How We Built a $1k/Mo Passion Project While Working Full Time

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi! Collin here, co-founder of Water Cooler Trivia. I built a B2B passion project with two close friends over the past year and a half. We managed to make ~$10,000 in revenue during our first year while also working full-time day jobs.

I studied finance and economics in college, worked as a management consultant, and now work in product at a big tech firm. Growing up, I was a huge trivia nerd. I watched the 3:30 p.m. Jeopardy airings daily with my five siblings and went on to host pub trivia in college at a local dive bar.

Water Cooler Trivia consists of weekly emailed trivia quizzes for the workplace. Our goal is to spark conversations and competition among co-workers. We want to give people at work something to talk about and a way to connect without discussing the weather and weekend plans. :)

Water Cooler Trivia Homepage

An office "captain" signs up and personalizes the categories, difficulty, and timing. Co-workers join the trivia group and receive a weekly ten-question trivia quiz. We automate the scoring and send around the winners and scorecards the next day. There are also all-time and category-specific leaderboards so you can learn who’s the office bookworm and who’s keeping up with the Kardashians.

We started working on this part-time in Fall 2017 and made our first sale in January 2018. As I write this in early 2019, we're at an annual recurring revenue of ~$13,000 with 50 teams paying us for weekly trivia quizzes.

Work on something that you know will force you to keep learning.

Tweet
Share

What motivated you to get started with Water Cooler Trivia?

When I was 20, I started my first “professional” job (I’d mowed lawns and worked in bagel shops before). The gig was an internship at a major consulting firm. I was more intimidated than I wanted to admit, especially when it came to interacting with firm partners with decades of industry experience.

To help break the ice and meet new folks around the office, I decided to share my passion for trivia. After getting the okay from the HR team I gathered ten of my favorite trivia questions, threw them into a Google Form and sent the quiz around the office.

To my surprise, dozens of people submitted responses within minutes. I stayed late that night (and each subsequent Monday) to grade everyone's responses and to awkwardly Photoshop my coworkers’ faces on Olympic podiums.

The quizzes were a hit. The weekly winner was congratulated by strangers in the office and I heard whispers around me about the “only bachelor President” or the “all-time winningest movie at the Oscars.” It made me feel like part of the team.

Fast forward to my next job at a transportation technology company. I sent the quizzes out again. And just as before, trivia was a hit.

I realized there’s something universal about trivia and the dialogue it sparks; it brings camaraderie and has the appeal of pub trivia without the two-hour commitment. I wanted to bring these weekly conversation-starters to more offices. Thus, Water Cooler Trivia was born.

Water Cooler Trivia Testimonials

What went into building the initial product?

The MVP was a Google Form quiz with hand-graded responses years before I thought about making a real product.

In July 2017, three friends of mine agreed to forward around this Google Form quiz at their offices and I used MailChimp for email delivery. I continued to hand-grade the quizzes (in Google Sheets) for a few dozen folks at four different companies for about a month. At that point, responses were positive enough that I began the hunt for co-founders.

The perfect partner to help bring these quizzes to more people? My college pub trivia co-host, Nick, who lived just across the East River in New York. Almost too conveniently, his roommate Ryan was a software engineer itching for a new side project.

After just one in-person meeting, the three of us decided to build and launch a v0 as quickly as possible. Because it's largely an email-based platform we didn't need extensive design or web functionality.

All three of us were (and still are) working full-time jobs outside of Water Cooler Trivia, so we agreed to get together once or twice a week and to each spend around ten hours working on WCT.

We spent about two months building the first version which largely consisted of queued email jobs and automated scoring mechanisms. Ryan had recently built an email service for his day job so we leveraged his experience there.

How have you attracted users and grown Water Cooler Trivia?

The three of us started by introducing weekly trivia quizzes at our workplaces and then expanded this alpha group to the employers of a few of our close friends. This gave us about seven pilot groups that helped us get in a rhythm of constant product improvement and writing questions.

Once we launched an actual platform (not using Google Forms), we posted on our social profiles to get more traction for Water Cooler Trivia. We didn’t do any other marketing in 2017.

We experimented with many different marketing outlets in 2018. Here are a few of them, in descending order of ROI:

  • Talking to friends and family: At no cost, this is our (inevitably) highest ROI sales funnel. Most people we talk to are working full-time jobs, and we’ll often recommend they sign up their office for trivia. Convincing them to do so works about two to five percent of the time but at zero cost to the bottom line.

  • Podcast Ads: We’ve had a lot of success with relatively niche podcasts. There aren't many trivia-focused podcasts out there but when we find them, they come with an extremely qualified audience for our product. A great example is Trivial Warfare. They only have around five thousand weekly downloads, but it’s an audience of trivia aficionados that have created dozens of groups on Water Cooler Trivia. Many have convinced their office to pay for our product. The lesson here is that the more qualified the audience, the better the outcome. This is especially true as we have expanded to promoting on other less-popular podcasts.

