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Shutting down my side project of two years (joshsharp.com.au)
180 points by joshsharp on Feb 25, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

You need a team.

I have the same problem doing things myself. I see the overlapping demographics too, I see the nebulous potential use cases too, I see the end products too, I finish them and then get saddened by the lack of polish or details I could put into it to match competitors.

After spending some time at big corps I came away with a realization: I needed a team to back me up.

Those guys that work at the fancy office parks with the free lunches and bus shuttles to everywhere, they don't work that hard! It's because they have the right amount of people to do the right amount of work on the right amount of things.

I also think of it as a fireteam from my Marine Corps training. When we engage in a firefight we utilize tactics of a lead, advance, backup with fire, lead, advance, backup with fire again, repeat.

You need backup.

The process you've established is correct, you just have to keep using that process to find the right product fit. Then you need to make a go at it, delegating work, polish, market, and sell.

Then the real question is: how do you build a team? We're talking about just one or two other people who are basically "cofounders". Finding these relationships is much harder than just hiring somebody, because you need to work especially well with them.

Having built a product, I'll also add that early on it's not just about finding someone you can work well with, they also need to believe in the product and bring some level of passion for it to the table.

I can work well with any number of people, but few understand the importance of things like audience building, using the product on a daily basis, etc., and even the ones that do might not act on that stuff. Overall passion for execution and moving the product forward are critical.

Maybe this is what you meant, but I wanted to add my 2 cents to clarify.

It's absolutely what I meant. I'm not actively looking to start a company or product right now, but I've wondered how more introverted people form those relationships with just the right people.

I'm curious if it usually happens naturally or if there's a lot of people that find cofounders after building the initial product.

Just like product design, I've found it sometimes takes months and years to find the right team, and sometimes it just happens. Lots of luck in business, especially when it comes to building teams.


Seriously. Post on HN with "Sideproject:HN:" and see if people are interested in joining you on github.

Use the first ten commits as a hiring test period - and if you like them they get partnership

This, times 100. My current side business (which is hopefully going into a full time business soon) has these three roles - biz dev, ui/ux, and web dev. It allows people to focus on what they do best, but still have some cross over. Luckily each of us has experience in each other areas as well. I could be wrong, but I feel like this setup of those 3 areas is ideal for launching a web based business.

Second that. I have been in the same boat. Built a niche search engine from scratch learning through open source projects and academic papers. Shut it down after 2 years when it became really difficult to manage operations, UI, testing, SEO.

Although promising in concept, I just could not polish it to a point where lots of people would be interested. Tried to bring in a co-founder later in the game, but its really difficult to find someone with the same amount of passion for your idea.

In hindsight, I should have just contracted out non-critical portions and maintained a more reasonable budget. I did learn a lot in the process though. So don't regret it as much.

Ironic that you make the HN front page when you're shutting it down.

It takes a lot of humility and courage to write such a candid post on something that was obviously the foundation of your hopes for two years. I have great respect for that.

Was it a complete failure? Absolutely not. You've picked up a great amount of technical expertise in the process. More importantly after all this is in the past you'll be able to reflect on it objectively and realise your mistakes and shortcomings - and you'll know, unemotionally, that they were to do on the marketing side.

Rob Walling said something once that stuck with me ever since. If you're looking to build something, approach it in order of "market, marketing, aesthetics, functionality." Not to paint with a broad brush, but it will at least help you realign your focus next time you jump into something like this.

Because you will jump into something like this again.

Thanks. I am working on something new actually, but this time with a cofounder. We're taking the opposite approach - find the market, customer development, then build something. I think both having a cofounder and taking this approach make a lot of sense if you are serious about the project. When I started blaster.fm, I wasn't.

I think having customers early is key to creating a sustainable project. A good co-founder is also priceless. It sounds to me like you're on the right track, I wish you luck in whatever you do next.

Thank you for a being an encouraging voice on HN.

