When you are looking for a business-idea, rarely you will prefer to remake something existent, rather than create something fresh and original. Clearly, one is more promising, than the other. Let me tell you, how I began with that feeling of being up to something ‘game-changing’, went a long way of learning and cooling off, and ended-up developing ‘only’ a Bookmarks Manager.
When my first semester in Master’s program was coming to its end, to the ever increasing list of reasons to leave university, one more added up. One month into developing an extension for Google Chrome, I started wondering, If that was something I can live off in the nearest future. I worked hard right to the end of winter holidays, and produced final version of an image viewer.
You see, I used a web-browser almost for everything during my studies, but had to leave it every time, to walk through images in a folder(say, photos of lecture-notes). That’s why I began with an image viewer and made it able to switch between locally stored images.
I counted: three months of code writing(given the lack of experience); two times it was rewritten from scratch; the final version, I thought, could be better itself, but was for sure the best of its kind in the Chrome Web Store. The number of users of these extensions reached hundreds of thousands. I concluded, it must be good enough to charge for. My promotion tile even said: “Free till February!”. But, guess what, neither in February, nor later on, this extension became paid, as I didn’t see reflection of the interest in it(in download stats).
I didn’t leave university and went into another semester. Meanwhile, started working on another extension, that I thought was gonna introduce some very original functionality to the web-browser. Since 2010 I’ve been looking for a software, that would allow keeping various information items in one place. Let me explain, what I mean with an example. Say, you are planning a trip, and you can have many information pieces related to it: e-mails, links, images, videos, tweets, posts, comments, phone numbers e.t.c. Now, if you treat all of it simply as text, you can compose a document with almost everything I mentioned. And we will always have this fully-maintainable way of keeping information. But it saves us a chance of automation, which always results in a wasted time for some people.
Many times, I would suspect some particular program to be the solution, and later find out, that I’m not satisfied with its limitations. This happened to ‘Microsoft OneNote’, ‘Google Keep’, ‘Evernote’, ‘Trello’, and I particularly remember, smartphone BlackBerry Z10 had some sort of a unification folder.
There was another issue, in addition to the latter, that resulted in me creating an extension, called ‘TabIt’. I was always more comfortable with reaching saved internet links in my New Tabs with a help of extensions, rather then going specifically to the Bookmarks Manager. But, the only one satisfactory extension, called ‘Speed Dial 2 New tab’, evidently, set up its own database, apart from bookmarks, didn’t have folders and charged you $5 for taking saved links to your other devices. I would rather have them use bookmarks, that are synced across all of your devices and charge for something else.
Looking into technical means, I suspected, that existing bookmarks API may be even enough to unify different types of data under one database and create wanted extension. You see, many things can pass for a bookmark: link to the file in your local storage, in a closed file-system of some extension, base64 encrypted data, which opens various opportunities. User could be granted with a choice of extensions, that can open a particular item, and also provide previews/thumbnails for them. Shortly, I was imagining a whole ecosystem of extensions around ‘TabIt’ extension, and already saw ‘TabIt — Images’ as one in it, also allowing me to test things at the stage of development. Here comes that feeling of being up to something ‘game-changing’!)
Clearly, the first thing to begin with, was setting up a UI for bookmarks, and of course, I chose to do it in a New Tab‘s page. Bookmarks were available in a form of pages’ thumbnails, which were prepared automatically(through one free service), or branded thumbnails could be set(e.g. ‘f’ for ‘Facebook’ & the bird for ‘Twitter’), or user could manually capture one. File previews and further functionality should have come in the future. Another four months were spent by me writing that code, obfuscating it, preparing screenshots, promotion tiles and descriptions. Initial version also had another ‘module’(part) with recently closed tabs & windows list, open session block with windows & tabs, where users could manage them and also save any window to Bookmarks as a folder with corresponding links.
This time, I wanted to take previously learnt lessons into account and started chasing feedback, reviews and opinions on ‘TabIt’. I needed to ‘spread the word’ and paid for 2 months of advertising at ‘Google AdWords’, wrote at various forums about it. This only gained me 150 users after three month of mainly promotion and little changes to the extension.
Situation repeated itself in that, I saw certain superiority of my extension to the others at Chrome Web Store. And it wasn’t reflected in its download stats. I have seen people at forums discussing other extensions, referring to certain problems in them, that I have had solved many months ago. And yet, ‘TabIt’ wouldn’t even be picked up in discussions. Moreover, once, it had received ‘two stars’ at the Store, I immediately thought of someone irritated by my insistence, and it had completely ruined my day.
I cannot stress enough, how important it is to ‘listen’ to the market in development of a business, because the following lesson that I had to learn was right about that. I think, there can be times to ‘speak’ to the market, but ‘listening’ to it, would be the first thing to do.
For the first time, I asked people at forums, what is it that they want, what can make ‘TabIt’ work for them. Shortly, I found out, that there were users, literally pissed off by the changes that were made to the Bookmarks Manager in Google Chrome since version 62. Bookmarks’ layout before version 63 was narrower and fitted more elements on the page. Neither of the new versions repeated that feature. So, I have implemented 3 layout choices. Moreover, I have had ‘BookMarks’ module migrate to a separate extension, that was called TabIt - BookMarks; ‘TabIt’ became known as TabIt - NewTab, got much simpler and therefore, quicker and more usable. Ever since I did that, discussion had begun and extensions started bringing attention. In its turn, that gave me lots of feedback and reasons to get back to coding.
I draw a line under my story at this point, and hope to get to tell you more in the future. I also, for the last time here, specify, that doers(developers) bring originality to the World, and if they also listen to the market, they might as well bring some convenience too.
As for my initial plans. On the way that I passed, if anything, I only got more prepared to start implementing them, and realised, that putting all eggs into one basket is not the way to go.