How I Built A Productivity Taskbar App That Shows Your Day and Year Progress

Apurva Chitnis
Founder, ProgressBar
$100
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ProgressBar
from London, UK
started October 2021
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How I Built A Productivity Taskbar App That Shows Your Day and Year Progress

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello folks - I’m Apu, a startup founder and the creator of ProgressBar.

ProgressBar is a Windows taskbar app that shows your day and year progress, so you can make time for what matters. A picture tells a thousand words, so here it is:

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

It’s as simple as it looks - two icons that show your day and year progress with just a glance!

I built ProgressBar so that I could learn the skills needed to make my first $1 online. I was fortunate enough that on the day of its launch, not only did ProgressBar make sales beyond my wildest expectations, but it also won Product of the Day on ProductHunt, and was a finalist in Product Hunt’s Golden Kitty Award for Product of the Year!

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’m a productivity geek, and I’m continually thinking of ways to make my life and work more effectively. As a startup founder, I found that one of the best ways to plan what to do was to make a short and simple to-do list (following Marc Andreessen’s excellent advice).

But this wasn’t enough for me. I found that I’d always end the day with too many tasks leftover and incomplete. I was working longer and longer hours, and I recognized I had a problem that needed solving - the start of any business idea! And who better to solve it than myself - an engineer who could build himself a solution.

I’d seen similar taskbar apps elsewhere, but they either didn’t support Windows, or I found their design to be cumbersome. I recognized that this meant there was a market opportunity - and if I wanted a new product, perhaps others would too!

Finally, as a startup founder, I was working on big, ambitious projects in B2B. To find early customers would take some time, and generating revenue would take even longer. Before tackling something meatier, I wanted to make my first $1 online and to learn all the non-technical things that were new to me: marketing, sales, positioning, product development, user research, and so on...the end-to-end startup. And I wanted to learn and make progress fast, so I set myself the target of launching within a month.

ProgressBar seemed like a great fit, so I got started!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

By this point, I had the core idea for ProgressBar. This was a simple problem statement, a sketch of the solution, its value proposition, and who the early users were. In other words, I created a rough lean canvas that’d help me focus during the next month.

This was an immensely valuable step for me: in moments of uncertainty I’d refer back to my lean canvas, and the answer was often obvious.

Communicating the value of a product to the user is part of the product. And if the user doesn’t understand why they should care in 5 seconds, then you’ve lost them.

The most important task was to decide which features to build and which to exclude. This was made quite easy by my tight deadline of a month: I was only able to prioritize those features that users would want, so I removed everything other than the core functionality, to leave me time to iterate and work on the launch.

My main uncertainty at this point was what the product should look like. I brainstormed some product designs with a designer friend, and we created a shortlist of 3 ideas that looked promising. I talked to 10 users and asked them what they thought about the different versions:

Some early design ideas for ProgressBar

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

i-built-a-productivity-taskbar-app-that-shows-your-day-and-year-progress

Once I knew what the product should look like, building it was (relatively) straightforward: I had to generate a bunch of images for I’d use for the progress bar icon, and create the taskbar app itself using a Windows SDK.

The second most important task - and the hardest for me - was building the landing page. I had little experience of marketing or product-positioning in my previous life as a senior software engineer and manager. But getting this right was crucial: communicating the value of a product to the user is part of the product. And if the user doesn’t understand why they should care in 5 seconds, then you’ve lost them.

I iterated on the landing page for a whole week, using variations of the quotes, copy, images, and layout. I asked early users and startup friends for feedback and used Harry Dry’s excellent guide to understand the theory. After many iterations, I finally had something that I believed would pass the 5-second test, and I was ready to launch.

Describe the process of launching the business.

My launch plan was simple: to use communities of early users and supporters to help share ProgressBar!

These folks were my friends who wanted ProgressBar to succeed as much as I did. Most of the “work” involved here was actually in the weeks leading up to the launch: in engaging with users, understanding their needs, helping them succeed in their goals, and ultimately building a relationship and trust.

The launch itself was quite straightforward: I posted ProgressBar on ProductHunt and my Twitter and asked my users -- only if they felt compelled -- to share more broadly. That was it!