After reading your article and looking at the site, I think you might be pulling the plug too early. I have been in the same boat before. You spend all the time to build something, you believe it's got legs and then....radio silence. Then you get some interest but it never really takes off.

I would bet that if you really talked, like physically talked (phone, Skype) with your users, especially those who haven't been active for a while, you might start to learn more about what you need to do to gain more traction and develop the product further.

Without knowing more details my takeaway is that "build it and they will come" is not an effective user acquisition strategy.

1) What was the feedback from your friends who were using it?

2) Did you try to talk to customers to see why they left? What did they say?

3) Sticking around for a month is pretty significant. Do you know what kept people were sticking around for that long?

I haven't found the Flippa community to be overly drawn to custom tech (i.e. not wordpress, etc.) unless there is already a large audience for the site. I think the HN crowd needs a Flippa equivalent for abandoned projects.

I am happy to donate the domain startuptrader.com to the effort :)

http://www.ex-prj.com is my side-project for listing projects that you're not going to love. I think our idea is good, but in case it won't become to what we expected and be abandoned in the future, this time I start without coding. I use tumblr since it's almost zero-cost. But so far it's not going well. I am sure I had problem that OP has had. But seems sometimes people like to build a platform but few people want to try a new platform.

I agree, and I'm not sure how well it will go on Flippa. I think you have a point! Hopefully someone will build something.

If you really want to sell, you need to improve your Flippa auction. Set your starting bid to $1. Set your reserve price to something realistic; in the low $100's. I know the site was your baby and you put a lot of effort into it, but buyers are mainly concerned with if the site is currently making money or if it has a high ranking and gets a ton of traffic. Your site is a PR-2 and has no income, so that's a factor. Reduce the auction time-length to 5 or 7 days. You'll get most bids in the final 24 hours. That's how you move a site. :)

Ha, sounds like ebay.

I agree that Flippa buyers are mostly concerned with sites that are making a profit, and I'm not sure blaster.fm is a good fit for its market. Having said that, if it's only worth a couple hundred dollars, I'd rather just not sell it.

I think you are making the correct choice. What you built is an app. And it seems that it is a good one. But building the business behind this app is a challenge that you do not want to pursue. So don't do it. Don't listen to those who say "get a co-founder". That wont fix anything. Your focus is not it. Sell it, move on.

I'm not even sure it is a viable business itself. Aside from advertising, it has very few options as it stands. You would need to modify the platform in order to introduce other profit channels. But you already said you don't want any more of it.

Thanks, I think you got the point of the post and your conclusion is spot on.

I think I would put it under what pg called "a dangerous bad idea" (can't remember the exact wording) because it initially looks like a good idea - hey, a social network for music! I might use that - but turns out to be built on a false premise.

Yes, exactly. People don't realize that you can't make. Business out of everything. Plus there are some ideas that will actually hurt you more than anything. But the great thing about this is that you learned. Lot from it. Take a break. Digest your experiences and try again with something entirely different. Before you do, get the contact details of the people who use your current app. That's a market that knows you and will be receptive to whatever you come out with. It could be the difference between failing again and turning a profit from the start. good luck.

I agree with alaskamiller - you need at least a co-founder. Having somebody to bounce ideas off of and ask questions to is invaluable.

More importantly though, forget about the technology. After reading your post, it sounds like you're frustrated because you spent a ton of time implementing super hip technology and yet still nobody is coming.

People don't care about technology. They care about what your site does for them. You also didn't appear to talk to too many users to find out what it is they needed.

My advice is to follow the data. If your data shows that nobody needs your site, then shut it down. But don't shut it down because you built it and hoped they'd come without trying any marketing or customer research.

Your story, down to the timeframe mirrors mine. I created a Pingdom competitor (https://www.pingbrigade.com) that was cheaper to operate and cheaper for the users, while being easier to use and supported IPv6. After I launched it I got several hundred sign ups over the two years, but nobody seemed interested in the paid accounts (they let you monitor more than one thing). I did not realize just how attached I would get to this project and how the fact that it never became profitable would weigh on me. Last month I decided to pull the plug on it and sent out an announcement to the users. I got a few responses of "Noooooo!!!! Why???!!" I know for a fact that business development and marketing were not there and that is why it never took off, but it was my flagship project and it is hard to let it go.

