Issue ø5
March, 2017

How I built and launched a side project in 3 days.

One month has passed since I wrote my post “Reasons why I have no money to pay for my rent today and lessons you can learn from it”. During this period, I have received dozens of emails with positive reactions telling me that you have encountered the same problems and started the same challenge after reading it. It is a pretty good start and will surely have a great impact for your future. The truth is, we can never begin our journey to success unless we change our current habits. We should gear towards forming better possibilities for a successful life. It is impossible to reach high levels of success if we settle for a low quality of life--a narrow mindset and a dreary routine. To acquire a better life, we should start acting now towards self-development and self-improvement. Doing so can encourage us to be someone better than we are now. Success corresponds to the level of self-development — the better you are, the more successful you will become.

Apart from that, you also asked me how I keep up with my new routine. I always have maintained that enthusiasm everyday. I wake up at 4:00 in the morning, I meditate and do focus sessions. This startup routine refocuses me towards achieving my goal. I ought not to say that this has changed my life. You can refer to my previous and first post in this blog entitled “How I Changed My Life”. What I find it rather ironic is that, after writing a series of posts, I found myself writing another one about how I got in great trouble for being so broke and was not able to pay my rent. Haha. Anyway, I am still on the process of learning so mistakes are quite inevitable. Everything that happens in our life has a reason and we cannot simply call it good or bad. It is but part of our experience and uncertainty is always present. The only thing that we can control is how we deal with it with a positive outlook.

I took this photo somewhere around Sequoia National Park in California

One of the most interesting things I realized is that, there will always be unfavorable moments, unfavorable days. One day, you feel like you are on the top of your game, but then on the next, you feel so miserable and helpless and you get stuck at something. You could even ask yourself “What could have gone wrong today? It used to be perfect yesterday.” Trying to find the answer, you end up blaming yourself endlessly. This, without realizing that some days are not always meant for you. But believe me, keep your hopes up. Bad days will just pass. Tomorrow opens up another chance, another opportunity to see that there is something better ahead of you.

Sometimes, I evaluate experiences based on my failures and the conclusions I made thereafter. In order to remind myself on some important conclusions, I noted them in Google Keep and these served as my weekly reminders. Every now and then, I receive these reminders through email.

Sometimes, I evaluate experiences based on my failures and the conclusions I made thereafter. In order to remind myself on some important conclusions, I noted them in Google Keep and these served as my weekly reminders.

Every now and then, I receive these reminders through email.

«To acquire a better life, we should start acting now towards self-development and self-improvement. Doing so can encourage us to be someone better than we are now. Success corresponds to the level of self-development — the better you are, the more successful you will become.»

Going back, I felt extremely better after starting my commitments few months ago. I even added a few new habits to my list. One of these include writing new blog posts on fridays. Yeah. This shows that I am doing it if you are reading this now. I find this very substantial because through this, I can monitor my progress, and also, I get to share my experiences with you and with my future self. Moreover, this helps me improve my English skills too. Adding new practices to my list gradually makes me feel more confident and enthusiastic. I can… I can... uh.. eat planets.

Idea

Next chapter: First step

Going back to my projects, I finally found a way on how to accomplish them in a short span of time. I just discovered this last week and it really felt surreal.

So, let me begin with an idea. If you can recall from my previous post, I wrote about Mailto — email templates that we built along with my partners for Creative Market. Here it goes. When you launch a new project or feature, you become so occupied with so many things to do. Later on, you realized that you missed the most important thing in your e-mail promotion — sending newsletters for your subscribers. And now, you need to design this template, write a text, and find someone who could make a good code for this to test it on every client. This is just crazy!

First template I made for Mailto

First step

Next chapter: Outsource

And so I thought of creating pre-designed professional looking email templates, testing it with different clients, and making them compatible with Mailchimp, Sendgrid, etc. I designed a few of these templates and shared them to my partners who owned email marketing agency. They told me it was a great idea and they agreed to work with me. I provided them PSD and sketch files and waited. On the next day, I asked them how things are going and they said, it is still on the process.

Two months ago before I decided to set my goals and new practices, I used to respond in situation like this like “Okay guys. Let’s keep in touch. Let me know when you’re ready.” But now, that should not be the case anymore.

I realized that I should be responsible for everything that I have started. If these guys fail, I am completely responsible for that. Not discussing the terms, goals and deadlines would mean that I did not motivate them enough. Just like what Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” This is undeniably true. If I want to be an effective leader, I should be ready to claim responsibility. I want to do my best and to empower those who are around me.

