What comes after launching a Side Project

From MVP to version one

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about building side projects, and getting them to launch, but as you know launch is not the end, but rather a very early stage of the maker journey. In this post I’m going to talk about what happened to a project after I launched, and the journey from the MVP to version one.


The MVP

Two years ago I built and launched the MVP for Top Publications.

When I decided to move my blog to Medium, I started searching for publications that might publish my posts. When I couldn’t find a public directory of these publications, the idea for Top Publications was formed. I’d already built a couple of leaderboards for Product Hunt so why not do the same for Medium?

As with all my side projects I kept things very simple for the MVP. I built a one page list of the top 100 or so publications I could find. I manually assigned them a category and wrote a script to scrape the follower numbers from Medium, as the Medium API did not offer much information about publications. The script was run once a day to keep the list updated.

I launched the website on August 2nd, when it finished in the 5th spot on Product Hunt, not bad considering it was up against products from Instagram and Apple.

Product Hunt

In the first month the website had over 4K visitors, but since it was a simple one page list, there wasn’t much further engagement.

Launch, August 2016

The website solved my immediate need of listing popular publications that I might submit my articles too, and I didn’t really have any real plans after that. So I just let the project sit.

I continued to add new publications that I came across and occasionally people would reach out and request I add their publication.

Over the next 4 months the website continued to attract 20–50 users every days, sometimes being featured in a blog would spike the traffic to a couple of hundred. Overall thru the end of the year the website had another 2k (nearly 3K) visitors, with little work.

September 2016 — December 2016

I saw the trend continue thru 2017 and into 2018 with average daily visitors now getting closer to 100.

January 2018 — August 2018

Since I started the project I’ve had my articles featured in a lot of really great publications, and even setup a couple of my own publications.

Recently Ben Tossell approached me about taking his MVP for newCo and building version 1.0. I’ve worked with Ben on a couple of projects, and jumped at the chance to working together again.

It was a fun talking with Ben about his vision for newCo, reviewing what he was able to do with no code and thinking about what we could build now. Ben had some really great traction for newCo, paying customers, so it made sense to think about where the project could be longer term.

This got me thinking about some of my MVPs and perhaps taking them to version 1.0.

Planning

Although I never had a big vision for Top Publications, the continued traction and slow growth of the website indicated there was a real market for information that Top Publications was offering. As people reached out to suggest publications (usually their own 😀) I tried to talk with as many as I could. I asked them some simple questions: Why where they visiting Top Publications? Why did they want to list their publication? What could I improve?

As I discussed the site with more people, 3 distinct trends appears.

Where do I stand?

Since there is no official Medium leaderboard of publications, publication owners were curious where they stood. How their follower numbers compared with others, globally and in their specific niche.

Where can I submit?

Like myself other authors on Medium where looking for publications to share their writing. We often know about one or two publications that might be appropriate for our article, but being able to compare the reach of those publications and to be made aware of other publications that might be a good fit to expose our writing to more readers is important.

What’s good to read?

We all consume more than we create, users are curious of just what is out there on Medium. While Medium does a good job of surfacing high quality original content, seeing a list of publications in specific niches not just individual articles is a good way to find more great content to read.


With this information in hand I started to plan what version one of Top Publications could look like.

I wanted to remove the manual aspects of updating the website. Being able to list more publications mean’t that I needed to be removed as the bottleneck.

I wanted to make it easier to drill down to specific niches, to find more great publications in many more areas, not just those that I manually assigned based on my reading (sometimes hurried) of that publication.

I wanted to make it easier for users to find out if this publication might be a good fit for them. In the MVP with the simple one page list you got a name, a small description, a category, and follower count to decide if you this publication was a good fit for you. You then had to click to the publication to explore further. Was there more information I could pull about the publication to give users more information before they clicked to the publication itself.

Overall I wanted to make the site more engaging, rather than just a simple list I wanted to ensure there was more information more features the user would have to explore about the Medium Publication ecosystem.


I planned to make a fundamental shift in how the website worked, so I decided it was easier to start from scratch rather than incrementally add new features to the current website. This disposal of the MVP in the move to version one is very common, and further reminds me that building the MVP quickly is often more important than building with the long term in mind.

Version one

Earlier this week I quietly launched version one of Top Publications.

Top Publications version one

Publications are now discovered and added to the website automatically, although I can also manually add publications if necessary.

Publications are organized by both tags that publication owners tag them with, and the topics that Medium has selected them to appear in.

Tag clouds for both tags and topics provide an easy way to see and access the publications.

Publication Tags

Each publication now gets a page, where additional information is displayed to help users quickly find out if this publication is good for them.

Although it is currently somewhat limited to that information it exposes, I’m hoping to continue to expand this page.

Example publication page

Since the number of publications tracked (about 100 at launch), up to nearly 400 before I started the move from MVP to version one, to now over 1000, I thought it was important to add a search feature to the site.

Powered by Algolia the search provides an easy way to search publications by the title and description, and hope to expand this search in the future.


Initial impact

Although it’s too early to confidently measure the results, initial indications are looking good.

People are exploring Top Publications more, the week before the relaunch the page views per session was just 1.96 and the bounce rate was over 60%

Since version one was launched the page views per session has jumped to over 4 and the bounce rate is dropping closer to 45%, steps in the right direction, but things I hope I can improve further.


As we build side projects it’s important not to rush building more and more new features, and spending more time on them, without having a clear direction and goal in mind. It is important to let the market, and users guide you in that direction, and the level of effort you devote to them.

Despite launching the MVP over 2 years ago, and it sitting largely unchanged for that time, I believe I now have a clear vision for Top Publications.

To make it easy for users to find great Medium publications to read and which to contribute too.

A vision formed by continued traction, the market indicating a need, and users guiding new features and functionality.

With this in mind, I expect to continue to enhance Top Publication in furtherance of attaining this vision.