Hardcore Year First Month — Getting press coverage and reaching $361/m revenue

I recently quit my job to follow my passion. I gave myself one year to find success and a two step plan.

Step One: Solve my own problem

Step Two: Build a startup to solve said problem

This is what happened

TL;DR

  • Worked on problem that I have and made the solution for myself
  • Procrastinated for 1month
  • Quit job and wrote a blog about it
  • Launched Sheet2Site.com
  • #1 Product of the Day + #3 Product of the Week on Product Hunt
  • #1 Hacker News of Show HN
  • Featured in Lifehacker twice
  • 30,000 unique visitors
  • Sheet2Site Revenue: $237 16 sales (2 yearly customers)
  • Hardcore Year Blog Revenue: $94
  • March Total Revenue: $361

Story of Sheet2Site.com

In my previous startup, my step one was to create a list of apps that supported dark mode. The problem was people not having a direct list of these apps and my solution was providing it. When I was making my previous project Dark Mode List, a list of apps that support dark mode, I needed to manage a lot of content. I didn’t know SQL but I used Google Spreadsheets a lot, inputting name, link image, etc for each application. I connected the spreadsheet just as I would a database and started to use it.

This method of building lists has become increasingly popular. People are building collections of best tools, places, influencers, cryptos, etc.

With increasing popularity, I quickly looped back around and was back at my initial step one.

I had found a problem and I was even more sure that I knew the solution.

Wouldn’t it be useful to have a tool that will generate a beautiful website from a Google Spreadsheet?

The rumors were true. While building my first startup, I had run into a much bigger, and much more profitable, problem that I knew how to fix.

Game on.

🛠 Build

I made the first raw prototype in a couple of nights with PHP. It was able to build it quickly because half of the code I pulled from Dark Mode List. As coder with some experienced, I know that reusing code from old projects is a major hack. My stack is:

  • Vanilla HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP. No frameworks
  • Heroku + Dropbox. Not Git. Only Zip as you know :D
  • WIP Chat for accountability. All product was built in public with . Here is the list of all my tasks that I’ve done.

The first version looked like this:

I made a cats list from the spreadsheet as an example:

I continued working on it, improving the design of the front page and the generated pages for about one month. It needed to be user friendly and easy for anybody to understand. These were the improvements.

When I started to showing it to people, they were all still confused. They didn’t understand what they needed to do to make their website. As the creator, this surprised me. I thought it was blatantly obvious how to create their website.

I was totally wrong.

✔️ User testing

I started walking up to people in my co-working space and asking them to test my project. Probably I looked like this:

I’d just sit with them face to face, watch how they are using product and listen to their feedback. No arguing, no hints, no ego explaining “how genius my instruction is”, etc. Just pure, unfiltered feedback. Face to face real people feedback can teach you more than an entire month of working alone.

I spoke with ten people and each time, based on their feedback, I improved my instruction. True success hit when the user didn’t need any instructions and understood the website without my external help.

😥 Depression

After the site was semi-ready , I’ve made a soft launch and shared it in my Twitter, Indie Hackers, Beta List. I felt like everyone would be using it because it was solving such a popular problem.

This is not what happened.

What happened was people saying, “Oh, nice idea”. This hurt.

Someone even told me that the website was pointless, as Wix, Squarespace and other website builders were already doing this.

Feeling the pain of a failed project, I walked away. For one month, I didn’t touch Site2Sheet. I didn’t want to look at it, think about it or even talk to anyone about it.

Thankfully, I didn’t fully give up.

What I know now is that depression stage is a standard in any creative process. If you hit this stage, know that you are on the right path and that it is crucial:

You do not give up now. You can do it if you persevere.

✨ Perfectionism trap

After I succeeded at pushing through the first hardship of my entrepreneurial journey, I immediately fell into the next. I started working on Site2Sheet again but quickly became obsessed with perfecting it. I didn’t want to launch it until every single thing was in perfectly in place. At the time there was something wrong with the CSS all the time and I became addicted to continuously fixing and polishing the website. I feared that when I launched, people would judge the final product as a shitty version of the big website builders. I fell into the trap of perfectionism, continuously polishing and never launching so that I wouldn’t have to deal with judgements, rejections or people questioning why I created it in the first place.

Here’s the thing:

Users won’t pay you if you polish your product to its ideal state. Users will only pay you if they find something valuable for them within the product. They are only going to pay you if you solve their problem.

With over thirty things to do before the official launch date, I scrapped the list and hit publish.

Perfectionism would not keep me from fulfilling my mission.

🚀 Launch

After deciding to launch, I was finished in two days. Apparently, deadlines give you wings.

On Wednesday, March 21th 2018, I launched Sheet2Site.

😺 Product Hunt

All of my previous projects such as When to Surf, Push to Deploy and Dark Mode List I had launched on a Sunday because of less competition. On the other hand, this means less people will know about your site and you will have to compete for TOP 5 products not only on Sunday but Sunday and Saturday as well.

I couldn’t wait until Sunday, so I launched on Wednesday. More competition, but this could mean more traffic.

