Last week, I told you I’d show you how to fulfill your destiny as a maker: Take control and make stuff.

And, when you make stuff, make stuff that people will really use… even pay for.

There’s satisfaction to be had in making anything, for sure. But getting other people on board with it? Turn that dial to 11.

The first time a stranger gladly shoves money at you for something you created with the power of your mind is a day you will never forget. (Plus who doesn’t like money?)

So don’t just make projects, make products.

And when you do, don’t let yourself get stuck in Product Type Tunnel Vision. Don’t get stuck thinking you’ve got to either write a book or build a SaaS. Don’t psyche yourself out.

Don't bite off a giant product for your first go-round.

Remember: Millions of people spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, working in the software and tech industry, doing a million different kinds of tasks. So much of that work is frustrating, slow, inefficient, crazy-making, or just plain bad.


And the intersection between “ways you can help” and “people who have problems and spend money” is the happy place.

Here are 9 ideal products for developers to make…

For serving other developers, or other people in your natural audiences.

9 Plugin or extension

Many devs (and their customers) rely on huge platforms like JIRA, Wordpress, Salesforce, Shopify… not to mention dev environments, deployment systems, and more. Plugins and extensions are a way to jack into the huge (and committed) audience that somebody else spent a bazillion dollars to grow.

It can be tightly focused (a survey plugin) or almost another app-within-an-app (an extension that turns Wordpress into a paid membership community platform).

8 Library

I know I don’t have to define library for you, but since we’re talking about various types of code products, I’m gonna do it anyway: A library is a set of code that, by itself, does nothing. The user uses it to build things. It makes things faster, easier, more secure, more efficient, easier to read, easier to maintain, easier to collaborate… executing really well on one or more of those benefits makes a library a potential product.

“But Amy, developers don’t pay for libraries… they use OSS.”

Yes, they do use OSS… but how many hours have you spent tearing your hair out over OSS in the past year? Where there’s pain — and money to spend — there is potential for a pain-killer.

7 Tool

Tools aren’t full-fledged SaaS apps but workflows, scripts, browser extensions, analyzers, themes, graphical interfaces for CLI, CLI interface for arcane APIs, etc. Think process. Think adding on, not replacing. Think slotting into something your audience already has to do, and helping them out.

If it’s an app, it’s not a SaaS app, but a one-off or even desktop app, and it does just one task and does it well. A good app example would be Focus.

And unlike a library, a tool is pre-built and ready to use out of the box.

6 Kit

A kit is a collection of components or code that the end user still needs/wants to assemble or modify for their own particular use case (and to learn!). Devs are often busy and their time is valuable, and they may want to only partially roll their own.

Ex: When we started Noko, we bought the subscription billing RailsKit so we didn’t have to learn how to build billing logic from scratch. It was a few hundred bucks and saved us literally days, so it was worth every penny. Another example would be those Wordpress themes that are basically frameworks. Think about it and you’ll probably come up with some more examples of your own.

5 Integration

An integration goes between two platforms or two services that people use. For example: Analytics and money. Support and customer intelligence. Server stats and test coverage. Horrible arcane internal app the bosses stuck them with and… something the team actually wants to use.

An integration could be a dumb pipe or a user-land script, an extension, a SaaS app, or many other formats. But it stands out as a different kind of those things so it deserves its own number.

4 Screencast, audio, presentation, webinar

You know what a screencast is… but you’ve probably pigeonholed it as a multi-session, instructional, scripted, edited-to-the-max, step-by-step here’s-how kind of thing.

Screencasts don’t have to be multi-hour-long educational extravaganzas. Screencasts can demonstrate a live process. They can target experts rather than newbs. You can record and then later sell a presentation. Tear downs, reviews, installation guides, troubleshooting, running meetings… any task you perform that delivers value could potentially be the subject of a screencast.

And of course, you can use screencasts to teach.

(NB: I once sold an hour-long screencast of me designing a new web site for $60 a pop. Unedited, warts and all. I narrated it after the fact to explain why I made certain choices.)

Same goes for audio content and live, paid webinars or online events.

3 Course

A course can be a set of email lessons, or exercises, or videos, or a monthly subscription thing where you get new lessons every month. Of course it could also be a live workshop. A course is typically a more structured and more guided (and more expensive) experience than a book.

2 Book

Books are great: They share knowledge, they help people, they make money… and they build your reputation.

And a book doesn’t have to be A Book™. You don’t have to write “How to Learn X” or “Everything About Y.” It doesn’t have to be a big, huge, scary, formal thing.

You can make like 37signals and release a (paid) white paper that outlines the biggest mistakes costing people money, time, or security. You could compile a report about a popular tool. You could zero in on an EXTREMELY specific area (like JavaScript Performance Rocks!).

There’s more to life than “how to.”

1 Last but not least… SaaS

There are many reasons why it’s a bad idea to start with SaaS. The complexity is one. The time to develop is another. The fact that you’re trying to learn 10 new skills at once instead of 2 or 3… well, that’s the real complicating factor. It’s fun to distract yourself with code or design when you should really be learning how to market and sell.

Now that you are (one hopes) suitably chastened, here’s the goods on SaaS apps as a product type:

A SaaS is nothing more than hosted software that people pay for on a monthly basis.

Duh, right?

But when I see folks set out to “Build a SaaS” they seem to get stuck on either one or two types: either an infrastructure product (deployment, mail delivery, etc.) or what I call a ‘work desk’ product (project management, support help desk, etc; an app you live in all day). There’s a reason there are so many of these: they’re obvious.

Here are some other types:

  • Automated business process: build a subscription model tool that does stuff for the user automatically (e.g. Stunning).
  • Integration: yep, an app that serves as a connector between two other services can be a SaaS (if that’s the kind of thing the audience will pay for)
  • Platform: software that makes it possible to do or put something on the internet, such as booking platform, courseware, content management, catalogs…

There are more, of course, those are the big five. As the Brits say, though, that’s enough to be getting on with!

That’s all the product types for today, my fellow code-nerd friends!

In conclusion…

  1. Take control.
  2. Make things.
  3. Make products.
  4. Start small…
  5. and take off those PTTV blinders so you can choose from the entire universe of opportunity!

And stay tuned, designer friends, because next time I’ll be writing about products for you!

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