Here are some of the communities I joined whilst building ProgressBar:

1) Ramen Club

An awesome community of early-stage founders and indie hackers who support one another to ramen-profitable and beyond. RamenClub is unique amongst online communities in that relationship between founders are very deep - people care about one another, and they follow through in their support.

I found some of my first users from this community and also learned about how to position and market a new product idea. My crew was effectively able to fill out my blind spots -- a very useful feature for any solo founder, and something worth investing in, however you choose to address it.

2) Indie London

The UK's #1 Indie Hackers community, with London's biggest bootstrapper pub meetup: IndieBeers. It’s a lite-version of Ramen Club - somewhat less active, but it’s a great start if you want a taster of the community.

3) IndieHackers

The “OG” Indie Hacker community. It’s a broad community that you could use in many ways. I was inspired by the other ideas folks were working on and learned a lot about how they approached building their products businesses. In particular, I found giving feedback on landing pages to be a great way to give back to a supportive community and to learn how to design a landing page myself!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I designed ProgressBar to be a simple one-off purchase that you own forever once you’ve bought it. Why? Because it was simple to implement: a more complicated subscription model could have worked, but I wanted to stick to my deadline of releasing within a month.

Some of the early feedback I received was that some users were skeptical that such a simple tool could help them - after all, it’s just an icon in your taskbar! Could that help them with their productivity? I was confident that it could -- from my own experience -- and I soon added a money-back guarantee. This helped with conversion: more people signed up, and, as I expected, few requested their money back.

The greatest source of new customers was from reviews on blogs of productivity enthusiasts. I had an interesting realization one day when I got a flurry of purchases with addresses in a script that I wasn’t able to read. Turns out a reviewer from Taiwan had written about ProgressBar, and his followers decided to try it out! Isn’t the internet amazing - people all over the world can reach each other in a few clicks.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, ProgressBar is a mostly hands-off product! It regularly gets sales and generates passive income without much involvement on my behalf. I often need to help users with support queries, but talking to users is something I enjoy and is essential in understanding how to develop the product.

I’ve had a smorgasbord of new feature ideas from users:

  • Windows 11 support
  • Ability to add custom deadlines
  • Support for nocturnal workers who finish their day the next day

Finally, I also want to continue to work on marketing ProgressBar. Reddit is particularly appealing because it has great communities of productivity hackers and Windows users - perhaps Reddit ads could work?

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The most important thing for founders is their mental health. I read the same advice before I started my own company, and I didn’t pay much attention, thinking that I had a strong will and was resilient, so I ignored it.

You will probably read this sentence right now, and think it too doesn’t apply to you. But founding a business is hard - and burnout is a real thing. I’d suggest you find a sustainable way that will help you to work on your business for the long haul. After all, your whole goal is not to quit.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The most important service I used was a community: a community of other indie hackers and startup founders. I am a member of a few communities: Weekend Club, IndieLdn, a few private ones with friends. Members in these communities support each other and offer insights and learnings that are hard to come by. I can’t recommend this enough, and wish I had formed these relationships sooner!

Squarespace is fantastic - it allowed me to build a kick-ass landing page in a week, including a store that could accept payments to Stripe and PayPal! Cheaper alternatives exist if you’re willing to do some more work.

Finally, Notion is the operating system for my life and work: nearly everything I do ends up in Notion in one form or another. You don’t need to drink the Notion potion as much as I do, but its simplicity and ease of use can be very helpful to a busy startup founder.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Everyone suggests that founders should focus on first understanding the problem, rather than building the solution. You absolutely should: this is great advice that everyone should heed, particularly those working in B2B startups. However, there’s another important point you should remember that I don’t hear often enough: you should also have an idea of the solution in your mind.

You need something to hold onto; something which you can critique, ideate over, build upon, and get excited by. Without some idea of what would be worthwhile to build, you’ll be lost, ideating without passion to drive you forward

Finally, I think that every prospective entrepreneur should build and release a product online. I call this the end-to-end startup. This doesn’t need to be a big project: the smaller the better. The goal is to make $1 online and to learn about building, marketing, and growing an online business. Do this, and you’ll learn more than most MBAs and be well prepared to start something larger.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Apurva Chitnis, Founder of ProgressBar
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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