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Ask HN: What's your latest failed side project and why?
196 points by NoOneNew on Feb 23, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 222 comments
With the recent posts on successful/profitable side projects, I figure it'd be good to learn about some failed ones. Let's stick to "launched" projects instead of those that never happened.

What was the project and why did it fail (best to your knowledge)? Or what's a side-project of yours that's actively losing money?

Given what I've read here, it seems that most people here forget or don't know that most apps need a strong marketing plan from the start to give it a decent chance to succeed. Writing an app that sells itself is very rare and even if it takes off it needs constant marketing.

If you read the financials from most software companies that are public you'll see that marketing costs are way higher than development and maintenance costs. It's the primary way to get customers to buy or use your app.

Strong marketing plan is true, but not accurate. I think a lot of people's marketing plan is to show it on HN/Product Hunt/Indie Hackers/Reddit entrepreneur groups, which is a horrible marketing plan.

I think the marketing plan is part of the project design - you should have it before you build it. Are you targeting remote workers? That should be part of the UI, the features, etc. Do you plan on marketing via social media? Your app should have lots of share buttons and the formatting of the content should be shareable.

Every time someone brings up the discussion of whether an app is web, iOS, or Android, my answer is always how that links to marketing. Some people are better at some forms of marketing, and that has to be in synergy with the product.

However, if you need to throw money at it, it's also likely not doing a great job. Sites like Google and Facebook launched with no paid marketing, even though they spend a good amount of money marketing now. It's not that they didn't have money, but not using paid advertising is a good way to gauge how strong your product is and give you time to patch it.

Judging by my own side projects, there seem to be two varieties: scratching your own itch, or scratching someone else’s. In the former case, marketing really does come later because you already have a perfect user to consult on product design (yourself) and just need to find other people with the same problem you have.

The latter case is when marketing is a lot more integrated with building the product. If you’ve made it all the way to a public release but don’t really know how to market, then there is a dangerously high probability that you built something nobody really asked for.

>However, if you need to throw money at it, it's also likely not doing a great job.

There are plenty of reasons you need to throw money at it. For example, if the distribution is made by a third party (like Steam, if the project was a game), you're literally paying Steam to get your game distributed - and you could have a great game.

I don't think Google and Facebook are the best examples, because the internet was quite a different place when they launched.

how can something be true but not accurate

"Incomplete" might be a better word.

Why can't you build it first, and then market it? You can pretend it is still under development if that will convince more people to sign up, but I don't understand why marketing needs to be there from day 1.

But also marketing seems like a money black hole to me. I could sink tons of money into marketing and have little to show for it.

I'd say that "marketing" as used here includes a wide variety of activities, much more than actually buying ads and trying to directly sell your product to people.

More like - if you have an idea for a commercial website or app or something, it's best to start by finding potential customers, building relationships with them, and getting to know what they actually need and are willing to pay for. This is much more important than what language and framework to use, how you'll host it, and other technical decisions. Do the research first to figure out if people are willing to pay for your idea in a form that's in your "runway" budget of what you can afford to build and run before you get money coming in.

It's also perfectly fine to build something without that to try out a new tech you think is interesting, or to scratch a personal itch, etc. Just don't expect to bring in any money with it without doing that research.

As developers we often assume ”build it and they will come”. Or that marketing or sales is something that is bolted on afterwards. What we forget is that marketing is a full time job that requires a full set of skills, experience and intuitions to do well. If you build something for 6 months and THEN start the marketing, its like starting from scratch all over again. You have zero experience to work from or iterate on and havent built any of the foundation.

It’s like waiting to build the backend until the frontend is 100% complete. While building assumptions change based on things you learn. Marketing for your product works the same way.

By putting the effort into marketing (meaning any form of reaching out: blog posts, direct sales, social media or even paid) you might even avoiding building features that nobody wanted anyway.

I think you're both giving marketing too much credit in the product's creation, and inverting the creation process in general.

> It’s like waiting to build the backend until the frontend is 100% complete

It's more like building a backend, then realising that the data structures could be improved when you're building the front. Marketing at best provides enhancements, not core changes (unless your product itself was incorrect to begin with).

Honestly, if your marketing affects your product as much as you're suggesting, you have a pretty unstable product.

But marketing can help the dev team focus on the core functionalities that the customer really want.

No, marketing as driver will cause massive feature creep.

> No, marketing as driver will cause massive feature creep.

Marketing is about exposing your product to your target customers. It's relatively orthogonal to product features.

I disagree. Marketing gets people in. Users guide product development and thus the product. If an ”unstable product” is one that users actually want to use, then I guess an unstable product is a good thing?

Treating marketing as requirements gathering gets you overly complicated internally inconsistent requirements. The instability is side product. Marketing is not making trade-off between bugs and features, they are unaware of trade-off. When the "buggy" part happens, they treat it as "we have incapable developers" and not as reason to change something in process and requirements gathering.

By overly internally inconsistent I mean that at some places they will be impossible to fulfill. The code will always breaking at edge cases. The ui will do three things at the same time, will be incoherent and will be complicated for user to understand and learn.

By complicated I mean that you will have to code super complicated hard to maintain structures to fulfill everything at the same time.

Marketing can not be requirements gathering, because marketing is motivated to promise everything to everybody and to exaggerate. I dont use exaggerate here as euphemism for "lie" through that happens too. Exaggerating itself is a problem. Marketing is not motivated to build coherent analysis.

I know because I worked on projects where marketing was driving requirements . It did not led to happy customers, because customers were unhappy over instability and our inability to fill their requirements in a reasonable way.

