As I'm starting to write this post, I have a feeling that it might not be short and sweet in the end, but rather longish and... bitter sweet. I'll give you some context about myself and my project(s), the decisions on the way, some numbers, personal learnings, and next steps. Okay, let's go.

My day job is making people awesome. I'm a project lead, agile younameit, and a knowledge broker. Though all of this is people oriented work, I'm quite shy and an introvert. I like my job, but after work, there's that urge to build something, to get my hands dirty. So every now and then, I start to build stuff.

A lot of my side projects are never released. Some are, but I don't market them. Why? Sometimes because they are tools I personally need and I'd really like to share but... maybe I'm afraid of the feedback. If you're still reading: this changed. Lessons learned: start building and have the courage to release your work.

After building stuff nobody besides me wanted (or maybe someone wanted it but didn't know I built it), I decided, as a learning path, to use some tools from Testing Business Ideas. And as a subject, I decided to tackle the problem... problem. So, start with a problem, not the solution. Actually, I decided to make the search for problems worth solving the product itself. That's how Basic Problem was born. Lesson learned: don't step into the build trap. Only build something someone needs.

To evaluate my hypothesis, I built a landing page on Carrd and connected it to my dormant Mailchimp account. As you can see from the timeline on the project page, this took some time. I like to learn and understand the tools I use, though this sometimes borders on perfectionism. Lesson learned: don't find the perfect solution. Find the one "good enough for now, safe enough to try."

To get people to my landing page and see if my value proposition is desirable, I started a Google Ads campaign. Another first for me. I started the campaign with a daily budget of 5 Euros (and a promotion from Google for returning Ads customers. I started a Google Ads account some month earlier for a keyword analysis.) which I later reduced to 1 Euro per day and completely paused today. The Ads campaign targeted the whole world, using responsive search ads. Using "the algorithm" to design the final ads and find the most suitable slots and bidding strategies safes a lot of time, but seems quite stubborn once it found its sweet spot. Fascinating: most of my ads where shown in Africa and Asia. Almost none of them in Europe or the Americas. Lesson learned: ads can be useful to drive traffic, but take better care of your campaign.

Time for some first statistics:

  • Ad campaign runtime: roughly 8 weeks
  • Average CTR: about 1,5%
  • Average conversion rate: 7,8%
  • That's almost 650 conversions, with a conversion being "someone pressed submit on the landing page"

Awesome, right? 650 conversions from CPC alone! Well, no. Before I go into that: ads where not my only channel. I used some newsletter directories, some side project sites (no Product Hunt or BetaList yet), some Indie Hacker comments, some Twitter. Those additional channels also added a small trickle of referrals. Lesson learned: learn more marketing skills.

More statistics:

  • Roughly 5.000 new visitors in 8 weeks
  • About 700 engagements, with an engagement being "someone pressed submit on the landing page"

Awesome, right? 700 conversions means 700 members in my audience! Well, no. Enter double opt-in land. Only about 140 finished the whole process. That's a bummer. Lesson learned: I have a love-hate relationship with GDPR and spam prevention measurements.

BUT! The thing is, some people are interested in my offer! Lesson learned: that feeling when you get your first subscriber!

When my audience reached 10, I decided to take the next step, a Wizard of Oz test, and write the first issue. When I finally sent it, it went out to 35 subscribers. Yesterday, I sent issue 7 to 134 subscribers. Lesson learned: that feeling when you sent out your work one Sunday noon and minutes later, someone in India and someone in the US read it. After more than 20 years on the Internet, something like this still blows my mind.

Final statistics:

  • 141 contacts
  • 136 subscribers (I know, churn happens, but every single one of them hurt a bit)
  • 7 issues sent
  • Average open rate about 30%
  • Lesson learned: these numbers still show that someone is interested in my work
  • Revenue: Not a single cent. No one bought me a coffee yet.

I could write more, but I think that's enough for now. What are my next steps? I will continue to write for Basic Problem. I feel obliged to my audience. That's also why I decided to keep the newsletter free for now and free from ads, as I want to write for my readers, not for an advertiser. When I feel I have more to offer, I might start a premium version. Until then... I have that tickle... Some tools I might need to build and release. So long!

This post originally appeared on Indie Hackers.

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