I prepared standard PH kit

  • Title
  • Description
  • Thumb (I’m always do GIFs so it makes more visible compared to static images)
  • Screenshots
  • First comment — The story how I made it and description. PH people like stories. Small tip: You can add screenshots in your comments if you will just put direct image link like https://www.sheet2site.com/img/sheet2site-cover.jpeg

I launched in 00:01 San Francisco time as it is always better to have a larger time slot for votes (00:00–23:59).

I announced the launch on my Twitter, Facebook, WIP Chat and emailed it to all my blog subscribers.

Launch Tip:

Do not ask people to vote for your product. There is a big difference between asking people to check out your project and giving a person the choice to vote or not.

PH Results

  • #1 Product of the Day
  • #3 Product of the Week
  • #2 Product in Spreadsheets (Trading) and #8 Product in Spreadsheets (Most Upvoted)
  • #10 Product of the Month

This is my biggest success so far in PH.

🤓 Hacker News

After PH, it is good to launch in Hacker News in the Show HN section, for sharing personal project.

Hacker News is a very straight forward community. They like when everything is clear, short and to the point.

So I optimized the PH post and made it very short. HN didn’t care if I had quit my job or not, they wanted to know what my product was about.

Sheet 2 Site in Hacker News

It got very positive feedback and went surprisingly well. It went to #1 in Show HN and #12 on the Front Page. Unfortunately, I forgot to screenshot the screen when it was #1 and only screen shotted when I hit #2.

Hacker News Show HN
Hacker News Front Page

I ended up getting three times more traffic from HN that I had from PH. This taught me a valuable lesson in ensuring your server is capable of this many hits.

Later I’ve even got to Hacker Newsletter. This is not official weekly newsletter of the best articles on HN. Some said that they’ve got 50k subscribers.

🤔 Reddit

I can’t say I fully understand how Reddit works, but I knew that posting there could help. So far all of my project promotions have failed except for Dark Mode List, which found success by being submitted by some random guy.

Due to forgetting to remove “Subject” from my post, it was banned by the Reddit moderators.

Failed Reddit post

I resubmitted it to /r/spreadsheets but it didn’t get a lot of votes.

I hope maybe someday I will be able to resubmit it in the “right Reddit way” :)

🎉 Launch celebration

This is me celebrating the launch in coffee shop in Canggu, Bali. Celebration of choice?

A bar of chocolate :D

I think launching is a lot like this chocolate. If you don’t eat your chocolate in time, it goes bad. If you don’t launch your product in time, the idea spoils in your mind.

📰 Press

What could be better than being featured in Lifehacker?

Being featured in Lifehacker twice 😝!

Sheet2Site was featured in Lifehacker Russia + Lifehacker Japan.

Lifehacker had previously written about Dark Mode List and this leverage helped me become featured again. I reached out to the journalist who had originally written about Dark Mode List and he share Sheet2Site with some of his colleges.

Let me note:

Don’t annoy journalist that helped you before. Ask them once and if they respond, take the opportunity. If they don’t, appreciate their time and look for other ways to promote your product.

Site2Sheet was also covered by Genbeta, a famous Spanish techno news site that had also written about Dark Mode List. before, as well as some Turkish, Polish, Ukraine press.

Yeah, cool but what should you do to be covered in Lifehacker or other cool site if you hadn’t been covered anywhere before?

  • Find articles in your niche. I’ve just googled “Dark Mode”
  • Find contacts of journalist of this article
  • Write personal, polite, short email without how cool you are. They don’t have time to read your super story

Here is what journalist saying why he wrote before about me:

He emailed me a quick, polite tip because he noticed I’d recently written about dark mode. I get a lot of irrelevant emails so I love the relevant ones.

📈 Traffic Boom!

Behold, one of the most beautiful views of my entire life.

After launching and press, the traffic to Site2Sheet was insane. I’ve got more than 8,000 people visiting my website on the launch day and had 300 people on the site at the same time. At this point, the site kept crashing. I’ve used only Free Heroku I’ve got maximum from it :D

After launch I have a consistent 23k people and around 30k all time.

Check open results: https://www.sheet2site.com/open/

🤑 Monetization

In the middle of launching, I realized that I hadn’t added a pay button on the website :D I had been so excited about launching, that I hadn’t even added an option for viewers to pay. This was a huge mistake.

You need to validate your ideas not just through emails, traffic and PH votes but the most important validation is if somebody is willing to pay for it.

Cue the PayPal button.

💰 Revenue

In 10 days after launch I have made 16 sales. I tested different prices started from $5 / mo and then raised to $10 / mo or $60 / year

  • 1 month subscriptions: 13
  • 2 months subscriptions: 1
  • 12 months subscriptions: 2

Sheet2Site Total Gross Revenue for March is: $237

Wait how about MRR?

The difference between total gross revenue and MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) is that for yearly sales you need to divide sales price on 12 and only 1/12 (not all $65) to March revenue.

Sheet2Site MRR for March is: $119

As of now, Site 2 Sheet is my most successful product.

I’m very excited about it and am going to continue to chase the feeling I get when the PayPal notification pops up that somebody has chosen to pay for my product.

