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The Slow-Cooked Side Project

The Slow-Cooked Side Project

How do you grow a side project from a weekend hack into a steadily simmering product that delights users for years to come? In the years after a friend and I created Wejoinin, we realized that what had started as a fun Rails side project had taken on a life of its own - an accidental startup. But did we really want to take the leap into becoming entrepreneurs? No way! Instead, we chose to slow cook our side project and grow our community on our own terms. This talk is both a story and a practical guide to growing your passion project on your own terms, harnessing the power of your "no"s, yet saying "yes" to the things that excite you!

Andrew Hao

July 11, 2018
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  1. The Slow-
    Cooked Side
    Project
    Turn your hobby project into a smashing success*
    @andrewhao
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  2. * success
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  3. * success
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  4. 4 / 78

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  5. * success
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  6. * success
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  7. 7 / 78

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  8. * success
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  9. * success
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  10. * success
    The satisfaction of learning & self-improvement
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  11. * success
    The satisfaction of learning & self-improvement
    The joy of creating something valuable
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  12. Part I:
    How to start
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  13. How to start
    Find a problem
    Find your problem
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  14. My task:
    Coordinate signups for a vigil event across
    several campus groups
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  15. My task:
    Coordinate signups for a vigil event across
    several campus groups
    Highly manual process.
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  16. How to start
    Find a solution
    Can it be solved with technology?
    Aggregate information from disparate sources?
    Digitize a previously-manual work ow?
    Automate a tedious task?
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  17. My solution:
    Build an online signup sheet for the event!
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  18. My tech stack:
    PHP, MySQL, and a little technology known as AJAX
    18 / 78

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  19. How to start
    Make it useful
    ASAP
    Otherwise it sits in a corner, gathering dust.
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  20. Coded in a sleepless evening
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  21. Tons of ugly code.
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  22. And Googled to hack together everything else.
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  23. The signup process went smoothly and the event
    was successful!
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  24. How to start
    Success metrics
    Did it solve your problem?
    Are other people interested?
    Who else needs to know about and use your
    project?
    24 / 78

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  25. Feedback:
    "Can we use it?" - other campus groups
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  26. Part II
    Sustaining your project
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  27. Fast forward to
    2006...

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  28. 28 / 78

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  29. Hello Rails!
    Very hip! Insanely productive!
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  30. Reframing the problem:
    Coordinating volunteers is dif cult!
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  31. Coordinating volunteers is:
    Paper- or email-based
    Highly manual & error-prone
    Unidirectional
    No single source of truth
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  32. Round 2!
    Solve a more general problem
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  33. Round 2!
    Solve a more general problem
    ...in a technology I want to learn
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  34. Sustaining your project
    Find a partner
    Misery loves company
    Align your values
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  35. hack
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  36. hack
    hack
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  37. hack
    hack
    hack
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  38. hack
    hack
    hack
    launch!
    38 / 78

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  39. Unsupported viewing environment
    Your system is having trouble playing this video. For more
    information, see our Help Center.
    39 / 78

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  40. Sustaining your project
    Launch
    strategically
    Reddit. Hacker News. Craigslist. Product Hunt.
    The local coffee shop.
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  41. Launched within our networks
    With the friends and groups we were a part of
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  42. Sustaining your project
    Have low
    expectations
    You'll never be disappointed
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  43. "If we get 100 users, this will have been worth
    it"
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  44. Yay success!
    We launched Something That Is Kinda Useful!
    We learned while we were at it!
    Our friends like it!
    Maybe 10 users like it too!
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  45. Sustaining your project
    Viral loops
    Does your product have a pathway to organically
    grow?
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  46. (Oh my goodness, we have users)
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  47. Users have wants!
    "Can you add Feature X?"
    "This would be perfect if you just did Y"
    "I would pay money if you did Feature Z"
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  48. P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E
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  49. You have a choice:
    Do you want to run this as a startup and work
    hard and actually maybe make money?
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  50. You have a choice:
    Do you want to run this as a startup and work
    hard and actually maybe make money?
    If so - read "Lean Startup" by Eric Ries
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  51. This is not that talk.
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  52. Life goes on
    We're full time students.
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  53. Life goes on
    We're full time students.
    Maybe you're a parent,
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  54. Life goes on
    We're full time students.
    Maybe you're a parent,
    or work multiple jobs,
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  55. Life goes on
    We're full time students.
    Maybe you're a parent,
    or work multiple jobs,
    or have relational commitments,
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  56. Life goes on
    We're full time students.
    Maybe you're a parent,
    or work multiple jobs,
    or have relational commitments,
    or life is just crazy
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  57. Sustaining your project
    N-O
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  58. Sustaining your project
    Do one thing,
    excellently
    Keep a laser focus on your little product.
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  59. Vision
    "the easiest way to build a signup sheet"
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  60. That means:
    Always free
    No ads (initially)
    Prioritize experience
    Be good.
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  61. Sustaining your project
    Be cheap
    Stay on the "free" side of freemium
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  62. Service Cost
    Linode $35/mo
    Google Analytics $0
    New Relic $0
    Sparkpost $0
    Bitbucket $0
    Slack $0
    Cloud are $0
    Bugsnag $0
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  63. No money no problems
    Not charging money relieved us of pressure to
    perform for users
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  64. No money no problems
    Not charging money relieved us of pressure to
    perform for users
    That means we can work on our own terms
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  65. Sustaining your project
    Guard your
    time
    Rule of thumb: No more than a couple hours a
    week.
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  66. Sustaining your project
    Keep your job
    Most things fail. You need your Real Job.
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  67. Sustaining your project
    Guiding
    principles
    Are we having fun? Are we learning?
    Do we still have a life?
    Are we proud of the work we've done?
    Do we have at least one passionate user?
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  68. Part III:
    The future
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  69. Fast forward 11
    years...

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  70. We kept it running with minimal effort!
    Rails 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 upgrade(s)
    Rewrote test suite, full functional test
    coverage
    Wrote our own CI deployment pipeline
    Traf c more or less slowly grew each year
    Built Elm, React components of the system
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  71. If you're not doing well...
    Say goodbye
    You had a good run. Put the product to rest.
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  72. We made the decision to put up ads and test a
    freemium model
    Support this for the long haul
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  73. The future
    Pay for things
    you can't do
    yourself
    We contracted out design to a real designer
    73 / 78

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  74. The future
    Find out what
    the users think
    Software analytics, customer interviews.
    Are you solving their problems?
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  75. Customer interviews
    Calls, in-person interviews
    Chat widget/Slack chat
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  76. The future
    We had a few
    interns!
    Giving back to the community
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  77. In conclusion
    Find a problem - yours!
    Get it in front of people
    Say no - so you can say yes!
    Always be learning
    ❤ being creative
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  78. Thanks
    @andrewhao
    wejoinin.com
    With inspiration from:
    Re:work: Jason Fried and DHH
    The Lean Startup: Eric Ries
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