agraddy.com (Anthony Graddy)

RSS | Twitter | IndieHackers

MetricRiv | SellInPublic | FeedRiv | TwitRiv

12 Startups in 12 Months Wrap Up

12 Startups in 12 Months Wrap Up

The 12 Startups in 12 Months (Open Source Edition) challenge that I started July 1, 2022 is over and this is the wrap up post summarizing my thoughts. When looking at other challenges, it was often disappointing to not see any final thoughts so I wanted to make sure I concluded everything in a wrap up post for anyone else considering taking on this challenge.

I completed 2.5 projects during the 12 months, but I wanted to complete the third project before writing this post. The third project was officially launched in January 2024.

  1. Introduction
  2. Good
  3. Bad
  4. Recommendations
  5. What I Learned
  6. Next Steps

Introduction

Before starting the challenge, I had a lot of ideas for projects, but wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on. I also have never been good about broadcasting what I'm working on. I thought undertaking the challenge would force me to focus on building and stop trying to analyze what I wanted to build. I thought it might also help me build an audience because it would give me a reason to post more on social media.

The funny thing is that I think that those goals had both major successes and major failures. There was a bit of good and bad. Let's go through them below.

Good

There were many good results from the challenge. It forced me to put my head down and build. I tend to think through projects 10 steps down the road to see if I really want to pursue a project. You'll never be able to forsee all the issues that will arise so forcing me to just build and not analyze was very productive and helpful.

I've been a full-time freelancer since 2005. The goal has always been to be able to have my projects bring in enough income to support myself, but juggling freelancing and building your own projects is very difficult. I've found that I often spend a lot of energy and time on client projects and have very little left over for my own projects. Being able to set apart time to just work solely on my own projects was really enjoyable and gave me a taste of what being able to work solely on my own projects would feel like and it was great!

Along with building these projects, I wanted to power them using my own custom open source MVC framework called Mavoc. I haven't publicly launched Mavoc, but I'm really happy with where the PHP version is at (you can see it used in all of my projects). It still needs some improvements, but it is a solid base that I plan to continue to use on all my projects going forward.

When I started this project, my follower account on Twitter was a total of 5 people. I've been able to bring that number up to 107 people. I realize that is probably really low numbers for most people but at the same time starting from scratch without using any networks to build that up is a good accomplishment, and I'm really happy with that number with the limited amount of time I spent posting online. The challenge gave me a way to authentically post about myself and network with other users without feeling awkward.

It also really gave me a good feel for what it takes to build a Twitter following from scratch. I created a theory that I call the "Divide By 5" rule. Basically if you do not have any viral tweets but you are regularly commenting and interacting with others, it will take roughly 5 posts to gain 1 new follower. If you divide a user's total posts by 5 (this tends to work for users with under 10,000 followers - it doesn't work as well on larger accounts), there is a good chance you are going to be around their follower count. This obviously does not apply if the user went viral or if they had a large following outside of Twitter. I currently have 873 posts so divide that by 5 and you get 175 rounded. I'm a little behind where I should be, but I could have commented on other people's posts more often.

By posting updates to Twitter, IndieHackers, HackerNews, and this blog, it forced me to publish and interact with others more and also gave me a blueprint of how I want to proceed going forward.

Bad

Although there was a lot of good there was also some bad that came along with the challenge. I definitely failed in reaching my goal of launching 12 startups. I also did not reach anywhere near as many people as I was hoping to reach. When I launched MetricRiv (originally called NumbersQ), that launch post made it to the front page of IndieHackers in the featured section which brought in a lot less traffic than I was expecting. Every other place I posted about my startup, there was 0 response. When I posted my first two projects on HackerNews, they did not receive a single upvote. When I would try to promote my projects on social media, it would feel like yelling into the void with no one interested.

I knew the market was saturated with people launching projects but I was hoping that my projects being open source would help move the needle a little bit but it seemed like it had very little affect on the interest level in my projects (I think it did help with networking on Twitter because it was a unique talking point that people would ask about).

