January 6, 2020

First 12 months of managing my first side project

Momcilo Popov @momciloo

In December 2018. I published my first side project, a service to make a real printed flipbook from your video (called flpbk.io). 12 months passed quickly, and it was just an amazingly rewarding journey so I thought why not sharing some learnings I picked up along the way. It might be useful for some of you considering starting the same journey:

Live chat. Crisp chat solution saved me more time and secured more sales than anything else. I use the free version, and besides one time, I never needed any of the pro version features. People love to chat. And I love to chat as well. Besides that, I wanted to chat with customers, meet them, understand their needs and help them. Chat feature helped me fix the typos and update website information within a few days after launch :) Chat helped customers understand the product better. Make custom deals. tip: I'll never launch anything without having a chat feature in the bottom right corner of the website.

Automate everything. One of the challenges I faced with the project is automation. From the first day, I knew I don't want to spend too much time managing the orders etc. It's just not fun for me. Plus, since I'm running my web development studio, I didn't want to have such a commitment. So my goal was to see how far can I go with automating things. Eventually, I ended up automating everything. Uploaded videos are generated automatically into printable paper sheets, which are then zipped and sent to the printing office, together with the auto-generated shipping label. The customer then gets an order confirmation email. Once a month, I supply my printing office with envelopes, so they print flipbooks, bind them, pack them, place the label, and even...... hand of in the post office across the street. Then they mark the order as shipped, which automatically sends a customer a shipping confirmation email. Pretty neat right? For such a trust between me and the printing office team to happen, it took us several months of collaboration, improvements and alignments. tip: Collaborate with people whom you can trust, especially when it comes to the core features of your product.

Don't automate anything. Wait, what? Well, I must admit, I'm a control frick. haha Actually, I'm just scared when it comes to someones else's money. People usually order flipbooks for birthday gifts, proposals etc, which are kinda deadline oriented. Failing to deliver on time because of any of the automated steps failed. So, I kinda put a button between critical automation 😁 When a customer orders a flipbook, I first check the printable template before forwarding it to the printing office. Then, since I love packing the orders, I do that on my own sometimes and then check the flipbook quality at the same time. Half-automation allows me to be able to quickly react if anything weird happens (which, surprisingly, never happened in this first year). Full automation allows me to still keep travelling a lot and trust that everything will work while I'm away. tip: Don't automate in a way that you don't have access to react quickly. Especially when working with user-generated content, mistakes happen.

Listen. When I launched, people were so excited, and only support and congratulations were coming to me. Then some well-intentioned suggestions started to arrive, and I listened. Since there were a lot of good ideas, I tried to write them all down and wait for some similar suggestions to see if it is a feature that's really important or just a nice-to-have one. That way, flipbooks evolved from paperclip-hold to full high-quality binding, order tracking and DHL quick shipping. tip: You don't need a ton of features. Just launch with one, and let users tell you what they want. Then try to understand how to align their wishes with your mission.

Collaborate with people. You don't know everything, you don't need to know everything. Put the calculation on paper. How much your time is worth? Is it better for you to spend weeks or even months figuring out how to develop a certain feature or even the whole project, or hire someone to do that quickly and professionally? It depends. But at least consider. I figured out that collaborating with people (usually friends) on things they are more skilled than me, keeps me motivated and focused on the vision. Losing momentum is sometimes more expensive than spending a few bucks. tip: Prioritise things, see who can help along the way. You are not alone, and you don't need to do everything, especially if that puts the project idea realization in risk.

It's not about money. Eventually, it's not about money. During this first year, the project kept me busy every week. It returned the initial investment (domain, hosting, outside help) within the first two months. And yet, it's still not my full-time job nor my main source of income. It's just a side project I enjoy rasing 👶. Flpbk helped hundreds of people celebrate someone's birthday, propose someone, keep a memory of someone or something, celebrate company successes... And as a developer myself, and a social and friendly person, I sometimes lack a human interaction in this remote programming industry. Flpbk is my window to the real world, where people use technology I made to get offline things that make them and their close ones happy and smiling. tip: Maybe this sounds cheesy, but you'll see that making people happy with the product you made, no matter the industry, is the only thing that matters at the end. You'll see once you get your baby.

What I haven't learned yet, but I thought I'll learn along the way:

Marketing What's that? I still suck at marketing. Social media, hashtags, posting times, target audiences, promotion budgets, campaigns... I don't know. Maybe I'll figure out the way to automate that in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, I'll rely on recommendations.

Thanks for reading! :)

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