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EXECUTION From 9-5 employed developer to freelancer and then entrepreneur - my journey

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Ovidiu Stoica

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Hello, guys! My name is Ovidiu. I am 26 yo, living in Romania. I am currently employed as a developer. In my spare time, I built a portfolio for myself to attract clients for freelance work. I am sick of being employed. My goal right now is to quit my job, get freelance clients to build apps and websites, find a need in this market and then create a business around that need.

I would start a business right now, but I don't really have an idea and I haven't found a pain bad enough around me, worth building a business around. I have worked with startups until now, and the biggest problem I see with the startups I worked with is the initial investment in time and money without getting validation from the market, which seems really risky and unnecessary.

Anyway, back to the purpose of this post:

This post is to track my transition from employee to freelancer and from there to entrepreneur.

Current progress:
  • I have built my website
  • Applied to 5 jobs on upwork.
  • Tomorrow I have a call with a potential client from upwork. The job doesn't pay that great but I need the initial reviews.

What I want is to land jobs for entire projects (apps or websites) as I don't want to be paid by the hour. How I see this is I am not giving business owners websites, I am helping them communicate better to clients so they increase their profits. To achieve this, I will start recording Loom videos where I offer some value nuggets to small and medium businesses in my area about how they could improve their website and hopefully they will get me to do it.

Goals for this week:
  • Record videos for 5 businesses
  • Apply to 10 new jobs on upwork
  • Take the algorithm test on toptal

Goals for the month of November: Land two websites with local businesses

I will make a post every week to track my progress. Thank you for reading !
 
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Ovidiu Stoica

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Status update:

Got my first client on upwork!! It is a gig to build a managing system for a hair salon. It is backend + admin + mobile app for reservations. I estimate it should take about 3-4 weeks. I will work on it in the mornings and weekends. It pays almost 1k$. Tbh it is not that much, but I am grateful for it!

I'll have a template with it, with which I can then address other hair saloons so they can boost their productivity.

One thing I saw is that this guy is pretty fixed on his mindset. The hair saloon is not making money right now and he is concerned about security and employee management. You have no profits but you are concerned about employees... I tried to tell him about this, but it fell on deaf ears, so I will just do the gig and move on. I will keep updates about how the client management goes.

I realise I don't want this kind of gig, where the client already knows what he wants. I need to find clients and message them "Hei man, I realise that there are some clients you are missing because of bad layout or message of your website. We need to address what the problem is together and establish some KPI's for the project."

Examples:
  • Increase form completion on the website
  • Increase sales revenue from the same traffic
  • Increase percent of emails registered to the website
Working with clients this way, gives me design freedom and producing actual value.

I guess the reason I hesitate to address clients in this way is because I don't have confidence in my design skills to communicate the right message to potential clients. I consider myself good at development but lack design wise. Anyway, I want to learn it and learn a tool to create websites faster than with React cause that takes an eternity. I experienced that with my portfolio. I bought a website design course and I'll do that in my spare time.

Anyway, that's it for now. Thank you for reading guys!
 

Choices

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Any update?
Have you managed to build that app in only 3-4 weeks?

After you build it, you can now use the backend for other hair salons, and get the job done in a fraction of the time!

If you want to code websites faster with React try Next.js. They have a tutorial on their site to get u started in a few hours. After that you should be able to bootstrap sites faster.

If you want a no-code tool try duda.co, it also lets you get into coding if you need to. Of course it has a price, you need to see if it's worth it.
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Alright! Time for some updates!

Related to the freelancing gig I mentioned, I finished that! It payed 1k$ for more than one month of hard work. After finishing that project, I decided that freelancing isn't for me as I don't want to exchange time for money. Other than that, competition is really high on platforms like upwork and fiverr so even as an experienced engineer, you still cannot have a big rate until you've done some projects on the platform.

That gig was finished around mid December. At the same time, at my day job, my boss and the designer for the mobile app we were building, kept complaining about how much time he wasted when he had multiple versions of the same design and needed opinions. It usually ended with him asking people on slack and talking privately to them.

