April 6th, 2020

I came up with an idea for “side project marketing” on Saturday morning, coded it in a few hours, and quickly launched Sunday night (about 36 hours from idea to launch, 36 hours total, about 6-8 hours to build).

Here is the project. It's a collection of email templates to help you say "no" in many situations.

The project hit #1 on Product Hunt and the front page of Hacker News. It’s also been shared hundreds of times on Twitter

The end result was about 35k visitors to the project in 24 hours, about 200 signups to Pigeon, and 3 paying customers (so far). Although slowing a bit now, traffic keeps coming in.

People have also sent me screenshots of it being shared on Reddit (40k upvotes!)

Here’s a short write up about the process of:

  • coming up with the idea
  • building quickly and getting fast feedback
  • launching it

This post is mainly about the "side project marketing" side of things, which some of you might find interesting.

But why is saying no important? Here's a great video.

GA over the last 4 days

Side project marketing

“Side project marketing” means building fun or interesting apps / websites that also market your project in some way.

If successful, it can generate sales and awareness about your business, as well as build strong backlinks to your domain. Harry Dry wrote a great piece on it.

I’ve also heard of successful companies like Hubspot and Buffer talk about "side projects" like these being integral to their early success. For example, Hubspot's website grader has analyzed over 2M sites - that's 2M potential customers.

Sometimes these projects are a bit "silly" - so founders don't talk about them as much (just a theory of mine). However, if you look closer, you'll hear founders talk about them as a big part of the "early days".

So this got me excited - I wanted to try something!

Coming up with the idea

I wanted to build something for my app Pigeon - a Gmail CRM and productivity tool.

It’s pretty easy to build something interesting around “email” - everyone has and uses email.

So I started looking up email projects that performed well on Product Hunt. I found this one and this one.

I started thinking about how I could do something similar, but still unique. I wanted to build something for more “everyday people” - not something like sales or marketing emails…

And then it hit me - I shot a message to my friend who I was brainstorming with: 

“maybe something like 'everyday emails' where we just show off nice templates you can use in everyday life like “turn down meeting” or “how to say no template” (seen this by Tim Ferriss)”

Then I knew it. “Email templates for how to say no!”

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how I can get more done - and the biggest thing for me is to be working on the right things. And that means saying no to a lot of things.

Building the app

Once it 'clicked', I got really excited about the idea so I put together a quick checklist in 5 minutes and started building it on the spot.

I started with a few examples, like the Tim Ferriss and Casey Neistat one.

I used no tooling. The “data” is hardcoded into the ruby files, and the filtering and stuff is about 20 lines of jQuery + a bunch of CSS (much of it recycled Starter Story styling).

Instead of building it on a whole new domain, I thought it would make more sense as a "project" on Starter Story - with all the styling wiped out. So it still "feels" like a new site, but I don't have to manage a new domain and pay for more hosting, configure analytics, etc etc.

I also want Starter Story to gain domain authority with things like this.

To build the initial prototype took me about 2 hours.

Getting feedback

I then shot it off to 5 or 6 people to get early feedback.

I will be honest, the first prototype was shit - getting this feedback is what made the project successful.

After getting feedback:

This work took another ~4 hours.

I can’t stress how important this step was. To be honest, I'm really bad at asking for feedback and asking for help in general. I’m trying to get better.

Getting this feedback was the fastest and most effective way to get this project done quickly and get it done right!

Thank you to Harry, Steph, Andrey, Pieter, Fabrizio, Armin & Melanie for their feedback over the weekend.


Honestly, I didn’t want a side project like this to interfere with “more important” things, so I wanted to get the thing launched right away - I decided to “launch” on Monday.

I had very low expectations for it, which I think is important for anything like this. We should have low expectations so we don’t spend weeks something that will likely flop. I thought this one had a good chance of flopping.

I scheduled it on Product Hunt for Monday morning, woke up early, tweeted about it - and then BOOM it took off!

Once it started “taking off” I made more changes that needed to be made and started sharing around other places like Hacker News.

And that’s pretty much it. 

Lesson learned: If you have a cool idea, just build it and have fun!

Ok, back to work now