I had finally made it to the treasure room. I touched my torch down into the trough of magic, ever-fresh, ancient ruin lamp oil to brighten up the room and there it was at the far end of the room – the treasure chest.
I made my way over and gently wiped the dust off the top. There was writing on it, in a language I could decipher.
“Excellent!” I thought.
I brought my torch closer to get a better look.g
“You need a blog shaped key to open this chest. The lock cannot be picked.”
The Start of My Journey
A month ago I discovered a knowledge-sharing site called Indie Hackers. It immediately appealed to me because I too was a plucky developer who was determined to use my skill to build something I loved and make a living for myself in the process. What’s more, Indie Hackers had a products section where one could read about the journeys and successes of others, as well as how they turn a profit.
“Learn from the makers behind hundreds of profitable businesses and side projects,” it read.
I created an account immediately.
A Side Project
After reading through dozens of case studies and clicking through to many more product websites, I was inspired by the very ordinary and actionable thoughts, advice, mistakes and struggles relayed in many of the posts.
“These are ordinary people, just like me. They made all of this stuff, so — hey, hold on — I probably can too!”
I decided to create my own side project and attempt to make money from it. The point was proving that I could actually do it too, so any amount above breaking-even would be a success. I changed the monthly revenue filter to “$1 – $1,000” and searched for a project I could draw inspiration from.
delim.co is a small tool for converting between lists and comma-delimited representations of those lists. It’s a simple concept: build a simple tool and place an ad or two on the page – profit! This is what I was doing!
The Journey Begins
The “build a simple tool” part of the process was easy. It took a mere 30 hours over about 8 days and the tool was online. It was an application that can be used to quickly create documentation using Markdown. Not ground breaking or revolutionary, nor will it attract masses of users from across the land, but it was practical.
Now began the task of getting an ad on this page and getting eye balls in front of both. As it turns out, that is actually the hard part of it all.
Finding an Ad Network
Being uncharted territory, at least for me, I started by borrowing some charts – I googled how to choose an ad network. From the research, I very quickly discovered that most ad networks catered either to websites with written content for serving “Contextual Ads” or to mobile applications (Android & iOS). This didn’t seem like it was correct to me since I’m certain I had seen web applications with ads before, or had I?
I assumed that I must be misunderstanding what I was reading and I would apply for Google Adsense and let them decide if I qualify or not. They didn’t have traffic requirements so they were the best pick at this stage. Soon I’d be rolling in spare change and would eat an extra packet of candy here and there, it would be glorious. Muhahahahaha!
I created the account, submitted my website URL and added the scripts to my page, then waited.
Fine, I guess I understood correctly. I attempted to google which ad networks could be used with web applications in particular, but every hit kept bringing up networks that are geared towards mobile apps. I decided instead to find all of the web applications that I’m certain I’d seen ads on, I would then figure out which ad networks were serving them and take it from there.
That task ended up being the most frustrating 3 hours of my life because, as I discovered in my struggle, I don’t actually know of many web applications that show ads and have zero written content. I clicked and googled across the entire kingdom, searching and scrolling, with the occasional curse under my breath, but I could not find any such application – not a single one… until:
Of course, JSFiddle is where I’d seen such an ad. Relieved, I searched for more clues to help further my mission. My keen observational skills soon lead me to my next clue: “ads via Carbon”. Clicking the link took me to: http://www.carbonads.net.
“I’m home,” I thought. But then:
I had been defeated. I decided to move on to step two for now: getting users to my website.
Wounded, but still very much alive, I took to Google once more, this time to find out how I get users to my site. The search was far more fruitful than the first and lead me to many answers and suggestions. For my purposes, they can be broken up into two groups: improving user-experience and reaching out.
The first group was easy. I immediately implemented as many of them as I could (SEO, optimizing file sizes, clear navigation, etc.). The next group, however, involved a bit more work.
I had originally thought that the process would be like this:
Application -> Users -> Ads
But all of the sites I visited were telling me it was actually like this:
Create Value -> Users -> Application -> Users -> Ads
In other words, making an application and posting about it on link or knowledge-sharing websites is not enough, I have to build an audience first then get the audience to try my application.
“Very well,” I thought, “I’ll do that, but first I’m going to post about it on a link or knowledge-sharing website; Just in case they’re all wrong.”
Building an Audience
So, how does one build an audience you ask? The answer is of course: blogging! It appears that creating a blog where you share knowledge yourself is a good way to attract people and get them to try your applications. In addition, social media is a good way to give your audience a way to connect with you and receive news or updates promptly.
I am always learning new things, working with new technologies and tackling new problems so I will certainly be able to provide value through blogging. I also intend on creating many applications and some open-source code so that should give me plenty to write about and share as well.
In accordance with what I’ve learned, I created this blog and a twitter account @codeandkits. I encourage anyone who found this article insightful or even mildly amusing to follow me on twitter and to try out my application.
If you have any feedback or suggestions for improving the app I will be happy to integrate them into the app if I can. Suggestions of other simple applications that you would like to use are also very welcome. Finally, if you have your own application that you need some feedback on, I will be happy to try that out as well.
In the mean time, I have some more ad-network sleuthing to do.