Shots on Dribbble for Mailto
«In my early years, I have always thought that success only happens by accident. But now, I learned that great things truly come from small beginnings; small and steady improvements and genuine commitments which could lead us to success.»

I told my partners how confident I am with the idea of our project and that we should make it possible as soon as we can.

“Hey guys! I really find this idea awesome. I’m pretty sure we can do this. I’ll do my best to start designing the new templates for us. On the other hand, I would like to set a deadline once you finish the old ones. I love to work fast. We can test this idea and see how it works. Perhaps, let us aim two templates for two days; or one template a day. Are you up for this challenge? Pardon me if it sounds inhumane.” Two days after, we were able to accomplish two perfectly coded templates. All thanks to their cooperation.

Days after, we started preparing every template and sold them on Creative Market. It didn’t go well. I mean, we had zero sales. I already expected this outcome, knowing that I have no sufficient followers on Creative Market; therefore, there is no chance that Mailto templates would reach thousands of authors.

In my early years, I have always thought that success only happens by accident. But now, I learned that great things truly come from small beginnings; small and steady improvements and genuine commitments which could lead us to success. I believe that our products will become popular in Creative Market, so there is no turning back towards that mission. They say you could only eat the elephant one bite at a time, but never as a whole.

Suddenly, an idea struck me. Why not try making a website for myself and sell the templates on our own platform? This way, we can do the promotion by ourselves, while we promote it too in Creative Market. Then again, I would only want it as an MVP rather than spending ample time on this project. I should find ways to make this website possible without needing a huge amount since I’m on a pretty low budget now. But the problem is, I am no pro in web developing. This would mean that I have to spend more time making this and still not quite sure if the outcome is what I am expecting.

I had to think about it. Mastering a skill new to me would take me years to do so. Perhaps, I should just consider someone who is qualified enough to do this job. I like to generate ideas and launch them, but web developing is just not my thing. I want myself to see the whole picture globally by constantly achieving my goals.

Outsource

Next chapter: Pre-sales

I never thought that the lack of money would push me to find new ways in creating my side projects. During those days, I learned a valuable lesson: “Find ways on how to build your project that will require less cash involvement by making money less available in your business.” When we see that cash is always available, we tend to not mind our expenditures. With this, we hire people without thinking twice: web developers, designers, SEO experts, and this pushes us to develop more and more features which could be a big waste of money. In reality, if we do not try to come up with ways and seek other options in getting our projects done that requires less cash, this can develop to financial ruin. Balance for money and quality should be a priority.

Then I thought, why not consider hiring a freelance web developer who could create a website for Mailto? Before, I used to think that freelance resembles a black hole. It’s like throwing money into the whole and they convert it into a neat pile of crap. I used to believe that these people only deliver ugly designed websites and useless interfaces, write bad codes and make irrelevant logotypes.

But six months ago, I started writing this blog. I am neither a pro English speaker nor writer so I had to look for someone who could proofread the posts that I write. I know it would still take me years to master this skill, but I would want my blog posts to be published now. Fortunately, I found someone on Upwork who was willing to help me for $10 each post. (Thank you, Marvie!)

Considering all the experiences I had with freelancers, I can now do the same with other tasks to make my projects possible.

Design for three pages. Also, I designed responsive for each page to show a developer how I want it to be.
«Find ways on how to build your project that will require less cash involvement by making money less available in your business.»

So at the same day, I also created a three-page design and started to look for a qualified person to make a responsive and slightly animated HTML/CSS. I started a new project in Upwork and still waiting for a qualified candidate. In order to make sure that the candidates read the job description, I had to include a special instruction which is to use the word "Mailto" in their message. It worked pretty well, but there are others who didn’t mind and just proceeded with messages like “I will do everything you want, just hire me”. They failed to follow the instruction as indicated. So I decided to just patiently wait for that qualified developer instead of spending the whole day looking for one. And if it happens that there will be a duplicate of this project and open a new one to find other qualified candidates, then I am also fine with that.

