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How to launch a side project that makes money from the first day on

04
Jun

How do you launch a side project without funding, no time and money but one that is profitable from the first day on?

The first idea of Picpack is just over a year old now, but the development started about four months ago. Tadas and I were both working full time during that period at iversity and we thus handled Picpack as a weekend project. We both learned a lot doing it the way we did and want to share our learnings.

For now, I only want to talk about business and product, leaving marketing aside, as we just launched and don’t have too much valuable marketing information to talk about.

Talking business

If you can avoid it: do it. Meaning try to outsource as much as you can and focus on the product. We were so lucky in having a great partner (Thomas from SDL) who is doing all the printing, shipping, payment processing, billing, accounting etc. for us. That freed up a lot of time.

Try to identify the money making parts in your idea and start building them as the core of your product. Try to build the product in a way that brings profit in from day one. Thus you don’t need to take outside money and you can cover your expenses and invest in marketing and growth.

Talking product

Same story here: outsource everything which is not the core of your product. So how did we do it? Our Rails stack is running on Heroku, assets are served by Amazons S3 and mails get delivered through SendGrid. That seems to work great so far. The setup took only five minutes and kept the costs (at least for the beginning) low.

Second, strip the product to the core functionality, identify the parts with the most value for the customer and focus solely on them. Always ask yourself: is this view, step, button etc. really necessary? If the answer is no, remove it.

Thirdly, use as much known building blocks and workflows as possible. It saves a lot of time climbing out of well known pitfalls. Since we had quite a good amount of knowledge in integrating a printing company, in payment processes and in automated generation of artwork and valid PDF creation we just had to assemble all the building blocks.

Wrap up

Divide the tasks in small chunks, so you can easily do them on the commute, after work or on a Sunday. That makes you feel like you’re moving forward and motivates you. You are not sitting in front of this huge mountain and wondering how you could ever get up there…

Outsource everything which is not core, no matter if it’s business or technical stuff. That implies that you need good partners you trust. Be picky, don’t do it if you don’t have a good gut feeling.

If possible build on top of APIs and ecosystems. For us, using the rapidly growing Instagram userbase saved us a lot of development (e.g. signup is easy and fast, the pictures are already there, etc.). It also makes targeting your customers way more easy.

Constraints are wonderful: they not only force you to keep focus, but they also force you to slow down, which gives you enough space to think and experiment. You don’t have to rush things. Constraints give your project more time to ripe.

Try to be honest about what you do. Be transparent about who and what your are. Meaning don’t pretend to be a well funded startup with a lot of people in the office (you don’t even have an office). Nope, you are bootstrapped, a weekend project. Your users understand that, it can be your asset…

And yes: focus, laser sharp FOCUS! Think twice before you do anything. Do as little as you can - but if you do it, do it as good as you can.

Be passionate and have fun, or don’t do it at all. It takes a lot of energy and time to get you successfully through your weekend project.

Feel free to discuss this article on Hacker News.

A big thank you for Nora and Dr. Awesome Florian of mindmatters.co.uk for reading the draft of this post.