Not even 3 weeks ago I started working on a side project idea at this cafe by the beach:

Working remotely as a digital nomad

I initially thought it was only gonna be an afternoon project – something to start getting my feet wet with this new web3 world. I was not planning on a launch whatsoever. The project was in fact going to live under my personal webiste (this one!), without its own domain name.

But then I started sharing it and several friends thought it’d be a good idea to give it its own identity, and I thought it was a good idea too, so I bought, and the rest is history. As a quick recap: here I told the process of building it, here I wrote my initial high-level learnings after building it, and here my technical takeaways regarding NFTs and decentralized storage.

A few days ago I launched it.

But it hasn’t been a good launch by any metric I can measure.

Here’s why.

What did I do to launch it

What were the results

  • ~150 upvotes on Product Hunt, my third worst product so far
  • ~5 upvotes on Hacker News
  • ~10 upvotes on Reddit
  • ~15 retweets and ~60 likes which, translated into ~20k impressions on Twitter
  • ~20 reactions and ~2k views on LinkedIn
  • ~800 total visitors to the LooksMutable website

Not all results were bad

LooksMutable got a few fairly big accounts talking about it on Twitter, organically and spontaneously:

Why it went wrong

Distribution was probably not the problem.

With a combined potential total reach of more than half a million followers (if we add up the reach of all the Twitter accounts that talked about it or retweeted it) –and that’s not counting all the exposure on PH/HN/Reddit/etc.– we can be fairly sure some percentage of highly relevant audieces saw it. It still didn’t get traction, so distribution was not probably the issue.

What was it then?

LooksMutable is probably just not good enough of a project.

  • People just don’t care about this. When something is exceptionally good, comes out with perfect timing or resonates well with an audience, you could have a mediocre launch and it’d still go viral. This was not the case. Most people don’t give a s**t about the immutability of NFTs. I think many buyers just want to make a quick buck by flipping tokens short-term. They don’t care about the long-term. This was simply a badly selected problem to work on. I went against the market, not with the market.
  • The project is too small. Ideas are _not_ worthless: some ideas are better than others. And some ideas are meant to be just fun little side projects. LooksMutable was born with the intent of being an afternoon project, and even though it got stretched over the course of three weeks, it still had an afternoon project soul. At the end of the day, it’s just a small tool. Bigger sites like Etherscan are made up of plenty of small tools like this. It just doesn’t add enough value.

We still can make a case for a distribution issue, although I think it’s a weak case. My overall feeling is that the web3 crowd hangs out at fundamentally different places than the web2 crowd, and I mostly targeted web2 forums, not web3 ones. I think LooksMutable could have performed better had it been launched to more relevant audiences:

  • I feel like Product Hunt and HackerNews are not the best audiences for NFT-related products
    • Product Hunt is… skeptical? about crypto. I’ve talked with Marc Köhlbrugge, who recently built crypto-based and also launched it on Product Hunt, and he ran into the same problem: almost no one was interested in the product, which is rare for an otherwise fairly prolific and successful maker.
    • Hacker News probably hates crypto altogether. There’s a segment of the SF tech scene that hates crypto with a burning passion, and I suspect it is well represented on Hacker News. I don’t know how to pinpoint this audience, but I think it looks something like this on Twitter.
  • Product Hunt feels like it’s no longer what it used to be. I’ve talked with a few makers, and we share this feeling that the community is not as strong and/or the traffic is not that high nowadays. Some say posting on subreddits could give you much more traffic than PH these days.
  • On Reddit, I posted on /r/CryptoCurrency, following the advice of one of my followers. With 4.5+ million members, it was the biggest and best crypto-related subreddit I found. Two things happened:
    • I probably made the post title way too clickbaity. I miscalculated the acceptance of /r/CryptoCurrency of more clickbaity titles – and my post got downvoted to hell. They were not even reading the post, they started downvoting and commenting without reading it.
    • Reddit hates self-promotion, in general, except when you’re an insider / part of the community. These kind of posts are often seen as people taking advantage of the community to promote themselves, more than anything else.
    • As this user commented, posts that are critic of NFTs tend to get downvoted, because some parts of the community are apparently overinvested in NFTs and “don’t want people to know the flaws” [sic]. I don’t hang around often enough to know if this is true, though.
  • I’m not an active member of any Discord community. Most NFT conversations happen in Discord, and I’m not just unaware of what the best communities are, but I also don’t participate actively in any. If anyone could point me in the right direction on this one, I’d be really thankful.
  • Launching should be an act of creativity. The whole script of posting on ProductHunt and waiting for the upvotes to come in is probably old. That marketing channel is saturated. We ruined it. It might have worked in the past, but it will stop working eventually, if it hasn’t stopped yet. Once something becomes so structured, everyone follows the exact same script and the tactic stops being fruitful. Launching requires a creative component – almost independent from the product itself.