I’m pretty sure we are talking about different things. The marketing I’m talking about is in the context of sole developers or small developer only teams where the goal is to launch a successful product. Be it on a hobby scale or the start of something bigger. These developers/hackers gone founders need to evolve their marketing skills at the same pace the product is built.

I feel what you are talking about is a siloed approach where developers build what the marketing team promises to customers. If these teams are the same people you are the developer and marketing team, and thus over-promising things to customers is only shooting yourself in the foot.

You can build it then market it, but odds are a decent marketer will add value to how the product can be more promotable with features etc in the developement phase.

Also if you want to hit the ground running marketing can be developing plans for some time ahead of launch.

As for a black hole of money, it can be. Any area is if spent poorly. A failed product is a development money pit.

Marketing should be looked at like an investment, not a cost. Track your activities and if a dollar spent brings back more than a dollar, spend more and see where it plateaus. And vice versa, stop spending or find another channel/marketer. Ive seen developer lead companies looking at marketing as a cost line reject budget increases even with marketing showing a dollar spent was directly returning significantly more. I've also seen money shoveled into the furnace. Marketing is not just good/bad, it's recognising good marketing and bad marketing.

You can, but it takes time to build an audience and find potential customers. Starting that process early can make all the difference. If it takes 3 months to build that’s 3 months you could have been finding potential users.

And up to 3 extra months of product development time if the marketing takes a lot of time too. The time cost of marketing is important to be wary of - it really has to pay off because it costs you completed features (as a small team).

The marketing is critical but I’m just saying there is a cost also

You need to know your target audience and needs. Building an app takes time so it's best to start your marketing plan ASAP.

So...does anyone want to help me figure out a way to better market my product? Contact info in my bio.

Your contact info is not in your bio. Send me an email at my HN username at yahoo dot com dot au.

I launched, and have now shut down oppsdaily.com. https://oppslist.com is still up as a zombie.

We asked people about problems or inefficiencies in their industry that could be solved by Saas products and then sent those ideas out as a daily newsletter. I learned a lot, but had difficulty making money with it. Also, I'm not totally sure my heart was in it. I think about it a lot.

I've recently launched a new project - https://topstonks.com where I'm exploring this new speculative culture of investing emanating from places like reddit's Wallstreetbets, and 4chan's Biz.

We currently look at the most mentioned equities and send out a list of those. Once or twice a week we'll post an analysis with some comments from those communities (heads up, if you're easily offended, the language can be a bit crude.)

There are bigger plans on the roadmap, but we're just starting w/ the newsletter for now.

I subscribed for a while. I noticed the problems were mostly solved by things that existed already, or were ideas I didn't see much potential in. It was worth exploring though.

Looking at the oppslist - I think the larger issue is that lots of people are unaware of software that already exist. The top request for example has been solved multiple times since 60's already. It's basic inventory management.

Yeah. Looking through the list at least half have SaaS solutions you can purchase off the shelf. The rest you can mostly cobble something together or they just aren't practical.

The Mom Test has a great rule of thumb when doing customer development and that's to ask "last time you needed to do X, what did you do?"

For the inventory management stuff the answer would probably be "I checked my usual spreadsheet and made the orders".

And thats likely what the person will continue to do forever. If they wanted to solve the problem they would have found the software by now most likely.

thats a marketing puzzle too

With regards to oppslist, I think many people don't realize they have a problem. They might copy and paste data from one list to another, never realizing that the daily 1 hour job can be done with a script within seconds and with less errors. It might take someone to watch them during the work day or maybe you need to be working in the industry already and do a self-analysis.

I was a subscriber for a while. Fun idea!

(marketing guy here) - Topstonks is a wonderful idea. Like Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine and Janelle Shane's AI Weirdness blog had a baby.

I don't have a clue whether you can monetize it, though.

Those are actual, real world requests in the oppslist?

They are responses to surveys. Not users who signed in to post the idea. But yeah, they are real people.

how did you survey people? if you dont mind me asking

Hey! I started with Mechanical turk, and then did fair amount of cold emailing.


An email alert for horse owners/barn managers when the forecast will be colder than a configured threshold temperature. It's saved us a lot of mental energy this winter (having to check not just the forecast but also making sure to check the temp at 3 AM with windchill factored in, etc...). Got zero interest from various equestrian forums. shrug.

I taught myself Spring Boot through so that's a win!

I'd suggest making it a little more generic and targeting the agriculture space. Have templates for animal alerts etc but also days without rain when plants need to be watered, etc. You might get more usage from busy people trying to have a backyard garden than more professional farmers that have already solved this problem.

And email doesn't cut it as an alert mechanism. You'd need to support both SMS and have native apps to support iOS/Android notifications.

> And email doesn't cut it as an alert mechanism

I wouldn't invest any time in any other alert medium before verifying this. I doubt it brings anything to the value proposition of the product (but I don't know either, so that would need to be verified)

Maybe add SMS option for paid/premium accounts?

And you can SMS over email as well

I'm in the early planning stages of doing something somewhat similar for motorcycle riders (which I am one), you feed it your commute route, typical times and it then sends you a summary of the next days commute (or ride) including interpreting the forecast in the context of a motorcycle (i.e. gust delta against base wind speed, temps below 0 in the preceeding 12hrs, estimated windchill at 40mph, 50mph, 60mph and suggested clothing - plus the ability to set alerts for particulary directions of wind etc).

I've zero interest in commercialising it, I'm building it to play with some technologies I want to learn and because it beats anything I've got currently which is mostly just remembering to check the temperature/wind direction for the next day.

