From $0 to $20,145.92 in 2 months with a side project

I've been building open source software for the past 10 years. And I always thought that monetization was evil.

It took me a while to realize that money is not evil, money is oxygen.

In December 2019, I decided to learn more about sales. So I went to Amazon and bought several books.

In the end, I only read one - but I quickly realized that if I really wanted to learn this, I'd have to practice it in real life.

I love my job and I was definitely not looking to leave it. However, you can always start a side project, and that's what I decided to do.

I opened GitHub, looked at my open source projects, and built a plan around monetizing Dracula, which is a dark theme for developers.

At first, this seemed like a crazy idea. Who would buy a color scheme for their code editors?

When you start, there are all these inner voices trying to stop you, but deep down, I knew I could build something meaningful.

In February 2020, I launched and... people started to buy. The feeling of receiving even $1 for your side project is unbelievable.

It's really hard to explain. It opens your eyes to a different reality.

If you're considering creating a side project, stop waiting, and do it. Do it now. I mean it, close this page and start it right now.

I'm sure you're not going to regret it a couple of months from now.

If you're curious about this side project I created, you can check it out here: https://draculatheme.com/pro

  1. 9

    Firstly, congrats on taking the leap! It's not easy.

    I'm really curious about some aspects however. Considering you have quite the following on Twitter, how much of the revenue do you believe was generated from this funnel?

    I'm asking because most indie hackers don't have an audience, and releasing something, even if it's great, can actually end up in disappointment.

    Would really love to read some insights on how you promoted the theme, if you can share.

    1. 3

      It's a fair question @mihai_iova but keep in mind that building an audience is just as achievable as anything else. Everybody starts from zero at some point.

      Building an audience is a bit like doing exercise. A lot of people can't do 10 push-ups and when they try it ends in disappointment. However, if you keep at it soon enough you'll be doing 10 push-ups easily. Do it regularly and you'll soon be doing 25, 50 or 100.

      So, try not to dwell on the fact that you don't have an audience yet. Instead, just focus on taking the next step and build that audience one day at a time.

      1. 1

        So you're saying if I do push-ups I'll get an audience

        1. 3

          Depends. Are you going to make a video of you doing those push-ups and put it on YouTube?

          In all seriousness though, we already have an audience. I'm listening to what you're saying and you're listening to what I'm saying. That's an audience. Even an audience of 1 is a starting point.

          1. 2

            Good point! I guess it's hard to quantify at times.

    2. 3

      Thank you @mihai_iova.

      I actually have some data around that. Only 7 sales (3.7% or $289.93 of total) have been made through Twitter: https://share.getcloudapp.com/E0ubWdAK

      Having an audience is really important, but it can be made through other channels.

      1. 6

        Question. How do you get traffic? That part is the most imporant. Almost all sales come via your site. But how do they get there?

        1. 2

          Great question Dedupely. Most of it is organic traffic that comes from the open source version and people coming from my personal social media accounts. You can see the full traffic breakdown by looking at SEO tools such as ahrefs.com.

      2. 2

        Thank you for sharing this and for being so transparent! Looking at the sheet, I have to say, I'm quite surprised. But at the same time, I don't believe it counts for people discovering your site through Twitter and returning directly at a later date to purchase. I might be wrong, but this is the first thing that came to mind.

        Did you have a free version running for quite some time before pushing the pro? I'm not familiar with your product, but from what I can see on the website, it seems like it.

        Also, can you share other channels that had success? And what was your train thought for pursuing those channels.

        1. 1

          Hey Mihai, you're right. I don't think we can rely on those numbers for true sales attribution.

          I wrote about how the entire project got started here (https://draculatheme.com/about), but basically it all started in October 2013, when I launched the first theme. Over time more contributors started to help and now there are almost 100 themes there.

          The other channel that was really effective for me was email. I can't stress how important having an email list is.

  2. 3

    Zeno this is so cool. Very keen to hear about what methods you used to drive traffic to your domain. Where did you post about it, and with what kind of frequency? Great job!

    1. 2

      Great question Chris! The open-source version of Dracula has been up and running since October 2013. Because of that many people wrote blog posts and linked to the site over the years. I never did an outreach myself to try to get backlinks. This is actually something I wish I had done in the past.

      1. 1

        Very useful to know, thank you!

  3. 3

    Congrats! Which book helped you the most?

    1. 2

      It was this one - Launch by Jeff Walker: https://amzn.to/3a728ho

    1. 1

      Wow, this is terrible! What browser and OS are you using?

        1. 1

          Thank you so much @j0e. This should be fixed now :)

  4. 2

    Congratulations 🍾

    I think we all have the same question here:

    How did you create traction?