  • Email Newsletter Ads: We’ve had ads on a few different newsletters such as “Now I Know” by Dan Lewis. Again, we are aiming for a fairly niche audience and have had some luck (though not as much as with podcast ads).

  • Sponsoring in-person trivia events: We paid a national pub trivia company to shout us out across the country at bars, but this only netted two groups. When people heard about us at a trivia event that prohibited phone use (for fear of cheating), there was too much lag time before they could access our site. We lost money on this approach.

  • Targeted LinkedIn messages: We’ve sent a lot of messages to office managers, HR directors, and other folks who have access to a social budget but had no success. Cold messages are hard.

  • Growbots: We tried out a lead-gen software that did not net us any sales or even any warm leads. Bummer, but good to know that outbound sales aren't going to be our bread and butter.

  • Content marketing: We’ve written a few blog posts but have not been able to leverage these in a meaningful way. We're still excited to continue writing more since we have a pretty interesting data collection. For example, users have spelled Amelia Earhart's name in 20 different ways when answering a trivia question about the female aviator.

  • Social media ads: We suspect this is still a good opportunity for us but we have not invested the time or effort for it to pay off.

My best advice? Find the narrowest set of your potential audience and focus on that niche. For us that has been the trivia-esque podcasts, and we’re continuing to find more and more podcasts in a similar mold.

Water Cooler Trivia How it Works

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We started with the idea to target office social budgets. Based on our own experiences, we knew this was frequently a "use it or lose it" spend category. It's also typically spent inefficiently.

From the beginning we were pretty set on a subscription model based on the size of an office, but we still had a few discussions about when/if to start charging money for our product.

We decided to offer the product completely free in 2017 (we launched in August) and then started charging in January 2018. We offer monthly and annual subscriptions with three months free when committing to a full year. We decided to price the trivia group based on how many participants are playing.

We use Stripe for payments and have a few overhead server and mail expenses. We put all of the remaining money (50%+) directly into marketing costs.

What are your goals for the future?

Good question, and one our team wanted to answer directly and collectively at the start of 2019. We took it a bit too seriously and came up with a set of OKRs:

WCT 2019 OKRs

1. Validate product market fit through sustained growth

  • Achieve 0 months with declining ARR
  • Add $15k ARR through new features and elbow grease
  • Add $15k ARR through new sales channel with a payback period of <12 months
  • Secure a meaningful (>$5k) partnership

2. Delight users with our product

  • Deploy one customer-centric innovation per quarter
  • Less than 5% of churn opportunities manifest
  • Establish Steering Committee of super users

3. Free up our time and energy for growth

  • Outage frequency declines
  • Question writing consistently takes <2 hours per week
  • Autograding consistently grades >80% of responses
  • Resolve customer issues faster

Spitballing with friends and coworkers about the idea can spark new features and important feedback.

Tweet
Share

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Three things that spring to mind are weekly user feedback, talking about the idea in social settings, and setting a weekly working cadence.

  • Weekly user feedback: Not applicable to all products, but it's been super helpful to be using Water Cooler Trivia at my workplace. It gives me guaranteed weekly feedback from my coworkers. It's not a representative sample of all our users, but it's very helpful feedback at a regular cadence.

  • Ideating socially: I talk about Water Cooler Trivia a lot and this has been tremendously helpful, although my S.O. might think (definitely thinks) I talk about it too much. Spitballing with friends and co-workers about the idea can spark new features and important feedback.Two quick examples: In July 2017, I was discussing the idea of productizing weekly trivia quizzes with a co-worker at lunch when he suggested the name Water Cooler Trivia. We never looked back. A year later when we were ready to redesign our homepage, we didn’t know how to find an affordable, high-quality designer until a college friend coincidentally texted me asking if we needed any design work (he was looking to build up a freelance portfolio). We had a new homepage within two weeks.

  • Weekly working cadence Last but not least, my co-founders and I chose Monday nights as the day to get together in-person each week. Sure, we push to Tuesday or Wednesday some weeks, but having a “default” night makes scheduling much easier and hugely contributes to a regular pace of important, in-person discussions.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

I know it's trite, but it is enormously helpful to have co-founders who smooth out your highs and lows as a founder. On days where you're bearish, one of your co-founders will be bullish; this is necessary for maintaining forward momentum. Also, work on something that you know will force you to keep learning. Sometimes this means new languages and frameworks, and sometimes it means new trivia facts and research habits. :)

Where can we go to learn more?

Check us out at watercoolertrivia.com/indie for an extended free trial.

Have any questions, ideas, or fun trivia facts? We love ideas (and questions). Comment on this post or shoot me a note at [email protected]

Or find the team on LinkedIn and shoot us a direct message: Ryan, Collin, and Nick.

Collin , Founder of Water Cooler Trivia

Want to build your own business like Water Cooler Trivia?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

We're a few thousand founders helping each other build profitable businesses and side projects. Come share what you're working on and get feedback from your peers.

Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

Loading comments...