But this code is not enough to sell our templates. How should I connect the payments? Through Stripe, Paypal, WordPress or WooCommerce? I don’t like the idea of being involved with these stuff. I just want to test my idea and get payments from Day 0. So, I googled it and luckily, I found out that it is possible to make a “Buy” Button for my site for only $9.00 using Shopify. This would mean that it will be easier for me to sell the products using this button with different product IDs in my pages. And I don’t want to go through so much hassle with any CMS because Shopify already has it. This enables adding new products, sending invoices, as well as talking with your users. I’d like to make Mailto as a collection of static HTML/CSS. Once this gives me high returns, I might consider using WordPress. But for now, it is not that necessary.

In Shopify I can add new products, send invoices, manage payments and refunds.

Also, I discovered that I can use Shopify for my digital downloads. I used this free app. I was able to install it in seconds and it was pretty easy to use.

Now I know what kind of task I need from a candidate and it’s a web developer; someone who can make a three-page HTML/CSS codes. In addition, I want him to link the “Buy” Button with Shopify and that’s it.

It did not take that long until I found Artur Moroz. He is a good guy and a knowledgeable web developer. The actual price he proposed was $100. So I tried to negotiate with him and fortunately, he agreed with the $60 offer. I always stick to my aim of only making less money available for business.

I have never bargained before because I find it awkward in some sense. Then again, there is no harm in trying, so I gave it a shot. I have this friend who never hesitates to bargain all the time. So, every time he hires people to do certain types of work, he never fails to achieve a budget sweet spot. It was certainly smart. Just one of the basics of financial literacy. If there is a chance to negotiate for a better price, do it and look for ways to achieve a win-win solution. You really don’t have to look persistent, but asking for a cheaper price would do no harm. Try to ask and listen too as you negotiate and be more open with the possibilities.

It was $60 and the deal was closed. The next day, he already sent me codes for my designs. It was impeccable — no mistakes, no bugs, it was just perfect. Just exactly what I needed. I felt a little embarrassed on my part. On my Sketch File, I could see well-made font sizes, paddings, and colors when I opened the HTML I received. It was exactly the design that I have imagined.

I began to regret the amount of time and money I invested on my previous projects, which for me were so damn useless. You couldn’t just imagine how much and I guess, you will hate me for that. I should have made thorough testings first before making those projects. I admit, it was such a stupid decision. And now, here is the website with the features that I wanted. I could have made this decision before.

Moving on, trial-and-error is but part of reality. It is in committing mistakes that we learn more and become better. I cannot say that I already know everything, but I am pretty sure I have learned a lot, and still continue learning. This is life; this is reality. Nothing is constant in this world. Try putting yourself in the middle of the busy streets of New York and watch how these people move around. These people try to work on everyday to contribute something and because of them, tomorrow will never be the same as it is today.

As Socrates once said, “I know that I know nothing”. This acceptance has pushed me to thirst for knowledge. Acquiring more of it makes me feel more confident towards facing the next days ahead.

Pre-sales

Next chapter: Bundle

When I got the HTML files, I immediately prepared some texts to describe every template we have in our store. I also added new pages, uploaded on Heroku hosting and done. Later that evening, I sent a link to my partners in Mailto and they were surprised that we finally have our own website for promoting and selling our templates. That was a wonderful moment.

The next proposal I made was that, I designed 8 more templates and sent these to our developer. It needed at least a week to get this done and to be published it to our website. And then I thought, why not let the users keep track of the progress and see the new templates we’re currently working on.

Apart from this, I also would like to make a pre-sale of these templates for 25% off. So I started to search for ways on how to sell these through Shopify and found this app called SendOwl.

It’s quite similar to the app I am currently using now for selling my digital files, but this looks better and have more useful features like email templates customization, affiliate program and memberships. And yes, of course! Seeing a smiling face of Tobias van Schneider along with his review on the main page got me more convinced ;)

I sent a message to the support team to ask for assistance on how I can do pre-sales on Mailto with the help of their app. They were responsive and within an hour, I was able to receive a reply from them saying that it is easy to operate and I could utilize it effortlessly. I could just proceed in the pre-selling of the templates with only Sketch and PSD files inside an archive and with no code. Once the templates are done, I just need to replace an archive inside the product. SendOwl automatically notifies users who bought the product that we just updated.

Using SendOwl I have an ability to sell our templates and notify my users about updates.
↑ Upcoming templates for our Pre-sale page.

Bundle

Next chapter: Sketch to PSD

I remembered that there are a lot of bundles on Creative Market that gained more popularity compared to those single and separate products. So I thought of combining our available templates that time and test it. I designed a new page and sent this to our developer in Upwork. This new page is telling users about the bundle. On that day, I acquired a code for this page for only $20 and uploaded it on the site. I also had the idea tested for $20 and dedicated 30 minutes of my time for this.

