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Cover image for No pain, no gain: How I worked on a side-project

No pain, no gain: How I worked on a side-project

crecotun profile image Alexei Crecotun Originally published at crecotun.com ・6 min read

I thought working on a side-project would be easy and profitable...

How this has started

Back in 2010, inspired by the movie "The Social Network", my friends and I decided to become millionaires. Next 3 years we had been developing our startup.
We raised investments, visited California, released 4 versions of our product, participated in business-incubator, and... shut down the project.

Later we did several attempts to make new startups, but for different reasons, they never were released.

Tracktions

In 2017 by the will of fate, I relocated to Hamburg. Several months later a friend, with whom we developed our first startup, relocated to work for the same company.
Later, when everything with relocation and adaptation was settled down, the idea of giving another chance to startups popped up again in our minds.

I'd been thinking about developing a new app with React Native for quite some time when the friend came up with an idea of an app. In May 2018 we started working on a project that would become the first among multiple others.

The app’s functionality was simple, and the beta version shouldn’t have taken more than a few months. But unexpectedly sunny, warm summer — which is very rare in Hamburg — has changed the plans a little bit and the project didn't receive enough love as we initially planned.

November 30, 2018, after 6 months of development, refactoring, improvements, and painful upgrades of React Native version the app was published in TestFlight.
So we started testing among our friends and kept improving the product: improved UX, rewrote some parts of the product, covered it with tests, made a website, and recorded a demo video.
Our progress looked very promising and we were close to the public release date.

Design v1

Design v1

Easy-peasy? Heh...

We were about to release when my friend decided to quit the project. I hadn't reacted emotionally, but this was a strong and unexpected strike. The person who initiated the project, who was responsible for UI and marketing just quit the project.

At the same time, I was looking for a new job and was spending all available free time preparing and passing interviews.

It was hard to decide what do to next. I had no energy left, thoughts to quit and never do side-projects again were popping up in my mind constantly. But somewhere inside me was sitting a person, who was angry and wanted to release the project no matter what and start gaining experience on how to promote and sell.

May 27, 2019 Tracktions was officially published in AppStore. At this moment, I could feel, that it's impossible to keep working on the project. I stopped pushing myself, switched to "rest mode" where I worked only when I felt it. Besides this, I was spending a lot of energy to adapt to a new company.

4 months later, I moved to Berlin, where I had found a new job (seems to be not enough changes in the last time). The first half a month I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor at my friend's place, and on weekends I went to Hamburg, where I was preparing an apartment to return it to a renting company.

Along with that, I decided to stop working on Tracktions until I get an official paper from the company, where they allow me to work side-projects in after-work time. It's a common practice to prevent potential problems.

First attempts to sell

Constant product improvements turned out to be just a simple avoidance of the sales phase.

What bothered me the most was the fact that I didn't know how to pitch the idea. I got the product, I was using daily, but I couldn't sell it to another person.

The vision of how to pitch the idea constantly changed in my head. The idea is simple, but at the same time, it was hard to find words that describe what problem it solves.

To understand it, I was talking about the product whenever it was possible: at interviews, in the office, on twitter. I hunted for feedback to find the perfect pitch. During this period, I managed to sell the app to several people.

What kept me from actively promoting was that there was no version for Android, which meant that most of the audience was not reachable.

A second breath

In April 2020 a company I work for introduced short-time hours and our team had to work only 8 hours per week. This was a chance for me to dive in to work on the app again.
I had already several ideas that needed to be done to promote the product. But all this news about COVID-19, that I read on the internet, were hanging somewhere in the background of my mind. Because of them I had very hard times to focus and didn't progress a lot.

To somehow get over this and get back on track again, I decided to change the activity. The first idea was to start with some design tweaks that was hanging for quite some time. Surprisingly it worked very well. I got a flow and after several days had all designs moved to Figma, changed theme color, and completely redesigned one of the screens.

I kept experimenting and remembered that I always wanted to stream how I code. The current situation looked like the perfect moment to give it a try. The experiment went very well — 2 hours of the first stream I was so focused that could accomplish as much as I usually do in 4-6 hours. I did several streams, part of them even in English, where I successfully developed a landing page (design, development, and even wrote texts), redesigned an app, and finally, I shipped a version for Android users.

The new version of Details

The new version of Details

What did I learn?

  • Developing apps with React Native
  • Making simple landing pages
  • Writing texts, that explains the idea of the product in English
  • Designing the app
  • Still in progress, but already understand how to sell
  • Shipping
  • Finding time for a project, when there is none
  • Understood how hard it is to work on a side-projects while having a full-time job
  • Getting and working on a feedback
  • I became bolder to talk about what I'm doing

What's next?

  • Define timelines and KPIs to understand if it makes sense to keep working on this project
  • Get experience with Product Hunt publication
  • Research more ways to promote a product for free

Where is the gain?

When you're working on something that doesn't show visible results for a long time, you could start thinking that it makes no sense to continue, and maybe it's a good idea to quit.

I get these thoughts every 3 months and always try to answer myself honestly on the question "Why do I keep doing this?". When I just started this project I tried to gain experience in mobile development; then I wanted to learn how to release and how it feels to finally ship the product. Today I am doing this to get experience in promoting and selling the app.

I am also looking at side-projects as a sandbox where I could learn new technologies, get new skills. So all the knowledge that I gain during the work will be valuable in other projects, so I won't lose anything if I decide to quit.

Despite all the difficulties that appear on the way, I believe that working on something outside the main activity is useful. This opens the way to the experience and skills that you might not get at work. But those skills can change your life for the better.

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