Over the last several years I’ve made several attempts at building a product business. Here is a mostly-accurate list of what I’ve tried according to my memory:
2008: Lunch Hub, a web app that helps co-workers decide where to go to lunch. Revenue: $0
2009: “Owl Draw You Anything”, a site where people submit drawing ideas and vote for existing ideas with money. Revenue: $0
2010(?): ToastySites, a website engine for Toastmasters clubs. No club ever used it. Revenue: $0
2010: Food Near You, a site to help people find locally-grown produce and locally-raised meats. Revenue: $0
Early 2011 to late 2015: Snip, a web app for hair salon scheduling. Revenue: about $5,000 total, IIRC. I believe my peak revenue was about $430/mo. This business was doomed from the start and I shut it down after five hard years. You can read about the shutdown here.
Summer 2016 to summer 2017: Angular on Rails, a website to teach developers how to use Angular and Rails together. I actually registered angularonrails.com in 2014 (IIRC) but didn’t start trying to turn it into a business until 2016, at which point I started selling an ebook and some videos. Revenue: about $10,000. Around July 2017 I decided to move on from Angular on Rails. It was good practice but I couldn’t see myself working on it for 10+ years. I write about my reasoning here.
Late summer (August?) 2017: Landing Page Breakdowns, a site where I offer, as you might imagine, landing page breakdowns. The idea was I’d post landing page breakdowns of my own and offer paid breakdowns as a service, kind of like useronboard.com but with a different focus. I quickly realized that I knew very little about landing page optimization and that by venturing into this territory I was throwing away the advantage of my 15+ years of experience in software development. Revenue: $0
Also late summer (September?) 2017: AWS for Rails Developers, a site similar to Angular for Rails developers, just AWS instead of Rails. I think this endeavor was smarter than Landing Page Breakdowns because it utilized some of my existing strengths. It didn’t feel like I was getting a lot of traction though. I think the final nail in the coffin was when I realized that practically the only thing I could help with is initial AWS + Rails setup, meaning I’d be attracting people at the very start of building a business at the time when they didn’t have any money. Later, when they had money, they would have harder AWS + Rails problems that I wouldn’t have any idea how to solve. So I decided to move on. (Incidentally, it turns out I was wrong that my site would only attract larval-stage business. More on this shortly.) Revenue: $0
November 2017: Six Figure Coding, a cringeworthily-stupidly-named site purporting to teach developers how to get their first job or get a better job. I went so far as to write an ebook under this venture and sell it. I don’t want to talk about it though. Revenue: ~$150
So that’s about nine product business attempts in about nine years, four of those attempts in 2017 alone. 2017 was a period of great flailing and vexation for me product-wise. I was almost 10 years into my effort to build a product business and basically back at square one, or so I felt.
2018 is when things finally started to come together. I started yet another product business attempt around March of 2018 and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
My new product venture
2018 is when I started to seriously blur the lines between product entrepreneurship and freelancing. The product-related work I do feeds into my freelancing and vice versa.
This product venture actually isn’t a single thing with a name. It’s more of a professional focus. The subject of that focus is Ruby on Rails testing. If there’s any one umbrella I can put all this stuff under, it’s CodeWithJason.com, where all my Rails testing material goes.
Since the time that I first started dipping my toe into the waters of teaching Rails testing I have:
- Started a podcast, The Ruby Testing Podcast
- Guested on other Rails podcasts to talk about testing, including Ruby Rogues and the 5by5 Ruby on Rails Podcast
- Written a bunch of blog posts on Rails testing
- Put out a bunch of YouTube videos on Rails testing
- Taught a live two-day Rails testing workshop ($400 in revenue)
- Spoken at conferences and meetups on testing
- Gotten a Rails testing talk accepted at RubyConf India (to be delivered January 2019)
- Built an email subscriber list of over 500 people
- Started writing a Rails testing book
You can imagine how all these things could both benefit product sales and consulting sales. My podcast can help me sell my book. It can also generate consulting leads for me (which it has). Someone buys my book might later want to buy my course or hire me for a consulting project.
My grand total revenue for CodeWithJason.com in 2018 was $400. That came from 8 sales, $50, of a two-day live workshop I put on in October. While not very directly lucrative, the workshop was good practice and a good demonstration that people will buy things from me related to Rails testing.
Not long after the workshop I decided to hit pause on anything to do with a workshop or course and work on a book instead. I’m not sure that I’m able to explain exactly why. Part of it is that I myself am more of a “book guy” than a “course guy” and I feel like I’ll have an easier time writing a book than I would creating a course. Also part of it is that I feel like writing a book will bring me a greater level of perceived authority than a course would. I’m envisioning the release of my book to go in at least three phases:
- Launch a very short and inexpensive initial version of the book in ebook form
- Beef up the book, add various packages at different prices and launch again
- Assuming I’ve gotten traction with the book, try to find a publisher willing to take up the book and publish it under their name, bringing me maximum perceived authority
I’m kind of playing the long game with this venture. I don’t expect huge direct revenue from the book, at least not anytime soon. I want to use the book to help build my audience and then, once I’ve grown a big audience, sell them other stuff and earn higher revenues than I would have if I had not taken the intermediary step of having written a book first.
2018’s freelancing/consulting work
2018 was probably my simplest year in a long time for freelance work. It’s been the first year in many years that I haven’t had an unexpected gap in income due to the vagaries of freelancing.
From the beginning of the year to the end of September, I worked for a west-coast startup. (I actually started working for them in late summer 2017.)
From the beginning of October to the end of the year, I worked for a different client.
In May/June/July of 2018, I taught 6 weeks of classes for the same client I taught classes for in 2017. We’re planning to work together again in 2019.
All three of these clients were great clients. When I worked for the startup it was basically a job, but it was just about the best job I could imagine at the time. The only challenge was that I ended up working close to Pacific hours a lot of the time and I live in Eastern time. Eventually I found the time difference so disruptive to my lifestyle that I decided to leave.
I was working on finding a regular full-time (remote) W2 job to transition to. Around this time someone found one of my posts at awsrails.com (which by that time was about a year old and woefully out of date) and hired me for a project based on that. So I guess some of my entrepreneurial flailing paid off. While the application I’m building is new, the business is actually well-established. When I abandoned awsrails.com I wasn’t thinking about the case of an established business adding a new application. This client engagement has been by far my favorite one ever.
2019 goals and plans
Unlike the previous ten or so years, in 2019 I won’t be striving to get away from anything. I find my work situation great the way it is. As long as I don’t screw anything up and unless something unexpectedly changes drastically in a negative way, 2019 will be what I consider a success.
My product goals for 2019 are to a) get my book published by a real publisher and b) to make a total of $50K in product sales. I also have consulting income goals but I don’t want to share those here.
My overall strategy is actually pretty unchanged from what it has been since late summer 2017: keep a “day job” so I can have a steady income, while on the side building up a product business until I can be 100% supported by product income. What has changed is that now I’m actually enjoying the day job part and I’m in no particular hurry to escape it. That doesn’t mean I intend to slow down though. In fact, the traction I’ve gotten with the Rails testing stuff has encouraged me to speed up. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish.