From zero to #1 on Product Hunt, 1500 subscribers, and 35 sales in less than two weeks.
Startups 4 months ago

Photo by Ben Cliff on Unsplash

Let me start by giving you some context to this story.

Exactly 20 days ago, I started a challenge I dubbed "The Ship Therapy challenge". I named it that way because it was supposed to be a therapeutic process for me.

Therapy to treat what you might ask ? Well you see, I'm supposed to be a maker, I make digital products for a living and sell them to people & companies ( if I can find any ). Which sounds great, except that I hadn't "made" anything at all for the past 12 months.

So what my challenge was supposed to treat is a self diagnosed condition I call "Maker Paralysis", which to me is the equivalent of writer's block, for makers like myself.

The rules of the challenge are simple : Every 2 weeks, build and ship a new product. And write a blog post about it.

I wasn't very sure about my ability to do it but frankly I had run out of options. So I announced it publicly on twitter, even though I couldn't pick a first idea to work on, my exact thought at the time was : I should at least be able to ship a tweet.

If you're interested in reading more about the challenge, feel free to check out the earlier blog posts over here.

Where do good ideas come from ?

3 days after that first tweet, I still hadn't been able to pick a single idea to work on from my long list of previously stored ideas.

I can't even explain why it took me so long to just pick something, it's not like I was looking for a perfect business opportunity. All I was trying to do was find something cool to build in less than 2 weeks.

Eventually, while daydreaming about my upcoming failure to follow up with the challenge I set, I thought to myself : Wouldn't it be nice if I could just buy someone else's pet project and just focus on sharing it around and doing some marketing ?

I actually could do that, side project marketplaces do exist. But I'd have to spend at least a few thousand dollars to get something even remotely interesting and not some wordpress template from flippa.

And that's when it hit me : I would LOVE to have a marketplace with cool, cheap, and modern side projects. A place where I can just casually pick up new projects abandoned by their owners.

And as part of the maker community, I know for a fact that almost all of us are constantly starting new projects and shutting down old ones.

After 3 days of painful self doubt, everything clicked in an instant.

I Even came up with the name right away : 1Kprojects.com - Neglected side projects for less than $1000.

Building an MVP in 4 days

Although I still had about a week and a half to ship the whole thing, I loved the idea so much that I wanted it to be done by sunday and shipped by monday. The plan was just to post it on product hunt, write a blog post about the experience, and move on to the next project by the beginning of the second week. Success for me was to be able to ship anything, so shipping it early was an even greater success. But I never actually considered that this might become popular.

So I picked up a simple MVP stack of Laravel & bootstrap 4 to do things fast and clean.

I worked on it non-stop for 4 days. I'm mentioning this because it helped me realize how important it is to be completely immersed in a project with no interruptions. If you're having doubts along the way and stopping to reconsider, you're probably not working on the right idea.

I did stop at one point to reconsider the name as I felt like 1Kmvps would resonate more with the community. But then on the last day switched back to 1Kprojects. In retrospect, 1Kmvps probably would not have worked as well.

By the end of the week, I had the code finished and started reading on how to launch on Product Hunt correctly ( This was going to be my first PH launch ).

That's when it hit me : I had no sellers and no buyers. Why would the buyers sign up if there are no projects ? And why would the sellers sign up if there are no buyers ?

Photo by Lucas Campoi on Unsplash

Why pre-launching is essential

I took a step back and realized I should probably not ship this on the first week. Instead I should focus on getting at least a few projects up for sale. I was supposed to write one blog post to keep the 30 people who subscribed a week earlier after my announcement on twitter updated about my progress. Which I did, a few of them signed up as buyers but none signed up as sellers.

Next, I casually shared the project on the best maker forum ever (Indiehackers) and the /r/sideproject subreddit.

That's when everything blew up. I received so much feedback, upvotes, comments, followers and people reaching out directly that I spent the whole day refreshing indie hackers, and answering new comments and messages.

I had not planned for that kind of response at all! I was hoping one or two people would add their projects for sale, a few more buyer subscriptions, and some feedback and encouragement. Instead, over the course of 24 hours 250 people signed up, 8 put projects on sale, and I received TONS of amazing feedback.

The post got to top of the day, top of the week, and everything was on fire. I was ecstatic, specifically because it validated my original hypothesis about the challenge : Just ship stuff, and things will work out.

With all the feedback and interest, I had to improve the marketplace before the PH launch.

I happily opened sublime text and wrote more code for the next 4 days.

