As an experimental entrepreneur, I learned I don’t have to do something really big. Well, I want to, but don’t have to. Even the smallest things can teach you a lot.
In my blurb, I will describe how a little side hustle gave me a tiny bit of happiness, taught me important things I wouldn’t have learned on the job, and is something I will cherish forever.
I gained both financially and intellectually from experimenting with negligible to minimal investment. I will show you that you can do the same. If you know how to code, you can try it for yourself. This is my story of how it turned out.
As a side hustler, I started with the intention of finding my next holiday, but the plan changed and the lessons I learned were more valuable than what I had set out to accomplish.
What I achieved with this hustle is not comparable to a super success story, viral stuff that will blow up and change the world, or the fact that I have $1000’s of dollars in side income and am ready to quit my job. Nothing of the sort.
Who doesn’t want extra cash? A modestly incomed individual will always wish for extra cash.
I had to be realistic about my limits and determine what I can commit to with full passion and energy as a side hustle. A half-hearted effort will lead to pain not just for me, but for others who would use it.
At the time I started the side hustle journey, I wanted to honor my day job, which pays my living expenses, mortgage, etc. I am not in a position to quit my day job now. It would be foolish and would put my financial security at risk. I had to make sure that the hustle did not interfere with my obligations and duties towards my employer. No performance degradation was permitted.
A hustle that adds value and users will love. It will make a difference in their life and/or company.
I learn a lot from your work, but most of the time the risk is shared. I stay within the boundaries of my role and don’t take on anything that I am not committed to. A side hustle would give me that end-to-end experience. I would practically learn every aspect of running a business.
Having been in IT for quite some time, I learned that it is often hard to explain exactly what I do at work to my kid and/or digitally excluded folks of the society (they are quite a few around us, including my parents and wife, who finds it hard to explain exactly what I do at work).
Having no legacy to leave my child was frustrating to me. I did not want my child to feel left out. I wanted to give her a chance to discuss the legacy her dad built in future conversations she may have.
With all these objectives set. I started to narrow down on what hustle to do.
I have been hooked on the hobby of photography recently. I had a DSLR camera lying around unused. I started experimenting with it and got to know its features. While searching for ways to tweak camera settings, I discovered 360-degree photography.
As soon as I saw it, it immediately caught my eye. I decided to make it a reality, giving businesses that are digitally struggling to increase sales and have great customer experiences in an eCommerce solution. Bingo! I thought I hit the jackpot! This is the gig for me.
It turns out that I was not the only one with this fabulous idea. In fact, there were already solutions available on the market. Damn!
Well, I continued on the journey because I thought it was new to me. After further research, I found out that the competitors’ products were either for large businesses and/or charged heavily, which some small or medium businesses cannot afford.
I decided to make it affordable and economic for small and medium businesses. I found my niche. I have identified my target market!
While I may not be a market innovator or a market leader, I can certainly be a part of a challenger group leading to the commoditization of 360-degree product photography in eCommerce.
I decided to launch Spin360.io: a digital interactive tool for viewing products or places in 360 degrees.
This is how it works, a merchant will take 360-degree images of the product in a studio or his photo lab and will upload them to spin360.io to get a smart code that can be inserted in his digital business asset e.g. website or app.
The code snippet will render 360-degree views. It will make the product display interactive for the customers visiting his store. Customers will be able to connect with his product and get information in 3D.
Customers will get a great experience, the merchant will hit more sales as the customers will spend longer in the store, will begin associating with the brand, will understand the business as tech-savvy and futuristic, and will receive clear information about the product easily. Quite a lot of value!
All I’ve ever done in my life is work as an IT professional. So the best I could do is write software. So I wrote one using my knowledge and experience gained in building software for different industries. I took advantage of the learning I had at my job about aspects of user experience, software engineering, and product lifecycle management.
Thanks to the advances in technology, even a single developer like me who sits at his home desk with a computer and internet can now create enterprise-grade software products at a fraction of the cost.
For now, I will leave it at that. I intend to write another blog for the tech community that may be interested to learn more about how it was achieved. So stay tuned.
I wished my hustle would be a big hit and that on the day of its launch, it would go viral so that I would make millions. But none of that happened. In reality, I didn’t invest time and money into making it big.
Spin360 launched without glitches and it started rather slowly. I had 2–3 customers every month with organic growth. I didn’t do much in the way of advertisement & marketing, but somehow SEO placed my site on the first page of google searches.
The revenue is not in $1000s per month nor is the traffic to the web app viral, but I found out that I could use the extra cash it is generating to pay for my monthly eat-out bills. I thought it was not bad to start with!
Here’s the snapshot of my Stripe dashboard earnings to date. For those who have not heard of Stripe. Stripe is a payment processing platform that accepts payments from customer credit cards, and debit cards and can manage subscriptions. Stripe provides APIs so a developer can integrate payment solutions into his software pretty easily.
The software I designed is automated and does not consume too much of my time to maintain and operate. It costs me less than $2.5 per month to maintain it. So I was earning a profit! I started to use the extra cash more often for our family eat-outs without burning my savings.
Time is money and to earn money you need to give time
In due course, I learned that my hustle has to be quick, not take up too much time and I have to find some time to give it a shot. I found that my best available slot is 5:00 am to 7:30 am. That’s when my mind is fresh, and I have full concentration. It took some time to get into the habit of sleeping early and getting out of bed early. However, the desire to launch your own product eventually made me land my feet every day at dawn on the floor.