My wife and I took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA for our honeymoon in 2002. We were passing through a storm along I90 in South Dakota when we later realized we drove between 2 tornados.

Since then I've wished that Google Maps would add a road trip weather option given that it predicts roughly where you'll be and when for possibly the next 10 hours in a drive.

Yep, I've looked for the country I'm in (UK) and no one seems to be doing it, which is weird since in the UK our weather data from our national meteorological provides it's main forecast data under an open license (5000 points, to 3hr accuracy for 5 days) https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/services/data/datapoint/datapoi...

Between that data and open street maps I have most of the raw data I need, the rest is a halfway usable interface, aggregating and interpolating the data and figuring out a nice way to present the results to be easily grokkable.

I built something like this awhile ago (http://weather.basementserver.org/) as an afternoon hobby project. I'm shocked that Google hasn't added this feature yet!

TornadoGuard: https://m.xkcd.com/937/

That sounds awesome! I am also a motorcycle rider. FWIW Darksky API and data is great!

Damn, knowing some horse owners, I don't see why they wouldn't like the extra reminder. Sure, you should always know yourself. But a little backup wouldn't hurt.

Are you still pushing it? I don't think you should give up on that as just a magnet idea, at the very least. Maybe try fleshing out an extra feature/service?

Out of curiosity, how are you handling the emails? In house or 3rd party service?

I'm going to leave it up, and ideally add to it/improve it, but I'm not actively pushing it because I haven't figured out how to do so effectively... I'm currently using SES to send the outbound notifications.

forums are a tricky one. It needs multiple accounts to shill for you and praise you. I've got BHW and a few other forums wrapped around my little finger.

Contributing to the destruction of online trust is a pretty uncool method of growth hacking.

I'm hoping they're talking about multiple legitimate account, held by people that legitimately and individually support what you do.

If not, shame

I would generally agree but it's what BHW deserve

HN excepted of course!

Those that will eventually happen:

Turning a Ender 3 3D printer into a belt printer was put on the back burner pending TaxAmmend.com

TaxAmmend.com was put on the back burner pending AmIAccessible.com

AmIAccessible.com was placed on the back burner pending my AWS Certifications.

My AWS Certifications were put on the back burner pending a Computer Forensics research paper into Consumer Grade Forensics.

My research paper was put into the back burner pending an IDE 3.5" hard drive from ebay.

The IDE 3.5" hard drive is coming but I am now 3D printing a cosplay nailgun for going as Kohta Hirano from high school of the dead, rebuilding my Open Media Vault machine (as it has had a critical software failure) and publishing a Computer Networks paper that I had kicking around since 2019.

So I am probably going to be a busy busy boy for the foreseeable future.

Column Tools - a FOSS (&free) add-on for Google Sheets that adds missing functionality (e.g. horizontal sort, convert columns to named ranges). Google's increasingly onerous, specific, and ever-changing requirements for market place listings takes up too much time for a free project. I could try to monetize, but then I'm having to spend too much time in bureaucracy-land (between working out billing and complying with Google's requirements) rather than making good product. At least the source is there for anyone who wants to set up themselves.

Can you give tips about this ? I'm trying to build a Gmail add-on that works with Spreadsheet(contacts + headers to filter) and reverse chrono counting unread emails

Tips about what specifically?

About working with Spreadsheet as database ? About running it automatically etc..

I used Google Scripts for everything. Can programmatically read and edit a Google Sheet easily enough; true DB queries are trickier. Running is based on triggers you can set up for a script; or I think a script can programmatically set them up. Look up the Google Developer site; it's a good resource.

Ok thank you, so the google server is always running and fetching, this is actually something good ! TY

> Google's increasingly onerous, specific, and ever-changing requirements for market place listings takes up too much time for a free project.

This is the same experience for mobile apps too, ESPECIALLY Android apps on the Google Play Store.

Good luck if you think you'll increase visibility on other android app stores, its just more requirements.

I made https://www.hackersubscribe.com as a way to get email notifications when certain people post/comment on Hacker News.

So I get an email with patio11, Patrick Collison, or Alan Kay posts. When I first made it, I submitted a Show HN thread, but got zero response.

Add in a list of interesting people you would recommend on the site.

I never thought about actually paying attention to who posts on HN, only what's posted. It seems obvious now that you've mentioned it.

That's a good idea! I'll update it to include a few suggestions.

This is a great idea and I already set up a bunch of these with multiple people. Cheers!

This actually seems useful to me. Seconding the comment that you should make a suggestion list of users to follow. In fact discovering good HN users, might be the core feature.

A little bit ago I stopped a twitter bot I created for game development news. It was a php script that aggregated gamedev news from ~10 different sources every hour. It took the raw headline, converted them in tweets, then filled up the remaining character count with a link and #hashtags. I had a safe list of hashtags that it was supposed to match against in the headline first, convert those if possible. Then fill in hashtags at the end, setup a drip feed and post a random tweet every ~30 min. I randomized the time and set a window between 7am-9pm.

Gained 1k following in about 2 or 3 months. But after investigating twitter traffic, I noticed most followers are bots and tweets I put up trying to sell some game assets gained lots of likes and retweets, but never a sale.

It was a fun project on its own and confirmed that I'm not missing out by avoiding twitter. The web scraping portion was actually the most fun to it.

We launched a 1:1 tool for sales managers that used predictive analytics to suggest which deals needed to be discussed (ie Deal X looks like it's stuck). The reason being, when I was a sales manager, I found people would naturally talk about positive stuff rather than easily giving the whole picture.