Good luck to you on your next project. Hope it does better.

Thanks for posting about this, I think you've mentioned it before and its changed my mind about offering a free product, other than a 30-day trial for my current side-project. I don't want to get a couple hundred users who love my product but are just a burden for me when the site fizzles. I also don't want 500,000 customers I cannot monetise or even get any marketing value from. With a consumer-oriented site like the SP it is different - you have to give something like that away

I am glad to share my experience. If you end up learning from my mistake, I am happy for it. The sad thing is that I was thinking that I was doing it right: I had the whole freemium thing with individuals using the free version and larger entities going for the paid accounts. Turns out that if there is a large competitor in the space it doesn't matter that they are twice as expensive for their cheapest plan: a business will go with them because of the reputation. In fact, I think their price point makes people feel more comfortable. My paid plan was $4/month (vs PingDom's $9), but I think that's what made it seem like the cheaper alternative. But the biggest problem was that the free plan was too good. It should have lasted for 30 days and then automatically started charging for the premium service.

Anyways, good luck!

Things I might have tried (w/ time & energy): a better logo, more SEO, plans start at $10/yr /monitor, 30-45-60-day trial. Text alert to pay for service near end of trial.

I think what a lot of people are missing in this post (and maybe this is my fault for not making it quite clear) is that I do know marketing is the missing ingredient. I'm entirely aware that you can't build something and just hope that people will come and use it. Even if I didn't want to think about this initially.

The problem with saying "you're almost there, you need marketing" is that I am done. I don't have the effort for marketing. I started the site for fun, to scratch an itch, and that has passed. Maybe I'm close, but in all likelihood I could've done everything right and still got nowhere. I need to draw a line in the sand, and this is it.

However, it's nice to have people acknowledge that the problem is most likely marketing oriented, rather than a fault with the site.

It is a pretty nice site.

No, the problem is not marketing. The problem is that it is a product designed without profitability in mind. Making it profitable would require a fundamental change in the product itself. That it is why you are lucky this did not grow more than it did. It would have left you with something people use a lot but without any way to make money off of it.

Making it profitable would require a fundamental change in the product itself.

Not necessarily, this is just speculation.

While designing for profitability is definitely the better way to create a product, there are plenty of successes which have simply aimed for millions of users and figured out their monetisation strategy afterwards. This seems particularly true for "social" products. It may have worked for blaster.fm, it may not. We can't know.

You make a good point but it is flawed. The startups that have been successful without a revenue model are an itty bitty little minority. Compare to those that have failed without it and you can see that the pattern is clear. You need to design with profits in mind. You don't open a pizzeria and give away pizza. You give samples once or tsice but you charge for pizza from the start.

But I'm not blaming or shaming you. Your project got further than most. It was very good learning experience which has give you a lot of tools you did not have before. Tools that will help you on uour future endeavors. Just make sure to starting charging from the start next time.

You're totally right. You can make money but only once you can reach a critical mass of others (read: lots). It's far harder to carry you there if you don't have a revenue stream for a small amount of users. That's why lots of peeps are fan of SaaS products. Money coming in from the first user.

I wonder what would happen if you spend as much time on marketing as you spent on development. I am not sure which would be the best: perhaps blog posts, facebook activity, small ads, or guest posts on different sites.

Or, what if you spent as much time on 'biz dev' as you spent on development. Perhaps talking to some music communities online and having them link to you guys in exchange for highlighting their music or providing some service to them.

I am not saying that the above would work. I likely would have had similar biases as you. But as I grow up as an entrepreneur I am beginning to realize all the hats that I need to wear (and that when I get lucky one of these hats makes a huge difference).

This is why I'm scared to invest too much time into something that isn't directly for my benefit.

Anything you build, however, is to your benefit, as long as you are able to learn from the experience.

