Product updates

Why You Need These Starter Apps for Any Indie Business

Paul Jarvis

Posted: March 6, 20194 min read

Adam Wathan is a popular full-stack developer and entrepreneur who writes code and books for a living. He can easily whip up his own payment processing system with Stripe’s API—something he did for his first product, a video course about Laravel. But for his most recent product, Refactoring UI, he instead chose to use the ecommerce platform Gumroad.

Why? Because, by using existing software, he was able to focus on the product and its marketing instead of reinventing the wheel. Gumroad had the features Adam needed, including support for PayPal payments in addition to credit card processing. And, as an added bonus, it acts as the “merchant of record,” which means they sell his products and collect sales tax, freeing him of those burdens too.

The faster you can get your own software out the door to paying customers, the faster you’ll become profitable and can start building traction. Existing software is either free or cheap until you need to scale it—and if you’re scaling it, it means you’re generating a decent amount of revenue! For Adam, giving Refactoring UI as much attention as possible paid off, generating over a million dollars from it in the first two months.

When starting a small or independent business, especially one that’s based online and selling software, it’s important to have the right digital tools in your toolbox. Most of my business runs on existing platforms or other software—from using Laravel Spark as the scaffolding to handle subscription billing and password resets, to using Mailchimp to send newsletters for marketing.

I release at least one product a year—from books to software to online courses—and while they’re quite different from one another, I mostly use all the same basic online tools to get them launched, promoted, and most importantly, made so people can buy them from me.

Here’s the software I’ve currently got in my own “software stack” for starting a small digital product business:

  • Droplet from DigitalOcean, 1-Click application: Ghost.
  • This setup gives you a sharp looking and functional website in seconds, when more than just a single-page site is needed. [starting at $4/month]
  • Droplet from DigitalOcean, 1-Click application: Fathom Analytics.
  • Fathom is the most private and simple way to collect website visitor analytics from your marketing site or landing page. (And I co-built it!) [starting at $4/month]
  • Droplet from DigitalOcean, 1-Click application: Discourse.
  • If you want to start a community along with your digital product, then Discourse is the easiest way to start and maintain a message board for your customers, your audience, or even as a way for customers to help each other (this is how Ghost partially uses theirs). [starting at $4/month]
  • Landing page site from Carrd.
  • It’s a quick and easy way to put up a single page website and collect emails/gauge interest in your idea. [$9/year]
  • Mailing list from Mailchimp.
  • Newsletters are a fantastic way to see how many people are interested in your product, and then to keep them posted on your progress. Mailing lists also have the highest return on investment (a 4400% return, meaning $44 for every $1 spent). [Free up to 2,000 subscribers]
  • Selling digital products via Gumroad.
  • If you’re selling downloadables like ebooks, pre-orders or membership subscriptions, Gumroad saves you the hassle of everything “payment”. [3.5% + 30¢ per charge]
  • Selling SaaS subscriptions from Stripe.
  • If you’re selling more custom solutions, then just using Stripe and a bit of custom code makes it quick and easy to do subscriptions. [2.9% + 30¢ per charge]
  • Creating a plan and roadmap using Trello.
  • This app helps you keep track of what tasks you need to do and have done, and it also enables you to share a public roadmap of your progress with your customers or audience. [Free]
  • Internal communications from Twist.
  • If your team is more than just yourself, Twist is a great way to stay in touch with them without being overwhelmed by group messaging platforms. [$6/user/month]
  • Using Cloudflare to register domains and handle DNS security/performance.
  • Using Cloudflare to manage your DNS means better defence against online threats and low-priced domain registration (they sell this at cost for TLD extensions they support). [Free]
  • Scaffolding for things you don’t want to code from Laravel Spark.
  • If you use Laravel, the Spark lets you forget the boilerplate (subscription billing, authentication, invoices, etc) and focus on your app. [$99/site]

With these 11 pieces of software you’ll be able to focus almost entirely on building your unique solutions, and not a lot of time building things you don’t have to. Building a digital product business can be difficult enough – any way you can make it easier (like using the software in this list), will help get you to profitability and beyond much faster.

Paul Jarvis is the author of Company of One and cofounder of Fathom Analytics.

Want more Paul? Join us March 19, 2019, from two P.M. to three P.M. EST, for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) as he discusses his latest book, Company of One, exploring why a bigger digital business isn’t always better, and shares his knowledge with the DigitalOcean community. RSVP today.


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