It failed because quite simply, when we tried to get other sales managers to use it for free (hoping it'd be popular), we found they wouldn't make the time to spend 2 mins planning a 1:1, probably as they're managed on 'selling deals, right now' in many cases, which is a bit sad!

Learning: I should have read the Mom Test.

With hindsight, I wish I'd built it for engineers based on Pull Requests (PR #181 had a ton of back and forth / NLP shows it got heated). It would have been fun if nothing else!

This would work for customer service ticket systems as well. Having been in that role, i definitely buried a few issues over the years that would have been better dealt with in the open.

Thats an interesting idea. Have you tried talking with Directors/Executive/VPs?

My thinking is to target sales orgs that are going through restructuring or are focusing on major improvements/goals. Execs would push their managers to setup 1:1s for development in the company and career

https://parepdf.com A web app for comparing PDF files. Figured that a more intuitive comparison experience would be an obvious advantage. It didn’t gain traction although I still use it personally on a weekly basis.

Hey, cool idea and implementation. I think even a single screenshot (of a diffed part in the sample PDF) front and center on the homepage would go a long way, if you ever update it.

That's not a bad idea, I had an example in an earlier comp design, but removed it for some reason...

Diffpdf would be a much better name, I think


I launched it shortly after https://www.prerender.cloud, which server-side renders JavaScript SPAs, to make integration easier.

Prerender.cloud kind of sells itself, but roast.io does not. I've wondered if it appears too complex.

Dude, you need better SEO. I heard about your product last year and didn't bookmark it. I was trying to find it on google with no luck. (talking about prerender)

Also what does https://www.roast.io/ do better than netlify. I think you should highlight it on your homepage. Thats your main competitor as far as I see it.

Maybe try partnerships with paid but self hosted software, is that a thing?

Lease.ly, a common app for apartment rentals.

- In SF (a seller’s market), prospective tenants only wanted to use it if their prospective landlords asked for it, or if it gave them an advantage over other prospective tenants

- Landlords have their existing process that works, and didn’t want to change it. Things like comparison views for tenants, pulling in social media info, and automatic credit reports were helpful, but since for most SF landlords getting new tenants is low frequency (unlike, say, NY), the value was low

For each, the value prop was unclear.

If I were to try it again, I’d try to understand the market better and find the right subset of landlords and tenants, and the right geo, to focus on first.

did you pivot to VIN #s?? I'm interested in seeing what you had/have for lease.ly with regards to the common application.

VIN #s?

For my first real coding project I set up a book price comparison website.

It relied heavily on third-party APIs and scrapers for prices, search, book details, currency conversion, and the PaaS hosting service. Over 8 years many of those services slowly shut down until the site didn't work any more.

It was a fun project, both for learning to code, and for better understanding the tradeoffs around third-party dependencies. I wrote more about it here: https://www.ajnisbet.com/blog/maintaining-a-zero-maintenance...


It's an ad-free social network that is supposed to be a richer and more private alternative to Facebook.

It's been adopted by my closest friends and family, but hasn't grown much beyond these initial users. The product itself tries to do a ton of stuff: messaging, photo sharing, event planning, location sharing, video sharing, etc. Perhaps that's part of the problem -- it doesn't do one thing particularly above and beyond existing solutions.

I've been running a very shitty threaded message board for years ("running" being a very loose term - I mean it's still there). There is a parallel facebook group that exists solely to tell me when I've f'd up.

The people still on it, are the people who use it as a "separate space" to all the rest of the bazillion dollar alternatives - hellbent on shoving adverts, tracking and all the rest.

I'm only going off on this tangent, as maybe what appears to be lack of traction, could also be (if you squint hard) a benefit. Could you cookie-cutter out instances of your product?

If you can, then maybe you could position it as a micro-ecosystem for events people don't immediately want to integrate into their existing mega-social world.

e.g. Weddings. Could on-board all people invited to the app (click this link to say if you're going or not), let them get to know each other a bit first, share photos they took of the event, plan stag events, enter dietary requirements, link to the wedding list, buy a nice photo from the official photographer, send a message to that bridesmaid you thought you were getting on well with, click on faces in photos to see who they are etc etc.

Have you thought about using an email group instead of running your own thing? I'm asking this because this is kind of what I'm doing — threaded email groups that act as a message board within the emails. There's a few people using us to do similar things as you, and since we only charge for admins (i.e. you) and not the number of mail receivers, it'd be dirt cheap since you'd only need one seat. In any case, definitely cheaper (and zero maintenance) than running a message board.

It's here at https://aether.app/email/#/force. If that turns out to be your thing hit me up and I can extend the trial for you as far as you need to give it a shot.

Seems really cool -- what's the unifying idea? It's gotta become my "go to" for some one thing. What is that one thing? My recommendations are: personal or public Journal; ability to make combination timelines with friends (photos/experiences) to "weave"; build it around location with a more tethered approach to specific zipcodes -- now you can host actual meetups via app; dive into the idea of clubs or groups. If it can become the "go to app" for some one thing, it could take off pretty quickly

Is registration disabled? If not, it seems like there's no way to sign up. Most likely why it's not growing.

Your mobile app looks really well done

Spares Outlet - selling home appliance parts salvaged from used washers/dryers/fridges/ovens. I even developed testing methods that don't require the control board to be on an actual machine. It's the hardest part to test properly, I wanted my buyers to get a fully working item that would last. Returns would've really cut into profits, too.

