Releasing my first Side Project
Last week I was finally able to get my first side project done and release it to the public. Obviously, I was quite proud of myself because it didn’t end up on the cemetery of started projects (aka my
repositories folder. I was also proud because this tool would help me in my daily work for my company: I have three systems where I develop on. My private MacBook, my Desktop and my laptop from work. Because I switch between all machines from day to day it was quite annoying to keep the
.env files in sync and I often caught myself regenerating the secrets on DigitalOcean etc. To free me from this pain I developed a tool which encrypts those files and uploads them to a private S3 Bucket. This allowed me to access the files securely on each device. The tool also allows to share and edit the files online so you can update the files and your coworkers just need to download the updated one without sending them via slack. And even before launching my team (consisting of someone and me) started using it for out project and I thought this could be it: A fun side project where I learned something and it helps me but which also could potentially help others! Doesn’t this sound great? Fully motivated I set up a text describing my stack and the app including a link to the website. I then looked up some subreddit which could be related. I ended up choosing r_webdev and r_svelte (because the frontend was written in svelte) and I just posted the pre-written text in those subreddits.
I was absolutely ready for positive feedback, tons of users and already had payment plans and advertising on my mind. It was clear to me that envstore wouldn’t be the next Google but maybe I could get some nice side income. But oh baby was I wrong! The first comment consisted of some questions regarding the stack and how the files are stored and encrypted, which in my opinion was a really good question because obviously, people are scared about storing their sensitive data on someone’s server. But this was basically the only comment which was in my favour. All the other comments were quite sarcastic and the gist was that nobody would use the tool. I was sad! I’m used to getting proper critique about code and projects from my coworkers and I’ve never been in a situation where people just tell you how shitty your work is. And even though this made my quite sad and was really demoralising to me, I was able to learn a lot from this. Here are some insights:
Even though my posts both had 5 and 6 upvotes (sad numbers, I know!) I had around 150 unique page views from all around the globe! Out of those 150 users, 5 people signed up which leads to a conversion rate of 0.3%. Those numbers are actually quite good in my opinion because the advertising for those users is free! But I know that the conversation rate is incredibly low and that I had to work on that. Most of the users were using a mobile phone when visiting the homepage (because people browse Reddit on their phones), but I shifted my focus on a good looking desktop site! Yikes! My key takeaway from that is that when you post on Reddit that you better have a good looking mobile site!!
Keep your expectations low
If you keep your expectations high it’s quite likely that you will be disappointed when the outcome isn’t as high as you wanted it to be. This applies to numbers such as page views, register ed users and also paying users. We tend to keep the successful projects in my mind and forget how many unsuccessful projects exist (or existed)! But on the other hand you should also keep your expectations low regarding feedback: When you get feedback from your colleagues or teachers it’s probably high quality and constructive because you have a certain relationship between the person giving you feedback and they also give the feedback as a part of their job; they get paid for giving you feedback and therefore will put it more effort. But I had to learn it on the hard way that Reddit (and other social networks) and my office are different worlds. Online users have the gift of anonymity which allows them to focus and saying things without worrying about insulting someone which leads to different feedback.
This little experiment of developing and releasing software on my own was really fun and gave me insights about the actual progress. I have read the book The Lean Startup which covers parts about it and should have prepared me for the feedback, but In the end, I (or my software) wasn’t ready for the world. I learned a lot about feedback and audience and how to work with feedback. If you post on social media, people always give feedback in form of comments and likes. By most of the time, it‘s not as direct as you are used to it. Downvotes mean: You need to work on your project. Even sarcastic comments have value, you just need to find the comment‘s intended meaning and try to get the most out of it to improve. I also learned that if you post something on Reddit, your app should better be well designed on mobile, because people tend to use social media on their phones thus opening the websites on their mobiles as well. If they like the mobile site they might make the effort to copy the link or reopen the page on their computers!