I saw an opportunity and thought maybe other designers also had this problem. After he showed me a history of online searches for a tool to solve this, I had enough evidence to buy the domain name and start working on the application. Welcome Designvote!

First two weeks I spent designing the app and after that I learned how to do the backend in a new language (Fun but not that practical). After that I started a schedule of waking up at 5AM, do a fast workout and start working on the app until 10AM when my day job started. It was not a straight line, some weeks were better than others. I had weeks where I barely got anything done, but all the worked piled on until I had a functioning MVP.

You can check it out here: Designvote - Choose your design

Currently you can:
  • Upload versions of the same design
  • Ask targeted questions
  • Share a link to the people you want to vote
  • Get the votes and comments of the voters
As for the roadmap: Next on the list is implement a 5 star rating system for designs and add a possibility to request feedback from experienced designers, similar to how StackOverflow is for programmers.

Currently I am searching for beta users to gain feedback and add/change relevant features. If there are any designers who read this and see value in it, use it and tell me what you think.

I will keep you posted about the progress.
Thank you
 

Choices

Never Settle
Sep 3, 2019
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48
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Switzerland
Alright! Time for some updates!

Related to the freelancing gig I mentioned, I finished that! It payed 1k$ for more than one month of hard work. After finishing that project, I decided that freelancing isn't for me as I don't want to exchange time for money. Other than that, competition is really high on platforms like upwork and fiverr so even as an experienced engineer, you still cannot have a big rate until you've done some projects on the platform.

That gig was finished around mid December. At the same time, at my day job, my boss and the designer for the mobile app we were building, kept complaining about how much time he wasted when he had multiple versions of the same design and needed opinions. It usually ended with him asking people on slack and talking privately to them.

I saw an opportunity and thought maybe other designers also had this problem. After he showed me a history of online searches for a tool to solve this, I had enough evidence to buy the domain name and start working on the application. Welcome Designvote!

First two weeks I spent designing the app and after that I learned how to do the backend in a new language (Fun but not that practical). After that I started a schedule of waking up at 5AM, do a fast workout and start working on the app until 10AM when my day job started. It was not a straight line, some weeks were better than others. I had weeks where I barely got anything done, but all the worked piled on until I had a functioning MVP.

You can check it out here: Designvote - Choose your design

Currently you can:
  • Upload versions of the same design
  • Ask targeted questions
  • Share a link to the people you want to vote
  • Get the votes and comments of the voters
As for the roadmap: Next on the list is implement a 5 star rating system for designs and add a possibility to request feedback from experienced designers, similar to how StackOverflow is for programmers.

Currently I am searching for beta users to gain feedback and add/change relevant features. If there are any designers who read this and see value in it, use it and tell me what you think.

I will keep you posted about the progress.
Thank you

Once you get it to an MVP level you could try putting it on Product Hunt for feedback and awareness.

Also, have you checked out competition to see how you will differentiate? Just 1 example: Become a tester to help with usability testing and user research. (seems like a forum bug, I paste the link only but it force that text onto the post)

I see there's also a defunct site https://conceptfeedback.com/, maybe reach out to them?..
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update time

Sorry if these are rare, I could update more but things aren't really that dynamic right now. Anyway, after 4 months in development I have a working product. Check it out here: Designvote - Choose your design

Ok. Now to the interesting part... The things I f-ed up during this per:

I didn't talk to users ... almost at all during this time. All I did was work on the app from 5 am to 10 am, then work my normal job than workout and sleep (I'm exaggerating for effect but not far from truth )

If you are developing a SaaS product, the most important thing is talk to users and get them to test it out early.
Lesson learned!


So right now I finished building it. And now I move onto marketing.

First thing I did is launch it on Product hunt. You can help support that here : product hunt link

I will update with what happened after the launch there! Also if anybody is interested in giving feedback for the app, I will give you lifetime access to premium features!

Thank you for your attention! Next update coming soon
 

maikooo

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Interesting idea - I like the "self-service" aspect of it. Will you support annotations?

