Max Rozen


Reflecting on running an internet business in 2019

July 06, 2019

Things I’ve learned along the way

Hacker News and Indiehackers set you up for disappointment. Since you only see the wildly successful “Show HN” posts on the frontpage, you imagine your launch will go in a similar fashion. Not so.

How my Hacker News launch went

From what I’ve seen, your standard Hacker News launch will look like this. This post translated to roughly 100 extra visitors to my marketing website at, maybe 2 or 3 trials, and zero subscribers.

Stop caring so much

Very simple rule to launching anything on the internet. Just build it for your own use case, don’t over-engineer things like setting up Stripe, recurring payments, invoicing, organisation setup, etc.

Prior to launching OnlineOrNot, I should have only built out the following features:

  • The ability to add GraphQL services to test
  • The ability to add tests for specific GraphQL services
  • Email notifications for when an outage begins and ends

Here are the features I added on top of that, thinking it would get me customers

  • Docs
  • User profile page
  • Organisation management

    • User permissions within an Organisation
    • Invitations to an Organisation
  • Billing

    • Subscription management
    • Multiple recurring plans

This ended up taking roughly 3 months extra to build, and realise there’s no market for what I was building (the real goal of an “MVP” (Minimally viable product)).

Which leads me to:

On Burnout

Turns out working a 9-5 developer job while also chasing your dreams of launching a successful side project is reeeeally hard!

Initially I thought it was fine - I’d get up at 6am, and work a couple of hours, head to work, then work another 4 or 5 hours on OnlineOrNot, then head to sleep. Several months of this later, I realise how unsustainable such a workload can be.

Going forward, I’d probably only give myself 45-60 mins per day to work on side projects.

Building up an audience

The whole “have an audience and launch to that audience” thing is tiresome as all hell. It can seem like everyone in “side-project as a business” community preaches this, but it’s just too much effort.

I used to think I had to maintain social media, write blog posts regularly, as well as work on my side projects to be successful - but really it’s just not worth it (in my opinion!).

I do plan on maintaining a blog for each side project I run, but only because I find writing somewhat cathartic. If someone finds my thoughts useful for a given topic, then that’s great too.

Customer Acquisition/Feature Requests

I would get feature requests while building OnlineOrNot and pitching it to several larger, funded startups. Initially I thought:

“Woah! These guys are taking me seriously! I just have to build this one thing, and they’ll pay me for the service!”

but quickly realised feature requests are essentially just an excuse to back out of a deal.

Lesson learnt: Don’t build features for people promising to “check it out” after the feature is built!

Shameless Plug

If you'd like more tips on how to improve your frontend, you can follow me on Twitter as I regularly post articles there.