by Peter Thaleikis
I'd like to share my experiences and lessons from completely rebuilding, then 'fine tuning' for too long (aka procrastinating), and finally relaunching my little pet side project Startup Name Check. As you can imagine there were lots of frustrating moments and of course great people who helped along the way. But let's not jump ahead.
Just a heads-up — If you hoping for a "That's how I started something small on the side and it turned into this massive five-digits dollar per month business after just a few months"-article, please surf away. You won't find happiness here — this is just the regular grind and what I've learned from it.
Where I started off:
Back in April this year, I started Startup Name Check for a number of different reasons. Like many other indie hackers I wanted to:
build something that is addressing your own problem or need ("scratch your own itch")
build small and iterate on it. Build fast, fail fast and learn fast.
Other reasons aren't as common:
Even though I've been a developer for a long time and contributed to open source projects, the idea of putting my work out there feels oddly strange and foreign. Seeing my project 'in the wild' - with only my name to it - was a challenge in itself. Addressing this weird feeling was one goal of building Startup Name Check.
With the weird feeling of putting it out there came the second weird feeling: talking about it 😁️ Simply the idea of talking about my own work was strange too. I always felt like I'm "selling" something - a rather unpleasant feeling. With this second weird feeling the list of strange feelings is getting to an end. Seems like I’m addressing a few weird feelings with this side project 😁️
Marketing: Another weird feeling 😛️ Just kidding, but it was and still is foreign ground to me. I like the nature of this challenge as it’s less "binary". That is interesting in itself. Slowly though, I feel I get the hang of it. Not saying I'm any good. I just suck a little less. This includes SEO, writing about my project and planning/discussing ideas and campaigns. Learning about how to market a project by myself was and still is one of my key goals of Startup Name Check.
Doing it "proper": When you're working as an employee sooner or later you are bound to face the feeling that you would do something differently. In my previous working experiences this was often the case with the projects I've been working on. Often I had the feeling I'd like to "do it proper" and more future proof instead of "quick and dirty" as I've asked to.
Money? Yeah, money is somewhere in the reasons too. Less for the money itself - more for the feeling of "Yay! I can do it, I actually built something people see a value in and are paying for - completely by myself.". During the launch I made 20 NZD in commission via a partnership program - this was during the time Startup Name Check had only limited functionality and no sign up option.
The initial responses to Startup Name Check were great. I loved all the positive vibes and messages. So I decided to advance the project more.
I looked into the suggestions I've received on Product Hunt and via the contact form. Most of them were logical next steps. Everything made sense and followed the path you would think — more domain names and social media networks to check, more features and some more tweaks to enhance the user experience. I mostly agreed with of the suggestions. Next, I put a list of things I thought would make a great next version together. The idea of "Startup Name Check version 2" was born.
When I discussed the feature ideas with indie makers they were excited. No one understands the pain of searching for a great project name more than indie makers. It often ends in frustration because your desired names are blocked or used for similar projects. Every time you come up with a new idea for a name you head off to check the usual places — .com, .io, Facebook, Twitter etc. Each of them takes you at least a few minutes to check, if you consider variations of names. And unfortunately it’s always the last one search when you find out why the name won’t work out. When you add the time thinking of names or brainstorming with others it all sums up to hours and hours. Time that could be saved and invested into building your project instead. This is where I see Startup Name Check solve an actual need: It allows you to cut the time for searching and validating names from days or hours to minutes. Version 2 of Startup Name Check should make a difference how you search and track your social media handles and domain names.
With this great start I felt like the remaining features for v2 would be fairly easy to add. So I decided to not release the Vue version straight away — what more value would it really provide? I set my goal on implementing at least the core functionality I had planned for version 2. Looking back, I consider this a mistake. Mainly for two reasons: I could have gained more experience of running this type of application before jumping into the deep end with a more complex application. I also missed out on the opportunity to work on the project in public. When I started out in the indie hacker space I didn't think of this really. Now, as we watch the "WIP clone wars" unfold it's pretty clear that building in public is important. By the way, you can find me on Makerlog. Looking back I should have rolled it out — maybe simply without any public statement. I didn't think of this option back then.
As we watch the "WIP clone wars" unfold it's pretty clear that building in public is important.
As you can imagine, the development didn't continue as smoothly as my initial optimism let me believe. As you might expect, there is much more work involved making it check 50 (instead of 6) domains and social media networks. Some of the networks put up a real fight to expose the information. I also underestimated the time required to get the UI working to my desired level. I spent a lot of time trying to get Stripe to work with VueJs. I learned this was more a problem of my way interacting with Stripe than of VueJS or Stripe. Over time I got slower and slower as my energy dropped. As I grinded my way through the workload a serious family issue came up. I ended up traveling back to Europe for two months. A mix of being distracted and procrastination replaced my quick initial optimism. So much for a quick turn around and fast delivery!
