by Walt Schlender

Why developers should start projects by writing instead of coding

Developers often start new projects by immediately writing code. I have found a more effective approach is to start new projects by writing marketing materials.

If you build products, I hope you find these ideas helpful.

By Nick Morrison on Unsplash

A while ago I released an Android app.

The development process had started with some research.

I had identified an app that I thought I could improve upon. It had a high download rate, but the app itself was simple and poor quality.

I reasoned that if I could build a higher quality app, I’d get a lot of downloads. So I broke out my IDE and started development.

Development went fairly smoothly, and after a week I had the app functionality pretty buttoned up.

As the dust settled, I had a chance to look critically at what I had created.

I felt… ok… about the end result.

The app looked nice and it worked. But it honestly couldn’t really be considered as a competitor to the app I had set out to improve upon.

I hadn’t been very clear about what I intended to build. So during development, the app had evolved into something new and different.

Looking at the app I realized I would have to pitch it as something new. I started to write the app store description… “this app is for…”

I couldn’t come up with anything. The app did some things that might be valuable to a lot of different kinds of people.

I did some research trying to find a new category for the app: “our app is like these other apps but better because….”

Again, I just couldn’t come up with anything. The app didn’t quite fit into any category I found for it. It did some things well, but the other apps were all better — they were more targeted to their particular use cases.

I eventually got the description written but in my heart I knew it wasn’t very good. There wasn’t a strong idea behind the app that I could build a story around… there wasn’t much I could do.

To be done with the project I released the app and as predicted nobody downloaded it.

So what went wrong?

I should have written my marketing materials first

I knew I had a problem the second I started writing my marketing materials.

The fact that I couldn’t even articulate who the app was for basically meant I was doomed.

The idea was fuzzy… so the app ended up being fuzzy.

I really should have written the marketing materials first. I had to write them at some point so there was no sense in putting the writing off.

Writing code is easy for me while writing prose is more challenging. Because of this, I put off the hard part until the end and by then it was too late to change my plan.

Why write first?

I believe it’s valuable to write first because writing is a very fast way to explore the problem my app aims to solve.

  • Who are my customers? I’ll need to know to write marketing materials for them.
  • What’s missing in their world? I’ll have to do some research to articulate this correctly.
  • Why does there need to be a new solution? I’ll need to understand the market and competitors to talk about this.

Answer these questions and you have the foundations for a good product. Skip this step and your odds of success drop dramatically.

Writing is a very powerful tool for finding important ideas. And learning how to communicate about them.

Can you describe what your product does in 6 words? 3? Will anyone care?

A brief, strong, important message is powerful. If you can’t craft a strong message, how will you get busy people to pay attention to you?

What should you write?

Tell a Story

I think your marketing materials should tell a story.

You should include:

  • who your customer is
  • what their broad goals are and what specific problem they are struggling with
  • why the problem you’re solving is important to them and why you wanted to solve it

You’ll also want to talk about the competition.

You should be able to say:

  • what market** your product falls into
  • how your competitors try to solve the problem
  • what they charge for a solution
  • where their solutions fall short
  • why your solution is a clear improvement

If you can answer these questions, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you will need to build to stand out in the market.

**Market — I have been confused by the term ‘market’ in the past. In this case I mean the collection of products and companies your product will be in direct competition with.

A Couple of Notes on The Writing Process

Some developers really hate writing. I can relate… it isn’t always the easiest thing for me either. I have found it is worth it and it gets easier with practice.

On the writing process

  1. Write the first draft all in one sitting without judging the work (or research)…
  2. Read over and rewrite large chunks…
  3. Go through and delete anything that doesn’t add to the story.

Do edit and polish your writing. Editing is where you create clarity.

You get bonus points if you share your description with some potential customers.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article.

You can find me on Medium where I publish articles about programming, entrepreneurship and data. Or you can follow me on Twitter.

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