True. That's mostly my focus for now. I think a lot of people get stuck trying to do something to big to fast. Great ideas take time to make happen.

Agreed. The only reason I ever started on http://searchco.de/ was because I wanted something I would use on a day to day basis. Because its something I use as part of my daily workflow I still keep adding things modifying and tweaking.

Will it ever go anywhere? Probably not, but that's not the point. If I can get it to the point where it pays for itself I will be happy to keep running it as my forever project. Of course, if someone wants to invest money in it and myself...

"I checked in weekly to post a track, but no longer considered it in active development."

If you check the site only once a week, why should other users bother?

The site infrastructure is I believe valuable. One can pivot into a different idea using the same infrastructure and simply move on, re-using the code base.

Have you thought about creating it as a Spotify app. Also have you thought of FB integration to add friends easily. Additionally once they have FB auth'd you could add in FB stories. There is always a careful balance with sharing, you don't want to be one of those auto follow sites or push to many spammy stories. It is amazing what people will share given the option. I like the site!

I can't vouch for the service but consider a campaign on https://www.bountysource.com

Maybe you can get enough money from people who want feature improvements to keep the site up for a little longer. If you have some consistent users you must be doing something right, and it definitely looks like a well made website.

I'm one of the co-founders of BountySource and would be happy to answer any questions about our service. We're also on irc.freenode.net in #bountysource if you want to come chat!

You desperately need faceted search on that interface. Something like Apache Solr. Otherwise, it is very interesting to look through the projects.

I also don't know if all those 'joiners' icons add much, especially since many of them a blank github images. Social proof is great, but I would put something else in there instead. Something more action-causing.

Just a thought.

I think you are pulling the plug too early. You just finished the development part. Now is time for marketing. Believe it or not, just posting on hackers news have gotten you a few new users. (maybe it was your plan all along ) But still now that you have refined the code focus on the users listen to their needs. And focus on acquiring more. The game only begins. 49webzone.com was started by a friend of mine and it took off only after 13 years.

I just deployed my first big project last week and my plan is to spend 80% of my time on marketing and the rest on fixing bugs. Maybe it will fail but I will make sure I do what most of us developers try to avoid like a disease.... Marketing!

Eat your own dog food. I believe developers should use their application before others. If you feel good about what you built, of course users feel good also.

He likes the application and has gone through a lot of beta testing with friends. The problem seemed to be that he was not willing to put more effort into pushing the project.

Is it possible to decouple the dependency on Last.fm, in case they shutdown their API? If it is possible I will consider making a bid.[1] Can you also upload your analytics? How many 'core users' are left?

[1] Probably just going to let it sit there if I do get to buy it. I buy abandoned side projects because I feel sad seeing web services becoming unavailable.

That's very noble of you.

It's definitely possible, but you're always going to need a provider for song metadata (album art, album name, artist details etc). If you move from last.fm you'd have to find someone else to provide the corresponding data.

I would suggest Discogs. They have full data dumps with this information http://www.discogs.com/data/

Or musicbrainz http://musicbrainz.org/

It is strange that all the new ideas seem to stem only from you instead of your users. I don't think that you would have found a better product interating only with yourself. For example, in the land page, it would be better to see a discussion of a very well-know music, and invite to see other songs that I like.

This looks awesome, what a shame you're closing it. You've made front page of HN - for the wrong reasons - you've had positive comments and people are interested.

You need to focus on marketing the product you've made so well. Try it. I've signed up to this too.

I'm wondering if you just need to spend time on marketing? What are your thoughts of 4 Steps to Epiphany by Steve Blank?

Maybe you could team up with http://www.thisismyjam.com/

Were/are you using the site yourself?

There was a link to his profile in the flippa listing: http://blaster.fm/joshsharp/posts/

Look how sporadic the posts are. That should tell you something...

As another replier suggests, the use is pretty infrequent. If the itch is no longer that itchy, maybe the drive to use the site is a bit weak for other users too?

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