That and using intrepid Russian hacking/engineering to make most control boards compatible with any model (essentially a firmware reflash, but by God do the manufacturers make it hard).

Really proud of it now, it helped hundreds of people and small businesses while being as environmentally friendly as it gets - all of those broken appliances were headed for landfills in third world countries, and I feel like I actually made a difference.

Failed because of my departure from the UK and losing those suppliers. Looking at finding new ones, so far no one wants to work with me, they either sell refurbished complete units or just send all their scrap to landfills. Easier, I guess.

Not finding a partner or any employees was a huge part, I even automated replies for buyers - based on specific keywords, it would reply stating availability of parts and delivery time. Again, proud of that, but having more people working with me would've been better.

Catalog platform for SMEs in Nigeria.

Clothing vendors (whom were my primary target) find difficulty putting their products online, major ecommerce players in the country require one to be residing in Lagos before one can use their platforms, and most them took lion share of the profits.

I felt a catalog platform (where no buying and selling between vendors and their customers occur) will be best, since the vendors prefer dealing with customers directly as they get their money in full. I ran it by some vendor friends and stranger vendors, they promised to signup for the beta phase.

When the project was in beta, they bailed. Without users to help me with feedback, I felt demotivated and abandoned it.

I think the fault is from my failure to get an MVP ready asap, I ran into problems with my PC at that time. To add salt to injury, whatsapp business accounts added catalogue feature, pushing me out of market I never entered. After all, if the vendors can get it for free, why pay.

I'll shut the server down month ending and focus on freelancing gigs.

link to a demo store/catalog on the platform


edit: Fix typo

Mine failed before I could really launch it. Basically, I wanted to do a financial app to help people get out of debt, but the company I was going to use changed their fee structure just before I launched, causing transaction costs to eat all of my margin.

I may try to relaunch if I can find a good partner, but it just seems the anything related to finance is going to be a huge pain. I'm currently looking at other options.

You could just raise your prices. Look at the value it provides and price it accordingly. Do not price it based on what you personally can tolerate. Different people are willing to pay different prices for a product that works. Start high and work downwards. Find the sweet spot.

Free election campaign platform for local candidates. (501c3 Non-profit w/ a revenue model) Purpose is to remove the financial barriers from running for community office (Mayor / Council / School Board). We incorporated a number of UX features to make the process as easy and convenient as possible for users to better understand which candidate options best aligned with their personal values.

In 2018 we ran a beta test in central NJ that was well received. I am the non-technical founder and our entire team was volunteer based. I also self-funded the project (outsourcing development) and although the beta went well the product is unfinished. Now on the back burner because we have no team anymore and I don't want to invest more personal cash into it at this time. I pay to keep it live for interested parties.

Site: https://oursociety.org

Git: https://github.com/OurSociety/OurSociety---Free-Local-Campai...

I love this idea! I was recently trying to scrounge up information for the primary about who these local candidates were using Ballotpedia, but a lot of them had no website, or if they did it was it was _terrible_(both visually and information-wise).

It was honestly a lot of effort to determine who to vote for.

I launched a little consulting side gig on Fiverr to build dashboards and reports on Google Data Studio.

The good: - I got plenty of customers (side gig volume) from all over the world. - Many of them were very happy with the results. - Collecting requirements for reports and dashboards is notoriously difficult and volatile, but I was able to keep this under control. I credit my age (48) and experience for that.

The bad: - I hitched my wagon to a tool that is not ready for prime time: Google Data Studio. I spent too much time wrestling with the tool. - The success of many projects depended not on my skills with Data Studio, but with the quality of the data sources and APIs that were feeding into Data Studio. Almost half the time, the quality was well below expectations, and I spent too much time wrestling with the integration.

In the end, I wasn't even close to making a reasonable hourly rate, and getting to the point where I could get past an hourly rate and make money at scale seemed impossible.

I happily shut it down after six months.

This is why I like using Fiverr as a buyer... Occasionally you find someone doing something cool for an absurdly low cost as an experiment or an exercise. Those are the good deals, and they're ephemeral offerings. Glad you enjoyed your time there!

My situation is the complete opposite.

I have a great idea, did some decks/mockups/simulation's.

Was actually offered 6-figure angel investment (I passed).

Yet haven't been able to make reall progress with an MVP. I am a very experienced developer, but never did any web/saas stuff.

I feel embarrassed.

I have tried joining recently a tracking and discussion forum and it's been really helpful.

Web is its own beast -- even movie making software has to be learned, certainly true of new software domains. I'd recommend researching your tools thoroughly before diving in, and finally when you choose a few candidate tools try and build small prototypes in each that would become modular chunks of your main app. In this way you can evaluate which tools you'd like to use from some low-risk investment of time and effort, and walk away with clear tool commitment. Once you commit to a toolset, you can dive into development as much as your toolset accommodates expression and feedback. I'd recommend using something that has a REPL (Clojure/script with Selmer and even Python with Django have this) which is a way to get immediate feedback from changes in your code. The feedback loop in traditional web development is way too long to make responsive apps in a reasonable amount of time.

Definitely find forums for the tools you are using and ask questions in the beginners channels. No need to be embarrassed, if you've never held a cup it's not a big deal, it just takes time to learn how to hold one. Then time to walk to the river, then time to scoop some water into the cup. But eventually, piece by piece, you'll get a delicious drink that satiates, and you'll know how to fashion a cup even more cleanly for the next time(s) you need a new cup. Aha, at this point one can start seeing code reusability, state management via atomic actions through swaps, and functional approaches as fundamental to achieving incremental progress. Laying the foundation hardly looks like progress, but actual progress is impossible without an excellent foundation.

