I've been working on Cheddar full time for a month and a half now. This is the first time I've exclusively worked on my own products. The things I've learned in this short time are far from what I expected. Here's a few.
Tech Doesn't Matter
As a software engineer, the tech behind a product or feature used to be the interesting part to me. It doesn't matter though. Users don't care about any of those details. They just want it to work well. Solving interesting engineering problems, while fun, doesn't matter. Trying to release a product all by my self makes that so much more clear than it used to be. (I'll post more on the tech stuff later.)
This brings me to my next lesson.
I went back and forth a lot on if I should release Cheddar before the iOS application was ready. A bunch of friends were on both sides with really good arguments. I ended up opening sign ups for the web app for a few minutes yesterday and the response was amazing. (Follow @cheddar for updates on when sign ups open again.)
The feedback was super valuable. Lots of people reported little bugs that I had missed. The cycle became clear. Release, fix all the bugs, repeat. All of this feedback and watching the number of users double each time is super motivating.
I'm a big fan of 37signals mindset. To paraphrase:
If you're running a business, charge for something.
From day one of Cheddar being out, there was something the user could pay for. A few did. I think over the long term, the freemium model will be the way to go. I could've taken the lazy route, but this is important.
Charging sets the expectation between you and your users. They expect excellence if it costs money. This holds you accountable to not ship crap. I like it.
Design Takes Time
I've designed all of Cheddar (except the logo and iOS icon). At first it was hard. I was frustrated because I can program something way faster than I can design it. After awhile, the process became more enjoyable and the time it took seemed less relevant. Enjoy the process.
Cheddar has only been out (in limited release) for 2 days, so I'm sure there's much more to learn. This has been the must fulfilling project I have ever worked on. I can't wait to see where it takes me.
Update 06/22/2013: I no longer own Cheddar. More info.