Picking up work you've began two months ago is hard. Instead of building up monthly recurring revenue, I only built up monthly recurring regrets. After a while, I got back into working regularly. Starting small and picking small tasks helped me to get back on track. During that time I've been lucky to get the invaluable support from Vincent (@yesnoornext) maker of threader.app and Rhys (@rhysbeingsocial) the maker of domainz.io. I know both of them from the time I started out in the indie hacker space. Even though they were busy with their own projects, both spent hours talking about my thoughts and doubts. A big thank you to both of them!
Instead of building up monthly recurring revenue I only build up monthly recurring regrets.
The public launch of Startup Name Check version 2 was an exciting moment. On one hand, I was excited to see what would happen, if someone would sign up or even subscribe. On the other hand, I was worried: Would the site work for everyone? Did I forget anything? Did I make serious mistakes somewhere along the way?
My goal was to make the launch as smooth as possible. So I prepared a list of actions to do as part of the launch:
A list of Tweets with partial screenshots to show the new features and explain them a bit.
Links to the Product Hunt comments suggesting new features which I've had implemented in v2 along with replies for the comments.
Personal messages to a few people who interacted me since the start of Startup Name Check v1. I intentionally didn't write everyone — that's not me. I just don't feel comfortable spamming everyone.
A log entry for Makerlog
The original launch in April drove a lot of traffic from Product Hunt. This one platform got me around 10k visitors and 8k searches alone. Dinuka shared with my that I can't relaunch on Product Hunt (under the same name) within six months of the original launch. So this one was off the table quickly.
With these prepared I deployed the final version, tested a few things and started getting the word out. Shortly after I started, I got a message from Dinuka saying that the Facebook login didn't work because the app wasn't switched to 'live' mode. I thought "Wait, I checked this and it worked for me!" And it did, because I'm the creator of the Facebook app (haha). I thought to myself "well, if this is the biggest issue then I should be fine".
Compared to the original launch, this one was very quiet. Not really the result I was hoping for. I knew that the traffic probably wouldn't be comparable to the launch in April as I didn’t have Product Hunt driving new visitors to my site. In percentages it looks great — over 100% more traffic increase from the previous week. In absolute numbers, it doesn't look so great — it’s still under 100 people per day. A few days later, the traffic dropped to the same number of daily visitors as before the launch.
To put this in context:
The big spike at the beginning is the first launch on Product Hunt. You see the traffic falling and tailing off to a few hundred users per month. I missed the spike in June as I'd been in Europe at the time. The spike in August came from Vincent's article about his maker journey. The article found quite a few readers in indie hacker space and some of these readers found their way across to Startup Name Check.
The third spike happened totally unexpected. I got a little bit of love for Startup Name Check from Product Hunt in the form of a tweet.
And finally, the last little spike: my relaunch. I marked it in red to make sure you don’t miss it
That relaunch doesn't look like a success? Yeah, fair enough, in the classic sense of launching you would call this a failure. I'm happy I built it and keep iterating on it. This time for real — small changes, without rewriting the whole application.
My key takeaways are:
Don't put too much on your plate: Iterate on a small base. Every day that you delay your relaunch, your user base from the original launch is getting smaller. A few months earlier I might have been able to activate a few more of the people who talked with me after the April launch. A small work chunk size also help you to get back into working on your side project when life is throwing you off track like in my case.
Log your progress at a platform like WIP or Makerlog as well as on a Twitter thread. You get great support and people are usually more forgiving if they are actively engaged in your progress.
Be happy about the progress you make and don't force yourself too much. As long as you keep moving forward, you should be happy with yourself. You’ve got to balance your life — I know this doesn't meet the typical indie maker "grind 20 hours a day" philosophy.
Measure your personal indicators of success: Most people would consider my relaunch a complete failure. That's fair enough. But my goal wasn't to make lots of $$ with this. My goal was to build it, push myself to publish it and learn some basics about marketing. I would say that with this goal in mind, I succeeded. I suggest you to measure your success based on your goal, not on the goal others assume of you or your project.
Where from here?
Well, I could give you a long list of features I'm going to build or a dreamy vision of Startup Name Check becoming the tool for all indie hackers and serial founders. Yet, I don't see this becoming the next big thing — which is fine. I'll still iterate and implement feedback now and then. The niche is, and always will, stay very small. I probably can't earn money with it. I'm okay with that — I'm not just here to earn money.
Thanks for sticking around through this long long article! Two more quick things before we finish off:
Tell your friends please. If you know someone who could benefit from startupnamecheck.com, please let them know. I would like to see my little project getting used more 🙏
Last but not least, I would like to thank Ethan (maker of KanbanMail), Sergio (maker of Makerlog) and previously already mentioned Vincent for their great help in getting this article ready to be published!
Keep shipping! 🚢️
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Published under the following tags: Startup Name Check Side Projects