Lessons From Building, Iterating on a Profitable Side Project

Can you tell us about yourself and what you're working on?

Hi, My name is Latish Sehgal, and I am a developer working for a startup in Dallas, Texas. I also have a side project called SqlSmash.

SqlSmash is a productivity plugin for developers who work with SQL Server. It integrates into SQL Server Management Studio and improves the developer experience by making it easy to get around and by automating certain tasks.

What led you to start working on SqlSmash?

SqlSmash started as a product for myself. I started with one feature that I wanted to use to make myself more productive. Then I came up with a second feature, which eventually led to more features. There are 15 features in there now. My target audience was other developers like me, so I figured there might be some interest.

SqlSmash was a side project, and I have always had a full-time job to pay all the bills. This was my first experience with doing an end-to-end product myself, so I did not have very ambitious goals to be honest. I just wanted to make some extra money on the side, and to learn about the bootstrapping process.

How did you make your first sales?

I worked on the product for about a year, showing it to other developers at conferences when I got a chance. Once I was happy with version 1 of the product, I built the website and started selling it.

I got my first few customers through traffic from Hacker News and Reddit. Those first few sales were a big confidence boost. Also, the posts on HN and Reddit were good initial validation that somebody would use the tool, and potentially pay for it, even if it takes some work.

What's been the hardest part of your journey so far?

I am primarily a developer, and I struggle with sales and marketing. When I read The 22 Laws of Marketing (long after I launched), everything in the book sounded logical and seemed to make sense. But on comparing my own thought process with the recommendations in the book, I had violated pretty much every one of those 22 laws. I also struggle with (self) promotion.

If you had to go back in time, what things would you do differently?

I would have started with a simpler first product, perhaps a book or screencast. I would have learned the same lessons faster. I also shied away from having a free version of the product, because that is what I read on the interwebs. I have gone down that route recently, and it's actually turned out to be a good marketing tactic in my case. I wish I had done that earlier.

Other than that, I am pretty happy with what I have achieved. I would keep the same focus on good habits: show up everyday for work, and make some progress in the right direction. Also, my product domain (or at least the technology behind it) is not sexy at all. It's quite boring actually. I am glad I did not let that influence me to walk away from the product.

What's your advice for those aspiring to make money on their own?

Focus. Talk to customers as early as possible, and let their feedback influence your design decisions. Make sure your family is on board with your commitment, since it might take a while to get there.

At the end of the day, remember that nobody has all the answers (especially not me). Listen to people's opinions, but trust your gut. Make something you will stand behind and be proud of. Start now, work hard and you'll figure the rest out.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. — Chinese Proverb

Where can readers learn more about you?

My personal website is DotNetSurfers.com. I've also written much more about my experience bootstrapping SqlSmash in this blog post.

Feel free to leave a comment or question below.

Latish Sehgal , Creator of SqlSmash

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