In the earlier part of this year I read great books such as Start small, stay small, and the Soft skills. Both are about side projects and their positive impact on your career. I was thinking about doing an app to practically try out what I learned from these books. But I was demotivated and couldn't do anything in the pandemic.I set learning Rust as one of my goals in 2020, and I started that on a whim. I have seen the #100DaysOfCode before, so I decided to take that challenge with Rust. I was logging my journey in a Notion page, and I covered the basics of Rust. One thing I found painful is creating logs for every day and then posting the summary to twitter. I spent different methods with Notion and finally created a weekly template. It took me a while to arrive at something that I'm satisfied with.
I realized everyone should be having this problem and there are no tools to track your progress and give meaningful insights. So I left my challenge in the middle (after 42 days) and decided to create whereami.dev. Simply put, it is an app that aids you to track your learning better. I joined the Indiehackers community and learned a great deal about building stuff. One of the important things I learned is, development should not be the first step in building an application. That's a slippery slope if you're your only customer, stakeholder, project manager, and developer.
Once I framed my idea, I built a landing page with Wix using a predefined template. The page looked very good, but I didn't add any custom domains to Wix. I also added a mailing list for the subscribers and started validating it with few people on Twitter. Everyone said it's a great idea, and they will use it once I finished, But no one signed up for it. Since it is not a custom page I was not confident enough to share it with a lot of people or tweet it publicly. I was just flying under the radar.
After a few weeks, I was demotivated that no one signed up for it. I did some more reading and learned that branding is important for any product. Surprisingly, even for well-branded sites, the conversion rate is really low. I approached like 5 people through twitter and thought I did my user research, evidently, it was not enough. (I made lot of mistakes when talking to users, I realized them after reading The Mom Test. A must-read if you're thinking of launching something on your own.) I had a goal of getting 10 users before actually beginning the development. Following the advice, I spent a couple of hours and built my own version of the landing page. I improved the copy and added its own domain, but the design went worse. I ended up with a basic landing page, you can see it here.
For this page, I added a email list subscription from Emailoctopus and included CTAs in place, and I hoped this landing page was better than the Wix one. In reality, it is complicated. I added a custom domain and that boosted the branding, but the design is not something I'm proud of. It also has accessibility issues, and some people pointed that out. I got only one subscriber with this version.
As a final push, I was thinking about creating a reusable landing page template that I can use for different projects. I am a bad designer, so I was looking for inspiration and found the amazing https://uselander.xyz template in the Indiehackers community. I had to swallow my developer pride and take it, because it'll take me weeks to create a template as polished as this. After that, it was only a matter of time to alter the copy to suit this template. Adding some illustrations from Undraw, I got a nice landing page. Another thing that took me a long time is to create a mockup of the app and adding it in the landing page. I spent a week in Figma to create it and it looked just okay. Perfection is the enemy of done, so I had to go with what I have. The new version looked like this.
After deploying the new landing page, I tweeted about publicly committing to it on July 13, you can see the sudden spike of activity on that day. I had a lot of people DMing me and asking me about the app and sign-ups started to increase. Once I finished the landing page I started planning for the development. I must admit that I am pretty slow to be an Indiehacker. I can see people finish apps within weeks, but I don't have that kind of superpower. By this time, I learned a great deal about what is a niche and how important it is to reach your audience. Luckily, my audience is a nice bunch of people who are active on twitter.
I was tweeting my progress regularly, and there are a few big accounts where my target audience wanders around. I got their attention by commenting on my site on one of their suitable tweets. That's the spike you see on the 22nd of July. This method is really tricky to do right. Your intention should never be marketing your thing. In my case, it just happened to match well with their tweet.
My target was to have 10 users before building it and I have got 37. I am developing the application now, I am a lot slower than I expected due to work commitments. The accountability of public commitment keeps me going. Few people asked me about how is it going frequently, and I got 37 users waiting for the app.
- The public accountability can do wonders to your productivity if you can bear the little stress that comes bundled with it.
- The landing page, domain, and copy are important. They will give you confidence, and your audience will start taking you seriously.
- Using what's existing and building on top of that is a mantra I learned this from Indiehackers community.
- There will always be room for improvement, never strive for perfection. Good enough should be the target.
In conclusion, landing page, domain, and branding are really important if you're just starting out and don't really have a reputation for your name. Some people advise using subdomains from a single domain. In my experience, It'll take time, money, and effort to convince your users that your app is worth giving a try. Having a domain is one of the things that gives them confidence that you're serious.