Interview with Steven Chan, founding father of GoodNotes: how he turned an concept of software right into a worthwhile enterprise
In his final semester of school, Steven Chan has enrolled in as many fowl preparation programs as doable and has put all his effort into a brand new software. Since then, he has built-in his GoodNotes product with an award-winning app offered on the Apple App Retailer repeatedly. Reasonably than comply with a enterprise mannequin primarily based on enterprise capital, Steven's dedication to product improvement and income-driven progress has additionally given him time to expertise different significant life experiences, comparable to touring and grow to be a digital nomad. After his early years as a solopreneur, Steven began to construct a workforce to develop GoodNotes right into a device that may notice the potential of digital word taking for each work state of affairs. Find out how and why GoodNotes has been profitable in concentrating on profitability versus fundraising.
When there isn’t any clear path, construct one thing to seek out it.
Steven put his profession on GoodNotes. He had a final semester to complete and no particular profession in sight. Steven enrolled within the best choices to complete his research and got here again to an concept of software he had been interested by for months. His concept for the GoodNotes app was born from his want as a scholar to take notes simple to again up and that didn’t take up area. Not one of the purposes obtainable in 2010 met its wants completely. So he determined to create his personal.
Luckily, GoodNotes was not Steven's first try to create a product. He had began studying programming because the age of 10, earlier than the discharge of the primary iPhone. He constructed video games with Macromedia Flash all through his highschool years and when the primary iPad got here out he tried to create a documentation software for builders. This primary software had a slight success, but it surely allowed him to higher perceive his personal model of labor and the method of product improvement. His years of direct expertise in obsessing product options, mixed along with his curiosity and self-taught understanding of the startup methodology, have ready him for his new enterprise.
Present an unprecedented consumer expertise by discrete particulars
From the primary day, GoodNotes had a selected goal consumer: arithmetic college students like Steven. In contrast to majors within the humanities, who might sort notes on laptops, writing was the easiest way to generate notes with numbers and calculations. However having tried different handwriting apps obtainable on the primary iPad, Steven knew that the refined particulars had been the crux of the consumer expertise for taking notes. When Steven did his market analysis with different note-taking apps, he discovered they didn’t miss the precise mixture of options he needed. Furthermore, the sensation of writing was not so good and it prevented him from persevering with to make use of them.
He got down to construct the applying that he might use with pleasure each day, however he 's centered on growing options round his observations from scratch. different purposes. As a solopreneur, Steven labored in an natural manner on the options of his software, however they centered on these two themes UX:
Recreate the sensation of writing
Enhance the note-taking expertise
Recreate the sensation of writing
Whereas purposes, as viable minimal merchandise (MVPs), initially give attention to operate quite than kind with the intention to validate performance, in some circumstances kind is a part of the operate. For GoodNotes, the aesthetics of recreating sensible ink was essential for a compelling writing expertise. The creation of a compelling writing aesthetic allowed customers to give attention to their writing. Steven states, "The consumer expertise is a very powerful. How can ink bleeding work higher? How can the feel be extra sensible, to the purpose that folks overlook that it's an iPad? "
Enhance the note-taking expertise
Nonetheless, it was not essentially sufficient to recreate the writing expertise to retain customers or entice hardcore analog editors. The second a part of GoodNotes' product improvement was to take advantage of the potential of a digital pill as a multifunctional device that surpasses paper. This meant that GoodNotes wanted to create options to resolve different issues associated to taking notes on paper. For Steven, the applying needed to create an expertise "in a position to anticipate what the consumer desires to do, so he by no means wants to return to the pen and paper."
Nonetheless, these options might not all the time be apparent. As a substitute, Steven noticed, "Many small options have created a compound impact for customers." Reasonably than counting on main options that may be shortly duplicated by rivals, comparable to creating completely different notebooks, GoodNotes has Can also be differentiated because of an obsession on the micro stage of the UX particulars. for instance, the applying routinely reverts to writing mode after deleting notes. Nonetheless, seemingly small facilities require an unbelievable funding, comparable to the usage of machine studying mixed with international search capabilities to consolidate related data to supply extra personalised help for software customers quite than merely returning actual phrases. . Including this characteristic and providing the identical high quality of expertise for a number of languages, comparable to Chinese language, additionally requires appreciable funding behind the scenes. The result’s a fluid and seamless expertise for a broad base of worldwide customers in a mess of situations, which reinforces the enduring reputation of the applying.
Evolution of product improvement by growing workforce
As a frequent consumer of his personal software, Steven ranked the options so as of precedence primarily based on the variety of requests he acquired from customers and his personal issues. As a solo developer, who did every little thing from buyer help to characteristic improvement, there was no particular course of for prioritizing options. Now that Steven has shaped a workforce, GoodNotes has a product improvement course of and may carry out a extra in-depth planning of the consumer expertise, comparable to looking for consumer data. With this extra funding, the workforce can now perceive the important thing points that information future product improvement, comparable to:
How and why do customers really use GoodNotes?
How does GoodNotes combine into the lives and workflow of customers?