Have you tried indiehackers.com? That's a place for devs to share their newest creations ... You might find designers, too

How are you marketing it atm? What's your "battle plan" to get it to the first 100 paying users?
 
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Ovidiu Stoica

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Bucharest, Romania
Interesting idea - I like the "self-service" aspect of it. Will you support annotations?

Have you tried indiehackers.com? That's a place for devs to share their newest creations ... You might find designers, too

How are you marketing it atm? What's your "battle plan" to get it to the first 100 paying users?
Hei man!

Currently, I'm doing this:
- Scraped 1000 emails from dribble and started a direct marketing campaign for those (Currently 5% response rate which is decent)
- This week I will make two value posts on dedicated subreddits: r/website_design and r/logo_design

Currently, the battle plan is just to gather 100 from any channel possible and keep a close relationship with them so I can constantly improve the product.

Good point with indie hackers. I will definitely use that one also.

Another thing that I am thinking of is, I currently have talks with like 8-10 designers per week so I might write an article about getting feedback on your work with insights from these designers although this will take some more time.

If you have any channel suggestions, please shoot! Dribbble costs 5k$ to advertise on which is pretty much for my current level
 

maikooo

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Nice, Dribble scrape with 5%RR is pretty decent! Wow $5k - that's for what exactly? Try Google Ads - might be cheaper, dunno - @Andy Black has tons of content on this ...

Curious how your reddit spiel plays out!

I can imagine the "web/UX/UI designs" topics are pretty competitive these days, but you never know ... quality content goes a long way on SEO playground!
 

maikooo

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BTW, do you have any hands-on experience with hybrid app development (Ionic specifically). I am looking for a 3-in-1 type of solution (iOS, Android, PWA) ...
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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YEs. I've been doing hybrid app development for the last 4 years. Normally I would recommend React & React Native with shared Business Logic and API but you would need a good developer for that. Drop me a dm and maybe I can help with some suggestions
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Nice, Dribble scrape with 5%RR is pretty decent! Wow $5k - that's for what exactly? Try Google Ads - might be cheaper, dunno - @Andy Black has tons of content on this ...

Curious how your reddit spiel plays out!

I can imagine the "web/UX/UI designs" topics are pretty competitive these days, but you never know ... quality content goes a long way on SEO playground!
Dribble 5k$ : It's for a boosted shot with a link to your website
 

LeszekM

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@Ovidiu Stoica your project looks pretty good. I think it could be helpful you check your ideas and verify it with a large amount of users. Starting entrepreneurs always ask the closest society like family and friends. Mostly it is not the best target group.

So i can share a link with the people i want them to vote? I think it would be a good idea if the user can share link with independent voters which are not related by him but are related/interested with the business idea he creates.
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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@Ovidiu Stoica your project looks pretty good. I think it could be helpful you check your ideas and verify it with a large amount of users. Starting entrepreneurs always ask the closest society like family and friends. Mostly it is not the best target group.

So i can share a link with the people i want them to vote? I think it would be a good idea if the user can share link with independent voters which are not related by him but are related/interested with the business idea he creates.
Indeed you are right about this. The best thing I can do right now is to suggest some websites that offer targeting audiences as a service so the user can link there. If you really need that service, you can use PickFu for that!

Currently, my plan is to focus on designers. For example, let's say you are a business and you have some designs but you need some feedback on them from some professional designers, you can request them to give you feedback on the designs for maybe 10$.
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update time

  • Visits to the website: 89
  • Accounts made: 2

Last week I focused on Reddit with some mixed results. The main thing I was mindful about is not to advertise upfront, as Reddit hates that. I tried to add value. The communities I targeted were r/web_design and r/graphic_design. Plan of action: Research best posts of all time and recreate those with showcasing Designvote.

Graphic design subreddit

I talked to the designer who did my logo to create a video with the making-of designvote Logo and posted that with a comment saying this is me making the logo for my new project, Designvote. I had some hopes for it, but it did not perform very well. It only did 80 likes and got two people visiting the website and one signing up. If you are curious, here is the link: Reddit post.