Let me know if you could use a partner.

My library app (http://www.videlibri.de) is failing since 2006

It reminds the users when they need to return books borrowed from public libraries to protect them from paying late fees. It is extremely useful for library users, but they do not know that it exists.

First I wrote it for Windows and Linux, told the librarians about it and they said, we do not want any apps. Now the libraries have Android apps, so I ported it to Android, but when I tell the librarians about it, they say, we already have an app, we do not need two apps. But they still do not Windows and Linux apps.

I cannot test it without traveling in person to the public library in Germany and renting some books, so when the librarians changes something on their webpage, it stops working; and I cannot fix it, until someone from there tells me what was changed, so it is losing functionality every year

Do German libraries not email reminders? Also I usually shy away from projects that can be replaced with a “hey Siri”—if people aren’t already taking the 5 seconds to set a reminder, they probably don’t care that much.

Some send email reminders and some do not.

But I primarily wrote it because of a library that sends reminders. I borrowed books there, did not set a reminder myself, since they always send reminders, and then they did not send reminders. "We had a mail server failure", and then I had to pay 60€, because they cannot maintain their servers properly.

And it has more features. It also renews the books automatically to extend the lending period. Siri cannot renew the books. And it keeps a list of all books. Before I had it, I had read books that I would like to read again, but I do not remember which books that were

Wow, that's quite a fee. Here in the US, every library district I've lived in had paltry late fees. As in, maybe a few dollars for many weeks overdue.

Whoa. German libraries don’t mess around with the late fees I guess.

Last year, I built a local/regional tech job listing website, targeted at helping 'older' people (35ish and up, of any gender) looking to find work--experienced or not. $100 listings.

Plenty of traffic. Totally failed. Started MVP by pulling in listings from elsewhere, but couldn't get a single listing.

Why did it fail? I think because:

1. Companies had zero interest in targeting 'older' workers in tech, despite them being the second-largest discrimination group (after women) in technology. I got more than one 'why would we target them?' response.

2. I didn't solicit the right people (or in the right way) for listings

3. Inexperience: I'm not very skilled at marketing, and saw a real need but clumsily approached it

I don't know what it's like on your jurisdiction (although I'm still laughing a bit at the notion that I'm an 'older' worker at 30 something), but could part of the problem be that it's technically illegal/regulation risk?

By which I mean, we all know that age discrimination happens, but you're not 'supposed' to do it. By setting up a website that explicitly discriminates based on age, you're exposing the employer to a verifiable action that they're taking to discriminate on age. It doesn't matter that it's an attempt to counter the widely perceived current discrimination.

Imagine if you set up a website for another protected group (sex, religion, pregnant). Most companies would run a mile from that. The whole thing about structural discrimination is the plausible deniability that you're consciously doing it...

In the U.S. you can discriminate against someone for being younger all you want. You just can't discriminate against someone for being too old when they are over age 40.


Hey, I might be in a similar boat, building a job listing, still I haven't pushed it out yet. Is there a way to get in touch with you?

you could say 'get woke go broke' applied.

Why would companies put themselves at a net disadvantage by actively targetting older SE's who are more likely to know their rights and not accept 18 hour days.

Maybe because they want to avoid the chickens coming home to roost from all those submarine age discrimination lawsuits that are out there just waiting to be filed.

Ever notice how U.S. flight attendants tend to be older nowadays, compared to the Cute Young Things you see in old movies (and on many non-U.S. airlines)? The U.S. airlines had to learn a harsh (and expen$ive) lesson there.

Some of them are still learning it... United recently had to pay two flight attendants $800,000 apiece after a jury decided that they'd been fired because of their age rather than the technical infractions United had used for cover.

Edit: if I were the OP, I'd collect a bunch of age discrimination cases where Big Bucks had been awarded to the employees and make those part of my marketing material.

Edit #2: in engineering, specifically, in 2017 Lockheed Martin was ordered to pay $51.5 million to an engineer for age discrimination.

How old are you?

Chartly [1] is a project I worked on for about a year and launched but is no longer under active development.

It failed because we spend so much time building lots of random features and never got much feedback.

In retrospect I think the data vis market is just too saturated to get noticed at this point. I am sure it is possible for someone, but it wasn't for us.

Current "side" project is Webase [1] where we incorporate many ideas that were in Chartly, but addresses a broader and much earlier market.

[1] https://chart.ly [2] https://www.webase.com

Hey!, tried Webase and looks very good. While testing it I found something that could be a bug?. I created a new app, and a new table with just one string field, and then whenever I create a new row it gets added twice. (Name of the app/table is Test App/Robot). Keep it up!


A marketplace to connect artists looking to recoup the cost of supplies with art lovers who are looking for a bargain. Didn't pick up, even tho the initial feedback was great - guess the demand wasn't there after all, from both sides. It's still live, only losing money.


Recently launched a service to serve nice (or so I thought) dotcoms at well below market value, however it doesn't seem to be picking up the traction I was expecting.

Thanks for linking to Binned Art - I am very fond of both the concept and the website.

Could you delve more into how you've managed the project? How did you market it? How significant are your operating costs or losses?

For the latter - that's because I can find better domains than the ones on your front page for free by looking at expireddomains.net every so often. Also, many have given up on .com, in which case they may use something like park.io for a shot at prime singleword.io domains.

Domains are a tough business.

I really like the idea of binnedart. I checked out the site. Are the prices USD? Measurements in cm seem incongruous. And maybe I'm not really the target market, but i didn't see anything i liked.