It feels really, really good.

🔥 Do things that don’t scale

I listened Paul Graham’s advice and have chosen to do things that don’t scale. My projects don’t have any automation of: sales, email, connecting custom domain. I’ve done everything manually. This is how my “CRM” looks like:

💬 Chat is a great sales channel

More than 100 people ended up writing me in the chat. I tried to answer them all one by one but it was hard to keep track of the unanswered verse answered messages. It was pretty intense.

I started to use Crisp Chat, which is free and leveled up my customer support.

Almost all of my sales came from chatting with a person and answering his or her problems and solving their issue.

People are tired of all the marketing sites. They want to speak to a real person that will help them quickly

Different people will interpret your UX or texts in different way, especially during the early stages of the product.

Before implementing any automation, I decided to talk with each user personally and find the patterns of text that I needed to change on the site.For this reason, I seriously suggest:

Connect chat to your site. You will know what users are thinking and they will get fast personal support.

Sheet 2 Site Results

🌏 Traffic

  • 30,000+ Unique visitors

😺 Product Hunt

  • 1500+ upvotes (910 in the first day)
  • #1 Product of the Day
  • #3 Product of the Week
  • #3 Product in Spreadsheets category

🤓 Hacker News

  • 143 upvotes
  • #1 of Show HN
  • #12 of Front Page

📰 Press

  • Lifehacker cover twice
  • And other sites from Spain, Turkey, Poland, Ukraine

✅ Registrations

  • Contacted in chat 172 (all)
  • Contacted in chats: 112 (leave their emails)
  • Sites made: 821 what was (visited at least 1 time)

💰 Revenue

  • Total gross revenue: $237 (16 sales)
  • MRR: $119

💪 Hardcore Year Blog

It was every unexpected but I’ve got a lot of support from people with my last article

This is absolutely true

I’ve only asked for $2 but many people donated more. Waking up from receiving notifications with like this reminded me of what I had initially set out to create:

What’s better than Ramen? 10x Ramen! All the best for the coming year, hope your plans work out. Cheers from Columbia to Bali

Hardcore Year Results

  • Medium claps: 2382 from 232 people
  • Email Subscribers: 225
  • Donations: $94 from 20 people

Total March results

📈 Total Gross Revenue March

  • Sheet 2 Site: $237.0
  • Hardcore Year Blog (Donations): $94.00
  • Dark Mode List: $30.00
  • TOTAL: $361

36% of goal has achieved in this month. Great feeling. I very excited about it 😊😊😊

📉 Expenses

It is almost possible to live in Bali for $500, as I expected.

🎓 Lessons learned

  • 💡When you are working on a project and come across problems, these are potential ideas for your next project.
  • 🛠 If you fixed a problem for yourself, there is an extra chance that other people also face this problem and you could create the solution.
  • ✅ Do face to face user testing to check how people understand your product and UX.
  • 😥The depression stage is a standard stage in any creativity process. So, if you here you can confidently know you are on the right path. Do not give up! You can do it!
  • 🙌 Random people can support you if you are excited about what you are doing and honest :)
  • Do not go in perfectionist trap. Users will not pay you if you polish your product to the ideal state. Users will pay you only if they will find something valuable for them. They will pay only if this product will solve their problems.
  • ❤️It’s an incredible feeling to work full time on your true passion. You got up in the morning, worked 14 hours and go to sleep happy. There is some boring tasks of course but they are not so hard in the big picture. Passion and support from other people is great multipliers of your chances of success
  • 💬 Sales from support chat work very well because you helped person. Do not forget to connect chat to your website
  • 💰 And most importantly, validate your ideas not just through emails, traffic and PH votes but validate it through revenue so do not forget to put Pay button before you launch :D

What’s next?

I want to continue to improve Sheet2Site according to feedback of my users. You can see my full to do list here in WIP Chat

And while I worked on Sheet2Site I found the new problem and I’m already working on something new 👇👇👇

Follow my progress to $1000/mo. No spam. Here’s a sneak peek of what I’m working on next.

How much time left in %

This is OSX menu bar that showing progress in % (how much passed of Day/Month/Year.

I will launch it soon so please subscribe for updates:

And follow me in Twitter

And if you’re feeling really generous, you can buy me a pack of ramen by sending $2 to my PayPal address

or become my Patron

UPD: Check what happen in next 2 month 👇

________________________________________________________________

Thanks

  • Thanks all people who voted in PH
  • Thanks to all users who left feedback
  • Thanks for the users who decide to buy a Sheet2Site Pro account
  • Thanks for all who supported me and subscribed to my blog and bought me a ramen!
  • Pieter for feedback and mentoring and support
  • Yaroslav Lazors for your mentoring, knowledge and thanks to Railsware (my ex job). A lot from this approaches like Spreadsheets, Data blending, Add Chat for feedback, Do not automate first I learned there.
  • Marc ideas and feedback
  • WIP Chat for accountability and feedback
  • Sasha Koss for big help with CSS and Javascript
  • Vlastimil Fiser for CSS help
  • Eva Gutierrez for editing
  • Tristan for user testing
  • Pascal from district canggu
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