Web design subreddit

So this one didn't go as planned. I saw that posts of the type I created X tool that helps designers do Y, with a video showcasing the tool, were received very well, so I started doing that. I made a video showcasing the application and posted it with the title. I created an application to help designers get feedback faster and choose between multiple versions of the same design.
I have been preparing for this one, being active in the community and responding to users as web development my expertise, and there are lots of questions related to it on r/web_design.

Result: It got flagged. It turns out if you have the word feedback, the auto mod will flag it as Request for feedback, and I should post on Feedback Fridays. I tried to talk to a mod that this was a mistake, and it is about designers getting feedback. That ended up with me getting muted for three days :D

Paid Reddit ads

So given that nobody saw the video, I created an ad with a 60$ budget to run for ten days. Currently has 15k impressions and four clicks. The good part is I only spent 1.50$, but clearly, it was not a good ad.
I don't think I will invest in paid ads at this stage. I am still trying to figure out product-market fit and get beta testers to get the app just right.

I am still contributing to r/web_design as I have yet to pull the trigger on that subreddit. Looking back, I get why the mod didn't unflag my post given that I contributed for only four days, and then boom, "Here is my product!".

Direct cold email marketing

Last week I talked about scraping emails and contacting designers. I got put in spam after the first 400 emails, so I stopped the campaign. My mistake here was I included links to schedule a call or complete a survey for me to understand designers. Final results for the campaign are: 2.5% respond rate = ~25 responses, with 10 accepting a video call to discuss. Five created accounts at my request but left immediately after (I need a solid onboarding process).

Things in focus for this week:​

  • Make a post on indie hackers about Designvote.
  • I will continue to recruit users from LinkedIn as I had some success with that initially.
  • Create onboarding for new users after they create an account
  • Put more use-cases on the landing page because a user reported he thought it was only for logos.
  • I need to work some more on the website as it is a problem that there will be very slow recurring usage. Usually, people have this problem it solves once every six months. I will make public surveys possible so that designers can post work to get feedback and become more of a community.

Thank you for your attention!
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update time​

Good parts​

Being active on Reddit paid off! Last week, I posted a video demonstrating how the application worked on r/web_design, and it had a great response. It had 325 upvotes and many comments. I had 40 sign-ups from that event. Another entrepreneur who helped in the research process for a similar product reach out.
I will distill the knowledge gained from talking to him combined with my research on the problem.

Target audience

The currently chosen target audiences are startups and enterprises with dedicated design teams that want to invest in tools that complement their existing A/B testing tools. I have concluded that early-stage startups and freelancers don't care about this amount of fine-tuning their products.
So I need to find designers that work in companies that fit that description.

Should I advertise to the designers or to the people in charge of buying them tools?
I should most likely continue to advertise to designers; they will request the tools after the first experience with designvote.

Benefits​

At its core, Desigvote is a tool to choose the best static asset (logo, illustration, advertisement, website design, etc.)
The main benefits it provides are:
  1. Choosing the best design: While results that can be genuinely trusted only come from addressing the surveys to at least 1000 people, the first and most apparent benefit is choosing the best version from multiple versions.
  2. Streamlining communication: A big problem with design feedback in big companies is that it requires a lot of context switching from Figma, Email, Slack, and other tools to aggregate all the input to draw pertinent conclusions.
  3. A persuasive aid to push designs to upper management: Many designers have told me that it is annoying when management won't listen to reason when debating what choice to make. A tool to help them say, "This is not just my opinion! This conclusion comes from data!" would be awesome. A designer even went to lengths to create designs for such a tool but left it when he didn't have the technical know-how to implement it.

Where I am now​

So now I got to make sense out of the spike of users that created accounts from Reddit. I will email them and gauge more context because some people used it to choose from up to 8 logos!
In parallel to this, I will still try to connect with people on LinkedIn to find people that understand they have this problem and actively try to fix it. I think those are the people that would pay money.