    1. 1

      Thanks Navin! The open source version of this project was definitely the biggest driver. Doing a pre-launch campaign and generating hype was also fundamental to generate initial traction.

      1. 1

        Very cool to hear, thanks for the insights.

  5. 1

    I'd figure that for human eyes, it would make the most sense to generate pallets from colors that are equal distance in the CIELAB colorspace[0] (or similar).
    I personally love the Dracula Pro examples on your webpage, and will definitely strongly consider buying it after I graduate, and recommend it to others. But I'm curious about the justification for using colors that are approximately equi-distant on a synthetic RGB-derived colorspace instead of a human-eye-derived colorspace like CIELAB.

    Am I wrong? It looks like the Dracula PRO pallet is composed of points roughly equidistance in an HSL/HSV disk based on the sRGB vectors in one of your images[1]. But maybe that's a red herring; looking at the colors themselves in the IDE they look fairly CIELAB-esque to my eye at least so maybe you did use that family of colorspaces (HCL[2] or Lab, for example).

    For people who want to play around with this themselves, http://hclwizard.org:64230/hclwizard/ is a great resource, although there may be other/better ones. I personally found value in seeing the points mapped to the 3D volume, and at least partially understanding how the HCL and Lab volumes map to sRGB volumes. This one doesn't show the volumetric spaces in 3D, unfortunately. But it does show some incredible visualizations under the "Spectrum" tab which show how linear the choices are in f(RGB) vs f(HCL) parameters.

    Also important for readers to note that this pallet, "Dracula" is quite different from the potentially more widely seen "Darcula" pallet included in JetBrains IDE. It's easy to misread the spellings, but this one (Darcula) seems to have much, much better colors. To my eye at least.

    0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIELAB_color_space

    1: https://draculatheme.com/static/img/pro/wheel-dracula-pro.pn...

    2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HCL_color_space

    3: http://hclwizard.org:64230/hclwizard/

  6. 1

    That's really cool. I've been asking a few of the successes here about how long it has taken before they get a decent wage from what they do - yours is one of the shortest!

    1. 1

      You should check @dvassallo's story, he's a beast!

  7. 1

    This is awesome, Zeno. You've inspired me to do the same with a couple of my open-source projects. Thank you! 👌

    1. 1

      That's amazing! What open source projects are you applying that?

  8. 1

    Great Job and well done!!

  9. 1

    This theme was also featured in one of the visual studio code release notes, so i guess it gained a lot of popularity after that.

    1. 1

      I didn't know that @Shogo, that's great to hear!

  10. 1

    Congrats! I use the dracula theme for my cmd :)

  11. 1

    That same thing happened to me. I opened a new digital store at https://visualmotivations.in
    Found that people are loving it.

    1. 1

      Looks great, love the minimlist style. Are people buying them? How many sales did you get so far?

      1. 1

        Hi Azarai. Yes I got few sales in launch of first week. I am planning to start marketing with Facebook Ads. Just created a new video for it

    2. 1

      This seems very similar to Visualize Value. How are you differentiating?

      1. 1

        Hi Zenorocha,
        Yes, inspire from the website. As a designer I was thinking to provide Gary Vee's, famous people quotes into the design so the future founder entrepreneurs can get a boost from it.

  12. 1

    Congrats @zenorocha

    Keen to know your sales / growth journey and your advice to make a side project more successful!!

    Definitely echo that, it was super rewarding when you receive even $1. I started a little side project recently, the feeling was crazy when I received $30 on day one.

    1. 1

      Getting that first dollar is a feeling that you never forget. Congrats on your journey too @felix12777!

  13. 1

    I think to be fair, the title should be "How I made $xxxx in 10 years."

    1. 6

      If we want to be really fair the title should be "How I made $xxxx in 29 years".

      If it wasn't for my parents investing in my English education when I was young I wouldn't be able to do all this. If it wasn't for my grandparents buying me a personal computer when I was a kid I wouldn't be able to do all this. If it wasn't for my dad paying an HTML course when I was a teenager I wouldn't be able to do all this.

      We are all a combination of multiple variables and experiences that prepares us for a particular moment.

      The title is "From $0 to $20,145.92 in 2 months with a side project" because I never made a single dollar from Dracula until February 11th. But of course, my trajectory as a human being and as a professional software engineer started way before.

      1. 1

        He has a point - you launched the product in 2013 and just recently capitalised on it's success. Of course the things you mentioned are connected, but the actual project history is what we are talking about here. Anyway, i'm happy (and maybe a bit envious) for your success.

      2. 1

        Well said. It is truly inspiring and what you and others have said is true about just getting started on your side projects as soon as you can.

