What I learnt from my 2013 side project

LogoIn 2013 I worked on a side project, The Chubby Challenge, which I continue to develop and move forward. This was built in response to another goal of mine – to lose some weight. I have found in the past that like so many other things in life it is far easier to reach a goal if you are working toward it with others. So the idea is that you challenge others to see who can lose the most weight over a given period.

The system works well and was a great opportunity for me to learn a whole new set of skills and to improve on those that I already have. It was challenging on a few fronts, such as design and security, so worked with outside contractors to get the skills I needed.

One of the major takeaways from this project was not technological at all but a sharp marketing lesson that you can build but they won’t come if they don’t know it is there.

So I spent a vast amount of time building the system and hoped that it would develop a life of its own and people would invite others who would invite others etc. but it just hasn’t worked out like that. In fact the amount of activity on the site has been directly proportional to the amount of effort I put into marketing the system. As I got more and more involved at work and the Microsoft Accelerator the less time I found for the side project and it really suffered.

If I’m honest I could have found time to do more, you always can, but there is nothing quite like the building of a new project with it all out in front of you and as time progresses the project becomes less about building and more about testing, bug fixing and marketing.

Based on the above this is what I would do when embarking on any new project, none of which will come as any great surprise:

  • start marketing before building and keep doing it all the time at every opportunity
  • don’t build in every feature at the outset – ship early, as they say
  • get bags of feedback as early as possible

So this year the challenge is not to extend the functionally of The Chubby Challenge much but to get more active users. At the same time I also have a desire to start another project more of which in a later post so I need to balance my time between the two making sure that what I learnt in The Chubby Challenge is applied in the new project.