Options at the moment are developed in response to finest practices in product improvement, comparable to wired procedures, prototyping, and consumer testing. Nonetheless, Steven provides solopreneurs recommendation: you may nonetheless do key UX workout routines with restricted sources. He says that shortly after recruiting his first workforce members, they took benefit of WWDC to request volunteer testers by way of an data bulletin and a Twitter name to carry out checks in San Jose on the convention. Followers wouldn’t solely drive for hours to supply them with precious details about their merchandise, however they might even be motivated by the lean boot crew in evangelizing for GoodNotes.
Editor's word: The photograph above is courtesy of a GoodNotes consumer. Yow will discover out extra about Instagram from GoodNotes.
Tracing the trail of revenue-led progress
As a founder and proprietor of solo product, Steven devotes most of his time to growing merchandise quite than "hacking progress". Reasonably than utilizing the preliminary method of buying a big consumer base for an software to draw traders, Steven considered his software as his direct income generator. Because of this Steven has billed his app since launch. The appliance revenues have justified its continued funding within the repetition of the product with the intention to enhance the expertise of its customers, who’ve grow to be its evangelists. Alternatively, venture-backed firms should meet the wants of traders, who might wish to spotlight sure traits that aren’t in one of the best curiosity of the customers.
Steven estimates he spent six hours every day coding his improvement software program, with out realizing the place he would go and if it could be properly acquired. Steven laughs as he recollects, "One of many worst issues is to ship a message to the consumer that one thing has not labored. They weren’t in a position to open one thing. Though it has usually been trapped in fight, this product-based method has fueled the natural, usually verbal, progress of the applying. Steven says that he has not invested in advertising.
Select the precise particulars to debate
For the launch of his software, Steven has dedicated sources that originally appear to be in opposition to the MVP approaches. Steven has invested in particulars such because the design of the emblem in order that the product seems skilled and personally writes integration messages. When the applying was launched, it was obtainable in English and French and was additionally localized in Japanese. On this case, the handwritten messages had been aligned with the fundamental note-taking supply of the applying. As well as, the primary software labored the identical manner for customers who took notes in any language. Because of this, the interpretation of the primary integration messages allowed them to increase shortly into new markets. The Japanese localization allowed GoodNotes to look on the Japanese App Retailer a number of months after its launch.
Solopreneur as product proprietor
"Constructing GoodNotes has by no means been a problem. Consumer suggestions and encouragement was one of many principal motivations for me after I began. "
– Steven Chan
As a solopreneur, Steven has by no means been distracted from the event of his product by fundraising. Because the proprietor of the product, he quite responded to consumer requests and appealed to followers who would advocate phrase of mouth, which is a extra fascinating type of advertising than paid promoting for buyer acquisition. . Steven's give attention to product enhancement has created a neighborhood that has helped amplify the scope of his software.
Carry GoodNotes excessive, solely groups can ship
When he was requested about his first main targets throughout our interview, Steven stopped. He then replied, "Within the early years … I suppose it was primarily about beating the rivals. I didn’t have particular progress targets in thoughts. Excluding the underside line, the app generated income that he was happy with and continued to develop step by step, however Steven was not decided to pursue optimistic progress targets. Nonetheless, as soon as he determined to take a broader view of the product, he needed to kind a workforce, which additionally means increasing the enterprise mannequin of GoodNotes.
After engaged on GoodNotes for four years, Steven needed to understand his most bold options for GoodNotes. To run, he needed to kind a workforce, which was a brand new problem that he was keen to satisfy. Nonetheless, as a revenue-driven firm that didn’t search funding, Steven continued to construct a product-focused workforce. Because of this the GoodNotes workforce is all the time made up of individuals engaged on the product: builders, UX / UI designers, and product managers.
With a workforce to help, GoodNotes additionally needed to transfer from a B2C (client) market to a B2B market with colleges and places of work. That is Steven's imaginative and prescient of GoodNotes as a device to extend word taking, facilitating key human interactions comparable to conferences, collaborations, studying and communication. Steven says the applying goals to cut back the handbook work of coming into notes after conferences and to create a set of digital notes to which everybody can contribute, work and maintain.
After all, enterprise improvement additionally contains enhancing the placement and administration of strategic geographic markets. For instance, GoodNotes has a member of the workforce in Germany, probably the most common markets of the app, to develop its buyer base. As well as, the corporate has invested in additional channels of participation, comparable to Instagram, which is shortly catching up on their engagement by way of e-mail. As a workforce, GoodNotes can not solely dedicate sources to caring for customers when growing options, but in addition to customer support and neighborhood engagement.
Select profitability over fundraising
At this level, it could appear that the pure path is fundraising. For this, Steven clearly says, "Fundraising is a full-time job and, for now, we wouldn’t have time to do it."
Steven says traders have approached the corporate, however he has not taken any funding as a result of it requires a unique method. As a substitute, the corporate continues to give attention to profit-driven progress. As we end the interview, Steven shared his perspective on how the period of digital handwriting would assist individuals work higher and study higher, and the options on which GoodNotes was already working to contribute to that.
Message to entrepreneurs
We requested Steven what message he would share with builders and novice entrepreneurs. He stated, "Examine what you don’t already know." Steven stated that at highschool, he learn HackerNews discussions since his inception and skim books about entrepreneurship. Regardless that he was desirous about pc science, he determined to review arithmetic to study one thing new on the college.
For entrepreneurs on the lookout for their first product to construct, Steven gave the next recommendation: "Work on one thing you actually wish to know, one thing that basically issues to you."