The second project I launched was the Twitter client TwitRiv. Focusing on TwitRiv for my second project was probably a mistake but I don't regret it. When I started the challenge, I wasn't originally planning to build a Twitter client (it was planned, just planned for later). However, I was starting to see some growth in my Twitter following and Twitter was running a Hackathon with cash prizes. The Hackathon due date was going to come before I originally planned to focus on building TwitRiv so I decided to reshuffle my projects and focus on TwitRiv next.

Unfortunately, that plan turned into a mess. Before starting I had assumed that the Twitter API would be a solid, simple base to build on but it was actually very frustrating to work with and there were unaddressed bugs. For example, TwitRiv was supposed to show users their timeline, however when you called the API timeline endpoint it wouldn't always include the pagination details. Meaning it would retrieve the latest list of posts but there was no way to retrieve more posts. This pagination bug was sporadic, sometimes everything would work perfectly and other times it wouldn't.

The more I got into it, I also realized that the free tier of the API that I was using was going to have major limitations on the way I wanted to use it. For example, you could only have a certain number of requests across your app. If my app was successful and was able to onboard a lot of people, I would very quickly run out of API requests. I had to build in some additional restrictions to make sure individual accounts wouldn't run through the API credits. None of this is completely out of the norm for API limitations, but I was used to browsing Twitter on the free and open Nitter alternative that used the internal Twitter API with no limitations so trying to work through the official public API endpoint limitations was another frustration.

I was able to launch in time for the hackathon but I didn't win any prizes. And very shortly after that Elon Musk purchased Twitter in October 2022. I spent a lot more time than I should have working through the Twitter API limitations and then not too long after that, timeline based apps started getting rejected from using the Twitter API (it was determined that apps could not mimic Twitter behavior) and then the free Twitter API was shutdown making TwitRiv completely unusable. The site is still up but it doesn't work. I'm not sure what my plan is going forward.

The work on TwitRiv is not all lost. It helped me learn quite a bit about some of the complexities of social networks and it also helped me move my Mavoc framework forward. Unfortunately, building the Mavoc framework was another item I need to also list under the bad.

My original plan was to build my 12 projects in PHP, Node, and Go. I'd built projects in PHP and Node before, but I hadn't built anything significant using Go (I was wanting to build a really simple project using Go). As I was working on adopting my Mavoc framework for Node and Go, I ran into a number of issues that really slowed me down. I ended up spending time working through framework issues instead of working through startup issues. Spending time trying to get your own custom framework working is frustrating when you are on a time crunch to get projects built. I ended up having to put the Node and Go projects on hold and just focus on PHP projects.

I think the PHP version of the Mavoc framework is in a good place but the Node and Go versions are going to have to wait until I have more time that I can dedicate to getting them off the ground. I don't regret building a custom framework but it did end up taking a lot more time than I had anticipated.

Along with delays in building the framework and focusing too much on the TwitRiv project, the other items that really pushed everything behind schedule was client work and a couple real estate transactions. As a freelancer, I had cleared enough time and funds in my schedule to be able to work full time on the challenge from July until roughly October or November. I was hoping that I would see some traction in one of my projects that would extend my runway. Unfortunately, that was not the case and I had to start spending a lot of time focusing on client work, especially at the beginning of 2023. The client work left little time for me to focus on my own projects.

Then in the spring of 2023, there was the opportunity to do a couple real estate transactions. The real estate transactions ended up requiring a lot of my time to work through the details because there was a time-sensitive component involved. Thankfully they were successful, but it also left very little time to work on the challenge.

As the time counted down, I was really optimistic that I would be able to churn out some projects but ultimately that wasn't the case. The third project I took on was FeedRiv which is an RSS reader. I'd worked with RSS before in some of my own personal projects that weren't public, but during development I realized building a public RSS reader is a lot different than building a private reader. I had to work through a number of issues to handle edge cases to make sure the project was user friendly, and it still has a bit of work to really get to where I would like it to be.

Another issue that was a bit more frustrating than I anticipated was that putting out everything as open source definitely took more work than I had planned. I needed to add documentation for each project to explain how it works and how to set it up. Doing all that while making sure you are not revealing any sensitive, private information takes more time. I don't regret doing everything open source and I plan to continue releasing items as open source going forward, but I'm not sure if there was any significant benefit to it.