  14. 1

    What's the name of that book?

    1. 1

      It was this one - Launch by Jeff Walker: https://amzn.to/3a728ho

  15. 1

    @zenorocha Quick question, how did you reach out to your potential customers? If you don't mind sharing is your marketing channels from some blog posts you wrote? by SEO or just word of mouth ?

    1. 1

      Hey Noj! I didn't reach out to my potential customers directly. The only people I reached out directly were a couple of friends that I wanted to try the product before it was released to the public. My only marketing channels were the existing site and my personal social media accounts.

  16. 1

    Love your story.
    I'm active OSS contributor and creator myself, monetizing for me always was (and still is) hard work.
    Very happy to see your success story, well done, kudos sir!

    1. 2

      I totally understand that feeling. Thanks and good luck on your journey Dmitry!

  17. 1

    Absolutely love this - would love to know your sales strategy!
    Seems like Twitter was one of them, but what ads or sales pushes did you make to get people to start buying over the past 2 months?
    Would be super super curious to know. :) Love what you're building.

    1. 1

      Hey Maxwell, you're right, Twitter was definitely one of them. I haven't started doing paid ads yet, but that's something I want to start doing now. The initial sales were pretty much driven by the launch hype.

      Thanks for your questions!

  18. 1

    Congrats @zenorocha very much deserved! Curious, can you share how big your email list was that you pitched this product to?

    1. 1

      Sure! I have around 1,400 contacts nowadays, but when I launched I believe it was around 900. However, I don't think you should use those numbers as a comparison for anything. Email list sizes are not the right metric to look at. How engaged people are on the list is the true metric.

      1. 1

        Thanks for sharing! Really nice to see!

        I don't think you should use those numbers as a comparison for anything. Email list sizes are not the right metric to look at. How engaged people are on the list is the true metric.

        Yea... I wasn't. Just a curiosity question. Thanks again for sharing...

  19. 1

    this is quite inspiring.

    1. 0

      Glad to hear that Dervis!

  20. 1

    It took me a while to realize that money is not evil, money is oxygen.

    Think this is so very common with our generation. Perhaps after the clusterfuck that is 'revenue maximization at all cost by all bigco', our generation suffered from some sort of moral whiplash resulting in us going in an orthogonal direction.

    However, the pendulum has swung way outta whack on this one. If you wanna do good, you need money. Not asking for money (or trying to avoid making it) is mainly just an excuse; a way of hiding from seeing if the market wants what you've made. You can blind yourself from the truth which is, what you've made has zero commercial value. I.e. Your baby is ugly.

    Now that might be fine if you're a dilatant, but if you're a professional you should treat it the same way a comedian does when his entire set bombs club after club... My shit's not working and I need to change it.

    1. 2

      That's totally true. I grew up in this world of: get an investment - create a unicorn startup!

      It's very easy to dismiss the money factor, but that's the ultimate metric.

  21. 1

    Pretty impressive for a theme! People seem barely willing to pay for tooling, so it's interesting to see stuff like this produce decent income, congrats :D

    1. 1

      That's true. I think there's one important aspect to consider which is related to pricing. Most tools use a monthly subscription model which everybody is already tired of. This product I created uses a one-time purchase model, which definitely has a LOT of drawbacks. Still, I think some products can perform better with it.

  22. 1

    Nice, very cool and inspiring to read this!

    1. 2

      I'm really glad that this inspired you. Thanks for the comment!

  23. 1

    Congrats on the achievement. You deserve it!

  24. 1

    Congrats @zenorocha, I was using dracula theme on vs code. it's really a nice theme.

    1. 1

      That's awesome! I'm glad you like it ;)

  25. 1

    I learn a lot from your landing page, the 1-page-sales-pitch approach is very effective.

    I develop a Mac App sold by App Store, and the problem with it is the funnel is very long and not transparent. It is hard to get conversion. I may consider doing what you did here.

    1. 1

      Totally! I thought about doing other sub-pages but this 1-page format is performing very well.

      Marketplaces are great, but I feel like you always need a place to format your message without the constraint of other platforms.

  26. 1

    This is inspiring. Keep up the good work! DraculaTheme looks cool.

  27. 1

    Congrats! Greatly inspiring to see people monetize things as 'simple' as a theme!

    1. 2

      It doesn't matter how much people have on their bank accounts. From the richest to the poorest everybody is buying something. The question is: are you going to be the one buying or are you going to be the one selling?

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    This comment was deleted a year ago.

    1. 1

      Hey @domz, so far it's been all organic traffic and social media posting. I want to start with paid ads in the next couple weeks.

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