I learned that if I spend more time on my hustle, I will reap more rewards. I guess this is a universal rule of business. The time you want to spend on your gig and the return you want are up to you.
User Experience (UX) matters — Learn the 3-click principle
Your customers will judge your products based on what they see on their end. Not what you thought would work for you and ultimately work for them, and not what you think is the best graphical user interface.
In order to build a good product with good UX you need to put the customer first and see from his point of view what he wishes to do with the product. I learned the value of UX the hard way when I got to interview a customer from the USA who insisted on giving me feedback. To be honest, I should thank the customer personally for doing so.
As I was designing and building things, I didn’t pay much attention to feedback because I tended to think my way of thinking was the best and that everyone would understand and follow me.
This caught me off guard and through customer feedbacks, I realized that the product needs to be redesigned. There was a strong demand for the design to be simplified and more obvious to the user.
I started to refactor the product design with 3 click principle.
As much as possible, 80% of your software interface should be just a 3 click effort for the user. That should be your aim.
I guarantee that following this design principle will test you. You now have to hide complexity that the customers don’t care about. You start thinking differently and refactoring the product smartly. You would soon realize the software code you cut (wrote) couldn’t be reused for something else.
If you are launching a product … please do not make the same mistake I did. Maintainability and functionality are both to be considered in your design!
Conduct the user experience study first and then design your product based on the inputs. This can save you a great deal of time and effort on refactoring and fixes in the lifecycle of the product.
I also realized that at times I spent too much time on complex issues to solve the product feature for a niche customer need. I forgot … the Pareto principle of 80/20.
As per Wikipedia: The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes (the “vital few”). The Pareto distribution indicates that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients.
Thus, I learned that I needed to deprioritize complex cases that didn’t add much value while focusing on features that would be used by 80% of the customers.
I had to prioritize and limit features to meet a fixed timeline, 2 months, on which I planned to launch the product. I learned that I have to implement a DVF score on the features of my product. But what is that? DVF
It stands for Desirability Viability Feasibility.
Desirability: It is the demand. What do your customers want? Sometimes I learned that the demand is high but it is not what the customer wants. It is a desire! Simply talking .. it is the “WHAT”.
Viability: It is the qualification of demand. Why is it so important? This is the actual crux of prioritization wherein you put things into context. Is it the right desired demand in the context of the time? What if it is not implemented? … What is the cost (opportunity cost)? … Simply talking .. it is the “WHY”.
Feasibility: How would you solve the demand. Is it going to be complex and unachievable or is the feature of the product going to be quick to build and would satisfy the customer. It is the “HOW” of the demand.
In order to establish clarity of thought, I listed all the features of the product in a spreadsheet. I ranked each feature from 0–10 against each of them and I calculated a score for that feature i.e. using the formula:
[D x V ] / F
This allowed me to qualify the features and produce MVP (minimum viable product) a value that the majority of customers will enjoy.
It has been one of my best learning experiences. I live by values and commit to honoring them always. However, there are times when mistakes happen.
Here is an example of a customer who had a genuine problem and requested help to resolve it. I was not 100% committed to solving it, but the customer insisted.
The customer was not able to access the main screen (dashboard) of the software after login. Without the dashboard working properly she was completely locked out from using any features of the product.
At first, I wondered if I really cared about a single customer who complained about a feature that is working correctly for all other customers. I neglected the customer for a week.
In the end, seeing the customer was very determined to fix the problem as she needed to run her business, she took a screenshot and sent it to me. I realized late that she was in true trouble because I created the problem for her in the first place. To investigate I organized a zoom call to see it myself. It turned out to be that she was right and I was wrong. I ended up fixing the issue the same day.
I apologized to the customer and refunded her for the period she was unable to use the product. I explained the true reason for the failure. I even demonstrated the fix in the zoom call to make sure she understood what had gone wrong.
I learned that customers will forgive you eventually if you are true to them. Just like the customer who was determined to work with me, they will continue to be associated with your product, happy to pay for the product and be advocates of it if you give them a good experience and stay genuine in your relationship with them.
Even if you have a great idea, it is worthless if it is not implemented. Well … let me just add. It doesn’t end at implementation. If it is not used, then it is worthless!
I learned marketing is an art. It has to be mastered. It is a tool that allows your thought to be projected to everyone and if done correctly it will result in great outcomes. I have not mastered it and that is something I will be working on in the coming months.
We tend to focus more on designing and building stuff. We don’t focus on marketing. Maybe because we don’t get much exposure to it.
I learned that I had to understand how to market the app on Facebook, Google, and or Instagram at least. I had to learn what customers were interested in and how marketers effectively use them to attract the attention of customers in the vast market already full of competitors.
I experimented in Sep’20 with some advertisements on Facebook and got a good revenue spike. I have not mastered it so will not write about it a lot here.
Success is relative. In my context, I wanted to achieve something, and I did achieve part of it. I have used my hustle to practice the skills I learned in my job, to learn how to deal with customers, and to feel responsible for every aspect of the project I am involved with.
It is also already making money with negligible cost. That’s software’s power!
The returns can be 1000x if it is done correctly, incurs very low operational costs compared to other industries, and hits the market sweet spot very quickly.
I learned that the small things I do matter a lot.
So I urge all software developers: Find your motivation, whether it’s money or learning. There is always a need in the market, even if it is small. Just start coding for yourself and see what happens. You’ll be glad you did!