Michael Novotny is a former PM at The PGA Tour and is now Founder of a product studio called Product and Build Co. On this episode Jason and Michael discuss how you can create major competitive advantages and great growth for your business by building free tools to compliment your core product. Michael shares his framework for building free tools that can drive customers to your core product and business. Michael tells some great stories of different products he's helped build for various companies, where he's seen free tools fail, what PMs should have in their toolkit to build tools, how to pitch these ideas to your superiors, and more in this jam-packed episode.
Today we talked about how building free tools (aka - side projects) for your company can help drive major growth.
Building these tools helps you a few ways:
Building these tools helps you a few ways:
- People who use your free tool may directly sign up for your paid product when they see you made the free tool.
- People using your free tool may give you their email address, which you can market to later.
- Others will link to your free tool, boosting your SEO through improved backlinks.
Michael shares a lot wisdom and experience doing these, and the most important tips are:
- Build a portfolio: You need to launch many (ideally 4-5 or more) so that some will hit, and others won't. If you only launch one, the odds work against you on the moon and stars aligning for you.
- Build in public/test with your community: To increase your success rate, validate and test the ideas you have for tools to see if they resonate and what are the most important things it needs to do to provide value.
- Use low and no-code tools: You can build and launch a lot faster using these tools, and since it doesn't touch your core product, it doesn't need the perfect architecture.
Links to Products, Case Studies & Tools Mentioned in this episode:
- Case studies and examples of Free tools:
- See the SEO Boost Case Study Michael did with Threado
- Threado.com/drops shows their full portfolio of free tools they've built
- Buffer's free tools: Pablo and their Salary Calculator
- AI Social Bio is a free tool Michael made for himself
- Party Round built some free tools before pivoting to capital.xyz
- TweetHunter has a set of free tools including Best Time to Tweet
- Some great advice from Nick Gray on launching well
- No Code and low code tools to help you build your free tools:
Learn more and connect with Michael Novotny:
- Follow Michael on Twitter
- Connect with Michael on LinkedIn
- Subscribe to his newsletter here
- His business: Side Product Led Growth
Learn more and connect with Jason Evanish:
- Get more product advice on Jason's blog
- For more product advice, thoughts on tech, and more, Follow Jason on Twitter
- You can take your learning to the next level and get coaching from Jason or take his course here
Topics from the show:
(0:56) - Introducing Michael
(2:04) - How did you discover the power of free tools to drive sign-ups for another product?
(5:02) - Were you seeing sign-ups as just blips or were there signs of sustained traction via this method?
(9:19) - How many ideas and tools made it out to the public?
(11:46) - What are a couple of your favorite examples of these tools?
(16:31) - What are some cases where you’ve seen free tools not working out?
(21:55) - Are there businesses that shouldn’t be creating free tools?
(29:05) - What is the Side-Product Framework?
(30:22) - Do these side products need to be put on the core domain?
(34:56) - How should PM’s think about budgeting for Side-Products?
(37:47) - How do you think about how robust a tool needs to be in order to be effective?
(42:08) - Do you have any stories on how you became inspired to build some of these tools?
(47:55) - How can you start to validate some ideas for tools to see if you’re on the right track?
(54:09) - What should people do to make these free tools successful?
(58:05) - What are the best ways to tie a free tool to your product?
(1:00:43) - Is it acceptable to ask for an email address to access a tool?
(1:03:32) - How much do you see these tools needing ongoing maintenance?
(1:09:18) - What are your favorite tools that help you piece this process together?
(1:10:24) - What are your thoughts on Bubble vs. Webflow?
(1:12:16) - Making sure this work doesn’t compete against working on the core product
(1:13:58) - How to pitch working on free tools