Practical Product Ep 7: How to Supercharge Growth with Free Tools & Side Products with Michael Novotny

Have you ever thought about building a free tool for your company? Do you want to build more buzz, get a ton more inbound SEO links, or drive signups and leads for your core business?

Or maybe you are a free tool skeptic, worried it will distract your team, take to much time, or not pay off?

I’ve always been curious about free tools, but haven’t been directly involved in many myself. So when I met Michael Novotny, who has become an expert in creating free tools, I knew I had to have him on the Practical Product podcast.

Michael is a product manager turned founder, who has helped build and launch dozens of free tools / side products now and studied hundreds of others with his company, Product and Build Co.

In this episode we go deep on this topic covering everything including keys to success, pitfalls to avoid, tons of examples, and how to convince yourself or your boss to take a shot at making some free tools or side products.

How to Use Free Tools & Side Products to Grow Your Business

Today we talked about how building free tools (aka – side projects) for your company can help drive major growth for your company.

Building these tools helps you a few ways:

  1. People who use your free tool may directly sign up for your paid product when they see you made the free tool.
  2. People using your free tool may give you their email address, which you can market to later.
  3. Others will link to your free tool, boosting your SEO through improved backlinks.

Michael shares a lot wisdom and experience doing these, and the most important tips are:

  • Build a portfolio: You need to launch many tools (ideally 4-5 or more) so that some will hit, and others won’t. If you only launch one, the odds work against you on the moon and stars aligning for you. 
  • Build in public/test with your community: To increase your success rate, validate and test the ideas you have for tools to see if they resonate and what are the most important things it needs to do to provide value. 
  • Use low and no-code tools: You can build and launch a lot faster using these tools, and since it doesn’t touch your core product, it doesn’t need the perfect architecture. 

There’s a lot more to this episode, so I encourage you to give it a listen on your favorite platform or in the player below:

Highlights of the episode include discussing:

  • (2:04) – How Michael discovered the power of free tools to drive sign-ups for another product
  • (11:46) – What are a couple of your favorite examples of these tools?
  • (16:31) – Cases where free tools didn’t work out.
  • (21:55) – Are there businesses that shouldn’t be creating free tools?
  • (29:05) – What is Michael’s Side-Product Framework?
  • (34:56) – How should PM’s think about budgeting for Side-Products?
  • (42:08) – How do you come up with good ideas?
  • (47:55) – How can you start to validate some ideas for tools to see if you’re on the right track?
  • (54:09) – What should people do to make these free tools successful?
  • (58:05) – What are the best ways to tie a free tool to your product?
  • (1:03:32) – How much ongoing maintenance should you expect?
  • (1:09:18) – What are your favorite tools that help you piece this process together?
  • (1:13:58) – Keys to convincing your boss or peers to try free tools.

Key Show Notes & Further Reading:

Case studies and examples of Free tools:

No Code and low code tools to help you build your free tools:

Connect with and learn more about Michael Novotny:

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