How can I do it better next time

I don’t know yet if this is specific to this particular project, if this is specific of NFT-related projects or if this is a more general statement, but: I need to improve a few things.

  • Select a better problem to work on. LooksMutable was too much of a side-project. Maybe I should make a deal not to start working on any more side-project ideas, and only focus on ideas that tackle bigger problems and might become big “main projects”.
  • Build the audience first. I was not part of the NFT community prior to launching this. Now maybe I am, or at least I feel like I know it better, but building the audience first and getting to know them before building is something that actually brings positive results both product-wise and at the time of launch.
  • Try new marketing channels: if PH no longer gets the word out, what’s next?
    • One answer might be influencer marketing. Intentionally reaching out to relevant accounts that can shout out the product, especially if the product is aligned with their vision. At the end of the day, they are very knowledgeable about their space but don’t have the time (and often neither the skills) to build stuff – but they can shout about it. I’m the guy that can build things really fast for them to shout about. I can build what they actually want to see being built, and they can talk about it.
    • Reddit: despite the poor results on this one, I think plenty of relevant people hang out there. Tailoring the message so they like it is extremely complex, though. It’s often hit or miss: they either love you or hate your guts. Something that might help in the future is introducing myself and telling why I’m sharing this in the first comment, though, so the post doesn’t look as “arid” as just “hey, here’s my thing, upvote it”.
    • Discord: as discussed, I’m just clueless as to where to hang out. What’s good and what’s noise?
  • Don’t do clickbaity titles for knowledgeable audiences. The main thing that killed the /r/CryptoCurrency post probably was the clickbaity title which doesn’t fit such an anti-clickbait subreddit. Clickbait only works for mainstream and non-knowledgeable audiences. Technical subreddits, HN, etc: they’re all not the audience for clickbait. Talk to them in non marketing-y, straight up technical terms.
  • Have a better pulse on the market. I need to be a more active part of the market I’m trying to reach. This is probably a direct consequence of not hanging out in Discord. And one interesting corollary of this is that my timing is probably not right. Since I don’t have a clear pulse on the market, I’m not timing my ideas right. The immutability problem of NFTs was probably a big thing months ago, but by the time I was working on it the market had already moved on. I was late to the party. Speed is the utmost important thing, both in detecting a trend and in deploying a solution.

It was not that bad

Despite the results, I think this project was net positive. I achieved my goal of getting my feet wet in web3. Hell, I went straight down the web3 rabbit hole. I feel so much more knowledgeable about web3, NFTs, crypto and smart contracts now. And I feel I also learned a bunch about launching and marketing in general by trying, failing and extracting these takeaways.

The project didn’t resonate with the audience as good as it could have, but it was overall a decent project: it does what it needed to do, it technically works the way it should and it took me only a few days to get it from idea to launch.

Plus, this keeps running on auto-pilot. The app is just there for people to use, without me having to intervene at all. I only built it once, but people can use it forever (well, not technically forever, but you know what I mean).

And after all, this is just a matter of odds. Most ideas don’t work out. But there’s a tiny percentage that do. And it’s all mostly random. Nothing personal, just the market: it makes some things take off and it makes some things fade away in the depths of the internet. At the end of the day it’s all about keeping on buying lottery tickets. This is a numbers game.

P.S.: Follow me on Twitter to stay in the loop. I'm writing a book called Bold Hackers on making successful digital products as an indie hacker. Read other stories I've written. Subscribe below to get an alert when I publish a new post:

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