How I failed 5 side projects in 6 years, earning $0

This is a story about me dreaming of building an online project that generates revenue, seeking financial independence and creative freedom. After five years and no success, it's still a dream. Let me tell you more about my failed projects.

Planetoid (2015-2016)

It's all started with a game. Who doesn't love those, right? Imagine building one yourself! It would be so amazing!

Back in 2015, I paired with my friend and we decided to create a mobile game for iOS: Planetoid. In a nutshell, it was a graph-based strategy where you had to conquer all the planets by shooting bullets. Here's the video of how it looked:

We spent more than one year building it after work and over the weekends. Everything was done by us: design, music, level design, etc. We finally released it in November 2016 as a paid app. Unfortunately, people weren't interested in paying for it. 2 months resulted in no sales.

What's another way to monetize an app? Yes: ads. We decided to integrate ads and publish the game for free. After few months, we got 300 installations. It was a cold bucket of water.

We spent so much time on the game and almost no one played it.

But hey, it was our first experience! We learned a lot, made good and bad decisions on the way.

  • We gained experience in building an app from scratch and publishing it on the App Store. It was really valuable skills taking into account I had started my professional career as an iOS developer
  • The game was written in Objective-C using SpriteKit. It was the time when Swift was changing dramatically every release and it was a great idea to code in Obj-C. We saved a ton of time on code migration to newer Swift versions.
  • The marketing was almost non-existential. We posted about the game in common places like Reddit or Hacker News and we hoped that App Store would do the job. But it didn't. Planetoid simply drowned in the App Store.

Minfinity - a minimal time tracker (2017)

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I was disappointed with the outcome from Planetoid and decided to tackle the next project in another way.

This time I planned to build a time tracking macOS app. I designed it first in Zeplin. Then created a landing page with a mailing list for my next app. I wanted to promote it and verify if the will be people willing to join the mailing list. I integrated Google Analytics to see if anyone visits the website. I also set up a small campaign in Google Ads.

After 3 months of a campaign and marketing, I got 5 people who subscribed to the mailing list. It was below my expectations and I abandoned the project.

Minimal Metronome (2017)

This time, I wanted to build something just for myself.

One of my hobbies is playing the guitar. I wanted to build a metronome app that was minimal and functional. The idea was to have the smallest amount of buttons and to control the app by swiping gestures and get haptic feedback on every change.

Unfortunately, here the motivation didn't last too long. I was a bit tired after the last few projects. What's more, I found the app on the App Store that fulfilled my needs. So I abandoned this project as well.

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A long, almost 2 year break

After these projects, I was exhausted. I couldn't enjoy working on side projects anymore.

Having a day job and working on side projects is tough. It can burn you down. And it hit me a bit as well. I needed a break.

It was time to recharge my batteries and return to indie hacking only when I'll be sure I'll enjoy it. And it took almost 2 years.

The return - September 2019

Here we go again. September 2019. It took some time to take a rest, but it was worth it. I was excited about side projects again.

In late 2019 I was investigating the real estate market. The problem is that there are a lot of places where you can search for an apartment. What's more, the market was so hot, it was impossible to buy an apartment from the secondary market. Great deals were gone literally in hours.

I wanted to develop a tool to monitor new offers and notify me if there is an interesting one. The plan was to provide parameters like price, space, district, keywords, etc, and based on them send a notification.

Another project just for me with some potential for monetization.

I started developing scrapers gathering data. I spent maybe 2 weeks on it when I realized the level of complexity. This was too much work for just one person.

After a quick search on the Internet, I decided to purchase one of the existing tools and I abandoned the project. I didn’t want to burn out again.

Next time: choose something simple that can be accomplished by one person.

Get a Product Job (May 2020 - May 2021)

This time the main objective was to learn something new by doing. I chose Ruby on Rails. It's a great framework to build websites quickly. What’s more, I wanted to improve my web development skills. After this project, I wanted to have another tool under my belt for any future ideas.

I started building yet another job board. This time I planned to create a website with job offers only from product-based IT companies. I spent 6 months building it in my free time after work. I launched it in October 2020.

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I did some basic marketing. I was reaching out to companies on LinkedIn. I was posting in regular places like Reddit or Hacker News. After few weeks I managed to get one job posting from one of the companies. The rest of the offers I scraped and curated from different sources.

It’s worth mentioning that posting a job post was for free. I found out how dealing with taxes might be troublesome and I decided to make a website for free until I get a significant number of job postings.

Unfortunately, the website didn’t get any traction and I killed it in May 2021. But the goal of the project was accomplished:

  • I learned the basics of Ruby on Rails, Renderer and improved my skills in front-end development.
  • I learned about different ways of accepting payments.
  • I learned how to handle taxes for side projects when you’re an EU citizen.

Take aways

After all these projects I learned a lot about myself and what motivates me (or not). I still got many ideas in my head but right now I’m more cautious about choosing my next project.

First of all, when deciding about the next project, I need to choose the smallest idea possible that can be developed by one person. Cut the scope as much as possible.

Estimate the time needed for the MVP. It shouldn’t take more than 3 weeks, assuming having a day job and working on the project only in my free time. If the estimation is higher, try to find out the quickest way to develop the MVP. There are many no-code tools that might speed up the development. Just looks what Samuel Thompson was able to create in one day!

Had a business idea that I think could build in 24 hours and get to $5,000 MRR in 30 days…Should I write a massive thread outlining my entire process?- Building MVP in 1 night- Initial Market Research- Organic Marketing- Paid Ads TestingWould be a wild experiment…— Samuel Thompson 🥽 (@ImSamThompson) October 16, 2021

Having an increasing number of users is super motivating. Try to release the project as fast as possible to get first feedback and an early dose of fresh motivation.

And that’s all. These were all my failed projects. Keep fingers crossed for the next one.

If you want to follow my journey on earning first $ from side projects, follow me on Twitter:

How I failed 5 side projects in 6 years, earning $0.That's the latest blog post summarizing my bootstrapping history.https://t.co/OCD8D6kOeb#buildinpublic— Krzysztof (@kwcodes) October 24, 2021