Bundle page. A massive collection of 6 email templates.

Sketch to PSD

Next chapter: Sketch to PSD

Perhaps, the most troublesome thing to do in designing templates are the PSD files. I wanted our templates to be as useful as possible, that’s why we distribute Sketch files, Photoshop files and mockups with a flexible design. I have used Sketch for three years but every time I open Photoshop, something just doesn’t feel right. I had to spend 30 minutes to an hour rebuilding the templates in Photoshop and this was such a hassle on my part.

To escape of the inconvenience this has given me because I really don’t want to do this kind of job, I had to hire another freelancer to do it for me. He redrew all of my templates in Photoshop, pixel to pixel, following the correct font sizes, colors, padding and etc. I wanted it to be something that I have imagined so I also included specific instructions for him to follow. The instruction goes like this: “First, open the Sketch file and export the main screen to jpg. Open a blank template in Photoshop and move this .jpg inside the template. Make the opacity to this layer 30% and lock it. Now rebuild everything you see in Sketch in Photoshop and check every pixel with this transparent layer. I want you to check all the parameters of each layer like name, opacity, font size, colors, and padding between elements, because everything indicated here has its purpose.”

It was not what I really expected it to be when I first received it, but after a few iterations, I became 100% satisfied. The next templates were bug free and were delivered fast. The problem was resolved for $5 per template. I had to explain the instructions further so the freelancer would know what I am expecting.

Launch

Next chapter: February income

I consider this phase to the most uncertain for me. Marketing is one of my weaknesses, but I am doing my best to improve this part of me.

  • I posted Mailto in different Slack groups related to startups, web development and marketing.
  • I found a website called Promotehour where everyone can post their startups in different communities. I didn’t want to pay $69 for 50 submissions so I created a project on Upwork with 100+ links to communities which are related to my topic. I found and got the job done for only $10.
  • I also posted Mailto in different groups on Reddit. Well, the response was really unlikely showing that I had to votes for my post. I tried purchasing this offer on Fiverr hoping to boost my posts, but unfortunately, it did nothing at all.

February income

Next chapter: February expenses
  • $122 Creative Market
  • $156 UI8
  • $46 Mailto website
  • $400 Photography gig

February expenses

Next chapter: Good books to read
  • $10 Proofread for this post for “Next Big Me”
  • $60 Three-page HTML/CSS on Mailto
  • $20 One-page HTML/CSS with bundle on Mailto
  • $6 Reddit gig
  • $10 Posting in communities
  • $12 Domain renewal for vladimirkudinov.com (Yes, I updated the website.)
  • $20 Sketch to PSD
  • $12 Heroku hosting

Good books to read

Next chapter: Mind map & music

Mind map & music

I decided to share my mind map publicly. Feel free to use it for your convenience.

Here is a link to my Spotify playlist which includes the songs I listened to in February.

Questions

I am still unsure about many things and my head is filled with unanswered questions. This has been bothering me so I thought, why not ask you for some advice?

  • What is your process or checklist in launching a new product? Share with me all your dirty methods!
  • How do you get some cues in order to know your target audience or customers? I only had a few orders of Mailto and I can’t talk with our clients yet about their reviews. Until now, I am still not sure which audience should I aim for and who should I target on Facebook Ads. Marketers? Web Developers? Or, Both with different landings?
  • How can I promote Mailto? What is gonna take to raise revenue in Mailto in staggering amounts this month?
  • I am still not confident with this title “Ready-to-use email templates converting prospects into customers.” Or perhaps, should I test something else like: “Boost up your marketing campaigns with email templates that don’t suck”? My main goal of creating a title is to target some audience which I am still not sure who specifically.

Your advices would be greatly appreciated. I would also love to hear your experiences as well. I would love to share this too with “Next Big Me” readers. Mail me.

P.S. Also, if you think you have learned something new, please feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues. That would mean a lot to me.

P.P.S. For my next post, I am planning to share about “How to Become a Better Designer in 30 days”. I am going to share to you some practices and useful tips on how to improve your skills day by day. I am going to advise what good books to read, what courses to watch, and what kind of mindset you should possess in order to improve yourself. Subscribe by filling in the form below watch out for my next post. Peace!

Vladimir Kudinov  —  Designer based in sunny California. Founder and writer at The Next Big Me.
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