Good catch, thanks! I changed the currency from EUR to USD recently and forgot about the measurements. As for not liking anything, I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

https://repominder.com sends release reminders for your open source projects. It works by monitoring the diff between your development branch and how you release (eg tags or another branch).

It works well for me and one other power user, but hasn't grown beyond that. My guess is it's just a failure of marketing -- I make lots of these projects that scratch an itch and then just hope people will find them.

At least it's cheap to run ($2/month for the vps plus <$10/year for the domain).

Where do you run the vps?

I've moved everything to https://buyvm.net after trying a bunch of cheaper providers. They've been good to me for the ~two years I've been using them: no outages and quick support.

If you end up liking them, here's my affiliate link: https://my.frantech.ca/aff.php?aff=3397

Came up with an innovative 360° camera accessory. Built a first functioning prototype. Then i came up with a much improved design concept and changed way too much at once about the product (electronics including SoC, code, development tools, case, other components). It also required a PCB at that point. It overwhelmed me with my limited time budget, extinguished my motivation and has been sitting unfinished in my basement since. I guess hardware is hard. I hope to get back to it someday, perhaps when VR enjoys its next comeback.

While I'm still working on it, I currently have 0 DAU and have been in a perpetual MVP / beta for a while now. I'm still collecting signups however it doesn't have great growth numbers at this stage.


A Trello + Zapier productivity app that acts like a PA, scheduling your events, reminders, etc. There's going to be a point sometime this year where I decide if its dead in the water or whether to keep going.

Failed project: The Daily Wordpress Reference[1]

I wanted to give an easy way for people to learn the intimidating WordPress API[2], bit by bit, every morning, in their email.

It failed because monetization was an afterthought. Even though it gathered a steady 1100 subscribers (daily emails) at the end (for about 6 months), I was unable to make a buck with ads (Amazon books related to wordpress).

Now I'm on my way for another failure with my online course on WordPress plugin development[3]. This one, I think I failed because I'm not a public figure in WP development so it's harder for people to trust me, and (related reason) I don't have much reach on social networks.

[1] https://www.juliendesrosiers.com/2012/03/10/the-daily-wordpr...

[2] https://codex.wordpress.org/Function_Reference/

[3] https://statusmachine.com/online-courses/

Built https://gotmemo.net . Couldn’t find a way to identify where/how I can target potential customers. Got listed on asana as an integration but interest seems very low. My plan was to rely on paid ads (fb) but their costs ended up higher than expected.

In retrospect, launching a lander to see if I can even get some emails before building a product is a must.

I have tried to build a language learning app called Talking Ninja, heavily based on voice. I started with danish as thats where I live and its hard fro me to learn new language without being able to speak to someone/something. It was not the best choice of language to start and also the complexity of the voice tech behind it grew beyond my one man army skills at the time. Maybe one day I will try again.


It's like Couch-2-5k for sprint intervals. I think that not a lot of people are into sprint intervals, or understand why they should be.

Got around 70 users of the app per day on ios&android combined, but just couldn't get it to get any more traction. Pretty much mothballed now, removed from app stores.

Fitness apps are brutal. I have my failed fitness side project [0]. I thought a killer feature would be to have the popular 7-minute workout free with nice images, and customizable intervals. I even paid for some adwords and facebook but the market it brutal. The funny thing is alternatives were at the time (IMO) not better. They were corny, had ads or crazy permissions. I also made a free calculator as I was frustrated no ad-free calculator existed for ipad (at least one first few search pages). That was a dud too. Sometimes having a good product is not enough

[0] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.twelve31la...

[0] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/luja-fitness/id997566972

[1] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/opencalc/id1403173317

Apps look great. Where it fails is the thumbnail. It has the correct feel but something about it prevents me from considering clicking it.

What did you use to make the logos?

Affinity Designer

Thanks for making OpenCalc.

I can’t explain why Apple doesn’t add a calc app to iPad OS. And the amount of shitty, ad-infested alternatives borders on horrifying.

It was the opening of a flower shop. My business didn't make a profit.

Kudos for trying, having taken advantage of these recently it can really help people cope with loss. Finding one you trust is huge as they vary widely in care and competency.

On the business side, the supply chain seems like a nightmare. Any specific lessons learned?

Goods that quickly deteriorate hard to deal with

Flowers are difficult to contain small business. That's if it's a greenhouse.

Fog Machine https://fog.fm

It's not dead, but on an indefinite freeze. It lets anyone host a server from any device. The goal was to market it to users who want to host their own Minecraft servers, and IoT businesses that need to do on-premise hosting using an internet connection they don't control

Something I started as a "Scratching itch" thing:

- new way to personalize a smartphone with Wallpaper which plays animation aka Greets you! at Unlock: see example videos at wakeanimation.org

Seeking validation of the idea, I posted on Reddit at /r/androidapps which routinely gets 700-800 people hanging out at any time. Only 3 replied actually, which I interpreted as lackluster interest, although comments were strong positives.

Since then I built this little page explaining the concept, but had difficulty getting more definite hands up- or hands down- signal.

The app would take a bit more work and testing before it's ready for release. So I really would like to get better handle if this can get traction.

Looking at monetization figures on SensorTower, the Android Personalization category is not anywhere near the Games; only one/two apps really make decent sales.

Appreciate any pointers or thoughts, if anyone have experience and ideas to try.

