It's an extremely niche, very fast ARM SIMD implementation of a particular feature descriptor (ORB).
Anyway, someone, somehow, found this otherwise unpublicised github repo. Fast forward, they were willing to license the code, so I figured the easiest way to let them evaluate it was to release under GPL.
This lead to a few more people reaching out, and now I'm about to quit my job. All this happened in a week.
Shameless plug https://github.com/0xfaded/pislam
Because the side project tapped into current events (filter bubbles and social media), it got great press coverage, including a mention in a front-page Sunday NYT story, and in top newspapers in France, Germany, and England. I've even been invited to speak at two conferences based on my side project (including international travel accommodations).
After an interview with a leading journalism foundation, I was approached by the WSJ to do a partnership, and my side project's app now includes free access to the WSJ (and is, to my knowledge, the only app that has this).
Best of all, I launched the side project on Kickstarter, and it was fully-funded there. This is typically really hard to do with software (esp free software), but I was able to tap into my startup's user base to get the ball rolling.
Seeing how successful the side project was, I paid cash to get a Chrome extension built (to complement the iOS app). We've got almost 1k users, with over 10k app downloads. And we're the #1 search result for "read WSJ free" :)
My side project is here: http://www.readacrosstheaisle.com, and my main startup is: http://www.beelinereader.com.
edit: why the downvotes? This is a thread about marketing with side projects and the potential benefits. I shared new information about things that might come your way if you do what the author suggests. Did I also give links? Yes because without them there's no way to know if this is true or made up. Is there a better way to do this? Or did you go through and downvote all of the comments that talked about experiences with side project marketing?
- Hubspot's website grader: https://website.grader.com/
- Leadpages' landing page grader: https://www.leadpages.net/landing-page-grader
- Grammarly's plagiarism checker: https://www.grammarly.com/plagiarism-checker
- Coschedule's headline analyzer: https://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer
- UserTesting's "Peek": https://peek.usertesting.com/
- Berklee's online guitar tuner: https://online.berklee.edu/guitar-tuner
At one of my old jobs we had this annoying offer that appeared all over the site; it was confusing, convoluted, and presented in obnoxious ways. We all (marketing folks) hated it. Every damn time we experimented with turning it off, revenue went down.
"If only users would stop clicking the damn thing and stop handing money over to us because of that click, we could finally turn it off!!"
(A bit of an oversimplification, as I know it did some damage to the brand. But the point still stands: Most marketers today live and die by testing -> measuring -> dumping money/effort into anything that catches fire. We're not going to continue using tactics that don't produce, which means that in many cases user behavior drives our decision making.)
Don't be too trusting of this.
From the perspective of lead segmentation I've seen countless examples of:
1.) We need a high/medium/low split so we know how to prioritize our efforts.
2.) Select something entirely based on a gut feeling and split on that.
3.) Put our best people on the high list.
4.) High list performs better, so cement #2 as our "scientific" policy that is "backed by data".
It all comes down to the same fundamental principle - exchanging something of value for attention. Most of the people do it with content marketing(articles and videos), but there's an unlimited number of applications. As long as there's something of value you can provide at a relatively low effort - you can use it as a marketing channel.
If you are in a technical niche, open source projects do extremely well. It doesn't even have to be a polished startup-like SaaS, it can just be a useful python script, or a boilerplate project for some tech stack, or a guide on how to install or deploy something.
Authors give away their books to bloggers before publishing, or share them with influential people in the industry - same idea.
It works, for all sorts of obvious reasons.
Perhaps along the lines of what IndieHackers.com/businesses would publish. They ask (and get answered) questions startups typically won't answer, post a plethora of stats, and go into detail on both what did and didn't work. (Heck, maybe even apply to get interviewed by them)
I think your business (and side business mentioned in the post) in particular would be interesting to read in a detailed format.
Only works if all of the below are true:
1. You contain the costs (time + money) of the free product.
2. Conversion (to paying customer) value or rate is high.
3. The free product gets a large volume of users/visitors. The OP got a nice boost from HN, which certainly helped. Not all projects will get as lucky.
The work had already been done, the primary result sold and this project was basically just a way of recycling instead of trashing.
Good concept though.