How I started a side project to follow my inner calling, have fun and to learn.

posted in: Entrepreneurship | 0

This week, I proudly present to you one of the side projects I have been working on since December. I actually thought a lot about how I should present this particular side project on this blog. Then, last week, when I finally listed this project on the Indie Hackers website I had to fill in a questionnaire. And this questionnaire seemed like a great way to actually share with you what I have been busy with. So thank you Courtland for your great questions. Without further ado, let me present to you:

A platform to discover companies that produce goods in Austria and Germany

Screenshot of the website

Why are you working on this project? Why does it exist?

Mostly for myself 😉 I wanted to buy more conscious and I wanted to know where the goods I consume are produced. It is important to me that the products I buy are produced in an ethical and sustainable way. In addition, I also want to support my local community whenever I can.

Why’d you decide to work on this project?

I decided to work for myself in November 2018. At the beginning, I was totally against building a product, because I feared it’s not possible to do that successfully with the limited time I have. So, I started with consultancy work instead. I realized quickly that I also do not have the time and resources to work for clients. What a bummer. I was a bit depressed about that, to be honest. My drive to work on something was so strong. But I was afraid to commit to external parties.

In December, when I wanted to do Christmas shopping, I realized I have no time to do that either. At least not in an enjoyable way. The actual task of shopping with two little kids in a physical store was an idea I was terrified of.

So, I turned to the online world, like the year before. I looked online for Christmas presents but I wasn’t happy about that solution.

How’d you come up with the idea for this project?

I wanted to support my local community and buy ethically produced products.

And then, I just started. I built the first website within a few hours and released it. It was a side project, with no strings attached. It was perfect. I can work on it whenever I have time, and I learn so much while doing so.

I have a lot of product doubt, but the projects mere function is that I work on something that I truly believe in and in addition I build up my skills. It’s perfect for my current situation.

Over the last three months, I actually spent a lot of time working on it. Much more than I thought I will be able to put in.

What was it like to build the first version?

A lot of fun. I love building! I actually released the first version just a few hours after building it. I was a bit embarrassed because the design was not as beautiful and polished as I would have liked it. But I wanted to push myself. I wanted to start. To release and work from there. Releasing that early also took all the pressure out. I said to myself “this does not have to become a business”. This is a project I do because I deeply believe in the cause. As it is very unclear if the idea can become a business, it is important that I spend my effort into something that has value besides bringing in money.

What’s the story behind your launch?

After building the website, I just started a Facebook page, informed my personal network and worked from there. I haven’t been on Facebook much, and it isn’t a platform I particularly enjoy. But it is convenient for my product and I wanted to learn more about Facebook and how it works. So again, it felt like a great little experiment.

How’d you find your first customers?

I have no paying customers at the moment. Again, I decided to wait with the paid version for several reasons. First, to be able to grow my company list quickly, and second, to be sure to build something of value first, and finally, to take the pressure off myself 😉

What’s something helpful you learned along the way?

The list is sooo long. I learned about marketing, Facebook, user acquisition, landing pages, email marketing, and so on. I also picked up a new web framework Django and I started the blog with Hugo static site generator (not so happy about that one). The best is, I made new contacts, new friends, and in general, the whole process is just so beneficial for myself. I love to see how the project helps others and how it grows and makes the world a tiny bit better.

Share a low point or difficult obstacle you faced.

Well, I realized quickly that from a growth perspective, once I reached out to my personal network, it becomes much harder to grow the audience and the interest from outside for the project. It is one of the things I struggle with.

Currently, I play around to find a way for myself to enjoy and embrace marketing the project to a broader audience. One thing that is super important to me is that I always make sure I provide value to the people around me.

How can other founders help you?

The main problem that I struggle with for this project is a clear focus and defining a good niche. I am just not clear on the market yet. Which companies should be on my platform? Which criteria should I use? Should I limit the scope, like only work with fashion companies? Well, so many questions. My current approach is to take it from day to day. I make the most informed decision, and then move on. But, I haven’t found an answer to any of those questions yet.

Tell us about a sales or marketing strategy you’ve tried.

I am doing cold outreach. This means, I write emails or call the companies that are listed on my website. As I do not charge yet, it isn’t really sales. But, I warm my audience. And what’s the most important part, I do get to know my potential customers and their needs. For me, providing value is the most important aspect of all my activities. People either do not react to my emails or they react extremely positive. Via phone, I only had very positive reactions. It is all really just the beginning, so I can’t say much about it yet.

What’s the best thing that ever happened to your business?

Well, I rephrase that to what’s the best thing that happened to me since I started this business:

I reconnected with friends and colleagues. Some of the company owners that are listed on my website, actually become my friends. That’s more than I hoped for. This week, press reached out to me. That’s also exciting.

Is there a tool or resources that’s really helped you?

Plenty! I love the Indie Hackers forum, and I found also the podcast super inspirational. To speed up my development I used Bootstrap a lot , and I can highly recommend Django and Python. There are tons of great developer resources out there. I also used Pluralsight courses to get up to speed for Django, and I read tons of business, start-up, SEO and marketing blog posts.

Share a revenue milestone you’ve hit.

As I have no revenue yet, I just share my main milestone: The release of the new, better-looking web app (written in Django) on 15 of February 2019. I see this as the date of the main launch of the project.

What’s one major change you’ve made to this project?

Not much so far. It is the beginning. But I change my mind about the direction of this project weekly 😉

Have you quit, sold, or abandoned your business?

Well, after the launch in February, I started to work on another idea at the same time. So, I feel like I have to deal with several business ideas at once, which can be a bit tricky. On the other hand, I enjoy the variety. I also feel like I need some distance to make decisions on the concept.

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