I’ve almost quit my successful side project several times
Some thoughts on the emotional aspect of building side projects, two months in.
I’m Austin and I built GoodJobs. Over the two months I’ve been working on it, it’s seen some pretty good success, and it’s been a lot of fun to work on. It’s been front-page on HackerNews, generated tons of great discussion on reddit, and a company has even paid me to list one of their open positions. And yet, I’ve almost ended the project several times now. Why? Because building things is hard, failure isn’t fun, there’s always another struggle to overcome, and the emotional aspect of indie-hacking is something I really overlooked.
Here’s the story (so far).
What did ‘success’ look like for GoodJobs? It’s looked like a bunch of things, at different milestones. The first success was getting to the front page of HackerNews after launching my weekend-project MVP. This resulted in a bunch of things I would consider success. In order of importance, least to most:
- Drove ~10k unique visitors to the site
- Generated a bunch of discussion about the project, a lot of it positive
- Resulted in 2–3 emails with really positive feedback
- Caused in 8–10 companies reaching out to have their positions listed on GoodJobs
- Convinced ~25 people to give me their emails
These things were all really cool, and generated a ton of motivation for me to keep working on the project. It also set a high bar for what I thought of as success, and I wasn’t able to repeat that for a while. That caused constant doubting afterwards. Was the project really any good if I was having a small fraction of the engagements from before? Were the negative comments in the right, about the site’s simplicity, its un-originality, its lack of features? Should I shut it down?
Eventually, I had some smaller success after various reddit posts about the project. There was no particular success milestone here, but it was definitely a morale boost to see consistent positive discussion about GoodJobs, and about the value it could provide. These small wins patched up the bruises from the long spell of inactivity, and I knocked out a few new features and a bunch of newsletter emails with the new momentum.
After this series of smaller wins, two failures came back-to-back. The first was a failed ProductHunt launch. This one was entirely my fault. I’d read a little bit about how to organize a successful launch on PH, but egotistically I felt the rules didn’t apply to GoodJobs. From the positive feedback I’d gotten on other forums, I’d concluded that PH would pick up GoodJobs just by virtue of its virtue. That was wrong. It got no upvotes, drove no traffic or engagements. It died in obscurity. At the same time, the first company got back to me after I’d reached out offering a paid listing. They said ‘no’, because the free listing had only driven two (2) visitors to their job description.
This didn’t just feel like failure, this was concretely failure. The purpose of GoodJobs is to get engineers to interview with and join companies doing good work. That obviously wasn’t happening here. I thought about how I’d end the project. A tweet? A short post? The feedback was super discouraging, but obviously useful. I needed to spend more time on getting talented engineers looking at these jobs, and less of everything else. New features don’t matter if no one is using them.
I took that to heart and re-focused on some marketing efforts…
…And they worked. I convinced a company to list their position as a featured listing on GoodJobs, in return for the first $100 in revenue (Thanks Rikard @ Otovo!). That coincided with a really successful post on r/programming, and ~15k unique visitors. It’s hard to overstate how validating it is to have someone pay you for something you built from scratch. It felt better than all of the other success milestones to this point.
The ups and downs of building GoodJobs have definitely been a learning experience for me. Thus far, I’d say my biggest learnings have been the following:
- the right thing to do is sometimes the uncomfortable thing. I don’t like posting links or creating content about GoodJobs, even after the positive feedback it’s gotten. I’d rather think about features and technical problems, but those just haven’t been the important problems to solve.
- Building side projects takes a lot of emotional energy. I’m super privileged in this regard (no real commitments like kids or family, no huge responsibilities outside work), and still it surprised me how much my mindset affects everything about the project, and how little energy is left after ‘real’ work on some days.
- I’ll probably keep failing, and I’ll probably keep doubting. But it’s cool to look back on a couple cycles of this, and be able to think “It’s alright, getting past the hard parts is the hardest part”
Thanks for reading, and until next time.
P.S. If you’re looking for a job at a company trying to save the world, checkout GoodJobs. It’s a job board with hand-picked engineering positions at companies trying to fix problems like climate-change and food insecurity.