Advertising​

So here is the part where I could use some help :D.
Here's what I am doing now:
  • Guerilla marketing on Reddit (Hunting for posts where designers search for feedback) and dm the users with designvote
  • Direct contact on LinkedIn
  • Building in Public on Twitter (No data yet, just started)
I am open to any new suggestions of what to try here.


This is it for now. Thanks for the attention!
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Hey guys, sorry for a long time between updates.

Emailing initial users​

To continue with what happened after the last update, I emailed my initial users.
I had one person who used it to choose between multiple versions of the same logo (The intended thing). This guy didn't respond to emails. :bored:
I had one person from upper management who used it at a conference to get crowd reactions on some sketches for a new product. I talked to him about it; he learned about the app from Reddit and said that now that he knew it worked, he would use it whenever he needed this kind of thing again.

Participating in an accelerator​

I've been contacted by a local accelerator to participate in the latest cohort. This would involve webinars, group discussions, meeting the other entrepreneurs, and finally pitching your idea to investors. The whole thing took two weeks. In the end, I pitched the idea and was looking for a 200k$ investment, even asking for that money was weird but I felt really good about it in the end.

The investors said that the design feedback market is pretty dispersed. There are tons of tools that try to solve this issue and no current market leader which was a sign of concern for them, so I didn't get the investment.

Switching to targeting branding agencies​

After some interviews with designers, I found that dedicated UI/UX designers rarely have multiple versions of the same design. I concluded that maybe I can target branding agencies, given that they dabble with the more static types of assets, where a tool like this would be beneficial. I researched like 50 branding agencies and did cold outreach to the CEOs/Founders, I had only one person's response which said "I am not interested". I guess you need an introduction to these people as they become immune to cold outreach. That or my messaging was off.

Family trouble​

After the agency outreach, I had some family issues where a big fight ensued and I had to block some family members for a while just to be able to think. I won't get into the details but it was a distraction for close to three weeks and there are still some remnants of this but now I can focus again.

Switched to developing pricing​

After that, I decided to start with something that comes naturally to me and that is development. Given that the product was free, I integrated stripe payments so now people have two free surveys and after that, they have to pay 8$/months. This took me about a week and a half in the morning.

Switching to targeting marketers​

I think that marketers are always choosing between multiple versions of their messaging/ad images, the product would be a great fit here. It would save people money from testing two versions of an ad by running it first through designvote and sharing it with either internal company or beta testers to vote on which ad they would click on. This is the plan, but I haven't done anything in this area yet. Maybe somebody like @Andy Black would have some insights into the world of ad creation and how would this work.

Firstly I'll try to contact marketers on LinkedIn and see if I can get them to try the product.


Reflections on the last period of time​

I am not satisfied with the last month. Not about the results because I have none but I cannot control that. I am not satisfied with myself because whenever I encounter difficulties (bad/no responses) or lack of feedback I just switch to something else. I need to work on that consistency to do the work no matter the results.

Another thing I see myself doing is distracting myself with programming new features when all I should do is marketing and customer development.

Also, I feel I am not giving this my best effort. I know I can do more about this.

I am making a commitment to update this thread every two weeks with what I have been up to. Thank you guys and let's keep moving towards our goals!
 
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Ovidiu Stoica

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Bucharest, Romania

Fast update​


My first user CAME BACK to use the product again!

This is the first user who actually used the product as it was intended! And now after about a month he used it again! I feel good about this :D

He now created 2 surveys and if he wants to create more he will have to pay the 8$ monthly pay. Fingers crossed.

I mailed him last time and he gave me some of his suggestions of things to implement to perfect the product. I admit I did not implement those. I will mail him again for using the product and say that I am implementing some of the features he asked for.
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update time

I took the last two months to remake the current website to have public surveys where users can give feedback to each other. Users can now:
  • Rate 5 stars on other designers work
  • Leave comments
  • Create public surveys
Aside from that, the website has a cool redesign.
In parallel to this, I started an Instagram page that I scheduled content for, and I posted it twice a day. After two months, I had 80 followers, but I didn't invest that much time into this (2-3 days/month)
.

