jonathan DeVore

    These are amazing challenges – thanks for sharing. I especially liked this one and the first challenge.

    This challenge is something my startup is guilty of – scratching our own itch. Basecamp did it, so that’s what we should be able to do, right? And even now, we’re thinking of going after a customer base that isn’t even close to who we deal with on a regular basis (and have few relationships with). Your post definitely gave me something to think about.

    I love that you considered what it would take to sell it – the time, relationships, money, market segment, etc. – and not just saying, “I bet if we wrote blog posts about it people would buy!” That was my approach to marketing at first. I have learned that it takes much more than blogging, eBooks, and webinars to sell a SAAS product.

    Thanks for the honest writing. It helps.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Thanks for posting this, Jonathan.

      I also think that an important part of building a product – something we don’t talk about much and I haven’t read that much about – is the need to be so in love with it (not just infatuated by it) that you’d happily spend every spare minute working at it. You’ll work tirelessly for it.

      I’ve seen the way the guys at sendwithus ( devote themselves entirely to it —– their work is a testament to how much you need to love something because, when the honeymoon period is over, you need to stick around. That’s why I think that building a product for people you already know feels good: you know those people because you live in and love that world (and have for ages). That’s where we are with Snap. That’s where I am and have been with Copy Hackers. That’s where I want to be with everything I work on.

  • You write: Commerce is cool, but I don’t exactly have a recurring Martini Thursday date with the web optimization team at Amazon.

    Step 1: Start with the martinis…it’s Thursday! 😉

    Seriously – tough but super smart call. I haven’t done that as clearly in my professional life, but this new year has already been full of those kinds of tough, value-driven calls to examine and remove every “sacred cow” that isn’t serving me or my family. ’tis the season, right?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, as Pete and the literary greats have said: Kill your darlings. The tough calls are so often the right calls.

  • Peter Michaels

    Yikes, tough call Joanna. Faulkner (or Ginsberg, I’m never sure) would be proud of you though… kill your darlings etc.

    Even tougher given the post is really about stopping SELLING hard-to-market stuff, not just building it or working on it. When people have actually handed over cash for a service, it’s tricky to wrap it up and say “no more”.

    I’ve done it myself before – hey, good things grow out of the little graves we dig for old ideas. Here’s to a revitalized 2015!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      “Good things grow out of the little graves we dig for old ideas.” Dig it. 🙂

    • Michael Maliepaard

      You write really beautifully Peter. Almost poetic. I’m guessing there’s some music floating around on the internet somewhere? Care to share your haunt?

      • Peter Michaels

        Hey, thanks for the kind words Michael.

        I’m no musician myself but when something gets stuck in my head I post at

        Glad you’re enjoying JW’s challenges too – looking forward to the next one…

  • Serve, know & love who you work with. You said it best.
    Those shiny challenges are attractive but they are not a stray puppy. So good on you.

    I did unload the weight of being a Hubspot Partner Agency in 2014. The dream didn’t match the reality. It’s the reality that rewards us both internally and externally. Very swiftly the market let me know that this “ain’t gonna fly”, sounds like it did for you as well.

    All the best with a path to acceptance on this one. Those that matter will love having you & Lance around for the work that drives the work.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Good on you, Vince! It’s tough to make those decisions, especially when you’ve invested time, money and heart in them. Thankfully the market told you no quickly – and you listened!

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