If I had launched directly on PH, I would've missed out on all that feedback, and would've not implemented a bunch of crucial stuff like displaying projects on the homepage instead of just having a newsletter. I also didn't have any monetization plan and everything was free, mainly because I didn't think it would get that much traction and would require at least a few weeks before having enough feedback to come up with the right revenue model. And last but not least, I would not have 250+ subscribers waiting for me to launch and upvote!

I launched on PH at around 3 AM, which was 9 AM where I am based. I sent an email to the subscribers about it, and posted the link on twitter. Then things blew up again, almost exactly the same as with indie hackers but with 3 times more traffic.

The project climbed up to #1 in the first two hours after launch, and it stayed there for the rest of the day. Needless to say, I was mind blown the whole day and the day after.

Embracing weird revenue models, talking to customers and iterating all day long

While trying to figure out a revenue model, I had two obvious options :

  • Make sellers pay a listing fee before submitting their projects.

  • Implement an escrow solution and get a commission on successful sales.

I felt like asking a listing fee from makers for a potential $1000 sale, with no guarantee that their projects will get sold, was extremely limiting. I felt like I wouldn't pay it.

As makers, we build primarily because we enjoy building. Selling the whole thing to someone else is never the goal, we want customers to pay for it so we can keep working on it, otherwise we're happy to just shut it down and move on to something new.

So option 1 didn't make sense for me at all, even though it is one of the most common models of marketplaces.

As for the second option, it required too much work, and I only had a few days before my self imposed deadline to ship it.

So I went with an uncommon model, but one I would be comfortable with : Sellers can submit their projects for free, but they would have to pay a one time fee of $19 to unlock the messages and contacts of the buyers who made an offer. You only pay the fee once per project, and you get to see all existing and future offers from buyers.

Some of the sellers, didn't like it. One particular guy even got angry and aggressive over email. But I did believe the model was good, and tried to understand better what made these sellers have a problem with it, while others paid the fee after receiving a single offer.

Turns out, this particular group of sellers felt like they were lured into paying without knowing much about the content of the message. Which made sense.

The first change I did was require buyers to specify their intent, meaning they had to tell sellers if they just had questions, wanted to negotiate, or were ready to buy. And on the backend, I showed the intent to sellers like below :

Next, I wanted to add more transparency to make sure the seller knows exactly what he's paying for. So I added a preview of every message they get. It looked great :

All but one of the sellers who initially said they'll never pay the fee, did end up paying and all of them were happy with the results. Yes, even angry aggressive guy, though he didn't reply to my email for feedback post payment

None of this would've been possible if I hadn't spend the first 3 days post-launch emailing sellers all day and genuinely trying to understand the problems they had. Other users have also suggested cool features like the filtering on the homepage and the projects sold at the bottom of the site.

So instead of going back to code right after launch to build those cool features you have in mind, or starting some marketing campaign, I would suggest just spending a few days talking to your new customers while your project is still fresh in their minds. The most important things to focus on will keep coming up in the majority of the conversations.

Stats, one week later!

This story wouldn't be complete without a detailed metrics breakdown, so here you go :

  • 📈 Subscribers : 1500+

  • 👨‍💻 Sellers : 180+

  • 🚀 Projects : 100+

  • 👥 Offers : 300+

  • 💸 Projects sold : 13

  • 💰 Sales : 35

Lessons learned

A few people have reached out to me asking for advice, mostly on how to get to #1 on PH. I'm not an expert on the subject but it feels like all you need to do is make sure that a few people are aware of your upcoming launch and you can reach them too support you. This can be achieved by talking about your project on social media while building, and pre-launching somewhere where your audience hangs out.

But the most important lesson I'd like to pass on, is on the effectiveness of constantly running experiments in life and work.

Everything described above has happened because I was willing to experiment and try things outside of my comfort zone. The challenge was an experiment, and I definitely wasn't confident about it. Same goes for the writing / blogging, the twitter updates, the posts on IH and Reddit, and the revenue model.

If you're feeling stuck on anything life, commit to doing the least comfortable thing you can think of related to what you're stuck on.

This mindset has improved my life so much lately, and this is the first time I've applied it at work. So I'm really looking forward to do that a few more times.

Let's keep in touch

This is just the first project of my challenge, and I'm not planning to quit. In fact, I've already started coming up with other challenges to experiment with when I'm done with this one.

if you're interested in that sort of thing, I write about my progress at least once a week over at Othmane.io

I'm also trying to tweet regularly about what I'm working on, you can find me on Twitter ( DMs open ).

And last but not least, if you're looking for some cool side projects or have some of your own you'd like to sell, make sure you check out 1Kprojects.

Thank you for reading!

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