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Thanh Minh
Thanh Minh

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Refi App - From SaaS to open source product

Original post from https://thanhle.blog/blog/refi-app-from-saas-to-open-source-product

Why should you read this article?

  • Lesson learned for your next side-project
  • Why Open source is good for starting

What is Refi App

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An open-source GUI tool to make interacting with Firestore less painful

Refi App

...once upon the time

When I work with Firestore for the first time, so many things excited me. It has real-time data, nicely SDK for most languages I can think of.

But when really dig in, I make an accident that drops a collection by thinking it is just a document, the same issue happened to my colleagues, luckily, it is a dev environment, I just need to ask for sample data and insert those again.

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When I first worked with FireStore I faced many issues

  • How can I filter documents by some criteria?
  • How can I insert a new document from a JSON, in fact, I have to write a script to insert some new documents
  • I have to use GC Storage to back up the data, which I need to spend more time learning about. WTF 🀬 why not just export and import by a JSON file?
  • If I edit the same field of many documents, I need to go through documents and documents to edit.

So I talk to myself

I need to save other developers from Firestore 😎

It might be a SaaS product

From the beginning, I believe there are many many developers out there who have the same pain with Firestore (Yeah, there is no number or feedback to prove it, just my feeling 🀑). For that reason, I draw a beautiful canvas to prove I'm right and Refi will bring me money by solving other developers pain

I built Refi App with a goal in mind

  • It must be FAST and FRIENDLY for development
  • Users shouldn't worry about their data getting stolen

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After about 2 months of building, It was ready to launch, this is the most interesting time I have

  • Building a new landing website
  • Starting to marketing Refi App
  • Thinking about domain
  • Setting up auto-update
  • Refi App logo
  • Adding feedback function
  • ...etc

Those tasks keep going more and more and I was lost in it. It's quite difficult for me though when trying to do something I'm not good at. I want the landing page should be a professional, exciting feature introduction, but I can not design it LOL. I want to add a testimonial but I don't have any, also I don't want to fake it.

Getting users is HARD

The plan is, I will test it with my college, but they are afraid of using it, since their project is important and it's in the finance domain, so security is the first priority.

https://gfycat.com/samefamousamazontreeboa

So I tried to post it on Reddit, Twitter, and Hackernews. I didn't want to post it to Product Hunt because only want to post it there when Refi App got market-fit state, if it gets market-fit state, posting on Product Hunt will bring me a huge amount of users and upvote

However... nothing follows the plan, I don't have many users and if I do, I don't know if they like it or not, I don't know if Refi app really helps or they just tried and then come back to Firestore webpage.

I fail on this step many many times before and these are exactly the same steps how I fail before πŸ™ƒ

Test and sell before building

That is what I haven't learned. I did try to search why I can not get any users, all the way lead me to an answer

I do not have any connection with my target users

https://gfycat.com/ifr/SandyImpureAsiantrumpetfish

I don't know many users using Firestore. I'm not sure that my colleague has the same problem as I was when using Firestore. People using Firebase don't know me!

After realizing the point I fail, I start building my Twitter profile, and this time, I don't know how to write content. I don't know how to make my tweet interesting for others.

So I searching for an answer

I was trying to post my product on social and think people will care and used it.
Instead, giving before asking them to do anything is the key

And that time, it was totally different, I tested to share knowledge with a group at Facebook and now it got more than 1k likes (average likes on my post is about 20) which is a big change

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It was getting better, but I didn't care about it like before

Refi app is getting more users, but slowly, really slow. And I have a new job that doesn't touch anything with Firestore so I starting to ignore building Refi App.

To be honest, I feel excited when building a new product, imaging it got huge users and money will flow. And when the reality is different from my expectations, I feel down. I don't have any connection with users to give me feedback and most importantly, courage me to keep building!

Then I post Refi app on https://tinyacquisitions.com/ with the hope that someone gonna find it useful then take it off

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And it actually get someone excited, I was happy to hear that. However, they like to put a paywall to the Product, which gets me bored.

When I built Refi app, I want it to have the same business as https://tableplus.com/ which is free for daily tasks and only charges when they want more advantage features. So I declined

Why open-source?

For now, I see many products that appear to solve the same problem I was tried with Refi app

And I am no longer working with Firebase so I think it is better to make Refi lead by the community, it will open more opportunities for anyone to contribute and keep Refi moving forward

It turns into a great journey

Conclusion

  • Finding users is hard if you don't own any community target the issue
  • By turning a failed SaaS into open source, you can get a community and lots more opportunities
  • Keep #BUIDL

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