The final issue that I need to discuss is the schedule I laid out in my original launch post. In that post I committed to posting 12 times and I said if nothing else, each month I will simply post "I've failed." Well, I failed to live up to that commitment. After I got started, I realized filling my blog with one sentence posts was not something I wanted to do. I tried to add notices to the top of the blog to give an update on where things stood but I definitely should not have committed to the schedule I outlined.

Recommendations

For anyone considering taking on the 12 startups in 12 months challenge, I would highly recommend it. My assumption is that if it is even something you would seriously consider, it probably is a challenge that would benefit you.

I did not have a successful conclusion but it pushed me forward in areas I really wanted to grow. I was starting from a place where I was good at building, had no social following, had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to build, but I wasn't sure which idea I wanted to focus on. I also had a bit of time and funds available (at least a few months) to get a running head start with the challenge. If you are finding yourself in a similar place, then I definitely encourage you to give it a try.

I would caution against having big expectations that when you complete everything you will have a successful business or thinking it will solve all your problems, but if you go in with the goal of simply growing in areas and using it to help you focus, I think it will be worth it. That being said, don't be afraid to dream big, you may end up having amazing results, you never know if you don't try!

I think the biggest benefit of the challenge is that it forces you into action and action is one of the best ways to grow and learn.

What I Learned

Through it all, I learned a lot. I think one of the biggest things I learned was how much work it takes to market a project from scratch. The market is very saturated with startups and projects that people are trying to promote, and it makes it very difficult to break through the noise if you haven't already built a network (and from what I've seen, sometimes it is still hard even when you have built up a network).

Some developers seem to really gravitate towards switching back and forth between a coding week and then a marketing week. I've seen this concept really promoted by Jon Yong of Two Bear Software. I may try that at some point, but it never has matched up well with the way I like to handle my schedule. I tend to like focusing on something to completion and stopping after a week would feel like I was leaving things unaccomplished.

Going forward, I know I need to spend a lot more time and energy on sales and marketing and less time on building. Like many developers, building is where I feel comfortable. Working to promote my work always has felt weird to me - I tend to approach things as "I built this, if it is good and you are interested, great, but if not, no problem." A kind of take-it-or-leave-it approach to marketing and sales will lead to failure if you are a solo founder like myself.

From what I'm seeing, there are not many resources for learning how to effectively handle marketing and sales from the perspective of a developer. Most times when successful founders are interviewed, they kind of gloss over the initial marketing and sales. They'll say something like "I reached out to 100 people and from there everything really started taking off" but that "reached out to 100 people" brings up a lot of questions (at least it does for me): How did you find these people? What type of communication (email, phone, direct messages, etc.) did you use? Were you concerned about spam laws or app restrictions? What was your percentage of responses? What did you say? Did you know any of these people previously or was this all cold outreach? What specifically did you say in your messages? And many more questions.

I think there is a major gap in the market on how to move developers from the process of building to the process of selling. And all that leads us to next steps.

Next Steps

Now that the 12 in 12 challenge is over, I've been debating what specifically I want to focus on moving forward. There are a few apps that I've wanted to create that I didn't get a chance to build but at the same time, my ultimate goal is to have my apps be able to fully fund my salary. I'm currently still doing freelance work and not anywhere close to being able to work on my own apps fulltime.

I've realized that if I go build the apps that I want to build, I'm just going to wind up in the same place with a need to market and sell. I already have a working product in MetricRiv that I'm proud of. Going forward, my plan is to start investing more time into marketing and sales for MetricRiv. As I've started thinking about this transition, I started realizing that there are very limited resources to help developers with selling.

There are a lot of resources to help developers "build in public" but there are not a lot of resources to help "sell in public." As I start down this journey of sales and marketing, I want to start putting together selling resources specifically geared towards solo developers, makers, and creators.

A lot of the sales advice seems to be focused on people whose fulltime job is sales or the other advice tends to be focused on helping established businesses improve their sales pipelines. There are very few resources to teach small independent creators how to sell their projects. Right now, the #BuildInPublic hashtag is well known. I would like to see the #SellInPublic become just as popular. I've been able to purchase the sellinpublic.com domain and I'm excited to start documenting helpful resources for small developers looking to learn about sales and marketing.