BetaList's Marc Köhlbrugge on shipping products

BetaList founder Marc Köhlbrugge on building and launching BetaList Jobs.


Six years ago - back in 2010, Marc Köhlbrugge built and launched BetaList. "A long time in startup-land," he says.

When it launched, BetaList was a smart ruse to gain coverage from TechCrunch for Köhlbrugge's main startup project, Openmargin - an iPad app which let users share notes in the margins of ebooks.

It worked, and BetaList was picked up by TechCrunch and in turn generated some beta sign ups for Openmargin. Consequently, though, BetaList gained some extra coverage and traction off the back of the TechCrunch post, and Köhlbrugge decided to stick with it.

Fast forward to now, and BetaList is still going from strength-to-strength and recently launched its own jobs board, BetaList Jobs.

We recently had the chance to chat with Köhlbrugge about his experience and lessons learned from launching BetaList Jobs, including why you can never launch too early and how he found focus on the tasks that truly mattered in order to get the product shipped.

Let's jump into the conversation 💬

How did the idea for BetaList jobs come about?

The idea of a job board first came up a few years ago, inspired by my friends at Fontanel who had a lot of success adding a job board to their existing site, but I never pursued it because I wasn’t sure how I would differentiate myself from existing job boards.

More recently the success of RemoteOK by my good friend Pieter Levels of Nomad List got me interested again in the idea of adding a job board to BetaList.

I still wasn’t sure how I would differentiate my job board from existing ones until I discovered a scalable way to aggregate all the different job listings from startups across the world. Similar to one of the biggest players in the job market Indeed is doing, I’m crawling the web, scraping job listings, and displaying them in one handy interface. What sets BetaList Jobs apart from Indeed, however, is its focus on just startups.

Did anything make you hesitate before you started building? What was holding you back?

I was overcomplicating things for a long time. I could have started with a simple job board initially and grow it over time based on user feedback. Instead, I waited for a few years and then invested weeks of development without knowing whether all that work would pay off. The jury is still out on that one.

This is a common problem for me and many entrepreneurs. We overcomplicate things and once we start building we get too excited and build way too many features for a 1.0.

This is a common problem for me and many entrepreneurs. We overcomplicate things and once we start building we get too excited and build way too many features for a 1.0.

What made you decide to go ahead and build the product?

I kind of tricked myself into it I think. I started by building a scraper because I was curious whether it would actually work. It did work and it got me excited to evolve it and build additional scrapers. Before I knew it I was building an aggregator that was fetching thousands of job listings. Only then did I realize oh shit now I actually need to build a job board around this.

How did you put together your launch plan?

I don’t know how it looks from the outside, but there was no detailed launch plan. About one-and-half months before the launch I decided I wanted to launch in a month because the product felt almost ready. I realized I was spending time on details that didn’t really matter, and procrastinating on a few problems that were crucial. That’s always a good tell that you need a deadline to help focus on the important stuff instead.

Once a fuzzy deadline of “mid-November” was set I became more focused on working on the right features and fixing crucial bugs. It’s helpful having a colleague or friend here who can help you keep accountable by checking in on the progress and asking whether we’re still on track (shout out to Rabia).

About a week before the planned launch I made a checklist for all the PR stuff around the launch, but in hindsight, I was way too optimistic and only about a third got done — much of it very last minute. (i.e. I reached out to The Next Web a day before the launch. We actually hold off launching until later in the day so they could finish the article).

Although it felt a bit unorganized I’ve come to accept that it actually works quite well for me. I make a plan, but don’t necessarily vigorously follow it. I just make sure to cover my bases and let the rest happen in the moment. For example, you can prep a lot of tweets to send during launch day, or you can just write them in the moment. You can draft up an email for your newsletter subscribers, or you can just write and send it during the launch.

I’m much more focused when I do it last minute.

Anything you learned from this launch? What would you do differently in the future?

As always, ship earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever felt I shipped something too early.

Is there any typical process when you’re looking at actually creating a product? Where do you first start?

I used to start working on a product the moment I got the idea and ride that wave of excitement. Problem is that excitement wears off really quick, and it can be blinding as well leading to the wrong decisions. I’ve wasted a lot of time on half-assed, never launched products this way.

Nowadays I let an idea simmer a little bit and if a few months later I’m still excited about it, only then will I actually pursue it.

What would be your number one piece of advice for someone looking to get into making products?

Set a deadline and ship.

Editor's note: You can read the full story of how BetaList launched on Medium.