This is the first part/month of my challenge to build 12 side projects in 12 months
In January 2022, I focused on building Tressel – a SaaS that allows Twitter users to save tweets & threads to their Notion, Evernote & Obsidian workspaces.
Frankly, I officially started the project in November when I purchased a domain and set up the GitHub repository. By the start of January, I already had a bare-bones, buggy MVP finished with ~100 signups.
But instead of abandoning it to start fresh with a new project, I decided to use Tressel as a “warm-up” for my challenge to build 12 side projects in 12 months.
Here’s a week-by-week breakdown of what I did in January.
🗓️ Week 1 – 01 – 07/01/2022
I did nothing. My apartment lease was ending so I was frantically packing and trying to find a new place to stay. In the midst of all that, I was focusing on doing a formal 2021 review (which I considered to be my highest-leverage activity at the time).
🗓️ Week 2 – 08 – 14/01/2022
With the moving & annual review done, I was ready to work. Until this point, Tressel could only save tweets & threads via public comments and was a free “beta” app.
My first major task was to add a feature I could monetize. I used the app myself and found saving via public comments intrusive (I wanted my bookmarks to be private). So I decided to build the ability to save tweets & threads privately via DMs.
I set up a Stripe subscription of $5 USD monthly (or $48 USD annually) to allow users to pay for and use the feature. And my first paying user was… me.
Meanwhile, bugs were a huge issue. While half-heartedly building the app last year, I took on a lot of technical debt. Roughly 20% of the time, people’s tweets weren’t saved or exported to Notion, Obsidian or Evernote.
This worried me. In response, I made the mistake of prioritizing perfect stability. In a one-month challenge, this was both naïve and inefficient.
🗓️ Week 3 – 15 – 21/01/2022
The next week, I got my first paying user (that wasn’t me)!
It didn’t happen through conventional marketing/sales either. I was casually messaging other indie-hackers on Twitter to connect. One day, one discovered Tressel through my profile, thought it was perfect and signed up straight away. Just a spur of the moment thing.
With more and more active users, new bugs were showing up almost everyday. Paired with stress from my day job and having to find a new place (as I was living with parents), I lost a lot of focus and made a mistake this week.
I focused on fixing bugs, improving UX and building “nice-to-have” features. I did things like adding database pagination, creating a new landing page template and adding live chat support.
It was frantic procrastination that wasn’t growing the app. I should’ve been building “must-have” features, marketing more and collecting user feedback.
🗓️ Week 4 – 22 – 28/01/2022
The end of the month was nearly here and I only had one paying customer. So this week, I focused on getting feedback, marketing and building differentiating features.
The two main pieces of feedback I got were that the app wasn’t worth $5/month and that saving tweets/threads via public comments was a pain. To me, these were signals that the app wasn’t quite valuable enough (not that I should decrease the price).
For marketing, I focused on cold outreach to people on Twitter, forums, Discords, YouTube, email and Reddit. I was looking for two groups of people:
- Anyone that actively used Notion, Obsidian or Evernote (and Twitter)
- Influencers in the PKM, second brain and productivity space (that used Twitter)
I sent about 50 messages and got ~7-8 replies with just one influencer responding (to say no). Twitter was the most effective channel by far with email, YouTube and forums the worst. But I learnt this too late, in the last week of this challenge…
In an attempt to increase value, I built two differentiating features. The first was the ability to save conversations between >2 people. The second was to auto-save tweets you like.
These were both features that no other competitor had but it was too little, too late.
🗓️ Week 5 – 29 – 31/01/2022
I lost the last few days of the month to sickness from the COVID vaccine and burnout from deadlines at my day job.
I managed to add one new feature; abbreviated commands for saving tweets via DM. Then, I worked on smaller stuff like improving the landing page with testimonials and better copy and fix other bugs. But nothing of significance was done.
📜 Lessons learned
Focus on the important
And ruthlessly avoid the unimportant. Focus on building differentiating features that solve problems, marketing consistently and getting feedback.
They are the three pillars that success depends on. Avoid things like database pagination and live chat support until they’re begging for your attention. You don’t have time otherwise.
Always underestimate what you can do
One month is far shorter than you think especially when you have a day job and other commitments (like moving house or doing an annual review).
Your aim is to produce 12 projects over the course of this year. By setting aspirational “stretch” goals every month, you’re guaranteeing burnout.
Focus on consistency over intensity. If life gets in the way, reduce your intensity but maintain your consistency.
Build high-ticket, B2B products
Tressel is a low-ticket ($5/month), B2C SaaS. Marketing it takes almost as much effort as marketing a higher ticket SaaS ($100+/month) or service business ($2K+/month).
Moreover, Tressel is built for consumers. Compared to businesses, they have much less purchasing power and more frivolous demands (e.g. great UX).
It takes more effort to build a B2C business and you earn less compared to a high-ticket B2B business.
So the latter is a more efficient vehicle to achieve your goal of building a $10K/month business by the end of 2022.
To reach $10K/month:
- Tressel ($5/month) would need 2000 paying customers
- A $100/month B2B SaaS would need 100
- A $2K/month B2B service business would need 5