I created Frifrofru (https://www.frifrofru.com/). Another china stores dedicated coupons/promo-codes website build using free stuff (Azure free, Mongo Atlas, Docker Hub, Github Actions). The domain is also free (2 years free). It's alive but with no more development. Why? Most of the stores that I want to share, only provide files that I can't get automatically, no API's and from my side no time to do it manually. The project started because some friends start asking if I know some promo codes. Most of them stop buying things 1 years ago. Bonus note: it's something that I'm against (consumerism). I prefer some of the other side projects that are focused on "green" things or in helping animals and persons.

Outlook add-on to give the ability to "undo" sending email. It just mimicked the functionality in Gmail where it holds your email for 10/30/60 seconds before sending, which gives you a chance to stop the message being sent if you notice an issue. For some bizarre reason Microsoft built this in their web app but never in the desktop version of Outlook, which is what most people in big corporate environments use.

Finished the project, built the tool and it worked great, had a bunch of people using it. Then I got to the point of having to actually distribute/market it and I gave up - the idea of having to actually support a desktop application was just too much for me.

I'll probably throw the code up on GitHub at some point so people can still get some value out of it, since a lot of people have been asking.

My two latest failed projects were a SaaS to help landlords manage their properties, including rent payment management, and an analytics tool that consolidated data from real estate property in a excel so people looking to buy or rent could analyse the options in a more effective way than going property by property in the listing site. Both projects failed because I could not attract users in a consistent way. I could not find any paying user during the 2 months that each project stayed online. Nevertheless, it was a good learning experience and it was one of the motivations to derive the project that I am working now (https://turbovar.com/), which is a full-stack Java Web APP template.

Hi, I am in your target for Turbovar, but it's not clear to me why I would chose it (and pay) instead of JHipster

Good question. I am not a specialist in JHpister, but I think that two of the reasons that would drive you to choose TurboVar are: you prefer code over configuration and want more control over the code base; you do not want to learn/use Spring on the server side/back-end;

Feel free to leave any additional question or feedback.

Hey thanks for answering. I'm actually thinking of building something like this if my current project fails, but on different programming languages.

I'd love to bounce some ideas back and forth with you. Could you drop me an e-mail at the e-mail I have listed in my profile, please?

Sure. I am aware of some other products with similar premises that are based in other programming languages. I will drop you an e-mail.

Tried to start a local in-person meeting for CGAA (Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous). Posted flyers all over my university campus, which has like 30k undergrads. Nobody showed up, week after week. Not sure how to let people know and I’m not a “growth hacker” type so I gave up.

To be fair, that was probably a tough crowd to "market" to... most addicts need a pretty significant kick to force them into a change, and flyers don't provide any kick and are easily ignored.

I published Trello Dojo https://leanpub.com/trellodojo a while back. I’m not sure it’s a complete failure: Joel tweeted it, it helped some people, and I made about 20k in royalties. But they have since added templates and other features and I haven’t updated the book in a while. I’ve been trying to find time to update it for a few years now, and just haven’t. I also have a company that wants a developer specific version and haven’t gotten to that either. I also have a Trello board of a hundred or so ideas, but have learned ideas are cheap- making time and energy to actually build and market is the hard thing.

My last project QuoraScanner was a browser addon that helped marketers decide what questions to answer next on Quora based on views and tracking users.


It failed as Quora changed how much info could be seen/scraped on the frontend without a login. Even if they hadn't I likely wouldn't have been able to get enough LTV from each user to spend enough acquire them at a decent pace.

No regrets though, it was my first experience doing user feedback sessions over Skype, which I can't recommend highly enough vs. asking them to fill a form.

Felt like playing with Twilio, and not having released anything in a long time, I thought I'd push myself to finish something.

Since I happened to need to send & receive a fax, but didn't like to commit to a longer subscription plan, I made this website for doing that: https://5dollarfax.com/

I had a plan to promote it by writing a deep blog post about the contents of a fax handshake, and got pretty far into it, but at one point it required some signal processing knowledge I didn't yet have and the post languished.

Writing and publishing longer blog content in parts can help shorten the ‘go to market’ time which I’ve found helps with keeping motivation up and shorter articles rend to have higher readership

A crowdfunding site for product feature requests.

Stripe closed my account before I was able to launch as it was "unable to accept payments for crowdfunding"..... Their marketing doesn't match their policies.

> Stripe closed my account before I was able to launch as it was "unable to accept payments for crowdfunding"..... Their marketing doesn't match their policies.

Wow. I understand it's their right to do this, but that's total horseshit IMO. I guess maybe crowdfunding is subject to too many refunds, but IDK.

This is a really cool idea.

You could add a tag to feature request issues that it'd read from, maybe as a github app or something. I run an OS repo and it'd be really cool to be able to get through them all faster with a bit of money to pay a freelancer, for example. I imagine the users-paying side would be very hard to find though.

I'd also love to be able to attach a bounty to PRs with this money, although quality control would make me worry it'd be hard.

I imagine Patreon is never an enormous sum for people because the money is goodwill - it isn't tied to receiving anything back. You could make it like this.

I'm surprised there wasn't some other way of doing this - clearly other crowd funding sites exists, what do they use?

For open source issues there's already a few solutions, one to look at is https://issuehunt.io/ (they use Stripe)

Most use Stripe. I guess it's just a case by case thing. I really don't know why they rejected me when they advertise that exact use case [1]. But the policy I was directed to says the opposite [2].

[1] https://stripe.com/docs/recipes/connect-crowdfunding

[2] https://stripe.com/restricted-businesses

Stripe supports crowdfunding sites. I’d be happy to take a second look if you email me at edwin@stripe.com.

Awesome, email sent!

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