Burnout

I have been working on this project for almost a year now, and I am starting not to like this "help designers get feedback" market. I admit that I haven't given it my total effort to conclude that there isn't a market here, but I haven't done any work on Designvote in the last week, and I feel wrong about that. I procrastinated with learning more advanced programming, which I like, but this is still procrastination at the end of the day.

What I need to do​

I need to:
  • Schedule posts for the Instagram account for the next 2.5 months.
  • Email old users that I've launched version two of the website
  • Update posts on indie hackers
  • Create some content on the website to simulate traffic so new users will be interested.
  • Make some new posts on Reddit.

I guess what I am complaining about is I am getting bored with the project. I think this is the desert of desertion. The ever-present feeling of "Is this worth it? Should I look for another business opportunity?". I can't say that the idea is not working as I haven't made efforts to drive traffic to the website and test.

Conclusions

Lack of feedback for a long time starts making you feel a lot of doubt. I will keep working on this because I have seen people that were interested in the concept. I am optimistic something will turn out eventually, but I'm not too fond of the grind :D . Back to work starting tomorrow. Thank you for reading!
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update​


Currently created and scheduled two instagram posts per day up until the end of December so that the app page has constant activity

Up next:​

  • Do a Reddit post to announce the new version of the site
  • DM users on LinkedIn about the platform
  • Email already existent users
  • Upload more content on the website
 

Ovidiu Stoica

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Update​

Another week has passed. Some cool stuff happened.

I had a Reddit post reach 450 upvotes and top of the hot section on r/graphic_design.It got me around 120 unique visitors to the website, from which 5 registered an account.
Pretty low conversion, but engagement with public surveys was decent. Actionable step here: Voting on public surveys on the front page should require an account.

The feedback from the post was interesting. Many designers say that the current version is not helpful for their day-to-day use cases because it misses the context of that design and the stakeholders. They say that having the user say what version they prefer is not that useful.

Problems I see:
- No email marketing setup, so I don't get users that registered an account to come back(this should be prio)

Things done:​

  • Bug fixes and UX improvements
  • Reddit post
  • I talked to a potential big client who wants targeted feedback for some custom-made comic strips. They are hidden advertisements for his business in the form of comics. He wants to make sure that the message transmitted with them is the intended one. But he also said the current feedback system is too simplistic.
  • Posted on IG account twice per day (no promotion, so growth is slow)

Things to do:​

  • Implement a system to a point and comment on an area of an image (sticky notes on image)
  • Launch on hacker news
  • Update on indie hackers
  • Maybe learn Instagram ads?

On the mental side, I am a bit torn on developing new features and "going back to the cave of development" only to emerge and nobody to use them. A feature like this, I feel, can be used in multiple situations. Maybe I should do a landing page for something like this, market it and see how it performs.
 

Mister

New Contributor
Read Millionaire Fastlane!
May 22, 2021
10
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Good work on the Reddit post.

About your business idea "struggle"

I'm thinking as an outsider of this," how are you monetizing your costumers ? "

Also, I have no right to decide if an idea is good or bad. I just want to bring up something my mentor told me.
"When you don't have any result, you will lose the fun to work on this project"

In this interview (
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWXBWLTcmn4&t=987s
), they talk about a how you need to separate this idea that will succeed and the ones that don't succeed. Then in the end they look the same
(I just watched the first few min. Also, the other interview on his channel is sick)

In the end, it's up to decide if it is worth working on


I think Facebook/ Instagram ads are a good way to boost your organic reach, or is even worth trying.
(I never used Social Media Ads so I have no idea)
With a cps from max 0,5 you have. I will test it my self to see how it is.
(50$= 500 new visitors / for each month, sound worth)

Also you can work with some blogs in the niche, so that you can make a post about your website there.

or used the power of Forum, Facbook & reddit groups to boost your website (but don't get to spammy)
 
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